- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Feb 2001
From the book
IT WASN'T AS if he hadn't been warned. He got it straight, with no beating around the mesquite.
"Mister," I said, "if you ain't any slicker with that pistol than you were with that bottom deal, you'd better not have at it."
Trouble was, he wouldn't be content with one mistake, he had to make two; so he had at it, and they buried him out west of town where men were buried who die by the gun.
And me, William Tell Sackett, who came to Uvalde a stranger and alone, I found myself a talked-about man.
We Sacketts had begun carrying rifles as soon as we stood tall enough to keep both ends off the ground. When I was shy of nine I fetched my first cougar . . . caught him getting at our pigs. At thirteen I nicked the scalp of a Higgins who was drawing a bead on Pa . . . we had us a fighting feud going with the Higginses.
Pa used to say a gun was a responsibility, not a toy, and if he ever caught any of us playing fancy with a gun he'd have our hide off with a bullwhip. None of us ever lost any hide.
A gun was to be used for hunting, or when a man had a difficulty, but only a tenderfoot fired a gun unless there was need. At hunting time Pa doled out the ca'tridges and of an evening he would check our game, and for every ca'tridge he'd given us we had to show game or a mighty good reason for missing. Pa wasn't one to waste a bullet. He had trapped the western lands with Kit Carson and Old Bill Williams, and knew the value of ammunition.
General Grant never counted ca'tridges on me, but he was a man who noticed. One time he stopped close by when I was keeping three Rebel guns out of action, picking off gunners like a 'possum picking hazelnuts, and he stood by, a-watching.
"Sackett," he said finally, "how does it happen that a boy from Tennessee is fighting for the Union?"
"Well, sir," I said, "my country is a thing to love, and I set store by being an American. My great-grandpa was one of Dearborn's riflemen at the second battle of Saratoga, and Grandpa sailed the seas with Decatur and Bainbridge.
"Grandpa was one of the boatmen who went in under the guns of the Barbary pirates to burn the Philadelphia. My folks built blood into the foundations of this country and I don't aim to see them torn down for no reason whatsoever."
Another Rebel was fixing to load that cannon, so I drew a bead on him, and the man who followed him in the chow line could move up one place.
"Come fighting time, General," I said, "there'll always be a Sackett ready to bear arms for his country, although we are peaceful folks, unless riled."
And that was still true, but when they buried that gambling man out west of Uvalde it marked me as a bad man.
In those days what they called a "bad man" was one who was a bad man to have trouble with, and a lot of mighty good men were known as bad men. The name was one I hadn't hankered for, but Wes Bigelow left me no choice.
Fact of the matter was, if it hadn't been me it would have been somebody else, because Bigelow's bottom deal was nothing like so good as I'd seen on the riverboats.
Nevertheless, I had got a reputation in Uvalde, and this seemed a good time to become a wandering man. Only I was fed up with drifting ever since the war, and wanted a place to light.
Outside of town I fell in with a cow outfit. North from Texas we rode, driving a herd to Montana grass, with never a thought of anything but grief while riding the Bozeman Trail.
North of the Crazy Woman three men rode into camp hunting beef to buy. The boss was not selling but they stayed on, and when my name was mentioned one of them looked at me.