Lariat Jones, now there’s another familiar name. That was actually a fun time from my past! He was impressive. Pa said it didn’t surprise me that I liked him since he could do amazing things with cards, but he was so nice too! Super nice!
After school one day, me, Billy and Freddie got a game of kickball going. The teams were even, and we even allowed the girls to play in this game. Billy and I were both team captains, and it took a few minutes for us all to agree where the bases would be. “I don’t know why we argue over this every time!” Billy said. “Why don’t we use the same ones?”
No one really knew the answer, but we finally got the game started. I was sliding into third base when I suddenly saw a pair of over-sized feet standing there. Those feet looked awful familiar, and as I sat on the base, I looked up-up-up. There was pa standing there. A mock frown was on his face and he had his arms folded in front of him as he tried to look all rough and tough. I suddenly jumped up. “Hi, Pa!” I smiled really big.
“That was a good save there, son.” Pa continued standing there just staring at me with his arms folded. “What are you doing?”
I scratched my head, knowing I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to, but not sure what the problem was. Pa knew I often stayed after school and played with the boys or went fishing. But I suddenly gasped, vaguely remembering our conversation from that morning. “Ohhh,” I suddenly snapped my fingers. I was supposed to meet him at the General Store after school so I could help get the supplies in the wagon.
Pa grabbed me by the neck. “Yes, ohhhh,” Pa mocked me. He walked me toward the steps of the school. “Now get your books and let’s get going!” Of course I knew I wasn’t in trouble, but that didn’t stop him from complaining and griping my ear off. He told me that he didn’t appreciate having to take time to come over here and fetch me. I should be more responsible and remember when he gave me special instructions…As we walked into the store, he was saying, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you, boy!”
I walked up to the counter and looked at the candy. “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” I suddenly shouted. “You finally got the liquorish in!” She’d been out of it for a few weeks now and I started to lift the lid to get some out. Pa cleared his throat. I sighed. “Pa, may I please have some?”
“Yes,” Pa answered with a grin. “After the wagon’s loaded! Now come on!” I groaned, but obeyed. I was no dummy! I knew what was good for me!
Pa gave me a whole nickel and I bought my candy. We rode over to the bank and Pa told me he’d be inside for a few minutes and for me to stay put. “Could I run down to the school and-“ I started. But after seeing the look on his face, I changed my mind. “I mean, alright, I’ll stay here, Pa.”
I laid down in the back of the wagon. The minutes passed by slowly. Pa must be in there talking to Mr. Hamilton about more then depositing the money! Sweeny asked me if I’d seen Micah today and I told him no. He walked inside, but soon left. Then Pa came out and told me he was going over to Sweeny’s.
I guess I was still supposed to lay here in the back of the wagon. And I did wait…for a few minutes, but I got tired and decided to pull the wagon down by Sweeny’s. That way, maybe Pa would get the hint that sitting in the back of the wagon was boring.
But I was surprised to see Pa with a stranger – a man dressed in black. Boy, did he look sharp! Pa introduced him to me as Lariat Jones. He was coming to our ranch for supper. Lariat jumped on his horse and took off, stating he’d meet us there. I stared as he took off. “But Pa, he doesn’t even know the way!” I exclaimed.
Pa just smiled. “Well, that makes no difference to Lariat, son! Let’s go!” Pa declared.
I drove the horses hard, but never caught up to him until we were almost to the ranch. When we got there, Lariat tied his horse to the hitching post and waited for us. I jumped off the wagon and ran to him. “How’d you do that?” I asked.
“Do what?” Lariat just smiled at me.
“Well, you-“ I started as I pointed to his horse. Then I tipped my head to one side and narrowed my eyes at him. “Did you know where we lived?”
Lariat smiled and winked at me. “It’s magic, my boy!” he declared.
“Mark, I’ll start unloading the wagon. You go ahead and get some potatoes from the cellar and start peeling them. I’ll cook some steaks as soon as I get the wagon unloaded.
I looked at Lariat. I wanted to know more about this magic stuff. “I’ll help you, Luke,” Lariat said as he started toward the barn. I just stood there want watched him walk away. I wanted to talk to him.
Pa turned and looked at me. He raised his eyebrows. “Mark?”
“Oh,” I said as I suddenly realized I had been given orders. “Yes sir.”
After I got my part of the supper done, Pa told me to hurry with my chores so I could go straight to homework after supper. I groaned, but when Pa turned and looked at me, I nodded. By the time I got my chores done, it was time to eat.
I took a bite of my steak and smiled. “I’m sure glad you came, Mr. Jones! I-“
Lariat groaned. “Mark, please call me Lariat!”
“Yes sir,” I said. Pa shook his head and laughed. “You know, Lariat, I only get steak when we have company or eat at the hotel, so I’m glad you came for supper!”
“Alright, that’s enough out of you!” Pa declared as he shook his head. “Yes, Lariat, it’s true. When you aren’t here I have him on bread and water!”
Lariat and Pa laughed and Pa shook his head at me again. “What do you do?” I asked Lariat. “For a living, I mean?”
Pa cleared his throat. “He’s a professional gambler, son.”
I stared at Lariat. “You mean a Tin Horn?” I suddenly gasped.
“Mark!” Pa scolded me. “He’s a professional gambler.”
Lariat laughed. His laugh was so neat. I could just listen to it all day! “I play cards. It’s a hobby I started when I was younger then you. I could even beat your Pa at Poker!”
Pa had always preached to me about the silliness of playing poker. He didn’t like gambling, and thought he had better things to do with his money. “Pa?” I suddenly cried in shock as I looked at him. “Will you teach me?”
Lariat opened his mouth to say something, but Pa held up a hand. “No!” he declared. “Listen Mark, you know I was wild before your Ma found me and tamed me down. I made a lot of mistakes in my younger days and would love to see you avoid making the same ones.” I nodded, knowing anything else would have been cause for more lecturing. “Now less talking and more eating, huh?”
Pa stood to start clearing up the table soon after that. “You said you know card tricks?” Lariat nodded. “Will you teach me?”
Pa took a couple cigars from the box and pointed at me. “You get started on the dishes boy,” Pa said. “Since you forgot to follow my orders after school today, you can do dishes by yourself tonight.” Then he and Lariat started to go out onto the porch.
I knew that was just an excuse for him to spend some time alone with his friend so they could have adult discussion! Lariat turned from the door. “Maybe you’re Pa will let me show you a couple tricks before I leave,” he winked at me.
I smiled. I liked this guy for sure!
I tried to hurry with the dishes. There were some left to dry when Lariat came back in. Pa told me I could leave them while Lariat showed me the card trick of his. Pa got a cup of coffee and stood by the fireplace to watch. A big grin was spread across his face. Lariat spread the cards out across the table. “Now, we’re gonna play a little game, boy. I want you to take a card, any card at all.”
I gave him a suspicious look, but did as he told me to do. “That card is the four of clubs,” he guessed.
I looked at the card in my hand. It was the four of clubs. I eyed him suspiciously; not quiet believing someone could do that. He and pa laughed. They were enjoying themselves!
He told me to pick another card. I eyed him suspiciously again. He pointed to a card for me to pick up. I scooted it out from the others and scooted it across the table. There was no way he could have seen it. “Jack of Dimonds,” he declared. I asked him if that was a trick deck. He assured me it wasn’t. Then he gave me a piece of wisdom that Pa told me to carry around with me for the rest of my life.
“You know why I play cards, Mark? Because I enjoy it. I never use a trick deck or a marked deck! Why that’s cheating! It’s much more fun to play cards for skill. Much more fun to win fair. And it’s, uh, better all the way around.”
Pa suddenly told me to get back to drying my dishes. As I started, Lariat got ready to leave. He told Pa he may just stay here. Pa asked him what made him choose North Fork. From the corner of my eye, I saw Lariat look towards me. It didn’t take him long to have my full attention!
“Well Luke, you won’t believe this, but I was just ridin’ along. Over here was North Fork. Over here was Banick. And in back of me shootin’ like blazes was a reservation full of Apache Indians!” I was suddenly paying attention to him as I held the bowl in my hands, drying it absentmindedly.
“No!” Pa said.
“Yeah!” Lariat declared. You know, they took my horse. “The next thing I knew they had me hung from by my heels from a Chickasaw tree.”
I stared from Pa to Lariat as I listened in awe to his amazing story. “What’d you do then?” I asked in total amazement.
“Well, I took out my deck of cards, son. And I said Jacks are better, fellas. Had ‘em beat within half an hour, took to North Fork and here I am!” Suddenly a card just appeared out of thin air in his hand! “Fate!”
I was so shocked at that card’s appearance that I dropped the bowl. It clanged to the floor. Pa and Lariat were laughing and I suddenly apologized to Pa for dropping the bowl. He made me wash it again.
Lariat had to go. He had a meeting to attend. Before he left, he told my Pa it may or may not be a “witch’s brew.” I stared at him as he said that, not knowing what that meant.
When I asked Pa about it, he told me that it was a secret code they had. I could tell Pa really liked him. He told me something else amazing! He told me that Lariat was in love with my Ma, and when she chose him, things never went right for Lariat. I stared at the door Lariat had just walked out of as I thought on this. “You mean, he could’ve been my Pa?” I asked in amazement.
Pa smiled as he put his arm around me. “Could’ve been,” Pa stated with a smile.
The next morning was Friday. I sat at the table thinking on a way to ask Pa if I could go fishing after school. “Mark, hurry and finish your breakfast so you can get to school!” Pa ordered.
I took another bite of my food. “Alright if I go fishing after school? I could catch us a mess of fish!” I assured him.
“Sure,” Pa said. “But I want you home by 5:00!”
As I rode to school, I decided to go through town. Pa wouldn’t approve, but I wanted to see if Lariat was still here. I saw him coming out of the hotel. I raced up to him and jumped off my horse. “Lariat!” I called.
Lariat turned and took the cigar from his mouth. A smiled slowly spread across his face. “Well, Mark! How ya' doing today?”
“Great!” I said. “I was wondering when you're gonna teach me that card trick.”
Lariat suddenly clucked his teeth and a card appeared in his hand. He handed it to me. “That one?” he asked.
I gasped. “Yes! I…I want to learn them both!”
Lariat grinned. “How about if we start with the other one first. Tonight at supper.”
“I’m catching a mess of fish after school. We’ll have fish for supper tonight! Alright?” I handed him the card.
“Mark!” I suddenly heard Pa behind me. “What are you doing here?”
“I…I was just riding to school and-“ I swallowed.
“You don’t have to come through town to go to school, Mark. In fact, I believe I’ve told you not to ride through town to school.” Pa folded his arms and cocked his head to one side.
“Yes sir!” I said as I jumped on my horse. “Won’t happen again, Pa!” I galloped off before he could cancel my fishing outing.
Lariat did teach me the card trick. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about it, because he swore me to secrecy. He came for supper several times, and even came to church on Sunday. As we sat there in the pew, I said, “Pa, I didn’t know gamblers went to church!”
Pa frowned at me. “Mark!” Then he looked at Lariat and they both started laughing.
I went into town every chance I got and visited with Lariat. But he was working on opening a new saloon with a gambling house and was becoming too busy to talk to me. I would go to the swinging doors and peak inside. Then when I saw him, I would wave at him. Sometimes, he’d come out to talk, but mostly he would just wave back and shake his head.
Then one night – I believe it was a Wednesday night – Pa sent me to stay with Freddie Toomey. He said he had some business to take care of. We did our homework under Mrs. Toomey’s watchful eye. She said we had to sit at the kitchen table to do our homework. She thought we talked too much in his room. When we finally closed our books, we asked for permission to go outside and she nodded.
Of course, we were growing boys who had curious minds. We made a bee-line for town to see what was going on. Pa never said I couldn’t go, but the fact that he sent me to Freddy’s should have been a hint enough that I was to stay away.
We quietly snuck up the boardwalk towards the new saloon. I looked in. “Yep,” I said. “My Pa’s in there! We watched under the door until someone tapped us on the shoulder. I stood up and turned around.
It was Micah. “Should you boys be here in town?”
I swallowed. “Just wondering what all the excitement is about,” I stated innocently.
“Oh,” Micah nodded. “Well, you saw it, so now get going, boys.” We turned to walk down the street.
I suddenly turned back. “You won’t tell my Pa, will ya'?” I asked.
“Nope,” Micah grinned at us. We scooted on down the street. We were standing in front of the church deciding what to do next when we suddenly heard a gunshot.
It had come from the new saloon. We ran to hid behind a building and slowly peaked around the corner. There were several people standing in the street looking inside the new saloon. “I can’t hear anything!” I complained.
“Me neither,” Freddie stated. “Should we get closer?”
“We best not chance getting caught,” I answered.
Suddenly, someone grabbed us by the collar. Freddie turned his head. “Pa!” he cried.
Mr. Toomey had a mean look on his face and led us back to his house, still holding us by the back of the collar. He sent us to Freddie’s room to wait for my Pa.
Eventually, Pa came into the bedroom. “Let’s go, son.” Pa said. I turned and looked at Freddie. He just shrugged. We had no idea if Pa knew what we’d been up to or not.
I climbed up in the wagon and we started for home. I gave a big yawn, stating that I was tired and would be glad to get home. “Good, Pa said. I’m sure your adventure in town was quite tiring.”
That’s all he said about it. I suddenly rubbed the back of my neck where Mr. Toomey had grabbed me and looked at my Pa. “I believe those boys will have to play kickball without you for the rest of the week.”
“Oh, uh…yes sir,” I stated. He said no more about it, and I didn’t bring up the subject.
For the next two days, I was put on strict ranching duties – woman ranching duties…you know, scrubbing the floors, washing the sheets, stuff like that…boy, did I hate doing that stuff!
Saturday morning, I got up early and went outside to start my chores. I had it in my head to go fishing that afternoon. Pa smiled at me as he walked into the barn. “Breakfast,” he announced.
I went inside and ate breakfast as we talked about our week. After I was done, I announced I would do the dishes. Pa just stared at me, and worriedly handed me my plate. “Is this going to cost me anything, or maybe save me hotel money tonight?” Pa suddenly asked.
“What’s that mean?” I asked.
“It means,” Pa said. “That you offering to do dishes any day, much less on a Saturday, means that you either broke something or want to go fishing. Which is it?”
I laughed. “I want to go fishing after lunch. Okay, Pa?”
Pa nodded. “It’s fine!”
I went fishing. Pa joined me for awhile and we sat on the bank of the pond together pulling fish out. After about an hour, Pa stood stating he had some cattle to herd. “Want me come along and help ya?” I asked.
Pa pulled out the stringer of fish. “I’d say that’s enough. Come on.”
We raced back to the house and got our gear. Then Pa and I both rode through the ranch rounding up our cattle. He wanted to check them for market. When the last cow was herded into the one pastor, I securely shut the gate. We stood side-by-side looking at them. “I’ll get one of the neighboring cowhands to round up the rest of the herd for us next week, son. That’s a good start. Pa took his hat off and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Let’s go get those fish cleaned!”
Pa made me take a bath while he cooked supper. When he gave me the order I groaned, but he told me I’d have to take a bath tonight anyhow. “You mean, that preacher will be here again tomorrow?” I asked.
Pa nodded. “But rather he’s here or not, you still have to take a bath on Saturday night!” He gave me a pat on the backside and handed me the bucket. “Get going!”
As I took my bath in the bedroom, I could smell the fish and potatoes frying! By the time I was dressed and at the table, Pa had supper on the table. “Son, when I’m done eating I’m going into town. There may be something big about to happen at Lariat’s new saloon. I want you to stay here and clean up for me. And make sure you’re in bed by nine o’clock!”
“Can’t I go?” I asked.
Pa sat down his cup of coffee and stared at me. “After the stunt you pulled the other night? No sir! You’ll stay here and out of trouble!”
I stood in the doorway and watched Pa leave, shaking my head that I couldn’t go into town where all the excitement was! I cleaned up the kitchen and walked around the house. It sure was a lonely place here at night by myself. Pa didn’t usually leave me here by myself at night, not because he didn’t trust me or think I could take care of myself; but because as long as I was with him he knew I was safe.
I got undressed and went to bed at nine o’clock, but couldn’t sleep. I got up and looked out the window several times before I finally began yawning uncontrollably. I laid down and went to sleep.
I woke up enough to hear my Pa come in the bedroom. He walked over to my bed and tucked the covers in around me. “What time is it?” I mumbled sleepily.
“Sh,” Pa whispered. “It’s after 12:00. Go back to sleep, son.”
The next morning, I yawned my way through my morning chores. Pa put flapjacks on the table and there was suddenly a knock on the door. I stood up smiling when I saw it was Lariat. “We’re just about to have breakfast! Join us?” I asked.
Lariat nodded as he hung up his hat and gun belt. “It would be a pleasure, son.”
We joined hands and blessed the food. Then we began eating. “Um, Mark…” Lariat said as he took a bite of his pancakes. “Say, how are you doing on that card trick I taught ya?”
“I think I almost got it,” I stated proudly.
“That’s great,” Lariat smiled. He took another bite. “Did your Pa here tell you I knew your Ma?”
“Yes sir,” I answered with a smile. “He said you knew her well.”
“Mark, your mother was a beautiful, sweet, loving woman. Your father loved her very much, and she loved him. She made the right decision marrying him. I would have been all wrong.” He took a drink of his coffee. “I’m leaving after church.”
“Leaving?” I asked as I looked at Pa. “Leaving where?”
“Oh, the next town I guess,” he answered. “A man like me can’t stay in one place for long.”
We rode into town together. Pa patted my back as we quietly walked into the church. I saw Freddie across the way and walked up to him. “We have a ball game going on this afternoon, Mark. Only we’re playing bat and ball this time!”
“Bat and ball!” I smiled. I turned and looked at Pa across the room. “I’ll ask my Pa.”
“See if you can sit with me this morning!” Freddie suggested.
I walked up to Pa. “Pa, can I sit with Freddie?”
“Absolutely not,” Pa answered as he motioned for me to take a seat in the pew beside him.
“But Pa!” I started.
“Mark, the last time you sat with Freddie, I had to take you outside, do you remember?” Pa asked.
“Oh, but that’s when I was ten, I-“ I suddenly saw Pa narrow his eyes. I turned and shook my head at Freddie. “Can we play bat and ball this afternoon?”
Pa shook his head. “I’m sorry, son. Not today, you know that.”
Lariat laughed as he bent down toward me. “You know who you remind me of?” I looked up at him. “Your father.” He put a finger to his lips and grinned. I laughed as the preacher walked in. Pa suddenly shot me a mean look and put a finger to his lips.
After church, Lariat walked toward his horse. “You won’t even stay for lunch?” I asked.
“Nope, ‘fraid not, Mark.” We said our goodbyes and watched him leave.
Later that night I worked on my card trick some more. Pa was drying the dishes when I suddenly announced I wanted to show him something. He came over to the table as I suavely spread out the cards. “Pick a card, any card,” I announced proudly.
He picked one up and looked at it. I thought for a minute. “The ten of hearts,” I stated.
Pa slapped down the card. “Sorry son, Eight of clubs.”
I was suddenly frustrated. I’d been working on that trick for a whole week! Pa sat down beside me and placed a hand on my shoulder.
“About a week, huh? And how long do you think Lariat practiced before he got it down pat?” I didn’t know that. “I can tell you, a lot more then a week. It takes a lot of studying and a lot of practice to learn even a card trick right. Just like it does to, well, to break a horse or even to handle a plow smooth. So I think you better put your time into something worthwhile like studying your schoolbooks, especially practicing these arithmetic lessons!"
I figured he was right. But then I thought about Lariat’s other card trick. “But ya' know, I bet that trick of pulling a card out of the air, I bet that took a lot of Lariat’s worthwhile time."
"You’re right. You can bet when I was your age I didn't spend a lot of time reaching out like this to…make a card appear." I suddenly stared at the card that had suddenly appeared in my Pa’s hand. I could hardly stand the fact that everyone knew that trick but me.
I suddenly grabbed him by the wrist and looked longingly at him. “Oh Pa, will you show me?” I suddenly begged him.
Pa grinned at me. First you do those lessons. You get every problem right, I'll show you."
I looked down at my book. “Yes sir!” I declared as I grabbed my book and started on my extra lessons Pa had assigned me.
I worked hard. Pa sat down at the table and watched me with a big smile on his face. He’d never seen me work so hard on my lessons. I had one more to do. As I worked at it, I scratched my head a few times, but finally handed Pa the pad and book. My Pa was great in math – something I hadn’t inherited from him!
Pa erased the answers that weren’t right and I sighed in frustration as I stared at all the erase marks on the paper. Pa patted my head and smiled. I’ll help you correct them, son.”
He did. Then he showed me the card trick. Sorry, I can’t tell you that one either – sworn to secrecy, you know!
*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