PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS

by Adolph Roenigk


CHAPTER X
HORNED TOAD HARRY
A Startling Departure of the Usual Procedure Is Experienced
by the Bad Men of Caldwell.


    
During the early days of Caldwell when that village of Bluff Creek was an important point in the cattle industry of the Territory and Kansas, some very bad, if not positively wicked men made the town their headquarters. To coin a new phrase, one bad man brings on another, and the more bad men that stopped in Caldwell, the more imitators sprang up until the town had, so to speak, a “superfluity” of this particular pattern of the genus homo. As a matter of course there was some rivalry among this aggregation of wicked humanity as to who could scare up and get away with the most trouble, and generally somewhere in the shuffle one or more of the contestants would turn his toes skyward.
     There was not much fraternizing among this gentry--their attitude toward each other was much like that of rivals for the head of a herd who had fought long and desperately and neither yet willing to acknowledge defeat. Tenderfoot dance “juber” to the music of popping revolvers while bullets spitefully tore splinters from the floor around his agitated toes was the most kingly of sports. Next in order was the saloon barkeeper, but baiting barkeepers was rather hazardous, as too often the mild-mannered gin slinger proved a gossock well able to rend his foe.
     The respectable citizen sometimes came in for an encounter with the local bad man, but here, too, was an element of danger. To “shoot up” one of the town dads meant a visit of the vigilance committee before whose majesty even the most hardened bad man was obliged to quail, for, owing to the simplicity of their code of procedure they had but one verdict and one sentence and the sentence a most unpleasant one. But the choicest morsal of all--one to roll sweetly under the tongue--but unhappily too rare, was a rival bad man from some other town, who, boldly taking his life and his pistols in his hands, cantered into Caldwell, “jest ter look eround.” Such a cavalier was usually the search of trouble and never did one fail to find it right speedily; they all died, a death reflecting more or less glory on their memories, but die they did, and that without having time to remove their footwear.

70

     Oftimes there was a dearth of excitement in some town and the occupation of bad men being in danger of falling into decay for want of patronage, an adventurous knight of the pistol would bestride his broncho for a furious dash into some border town, where, as above mentioned, he never failed of being immediately accommodated with an opportunity of swapping gore in any quantity. Seldom did anyone make good and get away with it in Caldwell. That enterprising village had the choicest brand of the real bad man, who was willing to exert himself to the utmost to sustain the reputation of his municipality.
     The discomforture of the ordinary bad man, as told in song and story, was usually accomplished by a gentle, gazelle eyed, mild mannered, beardless youth from Eastern parts, who invited the house to join him in a warm lemonade, and upon the house’s derisive and indignant refusal, shot them all into lamblike submission. The other prominent brand of bad man tamer was the small, quiet, steel grey brand of detective from New York, who speedily and artistically put the whole gang out of business. But truth is more reliable than fiction if it is stranger, and therefore we must record that the tamer that darted across the sky of the Caldwell bad men like a hissing meteor, was neither a tough tenderfoot in disguise or a sleuth of the slums but a very pronounced specimen of the wicked unwashed, rigged up especially ratty to be as aggravating and insulting to the artistic sense of the regulars as possible.
     Another precedent was broken in his name, for the old, tried and time honored “Bill” was disregarded and the more feminine “Harry” substituted. This was of itself a deadly affront. Seldom, if ever, lived there a real live, noticeable bad man of any name other than “Bill.” He was privileged to prefix and suffix it all he or his friends chose, but anything but Bill was looked upon as of doubtful quality and must be tried out before being allowed to stand.
     The particular speciman that rode into Caldwell on the occasion of which this narrative treats was armed in an especially terrorizing manner, carrying instead of the usual pair of sixes, two enormous cap and ball pistols, too large to be called derringers and too neatly made to be horse pistols but allied to both, and having a more approaching three-quarters of an inch in diameter, were formidable enough to cause any

71

man short of a suicide enthusiast to elevate his hands with alacrity.
     It was late in the afternoon when the stranger rode into town, mounted upon a sorry little broncho, at least his legs, ears, rose and tail that protruded from beneath the enormous saddle he carried, looked sorry enough to stand for the whole horse. Leaving his animal with a stable keeper the owner clanked heavily into a nearly hostelry where, after partaking of a few drinks at the hotel bar, he bagan to warm up to the extent of announcing how far up Bitter Creek his lair was located, and giving his name as Horned Toad Harry, announcing his intention on the morrow of stirring up the animals, if there were any worth stirring, of which he felt doubtful; after which he lumbered noisly out into the night air, but meeting only a few apprentices unworthy of his attention in the course of the evening, he retired intending to get an early start and shoot up the whole town before luncheon. Here is where Harry cut out quite a little task for a short half day. Take it from me, Caldwell was some hard town to shoot up in those days; there were always others at the shooting, and, at the risk of establishing some new rule of grammar will say, the shootee often turned on the shooter, who was shot.
     News of Horned Toad Harry’s arrival in town was soon spread abroad and when that person made his debut in the morning as per schedule announced, quite a respectable coterie of gunmen were girded up and faring forth to meet him. (The town marshall is always supposed to be at the bedside of a sick friend or attending the funeral of his grandmother in St. Louis on such occasions.) The affair, as reported later, was of short duration. Horned Toad Harry rode up the street of the town looking for a saloon with a door high enough to ride into. Not finding such a door he dismounted in front of one of the most promising looking gin mills, carelessly brought one of his blunderbusses in line with the head of a bystander and tossing him the bridle rein ordered him to hold the horse attached thereto until his return. Entering the saloon where several card games were in progress at the back tables, he announced, as a preliminary, his name and, in passing, the location of his residence on the headwaters of Bitter Creek near Pizen Rocks in Rattlesnake Bend. All this being accepted in respectful silence by his listeners, Harry then asked the gentlemen assembled to step to the bar and name it. The generous invite was accepted

72

at once, even the players, leaving their hands turned down, gracefully complied, but a tall, bronzed and bearded pard, standing near the stove, remained unmoved. Thinking the unmoved one had not heard, Harry repeated the invitation, but he merely turned a cold, contemptuous eye upon his would-be host and toyed with the handle of one of his sixes. (It was noticed the palms of his hands were calloused from dropping them suddenly upon the butts of his six shooters at the least hint of danger.)
     This individual was the noted Bad Eye Bill who had so many notches on his coup stick that it resembled a mill file. Why did he not draw, was the query of the constantly increasing crowd. With a bound Harry sprang upon the bar, knocking over a half gross of foam-flecked glasses and spattering beer suds in the barkeeper’s eye, who, in the interest of peace; wiped out the suds with the bar towel.
     “I says,” announced Harry, slowly and dramatically pointing to the immobile form of Bill, “that anyone in this yere shack that refooses ter drink with me is no gent.” The crowd stood spellbound with horror at the fearful import of Harry’s words. Was it possible that Bad Eye would lay down before such a cut? Still, the cat often play with the mouse. “And I furthermore says,” continued the orator of the bar, “that I refers to a certain long, hungry party ther by the stove.”
     “And I says,” replied Bill, deliberately, “that ther horned reptile ockerpying ther bar will find me jest ez long and hungary ez I looks.” Everybody ducked and something happened, but not exactly what was expected. Strange how the unexpected happens when the expected ought to happen. But nothing like this ever happened in Caldwell before, and never will again.
     Bad Eye Bill’s revolver gave a sharp and futile bark, but the roar of Harry’s howitzers, simultaneously unchained, with intent, outclassed them as Niagara outclasses a bathtub faucet. The concussion shook a ton of plaster from the ceiling, started the hoops on three new kegs of beer, knocked the barkeeper backward into the cooling tub and reversed all the spittoons; and most surprising of all, the picture of a much admired lady hanging on the wall actually covered her face with her hand, a thing she should have done long before. The room was filled with a dense, stifling smoke through which the friends of Bill,

73

groping blindly, tenderly raised the body of the slaughtered hero and bore it outside.
     After being dashed with cold water the body sat up and began to cuss. Bill had meerly fainted from fright. The blunderbusses had been loaded half full of a villainous brand of black powder. Bad Eye Bill’s star had forever set in the dense gloom of black powder smoke, so to speak.
     And what of the reptilian, Harry? Calmly helping himself to a bottle of good whiskey and filling his pockets with choice cigars, he made his exit unchallenged, regaining his horse, and while the crowd was working over the supposed corpse of Bill, cantered away, like Don Quixote of old, looking for further adventures. The bad man business in Caldwell received a severe crimp. They tried to make a scape goat of Bill, but all stock dropped frightfully, and for many moons thereafter the town marshall had no sick friends or deceased grandparents.


previous    contents    next


Transcribed and submitted by his Great Grandniece L Ann Bowler

Background and KSGenWeb logo were designed and are copyrighted by
Tom & Carolyn Ward
for the limited use of the KSGenWeb Project.
Permission is granted for use only on an official KSGenWeb page.


Home Page for Kansas
Search all of Blue Skyways
including
The KSGenWeb Project