It was Saturday morning and I had just finished my chores. I sure was happy when Pa announced we could go into town. He said we had lots to buy today! But when I mentioned that there was something I saw in the catalog I wanted to order, Pa shook his head. I shrugged, knowing it couldn’t hurt to try!
I know Pa told you what we saw as soon as we had gotten into town that day. Riding to and from school last week, I had told Pa about what I had heard everyone talking about – that a man was there writing articles on Ben Russell. I told Pa that Mr. Russell was known as the fastest gun in the West. Pa told me that he didn’t know what was being said, but that as far as he knew, Mr. Russell didn’t carry a gun anymore and for me to mind my own business! Then he told me I couldn’t ride through town anymore – to come home the back way.
Well, today I sure saw Mr. Russell. And he sure did have a gun on. I saw Mr. Russell about to duel another man, but I didn’t know who he was. I wanted to get a closer look so I could see if it was really true – if Mr. Russell was as fast as they say. But Pa immediately pushed me back behind him. We were staying out of sight behind a wall as we watched. I tried to peak around Pa to get a look-see, but he pulled me back behind him.
Suddenly, I heard the shots go off. Mr. Russell was still standing, so I figured everything was okay. I watched in amazement as he put his gun back in the holster, took off his hat and said something to some man standing on the sidewalk. Then he put his hat back on and fell dead into the street. Never had I seen anything like that!
I listened as Pa talked to Micah. Micah told Pa that he walked in with the sun in his eyes. “You mean Mr. Russell wanted to die?” I suddenly asked. It didn’t even sound like he had tried to defend himself. Pa didn’t like my saying that and said Micah didn’t say that. But the way Micah was talking, that’s exactly what he was saying.
I know Pa told you all about the newspaper man and his wife and how he wrote those articles and all. After he got finished talking to Micah, he told me we had to get to the Blacksmith’s. “Pa, I was wondering if I could go play with Freddie,” I asked.
Pa put his arm around my shoulder and shook his head. “I need your help here in town.”
“Yes sir, but,” I started to tell him that I only wanted to play with him while he was talking to Nels about getting some of our horses re-shod next week, but he didn’t even let me finish, so I stood beside him as he set it up. Nels said he would come out to the ranch and help Pa with it one day. I liked helping with the forge, and I sighed and shook my head when I discovered I’d be in school when they were working on this job. Pa knew exactly what the problem was and laughed as he shook his head at me.
Then as we drove the team back over to the store so we could do our shopping. Pa saw Micah talking to Mr. Claremont and his wife. He jumped down and hurried over to get in on the conversation. I know he told you about this conversation too. Pa was upset by the end of the conversation, and we headed toward the General Store.
As soon as we got inside I walked back to the saddles Miss Hattie had on display. I smiled as I ran my hand across the smooth leather of the saddle. It was a perfect size for me, and I had already sat on it one day after school a couple weeks ago. She didn’t have it for sale, but said she’d order it for me. “Mark,” Pa called. I walked up to the counter where he was paying for his order. I reached for a piece of candy, but as soon as my hand popped into the jar, Pa said sternly, “Uh uh uh…not today, son.”
I took my hand out and just looked at Miss Hattie. “I have my nickel still, Pa.” Pa shook his head. Then he went to get something from the back room. “Miss Hattie, could you put that saddle on order for me?” I asked. “Maybe in a few months we could…”
Hattie smiled and nodded. “That I can do.”
Pa poked his head out from the back and called for me to come help him. “Grab that bucket of apples, son. But don’t take any of them. I told Mr. McDonald I’d bring them back for him.”
I nodded and carried them out to the wagon. It was a big bunch of apples, and I couldn’t imagine what he was planning on doing with that many! They looked so red and juicy and…My stomach started rumbling. I’d only had a piece of bread and butter for lunch. It was my own fault, wanting to hurry so we could leave for town. I suddenly looked toward the door of the General Store. Pa was no where in sight, and he’d never know I did it. Besides, it was only a little apple! So I quickly picked the apple up and put it in my pocket.
But then Pa walked out of the store and I suddenly felt guilty. “C-can I help you Pa?” I asked nicely. Pa said not with the plow, but I could take a letter over to hotel to mail.
I started to leave, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Mr. Claremont and what he did – writing those articles about Mr. Russell and how he was twenty years ago. “Pa,” I started as I stared across the street in thought.
“Hm?” Pa asked, a bit distracted.
“You figure he was really to blame just because he wrote that article?” I was trying to understand what the real problem was.
“Mr. Claremont?” Pa asked. Then he said, “No, not just because he wrote it, son. It’s in the way he wrote it he’s at fault.”
“Well, he told the truth, didn’t he?” I asked, not quite understanding what the problem was.
“As it was a long time ago,” Pa stated. “Not as it is today, and that’s the point.” I was still confused. “You see, a man who's responsible for telling the truth has to look at the way things are, not how he likes them to be. Or else he fails in his responsibilities everywhere.” So, Pa was telling me that I was guilty for taking that apple because it was swiped, no matter how I tried to justify it. I suddenly began removing the apple from my pocket. “Do you understand?"
I threw the apple to Pa. “I guess so,” I answered. But I didn’t turn around just in case he decided to give me a look.
“Well, maybe you do,” Pa stated. He told me to hurry and mail the letter so we would have time to eat supper at the hotel.
But on my way over to the hotel, I saw Panama Billings come out. He and my Pa had had some words earlier, as you know from hearing my Pa’s side of the story. And since he was a gunfighter, I didn’t really relish talking to him. But he stopped me before I could get into the hotel. He smiled this smile at me that was…I don’t know…Kinda scary. It was like he was trying to be nice to me in a mean sort of way.
Mr. Billings asked me if I was Lucas McCain’s son and I told him I was. “He is a fine man with a rifle, ain’t he?” He continued giving me that evil smile. I didn’t like it. I was afraid he wanted to force my Pa in a shoot out next.
I tried to swallow my fright. “I guess so,” I answered him nervously.
“Now come on, boy. You’ve seen your daddy shoot!” Mr. Billings stated. Then he gave me that evil smile again. “Is he any good?”
I knew that I should tell the truth, but he was scaring me – not because I was afraid he’d do something to me, but because if I told him he was the best shot in the West, Billings might come after my Pa. I couldn’t let that happen. So…I lied. “No, Pa he, he can't hardly hit the side off of a barn."
I could feel my heart beating really hard and fast, and my hands were shaking. He knew I was scared and I knew I was scared. He was happy with that and told me to keep on being scared and to tell my Pa he should be scared too. Then I hurried past him and went into the hotel.
Eddie took the letter from me and promised to put it on the next stage. “Mark, is there any trouble out there?” Mr. Halstead asked me.
I shook my head and swallowed as I turned and looked behind me. Now Mrs. Claremont was out there talking to Mr. Billings. I walked outside just in time to hear him tell her to tell her husband to spell his name with two L’s. He started to leave. I started to breathe a sigh of relief. But before he left, he turned back to me. “And boy, don’t forget what I told ya. Don’t forget to tell your Pa too!” I think Pa heard him because he grabbed his gun from the wagon and casually started over toward us. “Never mind,” Mr. Billings said. “I’ll tell him myself.”
I stared in horror as he ran his horse right toward my Pa. I let out a gasp as Pa jumped out of the way and rolled. I was so afraid he had been hurt and I ran out to the street to meet him. I was relieved to find him unhurt. But then Pa got this really stern look on his face. It was the sort of look he got when he felt I had done something wrong and was going to get to the truth. “Son, what did he say to you?”
I didn’t want to tell him because I knew he wouldn’t like it. “Nothing,” I lied.
“Son?” Pa continued to look at me. He knew something was said, and I knew I had been caught.
“Well, he asked me if you could use a rifle,” I answered.
“Yeah. And what did you say?” Pa asked, that stern look still on his face.
I was really, really hoping Pa wouldn’t ask that question because now I had a confession to make. “I guess I told him you couldn’t,” I answered ashamedly.
Pa was suddenly upset with me. “You guess or you know, Mark?” He asked me this because he wanted the whole confession before really letting me have it. Don’t get me wrong, my Pa’s the best Pa in the world. But nobody should ever cross him, because when you do something wrong, you sure do hear about it! Believe me, I know! And I wasn’t looking forward to what was coming next.
“I guess I know,” I tried to sound casual, hoping he would let the whole thing drop.
But then Pa reached out to grab me. I knew he was about to give me what-for. But just then, Mrs. Claremont came up and stopped him by stating, “You shouldn’t be too hard on him, Mr. McCain. He’s got a long time to learn what life’s all about.” She put an arm around me. Boy, was I sure glad she showed up when she did!
I knew Pa didn’t agree with her. And when he told her it was better I learned the lessons now instead of later, I was really glad she showed up! I was just hoping Pa would forget all about this moment by the time she left. She then smiled at Pa and told him he was doing a really good job with me.
Then something happened. She grabbed Pa’s hand to shake it and Pa got this look on his face as he held her hand. I didn’t know much about adults and romance and all that, but the look he was giving her made me think that he really liked her…like a man likes a woman sort of thing. I screwed up my face as I watched this interesting interaction between the two of them.
Finally, Pa and I left. I knew I had to ask Pa about what I observed soon. We went over by the horses. “We gonna eat now?” I asked.
“Sure, son.” Pa busied himself with the horses. “Go on in and order our food. I’ll be there in a minute.”
I sat at the table waiting for the food. Pa finally came in and sat down. He let out a big sigh as he removed the hat from my head with a disapproving look. Our food came then and I began eating in silence. “Why’d you swipe the apple, son?”
“Huh?” I was surprised. I figured when I gave him the apple back that that was the end of it.
“The apple you swiped…I told you just two minutes before not to touch those apples because they were for someone else. Why’d you swipe it?”
“Well, I…” I hung my head. “I thought you were gonna let that drop after our talk.”
“I was,” Pa sighed. He took a bite of his steak and stayed quiet for a couple minutes. I simply looked down at my plate as I ate. “I thought you had learned your lesson after my little speech. But then what you said to Mr. Billings...”
I suddenly looked up. “Pa, he was practically hinting that he was going to go call you out! I couldn’t-“
“He was trying to scare you, and he succeeded. You know he already knew of my reputation with this rifle.”
“Yes sir,” I stated then. I knew I had been wrong. “Sorry.”
“Mmmm.” Pa mumbled as he took a drink of coffee. “I aim to make sure of that. Next Saturday, you will stay home all day and do chores.”
I looked up at him and saw that the matter was closed in his eyes. So I said no more throughout the rest of the meal. I had planned on going fishing all day with Freddie next Saturday. Now my plans were off all because I had to make things appear the way I wanted them to be in that moment.
I ate my pie in silence. Pa looked up at me at one point and told me to stop sulking. “Yes sir,” I answered. But he was busy staring at HER, Mrs. Claremont. I then remembered that I was going to ask him about that situation, but something told me now wasn’t the right time. “Ready?” He asked me a couple minutes later. I nodded as we stood up to leave.
But then Mr. Claremont stopped Pa. He wanted to apologize for how he had talked to Pa earlier. Then he asked Pa to sit down. Pa started to refuse, but when Mrs. Claremont invited him, he said we could sit for a minute. I sat down and Mr. Claremont asked me what my name was. I told him. He began complimenting me, telling me I was a handsome young boy. I didn’t much care for that stuff and Mrs. Claremont said so. Everything they were saying embarrassed me just a little more. But I knew I had to say something because everyone at the table was looking at me. “I like horses,” I finally stated.
They all laughed. Then Mr. Claremont said something to my Pa about his getting married again. That’s when Pa stood up and said we were leaving and he did.
There was silence on the way home. When we got home, Pa mumbled for me to bed down the horses. I obeyed him as he went inside. When I walked in later, I saw him at the table reading his Bible. “You best get to bed, son,” Pa announced.
It was Saturday night and it was only 8:00. “Well, it’s not time,” I stated.
Pa looked up at me and narrowed his eyes. “Yes sir,” I stated as I hurried from the room.
I never did figure out exactly what was bothering my Pa that night. But the way he was reading his Bible, it almost made me feel that he was feeling guilty about something he had done. Maybe he was feeling guilty for hollering at me for what I did earlier…
Okay, maybe not…
We didn’t go to church the next day. A Circuit Riding Preacher was supposed to be there to preach that morning, but Pa read scripture at home after breakfast and we reflected on the scripture for awhile. Then he sent me to my room to study what he had read until lunch time.
The next morning as I was mounting my horse to go to school, Pa told me to stay out of town. I was to go the back way. “Well, what about if I want some candy?” I asked.
“You just do as I say, son,” Pa told me sternly. I nodded.
All that week I had to do that. The next Saturday I took my punishment working at rounding up stray cattle, doing laundry, mopping the floors, and cleaning the outhouse. I was tired by the end of the day. During that time, I had seen Pa talking to Micah who had just stopped by for a minute. Then Micah rode off.
That night, Pa began heating water for my bath. I asked him if we were going to church the next day. “No,” Pa answered me.
“Ain’t the preacher coming in this Sunday? Miss Adams said-“ I started.
Pa held up a hand. “Maybe next week, son. The Claremont’s are still in town and I’d rather not deal with them.”
So things continued on as they were for three weeks. That third Saturday, Pa was working on the roof. I thought I’d try the direct approach on him. I happily announced to him that all my chores were finished. “Are we going into town now?”
Pa just turned and looked at me. Then he turned back to his work. “Well, I wasn’t aiming to, son. I’ve still got a lot of chores to do around here myself.” The Claremont’s must have still been in town, because I knew that there were several things we needed.
“Oh, you said that last Saturday and the Saturday before that!” I complained bravely. “We haven’t been in town now for three Saturdays!”
“Well, maybe next Saturday.” That was his final answer, and I knew it. I didn’t argue further because I didn’t want chores added next Saturday.
Suddenly, Mrs. Claremont was driving toward us. She was coming so fast that Pa had to stop the horses. She showed Pa some articles she wrote then told him that a man was there wanting to challenge him. Pa suddenly ordered me to see that Mrs. Claremont got back to town. Then I was to go straight to Micah’s office and wait for him. I watched him ride off towards town as fast as he could. Then I turned and looked at Mrs. Claremont. “You better get your jacket,” she said sweetly.
I did. Then I started the horses back towards town. “Is he really serious?” I asked her.
“About what?” Mrs. Claremont suddenly turned and looked at me.
“About taking on my Pa.” I rode the horse as fast as I could.
“You worry about him a lot,” she observed.
I didn’t look at her but continued to stare straight ahead. “Every time he picks up that rifle to use against a man.” That didn’t sound good. “Now, please understand, Mrs. Claremont. My Pa never shoots unless-“
I heard a gasp leave her throat. I turned to look at her. “Unless they make it unavoidable. Your Pa’s a wonderful man.”
I saw something in her eyes as I looked into them. There was a loss there…as if someone close to her had died. Her smile had almost disappeared from her face. “He is,” I answered slowly. Then I turned back to the road. “You seem like a real nice lady. You’d…make a good ma.”
“Yes, I suppose I would. I’d love to have a boy just like you.” Then there was a silence that settled over us. But suddenly, it ended. “Mr. Claremont wouldn’t make a good father, I’m afraid.”
I nodded but stayed silent. I saw that town was coming up and I had one more thing to say to her. “I…thank you for being so kind…for coming to tell my Pa, that is.”
Then we were there and it was over. Pa came out and lifted Mrs. Claremont from the buggy as if she were a small package. Then he turned and lifted me down. “Go on in there,” he told me. We all went inside and Micah closed the door. I walked over to the window to look out. Pa was walking toward a man who was coming off the porch of the saloon.
“Mark, come on over here, son.” Micah said. But I continued to watch out the window. “Mark,” Micah laid a hand on my shoulder and pulled me away. “Come on away from there, boy. Your Pa ain’t gonna do anything to get himself killed.”
He led me over to a chair by his desk. Mrs. Claremont watched as Micah sat me down and kneeled down beside me. “He’s a special boy,” she said.
Micah nodded as he smiled at me. “He’s the grandson I never had. His Pa…says I spoil him.” Micah stood up and walked over to the window. I started to stand also, but he turned and pointed a finger at me. I think he learned that one from Pa! “And I do.” Micah looked out the window as rifle shots sounded. “He’s showing the young man his stuff, son.” Then he turned back around. “Bah, his Pa gets onto me once or twice for spoiling him, but I just remind him how many years I have on him and-“ Suddenly, more gunshots sounded. Micah opened the door and rushed out. Mrs. Claremont and I ran to the door. She threw a hand to her mouth and gasped than we ran out.
Mr. Claremont was dead.
“I’m…so sorry, ma’am,” Pa suddenly said.
She stood and turned away, pressing a hand to her mouth. Then she slowly walked into the hotel. “You think she still loved him?” I asked Pa.
“I think she did, son. In spite of all his wickedness.” Then Pa threw me a nickel to go get some candy.
She dressed in black for the funeral the next day. He was buried in the North Fork cemetery. There was no preacher so Micah managed a few words of honor somehow. Pa and I just stood there. He wouldn’t look at her nor she at him. I watched as she quietly walked to the side of the grave and picked up a handful of dirt. “Ashes to ashes…” her voice faded as she slowly allowed the dirt to fall upon his grave. Then she walked to the edge of the cemetery and stopped.
Pa and I followed her. She didn’t turn around. “Well, I’ve wanted to be free for so long and now I am,” she said quietly. Then she turned and smiled at us. “Well, I best go pack. I have a stage to catch.”
We had brought the buckboard. We went back to town to see her off. We sat silently in the buckboard as she got onto the stagecoach and rode off. I had wanted to say something to her, but Pa shook his head. We were both reflecting as she rode off.
“Pa?” I suddenly broke the silence. “Did you like her?” I asked, thinking now would be the only opportunity to get the answers.
“I liked her better then I liked her husband!” He declared.
That answer frustrated me. “I don’t mean that!” I declared, annoyed.
Pa suddenly straightened himself up in the wagon. “Well, say what you mean!” he demanded.
“Well, I mean did you like her!” I tried again. I didn’t want to spell it out to him!
“I said I liked her!” I could tell he was annoyed with my question, and I was sort of sorry I had asked it. But he finally answered me. “Look Mark…uh…a man, especially out here comes to expect very little that's pretty. When he does stumble across it he can stop and admire it for what it is, Beauty. It's like looking at a sunset, or a pretty picture painting. You can admire them or appreciate them without wanting to own them."
Mushy stuff! That definitely wasn’t stuff I wanted to hear. “Well, I just can’t see a woman being as pretty as a picture,” I stated. I wasn’t quite ready to enter the world of girls. I was more interested in horses.
“Of course, you take a horse. Now, I saw a horse in a pastor the other day. I thought he was beautiful! He had the shiniest coat you’d ever seen and he was a light brown color – kind like the color of butterscotch…And he had this big blob of hair that fell over his eyes! I thought he was absolutely beautiful. Oh, and of course there was that fish I caught last Saturday. He sure was a beauty! That fish was some 2 pounds!” I held my hands out.
Pa shook his head and pushed my hat over my eyes as I continued telling him about all the beautiful thing I had seen that far outweighed the beauty of any woman!
*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