The Sheriff of Cañon - A Will Starr Short Story

This is the Henderson Jersey farm in Iowa. From the left is Hannah Jane, Walter, and Peter Henderson.

The Sheriff of Cañon


“Women are always mad about some damn thing”

Sheriff Mike Holder was speaking to no one in particular, but the other three men loafing in the noonday sun all nodded their silent agreement. They were seated on the benches in front of Houlihan’s Café after the midday meal, idly watching an old dog worry a bone under the boardwalk across the dusty street. It was hot, and to the south, slowly building cumulus clouds hinted at a cooling rain, perhaps later in the day.

Mike Holder was an elected sheriff, and the other three men were his deputies. Jimmy Sparks was a smallish man with a long, sad face, but his hangdog looks belied the quick mind and snap decisions of a seasoned lawman. Big, hulking Darby Patterson and his equally large brother Dave were the heavy muscle that put a quick end to brawls in the local saloons. The four men were an effective peace keeping force and well respected by the town’s citizens.

The town was unusually quiet and still, and there was an air of foreboding. The four men were each restless and uneasy, although they were unaware of any common sense of dread. Somewhere, a screen door slammed and someone began working a pump for water.

The Sheriff was not a large man either, but he was bear strong and feared no man. When big, drunken Jeb Dawson challenged him to an arm wrestling match, he promptly broke the much larger man’s wrist. He was instantly ashamed, and never engaged in another such contest, not that anyone wanted to try him after that.

When Carol May Vernon gave him a pouting glance and swished her skirts at him four years prior, Mike Holder desperately looked for a way out but never found one. He even tried warning Carol about his unsavory past, but she brushed it off as an unimportant bygone, and maybe it was. They were now married, with a year-old daughter and with what he hoped to be a son well on the way.

He was a happy man, but he reserved to right to grumble. When he left that morning, he playfully patted her behind as he passed by and she scolded him unconvincingly and with a loving smile he failed to see. That was the source of his insincere comment about angry women, but none of the other three took him seriously anyway.

Cañon* was situated on the banks of the Agua Fria river, and sold mining supplies to the men working the gold bearing streams draining the Bradshaw range. It was known as a rowdy, brawling place until the new sheriff was elected and hired his carefully chosen deputies. One by one, the saloons and brothels were brought in to line by various methods, including fines, jail, and raw-hiding, a talent employed generously by the strapping Patterson brothers. Anyone who defied a lawful order to shut the hell up and sit down found themselves recovering on the hard benches of the crude jail with aching and bloody heads. One time was enough for most men. A few needed convincing twice, but no one went for thirds.

After that, the town prospered. The saloons and bawdy houses still did a booming but largely peaceful business on the south side, pleasing their proprietors. When the Sheriff pointed out to the local gentry that such businesses also drew customers for shovels, dry goods, and cured hams, those merchants saw the wisdom in his words. The Sheriff also kept the rowdies away from the Presbyterians and Catholics, so Cañon was at peace. Or so it seemed.

Drew Harrison was known to have killed three men. What no one knew was that he had killed seven men and six women in his short twenty six years, starting in Boston when he was fifteen and Becky Thurman made the fatal mistake of coming home after dark. No one suspected her handsome young neighbor who could have any girl he wanted, including Becky. But no one knew either that he enjoyed inflicting pain and terror on helpless victims, like the stray dogs and cats found now and then in the neighborhood, mutilated and dead.

When he was nineteen and Sam Dooley offered to take him along on a trip west, Drew Harrison quickly packed up and left, leaving a puzzled police detective and three more dead women behind. He knew that eventually the law would deduce that he was the only person who knew them all, so he jumped at the chance to disappear forever.

By the time he reached the Mississippi River, Sam Dooley was dead and Drew was the new owner of a wagon packed full of goods and four hundred dollars in gold in a hidden compartment that Sam Dooley foolishly bragged about to Drew. Dooley’s body was back in Indiana, rotting in a hastily dug grave. He smiled at the memory of Sam’s astonished face as the knife slipped under his breastbone and into his heart. Like all the others, Sam trusted handsome Drew Harrison. It was a fatal mistake.

He sold his stolen outfit to a pioneering family in St. Louis and bought a horse for himself. He rode with them all the way to Kansas before he killed the man and his wife as they slept. When he finished with them, he also killed their two daughters. Then he sold the twice stolen outfit again in Dodge and headed for the Arizona territory.

A Mexican bandit camped out near Santa Fe taught Drew the value of a firearm over a blade, and sold him a shotgun which he promptly used to kill the Mexican and his partner. After that, he wore a brace of pistols and carried the short barreled Greener constantly.

Near Show Low, he shot it out with Chin Daily, leader of a pack of cutthroats, killing him instantly with a double load of buckshot. It was his first killing with witnesses. When he rode out of the camp, the remaining gang members fell in with him. Later that week, he led them in robbing the bank in Payson. Ten days later, they robbed a Wells Fargo office, and as an afterthought, Drew killed both clerks in cold blood.

“Dead men make poor witnesses.” The gang nodded uneasily, making mental notes not to turn their backs on their new leader. Late that night, four men slipped away, wanting to put some safe miles between themselves and the handsome killer. Drew shrugged when he learned of the desertion.

“That leaves just a three way split from now on, and that Wells Fargo office in Cañon is fixing to ship forty thousand in gold.”

Hardy Gable nodded. He was ten years older than Drew, and almost as vicious. He held no loyalty to anyone other than to himself, and he was not afraid of anything other than snakes. He would have the job of lookout.

Old Ben Jones had taken quite a liking to his young leader and he was a loyal man who would stand. He would not cut and run under pressure which kept Drew from considering his murder. He had already decided that Hardy Gable was also too valuable to kill. Neither man suspected that they were riding with a madman.

“Town’s quiet enough, Jimmy, so why don’t you go home and tend to Millie?”

Jimmy Sparks nodded and came to his feet.

“Reckon I should, Mike. She’s been in bed with the sickness for almost a week now. But I have to say that her color is better, and she’s taking that foul smelling concoction Doc Winters gave her.” He gazed off at the horizon. “She’s a fine woman and a good wife.”

Strangers in town were common, so the Sheriff paid scant attention to the three men walking their horses slowly down the street. Two turned and tied off at the rail in front of Grant's Mercantile, and the third tied off in front of them, nodded as he climbed the boardwalk steps and entered Houlihan’s Café. Somewhere a dog barked lazily, and a lone cloud cast a welcome shadow on the town.

Hardy Gable sat at a table where he could watch the three lawmen and ordered a pot of coffee. He felt for the reassuring coolness of the short-barreled shotgun hidden under his duster and satisfied, he poured himself a cup.

Across the street, Drew and Ben Jones waited until the store clerk’s attention was drawn away by Hattie Keystone and slipped quietly out the back. From there, it was just a few steps to the back door of the Wells Fargo office, and they slipped in unheard. Moments later, the clerk was on the floor, bound and gagged and the two outlaws were filling the flour sacks they brought along with the contents of the strong box. Three minutes later, they were back in Grant’s Mercantile and heading for the front door. The clerk was engrossed in showing Hattie Keystone the latest catalog and paid them no mind.

Mike Holder rose and arched his back as he idly watched the two strangers tie their sacks of provisions to their saddles. That reminded him that Carol May wanted him to bring her home some sugar, so he stepped into the dust of the street and headed for Grant’s.

“Here comes that sheriff.” Ben Jones spoke under his breath, and Drew Harrison nodded. He put his hand on the stock of the Greener in its leather sheath and waited. Across the street, Hardy Gable rose from his chair and took out his hidden shotgun. The waitress gasped and he shot her a warning look as he eased out the front door.

“You boys just rest easy now, you hear?” He eared back both hammers on the shotgun and the big Patterson brothers stiffened at the familiar sound.

“What’s this about?” Drew Patterson’s question drew a savage response.

“Shut the hell up. I won’t hesitate if need be and I ain’t likely to miss at this range.”

Across the street, an unsuspecting Sheriff Holder drew abreast of the two strangers and his first warning that something was amiss was the look of alarm on Ben Jones’ face. Suddenly, Drew Harrison whirled to face him, shotgun in hand and pointed in his general direction.

“I got these two buffaloed, boss.” The loud voice called from behind him, and the Sheriff stiffened. His deputies would be no help, and Jimmy Sparks was home by now.

Drew Harrison made a mental note to tell Hardy Gable never to use his name again, as he grinned at the Sheriff.

“Looks like you ought to have stayed home today, lawman!”

Beside him, Ben Jones peered closely at the Sheriff’s face, and he paled.

“Careful Drew. That’s there’s Mike Shaidee, the border gunman. I seen him in action once, so let’s just ride on out of here.”

“That so? Never heard of him! Besides, I got a shotgun in hand, and he ain’t got a chance.” A now grinning Drew Harrison raised the shotgun and a black hole suddenly appeared in his forehead as the tremendous sound of a .44 Colts firing startled the sleepy town. None of the men saw the Sheriff draw his revolver. One moment it was in his holster and the next moment, it was smoking in his hand.

As Drew Harrison fell dead, Mike Shaidee whirled and fired two more shots that sounded like one at a startled Hardy Gable some fifty feet away. Both found their target on Gable’s left pocket, and the big outlaw had only a moment to ponder the awful reality before he too collapsed and died.

Ben Jones’ hands were frantically clawing for his own revolver as the Sheriff turned back, but he was far too slow. Two more bullets ended his worries forever.

He had been Mike Holder for some fifteen years now, leaving his old days as Mike Shaidee behind, and now that old Ben Jones was dead, he would stay Mike Holder.

He heard running footsteps and saw a frantic Jimmy Sparks appear with a shotgun. Behind him was Carol May, holding her skirts out of the dusty street as she ran, her eyes wide and frightened.

Drew and Darby Patterson were staring at him from the porch in front of the café. Darby bent and took the shotgun from Hardy’s dead hands and then they crossed the street, still gaping.

“You boys keep what you saw to yourselves, you hear? We’ll talk it over in my office directly and figure out a story.” He looked up at the much larger men. “I mean it boys. If word gets out about my speed and what happened, some cowardly murderer will try to shoot me in the back like Hickok got it, just for the fame of killing me. I don’t aim to make Carol May a widow, and I don't want to live like that anymore.” They nodded their understanding

Jimmy Sparks took it all in at a glance and began checking the two dead men in front of the Mercantile for weapons and papers. He was experienced lawman, so first things first. He’d hear the story later.

A sobbing Carol May hugged her husband desperately, twice pulling back to stare at his face. Finally she wiped her tears and said the only thing that came to mind.

“And don’t you dare forget that sugar, Mike Holder. Do you hear me?”

With that she turned and marched home, lifting her skirts again to avoid the dust. The lawmen had begun the grim chore of removing the bodies when an excited Jimmy Sparks burst out of the Sheriff’s office and came running with a wanted poster.

“Look at this, boss! That handsome feller you killed first off is a sure enough murderer of women and children! He’s wanted all the way back to Boston. His name was Drew Harrison and I know that because an old bill of sale for a wagon that I found in his saddle bags was signed by a Drew Harrison, so I looked though the circulars and there he was! There’s a sizable reward in it for you too.”

Two hours later, the four lawmen were once again seated on the benches in front of Houlihan’s Café. For a long time no one spoke. Finally the Sheriff remembered Carol May’s sugar and cleared his throat.

“Women are always mad about some damn thing.”


* Cañon is now Black Canyon City in Yavapai County, some 47 miles north of Phoenix.

More by this Author


Comments 56 comments

DreamerMeg profile image

DreamerMeg 8 months ago from Northern Ireland

Very tense and enjoyable. As soon as I see a new Will Starr story, I immediately have to read it. They never disappoint


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 8 months ago from Rural Arizona

Wow, talk about something making your day and this was the thing that did it for me. I was getting concerned that nobody had bothered to send me the obituary notice for my favorite author, and here comes this really great story.

WillStarr, I thank you for this and would hope we would be seeing more of you in the weeks to come. Job well done my friend.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 8 months ago from Olympia, WA

Totally great read, Will. I can picture your characters, hear them speak....the sign of an excellent writer, which you are.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 8 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Very exciting. I assume Rock Springs Cafe still has remarkable pies. They also had a 24oz steak last time I visited. Bumble Bee right up the road always had some attraction for me.

You really do transplant in your writing. I just get carried away. Thank you for another great read.


aguasilver profile image

aguasilver 8 months ago from Malaga, Spain

Top drawer again Bill, excellent stuff!


always exploring profile image

always exploring 8 months ago from Southern Illinois

This was another great western written in the Will Starr fashion. I liked the part about the women lifting their skirts to avoid the dust, Carol Mae was a perfect mate for the sheriff. Drew got what he deserved. I loved your story and so glad you are writing again.....


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, DreamerMeg , asl the way from The Emerald Isle!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thanks Mike, and thanks too for the phone call!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Bill! Looking forward to reading your book!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Eric, and yes, the Rock Springs Cafe is still serving steaks and making very expensive pies! We like to eat breakfast there now and then.


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 8 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Hello Will Starr. Good to see a story published here. You certainly set the stage, turn up the heat, and throw your characters at each other in this one.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi John, all the way from Spain! My wife's paternal ancestors come from Galicia in Northern Spain. One of them, I'm told, was El Cid.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Ruby Jean, and thank you for your always kind words!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Mike and thank you. I've been batting windmills for a while and it's great to be back.


FitnezzJim profile image

FitnezzJim 8 months ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

It is a great day when Will stops by to tell a story, is it not?

As usual, awesome.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 8 months ago from England

Another great story Will, I am glad they got that bad 'uns! but he still forgot her sugar! lol!


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 8 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Will...I know I don't read your work often, but when I do I find them WONDERFUL stories always!!......This is no exception. Peace, Paula


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 8 months ago from The Beautiful South

Great story as always and left me smiling as usual!


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 8 months ago from High desert of Nevada.

It is no wonder you are one of my most favorite authors, Will. Great story. Shared and pinned.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 8 months ago from High desert of Nevada.

I love that photo of the Henderson farm.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 8 months ago from southern USA

Will, you certainly know how to tell a great tale through your creative writing!

I love the starting and ending line.

I am reminded about your writing hub and advice how dialogue helps to describe the characters, as it does here.

Wonderful read.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, FitnezzJim! Much appreciated!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, faithful Nell!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Paula. I see I have some catching up to do on your page!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you so much Phyllis Doyle, and that picture is circa 1900 because my grandfather was about 18 and he was born in 1882.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Faith. I once lived in South Carolina, so I have had a taste of the South and I loved it.


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 8 months ago from Hereford, AZ

Wonderful to come home to tonight. I have been visiting my husband in Tucson all day and it is good to get a good story tonight. Good to see you here again.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Becky! How's he doing?


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 8 months ago from Hereford, AZ

He will probably never come home, but he is a good rehab nursing home. He can't move because of atrophy of the muscles, and he has a trach so the nursing home he is in is the closest that will take him. I wish he could be brought here to one. The muscles that are atrophied are because of Parkinson's Disease. With that, once the muscles go, it is almost impossible to build them back. They are trying to build him up enough that he will be able to sit in his electric chair and motate around a bit. That would be a great boost to his morale. I would bring him home, but I do not think I could handle the amount of care he requires. I would not want to provide him with insufficient care (moving him to avoid bedsores every 2 hours).


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 8 months ago from Dallas, Texas

Great story, Will. And it's nice to see you out here again.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

There's only so much you can do, Becky. We have our limits. We'll pray for him.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Peg!


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 8 months ago

I enjoyed every minute of this, but then I always love everything you write.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 8 months ago from Queensland Australia

This story was sure worth the wait Will. Totally absorbing read. You are indeed the master of the Western genre. Excellent.


lilyfly profile image

lilyfly 8 months ago from Wasilla, Alaska

Never a misstep Will. You never force your characters to do anything, I can feel the rough lumber of the backboard, and the sweet tang of horses... maybe clutching a half full cup of lukewarm cowboy coffee from breakfast.

Made my day, as your work always does.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Patti!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Wow! High praise indeed, John, and thank you!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

We want to take a cruise to Alaska, Lily, and if we do, we'd love to meet you somewhere for lunch or dinner!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 8 months ago from Houston, Texas

You are an amazing story teller! You capture one's interest from the very start and have us hooked until the end. As in the last story I just read, justice was served in a wild west manner. That serial killer was permanently stopped from ever torturing and killing people again along with his 2 accompanying outlaws. Love the details you interweave into your story. Sharing!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Peggy!


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 8 months ago from Riga, Latvia

Fantastic. I love reading stories like this about actual places.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Gypsy Rose Lee!


annart profile image

annart 8 months ago from SW England

So good to read one of your stories again and this is a great one. You put us right in the scenery and make us look around.

Glad this lot got their just desserts. I've always loved a good 'western'!

Shared.

Ann


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Ann!


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 8 months ago

Will,

You had me from the get-go

This story of where the Wild West winds blow

To face the gun-slinger turned sheriff

When the murderous killer was too slow

So don't forget the sugar, you old horny-toad

*

*

Love it Will

Blessings


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Shyron, and thanks too for the poetry!


resspenser profile image

resspenser 8 months ago from South Carolina

Great story. Yours are about the only westerns I ever read. I've learned to read them slow and try to figure out the little twist that I know is buried. Sometimes I find it, but not this time! Excellent work.


Mandy Avery profile image

Mandy Avery 8 months ago

wonderful descriptive catching story


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thanks, Ronnie. Looking forward to reading your new one!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Mandy.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 7 months ago from Central Florida

Awesome story, as always Will. I love that you ended it with the way it began. Damn women are always mad about something.....


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 7 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Shauna!


CMerritt profile image

CMerritt 7 months ago from Pendleton, Indiana

WOW! I have been away from Hubpages for quite a spell....and the biggest think I have missed the most is the Will Starr Short Stories!!

I am on my lunch break and dang gum! This was a fun read! As Always!

I never, ever tire of readying you stuff Will!

:)


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 7 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Well thank you Chris! We've missed you!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 7 months ago from Orlando, FL

Love your stories, I know once I start reading I will get be transported to a place I will enjoy and appreciate! :)


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 7 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Linda, and we are still praying that you find your Randy.

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