The third and final instalment in my trilogy of Western's.
B W Harding's Bar Room Tales
Stories of courage, of honour and friendship, of love and selfless devotion, of hard times and determination, stories of endurance, of humour and tears, narrated in simple direct ways often laconically, often self deprecating, wry good humour, rarely with bitterness and never with complaint. Men and women the ancient Greeks would readily identify with: But unlike the ancient Greeks immortalised in myth and legend, who will remember the stories, the trials and hardships, the battles and the successes out here in the vast reaches of the western lands if I do not write them down as they are narrated to me by the very people who live the stories.
B W Harding
Silas Crane was a killer plain and simple. He did not kill indiscriminately, he did not kill wantonly, he simply did not hesitate to kill those who came against him and by extension anyone who offered harm to those he called friend. He derived no pleasure from such confrontations, what reputation others attached to his name he ignored, considering such to be idle foolishness.
Of family he had none, himself the only survivor of a Comanche raid. His folks ran a few head and raised crops; it was claimed, down in New Mexico. The Comanche didn’t take kindly to the intrusion and eventually got around to wiping the Crane ranch from the face of the earth. At that time the Cranes were just another family of settlers that didn’t make it. The Comanche played hell and were damn near unstoppable until the Cavalry poured in about eight thousand troops. Sounds a lot don’t it when you realise the Comanche tribes hadn’t but a few hundred warriors between ‘em, but that eight thousand were patrolling damn near thirty thousand square miles and the Comanche knew every inch.
Anyway what happened was when Silas’ Ma and Pa realised there was just no way on God’s earth they were going to survive the attack they hid young Silas in the root cellar. He damn near suffocated when the Comanche fired the house, but he was smart enough to smother his coughing and spluttering and stayed put whilst the homestead burned down around him. Course he knew his Ma and Pa were dead by then. They died game but there weren’t nothing left to bury but a few burnt bones. The lad stayed put until he was good and sure the Comanche were long gone. Finally emerging to find himself alone in a vast, hostile land. I believe he weren’t much more than eleven, maybe twelve years old or there abouts. He picked through the smoking ruin of his home and put together what he could by way of food, clothes and weapons. The Comanche had taken what horses there were so the lad had no choice but to walk out.
Nigh on six weeks later he was found by a lone rider. The rancher, the rider worked for, took the boy in and made a place for him, but it weren’t no free ride I can tell you. The rancher worked him hard sunup to sundown, paid him four dollars a month and all he could eat. The boy thrived and later when the rancher found out that Silas was not only literate but numerate to boot, once a month he’d get him to tally his books and paid him an extra dollar for doing so. The rancher by name Trojan Babcock would you believe, was hard but fair and he fed his men well. Tom Sunday was riding for Babcock at that time and I believe it was Sunday who taught Silas to shoot: And Cleb Stone, a one time mountain man, gave the boy a hand forged gypsy blade damn near twelve inches long, Gypsy blades were rare and much sought after, the steel kept its edge and was close to being damn near unbreakable. Tom Sunday was a gunfighter and pretty soon he moved on. “You’re fast,” he said to Silas, “and you’ve got good hand and eye coordination. When trouble comes,” he said mildly, “don’t let anger scramble your brains, stay cool, size up the opposition, ignore all else. Keep your eye on the target, draw and fire. Some gunfighters prefer speed over accuracy, and more often than not, the first shot flies wide. Such be foolishness Silas because I’m here to tell you,” he said with a grin, “it’s that first accurate shot that counts, and the one who fires it is the one who walks away. Stay cool under fire Silas always, and you’ll do just fine.” Tom Sunday wasn’t a bad man; he was good with a gun so he sold his skill to the highest bidder. There were plenty like him back then but I’d say Tom Sunday was probably the best of them: A quiet, mild mannered, man who none the less practiced a deadly trade.
Like I said Trojan Babcock was a hard man but fair. Silas matured under his watchful eye. Basically he grew up in a tough, hard working environment, which was just about par for the course back then. In his teens he fought Indians and rustlers, Mexican bandits and white renegades for the brand. Silas thrived and was not found wanting, the advice of Tom Sunday ever present in his head. During those years; of women he met none. By the time he turned twenty one he was known to be fast with a gun and deadly with a knife and if pushed he’d come at you boot and fist. When finally Silas rode away in search of new horizons Trojan Babcock said, “You ever find yourself in need Silas; you send word you hear, no questions asked.”
ilas followed a hard trail and in time, like others the world over, became no stranger to disappointment and failure. It is said he stole cattle and twice held up the Wells Fargo stage. It is said he robbed a bank in Durango and deposited the money he stole in the Cattleman’s Bank down in old El Paso, and that he killed two men in a shootout in the main street of Laredo. It is said that he stood friend to the outlaw Johnny Sonora and that he was on speaking terms with Harpo Kane the notorious Colorado Gunfighter who worked for, and later killed, the town Marshall Edward Bourne over a matter of deception, robbery and murder.
Silas did not know what he was looking for, all he knew was that one day he would find it or die trying, the inarticulate speech of the soul; of Silas Crane it is said ‘Silas Crane is a killer and a thief, plain and simple. They were wrong.
One time at the end of a trail drive in Dallas, Trojan Babcock was heard to say, “Silas Crane, yeah I know him; a hard man but if’n you’re in trouble ain’t no better hand than Silas, he’ll see you through the fires of hell, count on it.”
It is said Silas Crane came upon two men torturing a crippled, one eyed dog. Silas shot the dog and invited the two men to make issue out of it, wisely they declined. One time there was a story going round up in Tucson that Silas stood and watched a buffalo hunter offering to sell a boy, “what was orphaned when I found him,” for ten dollars. The boy was thin and wasted his face pinched and pale and he had obviously been ill used. The boy stood straight but you could see the fear and loathing in his eyes, the way he trembled and twitched when the buffalo hunter, filthy and stinking to high heaven, touched him and then pushed him forward to gain the attention of what folk were passing by. Silas stood and watched the man and the boy most all the afternoon before he made a move. Maybe he was thinking of his own childhood travail, maybe he was thinking there but for the grace of God and Trojan Babcock, go I.
He made his move around sundown. Word is he walked up to the buffalo hunter who was grinning expectantly and roughly shoved the boy towards Crane. Crane just walked in, he never said a word, just drew his pistol and shot the man in the head and shot him again before he hit the ground.
Silas took the boy by the hand and walked down the street to the edge of town. Damn it was quiet, everybody just standing there silent as the grave staring like they couldn’t believe what just happened.