BRANDED
The Vindicator episode #2

Jas 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 again.

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 find out.

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 try.

Jas arrived at the ranch and headed for the house. He heard a voice say.....
"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. Jas 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 away.



"What happened at Bitter Creek is between me and my conscience!"


The Vindicator ― Cast


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*I met June Lockhart at the Festival of the West in March of 2006.   

*Ann Williams is the Ghostwriter writer for this episode.

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