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Thread: Land Feud Gone Bad at Silver Rock

  1. #1
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Land Feud Gone Bad at Silver Rock

    October rains broke the hot spell that had dug its heels into August as if it planned to stay all winter. Clouds arrived with daybreak from the south, swirling, reaching skyward in dark billowing shapes. By noon, darkness had spread across the land. At first, the rains were gentle but by noon turned torrential, Biblical some said, and the winds upended anything not securely anchored. With the ground baked hard from months of unrelenting sunshine, soil rejected water’s attempt to soak in, and it had nowhere to go but to the lowest places. Every creek and canyon stream gushed to overflowing. Low-lying fields that hadn’t seen flooding in recent memory were now under water. The year 1892 would go down in the Oklahoma Territory record books.

    Horrified, Homer White watched the waters rise and surround his house, barn, and corral. Before he knew what was happening, the raging stream--now a river--cut off all avenues of escape for his livestock. When the flood swept through the barn, two horses struggled to swim, but debris took them under. From the roof of his house, he watched the corral gave way, and the cattle drift downstream and drown. And the downpour continued, hour after hour.

    #

    Sheriff William Duggan was enjoying a beer and talking with Sally Higgins, owner of the Lavender Rose saloon. A couple of customers were hanging at the bar. Two men were sitting at a table in the corner.

    Rusty finished playing a tune on the upright piano and spun on his stool. “Should I keep playing, Miss Sally?” he asked.

    “No. Take the day off, Rusty. Not much use in playing to an empty house.”

    Rusty gathered his belongings and stopped for a beer before leaving. “I have a short one, Shorty.” He chuckled at the pun he tried to make, but it fell on deaf ears.

    John “Shorty” Perry was anything but short. He stood six-foot one and was a force to reckon with if you caused any trouble in the Rose. He and Betsy, the sawed-off shotgun he kept behind the bar, maintained order when rowdy cowpokes packed the place. Nobody messed with Shorty without regretting it.

    “Sure is quiet for a Friday,” said Sally. “Every cowpoke must be fighting the floods. I doubt tonight will be any livelier.”

    “I guess they have to get the herds to higher ground. Cows are too dumb to do it on their own. And if they up and stampede, no telling how many would drown.”

    “In any case, I won’t make enough today to keep oil in the lamps.”

    “You’ll manage, Sally. Most nights, your place is hopping.”

    “You’re right, Bill.” Sally extended her hand toward his but stopped short. “But I get tired of running this place by myself. I could use a strong man standing beside me. And the older I get, the colder it is sleeping alone.”

    Duggan stammered. “Well... Err... Sally... When you find the right man, let me be the first to congratulate you.”

    “Come on, Bill. I already found him, but he’s not ready to settle down yet. I’ll wait.”

    Duggan slid his chair back, stood, and cleared his throat. “Uh... Nice having a beer with you, Sally, but I gotta make my rounds.”

    The voices of the two men at the table grew louder.

    “You swindled me! That land is under near on to three feet of water,” said the first man, nearly shouting. “I lost my house and barn and everything. Livestock drown, too.”

    “You should’ve known when you purchase bottom land on a creek, it could flood,” said the other, calmly replying. “Ain’t my fault you greenhorn sodbusters don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout land. You could’ve build your house and barn on the higher ground, not next to the creek, and you’d been okay when the floods came.”

    Pointing his finger in the face of the first man, he continued. “You got a fair deal for the land and shouldn’t have a beef with me.”

    “I want my money back!” The first man slammed his fist on the table.

    Shaking his head, the second man said, “Ain’t gonna happen, mister. Was a square deal. You got what you wanted and paid for it.”

    He rocked his chair back on two legs. “‘Tain’t my fault this once-in-a-lifetime rain came and wiped you out.”

    Slamming his chair forward, he said, “And that’s the way it is. Any court in the land will back me up.”

    “This ain’t over!” said the first man, standing and glaring, fire in his eyes.

    “Yes it is. Drink up, it’s on me.”

    “Take your drink and drown in it. This... ain’t... over...” The first man turned and stormed out into the rain.

    “What’s that all about, Shorty?” asked Duggan.

    “Seems, Ralph Murphy sold that there sodbuster, Homer White, a piece of land near Whistle Creek, where it bends and joins Canyon Creek.”

    “Been there. It’s a pretty piece of land, good soil, plenty of water, and room for raising crops. There’s both high and lowland. Ideal setting under normal conditions, but when the rains washed down from the canyons, water had nowhere to go but there. You ever hear of it flooding before?”

    “I ain’t never heard of most places that are flooding ever flooding before.”

    “I guess I see Ralph’s point--he can’t be responsible for the weather and Homer’s foolishness--but I see Homer’s frustration of losing everything to something he can’t control.”

    “Maybe, he thinks he can control Ralph if he can’t control the weather.”

    “Knowing Ralph the way I do, Homer don’t have a chance of controlling him. Hope this feud blows over, but I have a nasty feeling it’s not going to.”

    #

    Later that evening, Sam came running up to Sheriff Duggan just as he left the Rose’s dining room and entered the saloon. “Sheriff, you’d better come quick. Homer White and Ralph Murphy are fixin’ to have a gunfight at the Nugget.

    “Tell me what happened,” said Duggan as they hurried to the Nugget.

    “Seems Homer came in with a rifle whiles Ralph was having a drink at the bar and called him out. But Ralph wasn’t armed. Homer told the cowpoke next to him to put his shooter on the bar. That’s when I come to get ya.”

    Sam and Duggan stepped through the swinging doors. Homer was facing the bar, and Ralph was facing Homer.

    “Pick it up,” said Homer.

    “No, I won’t.

    “You yella as well as a cheat?”

    “I’m not going to gunfight over a piece of land I sold fair and square.”

    “I said pick it up, ya yella bellied land cheater, or I’ma gonna drop ya where you stand, with or without no gun.”

    “Put the rifle down, Homer,” said Duggan.

    Homer turned toward Duggan’s voice. “What’s that?”

    “I told you to put the rifle down, Homer, or I’ll end this my way.”

    Homer lowered his rifle and pleaded. “Ain’t there nuthin’ the Law can do, Sheriff? Can’t I get my money back?”

    “Listen to me, Homer. It seems as if the deal was a fair one. Both of you were satisfied, shook hands, and signed the deed. How long ago was that?”

    “Two springs ago.”

    “Don’t you see that Ralph had no idea the storms would be as bad as they are? I tell you, the courts will back him on this. The Law’s on his side. There’s nothing I can do.”

    “I guess you’re right, Sheriff. Nothing left to do but wait for the bank to open tomorrow, withdraw what I got left, and take the train back east where I belong.”

    “There are good folk around these parts that’ll help you rebuild.”

    “No. I’ve had my fill and don’t have enough to rebuild. I’m just not cut out for this life. Back east is where I belong.”

    “Do what you think best, Homer.”

    Homer, nearly in tears, walked out into the rain.

    “Thanks, Sheriff. I didn’t think Homer would back down so easy,” said Ralph.

    “Maybe, too easy.”

    “How’s that, Sheriff?”

    “Oh, never mind.”

    #

    The following morning, the rains let up for a spell, and Ralph Murphy mounted his horse for the long ride back to his ranch. He reached Stony Creek, which was now a small river and rising. He cautiously crossed the surging waters. When he reached the other side, he felt the sharp pain in his shoulder just as the sound of a rifle shot reached his ears. The impact knocked him off his horse, and he fell, hitting his head.

    When he came to, Homer was standing over Ralph with his rifle pointing in his face. Homer had tied Ralph’s arms and legs to stakes sunk in the ground at the water’s edge. Dark clouds swirled above, and rain was again falling in buckets.

    “What’d you meaning to do, Homer?”

    “Let nature take its course. I can’t be responsible for the weather any more than you can.”

    “Listen here, Homer. We can work this thing out.”

    “No. I’ll let the Court of the Almighty decide this.”

    “Homer, you seem like a reasonable man under normal circumstances. Surely, we can talk about this and come to an agreement of some kind.”

    “Saw my prize bull struggling before he went under, and my herd of cows swept away without a chance to get to higher ground. My bride to be was coming next spring. Now I got nothing to offer her. Nothing. It’s all gone ‘cause your greed swindled me out of everything I had.”

    “No. No. I didn’t. Believe me when I say I had no idea the land would flood. It never did before.”

    “I don’t believe you.”

    “You’ve got to, Homer. I swear to God. I didn’t know, and I’ll make it right.”

    “Take it up with God when you see Him,” said Homer as he mounted his horse and led Ralph’s horse into the pouring rain to higher ground.

    “Homer, don’t leave me this way! I’ll give your money back. Homer! Homer!”

    Out of earshot, Homer no longer heard Ralph’s pleas. The downpour continued for most of the day and evening, and the river rose three and a half feet by morning. In time, the surging current loosened the stakes and dragged Ralph’s body downstream until it snagged.

    Within the week, the waters receded, and the search for Ralph Murphy expanded.

    “I found him,” shouted a townsperson.

    Sheriff Duggan made his way to the grim scene. The waters had entangled Ralph Murphy’s body in a tree’s roots.

    “It’s already decaying. So it must be nearly a week old,” said the townsperson. “And someone bound his hands and feet with bailing twine.”

    “It’s the same kind of twine Homer White used to hang himself.” Duggan shook his head. “I guess Homer ended this the only way he knew how. What a waste of two lives over a piece of land that in the light of Eternity don’t amount to nothing.”

  2. #2
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
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    Really well told, such excellent descriptions.
    And that ending was a jolt indeed!
    Well done.
    Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
    ~Albert Einstein

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