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Dry Gulch Pass
By: Wayne Brown
Chapter One: “Shoot ‘Em Up
Sam Dunn, the bartender and owner of the Daylight Saloon, burst through the door of the sheriff’s office yelling. Sheriff Ed Hixson was in one of the back cells straightening the bunk when he heard the commotion coming from the front office. Hixson quickly moved to the front to check things out wondering how many bees could be under ol' Sam's saddle blanket today.
On seeing Hixson emerge from the cell area, Sam Dunn screamed “Sheriff Hixson, Sheriff! You gotta come now! Them cowboys done busted up my place and beat up one of my girls. They are having their way with my whiskey now. You got to stop them sheriff!”
Hixson nodded and reached up in the rifle rack for a double-barrel scatter gun. He needed something to even the odds until his deputies showed up from their rounds. A short-barrel shotgun generally garnered some respect when one was out-numbered. Hixson had given a few doubters a taste of one in his time too.
Hixson with Dunn in tow moved through the front door of the Sheriff's Office and headed down the street in the direction of the Daylight Saloon. He could hear the noisy cowboys as he walked toward the swinging doors of the Daylight. Hixson did not hesitate as he approached the doors. He had been in this spot many times before and knew that only dead men hesitated very long. He stepped through the doors and quickly pushed his back to the adjacent wall so that he had a full view on the room. The crowd was unruly to say the least. A saloon girl lay face down on a nearby table with blood running from her nose. Broken bottles and glass littered the sawdust covered floor. Hixson pulled his .44 and fired a shot into the ceiling and quickly holstered the pistol favoring the scatter gun against the odds.
“All right, everybody settle down in here!” Hixson yelled bringing the commotion to a sudden halt. All eyes were suddenly on the Sheriff.
Hixson leveled the scatter gun and pointed it at no one in particular then slowly gazed about the room. Four cattle drovers stood at the bar grinning at him as his gaze came to rest in their direction.
“We ain’t doin’ nothing’ wrong, Sheriff. Just washin’out a little bit of trail dust, that’s all. Now why don’t you go on and chase some outlaws so we can have our fun,” one of the drovers said as he spat a large clump of tobacco juice in the direction of one of the spittoons scattered about the bar rail.
“You’ve had all the fun you’re going to have in here tonight. Now, pack up and get out, all of ya. You four at the bar stay put.” Hixson motioned with the scatter gun and the place began to empty out rapidly.
Most of these folks were just there for a drink and wanted no trouble. In a matter of seconds the crowd has diminished down to Hixson, Sam Dunn, the four drovers and the unconscious saloon gal who still rested quietly on the nearby card table.
As the room cleared, Sheriff Hixson stepped away from the wall and walked closer to the four drovers standing alone now at the bar. The tobacco-spitter was dressed in black from head to toe and sported a pearl handle pistol in his holster. The other three looked more like trail hands and not as threatening in the way they wore their guns. The one in black was definitely the one to watch. He had trouble written all over him and Hixson had met up with trouble too many times to not recognize it when it was standing right in front of him.
Hixson eyed all four drovers and said, “You boys caused a lot of trouble here tonight and did a lot of damage. I reckon you also must be responsible for busting up that gal over there.You damned fools better pray she is still alive and plans on living some more. Now I want each one of you to reach into your pocket and pull out twenty dollars and lay it on the bar. Half of that money is going to the barkeep to cover your damages and the other half is going to cover that lady here you have abused. Now move slow and put the money on the bar or we can just do the easy thing and I’ll take you all to jail for the time being and let you soften up a bit on your generosity. Now what's it gonna be?"
Three of the drovers began digging in their pocket for the money but the spitter just changed positions and slowly stepped away from the bar. “I’m not paying anybody anything and you sure as hell won't make me” He cried as he filled his hand with the pearl-handle pistol. In an instant, Hixson was at the ready and had tripped the triggers on the scatter gun before the drover's gun-barrel cleared leather. The buckshot found their mark slamming the spitter backward into the bar rail as his guts spilled to the floor. The other three drovers immediately put their hands into the air signaling that they didn't want any of that trouble.
Outside the saloon, Hixson had collected money from all three drovers along with emptying the pockets of the now dead spitter. Now the three drovers sat on their horses eyeing the Sheriff. The dead spitter was wrapped in a sheet and strapped over his horse for transport. Sam Dunn stood nervously by in front of the Daylight Saloon and observed the Sheriff as he issued his orders to the three drovers.
Hixson waved the shotgun about once more and said, “This is the very reason we don’t allow this sort of stuff to go on here in Waco. Sooner or later someone gets hurt. Now I suggest you boys take your dead friend here and get on out of town while you are still breathing air. I don’t want to see any of you back in these parts again for a while. Do you get my drift?”
The cowboys looked at each other and slowly nodded. As they turned their horses to ride out, one of the drovers turned in the saddle and shouted back toward the Sheriff. “You may not see us again Sheriff but you can expect some trouble and soon. This feller here you just killed is Jeb Twilley’s brother. I don’t think I need to tell you who Jeb Twilley is but I will tell you that he will be coming for you soon after he finds out about his brother. And Sheriff, you can count on the fact that Jeb won’t be coming alone. That scatter gun is not going to be enough for you next time.” The drovers then quickly put spur to their horses and rode out with the dead man in tow.
Chapter Two: Jeb Twilley
It was mid-morning of the next day when Ed Hixson left the sheriff’s office to make his rounds of Main Street. The late night commotion at the Daylight Saloon had kept Ed up a bit longer than normal just making sure that no one was doubling back for a little vengeance. Once he figured things had settled, he left things with the deputies for the remaining hours of darkness. As Ed walked across the dusty street toward the hardware store, a young boy ran off the board walk waving to him as he ran in Ed’s direction.
“Sheriff, I’ve got this for you,” the boy said as he extended his arm all the time running toward the sheriff. The boy closed the distance and Ed took the paper from his extended hand.
“Where’d you get this Charlie?” Ed asked as he unfolded the paper.
“A cowboy rode in early this morning while I was sweeping the walk in front of Mr. Ike’s hardware. He gave me a dollar and made me promise that I would give you the note as soon as I saw you. So I guess I earned my money, huh sheriff?” Young Charlie replied.
“That you did Charlie; that you did. Now run along and see what you can find to do with all your new found riches,” Ed chuckled as he waved the boy off.
Crossing over to the boardwalk in front of the hardware, Ed unfolded the paper and saw that it was a hand-written note. The note read, “You done a mighty stupid thing sheriff killing my brother like you did. I won’t be forgetting it soon. As soon as we can give him a proper burial, me and the boys will be riding for your town. I plan to personally kill you and the boys are going to burn every last board of that town to the ground. Don’t try to run or hide because I’ll start killing women and kids if I can’t find you. You shoot one of my kin and you pay with your life. Enjoy the time you’ve got left sheriff. Signed: Jeb Twilley”
Jeb Twilley’s was no stranger to these parts although few had laid eyes on him. He was a thieving, robbing, killing sort of scum bag willing to do just about anything that suited him. So far, he had managed to steer clear of any lawmen that searched for him although he was rumored to have killed a couple who got too close. Sometimes it seemed like every crime committed for a hundred miles around was the work of Jeb Twilley and Cut Branch Gang. Based on the cow-punchin’ looks of those boys last night, Twilley must be recruiting cowboys into the rustling business now. That would sound like his type of work thought Jeb as he walked back across the street to the office. This was not a threat to be taken mildly but now that Ed had this letter in his hand, the gloves were coming off. What Twilley didn’t know was that by writing this letter and the threats in it, Ed Hixson has just been relieved of the chains that bound him as a lawman.
Ed Hixson sat at his desk in the sheriff’s office with his hands wrapped around a tin cup of warm coffee. His two deputies sat across the desk listening to the sheriff relate the actions of the previous night. Deputy Cecil Perkins spoke first, “Sheriff, everybody’s either seen or heard of Jeb Twilley in these parts. He is one mean snake and a good gun hand to boot. If that drover said that he was a comin’ to kill ya, he probably spoke the truth. Are you planning on taking him head-on?
Hixson sat quietly and sipped his coffee slowly. “No, I don’t think that is a good idea. Not that I fear Jeb Twilley, Cecil. I have faced more capable men in my time and lived. Twilley’s just a man. Honestly, what bothers me most is that crowd that he will bring with him. That could be some real trouble. We’ll be outgunned and it will all play out in the streets here in town. A lot of folks could die in that situation. That’s why I am thinking that I need to take this out of town and try some other methods.”
Deputy Hank Sweeney chimed in, “Well Sheriff, you know that you can count on me and Cecil. We ain’t never run from a fight and we sure ain’t gonna start with this Twilley. We’ll face him down. You know we’ll be here for you even if it gets us killed.”
“That’s exactly what I am afraid of, Hank” said Hixson. “I am afraid that if we take then on here a lot of folk will get hurt and a lot of property will be damage. Hell, they might even burn the town. I have a better idea. Those boys rode east out of here. I figure Twilley must be less than a day’s ride or so from here. Them boys looked like drovers so he may be pushing a herd he rustled up the trail. I think I’ll get out my rifle and head out in that direction to meet up with him and that bunch on my terms. You boys will stay here and mind the town. If by chance Twilley shows up while I am out, you send somebody to look for me and quick.” Hixson added. Both deputies looked at each other and grinned as they knew what was in store if the sheriff was getting out his rifle.
Chapter Three: The Great Equalizer
Hixson was counting a long funeral and mourning for Twilley’s dead brother. On that basis, he figured that he had about three days to get into place. Anyone approaching Waco from the east had to take the pass through the mountainous terrain formed by the Dry Gulch Mountains. Ed figured that would be the best place to even the odds for him. The pass was a literally bottle neck with rock walls on each side extending much higher than any man could jump or climb for that matter. You either had to come through or turn back. That choice would be Twilley’s.
As Hixson rode his horse along the river west of town, he finally sighted his favorite spot for aligning his gun sights. He stopped the horse under a willow tree and wrapped the reins loosely about a low branch. He then reached into the saddle scabbard and extracted his rifle. He did so carefully as the gun was a bit heavy and since it had belong to his old buffalo hunter dad, he prized it greatly and treated it with loving care.
The rifle was a Sharps Shiloh Model 1874 45.110. The gun had a 34” octagonal heavy duty barrel, a level action breach loading system, and a rear mount vernier sight elevated to 1200 yards. It fired a black powder cartridge almost three inches in length. The cartridge was a 45. caliber and it was filled with 140 grains of black power. This was a gun capable of operating accurately at great distances in the right hands and capable of damn near cutting a man in half when it hit its intended mark. Ed Hixson had the right hands, he just needed to calibrate his eye with a few shots prior to heading for the pass up on Dry Gulch Hills. Eight or ten shots across the river at selected targets at various ranges should get him fine-tuned on the gun quickly and ready to go. Ed held the heavy rifle out in his hands and admired it. This was what his daddy always described to him as “The Great Equalizer”.
Hixson started in at close range and worked his way across the creek as he methodically fired the rifle, reloaded, then fired again. Each time, he increased the distance as he changed targets. Soon he was cutting of limbs on tree saplings 500 yards out. Ed then raised the rear venier sight and began working his way to 1200 yards as with each increase in distance he adjusted the sight for elevation and wind. Ed Hixson had shot this gun since the day that he could first pick it up and hold it on his own. It was very familiar to him and his actions with it were as natural as the motion of extending his own arm out before him. With only a few shots, things were feeling familiar once again and his confidence with the Sharps was high.
Satisfied that the rifle was ready for the possible trouble ahead, Hixson carefully packed it back into the leather sleeve and mounted up for the trip back into town. His mind was working on a plan. He definitely had to take this fight out of town and he had to do it before Twilley made his move on the town. Hixson would have the “Great Equalizer” on his side and he could only hope that would be enough on such short notice. In order for that to happen, he would have to catch Twilley and his gang at the right time and in the right place. That would be the trick. Time was wastin’ and Hixson felt the urgency. He spurred his horse gently anxious to get back to town and get moving before Twilley’s gang rode in.
Chapter Four: The Burial
Jeb Twilley stood over the grave of his brother, Amos. There were no words to be said or prayers to be prayed, at least not by Jeb Twilley. All he could think of was revenge and killing the sheriff. He wanted to hold on to that until he could get to the town and reek his havoc. If that cowardly sheriff should elect to run and hide, then a lot of women and children would have to die until he showed his face. Twilley was a man without a conscience when it came to getting his way. The boys who rode with him knew it and made sure they did not cross him in any way. Twilley was a cold-blooded killer of a man.
“You boys take your hats off while I have a word with the Lord about my dead brother, Amos,” Twilley instructed while taking off his own hat and pulling it close to his chest. Twilley’s mama had been a righteous, church-going woman and she had managed to teach her boys to respect the Lord. Jeb Twilley wasn’t much of a man to pray but, in this case, he knew his old dead mama would want words said over Amos before the buried him.
“Dear Lord, we commit my dear, departed brother to your care here today. Amos was a good man who never really harmed nobody that didn’t need harmin’ He was cut down in his prime by some no good, nobody of a tinhorn town sheriff who I aim to kill for his death. Now I pray to ya, Lord, give me the strength to gain vengeance for Amos’ soul. Let me find that sheriff so that I can kill him outright and be done with it. That’s about all I can say, Lord. Amen.” Twilley quickly slipped his sweat-stained brown hat back on his head quickly followed by the other hands scattered about the makeshift grave. He glanced once more at the blood stained sheet which wrapped Amos’ body and nodded to one of the drovers signaling that he could proceed with the burial. Twilley’s blood was now boiling. The burying was over; Amos was gone. It was time for action. Every minute that the sheriff lived was one minute to long.
“Jack, saddle my horse pronto! You and the boys pack some grub and let’s hit the trail. I got killing that sheriff and burning that town on my mind and I am really itching to get it done. Leave Slim and Rafe here to watching the herd. The other seven of you will ride with me at first light. We should make Waco by nightfall tomorrow. That’ll be perfect for killing and burning,” Twilley shouted as he turned and walked from the stone covered grave of his brother. Jack nodded and ran to get things together. For now, Twilley would sit in the shade and swig down some tequila to comfort his sorrows.
The Cut Branch Gang was camped in a box canyon which allowed them to keep the cows contained. At the same time, they were well-protected on three sides from any surprise visits to the camp. There was an old adobe hut near the mouth of the canyon where they had set up residence for the camp. As soon as they had rustled a few more head of cows, the plan was to head for the railhead in Abilene and collect a tidy sum for their effort. Now that Amos had been killed by that tin-horn sheriff that plan would have to go on hold until Twilley could seek his vengeance on anyone who would harm him or his kin. Twilley didn’t need an excuse to kill but he had to admit that it sure felt good to have one. He sat and swigged at the tequila bottle as his beans and bacon cooked over the fire. That sheriff had about one more day to live and then Twilley could get back to his cattle business.
As the tequila worked its way into Twilley’s brain, his anger boiled over. Killing the sheriff would be the start but not enough. He would burn the town as well. In fact, he would kill and kill until his thirst for revenge was satisfied. The citizens of Waco could only pray that his desires were rapidly satisfied as he would take it upon himself to be the judge and the executioner until Amos’ soul could rest in eternal peace. Mama would have wanted it just that way Twilley thought as he smiled and took one more deep pull on the bottle before digging into his beans and bacon. It would soon be time to ride.
Chapter Five: The Pass
Ed Hixson had packed light for his trip knowing that it was not going to be possible to move around a lot of gear or deal with a pack horse in those rocks. For now, he would have to plan on living off of beef jerky, bread, and water for a few days. If his plan worked, it would be worth the effort and save Waco a lot of trouble and bloodshed.
The sheriff left Cecil Perkins in charge with orders not to face off with Twilley and his crew unless there was no other choice. That meant if they showed up and started looting, burning, and killing innocent people the sheriff had explained.
“How we gonna know whether or not you’re successful, Sheriff?” Hank Sweeney asks as Hixson mounted his horse to ride out.
“If they show up here Hank, that pretty well means they got by me so it’s time to weigh the odds and do what you can. I’ll promise you this Hank…all of them will never make it here so you will be facing off with a few less than if we wait for them to show up.” Hank nodded and smiled nervously as the sheriff spurred his horse off in a trot to the east.
It was about a two hour ride to the Pass. If Hixson rode hard, he could get there before sunset and find his perches for the shots. As Ed rode along he debated silently as to how he would approach this. One thing was for sure, he was not looking for any close-action fighting, not with as the numbers stacked against him. His advantage came with the distance the Sharps offered him in this confrontation and he planned on taking as much advantage of that fact as possible. Worst case scenario, some of these boys might be packing Winchesters on their saddle. Otherwise, their pistols were going to be a mighty poor alternative to the Sharps. After thinking about it for a while, Hixson decided that he had to make his play in two moves. The first would be on the eastern approach to the pass.
Hixson would take his first shot at about 1000 yards and hope to score a hit. The element of surprise would be on his side and if he was lucky the gang would not even hear the gunfire. That would give him time to reload the Sharps and get off a second and possibly a third shot before they would scatter and give up their approach. If they happen to stop when the first man fell, then the second and third shots would be all the more accurate. The shots needed to be head on as they approached. Once that was done, he would fall back to the summit and defend the high ground. His goal here was to tighten up the odds. If he could get lucky and drop Twilley, the whole thing might fall apart and the gang would scatter to the winds. If not, well he didn’t want to think about that right now.
Hixson had about an hour of sunlight when he passed through the opening in the rocks at the narrow summit of the Dry Gulch Range. He rode about one-third of the way down the trail on the other side before he spotted a good shooting position. This spot would allow him to hide his horse, have some elevation on the oncoming riders, and have an escape if things got too hot too quickly. Hixson then rode back up and found his second position on the west side of the Pass. He didn’t worry about a hiding place for the horse this time as he planned to let him continue on down the trail westward with the hope that he would stop and graze down the slope. This shot would be taken looking up the slope toward the Pass. The riders would exit the narrow Pass opening single file. Hixson would have to patiently wait for each rider to clear and then he would take out the last man. With that step complete, his next shots would be determined by what the riders did. His next shot would be on the lead rider whether the gang continued forward or panicked and headed back into the narrow opening in the rocks. Either way the first man out of the rocky Pass would be his second shot. From there, it was all a matter of what happened next.
Hixson hoped that he was reading Twilley correctly. If Twilley attempted the Pass during the night, Ed would have no chance at stopping them under the cover of darkness. He had to hope that Twilley would be put off a night passage by his fear of ambush. If that was the case, the gang would not show up until morning. If Hixson was wrong, then Twilley just might ride past as he slept.
Dry Gulch Pass was the only way into Waco from the eastern approach without riding north or south around the Dry Gulch Range. That trip would add two to three days to the time necessary to get to Waco. Hixson just did not see Twilley waiting that long for his attempted revenge. Twilley would be coming through the Pass for sure and if Ed Hixson’s gut feel was right he would show up at some time after daybreak. This would give Hixson time to get some rest and get into position.
Dry Gulch Pass was a very narrow trail through the mountain range lined high on each side with sheer walls of rock. It was only passable either on foot or horseback and then only in single file through the area at the summit where the Pass walls bottle-necked to just wider than the width of a man’s shoulders. While the Pass did offer the true high ground, it was simply too high and the angle of the shots would be far too steep for comfort. Hixson had rolled it around in his mind over and over. Taking on the fight on the eastern approach with the Pass to his back gave him the elevation he needed for the shots and it also afforded him a way out as he could maneuver back through the Pass and position for another series of shots as the riders exited the narrow trail to the western slope. Hixson knew that if the fight went that point, it would not continue in his favor as the gang would gain ground on him as he made his way slowly back through the Pass and then sent his horse on running away. No, the fight had to end at the Pass, and not down the west slope of the trail, otherwise, Hixson would lose. Tired from his long ride, Hixson easily dozed off in sleep.
Chapter Six: First Shots
The sun was showing its first rays over the rocky outcrops of the canyon when Twilley and his seven hands mounted up for the ride to Waco. The eight men rode four abreast in two lines down the trail with Twilley riding the middle third position in the second line. Twilley put his men out front thinking that they might take any stray bullets first and give him a chance to get away. For that opportunity, he didn’t mind eating a little trail dust from the horse in front of him. The trail would cut through Dry Gulch Pass and down the west side of the Dry Gulch Range in about an hour of riding. Once they were through the Pass, it was open country all the way into Waco.
Twilley had considered riding out the night before but gave up on the idea as he was taking every precaution for getting through the Pass. One would not want to get caught in the Pass in a night ambush although it would be difficult to carry out given the narrow path of the trail winding through the rocks. Still, he was taking no chances and would tackle the Pass in the early daylight hours so that he could see what was happening. Actually, Twilley expected no trouble until they were near Waco. He had little doubt that the sheriff would be anywhere near Waco by now. He had likely packed up and moved out as soon as he read Twilley’s note. If he was there, it was a bonus for Twilley. If not, they could still burn the town and people would die. Sooner or later word would get to the sheriff that Twilley meant business.
The trail was just beginning to take on a little elevation as Twilley’s gang approached the eastern slope of the Dry Gulch. The horses were at a heavy trot and Twilley had no inclination to slow them until they were on the west side of the Pass. Already the horses were breathing hard and sweat was beginning to form in spots about their bodies. They would be due a well-earned rest and some water at the stream which ran down off the west side of the range. The two lines of riders moved in unison up the mountain trail toward the Pass.
Hixson spotted the cloud of dust rising up in the early morning sunlight at about a half mile out from his position near the trail. This was likely the bunch he had come to meet. He lifted his binoculars and gazed at the moving mass of dust. Out front he could see the paint horse that one of the drovers was riding two nights back as they left town with the dead man. He counted eight but could not make out faces well enough to pick out Twilley. He thought for a second that he was taking a big chance as a lawman and just might kill some innocent people. He took one more look through the binoculars and decided that innocent men didn’t ride that hard.
Hixson had already adjusted the venier slide on the rear sight of the Sharp for 1000 yards distance. He had marked that distance with landmarks that he had picked with his calibrated eye. As soon as the riders past that particular landmark, he would fire on his first target. The rest would play out on the basis of how true that shot landed. If he missed, the riders would close distance and he could find himself in a short-range fire fight and totally outgunned very quickly. This had to be a good shot.Hixson steadied the Sharps and double-checked the sights for elevation and windage awaiting his target to close on the first landmark. The drover on the paint horse was going down first.
As Ed waited for the riders to come into range, his mind turned quickly to thoughts of Waco. He had a lot of friends there. The town had some mighty fine people. While the deputies would put up a good fight, Twilley’s bunch would likely win the day if they got over the Pass. Hixson did not want to think how things would go once the deputies were down. It would be Chaos and Waco would likely burn to the ground in the process. This had to stop here and he was the man to do it.
Hixson had loaded the Sharps and closed the breach prior to posing it. The rifle had a double trigger action. He clicked the first trigger and waited with his finger on the second one to actuate the shot. The riders came into view and rode past his landmark. Hixson momentarily stopped breathing, steadied the Sharps once more and loaded the trigger with the weight of his finger. The rifle barked and for a long second nothing happened. Then, the drover sitting atop the paint horse suddenly flipped off the back of the horse and fell to the trail getting trampled on by the second line of horses in the process.
The riders reined up almost on instinct not sure what had happen and not realizing that the drover had been shot. Hixson methodically reloaded the Sharps and lined up the second shot quickly sending another large chunk of lead hurdling in the gang’s direction. This time a drover to the left of Twilley was lifted from his saddle and thrown several feet from where the men sat on their horses. His head had exploded like a ripe watermelon and every one of those remaining alive were covered in his brain tissue. Confusion was reigning on the moment.
Hixson again reloaded the Sharps and took aim. This time Hixson targeted the drover sitting to the far right who was turned away looking at the second downed cowboy. He sat in his saddle peering in disbelief at the two dead men. Hixson fired then waited and the man pitched at an angle off the back of the horse. By now, Twilley and the rest had figured things out, gunshots or not, someone was shooting at them.
The remaining five quickly spurred their horses and rode hard toward the summit of the Pass. Hixson wanted one more shot but the time would shorten the distance too much for his second position shots. He turned and ran for his horse with the Sharps in hand, quickly laid it across his saddle and then spurred his horse to a full out run in a matter of seconds. Down below Twilley watched from his running horse as the rider up ahead entered the trail and rode hard for the Pass. Five to one stilled seem like pretty good odds to him. He quickly pulled up his horse to a stop, dragged out his Winchester and fired a round at the rider.
Hixson heard the report of the Winchester and heard the stray lead zing off the rocks behind him. He was still out of range for the Winchester so he had time to set up for his next shot. Riding upon the spot, he quickly lifted himself and the Sharps from the saddle and slapped the horse on the hip hoping that he would continue on through the Pass. Hixson scrambled up the rocks to gain some elevation and some concealment. If Twilley thought about it very long, he would never enter this Pass but Hixson was counting on Twilley being less of a thinker than he was an avenger. If Hixson was right, Twilley and his gang would ride right on up the trail and into his sights thinking that Hixson had continued on through the Pass in his escape. They would not stop to think the man who had rode out so fast would take another gun position. Instead, they would be thinking that he was still riding hard down the west side of the Pass and trying to get away.
Chapter Seven: Fallback
As the riders approached the narrowing of the trail which led into the Pass, they fell into single file. Twilley again had dropped back into the middle position hoping not to be a target. Hixson’s position was about 500 yard from the bottleneck of the Pass, the narrowest point on the entire trail between both sides. Compared to the last shot, this distance would be much easier but he was unsure how many shots he would get before the distance closed. Two things had to happen here for this to play out in Hixson’s favor. The riders had to slow up and single file through the opening and the last rider had to get through before he fired his first shot. If that did not happen, the trailing riders would turn around before he had a visual.
The first rider bound through the rocks at a slow trot and headed down the trail. Hixson was going to take the last rider through with his first shot, reload, aim, and then take the lead rider. This would give him the best element of surprise to trim the odds and keep the closest man to him dead. If he was lucky, he might get three of the five before they could dismount and find cover. If not, he was going to have his hands full for sure.
The time between the first rider coming through the rocks and the last rider seemed like an eternity to Hixson but he waited patiently and did not panic. The old man had taught him that patience when they had gone out buffalo hunts. Sometimes the buffalo would be running straight at them but the old man would hold his ground, be patient and aim. He always seemed to take out just the right one and the herd would turn. If things went right that last man would be dead before the lead rider knew where the shot went. The Sharps was steady on the rock passage as the last rider exited. Hixson reset his aim and firmly squeezed the back trigger of the Sharps. The noise of the rifle exploded against the rock face surrounding Pass setting off a series of echoes that could probably be heard for miles. The last rider rolled out of his saddle as the hot lead cut through his chest killing him in the instant that it hit. Hixson had one more down as he work towards evening the odds.
Hixson reloaded the Sharps as the lead rider pulled up and turned to look back at where the shot had gone. It was obvious that none of the riders were believing that they had ridden into an ambush. Hixson aimed and took down the lead rider leaving only three men now in the saddle. Confusion was setting in the narrow space of the Pass trail. The middle rider tried to turn his horse around, this just spooked the horse of the rider behind him and the animal reared in fear adding to the confusion. As the two riders struggled to gain control of their horses, Hixson again took out the lead rider with the Sharps sending him flying over the head of his own horse and causing the horse to spook and run headlong into the remaining two riders who quickly gave up their horses dismounting to run for the cover of the rocks. Things up to now were going just as Hixson had planned. But, he feared the hard part was just coming up.
Chapter Eight: Whittling Down
Twilley and the other rider, Sparks, ended up across the trail from each other. Each one crouched behind a pile of rocks though could see the other. All three horses had run back through the pass opening and were headed down the east side of the trail. In a high whisper Twilley said, “Sparks, do you see him? Can you spot him up there anywhere? That bastard is using a buffalo gun for sure. If we catch him, he’s mine and I’m gonna kill him slow. See if you can draw his fire and I will try to spot him and get a shot.” It was at that moment that Twilley realized that his Winchester was still in the scabbard on the horse. All they had was pistols. Not the best odds against a buffalo gun.
Hixson remained silently and reloaded the Sharps. The chances for a clean shot now were low but he was not ready to give up his position just yet. Hixson figured Twilley must still be alive since these guys were not giving up. At the same time, they were more or less trapped and so was he. His earlier thinking had been right, this would be the hard part.
The sound of the Sharps amid these rocks was almost deafening. That confusion alone was enough to keep a man on edge and not thinking clearly. Hixson did not want to give these boys too much time to think or devise a plan. He had to maintain the confusion. Pointing the Sharps toward clear blue sky, he fired off a round and again set off the deafening noise of the shot echoing against the rock faces. He heard movement below. Looking below his position, Hixson could now see a boot sticking out from the edge of a clump of rocks below. Again he reloaded the Sharps and took aim. The shot would not be as deadly but it would tighten up the odds a bit more. Whoever was down there was going to wish that he had been shot in the head.
Twilley clung tightly to the large rock in front of him looking across the trail at Sparks. The last shot had sent fear through him and he was too afraid to shot or do anything to draw this guy out. Suddenly, as Twilley looked across the trail at his comrade, the boot on Sparks’ right foot literally exploded as the rifle fired once more. Sparks screamed out in agony and on impulse stood up exposing his position. A .44 caliber Colt immediately barked from above and Sparks fell dead on the trail. Now the odds were getting even better thought Hixson placing the Colt back in the holster.
The odds were even now, a one on one situation thought Hixson as he reloaded the Sharps. His gut told him the remaining man was Twilley who was down below hiding in fear yet filled with hatred and rage. This would be a fight to the very end but not in the sense that Twilley had imagined it when he saddled up this morning.
Ed Hixson sat in behind his high rock formation wondering what the next move would be. He could not see Twilley down below but he knew he had to be there as he had not seen anyone try to make a run for it since the last two riders dismounted. If Twilley closed the distance very much, the Sharps would be more difficult to use. He would have to resort to his Colt. The next move was Twilley’s to make. Like waiting for just the right moment with the buffalo, Ed would hold his patience and see what happened staying while staying alert for any surprises.
Chapter Nine: Finish It!
The time had finally come. Hixson had reloaded the Sharps and now he did the same with his Colt .44. Ed then leaned back against the rock face and yelled, “That be you down there Jeb Twilley? That be the man who sent word that he was going to kill me and burn my town? Is that you, Twilley?” Hixson’s tone was purposely belittling wanting to drive Twilley’s emotions closer to the edge in the hope that he would make a mistake. Ed didn’t like the idea of killing this man any more than the others but that would have to be Twilley’s choice. He could die here or give up and go to jail.
There was a short silence. Then a reply, “You damn right it is me. You must be that tin-horn sheriff who shot my brother!”
“That’d be me but if I were you I’d be damn careful about who I was calling a tin-horn. After all, you’re the one who started out with the best odds. And you’re the one who brought the fight. I just selected the place where it would be held. You need to get out of the business Twilley, your brain is too small to outthink tin-horns,” Hixson replied.
Hixson waited for a silent minute then added, “Now, I am going to give you more than you deserve and more than you have ever given anyone else. I am going to give you the opportunity to walk on down the trail westbound and head for Waco. I’ll be right behind you and will escort you right up to the jailhouse where we have a comfortable cell waiting for you. Or, you can get up and head back through that hole in the rocks and go eastbound. In the meantime, I will be have to get down from my spot up here which will give you a bit of a head start. Now, if you head back through the Pass eastbound, you really are going to be taking your chances because I am going to follow you and I promise that as soon as I can get you in the sights of this Sharps, you will be a dead man. It’s your choice, Twilley!”
Twilley sat behind his rock for a long moment looking over at Sparks’ lifeless body. Then in an instant he arose and shouted, “You figure out which way I went sheriff!” as he ran up the trail eastbound from the rocks that had been his concealment. As he ran, Hixson heard the scuffling of his boots in the rocks and raised up. He attempted to line up the sights of the Sharps but could not get off the shot before Twilley ran through the hole in the rocks and continued on his escape eastbound.
Hixson climbed down from his perch on to the trail below. He walked slowly up the trail passed Sparks’ body and moved cautiously through the opening leading through to the west side of the mountain range. Down the trail about 700 yards he could see Twilley running as hard as he could attempting to get to cover in the open space below. All the time, Twilley was looking back over his shoulder gauging the distance hoping he was out of range and praying that he would run upon one of the horses.
Ed Hixson breathed a sigh seeing Twilley running down the trail. He had evidently made his choice and it was not the one that Ed had hoped it would be. He could let him go but a man like Twilley would never change. He would be back soon enough with more drovers and more vengeance in his heart. The time to end it was now while the opportunity was at hand. Twilley had chosen his way and his end. Criminals almost always come to a no good end and someone has to be the executioner. This time, that someone was Sheriff Ed Hixson, a man well-prepared for the task.
Hixson made a couple turns on the rear sight, checked the wind, and made his sighting compensation. This would be the toughest shot of the day. He raised the Sharps to his shoulder and clicked off the front trigger, aimed and slowly applied a growing pressure on the back trigger. The Sharps barked and fire issued forth from its long barrel. Time seemed to draw to a crawl as Hixson waited to see if his shot was on target.
Twilley, seeing that the sheriff had followed him through the Pass was now stumbling and running attempting to put as much distance as possible between himself and the Sharps. In his race to make his get-away, he turned to look again at the sheriff over his right shoulder. Ed Hixson holding a steady aim with the Sharps would be the last mental image passing through the mind of Jeb Twilley. The hot mass of lead fired from the Sharps found its mark in the right temple and sent him rolling across the rocky ground of the mountain foothills. Ironically, he landed within ten feet of where the first rider had fallen that morning. A day of killing and burning had turned sour for outlaw, Jeb Twilley thanks to a Sharps rifle and a tinhorn sheriff named Ed Hixson.
Ed Hixson stood gazing down the slope at the dead outlaw. The day had pretty much worked out the way that he had hoped. The Sharps had won the day although Ed held no real sense of accomplishment thinking of the eight men that he had killed here today. At the same time, the town of Waco had been spared a lot of violence and its people remained safe. Hixson frowned for a moment at the thought of it being his job to insure that each day….all for $25 a month. He then turned and rested the Sharps over his shoulder for the trek westbound to find his horse. He had some horses to round up and some outlaws to tie over the saddles before he could make the ride back into Waco.
Ed Hixson rode his horse back down Main Street of Waco with a string of eight ponies in roped tow behind him. Over the saddle of each horse was the body of one the outlaw gang brought down with the Sharps. Folks were going about their business and the town seemed mighty peaceful as he glanced about on his slow trek down the street. As he rode up in front of the jail, his deputies came out on to the porch to greet him. Just then Ike Freeny, the owner of the hardware store across the street from the jail, stepped out on to his porch and spotting the Sharps in the scabbard on Hixson’s saddle yelled, “Been out hunting have ya, Sheriff?” To which Ed Hixson quickly replied, “I guess you could say that Ike, I guess you could!” Turning back toward his deputies, all three of the men began to laugh.
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