BRANDED

The Golden Fleece — episode #32

Jason rides into a town one day and is tying up his horse when he hears the cocking of rifles. As he looks up, he is surprised to find army men surrounding him. “Jason McCord,” one of the men declares. “Your court martial has been reopened. The war department has new evidence.”
 
“Oh, new evidence,” Jason mumbles. “Good.”
 
“Not good,” the Captain declared. “The evidence is you didn’t just desert your men at Bitter Creek, but you conspired with the Indians to plan a sneak attack.”  Jason thought that was ridiculous, but the Captain had his orders to transport Jason to Washington.
 
The Captain came ordered the Lieutenant to take his guns. A cowboy ran out of the saloon and asked Hank what they were doing. Hank wasted no time to fill him in. “Good. Maybe this time he’ll get the firing squad!”
 
But Jason wasn’t going to go down without a fight. He took a punch at one man. One of the soldiers started to lift his rifle, but he was ordered there would be no shooting. He put up quite a fight, but the army men finally overtook him and forced him into the prison wagon. The Captain wasted no time in telling Jason the other man in there was a traitor too. “You two should enjoy the ride.”
 
The prisoner with him automatically started talking to Jason. “Most men go to prison protesting their innocence.” Jason asked about him. He admitted he was guilty. “What they call treason, I call patriotism.”
 
“Well, if you’re guilty of treason against a country, and they are as wrong about you as they were about me, you’ve earned my respect and admiration.”
 
“And you have mine,” the prisoner stated. “For a man they call a coward, you put up quite a fight.” Jason wondered why he was being deemed a traitor. “They been trying to get me for something or other ever since the war. They can’t forget what my Rebs did to them at Cemetery Ridge…A few miles from here. I was a thorn in their side then, and still am.”
 
“I’ve never come upon Kirby’s Raiders, but I’ve heard of them,” Jason mentioned.
 
“Made things pretty hard for you blue-bellies West of the Mississippi,” Kirby smiled.
 
“I don’t like being called a blue belly anymore than I like being called a coward!” Jason gave Kirby a look that left a no doubt he was serious.
 
“Consider the source,” Kirby grumbled.
 
It wasn’t long before they stopped the horses and wagon. The Captain told one of the soldiers to help him give the prisoners a drink. Captain Brooks unlocked the cage, unlocked their chains, and told them to get out for a few minutes while they watered the horses. The minute Jason stepped out of the wagon, he started another fight. Jason shot two of the soldiers, then told his prisoner to run for the horses.
 
After they were out of sight, the Major rode up and asked one of the soldiers who was shot how it went. “Exactly as planned, Major Meade,” he answered. “It sure looked real enough.” The major was happy to hear that. The Captain then demanded to know exactly what was going on. They had arrested Jason and let him escape.
 
A messenger delivered a message…to none other than President Ulysses S. Grant. He announced that Jason had met up with Kirby, and they made their escape. Grant was happy to hear that. He decided nobody was going to wreck the banks and get away with it. Secretary Richardson and President Grant were all upset over Fiske and Goole who were out to wreck the gold market. The people on the street were getting upset.
 
“If Major Meade’s plan works, you’ll have $300,000 in gold to slow down this bank, Mister Secretary.” The Secretary hoped Jason was successful. “Well…Nobody knows McCord’s role in this except you, Major Meade, and myself. See that it stays that way.” Secretary Richardson agreed to do that. “Right now, Richardson…The man who’s been branded a coward and a traitor is the most important man in my administration.”
 
Jason stopped racing his horse once he was sure they’d gotten away. Kirby thanked Jason for helping him. “I was just saving my neck,” Jason explained. “From what…I don’t know.” Kirby said they’d be safe once they got back to Bridger. “Bridger? That’s where they arrested us!”
 
“Well, they won’t do it again. We’ll be headed out there…well cared for.” Jason stared at Kirby as if he were crazy. “Tell me McCord, did you ever hear of…the Knights of Liberty?” Jason thought it was some die hard confederates still fighting the war. “We fight the authority of that grafting corrupt carpet-bagging government of yours!” Kirby declared icily.

“Not my government. Not any more, Mister!” Jason declared.
 
“There’s over one hundred of us. Men who are dedicated to establishing a new Confederate empire in the Caribbean.”
 
Jason laughed. “That sounds like a pipe dream! It takes a lot of money to start an empire.”
 
“It’s no dream!” Kirby declared. “And we have a lot of money.” Then he explained. “Just before Lee surrendered, our rangers captured the largest shipment of gold ever to sent from California to the Union. Over three hundred thousand dollars, and I’ve got every penny of it!”
 
Jason acted shocked. “Well Colonel, I believe you CAN start an empire.” Kirby assured Jason they would. Then he told Jason they could use a man of his experience and background.   
 
Jason showed him the chain that still joined them together. “We’re joined, Colonel.”
 
That night, they attended the secret meeting. All the “knights” were dressed in white capes and hoods. Only the leader looked different. He wore a red cape over his white one. Jason watched through a slit in the door. Two men were talking. The other man was dressed in a purple cape over his white hood. They were disappointed the Colonel had made it back. Now they’d never get their hands on that gold, Jason heard. “No, this is better,” the man in the red cape declared. “We’ve hunted for it before and couldn’t find it. Now we’ll trick him into telling us where he hid it, then we’ll get rid of him.”
 
The meeting came to order. They said the sacred pledge:
 
We pledge to thee the secret banner of the realm.
And forsaking all other loyalties
Dedicate our lives and our treasures to the ultimate victory
Or our noble order

 
Kirby and Jason came out from the back room then. Everyone started greeting him, but the main in charge demanded order. “It’s good to have you back, Colonel. But bringing an outsider to a meeting violates the first command of secrecy.”
 
“I wrote those orders,” Kirby declared as he came forward. “I know when I can violate one.” He turned to look at the rest of the members. “I propose this man for membership. Jason McCord, formerly of the army, and now he’s mostly accused and hunted by those same treacherous forces. I would have never gotten back here if it hadn’t been for his dire courage. When our forces are ready to attack, we’ll need a man of his background and experience.”
 
“I have heard of his background,” the leader declared. “He’s known as the coward of Bitter Creek.”
 
“That story’s a lie! He was accused a coward!” Kirby declared. “The army was going to execute him on some trumped up charges. I say that Jason McCord has more reason to be behind our cause than any man in this room tonight!” Kirby asked for the vote. Two of the higher ups opposed.
 
“Well…” The leader snarled. “I suppose the army’s loss is our gain.”
 
Kirby asked for the mace. The leader didn’t give it to him. The second time, Kirby was a bit more forceful and the leader gave it to him. Kirby turned to Jason, telling him to kneel. He inducted him into the group.
 
Then Jason was given permission to talk. “Well, Colonel Kirby tells me you need guns and ammunition. I’ve got an army contact. It may take some of your gold, but I can get you all the weapons you need.” The leader asked Jason how he found out about the gold.
 
“I told him,” Kirby declared. “I captured it, I control it! My men and my son died at Cemetery Ridge for it. That’s more than enough!”
 
The leader stepped forward. “But so far, all we’ve heard is why we need McCord. I’d like to know why he joins us. A coward doesn’t enlist to fight.”
 
Jason punched him so hard he fell to the ground. Jason hovered over him, a stern look on his face. “I don’t know who you are, but don’t ever call me that again.”
 
“But I do know about you, McCord. And I’ll keep an eye on you…every minute!”
 
At the White House, Secretary Richardson brought in another telegram from Major Meade. “They’ve had no word from Jason McCord.” Grant said they’d have to introduce gold into the Market until Fiske and Goole choke on it.
 
Grant was worried. He told Richardson to wire Major Meade and tell him to get in touch with Jason somehow and “get the gold tonight or watch this country go into a panic first thing in the morning.” Grant ordered him to find McCord. “FIND McCORD!!!”
 
One night, Jason snuck quietly into the stable. He didn’t see anyone as he made his way to saddle his horse. But his hands froze when he heard the cocking of a gun. He turned to see Sheriff Gorman with a gun trained on him. “You made a mistake coming back here, McCord,” Gorman declared as he took Jason’s gun from his pants. “These men are beating a bush for you.” Jason told him he was wrong. “Don’t tell me, I saw them hauling you out of here. They want you bad.”
 
Jason stayed calm as he explained. “Look, my arrest was part of a plan. I’m working for Major Meade.”
 
“You expect me to swallow that?” Gorman asked.
 
“Well, I was heading for his camp,” Jason answered. “Take me out there. I’ll let you explain it himself.” Gorman thought that would give Jason a chance to plan his escape on the way. “Listen to me, Sheriff. A secret organization has three hundred thousand dollars worth of gold the government needs. They’re planning on moving it tonight. I’ve got to get to Major Meade!” Jason’s voice was pleading now. “Get me to the Major!”
 
“I’ll do better than that, McCord,” Gorman declared with a sly grin.
 
Jason found himself facing Colonel Kirby. “Alright Colonel. Now do you see why I don’t trust McCord?” Gorman asked as he held a gun on Jason.
 
Kirby apologized “Sir Falcon?” Jason asked after Kirby called the Sherriff by that name. “He’s the one I heard plotting against you before the meeting.”
 
“I know what I’m doing! And I know what you are. You’re nothing but a blue belly, McCord!” Kirby declared angrily.
 
“Alright, Kirby, Maybe I am working for the Government,” Jason admitted. “But he still wants that gold!!!”
 
“He’s only trying to split us up,” Gorman explained carefully. “We need to start moving that gold right now.”  He figured there may be men waiting around to hear from Jason.
 
“Don’t listen to him, Kirby! He wants the gold. If he gets it, he’s going to forge all about you and your empire!” Jason argued.
 
“Your word means nothing now!”
 
“Be sensible! Your outfit’s broken up, it’s shot to pieces!” Jason softened his voice. “Get that gold away from here, Kirby. Turn it over to the government. It might buy you your freedom.” Gorman asked Kirby to tell him where it was so he could get it right now. Kirby hesitated. He was thinking about what Jason was telling him.
 
“It’s in the barrels, where McCord thought it was all the time,” Kirby admitted.
 
“Thanks, Colonel,” Gorman smiled. “Now I’ll take charge of it. Shoot me…two escaped prisoners.” Without hesitation, he shot Kirby. Kirby fell over. Jason took that moment to punch Gorman. They struggled. Gorman fought dirty, trying to choke Jason to death, but Jason was strong. They fought over the barrels. Kirby came to and took his gun. He shot Gorman, killing him.
 
Jason lifted a bag from one of the barrels and found that it was only dirt. Kirby fell to the ground. He was about to die. Jason walked over to him and bent down. Gently, he announced his finding to Kirby. “There is no gold down here,” he announced softly. “Is there, Kirby?”
 
“No,” Kirby whispered. “Only sands. They fought traitors!”
 
“Where is it? That gold?” Jason asked. “You can’t build your empire now. But it can do a lot to help the country you stole it from.”
 
“No empire…” Kirby mumbled weakly.
 
“Kirby, you were fighting a war, but it’s over.” Jason reminded him that Robert E. Lee himself had asked us to make this “One strong, unified country.” Kirby was listening. “You can help me more than ever now by telling me where that gold is.”
 
“Everything I loved…fought for…is buried on Cemetery Ridge.” Then he died.
 
And that’s where the army found the gold. They gathered it up from the cemetery on Cemetery Ridge. Kirby sent the men away and rode over to where Jason sat waiting. “You will bury the Colonel next to his son, won’t you, Major?” Jason asked.
 
“We will, McCord,” Major Meade promised. “I want to thank you again…for myself, for the army, and for the United States treasury. “
 
Jason smiled.  “Well, I guess the gold is important, but smashing an outfit like the Knights of Liberty may do a lot more good in the long run. You know, men like that don’t really threaten us. They certainly do dirty us.”
 
“Well, sometimes we do a little dirtying ourselves,” Major Meade admitted. “As in your case. I’ll be reporting to President Grant. Any message?”
 
“Yes,” Jason answered with a grin. “Tell him it took seven years, but we finally won the Battle of Cemetery Ridge.” The two men saluted each other then rode off in different directions.


The Golden Fleece ― Cast


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*Thanks to Michelle Palmer for writing this episode!

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