The youth stood at the end of the ten-foot long bar sipping at the mug of beer he held in his left hand. He appeared to be fourteen or fifteen years old, slight, and an inch or two shorter than most of the men in the room. His complexion was fair, his nose slightly aquiline. His mouth was firm with thin lips. His chin was square and his beard struggled to be noticed. His head was motionless but his eyes, deep set, hazel, moved continuously, taking in everyone and everything in the room. All the men in the room, with the exception of the bartender, were dressed roughly, wool pants, baggy and dirty with constant use, shirts dirty and frayed at the collar and cuffs. Their coats were a variety of styles including, some army uniform coats from 1812. Almost all the men wore a wide leather belt with one or two pistols jammed in between it and their coat. Some held rifles. Most had a large knife, in a sheath hanging from the belt. All wore battered hats of indeterminate style and age.
The young man at the bar also wore wool pants, less baggy. The collar of his home-spun shirt was stained but not frayed, his coat was a heavy, tight weave, wool. His hat was beaver felt, the crown crushed flat, the brim drooping. He had two pistols jammed in his wide belt, the heavy grips facing each other. His Bowie knife resided in a sheath close to his right hand, and a Tennessee long rifle was slung by a leather strap over his left shoulder.
The cramped room was occupied by men in quiet conversation. The continuous murmur of their voices was accompanied by the occasional sound of chairs and boots scraping on the wide plank, pinewood floor. Many of the planks, after being nailed down while green, had twisted and men often stumbled while making their way to the bar, not always the result of too much alcohol imbibed. There was a shout of greeting, as a newcomer entered. Playing cards were slapped with enthusiasm onto three rickety tables crowding the space. Those sounds were punctuating by the noise of shot glasses and beer mugs as they were set down hard on the bar and tables. Chunks of thick, sticky, Nagadoches mud dried in the warm closeness of the room, falling in clumps from the boots of the men who had been in the bar longest. While the young man watched, some men left and others arrived, crowding past each other through the narrow doorway. The single room of the rough board cabin that was the bar filled as more men crowded in increasing the cacophony of shouted greetings. All this was accompanied by the stench of stale beer, rough whiskey, cigar smoke and the stink rising like steam from the filthy clothing of unwashed males.
“Shut the damn door,” someone yelled. It was late April, 1836. The wind and rain were pounding the town of Nagadoches in what had recently become the Republic of Texas.
The door crashed open again and a very large man pushed through. Nobody shouted a greeting. He shoved men aside to claim a place at the bar.
“Whiskey, damn it, George,” he shouted at the harried bartender who, after glancing to identify the voice, stopped pulling beer into the three mugs he held in one hand. He set the mugs down and poured a shot of whiskey, sliding it over the spilled beer lubricating the bar top.
The big man took up the glass, turned to survey the room then drank the cheap whiskey in a gulp. He returned the shot glass to the bar without turning.
“Hit me again and keep them coming George. Don’t just stand there with your thumb up your ass.
Several men in the room went quiet, watching the big man with apprehension. They knew him. Some of them had experienced his big fists waving in their faces along with his taunts to pull their pistol. He was a bully. All the men in the bar did their best to avoid his attention.
The man standing next to the slight youth whispered.
“Don’t do anything to provoke him. He will try to pick a fight with you after a couple more shots of that rotgut.”
Jack Hays, that was the youth’s name, nodded that he heard, but didn’t relinquish his place at the bar. He also didn’t divert his gaze from the bully. The big man quickly consumed three more shots of whiskey then suddenly shoved the man standing next to him.
“Back off shithead, don’t crowd me or I’ll beat the crap out of you.”
The man backed away, gulped what was left of the beer in his hand, and put the mug down on a table as he quickly exited the bar.
The big man smiled, pleased with the reaction. Then he noticed the youth with a faint smile on his lips, looking at him.
“What you smilin’ about twerp? he shouted, pushing past three men to stand, very close to Jack. He was a full head taller and at least ninety pounds heavier. He was broad shouldered, thick necked, and his breath smelled of rotting flesh. Jack forced himself not to back away from the foul stench. The bully clenched his fists.
“Wipe that smile off your face shithead, or would you rather I wipe it off for you?”
Two men quickly slipped out of the door, not willing to be witness to another of the big man’s one-sided fights.
The bully raised his right fist and waved it in front of Jack’s face.
“I said to wipe off that smile or I’ll wipe it off for you.”
Jack placed his mug on the bar, the faint smile remaining on his face. The bully pulled back his fist to strike. Before he could react the pistol on Jack’s left side was in his right hand, the cap exploded, and the coat over the big man’s heart burst into flames. He fell straight back, stiff, already dead when the back of his head hit the floor. His hat was pushed over his still snarling face.
Jack replaced the pistol in his belt and looked around the room.
“Anybody think that man was not about to hit me?” he asked.
One man pushed his chair back from the table where he sat. The feet of the chair screeched then caught on a twisted board. The man stood, pushing the chair over backwards.
“That son-of-a-bitch beat me near to death three weeks ago, and others in this room have suffered at those fists. He has a pistol in his belt, and has used it in this bar, but this time he wasn’t fast enough. Thank you, young man we are well rid of that scum.”
Several other men in the room voiced their agreement.
“Is there a law man in this town?” asked Jack. “I suppose I’m in deep shit for killing this man but I wasn’t going to allow him to hit me.”
“I’ll go get the Sherriff. It was self-defense, we all saw it,” said the man who spoke first.
The door slammed open hitting the wall on the hinge side. Two men burst into the room, each with a pistol in his hand. They were both less than twenty years old. They split and dispersed themselves to the outer walls after crowding through the doorway.
“You alright Jack?” shouted Ian, the first one into the bar. His hat fell off exposing red hair to go with his freckled face. “A guy told us you were going to have some trouble with a man who killed three men in this joint after starting a fight with them.”
“Be calm boys, put your pistols away. The excitement is over.” Jack motioned at the body on the floor with his chin.
Big Allen Cranston, that was the name he insisted on, lay on the floor with his right fist still clenched. Blood oozed out from underneath him, on both sides, and mixed with the dried mud on the floor boards.
The Sheriff sauntered into the bar.
“I heard what Sam has to say. What did you see George?”
The bartender responded.
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About the Book
John Coffey Hays is just nineteen when he arrives in the town of Nacogdoches Republic of Texas in 1836. Moments later when a man is killed, none of the witnesses dispute that Jack acted in self-defense. Despite his young age, Jack is a man who commands perhaps just as much fear as respect.
Although Jack is too late to enlist in the fight for Texas Independence, he soon joins the ranging company of Deaf Smith and begins a thirteen-year history of defending Texans from raids by Comanche bands and Mexican bandits. When he is just twenty-three, he is made a captain of the Texas Rangers. As he becomes known as a fearless fighter, Jack leads a group of men who will follow him anywhere and under any circumstances. While Jack’s Rangers scout, defend US supply and communication lines from attacks by Mexican guerrillas, and fight with army units in the Mexican-American War, the men earn a significant reputation for bravery and success. As Jack’s journey leads him to love and eventually marriage he leads his Rangers and transforms Texas history forever.
In this fascinating historical novel, a young Texas Ranger leads his men in fierce battles against Comanche raiders, Mexican bandits, and the Texas Regiment in the Mexican-American War.
David R. Gross practiced veterinary medicine for ten years before returning to school to earn MS and PhD degrees. He taught and performed research for thirty-six years, completing his academic career as professor and head of the basic science department at the Veterinary School of the University of Illinois. Gross has co-edited three multi-authored textbooks, authored more than one hundred scientific articles, and given many scientific talks at national and international meetings. Since retirement, he has written and published 3 memoirs, a historical novel and a self-help book. He currently lives in Everett, Washington.