The Vindicator —
and several other men had rode herd for the Spike Ranch. They were
long overdue for a visit to town.
Now it was time to reap the
rewards of his three month journey. All the other men hurried into
the saloon with Jas lagging behind.
He just got off of his horse when he heard a man yell....."Captain
McCord!" He stopped suddenly. It had been a while since someone had
called him that. There stood a man in a suit. As he approached Jas
he said....."Well I finally found you after all these months." Jas
asked him if they knew each other. The man introduced himself as Ned
Travis, a newspaper reporter from the New York Herald. Jas had heard
of him and had read some of the things he had written about him.
Travis asked him what he thought of it. He didn't like what he had
read and asked Travis to excuse him; he wanted to get cleaned up.
Just then Ray came out of the saloon and called to Jas to come into
the saloon for a drink. He told him he'd be there after he got a
shave and a hot bath.
Travis couldn't help but notice that Ray didn't even know who Jas
really was. He was disappointed; he thought he had made Jas more
famous then that, immortalized him.
Travis proceeded to tell Jas that his editor sent him west to do a
story on him. He wanted to know just what made him tick. He started
throwing questions at Jas....."What does make you tick? What do you
think about? How does it feel being the worst hated man in the
territory? Do you ever wish you had died with your men instead of
running out on them?" Jas asked him why he even bothered asking him
anything; he'll print what he wanted to. "Do you think if you don't
talk about it, it will all go away, people will forget?" "It doesn't
work that way, they will remember as long as you live." "That'll be
your epitaph." Jas started to walk away from him, but he walked with
Jas. He told Jas he had just one question.....He asked Jas why he
pleaded not guilty, but offered no defense? Jas told him he had
nothing to say. Travis asked him why he doesn't tell him why he ran
out on his men. Jas stopped and just looked at him. He wanted to
know what happened.....who was responsible.....who was to blame? He
wanted something to print.....even if it was a lie. "What happened
at 'Bitter Creek'?"
Jas's mind started wandering back to Bitter Creek and the massacre
and how he pleaded with General James Reed, his commanding officer,
to give the order to withdraw, that they didn't stand a chance.
General Reed rambled on about everything being a lie. Jas told him
it didn't matter, what mattered now was to save the men. He could
see he was unstable and relieved him of his command for medical
reasons. Again General Reed rambled on about the Indians rejecting
peace, they wanted war, he would give them war and they would make a
stand. Jas tried talking to General Reed again, but he didn't
comprehend what was being said. When Jas yelled to the Sergeant to
gather up all causalities and they would be moving out. General Reed
told the Sergeant to disregard that order and that all men were to
advance, no one was to fall back. The Sergeant was stunned. He
looked at Jas with concern & dismay. Jas told him the General was no
longer in command. The General told the Sergeant that Jas was a
coward and he should place him under arrest. Just then an arrow
pierced the General in the heart.
General Reed was dead.
Jas was unaware his mind had wandered back to that moment until he
heard Travis say.....
"What happened at 'Bitter Creek'?" "What really happened there?"
"What's the difference? Thirty-one men died," said Jas. Travis was
surprised by that number. He had heard it was almost two hundred.
The legend grows with the telling.....thirty-one men against one
hundred and forty Apaches; armed with repeating rifles. Most of the
men were dead when the column got to Bitter Creek. The next day the
rest of the men died on the way back except.....except one. When Jas
came out of a comma ten days later, he found he had to face charges.
Jas told Travis to print what he wanted to print....."What happened
at Bitter Creek is between me and my conscience!" He then walked
away from Travis and went to get his shave and a bath.
Travis had come here to search out the widow of Lt. John Pritchett,
Sue Pritchett, was third in command and served under McCord. Lt.
John Pritchett had left behind a wife and son, Johnny. After talking
to Jas he headed out for her ranch. He told her his newspaper
syndicate was doing a story on Bitter Creek and its aftermath. He
was interviewing relatives of the causalities. He offered ten
dollars cash for an interview with her. She told him she couldn't
really help him in anyway, she didn't know anything. When Travis
mentioned McCord's name, Johnny knew right away who he was. Johnny
loved to play act and this was one play he acted out over and over
While questioning John's widow the reporter found out that she had
some letters which her husband had sent her. He asked her if she
would allow him to read them. She was reluctant to do so. But he
convinced her he was only interested in the parts about Captain
McCord. He asked her how she felt about Jas. She was bitter that Jas
lived and her husband died. Also the fact that Jas turned his back
on his men and the general he was to care so much about, bothered
her. She then handed the letters over to him. "They're all I have
left of him, really! It's almost as if he knew he wasn't coming back
to us." Travis started to read the letters. He was enthralled with
every word. He came to a part in one of the letters that
read....."Today the General assembled us all together and talked for
an hour about how Washington was trying to undermind his plans and
force him into retirement." As he started to read the letters he saw
Bitter Creek and Captain Jason McCord in a different light. He then
came to a part that John mentioned that there were times he thought
there was something the matter with the General and that it scared
him to think of how the seventy year old General would react in a
combat situation. He then looked over another letter and again he
had mentioned the General and the obligation that Jas felt toward
him, something like a second father to him. He spoke of Jas covering
up for the General. Now Travis had his story and all the proof he
needed to back it up with. A story that would beat all other
stories! He headed straight for town and to the telegraph office.
When Travis came out of the telegraph office he saw Jas saddling up
his horse. He went over to him and said....."I don't know exactly
how to say this.....but.....I owe you an apology." Jas was surprised
at his statement. He told him that when he got done with his story
the people of the United State would have to change their opinion of
him and he was glad he would be the one to tell them the truth. Jas
asked him what he was trying to say. He was talking about a new
headline for Bitter Creek....."The Villain Wore Stars!" "That's a
foolish accusation to make without proof," stated Jas. He told Jas
he had the proof and enough of it for the army to reopen his case.
"Travis.....I'm the only living witness to Bitter Creek and I call
you a liar!" Travis told him that he had done the General's fighting
for him long enough. Travis wanted to expose General Reed. "Let's
tell the world what General Reed turned out to be!" Jas told him to
forget it. Travis said he knew that the General was senile and
incompetent. "I said forget it!" Travis wasn't about to let this
story go. This was the best story of his career. Travis then left.
Jas just stood there thinking and taking in what all he was just
told when he heard the telegraph clerk call Travis. Jas walked over
to him and asked him if he was looking for the reporter. The clerk
said he was and that he had his answer from Freeport Junction. Jas
told him that he just went around the corner. The clerk went to look
for him, Jas went into the Telegraph Office to see what he could
Jas knew he had to stop Travis, but how? His only chance was to go
and talk to Mrs. Pritchett and see if he could get her to destroy
her dead husband's letters. That wouldn't be easy, but he had to
Jas arrived at the ranch and headed for the house. He heard a voice
"Get those hands up!" Jas put his hands in the air. It was Johnny,
play acting again. So he went along with the game until the part
where Johnny called him "McCord." Jas asked him who McCord was.
Johnny told him everybody knew him, he was the one who killed his
Pa. Just then Mrs. Pritchett came out onto the porch. She asked Jas
if he was a reporter. He said he wasn't. He asked to talk with her
inside. He asked her if she taught him that game. She told him that
the children at the school house did, they were all aware that
Johnny's father had died at Bitter Creek. She asked him if he wanted
to see the letters too. He told her he wasn't a reporter and that he
was a friend of John's and that he was with him when he died. She
said that wasn't possible, unless he was Jason McCord. She never
expected to meet him. She had a picture in her mind of him and
imagined all the things she would say to him. He told her that the
reporter was expecting a photographer from Freeport Junction. She
told him they were coming to her place. That Travis wanted to take
pictures of her letters and that they would prove he was innocent.
She said she was going to allow it and didn't want to stand in the
way of him being cleared. He asked her not to let them photograph
those letters. She was confused, those letters could help him. He
told her they could destroy the peace they were now enjoying with
the Indian Nations.....thanks to the vision of one man, James Reed.
He said he didn't know why he was the one to come out of Bitter
Creek alive, but the fact that he did seemed to serve a purpose. She
felt it wasn't his fault and didn't understand why he felt the way
he did. "Maybe I should have relieved him earlier.....weeks earlier
when I first knew. Maybe I put friendship ahead of duty.....Maybe I
am responsible, even more then General Reed." She told him that it
wasn't right that he should be blamed. "The right or wrong of it
isn't that simple Mrs. Pritchett.....there are a great many men in
congress who for their own selfish purposes favor a war with the
Indians. If the General's name is dishonored.....disgraced.....those
men would question everything he stood for and if Washington goes
back on its word the Indian chiefs won't have any choice but to kill
again. And then we won't have any choices but to kill them in
return." She told Jas that Travis had told her if she didn't let him
have the letters he could go to a judge and get a federal order.
assured her that he probably could get one. She asked him what he
wanted her to do. He looked at her and said....."I think you know."
She shook her head and said she couldn't, but she could hide them or
bury them outback. He told her that once this leaked out, and it
would, there will always be someone waiting around making offers.
Maybe someday in a moment of weakness or need, she'd make a mistake.
"You have no right to ask me to do this," said Mrs. Pritchett. He
knew he didn't, but he had no other choice. "Scraps of paper is all
they are to you. To me they're memories of how he talked and how he
felt. He touched those letters and he carried them close to him in
his pocket. And at the end he always put an x above his signature
where he kissed the paper." "They never sent the body back you know.
There is no grave.....nothing." "Don't you see.....I can't? Don't
take these away from me!" He listened with his heart and then looked
her in the eyes and said....."Mrs. Pritchett.....nobody could ever
take those letters away from you. John was alive when he wrote them.
He wrote of his love for you. That love will always be alive because
you are alive.....that's a part of you." Mrs. Pritchett spoke the
words of John's letter from memory....."April 15th.....it's
quiet.....and I'm the officer of the guard tonight. Oh God.....the
sunset is so beautiful and as I watch it I suddenly found myself
crying.....and wondering what I'm doing here so far away." He told
her that she can't keep John's memory and destroy someone else's. He
reminded her that scraps of paper was all they really were. "I think
he would have wanted me to do as you have asked." Just as she
finished putting the letters in the fire Johnny yelled to her
telling her that Travis was back with some other people.
She went out onto the porch. Travis told her that he had her money
for her and that the men would act as witnesses to your signature to
prove the letters were authentic. She told him that her house was
getting clutter with some odds and ends and that she had burned some
letters that were meaningless. He didn't believe her. Jas then
opened the door and walked out onto the porch. Travis asked if she
knew who Jas was. She told him that he didn't say who he was. "This
is Jason McCord!" Johnny turned and looked at Jas. "Is he.....is he
Mom?" She turned to Jas and told him to get off of her property. As
Jas walked towards his horse, Johnny came running after him, crying
and hitting him.....yelling....."You killed my Daddy....you killed
him!" Johnny asked his mother if it was true. She held her head up
high and said....."Yes.....it's true!" "You hear that McCord.....Is
that what you want?" Yelled Travis. Jas turned and looked at them
standing there together. He turned and got on his horse and rode
"What happened at Bitter Creek is between me and my conscience!"
the saddlebag..... 1
*I met June Lockhart at the Festival of the West in March of 2006.
Williams is the Ghostwriter writer for this episode.