"Welcome to the McCain Ranch"
It was a dark and windy night that night. As the wind blew, the curtains blew in an eerie motion that just spelled murder. If ever there was a night for cold-blooded death of an old man, it was tonight. Suddenly, there was movement from inside the house, and it wasn’t a member of the household that was moving around in there – it was a stranger. It was a stranger wearing gloves, who knew where Mr. Muchen kept his money box. It was a stranger who didn’t care about stealing from an old man.
Suddenly, Mr. Muchen sat up in bed. He had heard a noise and went out to investigate it. “Volney,” he called out from his bed. “Is that you?” He waited, hoping the hired hand would answer, but no sound came from the living room. Mr. Muchen got out of bed, grabbed his shotgun, and slowly made his way into the living room. “Volney, who’s there?” he called from his bedroom door. “Speak up before I let go of this shotgun!” But there was nothing but silence.
Suddenly, Mr. Muchen looked over toward the fireplace. Someone had taken his money. He dropped his shotgun and raced over to the rocks that had been removed from his fireplace. He lifted his money box out and started to open it.
Bang! Bang! Suddenly, two quick shots rang out of the darkness. Mr. Muchen started to fall. Three more shots sounded and he fell to his knees. “Volney!” he called. Then he fell over.
Mr. Muchen was dead.
Upon hearing the gunshots, Volney Adams hurried inside. He discovered Mr. Muchen lying on the floor – he wasn’t moving. Volney stood over him and begged him to speak. He couldn’t be dead, Volney thought. He begged Mr. Muchen not to be dead. He cried out for it not to be true. “Please, Mr. Muchen, don’t be dead!” he cried as he fell to his knees in front of his deceased employer. “Don’t you understand what they’ll say? They’ll say I did it. They’ll say I murdered you. Pleas Mr. Muchen…” he cried out, continuing to wish he wasn’t dead.
Suddenly, the person that didn’t belong in the house was there. He had come to take care of Volney too. Volney fought him. He pushed him across the room and scratched his arm, tearing his sleeve as well. The murderer pushed Volney down, however; then he raced out the door..
Unaware that anything was amiss, Mark and I rode up to Mr. Muchen’s house the next morning. Mark went to but the barley seed in the barn while I went inside to talk to Mr. Muchen. I knocked. I knocked again and called his name. A third time I knocked, but there was still no answer I opened the door and called Mr. Muchen’s name once more. But then I saw it.
Mr. Muchen was dead, .and Volney Adams was sitting silently in a chair, just staring off into space. “Volney, what happened? Who killed him?” I asked. But he said nothing – just continued staring at the wall. “Did you hear me, Volney? Who killed him?” I asked again, this time with more force. Suddenly, fear gripped me as I stared at him. “Did you do it?”
“No, no. I didn’t do it,” Volney stated. "What difference does it make? Think anybody's gonna believe me?"
“Pa!” I heard Mark’s surprised voice from behind me. I turned to look at him. He asked what had happened. I told him Mr. Muchen had been shot. "Who did it?” Mark suddenly looked at Volney. “Volney?" he said in disbelief.
“I didn't know, but let’s not jump to any conclusions. Volney’s record’s not gonna help him anyway.” Suddenly I turned to Mark and told him to go on to school. “But don’t say about this until we find out what really happened, ya' hear?” I asked. Mark was already forming his own conclusion in his head. I could tell that. “Ya' hear?” I repeated when he didn’t respond to me. I said it in a stern voice, letting him know the seriousness of staying quiet.
I suddenly noticed the blood on Volney’s fingers and his nails were torn. When I asked him what happened, he said, “I must have torn the nails. I didn’t do it!” He started crying out again. I tried to calm him down. “I must have torn them I tried to stop the man who killed Mr. Muchen. You see, I was out in the barn. I heard a shot. No...a lot of shots. I came running in here and there was Mr. Muchen on the floor."
I took Volney into town to talk to the Marshal. As we rode in, there was a man on the street – a drummer – selling the elixir of Life. As he kept talking, Volney and I rode up to Micah’s office and jumped off our horses. Ellie Aikens came over to see Volney. They had been courting, so she was always happy to see him.
We were about to walk into the Marshal’s office when Volney suddenly turned and stated what a nice day it was. I guess he figured he was on his way to his execution or something. Suddenly, Ellie hurried up to us all excited. “Volney, Volney, what you doing in town today?”
He turned to her. “No matter what they say, Ellie, I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it!” He was suddenly upset again. Ellie didn’t understand what he was saying. I told her Mr. Muchen was killed and we were going in to see the Marshal. We were going to tell Micah his story
“Ellie, you know what they’ll do to me with my record?” Volney suddenly stated. I didn’t see any reason to upset Ellie more.
“Nothing’s gonna happen to you, Volney. The longer you put it off, the tough it’s gonna be,” I explained to him gently.
We went inside and told Micah the story. I told him that the money was missing from the box. Suddenly, one of our town’s citizen’s, Joe Hannah, poked his head inside the door and said,
"What's that? Old man Muchen murdered? His money gone?" He took off to spread the word. Micah slammed the door shut, knowing the word would be all over the territory in five minutes.
Micah wanted to know what else Volney could tell him, but he knew nothing else. Volney showed Micah his nails, but Micah said it didn’t mean anything. I was disappointed to hear that Volney was going to be held until the circuit judge arrived. Micah left to ride out to the ranch and investigate the murder.
Hannah was already spreading the word. He sure was getting the town riled up. "I tell ya', I saw it with my own eyes. Lucas McCain brought him in. Volney killed old man Muchen. He shot him for the money he got for the sale of his cattle last week. Why they even have the empty strong box with them."
But they just couldn’t believe it. Even to them, Volney didn’t seem like a killer.
There was a medicine man in town by the name of Simms. He sure wasn't going to help matters any. He decided to put his two cents in “Well, that’s just what happens when you trust a man who spent time in a penitentiary!”
“It’s them quiet one’s like Volney you have to be careful about, I tell ya'!” Hannah stated.
That gave Simms the opportunity to try to sell some of his “Elexor of Life” to Hannah. He handed him a bottle and told him to taste it because all this excitement was shortening his life.
"Does taste good. Got quite a zing,” Hannah declared. He turned around to the man standing behind him. “Go ahead hangman, try it. I feel better already.” Hannah held out the bottle to him.
"I don't want any. My name’s Harold Tenner, not hangman."
"Sorry Tenner. You heard about the killin'. Volney Adams killed old man Muchen? Looks like your gonna have a hangin'." Tenner walked away.
I had gone back to the ranch. But Ellie soon rode out to talk to me. She was in love with Volney and was very upset that he was going to be tried for the murder. I did my best to calm her down. "Ellie, Ellie, no ones saying for sure that Volney killed Muchen." I said gently as I stood next to her buggy.
She was crying. "Then why is Micah holding him Lucas? Why doesn't he let him go? They’ll hang him, Lucas. His reputation is against him. He's already been in jail." I reassured Ellie that Volney's reputation had nothing to do with it. I explained to her that Micah went out to the Muchen Ranch to check on Volney's story. Then after the facts are presented there will be a trial. He would be treated just as fair as anyone else would.
"Maybe they won't wait for a trail Lucas. I heard them down by the medicine man's wagon. They’re saying that Volney's guilty." She was scared.
“What they’re saying doesn’t make any difference, Ellie,” I answered.
“I’m scared, Lucas. I guess that if anything happened to him, there would be anybody else-“ she started.
But I stopped her but putting my hand on top of hers. I assured her that as long as Volney was innocent, nothing was going to happen. I wanted to do what I could to calm her down. I told her to come inside and I’d make her a cup of coffee, but she wanted to get home and fix Volney supper. She didn’t want him eating any of that jail food.
That night, I was helping Mark wash his hair – not one of his favorite things to do. He asked me to give him a towel, but I ordered him to put some soap on his face first. He groaned, not really wanting to do that. “You kids just don’t like soap, do ya'?” I commented. He grinned as he washed his face. Then I tried to pump some water so he could rinse the soap off.
I tried pumping several times, but it wasn’t pumping. I apologized to him and handed him the towel to wipe off his face and dry his hair.
"Are we goin' into town tomorrow to visit Volney in jail?" Mark asked.
"Everybody thinks he did it. I mean that he killed Mr. Muchen and stole his money," Mark commented as he dried off. "What do you think?"
"Oh, I don't know. Mr. Muchen was awfully mean to him," said Mark.
I was putting the pump together while we talked. "Oh, and that coupled with the gossip in town makes him guilty, huh?" I questioned him sternly.
"I didn't say that. I was just telling you what I heard the folks saying in town. Doesn't mean that I believe it myself," said Mark.
"I know that son. But gossiping about something as important as a man's life can be very a dangerous thing. You can become prejudiced without even realizing it.” I told Mark to hand me the screwdriver. “Now, we got laws to protect us and one of those laws says that a man is innocent until he's proven guilty." I told Mark to get to bed.
He started to go, but suddenly turned back to me. "Pa, aren't ya' gonna tell me what you think?"
"About Volney? Well son. I don't think anyone gentle enough to see the real beauty in Ellie Aikens could ever raise his hands against another human being." I looked at him, allowing my words to sink in.
Mark thought on that for just a moment. "That's what I think," said Mark.
"Well, if that's what you think then you should stick to it." I told Mark to get to bed, and this time he went!
The next morning, Ellie arrived in town bright and early with Volney’s breakfast. She was about to walk into Micah’s office when she suddenly heard hammering. Looking up the street, she was horrified to see Tenner working on the gallows. She wanted to break out into tears, but knew she had to stay strong for Volney. She was concerned about him. He wasn’t eating. Micah gave Volney his breakfast then left them alone to talk.
Volney was concerned. "What's all that hammering going on outside?" He asked her.
. "They’re repairing the roof to the hotel," Ellie fibbed. “Now Volney, you’ve got to eat. You’ve got to keep up your strength!
“The roof to the hotel?” he questioned her. He didn't believe her. He knew what was going on. “What’s the sense in keep up my strength? It won’t keep me from stretching a rope.”
Ellie believed in him. She knew that he was innocent, but Volney was worried – the evidence was stacked up against him. "Volney, all my life I've been a lonely woman. I've had few friends and no one to love. Since I meant you...I've had something to be proud of. A man who loved me, who's kind to me, who's given me the strength I never knew. You've got to have that strength for me. Please?" Her voice was so soft and tender as she spoke. He suddenly knew that he had found true love.
Volney kissed her hand. "Ellie, if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't care if I lived or died,” he answered softly. Suddenly, they knew they had something – they had each other and that was a hope worth hanging onto.
She was crying now. "Now you eat Volney, those are nice fresh eggs." He picked up the basket and looked inside. Suddenly, he felt like eating. She had renewed his hope.
But the moment she left the jail, her calm expression disappeared. It was hard to stay calm and have hope when the hangman was just a little ways away form the jail working on the gallows. She was worried, but she thanks Micah for giving her a few minutes alone with her man.
As soon as Ellie walked away from Micah, Simms was there stating that the condemned man had eaten a hearty meal. Micah pointed out that the man wasn’t condemned yet. “Oh not yet but…uh…the way folks are talking, it’s just a matter of time, him being a jailbird and all.” Micah didn’t want to hear anymore of his mouth.
“Well now, just a minute,” Simms said. “Who’s side are you on, Marshal? The killer’s or the dead man’s? You know, it’s been my experience that…uh…when a culprit has friends in high places, justices is tempered not with mercy, but with that worse of all elements, misguided loyalty!” Micah said nothing, but wasn’t impressed with the man’s words.
While Mr. Tenner was working on the gallows, Mark and I rode into town. I stopped, not happy with what I was seeing. Suddenly, Mark shot out, "The hangman, working on the gallows.”
That made me angry. I turned my head toward Mark, surprised at what he had just said. “Mark, I don’t want to ever hear you call him that again!” I scolded him with a stern voice. “His name is Mr. Tenner. You remember that.”
We rode up to Mr. Tenner. I gently pointed out that it was too hot for heavy building today. Then I asked him why he was working on these old gallows. “Oh, I’m getting it ready for Volney Adams,” he stated.
“He’s been tried already?” Mark asked. I knew the answer before Tenner even said anything.
“No, no, no, not yet, Mark. But he’s gonna be! From the looks of things, there’s not much doubt about the outcome so I just thought that I’d get the old scaffold ready.” We rode off without saying another word. I was too upset to speak to him at the moment.
We rode on into town and I stopped in front of the feed and grain store. I told Mark I’d meet him at Hattie’s after school. As I was tying my horse to the hitching post, I heard Simms mouthing off. “I tell you, Volney Adams doesn’t deserve the consideration you’d give a bank robber! He took no risks. He just crept in and sneaked up on that poor old soul that had befriended him and killed him!”
Myrtle, who worked at the feed and grain store, was out sweeping her porch when she saw the crowd gathered around listening to Simm’s mouth. His talk upset her and she hurried over to give him a piece of her mind. She pointed out that no one knew who had killed Muchen – it could have been a stranger, but she didn’t think it was Volney. “A stranger wouldn’t know about all that cattle money, Myrtle,” Hannah stated.
“That’s right,” Simms pointed out. “I’d say that it’s a crime to return evil for good.” He kept going on and on – not closing his mouth for two seconds!
She walked away, frustrated and I greeted her. "Hello Lucas. He's been going on like that ever since yesterday. Between that, the hammering' and the heat I have a notion to close up ‘til after the hangin'.
She regretted what she had said the moment it left her mouth. "Hangin' Myrtle?" I scolded her words gently. I knew she didn’t mean what she said. I gave her my list of supplies and told her I’d pick them up in a few days.
Simms was still mouthing off. “And look at the way the Marshal has been letting his woman friend cater to him? Even letting her visit him while he’s in jail – and him a murderer! Mark my word, we’ll have that killer in our midst again!” Hannah pointed out that it was Volney who took that cattle money. On and on…finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I silently walked up behind them.
“Simms, for a man who only lives in North Fork for six months out of the year, it seems to me you’re taking an awful lot of interest in the affairs of this town,” I stated.
“Evil is evil, McCain. I fight for justice wherever I go! That was a lesson brought home to me with considerable force this morning. There’s an element in this town that believes in coddling prisoners, and I say it’s up to every man-“
“-to abide by the law.” I interrupted him, finishing his sentence for him. “Now look, we’ve got a Marshal here. He’s holding him because a murder’s been committed. But it hasn’t been decided either way about that man. And until it is, no one’s gonna start destroying anyone!” I ordered as I addressed the whole crowd.
I walked away, but Simms acted as if he hadn’t heard a word I said! He turned around and started mouthing off about Volney again. I quickly walked to my best friend’s office to have a chit chat with him. I was getting more and more upset. “There’s one thing I don’t understand!” I told Micah as we talked. “Why haven’t you stopped Tenner from starting repair work on those gallows so soon?”
Micah was awfully calm! “Lucas I’ve been arguing about it all morning if I should go out there and stop Tenner from making a living on a job he’s been making a living on for years.”
I paced the floor. “Well don’t you know he’s adding fuel to the flames that loud-mouth medicine man is stirring up out there?” I knew that much more of that talk and Volney would be lynched, rather innocent or guilty.
Micah pointed out that Tenner was on his own property and could waste his time and money on the gallows if he wanted. He couldn’t stop him. “Micah, there’s a dangerous feeling out there! It’s the kind of feeling that can result in a lynching!” I suddenly declared, very upset and worried.
“They’ll be no lynching in North Fork, Lucas. That much I’ll guarantee,” Micah tired to assure me, but I wasn’t too convinced.
I asked Micah if I could go talk to Tenner…sort of unofficially.
I walked down to where Tenner was walking for a little friendly conversation. He was sure working hard at trying to lift a big beam up onto the platform. I sat my rifle down and started my talk with him. “It seems like a mistake getting this started so early. It’s having a bad effect on some of the folks in town and it’s…well, it’s kinda shortcutting the verdict on Volney.” He thought I was exaggerating things. “I don’t think I’m exaggerating anything, Harold. Between you, the gallows, this heat and that medicine man, things are kinda getting out of hand,” I stated.
“I wouldn’t worry about that Lucas. I heard that colonel and Hannah talking. They’re just blowing off steam, that’s all…just blowing off steam. If you would help me get this in the upright position, I’ll be through here in a little while.” He said it was just the noise and heat that had people wiled up.
The way he was talking and acting made me suspicious. I just stared hard at him, studying him, as he worked at lifting the heavy plank. “Harold, doesn’t it make it tough on yourself wearing that heavy shirt in all this heat?” He said the wool helps soak up the sweat. But I wasn’t so sure. I suddenly wondered if there was another reason for wearing that shirt.
He wanted me to give him a hand lifting the heavy beam. When he said “heave,” I purposely moved the plank backwards against his arm. Just what I thought would happen – he cried out in pain. He had a wound that started bleeding. I started to raise his sleeve to take a look, but he stopped me. For some reason, he didn’t want me to see the wound.
“Harold, everybody knows that Volney claims he scratched the killer on the arm before he got away.” Tenner sure did look worried! “Are you wearing that shirt because you have to?” He sure did look guilty when I asked that question.
I knew I was right. In fact, I was so sure that I ripped his shirt. What met my eyes was the evidence that would hang Harold Tenner himself! There on his arm was the biggest scratch I’d ever seen – made four fingernails – the same four that Volney had on his hand!
My suspicions were correct, but I was still upset – I guess deep down I was hoping I was wrong. I glared at him as I spoke harshly. "You lived in this community for years, Tenner!” I suddenly jerked my hand away from his sleeve. “Why'd you do it?"
"Why, I'll tell you why. I've been hangman all my life. Every time they wanted to hang somebody they'd come and get me. They'd pay the fee and I'd spring the trap. Then nobody would talk to me for weeks. Wouldn't even look at me. Or if they did talk to me it was to call me hangman. Do you have any idea what it's like to be an outcast in your own hometown?" He was bitter. The years of hanging people had taken it’s toll on him.
But that was no excuse for killing! I told him so angrily. "Maybe it ain't. Maybe it ain’t, but I've killed so many men on this platform that one more didn't make any difference. Not if it got me away from here." I told him we were going to see the marshal. I grabbed my rifle and told him to go on. But he hesitated, suddenly realizing what this meant for him. He was desperate. “Lucas, just let me take one more look at freedom. At least, what men call freedom.” He walked down the gallows a way. I kept my rifle ready, knowing that a desperate man would try anything – even it would be obviously in vain. Sure enough, I watched his hand pull something from his pants. He turned to shoot, but I was ready and quickly fired a shot at him. The bullet hit his arm and he grabbed it in pain.
I was angry now. I slowly made my way up behind him, keeping my rifle trained on him the whole time. Suddenly, he cried out, "Don't let them hang me Lucas.” I angrily gave him a shove toward town. “Don't let them hang me!" He screamed.
That night, I was sitting on my front porch unwinding from another hard day. I was taking a few puffs on my cigar. Mark suddenly came to the doorway. “Pa.” I turned to look at him and he walked over to me and bent down, setting his arms on my leg. “If Mr. Tenner hated being a hangman so much, why did he become one?"
It was a hard answer, but I did my best to explain it to my boy. "Well son, sometimes in life we’re trapped into doing things we regret later on. It's too bad, but hangmen are necessary. Somebody's got to be the hangman and be willing to accept payment for it. But also he's got to know what he's letting himself in for when he takes the job. Harold Tenner just wasn't meant to be a hangman. It was only a question of time before he cracked up."
"Before I decide what I'm gonna be, I'm gonna give it lots of thought," Mark stated.
"Now wait a minute. I thought you decided definitely to be a writer a couple of weeks ago."
"I still might be one. I'm gonna think it over a lot first though."
"You do that Mark." I studied my cigar as I asked, “Dishes done?”
“Not yet,” Mark answered.
“Well, they’re not gonna wash and dry themselves, you know!” I stated.
"Alright, tonight you can wash and I'll dry," said Mark.
He should have known better then that! "Oh, no, no. Tonight you'll wash and you'll dry." I stated. He started to protest, but I pointed my finger toward the house, silently ordering him to get in there and do them. He started inside, then he turned to tell me it wasn’t fair. I pointed toward the house again, ordering him to get inside. He stopped. He knew that was his punishment for what he had said earlier in the day.
I couldn’t help but to smile at my boy though! I loved using those secret weapons to drive a point home! I sat back to enjoy the rest of my cigar.
piddlin' stuff.....Denver Pyle appeared in five episodes ― Bloodlines as Henry Trumble, he was the one that the Malakie clan mistakenly killed, they thought he was Lucas ― The Legacy as Seth Mitchell, he was the Pa of the two young men that was accused of killing Pa Simons ― The Clarence Bibs Story as George Tanner the gunfighter who came to North Fork to find out what happened to his partner Pretty Man Longden ― The Decision as Frank Hazlitt, he was the dude who threaten Lucas because he was going to testify against his son ― The Hangman as Harold Tanner as the hangman and the killer of Eban Muchen.
Whit Bissell appeared in four episodes ― The Patsy as Sam Barrows the Barber, the man who Sully Hobbs and his gang were terrorizing ― The Fourflusher as Gabe Fenway, the sharecropper for local landlord Preston, who plans to run his quarter horse Sapphire in a local horse race ― The Hangman as Volney Adams who is accused of killing Eban Muchen ― Long Gun from Tucson as Henry Waller, the Gunsmith who was scared to face Holliver and his men.
Betty Lou Gerson played Ellie Aikens. She and Volney are sweet on each other.
Richard Deacon as Colonel Sims. In this episode he is the medicine man.
Michael Fox appeared in four episodes — The Trade as Trager, the telegraph worker — Letter of the Law as Abel, the townsman Micah left guarding Stocker while he went to see Lucas — The Hangman as Joe Hannah, the townsman that ease dropped outside of Micah's office when Lucas brought in Volney Adams — Miss Milly as Jim Oxford, the townsman who Ryan & Adams ruffed up for payment due to Milly.
Amanda Ames/Eileen Harley/Wallace Earl appeared in five episodes ― The Hangman as Myrtle, the owner of the Feed and Grain Store ― The Silent Knife as Myrtle, owner of the Hardware store ― The Executioner as Ruth, the waitress.
Amanda Ames was credited as Eileen Harley in The Retired Gun as Claire Wheatley Carney, who was an old friend of Margaret's and married to The Retired Gun. She also appeared in Short Rope for a Tall Man as Mrs. Lovering, her husband bought Lucas's cattle.
Joe E. Benson appeared in The Rifleman many times, probably more times than listed. Sometimes credited & sometimes not.
*Please note: In Dark Day at North Fork he appeared as two different characters - as one of the townsmen & the bartender.
Joe was a good friend & a neighbor of Chuck's. He helped Chuck build a tree house for the boys and also help build the addition onto the house which was later called the den. (One of the several tree house pictures)
Ralph Moody appeared in a total of twelve episodes of The Rifleman beating John Anderson and John Milford out at eleven episodes. He appeared in nine episodes as Doc Burrage and in three other episodes. The Visitors as Jonathan Dodd — The Spoiler as Roy Merrick and The Hangman as Eban Muchen.
Doc Burrage: Six Years and a Day ― The Actress ― Dark Day at North Fork ― The Mescalero Curse ― Man from Salinas ― Quiet Night, Deadly Night ― Mark's Rifle ― Conflict ― Requiem at Mission Springs.
Doc Burrage was a regular character ~ how many different actors played Doc Burrage? Can you name them?
Ian Murray played Harley Hannabury in seven episodes ― The Challenge ― Blood Brother ― Obituary ― Meeting at Midnight ― The Hangman ― The Illustrator ― The Fourflushers as one of the townsmen.
Gordon Armitage appeared in six episodes of The Rifleman as a townsman ― The Hangman ― Baranca ― Dead Cold Cash ― The Illustrator ― The Lonesome Bride ― The Tinhorn as Joe, a card player.
Archie Butler — Stuntman — Stunt coordinator — Actor - Archie has been in more episodes then anybody with the exception of the regular cast and he probably was in more episode then some of them. ~Arnold Laven
Remember him in The Sharpshooter? Remember when Lucas shot the whiskey bottle and it shattered into pieces? Archie was the cowboy who slid the whiskey bottle to Lucas. Sometimes Archie was a stand-in for Paul Fix.
Jack Stoney appeared in eight episodes as a townsmen ― Obituary ― The Legacy ― The Horse Traders ― The Spoiler ― The Deserter ― The Hangman ― A Time for Singing ― Strange Town as a townsfolk at Droshek Town.
Bloopers - The Hangman
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's
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Trail of Hate
around The McCain Ranch