These stories are fiction. They’re the bedtime stories I tell myself. They’re stories that kept me occupied as I sat immobile in snowbound rush hour traffic on old Bloomington Ferry Bridge Road. They’ve been percolating in my mind for years. For some reason, I’ve lately become compelled to record them.
While the stories are fiction, the locations are not. Dillon, Colorado sits high and handsome in the Colorado mountains. Floyd County, Indiana is real. Though all the locations are real, the details of their origins are in some cases fictitious.
Some characters are real. Bass Reeves was a U.S. Marshal of considerable success. You might want to google him. Generals Grant and Sherman were real. Colonel Bates, was real. The rest of the characters are fictitious. Since characters need names, and not all characters are heroes, there is a possibility that someone, somewhere may find his or her name used in an offending manner. No such offense is intended. If you find your name used on a heroic character, that’s probably a coincidence too. There are three family names used deliberately in these stories. One is in recognition of a close friend. One is a great uncle I never met. The third popped into my mind as I was searching for an appropriate name.
These stories are not the Great American Novel. They’re entertainment in the writing, and hopefully, entertainment in the reading. They might be considered morality stories. If you came to them expecting religious themes, I’m sorry to disappoint you. There’s plenty of religion in the world, and not enough morality.
John Just Rider in Indiana
Mark d’Lon in Colorado
William Freign in Illinois, Colorado, and France
Benjamin Carter in France, Belgium, Germany, and Illinois
Clear Water In Colorado
The 60’s were different. For one thing, President Lincoln thought he could get everyone to respect, or at least tolerate everyone else. I can’t but wonder why he felt he could succeed where guardian angels, and Jesus Christ had failed.
Still, you had to admire the man for trying.
For my part, I just wanted to help myself, and the people who were meaningful to me. Any greater good caused by things I did was as incidental as the manure from the cows I milked to make money to feed my family.
My name’s John Rider, though most people around here call me Just Rider – which I will explain in due time. Back then folks didn’t call me much of anything. I was just a young kid headed west with money saved from riding mail from town to town. I started riding mail when I was maybe twelve. It was an escape from a grim foster home. I have no idea who my birth parents were, or why I ended up in that awful place. About the only good that came of it was I learned to read, write, and do numbers. Of course, that was in my spare time between milking cows, shoveling cow shit, mowing hay, and mending fences. The girls dealt with the chickens.
The first chance I got, I stole a horse and rode east for a couple of days. Worked out well, too. The local lawman figured an adventuresome boy would head west. When he couldn’t find me he gave up. I imagine old man Timmons and his wife just reeled in some other orphan to provide cheap labor. Indiana was a free state then – not that it mattered. Timmons was too tight to buy slaves when he could get orphans for free.
My brief foray into horse thieving took me to Walton, Kentucky. I walked into the Post Office to get out of the rain, and saw a handbill calling for mail riders. Whether the Post Master actually believed I was 14 is an open question. I told him Crook was fast, I was light, and we could start right away. Aside from the age thing, the only other part that was a lie was the horse’s name. The drunk I stole it from never called him anything but Yagoddamhorse.
The Post Master loaned me an old cap and ball Colt, and told me I’d have to buy one of my own from my pay. For the next six years Crook and I carried mail six days a week. It would have been seven, but Crook got Sundays off. I bought a used Colt, and a cross-draw holster, which looked more stylish than the usual holster. In six years, the only time I had the gun out of the holster was to clean and oil it. Once Crook and I outran some fool who thought he could steal the mail. There wasn’t much to steal, since all we carried was stuff going to towns too small to rate stage coach service.
At the end of those six years I knew Crook wouldn’t last much longer, and I wanted both of us to have a chance to see some of the world. So we headed west. I guess that was 1858.
After six days of heading west, Crook figured he was due a break. It didn’t matter to him that we weren’t carrying mail. When I picked up the saddle, he snorted. When I tried to put it on, he shied. Crook probably had more brains than I did at that point, and he didn’t think another day of walking was in his best interests. A young man may crave adventure, but an old horse just wants grass and water.
I managed to lay the saddle on Crook’s back, but didn’t cinch it tight. Then we walked, I in front, and Crook following behind, with his head down. After a couple of miles we topped a rise and saw a small creek crossing the road. We were both happy for a drink, and Crook found some grass to his liking. He still was reluctant to go on, but there was a bend in the road about 50 yards along, and I wanted to see what was beyond.
That’s how we met Raffel.
His name was actually Raphael, but in all the years I’ve known him, I’ve never heard anyone call him anything except Raffel.
As we rounded the bend, we saw a wagon track leading off into a pasture. Crook was snuffling the air, but he didn’t seem worried. At the end of the track we could see a barn and a house. The buildings looked run-down. I’d have credited them for abandoned were it not for the horse in the makeshift corral. Crook nickered, and the other horse responded. In a moment a man appeared at the door of the house. He didn’t seem pleased to see us. When we got nearer he yelled that we weren’t due ‘til tomorrow, and until then the farm was still his property, so we should leave.
I yelled back that my horse and I were looking for a place to bed down for the night, and if we might sleep in the barn, we would move on in the morning.
Raffel stepped off the porch, and I noticed he leaned something against the wall inside the door. Took me a moment to realize it wasn’t a broom, but some sort of long gun.
I led Crook about half way up the track, and asked if it was okay to come closer. Raffel said “Yes”, and nothing else. I think everyone, including the horses, was feeling some uneasiness.
When we got closer, I offered my hand, but Raffel wouldn’t take it. From this distance I could see he was not old, but worn.
“You look mighty young to be a sheriff throwing folks off their land” he said.
“Young, maybe. But sheriff I’m not. Crook and I are just passing by on our way west. What’s the talk about throwing you off your land?”
Raffel told me he was expecting the county sheriff tomorrow. His farm was being foreclosed, and he would have to leave. He hoped the sheriff would be decent enough to let him keep his horse, though the bank had forced him to sell off his cows. When I asked about the cows, I could see some pride, and maybe a little sorrow rise.
“I had fourteen top quality Jerseys, and a young Jersey bull. In two years, I’d have had a herd of twenty producing cows, and ten more to sell.”
Then he sat down, right there in the middle of the track, and started to cry. No tears, just a dry, hacking sob.
I got the feeling the emotion had been pent up for a long, long time, and Raffel needed someone to unload on. After a few awkward minutes I helped him to his feet. Raffel told me Crook and I could use the barn, but it was a mess. He was right. The hay was old. There was no feed fit for stock. The smell of mouse was everywhere. Only a few scraggly cats seemed to think the barn was an acceptable home. They probably liked not having to go far afield for meals. The smell of the sweaty leather saddle and blanket from off Crook’s back was actually something of a relief in that stale barn.
Raffel and I opened doors and windows. He said he didn’t have much to offer by way of a meal, but he could make some coffee. I told him that would be fine, and that I’d clean out some of the barn to make a place for me and Crook.
I turned Crook into the corral. Whether because he was tired or disinterested I don’t know, but Crook paid no attention to the mare. He set to work on the grass while I pumped fresh water into the trough.
A pitchfork and 45 minutes later the barn seemed more presentable, with just enough hay to provide a bed for Crook and me. Unfortunately, I stunk to high heaven of dust, mouse, sweat and stale manure.
Raffel stuck his head in the door and said coffee was done. When I got closer, he said “You smell kinda ripe.” Those were the first words he said that didn’t sound like they came from a broken man.
As we walked to the house I noticed Crook and the mare were standing nose to tail, keeping flies off each other. I asked the mare’s name, and Raffel said she didn’t have one – he just called her “horse”.
There was a pump in the kitchen. I washed my hands and face. Raffel said I ought to put some water on the stove to wash my clothes. I figured that after a bit I’d take a bath in the horse trough.
I could see a woman’s hand in the place, but Raffel was clearly living rough. About all he had in the pantry was a couple of potatoes and some tea. He apologized and said there was nothing in the root cellar either. He looked around and said, “I don’t know what I’m going to take with me tomorrow. Probably just the Bible and the fry pan. And maybe one of Celeste’s kerchiefs to remember her by. Don’t know if I’ll be walkin’ or ridin’, but either way I’ll be traveling light. Maybe I’ll leave the Bible, and take the coffee pot.”
We moved out to the porch, with the intent of sitting on the steps, but we could see some weather building. I told Raffel we should get the horses in the barn for the night. He laughed and said Horse hadn’t been in the barn since February, and she might not know what that was all about. I mucked out two more stalls before it dawned on me that this was a dairy barn, and Raffel had set up a stall for each cow. No stanchions. Seemed like a lot of work. When Raffel arrived with the horses, I asked him about it. He said he’d heard that cows produced more milk if they were happy, and the stanchions didn’t seem like a happy place to be. Plus, his cows could nurse their calves in out of the elements.
I never heard of anything like that back on Timmons’ farm, but thinking on it now, old man Timmons didn’t give a fork full of manure for the kids working the cows. Why would he care if the cows were happy?
There was still some coffee. Raffel said he even had a little whiskey if I wanted some. But I was still not entirely comfortable with the situation, and wanting to keep a clear head, I said no.
So we sat on the steps drinking coffee and talking until the rain came. The coffee was terrible, but Raffel’s story was worse.
Raffel was born on this farm, in a log house, now in ruins, about a hundred yards down the track. His father chose the property because it had good water and enough elevation to prevent flooding. Raffel and two brothers helped their Pa build a dairy herd and the barn. The older brothers grew tired of the work, and moved away. Raffel and his Pa kept the dairy going, even getting up to 18 head, but there wasn’t that much demand, and they found themselves pouring out soured milk on the fields. The milk from ten to fifteen head was all the milk they could sell. Usually, when a cow bore a calf, the oldest cow in the herd was led to the butcher. A cash cow might be spared for a few years. Bull calves almost always went to market. Life was hard, but everyone had enough to eat.
One day Raffel and Pa came home from the milk run and found Ma dead at the kitchen table. It looked like she was peeling potatoes and just set the knife down and died.
A few years later, during a milk run, Raffel met Celeste. They married soon after, and Celeste joined Raffel and Pa on the farm. Raffel and Pa built the new house, and with Celeste, they made big plans for a bright future.
Then Pa keeled over while lifting a milk can.
Raffel and Celeste were on their own. A baby boy came, and plans for the future were delayed while the child was raised. A loan kept the farm going – just. Then Celeste drew a fever. She suffered for a few days, and Raffel couldn’t deal with tending the farm, a sick wife, and a baby. On the third or fouth day of the fever Celeste started to shake. Then she groaned and died. Two days later the baby took the fever. Aloyis went down quickly, and Raffel was left alone with his despair. He sold off the cows to pay most of the loan, but with no income, there was no way to pay it all off. And so the farm fell into disrepair. It’s amazing how quickly nature reclaims its’ land from the hands of man.
The bank wasn’t so quick to reclaim the farm. It took the better part of three years before they actually foreclosed and called on the County Sheriff to put Raffel off the farm.
As we were talking, the rain came. First gently, then with a bit more insistence. So we moved back inside. After maybe an hour, the rain let up. I took my clean drawers and went out to the horse trough for a bath. I must’ve been a sight because Raffel chuckled when I came through the door in my boots and drawers, with a gun belt in one hand, and dirty clothes in the other. Raffel said there was no more coffee, but he could make tea if I wanted some. Though I’m not a big fan of tea, I wanted to keep things light, so I said a cup of tea would be good to have while I was washing clothes.
About the time my wet clothes were hung on the line by the stove, Raffel had two cups of tea ready. It wasn’t much better than the coffee, and I was just starting to say something when it occurred to me Raffel was sharing the last thing he had with me, a stranger he’d known for just a few hours.
I asked him if he would stay on and help run the place if I bought it. He snorted, and said “Sure. Where’s a drifter like you gonna get that kind of money? If you’re planning to rob a bank, I want no part of it, and you should move on now.”
When I told him I had money saved from riding mail, and I could pay off the loan if he’d sign over the farm, he blinked a few times.
“Why would you do that, Rider?” he asked.
“Seems like the right thing to do. And besides, Crook is tired.”
When the sheriff came out the next day, we told him what we planned.
“Why would you do that, young fella?” he asked.
I repeated the line about how it seemed like the right thing to do, and the sheriff said “You’re okay boy. Raffel’s had a hard time, and I wasn’t lookin’ forward to puttin’ him off his land.
That’s how we came to live on Celeste Farm.
It took me and Raffel a couple of years of hard work to build the farm and the herd back up
One day in ’60, as I was delivering milk to town the sheriff came over to talk.
“You any good with that six-shooter?
“I can hit most anything if I try often enough. And anything I can’t hit, I can scare to death. Why?
“I need some help to bring in a rough customer. If I round up a posse, some fool is sure to start shooting. and kill a horse. One steady hand is worth a dozen scared shopkeepers. Ride with me tomorrow?’
“Yup” was all I could think of to say.
“Bring your mount with you when you bring in the milk. I’ll loan you a shotgun.”
“Boy, you didn’t ask what it pays, but I’ll give you two dollars. Three if we can get the guy back alive.”
“Rider, you’re somethin’. I never met a dairy farmer who was willing to ride with me. Why would you do that?”
“Why do you keep asking me that, sheriff? I do what seems right. Doesn’t everybody?”
“Rider, quit callin’ me sheriff. Call me Bill, or call me Vander. Either will do.”
“Okay Sheriff Vander.”
I didn’t tell Raffel until the next day, as we were loading the milk cans. He said nothing, but went and got his long gun and ammunition pouch. When I asked him what he was doing, he said the cows were pastured, and he was going along with me. He looked me square in the eye, and said he couldn’t afford to lose any more business partners. I couldn’t help but laugh, and Raffel did too. That was about the first time I can recall hearing his laugh, which was a sort of wheezing hee-hee. If Sheriff Vander didn’t want more help, he could tell Raffel. I wasn’t about to.
During the ride into town Raffel told me the man we were after was probably a guy named Bucks. Raffel didn’t know if that was a first name, or last. He told me Bucks was mean when he was sober, and mean and crazy when he was drunk. Raffel said he’d never seen Bucks hung over, and we figured he’d be mean, crazy, and nasty coming off a toot. Turned out he was right, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Sheriff Vander saw the value of a long gun, and the even greater value of the wagon if we needed to haul Bucks’ corpse back to town. He told Raffel he couldn’t pay us both, but Raffel said he didn’t expect to get paid for doing the right thing.
Sheriff Vander said “Boy, you’re rubbing off on Raffel.”
We set off in short order, and Sheriff Vander confirmed that we were indeed going out to arrest Bucks, who had stabbed a fellow drinker in a bar room brawl a couple of days ago. The victim wasn’t dead yet, but given how badly gut-stabbed he was, everyone figured he’d pass in the next day or so.
Sheriff Vander said he wanted to take Bucks alive, but we were not going to take unnecessary chances. Then he gave us both a badge.
During the ride to Bucks’ place, which took about an hour, we discussed tactics. There were two shotguns along with Raffel’s long gun in the wagon. Sheriff Vander and I had pistols – his a fairly new Colt, and mine a Smith & Wesson Model 1. I found the cartridge model easy to load and empty, which worked well in a gun that was seldom fired. Sheriff Vander said he fired his Colt every week, to keep his hand and eye sharp. Raffel said he used the long gun for hunting, and didn’t add much else to the conversation during the ride.
Just before we turned into Bucks’ path, we stopped to check the guns and go back over the plans. Then we turned in, with Sheriff Vander in the lead, me second, and Raffel behind.
Sheriff Vander split off the track to his right about 30 feet, and advanced a bit. I split off left, and also advanced a bit. Raffel pulled the wagon first left, then hard right to set it up sort of crosswise to the house. He set the brake, and got off to the side away from the house. I got off Crook, and crouched down. We all had guns at the ready.
Thinking on this now, we actually seemed like we knew what we were doing. But we were just damned lucky Bucks wasn’t in the outhouse, which we hadn’t covered.
Sheriff Vander yelled at Bucks to come out, that he was under arrest, and we were going to take him to jail. There was no response, so Sheriff Vander repeated the message.
After a bit Bucks opened the door. He was holding a long gun, and he said we should get off his land. Sheriff Vander told him to put the gun down and come along peaceably. Bucks said something I didn’t catch. Then he raised the long gun and fired. I figured the shot was wild. Before I could fire the shotgun (which wouldn’t have been much use at that range), I heard a boom from Raffel’s long gun. Bucks was dead before he fell. Raffel hit him square in the chest.
It took me a moment to collect myself. I figured Sheriff Vander would check out Bucks, but he nodded at me instead. So I walked up slowly with the shotgun aimed at Bucks. Or what was left of him. There were still a few twitches in him, but he was clearly dead. I picked up Bucks’ gun, and started to walk away. Sheriff Vander yelled in an odd, growly voice “Don’t turn your back on him!”
All I could think of to say was “What?” Then I spun around, half expecting to see Bucks charging at me with a knife. But Bucks was just as dead as before. Still, I backed away until I was standing next to the sheriff’s horse.
“Well boy, it looks like you’re gonna be the sheriff for a while.” It was only then that I saw Sheriff Vander’s shotgun on the ground, and blood dripping from his right hand. We stopped the bleeding as well as we could, and Sheriff Vander got on the seat of the wagon. Then Raffel and I muscled Bucks into the back. An hour out, and an hour back for maybe fifteen seconds of shooting, and fifteen minutes of dealing with the aftermath.
Between groans, Sheriff Vander bemoaned the drunken dumb luck that led the ball to his arm. Raffel said it was only the hand of God that kept the ball from finding the sheriff’s face. I don’t know which is right, but I learned a lot that day, including that it’s good to have someone with steady nerves and a long gun backing you up when things go bad.
After we got Sheriff Vander to the doctor, and deposited Bucks with the casketmaker, we headed home. I asked Raffel how he felt, and he said “Not good.”
It wasn’t until much later that evening, after we’d dealt with various chores, and had a snort from the bottle in the pantry, that Raffel said he didn’t feel much different than when he had to put down an old cow.
Incidentally, the man Bucks stabbed lingered two more days, suffering the whole time. By my accounting, Bucks got off cheap.
The ball that passed through Sheriff Vander’s arm nicked a bone. Perhaps because he bled freely, there was no infection. It took about three months for the wound to heal, but Sheriff Vander had pain in that arm for the rest of his life, and his shooting was only so-so from that point on. For those three months, every day when I brought in the milk cans, I checked in at the jail. Sometimes I spent the night there. More than once I had to break up fights and put people in the cooler.
One afternoon, toward the end of that time, a man came running into the jail and said he heard terrible yelling coming from a house just off the main street. He said the shouting seemed to be in German, and it didn’t sound like a lovers’ quarrel. Sounded like the Kepplemanns were at it again. I knew where to go.
Sure enough, when I stepped on the porch, I could see Gramma Kepplemann waving a big knife at Grampa Kepplemann. She was about five foot eight, and maybe 275 pounds. He was five five, and a shade over 180. They were screaming at each other, but I have no idea what was being said. Neither one of them paid any attention when I knocked. So I pulled out my pistol, and walked in. Still they ignored me. So I got between them and pointed the pistol at Gramma Kepplemann. I told her if she didn’t put the knife down I was going to shoot her. Grampa Kepplemann started yelling, at whom I don’t know. I told him to shut up and get out of the house or I’d shoot him too. I wasn’t about to stand in the middle of a possible knife fight. I knew they understood enough English to know what I was saying. I told Grampa again to get out of the house. Then I turned to Gramma, and told her to put the knife down, and that I’d not say it again. She sat down on one of the chairs.
“Ach, dirty und dull. Herr Kepplemann don’t know how to take care of a knife. You shoot me?”
“Gramma, the way you were waving that knife, I though you meant to stab me and Grampa Kepplemann both.”
“Ha! Knife too dull to stab anything. Und if I vas to stab Herr Kepplemann, vould haf done ten year ago. I vill be more quiet, ja?”
When I stepped outside, Grampa Keppleman was pacing in the yard.
“Not shoot mein frau, vould you?
“Yes, if she hadn’t put the knife down, I’d have shot her. She looked like she wanted to kill you. Would you want me to let her?”
“Nein, nein. Ana ist good frau.”
About this time, son Dolph arrived. I told him what happened, and that the neighbors were getting concerned. I said if his parents didn’t settle down I would put them both in jail for disturbing the peace. Dolph nodded solemnly, and started talking to his father. Grampa Kepplemann nodded to Dolph, and turned to me. He promised to behave.
Dolph went in and started talking to Gramma Kepplemann in German. In a moment I heard her yell, “Vas? You tell that sheriff he can’t throw Poppa in jail!”
More German from Dolph. Then “Ja, ja” from Gramma Kepplemann.
They’re both gone now, but they spent the next thirty or so years in mostly harmonious matrimony. Only once, in all those years was a deputy ever sent there again, and that was because Grampa Kepplemann had fallen off a ladder, and needed help to get to the doctor.
Being a deputy didn’t pay much, but my expenses were very few. Raffel and I were able to keep the dairy going, and even to expand a little. After much discussion we settled on building the herd with Guernseys. They were said to give richer milk than Holsteins or Jerseys, though some dairymen seemed to feel they weren’t as hardy as other breeds. We figured winter hardiness wasn’t a big issue in Southern Indiana.
Somewhere in 1860 or ‘61 I took some of the money we’d been accumulating to buy stock, and headed to Kentucky. Through sheriffs’ bulletins, I’d learned of a Guernsey herd being sold at auction, and I thought maybe I could find a few good cows.
That’s how I met Janey.
I had to borrow a horse and light wagon since Crook was no longer up for such long rides. It took two days to get to Standiford, and the herd being sold was fair to middling. I bought a decent looking heifer, a cow, and a cow with a bull calf. I spent more than I’d hoped but not as much as I’d feared.
The trip back to the ferry at Louisville took me through Germantown. I wasn’t much but fifty miles from Celeste Farm, but I might have been on the moon. Business signs were written in English, and what I supposed was German. The people I spoke to had a dialect peculiar to my ear. Some sounded like Northerners. Some sounded Southern. Many sounded like Dolph Kepplemann. And many sounded simply uneducated. Every once in a while I cringed at something I heard that would have earned me a taste of old man Timmons’ belt.
Janey was sitting on the ground outside a dry goods store. Her hair was long and wild, and likely full of lice. Her feet were bare, and her dress was thin. She didn’t look up at me, or anybody else. I guessed she was between 12 and 16, but it was hard to tell because the baby in her belly distorted her features. The sign at her feet said “for sale inquire inside”.
I pulled my little herd over to a water trough. The cows seemed uninterested, and the horse only drank a little. There was a small eating place across the road. I went in and asked for coffee and whatever was good that day. It wasn’t the coffee’s day, and the soup was thin, but the price was low, and it gave me a chance to watch Janey.
In a half hour or more, not one person looked at her. She stood up once or twice, and got a drink from the pump by the horse trough. When the woman running the eating place came back to fill my coffee cup, I asked her if anyone had shown any interest in the slave. After filling my cup, the woman said no, that the nigrah had been sitting there off and on for two weeks, and it was an eyesore. Then she narrowed her eyes and said, “You ain’t from around here, are you.” I said nope, and she said Yankees ought to stay on their side of the river.
I thanked her for the advice, and paid my bill.
The dry goods store smelled of something, I know not what. Not rotten, nor moldy. Not something to make me hungry. Just distinct.
When I asked about the slave, the man behind the counter said she was $250.00. Then he said that was a bargain, and several people were interested in her. He was lying. I knew he was lying. And he knew I knew he was lying.
So I told him I’d paid $150.00 for the cow and bull calf, and I was willing to trade them even up for the slave.
“Why’d you want to do that?” he asked.
I was getting sick of that question, so I just shrugged.
He reckoned it wasn’t a good deal, and the owner wouldn’t go for it. He was lying again. And again we both knew it.
“Well, pretty soon that slave is going to have a baby, and the owner will have another mouth to feed, with no hope of getting any work out of either the slave or the baby for a good long time. The cow, on the other hand, will produce maybe five gallons of milk every day until she’s too old. Then she’ll give up her beef and hide. In the meantime she’ll also bear calves to build a herd or sell. The bull calf looks to be pretty good tempered, and he’s from a good line.”
The man behind the counter hemmed and hawed some, so I told him I had stock to deliver, and if he didn’t want to take my offer, he should talk to some of those interested buyers he didn’t have, and get something better.
He wrote up the bill of sale, and I cut the cow and bull calf from my little herd.
I pulled the slave to her feet. Even with the baby coming, she was thin and light. I told her she could ride up front, or lay on the feed sacks in back, which is what she chose to do. Good thing, too, because she smelled bad. Not once did she look at me.
I stuck my head back in the dry goods store and asked who the baby’s father was. The man behind the counter said he didn’t know, but it was probably her owner, Buhl. Buhl’s Janey was being sold because Miz Buhl couldn’t abide Buhl having babies with the darkies.
We left, and as soon as we were out of sight of Germantown I stopped. When I asked Janey if she was hungry, she shrugged without looking at me. I gave her some dried beef I had, and milk drawn earlier. Janey drank it without question or comment. We rode quiet all the way to the ferry. Janey, never having been off Buhl’s farm, was nervous and frightened, which she tried to hide under an air of sullen indifference. Though she never seemed to look up, I could see Janey’s eyes were in constant motion.
When we got off the ferry, Janey settled down a little. There’s an eating place near the dock, and I got some bread and beef there. Given the way Janey looked and smelled, it seemed best to not subject her to the stares that would have surely greeted us. We ate as we traveled.
The food must have been needed because Janey soon fell asleep. In an hour or so, she woke up and looked around. I told her we were close to Celeste Farm, which brought no response. Janey looked at the cow and heifer, and said “I ain’t even worth three cows.” It was a question, accusation, and lament all rolled up in one. What could I say?
We plodded into Celeste Farm late in the afternoon. Raffel came out of the barn, looked at Janey, looked at me, and looked at the heifer and cow.
“Why would you do that, Rider?” he asked.
“Aw, come on Raffel. You know why.”
“Seemed like the right thing to do, huh?”
“Raffel, I won’t kid you. There’s no way this child – her name is Janey, by the way – would’ve survived having a baby if I left her where she was. She’s like you and me, had a hard life, and needing someone to help her out. I imagine you’re disappointed with how I spent the money, but to my mind there just wasn’t any other way for it.”
“Well Janey, we have to get you cleaned up and fed. Looks to me like we don’t have a lot of time to get you built up before the baby comes.”
Janey had been listening to all this, and seemed to get more withdrawn by the minute. Then, she started yelling, the words coming out like bullets from a six-gun.
“Don’t want no white man’s baby! Don’t want no white man doggin’ me! Don’t want no white man tellin’ me I ain’t worth three cows! Don’t want no feelin’ sick whenever I don’t feel fat! Don’t want nobody tellin’ me I stink! I KNOW I stink! You think I want it that way? Damn you both!”
Janey stopped all of a sudden, and seemed to shrink. “You gonna whup me Marse Rider?”
Raffel and I probably both went as white as Janey’s teeth. Neither of us could think of anything to say. Janey was looking more scared by the second.
The only thing I could think of to say was “I’m not Marse Rider.”
Janey asked, “what I call you then?”
“Just Rider. That’s all.”
“Yessuh, Just Rider. You gonna whup me?”
“Nope. But Raffel and I would really appreciate it if you’d take a bath.”
“Don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout ‘preciate, but I’d sure like to get the stink off. Raffel be the boss man?”
I put a bucket of water on the stove, while Raffel poked through Celeste’s clothes looking for things that might fit, and that he was willing to part with. Raffel might not be one to initiate goodness, but once he got started, he didn’t hold back.
Two buckets of hot water in the horse trough and it was ready for a bath. Another bucket of water was heating, to wash Janey’s dress. Raffel wanted to burn it, but I thought it might have some special meaning to Janey. My guess was it was made by Janey’s mother. Turns out I was right.
From that day on, both Raffel and Janey called me Just Rider. Sheriff Vander soon took to calling me that too. I don’t mind, since I have no idea what my real first name is. Maybe it’s John. Maybe not. If Janey and Raffel want to call me Just Rider, I can live with it.
Janey had some trouble getting in and out of the horse trough. I helped her, but it was a very uncomfortable experience – well, for me at least. Janey didn’t seem too put out. We talked for a bit about dealing with the lice, and Janey agreed to let us cut her hair short. That was a chore, but the result was a vast improvement.
We set Janey up in the room I’d been using. She seemed confused about being alone in a room. Come morning, it didn’t look like she’d slept a wink. I spent the night on a chair, and I don’t think I slept a wink either.
When Janey came down in the morning, she went straight to the outhouse. When she came back, she stood in the door and said “What I do Just Rider?”
I asked if she could stoke the stove, and make coffee. She nodded, and set to it, while Raffel and I went out to deal with the cows. Maybe a half hour later she came out to the barn and said the coffee was done. She looked around, wide-eyed, then took a bucket and stool, and started milking a cow. Raffel and I both watched out of the corner of our eyes. It was obvious she knew what she was doing, and it actually seemed to relax her a little.
Back then we had seven cows giving milk. Raffel did three, I did two, and Janey did two. Janey spotted the chicken coop and gathered eggs. I told her to take them into the kitchen, and wait for us to finish doing the barn. When we walked in, Janey was sound asleep at the table. We washed up, and Raffel fried the eggs. Janey’s coffee was weak, but since I didn’t make it, I wasn’t about to complain. I didn’t want her throwing another hollering fit.
When she woke up Janey ate two eggs and some dry bread. She made a face when she drank some of our milk, but she drank a glass full.
Raffel and I loaded the milk wagon, and I told Janey she should ride into town with me so we could her some shoes. She didn’t seem too happy about getting on the wagon again, but she did – with considerable help. On the way Janey said she didn’t want shoes, she figured boots like Raffel and I wore would be better. She didn’t want dresses either. In her opinion they just got in the way. Pants like men wore was what she wanted. And shirts. I found out why much later, after the baby was born.
My first stop in town was an eating place that always bought a gallon or so of milk. When Mrs. Murphy, the woman who ran the place saw Janey on the wagon, she asked “Who’s that?”
I said it was hard to explain, but I was taking care of Janey and her baby.
Mrs. Murphy asked “Why would you do that, Rider?”
Before I could say anything, Mrs. Murphy said “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. Get that skinny little thing in here so I can feed her. You can pay me with a free gallon of milk.”
I did as I was told. You didn’t mess with Mrs. Murphy.
Janey had two more eggs, some fresh bread, and some ham. I was surprised when she asked if she could have more milk.
While we were eating, Mrs. Murphy went out the front door. I figured she was shopping, but she came back in maybe ten minutes with a woman she said was a Midwife. I’d never met the woman before, and Mrs. Murphy scolded me for being a poor excuse for a deputy if I didn’t know the local Midwife. Mrs. Owens, the Midwife was a big, stern looking woman. I’m guessing she could deliver calves or colts as easily as babies. She took a good look at Janey and said I had two or three weeks to get everything ready. Then she looked at me in kind of a squinty fashion, and said, “You’ve never done this before, have you? We can’t be draggin’ that girl into town every day. I’ll come to your place to see how things are going, and maybe help you get ready.”
It didn’t sound like I was being given a choice. Apparently you didn’t mess with Mrs. Owens either.
Mrs. Owens was a godsend. As the birth drew nearer, I got more and more nervous. The last couple of days were as bad as the ride out to arrest Bucks.
More than once Janey said she didn’t want a baby. I hoped it was just the hurt and burden talking, but I feared Janey would turn away from the baby when it came. Her milk was flowing, but it would be no use if she wouldn’t let the child suckle.
Away from Janey, Mrs. Owens told me we might have to spoon feed the baby. I thought that might not work too well, so during one milk run I bought a pair of women’s buckskin gloves. I washed them thoroughly, and worked them soft after they dried. Then I put a small hole in one finger, and filled the glove with milk. It worked after a fashion, and I figured if I got a few more pair of gloves I could always have a clean and dry glove ready to use. Raffel gave me a very peculiar look when he saw me sucking milk out of a woman’s glove.
“Why would you do that, Just Rider?” he asked.
During one of Mrs. Owens’ visits Janey told her she didn’t ask for the baby to be put in her, and she didn’t want to be a Mammy.
Mrs. Owens stood up very straight, and put her fists on her hips. This was an imposing sight. Her voice, when she spoke, was low and soft, not at all in keeping with her stance.
“Well, listen Janey, that baby didn’t ask to be put in you either. But it’s coming. You’ve got Raffel and Just Rider to help you out, which is probably more than your Mammy had when you were born. In my opinion, Just Rider is about two steps from crazy for having brought you here. If it weren’t for the fact you were carrying that baby, I imagine you’d still be in Kentucky, and your master would be putting it to you every chance he got. That baby ain’t gonna care about Buhl. But if you want it to, the baby will care about you.”
Janey looked sullen, and I couldn’t tell if the words had any affect.
That evening, as I milked cows I did something I’d never done before. I asked God to help me, Janey, Raffel, and most of all, the baby to get through this in one piece. I maybe should have included Mrs. Owens in the mix, but she looked like she could take care of herself.
As the birth drew near, Mrs. Owens started staying overnight. Janey was tired, cranky, scared, hungry, sick and sore all the time.
When the day finally came, Janey was scared to death, and calling for her Mammy. Even Mrs. Owens started to look worried. I held Janey’s hands, and she nearly broke my fingers. All that milking cows gave her a grip like iron. Raffel was white with worry, and quiet as a scared cat. Looking back on it now, I can see he must have been having visions of his own wife, who gave birth in that very room.
Sary was born in February of ’61. She’s been a spunk from the very first. Janey fell into a sleep so deep I thought she might be leaving us. But her breathing was steady, so we let her sleep.
When she woke, Jamey saw me feeding the baby through the finger of a glove.
“Why you doin’ that, Just Rider?” she asked.
I told her I was feeding the baby. Janey huffed and said “Give that chil’ here ‘fore she starts thinkin’ she a goat.” Janey had some low spots after that, but Raffel and I were always able to keep things together.
When I asked Janey what she wanted to name the baby, she said “Sary, like my Mammy.” Years later I found out Sary was actually Sarah, but that’s a story for another time.
Then I asked about a last name. Janey allowed as how she didn’t know about last names, so I explained about fathers’ names. That brought another huff.
“Well I sure ain’t namin’ her after that dog Buhl!”
“Miss Janey, I’d be honored to give Sary my last name. Does Sary Rider sound good to you?”
“Just Rider, ain’t no wonder Miz Owens think you crazy. Sary Rider be fine as long as it mean you look out for her.”
“Then we done. Take Sary an’ walk with her. I gotta sleep some more. First time my back don’t ache in I dunno how long.”
Mrs. Owens had packed up and was leaving. As she passed the bedroom door she looked at Sary, and called her a cute little bug.
Janey sat up like she’d been slapped.
“Mammy called me Bug. She give me boy things to wear. Mammy said I should be a boy as long as I could, to keep the mens from doggin’ me. I remember one day I heard her tell a fool name Ham that if he wanted to dog her, that was fine, but if he touch me, she cut out his heart some night while he sleepin’. Ham never mess with me. It took Marse Buhl two years to figger I’s not a boy. Maybe been longer if his boss man not give me away.
Mrs. Owens and I waited for more, but Janey just rolled over and closed her eyes. All she said was “Lord, I’s tired.”
Sary and I walked for a good bit while Sary fussed and I fretted. Sary made a funny noise that sounded like “urk”, or maybe “gulk”, and I felt a growing warm wetness on my shoulder. Not but a minute later, I felt a growing warm wetness on my sleeve and chest. Then she sort of gurgled while I wiped her, and changed her. Sary slept then, and she slept well, but not as long as Janey. I hadn’t the heart to wake Janey, so when Sary started to cry, I picked her up, and went downstairs. Raffel, who’d been all the way out in the barn came scurrying in.
“I heard Sary crying. Everything okay?
“Yeah, but I could use some help fixing up one of those milk gloves.”
In a couple of minutes, when Raffel brought the milk, he told me he thought I ought to buy some new shirts, since it was getting hard to keep a clean one on. Every shirt I owned was on the clothes line. I had a better idea.
“Here. You take her for a bit, and I’ll finish in the barn.”
“Thought you’d never ask. Here Sary, come to Uncle Raffel. We’ll dine and dance.”
“Just Rider, in about a minute that glove’ll be empty. You best stick around a bit to fill it again.”
Sary was perfect. Raffel loved her so much he made me a little jealous. I loved her too. We were good there. But Janey? It was hard to tell. She nursed Sary well enough, but she was asleep so much I couldn’t really tell how she felt about Sary. I fretted that if Sary and Janey didn’t connect soon, they might never do. It happened sometimes in the herd.
This was the pattern for three or four days. Janey mostly sleeping, eating a little, going to the outhouse, and nursing Sary.
About the fourth or fifth day, Janey came down the stairs and found me nursing Sary with a milk glove.
“Damn, Just Rider! Why you doin’ that? Gimme that chil’ – she don’t nurse she ain’t gonna know who her Mammy is. You want her growin’ up thinkin’ she a goat? ‘Sides, I gets heavy if she don’ nurse.”
Sary gave up the glove with some reluctance, but she quickly switched to suckling from Janey.
“Just Rider. You crazy, you know that?”
“So I’ve been told. Often.”
“Why you doin’ all this? An’ don’ give me no shit about doin’ right. Why you doin’ all this?”
“Janey, it looked to me like you were going to die, and the baby with you. I couldn’t let that happen. You’re what, 15? 16? Buhl wasn’t gonna help you. That shop keeper in Germantown wasn’t gonna help you. Your Mammy couldn’t help you. Most of the people in Germantown wouldn’t even look at you.
Besides, for two cows you proved to be quite a bargain.”
“Just Rider, you sumbitch, you tryin’ to make me laugh? Go put water on the stove. When Sary done here I needs a bath.”
“Yes what, you fool?”
“Yes, I’ll put water on, and yes you needs a bath.”
“Just Rider, you ain’t all that old yo’self. Youngest owner I ever seen.”
“Janey, you remember that paper I gave you the day we arrived at Celeste Farm? You remember what I said? Do you still have the paper?”
“Fool paper don’ mean much to a darky who can’t read. I got it somewhere over there.”
“Janey, you ain’t a slave. Dang, old man Timmons would’ve used the belt on my backside if I said ain’t on his farm. You aren’t a slave. That paper tells the world you are a freewoman. You can go where you want, though Kentucky probably wouldn’t be a good choice.”
“Paper make me white? Last I looked, I’s still black. Ain’t no bath changing that. Just Rider, sometimes I think Crook got more sense than you.”
“Probably does. Crook doesn’t try to change anything. He just is. I can’t change much either. But I can help you and Sary. You okay with that?”
“Better’n being a nigger on Buhl’s farm. Go heat that water. This chil’ ‘bout to take my teet off.”
Janey was changing. She didn’t stare at the ground any more. She didn’t mumble. And she learned to sass me – something she passed on to Sary in due time. I was amazed she didn’t turn mean. She had every right to. Funny thing, she never sassed Raffel.
She could shoot, too. One day she saw a deer just beyond the corral. She loaded Raffel’s long gun, and shot the deer high in the shoulder. Judging from the tracks the deer only took a couple of steps before it fell. When we came running from the barn, she pointed to the deer and said we ought to dress it out. Then she went back into the house and picked up Sary, who’d been wakened by the shot.
When we finished the evening milking, we dressed the deer. Raffel and I skinned and butchered it, then buried the gut pile, hooves and head. We didn’t want critters coming that close to the house, or more especially, the chicken coop. We lost enough chickens to foxes as it was.
When we came in Janey told Raffel she’d cleaned the long gun. Then she said it fired high. Neither of us could think of anything to say.
“Well, what? How you figger we eat on Buhl’s farm? Deer is easy. Hittin’ a coon ain’t too hard ‘cause they slow. Rabbit’s hard. Miss and the rabbit’s off running. No second shot. Buhl give us a long gun and enough ammashun to load it maybe three, four time. Me an’ Mammy was the best shots. Guess that’s why mos’ the niggers never messed with Mammy.
Mammy once tol’ me ever’ time she aim that gun, dream she aimin’ at Buhl’s head. I never seen Mammy miss.”
The War of Secession
Then came the war. Raffel and I were deputies, so we didn’t get drawn into the army. The ferry to Louisville stopped, and so did some of our dairy business. But before long the army was buying all the milk we could produce. Mrs. Murphy closed her eating place and went to work at an army encampment as a cook. By the time the war ended, she was too tired to reopen the place, so she sold it for next to nothing. That’s the only time anyone ever got the best of her.
A couple of times over the next two years Raffel and I were asked to help bring in deserters. We didn’t care for it much, and the soldiers sent to track the deserters mostly seemed like they couldn’t find the outhouse. I suppose the officers wouldn’t send their best soldiers to find the worst. Better to lose the best in battle, I guess.
We broke up fights every time the troopers got paid. General Sherman came riding through one day, and we got a look at him. He didn’t stop in our little flyspeck of a town.
Twice deserters from the Kentucky side came across the river. One arrived on our side dead, drowned. The other we pulled from the river half-dead. He got shipped off to Chicago or some such. He didn’t look like the cream of the Confederacy, but still, I wonder what came of him.
In ’62 we got a telegram from Warsaw. A group of five men robbed a bank there. Killed the teller, and threatened the owner if he wouldn’t open the safe. When he did, they killed him too. Then they tipped their hats to the woman who witnessed it, and rode hard out of town. The woman said one man in a red shirt did all the shooting.
Two days later they hit Madison, and did the same thing there. It looked like they were headed our way. I rode to the army camp, and asked for help. The officer there said it was a local matter, and he couldn’t intervene – his word – without orders from higher up. He said he’d send a message to his superiors – again, his word – and let me know what happened. I asked when that might be, and he said he had no way of knowing. Not but two days later, the officer from the camp said he’d received a telegram, and they were being moved east immediately. Perhaps the “superiors” had forgotten the camp was there. Yet it seemed odd that they’d move just when any kind of action was coming their way.
All those men with guns, and nary a brain amongst them.
I coaxed Sheriff Vander out of retirement, but he wasn’t as sharp as he’d been. All I had the heart to ask for was that he take up watch from the other eating place across the street, and raise the alarm if the robbers showed up. He drank a lot of coffee, and read the whole newspaper for the next few days, but things were mostly quiet.
About the fourth day, as I pulled the milk wagon into town, I saw a single rider come in from the other direction. I knew he didn’t fit, but he didn’t pay attention to a dairyman unloading a wagon. He rode slow, and he probably wouldn’t have raised my ears if it hadn’t been for the robberies to the east. He hitched up his horse at the eating place, and walked in.
I could just imagine Wilhemina, the little wisp of an odd gal who ran the place, serving him, and then spilling the beans when she said “More coffee sheriff?” I took off my badge, and put it in my pocket.
Now Wilhelmina is said to have shot the man who killed her husband in their eating place. As the story goes, she couldn’t get the murderer’s blood out of the floorboards, so she put a rug over the stain. The story also says she shot the murderer’s cousin when he showed up to avenge his kin. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but Wilhelmina’s eating place is the only business in town with three rugs on the floor, and an old pistol on the shelf with the cash box. I see no reason to investigate further.
It was hard for me to walk from the depot to the eating place, and I was ever so relieved to find everything peaceful when I walked in.
I walked past the table where the newcomer was sitting, and could see he looked well armed. One sixgun in his holster, and another barely visible in his boot. In this part of Indiana, not all that many men carry guns, and the ones who do, seldom carry two.
I stuck my head into the kitchen, and asked for coffee before she could say anything. She saw my badge was hidden, and all she said was “sure thing!”
Had the newcomer been watching her, he might have seen her put a towel over the old pistol. I wondered if the dry goods store had any rugs for sale.
I said “Mornin’ Vander “as I nodded and sat down at his table. He had his back to the wall, and I know his ears were up about the newcomer too. Even though he was slowing down, Sheriff Vander was still more than most men. He picked up immediately that I hadn’t called him sheriff.
“Well Just Rider, you bringin’ anything besides milk today? This damn paper’s so old Willie won’t even use it to wrap a sandwich.”
“Nothing much new with me. Got a new calf the day before yesterday. I don’t have room in the barn, but the army is buying most of my milk, and they’d buy more if I had it, so maybe I’ll keep the calf. We made small talk like that for another ten or fifteen minutes, then Wilhemina came over with the coffee pot.
“More coffee boys? It’s still hot
Sheriff Vander said “Willie, I’m not sure it’s coffee, but you’re right that it’s hot, so yeah, fill my cup?”
She went to the newcomer and said “how about you, more coffee?”
He said “No thank you ma’am”, paid his bill, and tipped his hat to Wilhelmina as he walked out the door.
Sheriff Vander said “Polite fella. I wonder if he’s the one who shot the bankers.”
“Nope. He’s the scout. I didn’t catch wind of them on the way in, so they’re probably somewhere east of town. I’d guess they’ll ride close just before dawn, then ride in and hit the bank early in the morning. Do we tell Schutte to not open up tomorrow?
Wilhelmina piped up. “Don’t you boys go breakin’ my window, you hear?
Banker Schutte took all the cash out of the bank, and left the safe open. Sheriff Vander said he’d go up on a roof with a couple of Colts. I figured I’d go on a roof a couple of doors down, with the Henry rifle, my sixshooter, and another one. There’d be five of them, and two of us, but we had the advantage of high ground.
I moved the milk wagon to the livery stable, and bedded down Horse. Sheriff Vander and I took up our places shortly after supper. We each had a blanket. We figured we should be prepared if they came at night, which they didn’t.
They came about 8:00, spread wide in two columns. The scout was in the lead, and he went straight to the bank. They dismounted in a group, and each man gave his reins to the scout. Everything had a practiced air to it.
A skinny man went in first, followed close by a man in a faded red shirt. In just a few seconds red shirt came back out and said “Captain?”
The so-called captain looked like the oldest of the five. The one holding all the reins looked youngest.
Before the captain got into the bank, Sheriff Vander yelled at them to stop, that they were under arrest for robbery and murder. The scout was back on his horse so fast I didn’t even see it. I yelled too. Red shirt saw me and tossed off a wild shot. Sheriff Vander unloaded one sixgun, and hit one of the robbers. I used the Henry. The scout was already riding off at full gallop, headed east, probably to the place they’d spent the night. The others were headed west, one noticeably hurting. I managed to hit one more before the Henry was empty. I couldn’t tell how badly he was hurt.
By the time we got off the roofs, people were coming out into the street. We looked at the dead robber, and found only a name written inside his hat. He may, or may not have been named Cooper, since we didn’t know if the hat was bought or stolen.
We decided to ride east to bring in the scout, since the way he was flogging his horse, it wouldn’t last long. I lightened the load on the dead robber’s horse, and got the body over to the jail. He’d had no long gun, and his pistol was old. It worked though. Four rounds were fired, and I guessed one or two of them had buried themselves in the wood of the building where I’d been hiding.
Sheriff Vander rode up, and we set off east. About an hour outside of town we saw the scout’s trail falter. If he continued to push, his horse would soon drop.
Mercifully for the horse, the scout came back to the place where they’d spent the night. The scout was young and scared. He’d jumped off his horse, and was hiding the in the brush just beyond the campsite. He wasn’t even smart enough to realize the trail he left through the brush led straight to where he was hiding. We weren’t but a hundred feet from his hiding place. I sent one round from the Henry over his head. Then I told him if he didn’t come out, the next round wouldn’t be a warning. He came forward with his hands high.
Sheriff Vander kept a gun on him, while I rounded up his hat and pistol from in the brush. The Colt was the oldest I’d ever seen, and judging from the state of it, it might have been more dangerous to the shooter than to the target.
We put the scout in jail. He didn’t much like being in a cell next to a dead body, which proved to be a very effective way to get the scout to talk. By the time the casketmaker removed the dead robber, Sheriff Vander knew everything there was to know about the scout, his partners, and his family. He was really scared he would be turned over to the army, and hung.
I got the wagon, and headed back to Celeste Farm. I had cows to milk, and diapers to wash.
Sary was wobbling around. Janey scowled at me.
“Just Rider, you fool, we’s worried when you don’t come home.” Janey called Celeste Farm “home”. I don’t know what I felt, but I felt it strong – so strong I gave Janey a hug.
“Let go a me you fool. You stink like a sweaty horse, and you dusty as a anthill. You needs a bath.”
I’ve learned it’s best to not disagree with Janey.
There was still the matter of the three robbers who got away.
I sent a telegram to the Federal Marshal Service in Indianapolis, and got a strange reply saying Union troops were in pursuit, and that I should let them deal with the robbers.
Next, I sent a telegram to the Harrison County Sheriff. I figured the robbers were headed west, sticking close to the Ohio, and only hitting small town banks, so Corydon looked a likely target.
Again I got an odd reply. The Harrison County Sheriff said he was prepared for trouble, and he was sure that if the robbers were smart, they’d not venture into Corydon. What was odd is that the Harrison County Sheriff didn’t add his name to the telegram.
While I was milking cows, Sheriff Vander was milking the scout – Bedford G. Wilton, though most people (according to him) called him Ford. We learned the men he was riding with considered themselves soldiers of the Confederate Army, and that they were working their way west to hook up with Quantrill’s Raiders. A man who called himself Captain Mackery led the group, and Sergeant Pulley (in the red shirt) shot anyone the captain told him to. Belton (the dead one) was just a gun. Which explains how he got off more shots that any of the others.
They’d split up after a raid, and each man would work his way to a prearranged meeting point. Their meeting point this time was just at the west edge of Floyd County. Ford also told Sheriff Vander one of the raiders, Meeks (the skinny one) was a telegrapher.
I had a lightning image of Janey calling me a fool for not thinking of this sooner.
Oh yeah, and Ford had a brother and two sisters. His parents owned a cotton plantation in Alabama, his pappy was a member of the county board, and his momma was a Gervais, which accounted for the G.
When I found out they had a telegrapher, is decided to play their game in reverse. I sent a fake telegram to the Harrison County Sheriff saying Federal Marshals were on the way to Corydon. I signed it with a false name and title, so that if it made its way to Indianapolis, it would be easy to spot as a fake. If the robbers intercepted the message, it might make them hole up for a while. Those men weren’t soldiers, and I wasn’t about to call them such when they were robbers and murderers.
Raffel, Janey and I talked about how to catch the bad guys. Sheriff Vander wasn’t up to it any more. Raffel was willing, but someone had to stay and take care of Sary and the farm. Like Sheriff Vander, I didn’t really trust any of the townsfolk to form an armed posse. Plus there wasn’t time to train anybody. I told Janey and Raffel I would go alone, but only as far as the County Line. Across that they were someone else’s problem.
Janey said no.
“You ain’t going after them alone, and don’t give me no shit about it the right thing to do. Raffel can take care of the farm, and maybe get someone to come help. You get me one o’ them Henery rifles and a decent horse. I ride with you and watch yo’ back.”
I started to argue that it was not something for a woman to do, but Janey shushed me.
“Just Rider, I ain’t a woman. I’s a FREEwoman, and I can do what I please. You said so! I’s a better shot than Raffel, an’ he damn near a better mammy than me. We ride tomorra after the milk run. Don’t bother to think on it. We ride, and that’s that.”
I didn’t like it one bit, but it didn’t pay to argue with Janey.
We had the dead man’s horse, and Ford’s as well. They were sound, and already equipped for days and nights on the trail. Ford’s horse was Louella, named for his girl back home. Louella – the horse – was nice enough, but if she looked anything like Ford’s girl, I figured he might be better off in jail.
The dead robber’s horse was Three Queens. Apparently she was the pot in a poker game. Three Queens was a good horse. Solid and steady. She didn’t fuss. I thought she might be a bit big for Janey, but they got along fine right off. We weren’t a mile out of town before Janey and that horse looked like they’d been born together.
We rode steady, and camped cold. Janey could move like a cat, and I decided I wouldn’t want her hunting me.
Along the way I told Janey I was going to shoot the one in the red shirt. He was a killer, and I knew he wouldn’t give up. The other two were wounded, though we didn’t know how bad.
Three days out Janey pulled up.
“You smell that?”
“They ain’t campin’ cold. They nervy. Got a fire going, makin’ coffee. Coffee smell worse ‘n Raffel’s though.”
“We best walk if you think to s’prise ‘em.”
I’d only ridden to Corydon once, but I remembered a creek near the county line. If I was going to hole, that’s where I’d be – maybe thirty yards off the road. Just about every creek has groves nearby. That’s where they’d be.
Janey looked at me and rolled her eyes in disgust.
“Just Rider, you fool, what you do if I wasn’t here? You see that there?”
She pointed to the telegraph line, and I knew she was right. They’d stay close to it so they could listen for messages.
We moved Three Queens and Lou off the road, and into the shade of a couple of trees. Then we took the Henrys and started towards where we estimated the robbers were camped. The worst part was going through a hay field. If anybody had been looking, we’d be impossible to miss.
Just as we reached the tree line at the end of the field, Janey dropped to her knees. I did the same. After a bit I realized I could hear the click click click of a telegraph machine. Red shirt was sitting near it. The skinny one was writing down a message. The captain was propped up against a tree. A bloody bandage circled his arm.
I slid back, and told Janey what I saw.
“You find a place to hide. Don’t let anybody come up behind me, okay? And don’t come out until you hear me say it’s clear. Okay?”
Janey nodded and chambered a round. I did the same. She didn’t look at all nervous. My heart was pounding so loud I thought the robbers would hear it.
I crawled back very carefully. It took a bit before red shirt moved enough for a clean shot. One shot put him down. The second was for good measure.
The other two dropped, and shot wild in my general direction. I missed one at the captain, and I heard him yell “Corporal Meeks, go around. It’s just one man. I’ll keep him busy.”
The captain and I traded shots, but I had the advantage of a rifle, while he was firing a sixgun. I was just wondering how many shots he had left when he made a move for red shirt’s gun. I fired, and the captain fell. I fired again and he was still.
At that instant I heard one shot behind me. Meeks died of a chest wound near his heart. I heard the Henry chamber again, but no more shots came.
I yelled to Janey to stay down, and she yelled back “Just Rider, you fool! I ain’t goin’ nowhere. You get them two?”
Red shirt and the captain were both dead, but I took their guns anyway. Then I checked Meeks. He was bleeding to death, and wouldn’t last more than a couple of minutes. I took his gun too. He’d never had a chance to use it. Janey watched him as he died. She showed neither hatred nor sympathy. I walked off to one side and threw up.
When I came back Janey said “Shoots left. I’s aiming for the center. Would’ve been quicker for the poor fool.?
We went hunting together sometimes after that day, but never again for people.
Bringing the bodies back was hard work. We pushed to a little town, Lanesville as I recall, and borrowed a wagon. That saved us having to haul bodies on and off the horses when we stopped.
When we got back to New Albany, we asked Ford to identify the bodies. Ford didn’t know their full names. He identified them as Sergeant Pully, Corporal Meeks, and Captain Mackery. He had no idea where they were from, since Mackery discouraged soldiers getting too close to each other.
When he came to Mackery’s body, he spit in the dirt.
“Quantrill this, and Quantrill that. The captain was always going on about how the colonel did things just so. Said he rode with Quantrill before, and he was going to ride with him again. Said Quantrill was a real soldier. We were always told to do things as the Colonel would do. That way, when we met up with him, we’d fit right in. Stupid captain. Only thing his soldiers fit in is caskets and a jail cell.”
That summer a much larger rebel force took Corydon, and got all the way up to Ohio. The soldiers in New Albany sat that one out too. It looked grim for a bit but the grays couldn’t hold any land. They kept moving, but in time Union soldiers caught up with them and beat them up.
’64 and ’65 came and went. Terrible things happened all around us, but ordinary things happened too. The cows got milked, the hay got put up. Sary started talking. Lincoln died, and Johnson turned out to be a fool. If that one vote that kept him in office had been mine, he’d have gone back to tailoring.
Things settled down a little in ’66, but here was plenty of bad blood to go around. The ferry to Louisville was running again. Raffel and I helped Sary learn to read. Janey learned some too. Once she got started she was quick on the uptake. She was plenty smart, and if I hadn’t had a head start she’d have passed me long ago.
In 1867 I made a decision. I asked Janey if she wanted to go to Kentucky to find her Mammy. She thought on it for all of two heartbeats before she went upstairs to pack up things. Raffel didn’t like the idea of Sary being away for so long, but he put a good face on it.
In a bit Janey came to the head of the stairs and yelled “Damn, Just Rider! Why are you doing this?” She still said “damn” more than I cared for, but otherwise her language had cleaned up well.
“Well, it seems like the right thing to do.”
Same old question. Same old answer.
We rented a horse and buggy just off the ferry in Louisville. Riding into Germantown was painful for me, but Janey seemed to not mind. Sary read her books and sang silly songs she learned from Raffel.
The only time Janey was off Buhl’s farm was the day he sent her away. She had no idea how to get back there. The dry goods store was still there, and the man running it was still the same. Both had seen better days but that didn’t matter to me. The distinct smell remained.
When I asked for directions to Buhl’s farm the shopkeeper looked me over and asked what business I had there. I said it wasn’t business, but a family visit.
“You must not be very close family then.”
“Well, if you was close kin to the Buhls you’d know Miz Buhl shot her husband to death in the front yard. Then she went inside, had a stiff drink, and blew her brains out. Everybody around here figures Buhl was doing one of his nigrahs, and Miz Buhl couldn’t abide it. Their boss man left soon after. Strangest thing, he left his horse behind. Good horse, too. Anyway, just stick to this road. The place is just over two miles out. This time of day you might see a cow or two in the field.
All that’s out there now is some nigrahs taking care of the farm for the County. It’ll go for back taxes, but nobody has the money to buy the place.”
When I came out Janey said “I heard. Let’s go, Just Rider.”
Sary said “Yes Just Rider. Let’s GO!”
No sense arguing with either of them, so we went.
Two miles passed. Then a bit more. In a moment I saw an old Guernsey bull and four cows in a field. Across the road from the field was a good-sized house. It looked sad.
Janey pointed to a long weathered wood building, and said “Over there. Go over there.” I did, but when we got off the buggy we could see the building was empty. Judging from the weeds pushing through the floor, the building had been empty for a good while.
We turned the buggy, and headed back toward the road and the house. Janey let out a gasp, and grabbed the reins. She clicked her tongue and got the horse going toward the house about as fast as the buggy would take on that path. I was so surprised by what she was doing that I didn’t notice the black man in formal attire on the porch.
“BENJAMIN!” It was a scream fit to wake Lincoln.
The man looked puzzled.
“Janey? Janey, is that you? My eyes aren’t as good as they used to be. Is that really you Janey?”
Then he turned his back to us, and let out a yell that didn’t fit at all with the way he was dressed.
“Sary! Sary! Come quick!”
“Little Sary jumped out of the buggy, and ran over to the man. She pulled his sleeve and said “Here I am, mister. What do you want?”
“And who might you be, little lady?”
“Well I’m Sary you old fool. Why were you calling me?”
Janey was shaking. I’ve seen her give birth, and I’ve seen her give death, but I’ve never seen her shaking like she was at that moment.
Then another figure appeared in the door.
“Benjamin, you fool, what you yellin’ about?”
“Mammy?” It came out like a whisper
“Janey?” A whisper replied.
That’s how I met Mammy Sary
In less than the time I can tell it, Janey was out of the buggy and on the porch. And in another heartbeat, she and her Mammy were on their knees together, wailing like banshees.
“Just Rider, DO something! What’s wrong? Why are they crying like that? Don’t let that woman hurt my Momma.” Little Sary was frightened. She’d never seen such a thing.
I picked her up, and said it was okay. Then I introduced myself to Benjamin, and shook his hand.
About now two more men came out to the porch. One asked Benjamin if there was trouble. He said no, there was no trouble. The older of the two men looked at Janey for a moment.
“Bug? What happened to you?”
The younger man was about to say something, but Benjamin cut him off.
Janey looked at the two and said “Samson, I got my hair cut. You should try it sometime. And Ham, if you say one word to me, I’ll cut out your tongue and give it to Mammy to fry up with some peas.”
Ham looked like he was going to say something, so I told him “Ham, I’ve seen what she can do, and believe me, you are no match for her. Neither am I, as far as that goes. So let’s all just slide past this bad moment and be friends.’
Ham looked at Janey and me, and smiled. “Y’all are okay. Why are we all standing around out here. Most of the furniture’s gone, but there’s a big table in the kitchen, and chairs enough for everybody.”
Mammy Sary and Janey went in first, arm-in-arm. Benjamin followed, then Samson and Ham. Then me and Little Sary. I told Benjamin I was going back out to take care of the horse, but Samson told me to just set.
“You brung Bug back. It’s a good thing you done. I can deal with the horse.”
Mammy Sary and Janey were at work making coffee and fussing in the kitchen. When I looked at Benjamin, he read my mind.
“Yes sir Mr. Just Rider. It’s like those years apart never were. They fit back together like a couple of spoons, don’t they?”
We talked well into the night. Most of the stories I heard, I hope little Sary wasn’t listening.
There were stories about how Buhl used Mammy Sary, and then when he found out about Janey, he used her. There were stories about how Miz Buhl had the boss man beat Mammy Sary because Buhl was using her, and how later on Miz Buhl had the boss man beat Mammy Sary because Buhl was using Janey.
The war came, and when it turned bad Miz Buhl figured her world was falling apart. She started yelling at Buhl more and more, until one day he walked out the front door. She grabbed his pistol and chased after him. The slaves saw trouble coming, and made themselves scarce. Miz Buhl fired four times, and hit Buhl three. Two were delivered as she stood over him. Then she shot herself. Benjamin saw what happened, and went to town to get the sheriff – an old lawman called out of retirement because all the young men were off to war. A quick look was all he needed to rule it a murder and suicide. He told Benjamin to take the bodies to the casketmaker.
Not but two days after the Buhls passed, the boss man went missing. It was a mystery to everyone except Samson. It seems one day he beat the boss man to a pulp, put him in a wagon and hauled him to the Ohio. Judging from the dating, this would be the first of the two deserters who washed up in Floyd County. Samson never told anyone, so they were all surprised to hear the story. I figured it was well enough left alone.
Benjamin could read, write and do numbers. He’d been running the place for years, so he just kept on running it. There was a little money in the cash box, but not near enough to pay the back taxes.
Which led to the Golden Farms Dairy Cooperative.
It took some figuring out, but we set up a company with about eight co-owners. More were added later. There was another dairy about a day away from Germantown. They had trouble getting their milk to market, but they made good cheese. The owner of that dairy needed little convincing to turn all his milk production straight to cheese. He became a partner in the cooperative too. Celeste Farm started selling his cheese in Indiana and Louisville. It worked out well for everyone.
All that came later, and I’m getting ahead of myself again.
When we finally got all talked out, we started to think about sleeping. Mammy Sary said Janey and I could have her bed. As usual, I didn’t know what to say. Janey said “No Mammy.” and Benjamin told Samson and Ham it was time for the three of them to turn in.
“What you mean, no Mammy? You two ain’t sleepin’ together?”
“Well whose silly idea is that?”
“Yours, Just Rider?”
“Yes Mammy. Or maybe it’s hers. I never asked, and I don’t know if she’d have me.”
“Janey, you trust him?”
“You willing to have him?”
“I don’t know Mammy.”
“Well, you see anything better comin’ down the road?”
“What about you, Just Rider. You trust Janey?”
“Yes, with my life, and she knows it.”
“That true Janey?”
“Yes Mammy, it’s true.”
“Just Rider, you want Sary?”
“Well, I don’t know Mammy.”
“You don’t KNOW? You seen her naked, smelly, with a baby in her belly. You BOUGHT her for heaven sake! You don”t KNOW? You’re taking care of her and her child. And you don’t know if you want her? You crazy Just Rider.”
“Yes, she’s told me so several times. May I ask you a question Mammy?”
“You ask, boy, but it better be good. I’m getting’ tired and we yet to figure who sleeps where.”
“Mammy, if Janey agreed to have me, would you let her?”
“That your question? You want me to say you can have my Janey if she’ll have you? You think I’d stop her? You two decide if you want each other, and you do it now. I’m tired.”
“Janey, will you have me?”
“I suppose so, Just Rider, even though you’re a crazy fool.”
Mammy Sary smacked the table. “That settles it. Now we can get some sleep. Benjamin, you and the boys can quit hidin’ round the corner now. Come in here. We need you to witnesss – what’s it called Benjamin?”
“Matrimony” he replied as he stepped around the corner.
“Yeah, that. You boys heard them, right?
“You two deny saying you want each other?”
We spoke as one “No Mammy.”
“You said you want each other. You mean it?”
“Yes Mammy.” “Yes Mammy Sary.”
“All right. We done. You matrimonied. Benjamin, get some blankets, will you? I’ll sleep on the floor by little Sary.”
Mammy Sary came to Celeste Farm with us.
I once asked her to help me with a burglary suspect. In about 15 minutes the man admitted to the four burglaries we suspected, and five more we didn’t know about.
Sarah has grown strong and proud. She won’t let us call her Sary any more, because that’s her little girl name, and she’s not a little girl. Mammy Sary says it’s good Sarah is her own person. She raises and trains horses on a farm next to the Golden Dairy Cooperative. Her horses are fast and strong. They seem a step faster when she’s on them.
Her brother Raphael and sister Marie are helping at Celeste Farm now, but I think they’ll soon join their sister in Kentucky. Raphael has a way with sick or hurting animals. Marie is good with the stubborn ones. They all have Janey’s sass.
Oh, and Raffel’s last name is Navarre. I didn’t find that out until he married Mammy Sary. We’re hoping he’ll learn how to make coffee the way she does.