XXVIII: A Squared Account
The housecleaning began at the building diagonally opposite the assembled
posse. In a squalid room upstairs they found the man who had fired upon
them. He was dead. Papers found upon him disclosed his identity as an I.W.W.
leader. He had evidently rented the room across from the court-house that
he might watch the movements of "The Hundred." A cheap, inaccurate revolver
was found beside him. Possibly he had fired, thinking to momentarily disorganize
the posse; that they would not know from where the shot had come until
he had had time to make his escape and warn his fellows.
The posse moved from building to building. Each tenement, private rooming-house,
and shack was entered and searched. Union men who chanced to be at home
were warned that any man seen on the street that day was in danger of being
killed. Several members of the I.W.W. were routed out in different parts
of the town and taken to the jail.
Saloons were ordered to close. Saloon-keepers who argued their right
to keep open were promptly arrested. An I.W.W. agitator, defying the posse,
was handcuffed, loaded into a machine, and taken out of town. Groups of
strikers gathered at the street corners and jeered the armed posse. One
group, cornered in a side street, showed fight.
"We'll burn your dam' town!" cried a voice.
The sheriff swung from his horse and shouldered through the crowd. As
he did so, a light-haired, weasel-faced youth, with a cigarette dangling
from the corner of his loose mouth, backed away. The sheriff followed and
pressed him against a building.
"I know you!" said the sheriff. "You never made or spent an honest dollar
in this town. Boys," he continued, turning to the strikers, "are you proud
of this skunk who wants to burn your town?"
A workman laughed.
"You said it!" asserted the sheriff. "When somebody tells you what he
is, you laugh. Why don't you laugh at him when he's telling you of the
buildings he has dynamited and how many deaths he is responsible for? Did
he ever sweat alongside of any of you doing a day's work? Do you know him?
Does he know anything about your work or conditions? Not a damned thing!
Just think it over. And, boys, remember he is paid easy money to get you
into trouble. Who pays him? Is there any decent American paying him to
do that sort of thing? Stop and think about it."
The weasel-faced youth raised his arm and pointed at the sheriff. "Who
pays you to shoot down women and kids?" he snarled.
"I'm taking orders from the Governor of this State."
"To hell with the Governor! And there's where he'll wake up one of these
"Because he's enforcing the law and trying to keep the flag from being
insulted by whelps like you, eh?"
"We'll show you what's law! And we'll show you the right kind of a flag--"
"Boys, are you going to stand for this kind of talk?" And the sheriff's
heavy face quivered with anger. "I'd admire to kill you!" he said, turning
on the youth. "But that wouldn't do any good."
The agitator was taken to the jail. Later it was rumored that a machine
had left the jail that night with three men in it. Two of them were armed
guards. The third was a weasel-faced youth. He was never heard of again.
As the cavalcade moved on down the street, workmen gathered on street
corners and in upper rooms and discussed the situation. The strike had
got beyond their control. Many of them were for sending a delegation to
the I.W.W. camp demanding that they disband and leave. Others were silent,
and still others voted loudly to "fight to a finish."
Out beyond the edge of town lay the I.W.W. camp, a conglomeration of
board shacks hastily erected, brush-covered hovels, and tents. Not counting
the scattered members in town, there were at least two hundred of the malcontents
loafing in camp. When the sheriff's posse appeared it was met by a deputation.
But there was no parley.
"We'll give you till sundown to clear out," said the sheriff and, turning,
he and his men rode back to the court-house.
That evening sentinels were posted at the street corners within hail
of each other. In a vacant lot back of the court-house the horses of the
posse were corralled under guard. The town was quiet. Occasionally a figure
crossed the street; some shawl-hooded striker's wife or some workman heedless
of the sheriff's warning.
Lorry happened to be posted on a corner of the court-house square. Across
the street another sentinel paced back and forth, occasionally pausing
to talk with Lorry.
This sentinel was halfway up the block when a figure appeared from the
shadow between two buildings. The sentinel challenged.
"A friend," said the figure. "I was lookin' for young Adams."
"What do you want with him?"
"It's private. Know where I can find him?"
"He's across the street there. Who are you, anyway?"
"That's my business. He knows me."
"This guy wants to talk to you," called the sentinel.
Lorry stepped across the street. He stopped suddenly as he discovered
the man to be Waco, the tramp.
"Is it all right?" asked the sentinel, addressing Lorry.
"I guess so. What do you want?"
"It's about Jim Waring," said Waco. "I seen you when the sheriff rode
up to our camp. I seen by the papers that Jim Waring was your father. I
wanted to tell you that it was High-Chin Bob what killed Pat. I was in
the buckboard with Pat when he done it. The horses went crazy at the shootin'
and ditched me. When I come to I was in Grant."
"Why didn't you stay and tell what you knew? Nobody would 'a' hurt you."
"I was takin' no chance of the third, and twenty years."
"What you doin' in this town?"
"Cookin' for the camp. But I can't hold that job long. My whole left
side is goin' flooey. The boss give me hallelujah to-day for bein' slow.
I'm sick of the job."
"Well, you ought to be. Suppose you come over to the sheriff and tell
him what you know about the killin' of Pat."
"Nope; I was scared you would say that. I'm tellin' you
because you done me a good turn onct. I guess that lets me out."
"Not if I make you sit in."
"You can make me sit in all right. But you can't make me talk. Show
me a cop and I freeze. I ain't takin' no chances."
"You're takin' bigger chances right now."
"Bigger'n you know, kid. Listen! You and Jim Waring and Pat used me
white. I'm sore at that I.W.W. bunch, but I dassent make a break. They'd
get me. But listen! If the boys knowed I was tellin' you this they'd cut
me in two. Two trucks just came into camp from up north. Them trucks was
loaded to the guards. Every man in camp's got a automatic and fifty rounds.
And they was settin' up a machine gun when I slipped through and beat it,
lookin' for you. You better fan it out of this while you got the chanct."
"Did they send you over to push that bluff--or are you talkin' straight?"
"S' help me! It's the bleedin' truth!"
"Well, I'm thankin' you. But get goin' afore I change my mind."
"Would you shake with a bum?" queried Waco.
"Why--all right. You're tryin' to play square, I reckon. Wait a minute!
Are you willin' to put in writin' that you seen High-Chin Bob kill Pat?
I got a pencil and a envelope on me. Will you put it down right here, and
me to call my friend and witness your name?"
"You tryin' to pinch me?"
"That ain't my style."
"All right. I'll put it down."
And in the flickering rays of the arc light Waco scribbled on the back
of the envelope and signed his name. Lorry's companion read the scrawl
and handed it back to Lorry. Waco humped his shoulders and shuffled away.
"Why didn't you nail him?" queried the other.
"I don't know. Mebby because he was trustin' me."
Shortly afterward Lorry and his companion were relieved from duty. Lorry
immediately reported to the sheriff, who heard him without interrupting,
dismissed him, and turned to the committee, who held night session discussing
"They've called our bluff," he said, twisting his cigar round in his
A ballot was taken. The vote was eleven to one for immediate action.
The ballot was secret, but the member who had voted against action rose
and tendered his resignation.
"It would be plain murder if we were to shoot up their camp. It would
place us on their level."
Just before daybreak a guard stationed two blocks west of the court-house
noticed a flare of light in the windows of a building opposite. He glanced
toward the east. The dim, ruddy glow in the windows was not that of dawn.
He ran to the building and tried to open the door to the stairway. As he
wrenched at the door a subdued soft roar swelled and grew louder. Turning,
he ran to the next corner, calling to the guard. The alarm of fire was
relayed to the court-house.
Meanwhile the two cowboys ran back to the building and hammered on the
door. Some one in an upstairs room screamed. Suddenly the door gave inward.
A woman carrying a cheap gilt clock pushed past them and sank in a heap
on the sidewalk. The guards heard some one running down the street. One
of them tied a handkerchief over his face and groped his way up the narrow
stairs. The hall above was thick with smoke. A door sprang open, and a
man carrying a baby and dragging a woman by the hand bumped into the guard,
cursed, and stumbled toward the stairway.
The cowboy ran from door to door down the long, narrow hall, calling
to the inmates. In one room he found a lamp burning on a dresser and two
children asleep. He dragged them from bed and carried them to the stairway.
From below came the surge and snap of flames. He held his breath and descended
the stairs. A crowd of half-clothed workmen had gathered. Among them he
saw several of the guards.
"Who belongs to these kids?" he cried.
A woman ran up. "She's here," she said, pointing to the woman with the
gilt clock, who still lay on the sidewalk. A man was trying to revive her.
The cowboy noticed that the unconscious woman still gripped the gilt clock.
He called to a guard. Together they dashed up the stairs and ran from
room to room. Toward the back of the building they found a woman insanely
gathering together a few cheap trinkets and stuffing them into a pillow-case.
She was trying to work a gilt-framed lithograph into the pillow-case when
they seized her and led her toward the stairway. She fought and cursed
and begged them to let her go back and get her things. A burst of flame
swept up the stairway. The cowboys turned and ran back along the hall.
One of them kicked a window out. The other tied a sheet under the woman's
arms and together they lowered her to the ground.
Suddenly the floor midway down the hall sank softly in a fountain of
flame and sparks.
"Reckon we jump," said one of the cowboys.
Lowering himself from the rear window, he dropped. His companion followed.
They limped to the front of the building. A crowd massed in the street,
heedless of the danger that threatened as a section of roof curled like
a piece of paper, writhed, and dropped to the sidewalk.
A group of guards appeared with a hose-reel. They coupled to a hydrant.
A thin stream gurgled from the hose and subsided. The sheriff ran to the
steps of a building and called to the crowd.
"Your friends," he cried, "have cut the water-main. There is no water."
The mass groaned and swayed back and forth.
From up the street came a cry--the call of a range rider. A score of
cowboys tried to force the crowd back from the burning building.
"Look out for the front!" cried the guards. "She's coming!"
The crowd surged back. The front of that flaming shell quivered, curved,
and crashed to the street.
The sheriff called to his men. An old Texas Ranger touched his arm.
"There's somethin' doin' up yonder, Cap."
"Keep the boys together," ordered the sheriff; "This fire was started
to draw us out. Tell the boys to get their horses."
Dawn was breaking when the cowboys gathered in the vacant lot and mounted
their horses. In the clear light they could see a mob in the distance;
a mob that moved from the east toward the court-house. The sheriff dispatched
a man to wire for troops, divided his force in halves, and, leading one
contingent, he rode toward the oncoming mob. The other half of the posse,
led by an old Ranger, swung round to a back street and halted.
The shadows of the buildings grew shorter. A cowboy on a restive pony
asked what they were waiting for. Some one laughed.
The old Ranger turned in his saddle. "It's a right lovely mornin',"
he remarked impersonally, tugging at his silver-gray mustache.
Suddenly the waiting riders stiffened in their saddles. A ripple of
shots sounded, followed by the shrill cowboy yell. Still the old Ranger
sat his horse, coolly surveying his men.
"Don't we get a look-in?" queried a cowboy.
"Poco tiempo," said the Ranger softly.
The sheriff bunched his men as he approached the invaders. Within fifty
yards of their front he halted and held up his hand. Massed in a solid
wall from curb to curb, the I.W.W. jeered and shouted as he tried to speak.
A parley was impossible. The vagrants were most of them drunk.
The sheriff turned to the man nearest him.
"Tell the boys that we'll go through, turn, and ride back. Tell them
not to fire a shot until we turn."
As he gathered his horse under him, the sheriff's arm dropped. The shrill
"Yip! Yip!" of the range rose above the thunder of hoofs as twenty ponies
jumped to a run. The living thunder-bolt tore through the mass. The staccato
crack of guns sounded sharply above the deeper roar of the mob. The ragged
pathway closed again as the riders swung round, bunched, and launched at
the mass from the rear. Those who had turned to face the second charge
were crowded back as the cowboys, with guns going, ate into the yelling
crowd. The mob turned, and like a great, black wave swept down the street
and into the court-house square.
The cowboys raced past, and reined in a block below the court-house.
As they paused to reload, a riderless horse, badly wounded, plunged among
them. A cowboy caught the horse and shot it. Another rider, gripping his
shirt above his abdomen, writhed and groaned, begging piteously for some
one to kill him. Before they could get him off his horse he spurred out,
and, pulling his carbine from the scabbard, charged into the mob, in the
square. With the lever going like lightning, he bored into the mob, fired
his last shot in the face of a man that had caught his horse's bridle,
and sank to the ground. Shattered and torn he lay, a red pulp that the
mob trampled into the dust.
The upper windows of the court-house filled with figures. An irregular
fire drove the cowboys to the shelter of a side street. In the wide doorway
of the court-house several men crouched behind a blue-steel tripod. Those
still in the square crowded past and into the building. Behind the stone
pillars of the entrance, guarded by a machine gun, the crazy mob cheered
drunkenly and defied the guards to dislodge them.
From a building opposite came a single shot, and the group round the
machine gun lifted one of their fellows and carried him back into the building.
Again came the peremptory snarl of a carbine, and another figure sank in
the doorway. The machine gun was dragged back. Its muzzle still commanded
the square, but its operators were now shielded by an angle of the entrance.
Back on the side street, the old ex-Ranger had difficulty in restraining
his men. They knew by the number of shots fired that some of their companions
had gone down.
The sheriff was about to call for volunteers to capture the machine
gun when a white handkerchief fluttered from an upper window of the court-house.
Almost immediately a man appeared on the court-house steps, alone and indicating
by his gestures that he wished to parley with the guard. The sheriff dismounted
and stepped forward.
One of his men checked him. "That's a trap, John. They want to get you,
special. Don't you try it."
"It's up to me," said the sheriff, and shaking off the other's hand
he strode across the square.
At the foot of the steps he met the man. The guard saw them converse
for a brief minute; saw the sheriff shake his fist in the other's face
and turn to walk back. As he turned, a shot from an upper window dropped
him in his stride.
The cowboys yelled and charged across the square. The machine gun stuttered
and sprayed a fury of slugs that cut down horses and riders. A cowboy,
his horse shot from under him, sprang up the steps and dragged the machine
gun into the open. A rain of slugs from the upper windows struck him down.
His companions carried him back to cover. The machine gun stood in the
square, no longer a menace, yet no one dared approach it from either side.
When the old Ranger, who had orders to hold his men in reserve, heard
that the sheriff had been shot down under a flag of truce, he shook his
"Three men could 'a' stopped that gun as easy as twenty, and saved more
hosses. Who wants to take a little pasear after that gun?"
Several of his men volunteered.
"I only need two," he said, smiling. "I call by guess. Number twenty-six,
number thirty-eight, and number three."
The last was his own number.
In the wide hallway and massed on the court-house stairs the mob was
calling out to recover the gun. Beyond control of their leaders, crazed
with drink and killing, they surged forward, quarreling, and shoved from
behind by those above.
"We're ridin'," said the old Ranger.
With a man on each side of him he charged across the square.
Waco, peering from behind a stone column in the entrance, saw that Lorry
was one of the riders. Lorry's lips were drawn tight. His face was pale,
but his gun arm swung up and down with the regularity of a machine as he
threw shot after shot into the black tide that welled from the court-house
doorway. A man near Waco pulled an automatic and leveled it. Waco swung
his arm and brained the man with an empty whiskey bottle. He threw the
bottle at another of his fellows, and, stumbling down the steps, called
to Lorry. The three riders paused for an instant as Waco ran forward. The
riders had won almost to the gun when Waco stooped and jerked it round
and poured a withering volley into the close-packed doorway.
Back in the side street the leader of the cowboys addressed his men.
"We'll leave the horses here," he said. "Tex went after that gun, and
I reckon he's got it. We'll clean up afoot."
But the I.W.W. had had enough. Their leaders had told them that with
the machine gun they could clean up the town, capture the court-house,
and make their own terms. They had captured the court-house, but they were
themselves trapped. One of their own number had planned that treachery.
And they knew that those lean, bronzed men out there would shoot them down
from room to room as mercilessly as they would kill coyotes.
They surrendered, shuffling out and down the slippery stone steps. Each
man dropped his gun in the little pile that grew and grew until the old
Ranger shook his head, pondering. That men of this kind should have access
to arms and ammunition of the latest military type--and a machine gun.
What was behind it all? He tried to reason it out in his old-fashioned
way even as the trembling horde filed past, cordoned by grim, silent cowboys.
The vagrants were escorted out of town in a body. Fearful of the hate
of the guard, of treachery among themselves and of the townsfolk in other
places, they tramped across the hills, followed closely by the stern-visaged
riders. Several miles north of Sterling they disbanded.
When a company of infantrymen arrived in Sterling they found several
cowboys sluicing down the court-house steps with water hauled laboriously
from the river.
The captain stated that he would take charge of things, and suggested
that the cowboys take a rest.
"That's all right, Cap," said a puncher, pointing toward the naked flagstaff.
"But we-all would admire to see the Stars and Stripes floatin' up there
afore we drift."
"I'll have the flag run up," said the captain.
"That's all right, Cap. But you don't sabe the idee. These here steps
got to be clean afore that flag goes up."
"And they's some good in bein' fat," said Bud Shoop as he met Lorry
next morning. "The army doc just put a plaster on my arm where one of them
automatic pills nicked me. Now, if I'd been lean like you--"
"Did you see Waco?" queried Lorry.
"Waco? What's ailin' you, son?"
"Nothin'. It was Waco went down, workin' that machine gun against his
own crowd. I didn't sabe that at first."
"Him? Didn't know he was in town."
"I didn't, either, till last night. He sneaked in to tell me about the
killin' of Pat. Next I seen him was when he brained a fella that was shootin'
at me. Then somehow he got to the gun--and you know the rest."
"Looks like he was crazy," suggested Shoop.
"I don' know about that. I got to him before he cashed in. He pawed
around like he couldn't see. I asked what I could do. He kind of braced
up then. 'That you, kid?' he says. 'They didn't get you?' I told him no.
'Then I reckon we're square,' he says. I thought he was gone, but he reached
out his hand. Seems he couldn't see. 'Would you mind shakin' hands with
a bum?' he says. I did. And then he let go my hand. He was done."
"H'm! And him! But you can't always tell. Sometimes it takes a bullet
placed just right, and sometimes religion, and sometimes a woman to make
a man show what's in him. I reckon Waco done you a good turn that journey.
But ain't it hard luck when a fella waits till he's got to cross over afore
he shows white?"
"He must 'a' had a hunch he was goin' to get his," said Lorry. "Or he
wouldn't chanced sneakin' into town last night. When do we go north?"
"To-morrow. The doc says the sheriff will pull through. He sure ought
to get the benefit of the big doubt. There's a man that God A'mighty took
some trouble in makin'."
"Well, I'm mighty glad it's over. I don't want any more like this. I
come through all right, but this ain't fightin'; it's plumb killin' and
"And both sides thinks so," said Bud. "And lemme tell you; you can read
your eyes out about peace and equality and fraternity, but they's goin'
to be killin' in this here world just as long as they's fools willin' to
listen to other fools talk. And they's always goin' to be some fools."
"You ain't strong on socialism, eh, Bud?"
"Socialism? You mean when all men is born fools and equal? Not this
mawnin', son. I got all I can do figurin' out my own trail."