The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 46 – The Story Continues
The story of The Rifleman: The Legacy Fulfilled

Written by Deanne Bertram

As agreed, William Walsh submitted each story to Lucas and Mark, prior to forwarding to his editor. Each story was approved as written. His first story addressed Lucas as a soldier during the Civil War, coming up through the ranks and earning his Lieutenant’s bars. The story concluded with Lucas receiving an honorable discharge from the army.

His next story told of the Small Pox epidemic that struck Enid, Oklahoma and killed many of the residents. And how Lucas, being too grief-stricken to stay, set out with his young son to find someplace else they could call home. The story included their brief encounter with the outlaw Wade Joyner and then followed their lives to Wyoming and how events there, resulted in Lucas seeking someplace else. He’d known from the beginning that Wyoming wasn’t where he planned to permanently call home. Walsh made sure that each time he wrote of Lucas being forced to kill, he pointed out how much it tore at him.

The third story Walsh wrote, told of a widowed father, trying to raise his son. Making sure his son kept to his studies: spelling, reading, mathematics, and history. He also wrote how, every Sunday during their travels, Lucas and Mark dedicated the day to studying the Bible. Yes, he was The Rifleman, but more importantly, he was a father, first. Lucas was impressed that the newspaperman was interested in telling the whole story, and not just telling of the guts and glory.

His forth story told of the McCain’s choosing to call North Fork home -- a place, wild as it was, where Lucas knew he wanted raise his son. Walsh chose not to focus on the individual outlaws or the count of those killed, but instead focused on how it shaped the relationship between the Rifleman and his son. Walsh decided now would be a good time to include how Lucas struggled with his growing son’s desire to have his own gun and Lucas’ desire to keep his boy innocent, for as long as possible.

*****

The end of March was nearing when William Walsh returned to North Fork. He was ready to start telling the story of the Rifleman and the Lawman. Mark was waiting as the train pulled into the station. As was usual, Mark caught the packet of flyers from the conductor and greeted anyone stepping from the train.

“Morning Deputy!” William Walsh called as he stepped from the train. “Quite a brisk morning.”

“Yes sir, it is quite brisk. Welcome back to North Fork,” Mark said as he greeted him.

“I want to thank both you and your father for being so cooperative in my stories. You’re story has struck a cord with how the people back east perceive the west. They’re beginning to realize we’re not all lawless and cut throats. My editor is really pleased with how the stories are taking shape. Our Senior Editor from Chicago is even thinking that later this spring he might stop by and visit you, personally. I hope with the stories I written so far, you’ve come to trust me and I’d like to consider you and your father as friends. So, how are things otherwise here in North Fork?” Walsh asked as they started to walk to the hotel.

“Mr. Walsh, as I said before, we’re just people. Living our lives the best way we can. Living our lives according to the laws of man and the laws of God. If you keep your stories honest, we’ll continue to work with you and we’d like to consider you as a friend. As for North Fork… The town and ranchers are gearing up for spring’s arrival. Pretty much the same as it is every year, at this time. The ranchers are preparing to move their herds closer so they can keep an eye on the calving and foaling. The farmers are making sure their plows are ready to start breaking ground. Like I said, there’s nothing that special about North Fork, except that we like to call it home.”

“Deputy, it’s the simple life. Yes sir. I want to show a different side of how folks out here live. The dime store novels have their place, but they don’t tell the truth, or rather, they don’t tell the whole story. That’s what I want to…”

Their conversation was interrupted when Hattie came running up to them. “Mark, we need Doc Burrage over at Johnny and Colleen’s! I think the baby’s coming!”

“Okay Hattie, I’ll send Doc Burrage over. Go on back and let Uncle Johnny know.” Then turning to Walsh, “Sorry, but I’ve got things to do. See you later.”

Mark ran to the clinic and found Thadd tending to the scraped knee of one of the Porter children. “Mrs. Porter, pardon the interruption, but Doc, you’re needed over at Johnny and Colleen’s. Hattie just ran up and said they think the baby is coming.”

“Okay, Mark, I’m almost done here.” Then turning to Albert, “Well Albert. Let this teach you a lesson about running away from your Ma when she asks you for a second time to do a chore. You best do it the first time.”

“Yes sir, I’ll remember.” Albert stated as he hopped down from the table. Mrs. Porter offered, “Mark, tell your uncle and aunt, congratulations for me. I hope the baby is healthy.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Porter.”

“Mark, knowing how nervous your Pa was when Myra and Little Ted were born, I can only imagine how nervous your uncle is. Why don’t you head home and get your Pa. I’m sure Johnny will welcome the company.”

“Okay. I need to stop by Johnny and Lou’s to let them know where I’m heading and I’ll be out of town for a little while.”

*****

Lucas arrived at his brother-in-laws house to find Johnny frazzled. Milly ran upstairs to help Doc Thadd.

“Come on brother. Let’s get you to Sweeney’s. There’s nothing you can do here.”

“Lucas, h-how did you do this? I mean, you’ve gone through this three, three times. Just listening to Colleen… I think I’d rather be stomped on by a saddle bronc, than sitting here waiting.” Johnny continued to look over his shoulder and up the stairs as Lucas led him from the house.

“That’s why were heading to Sweeney’s,” Lucas stated.

*****

The sun was setting as Mark was walking the town and saw Thadd exiting his uncle’s home.

“Well Doc?” Mark asked.

“A healthy baby girl. She’s quite the set of lungs. Almost as loud as Savannah’s. I presume your father took Johnny to Sweeney’s?”

“He did. Tell Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen I’ll stop by later. See you, Thadd.

*****

Mark was watching out the front window of the Marshal’s Office when he saw his Pa and Uncle Johnny leave Sweeney’s. The good news, it didn’t look like either was drunk. Mark laughed as he thought on how his Ma would react, had they been.

*****

Johnny entered his home as Milly stepped to the foot of the stairs. “Your wife and daughter are up stairs Johnny. Go on!”

Milly stepped to Lucas and wrapped her arm around his waist as they walked into the kitchen of the home.

“Did either of you eat today?” Milly asked.

“A little, but I’m sure they could eat a good meal. Was it difficult?” Lucas asked.

“Not that difficult. Colleen was thankful you took Johnny away. She was more worried about him than herself. She should be up and around tomorrow, no problem.”

As they prepared supper, Lucas commented on how he just couldn’t get over the change in Johnny. “You know Milly, Johnny was always more free spirited that I was. Now he’s married and a father…”

“Lucas, I’ve heard him say you were a great roll model for him. ‘If Lucas McCain can do it, why can’t I?’ He really does admire the life you and Mark had.”

“We still have that life, only we’ve a larger family to share it with,” Lucas said as he came up behind Milly and wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled into her neck.

*****

They carried a couple trays of food upstairs and knocked on the bedroom door before entering.

“We thought you might be hungry,” Milly stated as they entered.

As Lucas watched Johnny holding his daughter, he remembered back to when each one of his children were born.

“Well? Was I right Johnny?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, you told me how this little one would melt my heart the first time I held her, but it still didn’t prepare me for this. She’s so tiny. All I want to do is to protect her. I don’t want to let go of her.”

“If she’s sleeping, why not lay her down between the two of you and so you can eat,” Milly stated. “Have you thought about a name yet?”

“Lucas, Milly, we’d like you to meet Lillian Claire Gibbs.”

*****

Before returning to the ranch, Lucas and Milly stopped by the Marshal’s Office. Mark asked them to let Hope know he wouldn’t be home.

“Lou’s cold struck her kind of harder this afternoon. Tessa’s tending the hotel and Johnny’s tending to Lou and Connor. That leaves me to watch the town.”

“Okay son, we’ll let Hope know,” Lucas stated as they turned to leave.

*****

Mark was finishing writing his latest report to the Marshal’s Office in Denver, when William Walsh knocked on the door.

“Come on in Mr. Walsh. I’m sorry about earlier…”

“No need to apologize. I understand that baby’s don’t wait for any one. I’d like to ask you a favor.”

“Sir?”

“Earlier I said, I’d like it if we could be friends and as friends, Mr. Walsh sounds… Well, please just call me Will.”

“All right, Will. Just call me Mark.”

“Mark, I wanted to start writing the story of you becoming a lawman. I know from talks with your father, how he tried to keep you from the gun. But still, you took up the rifle. You went against your father’s wishes.”

“Will, it’s not that Pa didn’t want me to never use a rifle. He eventually bought me a .22 for hunting. Pa wanted to make sure I understood the responsibilities that go along with it. And he also wanted to make sure I could handle the emotions that come with using the rifle,” Mark replied.

“So how was it that your Marshal, …Micah, deputized you?”

“Pa was up in Santa Fe, at the Cattlemen’s Association Meeting, and most all the other ranchers and their hands were over at Little Butte at the rodeo, when the stage was robbed. Micah needed someone as good as my Pa to help track the outlaws. I volunteered. No one else can track as good as Pa and most people will tell you I’m practically as good. Once the outlaws were dead and the money recovered… Micah chose to keep me as a deputy. Maybe he knew then that he would eventually retire… As I recovered from my injuries, Micah and Johnny started ordering law books for me to read.

“Injuries? What happened?”

“I got caught unaware up in Socorro. I was kidnapped by a man who had been hired to kill my father. As they were manhandling me, I broke my ankle. Then, later, when the showdown came, in my effort to save Pa, I was shot. Took a few weeks to get over the gunshot, but longer to get over the broken ankle.”

“So once you were back home, you didn’t give your badge back to the Marshal?”

“No, the outlaws had taken it from me. Micah handed my badge back to me once I was home. I felt relieved when he gave it back to me. Guess after all these years of watching my Pa work as a deputy marshal up in Wyoming and then helping Micah out here in North Fork, it wasn’t that far of a stretch for me to want to become a deputy. But Pa and I did a lot of talking over the next few weeks. He never tried to dissuade me from my choice, but wanted to make sure I was ready for that kind of a commitment.”

“I take it; you’ve had to shoot men?”

“I’ve wounded a few and been forced to take the lives of two others. After I killed that first man, I tried to keep my emotions inside. I didn’t tell anyone in North Fork what had happened. I wanted to prove to everyone that I was man enough for the job. Guess that was one thing Pa and I never really talked about; what would happen the first time I was forced to kill a man. When I was growing up, each time after Pa was forced to kill a man, I knew he needed his alone time. Time to seek forgiveness from God. I thought it was just as simple as that. Believe me, it wasn’t. It ate at me. All I could focus on was that I had taken a life, I kept thinking there had to be another way I could have handled the situation, and somehow, I could have pulled my shot. My friends realized something was tearing me up inside, but they didn’t know what. When I finally admitted it to Pa, the flood gates opened. Pa and I talked a good long time. He made me walk him through everything that had happened. He made me see that, yes, I had taken a life, but I had been forced into it. There was no other way out of the situation. It was either that man killing me or me killing him. Pa reminded me that before I could ask God for forgiveness, I had to forgive myself.

“I know when I made mistakes growing up, how necessary it was for me to forgive myself first, but I just didn’t think it applied to this situation. Making mistakes and asking forgiveness is one thing. But I had taken a life that God had created…

“The men you killed, they were outlaws?” Will asked.

“Not the first one. He was a soldier. He was threatening to kill an innocent young woman, because of something from her past that was totally out of her control. I watched as he tried to strangle her to death. When she passed out, he threw her down to the ground and pulled his gun on me and fired. It was purely instinct that I shouldered my rifle and pulled the trigger. I don’t even remember doing it.”

“And the second?” Will asked.

“The second man, yeah, he was an outlaw. A man who escaped from prison and joined up with a band of outlaws and robbed our town’s bank. As they were trying to make their escape, they shot both Micah and Johnny. At first it was just Marshal James Carson and I trailing after them, on our first night out Pa and Nils caught up with us. We’d been on the trail for a number of days and got caught in a minor ambush when Carson and Nils were wounded. We left them in Tucumcari, and Pa and I trailed the outlaws to Romero, Texas. Marshal Tom Benton met up with us just outside of town. Between Pa, Marshal Benton, and myself, we took eleven members of the gang into custody. Pa killed Creed Domingo in an effort to save Marshal Benton. Later, both of us fired at Russell Gannaway as he fired at Pa. The town doc told us later that both our bullets struck within an inch of each other.

“Will, my killing a second man didn’t get any easier for me. I pray that it never gets easy to take a life. I know that as long as I never get comfortable with the idea of killing another man, I’ll always be able to forgive myself and ask God’s forgiveness. It’s when you get comfortable in killing or not respecting the life of another human being, that’s when trouble brews.”

Mark went on to say, “People might say that because I wear the badge and carry a rifle, I’m looking for trouble. I’m looking to kill. No, I’m not. I’m looking to keep the peace and uphold the law. I carry both to defend myself and the people of this town. The citizens of this town deserve protection so that some day, they can feel safe in not walking around with guns everywhere. Like my father before me, I don’t want my sons…”

“Mark, I won’t mention that last statement in my story. I remember my promise. But it is amazing hearing someone as young as you talk with such dedication to your beliefs and talk so honestly about events that happened. Thanks for taking the time…” Will pulled out his pocket watch. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how late it is. Mark, I’ll forward my story to you, once I’ve written it. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Will.”

As Will left to return to the hotel, Mark left the Marshal’s Office to walk the town for one last time that night.

*****

A week after William Walsh left North Fork a letter arrived addressed to Mark.

The Rifleman: The Legacy Becomes a Lawman, by William Walsh

When I first met The Rifleman, he told me of how he would prefer to be remembered, not for his prowess with the rifle, but instead, he wanted his legacy to be his children. I came to know Mark McCain, who as a young boy had lost his mother during the small pox epidemic in Enid, Oklahoma. The son who saw his father shot a number of times, while defending the town he called home. The son, Lucas McCain tried hard to keep from the rifle as he grew up.

In my talk with the son, I realized it wasn’t that the Rifleman wanted to keep his son from ever handling a rifle, but more importantly, making sure the son was ready for the responsibilities of handling a gun. A gun, be it a hand gun or a rifle, is not a toy. And once the trigger is pulled, the bullet cannot be retracted.

Mark McCain told me the first time the deputy badge was pinned to his shirt. How outlaws had robbed the stage and it fell to him to help the Marshal track the outlaws because so few men were in town. Though the Marshal tried not to, he knew that Mark was his only hope for tracking and swore him in as a deputy to lead the posse. The outlaws were eventually captured and/or killed and the money was recovered, but events that happened during the chase gave the Marshal a new insight on this young man. The Marshal chose not to rescind the oath of office he had given Mark. And so The Rifleman’s son became a lawman. He wore the badge, but had a lot to learn about the “letter of the law” and eagerly did so.

Mark McCain recounted to me the first time he ever was forced to kill a man, to save the life of a young woman. He told me of how, after all the years of watching his father struggle with the aftermath of taking a life, he thought he could handle the emotions on his own and prove to those who counted on him, that he was man enough for the job. But this nineteen year old still needed his father to help him through his torments. Could he have handled the situation differently and not taken a life? Regardless what happened, it’s always easier to look back and second guess yourself, but those are the times you need someone to help you see the light. And Lucas McCain was there, as he always has been.

The second time The Lawman was forced to take a life; it was in defense of his father against an outlaw, a bank robber, a man who had already proven he could shoot another human being, just for trying to defend a town. It was reported that both The Rifleman and The Lawman fired simultaneously. Whose bullet proved the fatal shot? Hard to say, the doc said there were two bullet wounds the man suffered. Both were spaced an inch apart.

Was it easier to take a life the second time? Mark told me, “No, and I pray that is never gets easy. People might say that because I wear the badge and carry a rifle, I’m looking for trouble. I’m looking to kill. No, I’m not. I’m looking to keep the peace and uphold the law. I carry both [the badge and the rifle] to defend myself and the people of this town. The citizens of this town deserve protection so that someday, they can feel safe in walking around without guns everywhere.”

As he quietly helps to defend his town; the son understands his responsibilities and what it takes to stand up for the law. Be it with the badge or just as a citizen. These are the lessons the Rifleman has left for his Legacy. But more importantly to this story, there is an unbroken bond between a father and a son. A bond that says they both will be there for each other and to defend what’s right.

So, the Rifleman will continue to stand tall and know that he raised his son right. As for his Legacy? Maybe it won’t be his rifle, but the rifle of his son – The Rifleman: A Legacy Fulfilled.

Next Step — Taken

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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