“Pa, all my chores are done. All right if I go check my snares?” I hollered to Pa where he was chopping wood.
Pa smiled. “Mmmm…I think Rabbit Stew would taste awfully good tonight, son.” Pa answered. “Just make sure you’re back in two hours.”
I jumped on Blue Boy and raced off to check my first snare. I had told Pa when we moved here that I wanted to hunt for food. It would make me feel more like a man. I hinted at learning to kill rabbits with a gun, but Pa made it plain to me that catching rabbits in a snare, then killing them was more on the level for a ten-year old boy. One day while we were in town, Joey Merrick was in the feed store when I was ordering some more feed for our chickens. He said something about snares, and I started talking to him about them. He smiled at me, put his arm around me and told me he would show me hot to make snares.
Joey still helped me with my snares when he had time, but today I was on my own. When I reached the place in the woods where I had my first snare, I suddenly heard the cry of a bird. Sitting on Blue Boy I looked over toward my snare. “Golly day, a hawk!” I exclaimed as I jumped off my horse and started over there. I had my heavy gloves on, and I was glad too because hawks could claw your hand off! And this one certainly wasn’t too happy with me right now! “Now, how did a smart bird like you get caught in my rabbit snare?” I asked him as I approached with extreme caution.
Now, it wasn’t everyday that a boy caught a hawk, and I had to show him to my Pa, or he would never believe me! So I grabbed my burlap sack and stuck him in it. This didn’t make the hawk too happy either, but I was so proud of my catch that I had to bring him back. I was even thinking about keeping him for awhile as a pet!
I traveled on to my next snare and was disappointed to find that something had been caught in it, but it had apparently gotten away. Then I looked up and saw a camp fire. I stood up and went forward to see who was camping in the woods and wondering if maybe they took whatever was caught in the snare. But then I suddenly heard, “Don’t move, boy!” It scared me because the man seemed to have an angry sounding voice.
Then all the sudden, there he was right in front of me. I started to turn away and run, but he yelled out again, “I said don’t move!” He had a big stick in his hand and rushed right toward me. I was sure he was going to beat me over the head or something! And as he came toward me, I suddenly tried to move to get out of his line of fire, but he pushed me away and started hitting something.
I watched in shock as he beat a rattle snake to death. I stood and stared as the realization hit me. This man had just saved me from a fatal snake attack. The thought of how close I had just come to death hit me, and I covered my mouth knowing I was going to be sick. I quickly mumbled out a “Thank you, Mister,” as I hurried away.
After relieving my stomach of it’s contents, I walked into his camp where he was sure enough roasting a rabbit over a campfire. The man was really nice, and I kindly thanked him for saving my life. He tried to brush me off, saying it was no big deal. But it was a big deal to me, and I knew it would be a big deal to my pa! I suddenly looked around and realized he didn’t have a horse. He told me his horse took off three days ago.
Then he told me that we were even – he had taken my rabbit from the snare and he had saved my life! I didn’t see how that made us even, at least my pa wouldn’t think so – a little rabbit for my life? I thought this man needed some help, seeing as how he acted so hungry and was traveling on foot and all. And I knew my pa would want to personally thank him for saving my life. So I asked him to come with me while I checked the rest of my snares, then he could come home and have supper with us.
Before he left, he had to get his rattler. I asked him what he was going to do with it, but he wouldn’t tell me. When I told him I had a live hawk, he told me that he never heard of anyone keeping a live hawk before. I smiled and shot back that I hadn’t heard of anyone keeping a dead snake before either!
As I rode on Blue Boy, he walked beside me. Pa suddenly rushed up to us in the yard, his rifle in his hand. “Pa, this is Walt Hake. He saved my life!” I shouted as I jumped off the horse and ran up to him, grabbing him by the hand. “I was out checking my rabbit snares, and he saw a rattler behind me. Then he came up to me with this great big stick! Why it must have been this-“ I held up my hands to show him the size of the stick, but Pa held up his hand to quiet me.
He laughed and held up his hand. “Looks like you could use a good washing!” Pa said. “There’s a water basin with fresh water in it over there.” Pa pointed.
After he left, I told him that Walt had lost his mount and gear three days ago and had been traveling on foot. “Where’d he come from?” Pa suddenly asked.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged.
“Well, is he traveling somewhere or-“ Pa started.
“Pa, all I know is he saved my life!” I answered him with an impatient sigh.
“Okay son. Did you get any rabbits?” Pa smiled at me.
“No,” I answered. Pa frowned, acting like he was disappointed. Then I remembered the sack. I raised a finger in the air and grabbed Pa by the hand. “But I got a hawk!”
“A hawk?” Pa asked. I showed him the bag. “You caught this in your rabbit snare?”
I nodded. “Can I keep him for a pet, Pa?” I asked, jumping up and down.
Pa raised his eyebrows at me as he put his gloves on. “Now Mark, this is a wild animal. Not a dog. They like to be free. They aren’t happy if they are forced to stay in one place like you’d have to do.”
“Please, Pa?” I looked straight into his eyes as I begged. “Just for awhile!”
Pa sighed. Then he shrugged his shoulder. “Alright Mark. You’re old enough now to make your own decisions about things. Let me find a stake.” In no time at all, Pa had a stake driven in the ground and had hooked the string around the hawk’s feet that was still in the bag. I wondered if it would hurt him, but Pa said it wouldn’t, but this was the only way I could keep him. Pa said that handling a hawk was dangerous, so he didn’t want me touching him anymore. So I stood back while he let the hawk out of the bag.
About that time, Walt came up and let me know that he disapproved of my keeping a wild animal tied up like that. Pa gave me one more chance to make what they both thought was the right decision. But since I was curious and proud of my catch, I decided I still wanted to hold on to him for awhile.
Pa then mocked me stating that all we had to eat was some beef and he sure had his heart sat on rabbit stew. I promised him I’d catch a rabbit the next day. “Well you know, you did pretty good today considering,” Pa stated as he smiled at me. “You know out of seven rabbit snares, he came back with you, a live hawk, and a dead snake!” He joked to Walt.
“Oh Pa!” I said.
As we ate supper that night, I couldn’t help asking Walt a million questions. I asked so many, in fact, that Pa finally told me to hush up and eat. The next day was Saturday. I helped Walt around the ranch all day. And he went with me to check my snares. I caught two rabbits! Boy, Pa sure did cook up one delicious stew that night!
The next day, pa and I started off for church. Pa invited Walt to come, but he said he’d be happier staying here and maybe catching us some fish in the pond. He said he’d have lunch ready for us when we got back. I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed in that. And I couldn’t help but comment, “Oh, but we always-“ Suddenly, I saw Pa raise his eyebrows and shake his head. That look told me to stop talking right away. After I climbed on the wagon seat and we started off, I told Pa, “But we always eat at the hotel restaurant for lunch, Pa!”
‘Mark, we have a guest right now. Wouldn’t it be a bit rude to leave him there to fend for himself while we eat fried chicken at the restaurant?”
As it turned out, it was okay. Walt was an awful good cook when it came to cooking catfish! And he had a whole mess ready when we got home. Not only that, but there was mashed potatoes, green beans, and bread as well! Boy, I wish we could eat that well everyday! But I didn’t dare tell Pa that.
I didn’t have to go to school on Monday on account that Miss Adams had to go visit a relative out of town. So I had a whole other day off to spend with my Pa. He announced early Monday morning that he was going into town to get some supplies. He wanted me to stay and get some chores done, but my mouth suddenly watered for candy. He finally said he’d let me go.
I came out to greet the hawk before hopping up into the wagon. But then I saw that Walt was doing something with the snake skin. He simply told me he was drying it out, and that was all!
As Pa and I rode to town, I commented that I hoped Walt stayed on for awhile. Pa told me not to get my hopes up. He said that Walt was a wonderer and couldn’t stay in one place for too long. He told me Walt was a lot like that hawk – he yearned to be free, roaming the countryside. I decided to ignore that little comment!
When we got into town, Pa wanted to talk to Micah, so I went on to the General Store. I immediately went to the candy and started deciding what I wanted today. I couldn’t decide between the rock candy and the jelly beans. When Pa walked in, he had a strange look on his face. “Hey pa, can I have some rock candy and jelly beans today?” I asked.
“No,” Pa answered. He told Hattie what he needed while I patiently waited to rephrase my question.
Pa went to look at the socks. I ran up to him. “Pa, can I please-“
“No,” Pa answered again. He sat three new pairs of socks on the counter. “Here Hattie, add these to my order. I’m not sure what Mark does with his socks, but it seems like I’m always buying him some new ones.”
“Pa, can’t I have some candy?” I asked again.
Pa started to say no, but then he turned to me and sighed. I saw a sorrowful look on his face, like there was something he had to tell me but didn’t want to. “A penny’s worth, Mark. Those socks are going to set me back a ways on your candy money!”
“Well, I don’t have to have socks,” I said. “The one’s I have are-“
“-Full of holes!” Pa finished for me. “No, socks are more of a need then candy. You can have one piece and that’s it.” I sighed. “Well, if you would save your allowance…” Pa started.
“I spend it on candy too!” I reminded him.
Pa laughed and rolled his eyes at me. “Start loading this stuff in the wagon, huh boy.”
When Pa and I had the wagon loaded, we went to the café to get a quick bite to eat. Pa seemed distracted about something. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me he’d tell me later. The waitress came and started to hand us menus, but Pa just asked her to bring us a couple ham sandwiches. I knew he was in a hurry then.
When we were starting for home, I noticed that Pa was being really quiet. I asked him if I could go to my friend Skinny’s house and play, but he just mumbled that I needed to stay home and get my chores done. “Are we going to keep Walt on for awhile, Pa?” I suddenly asked.
Pa let out a deep sigh as he looked at me. “Son, the reason I sent you on to the General Store when we got into town is because I saw a man I knew from Oklahoma. He was a bounty hunter. But now he works in a prison. He’s a mean man – beats up those men he catches and kills a lot of them. I don’t like his system and wouldn’t hand my worst enemy over to him.”
Pa got quiet as we continued riding for home. “What’s he want?”
“Well Mark, he’s looking for a man. His name’s Reed Young. I saw the wanted poster on him,” Pa kept his eyes in front of him, but I know he moved them to look at me.
I shifted in my seat, suddenly not feeling comfortable with where this conversation was going. “Well, maybe he’ll move on in a couple days. Say pa, about my chores this afternoon,” I started, desperately wanting to change the subject.
“Mark,” Pa stopped me. I heard the sharpness in his voice. I closed my eyes as he said the words. “The description fits Walt.”
I grew quiet as I thought about this. “What does the poster say he did?” I asked quietly.
“Well,” Pa cleared his throat as we approached the yard to our ranch. “He’s wanted for murder.”
The word ‘murder’ shocked me. I shook my head. “No! It can’t be! It just can’t be, Pa!” I cried. “I don’t believe it, Pa! Well, he’s just too nice a man. If he was all that bad, he wouldn’t have done what he did for me, and you see how he’s been! It just must be the wrong man!”
Pa said he hoped I was right, but he reminded me we couldn’t take any chances. I knew my safety had to come before our new-found friendship. I asked Pa what he was going to do, and he told me that he would handle it. It was going to be hard for me to act normal until he handled it.
Later that night as I was setting the table, I came up to Pa. “You gonna ask him at supper?”
Pa looked at the door and shook his head. He put a hand on my shoulder. “I can’t talk to him until I send you to bed.”
“But Pa!” I protested.
“Mark, it’s not only because I care for you and want you out of the line of fire in case anything happens-“ I shook my head and opened my mouth to state that nothing would happen, but Pa held up his hand. “-which I’m not expecting to happen. But I also think that Walt deserves the respect to talk to me adult-to-adult about it privately without any young boys around to eaves drop. Remember that when I send you to bed, you hear?”
I nodded, but I still wasn’t happy about all this! Later that night after I had all the dishes done I wanted to play a game of checkers with Walt. Pa immediately told me it wouldn’t be a good idea tonight. Then he grabbed his rifle and sat down in his chair to clean it. That was enough to make me nervous! I didn’t like the idea of Pa holding his rifle when he went to confront Walt, but I knew Pa well enough to know his rifle was like his right arm – he was more confident with it nearby.
“I’m pretty tired anyhow, Mark. But if you don’t mind, hand me your hat there.” I was puzzled as to why he wanted my hat, but I handed it to him anyhow. Then I watched as he took a snakeskin band from his pocket and wrapped it around my hat! It looked so neat! Boy, was I ever excited! He even asked me if I liked it! Couldn’t he tell by how excited I was? I took it to show Pa. He wasn’t as impressed with it as I was, but I sure was happy!
Then it was time to say goodnight. I gave Pa a half hug, then I turned to Walt. The excitement suddenly left me as I realized something. This was it. The truth was about to come out when I entered my bedroom, and I wasn’t too excited about it. I didn’t want to go yet. I wanted to put the moment off for as long as I possibly could. “Go on, son.” Pa patted me once more. I don’t know if he realized how hard this was for me. When I woke up in the morning, Walt may be gone or-
I went to my room and began undressing. As I took my clothes off, I couldn’t help but turn around and look at the door. Eaves dropping was something my father never approved of, and he had already told me not to do it. But it was so tempting. I quickly shook my head and went to sit down on my bed. I heard yelling – Walt’s yelling. His voice drifted in from out in the living room. Tears sprung to my eyes, and I couldn’t help wondering what was being said.
Suddenly, the yelling stopped. I propped the pillow up against the wall and sat up in bed as the door opened. Pa came in carrying the lantern. “Did you talk to him?” I asked as I drew my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them.
Pa sat down on the side of the bed and laid a hand on my knees. He had a solemn look on his face. “I did,” he nodded.
“I heard yelling. That means it’s true, doesn’t it?” I didn’t want to know the answer, but I had to hear it.
“It’s true,” Pa nodded.
I closed my eyes and fought off the tears. I didn’t want to cry like a baby. Pa put an arm around me then. “Mark?” I opened my eyes and looked at him. “Walt swears to me that he didn’t commit the murder. It was a set up.”
I swallowed, hope returning to my eyes. “Well, then he won’t have to go to jail?”
“I’m bringing Micah out here in the morning. Micah will probably be able to get him a new trial. He escaped from prison, Mark because,” Pa looked directly in my eyes. “Because he wanted to be free. He’d rather be dead then locked up again, son. It can be a pretty overwhelming feeling.”
I looked toward the window where my hawk was and I knew what I had to do.
The next morning, I sat down and ate breakfast. We were all quiet as we ate, all knowing that this was Walt’s final meal in our home, and maybe as a free man. “Mark,” Walt started. “I…I have something to tell you.”
“I know, Walt,” I stated before he could say anymore. Then Pa and I look at each other and smiled.
Pa took a sip of coffee. “Mark and I have an agreement that we have no secrets. We have a very open and honest relationship.” Pa stood up and took his plate to the sink. “There’s an occasional time I can’t tell Mark everything, but it usually works out for the best.” Pa told me to go finish getting ready for school.
I went outside to see the hawk. As I watched him, I knew what the right thing to do was. I wished I could do the same thing for Walt, but I knew that that was in God’s hands. As Pa brought the horses out, I said goodbye to me friend. I asked him if he’d come back and visit, and he answered that was up to my Pa. I looked into Pa’s eyes and knew he was holding no grudge against our friend.
It was a quiet ride into town. Pa and I rode side-by-side knowing that when I got home from school that day, Walt would once again be a prisoner. I felt so bad for him, and I sighed as I thought about it. “Mark,” Pa said gently before we got into town. “Don’t think on it. Everything will work out.”
We pulled our horses up in front of the Marshal’s office and I just sat there as I watched Pa walk inside. I wanted to be there – to see what Micah would say. Would he agree to help Walt? Or would he- Suddenly Pa turned and flashed me the look, asking me what I was waiting for. “Nothing,” I answered as I backed my horse up and slowly headed for school.
But as I turned the corner, the man that I had seen from in front of the Marshal’s office yesterday stopped me. I asked him what he was doing as he blocked me from going. Then he grabbed my hat, demanding to know where I got the snakeskin from. After the conversation Pa and I had had yesterday, there was no way I was going to tell him where I got it! “None of your business,” I answered him. But Pa wasn’t kidding when he said he was no good. Because he grabbed me and asked me again. I simply told him that someone made it for me.
I was frightened when he figured out who had given it to me. I was even more frightened that he remembered who I was from seeing me with Pa yesterday. Somehow, he knew where my Pa lived. He threw my hat down in the dirt and took off for our ranch.
I quickly jumped off and grabbed my hat. Then I raced home. He may know the way to my ranch, but I knew all the shortcuts! I raced Blue Boy as hard as I could so we could beat him there. As I saw the ranch in the distance, I started screaming, “Flack’s coming! Flack’s coming!” I jumped off the horse and followed Walt inside.
At first he thought it was my Pa, and he was angry as he desperately looked around for a gun. But I told him that it was the snakeskin. We heard Flack approaching. Walt grabbed me and tried to lock me in the bedroom, but he wasn’t quick enough.
Suddenly, Flack was standing there in the doorway. I stared as the fight began. I was powerless, wishing I could do something to help, but when I tried, Flack pushed me out of the way. That made Walt even madder. They fought, tearing up the house as they did so. But finally, Walt was able to pin him down.
I stared in horror as Walt continued to choke him. I screamed for him to stop. I was crying, shaking, and scared that he would indeed kill someone! I screamed as loud as I could, trying to snap him back to reality. Suddenly, in desperation and in the angriest voice I could muster, I got right in his face and grabbed him by the shirt. “Walt, listen to me!” I screamed. “Let him go!”
I guess the desperation in my voice suddenly got to him. Because as Pa and Micah came in, Walt released Flack, and Flack slid to the floor. Micah ran to him and announced that he was really bad.
Pa looked at me. I’m sure he was curious as to why I was here when he just left me in town on my way to school. I’m sure Pa was wondering, too, just how it came to be that Flack had nearly been killed. I just looked at Pa, which immediately calmed me down. Then I softly explained, “Well, it was self defense, Pa. He was gonna kill Walt.”
I could tell that Pa had a lot of questions to ask, but for now he had more important things to take care of. “Mark, get the rig ready,” he ordered.
I did. When I got back inside, Pa handed me a note and told me to get on to school. I just stood and looked around, thinking I should stay home to clean up. But Pa snapped his fingers and pointed to the door. “It’s all over now, son.” He said. “I’ll help Micah get everything taken care of in town.”
I obeyed Pa and went to school.
After school, I met Pa driving the buckboard out of town. “If you want, tie Blue Boy to the back there and hop up here with me.” I did as I chatted to him about how school was. We didn’t even bring up the topic of Walt or Flack, which was actually sort of nice. I loved riding side by side with my Pa, just talking about normal stuff.
When we got home, I immediately looked at the hawk. I walked over to him and then turned to Pa. “I want him to be free,” I stated. Pa and I just looked into each others eyes. He knew I wasn’t just talking about the bird.
Pa came over and kneeled down in front of me. “I know you do, son.”
“Right now?” I asked.
Pa nodded as he put his gloves on. I ran for my gloves. “I have to pet him once more.” As Pa freed his feet from the stake, I looked into his eyes and saw the sadness. It was the same sadness I saw in Walt’s eyes. I petted him sadly, longing for it to be Walt we were letting free. “Let him go, Pa,” I said sadly as I thought of the freedom this bird would soon have.
Pa stood. He too had a sadness in his eyes, and we both knew it wasn’t because we were letting the bird free, but because of our friend who was once again staked just like that hawk had been. I watched as the bird flew into the air. He was immediately happy as he soared in the sky. I knew we had done the right thing, but “You think Micah will be able to help Walt? Maybe get him off?” I asked then.
Pa couldn’t answer that question. All he could do is look at me. “Well, I’d say his chances are about as good as hawk’s when you brought him in son.” Then he looked at me. I smiled. He knew all along that I wouldn’t be able to keep him for long.
It was a solemn mood as we went inside, Pa’s arm protectively around my shoulders, to clean house.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch