The Overlooked Foe
Jim Riley had a decision to make. As he crouched in the alley beside Tuttle’s dance hall, with the guns still booming in his head. Jim was only eighteen, and he had, just seconds before, witnessed the murder of his best and only friend, Mike McCluskie. It seemed like time had stopped, as he crouched there, stunned. The events that led up to this very bloody instant played out in his mind.
McCluskie had been involved in a blood feud with a group of Texas cowboys who were in Newton to sell some cattle. McCluskie had killed one of them earlier that week in a gunfight. Those Texas cowboys had waited around town until the time was right, and then they struck with impunity, and incredible violence.
Newton, Kansas in 1871 was far from a tame town, and most men wore handguns more to ward off trouble than to cause it. But there were occasions when wearing one made you fair game.
McCluskie had been playing faro at the dance hall, and his young friend Jim had been sitting at a table in the back corner. The back of the bar was dimly light, or Jim might be dead now too.
Mike McCluskie hadn’t noticed when the six cowboys filtered in. When the last one arrived it was almost two o’clock Sunday morning. As soon as the final assassin came through the door the Texans made their move. Two of them walked stealthily up behind Mike, and grabbed his arms, pinning him to the chair. The other four stood in front of him with their guns in their hands as he struggled to reach his own weapon. The man who was obviously the ringleader spoke loudly, “McCluskie you are a coward, and I’m gonna blow the top of your head off!” Then the guns all started to blast at once. In an instant the room was filled with smoke. People began screaming, and running out the front and back doors. Mike had managed to free his right arm, and now his own gun was in his hand with one mighty effort he brought it to bear on the man who was the leader. With a sickening click the gun misfired. Mike was dead before he could try again.
Jim was ashamed of what happened next. He had run away from his dying friend. He just slipped out the back door unnoticed in all the commotion.
Now he crouched in the muddy alley clutching his guns, his heart pounding so hard it felt as though it would explode. He knew what he had to do. Mike McCluskie had been his best friend, and the only person who had ever shown him kindness. Mike had found him when he was just a young boy who was hungry, and had no one to turn too. Mike had taken care of him ever since then, and treated him like a brother. Now Mike lay dead, and his killers still walked free.
Jim rose to his feet resolute in what he was about to do. He strode back to the front door of the saloon, and with his gun in his right hand paused just before he stepped in. A sudden cool feeling swept over his body. His heart wasn’t pounding anymore. His thoughts were clear and concise. As he stepped into the bar he swiftly turned, and looked the door.
Barely three minutes had passed since the brutal murder of Mike McCluskie, and the bar was empty except for the six murdering Texans. The one closest to Jim looked up at him drunkenly as he turned from locking the door. Without a word Jim shot him between the eyes. The cowboys were taken completely off guard. They thought their enemy had been slain, and yet here was a new threat in the form of this kid with a gun. As the new information penetrated their whiskey drenched minds, Jim was moving, and shooting.
His second shot blew the tag off of the tobacco pouch that dangled from the ringleader’s left shirt pocket. The third bullet struck about six inches lower. Jim shifted his focus to the next Texan in his line of sight. A little round hole appeared in the man’s forehead as he felt the gun buck in his hand. Turning to his right he began firing at the remaining three. What was happening had now sunk in, and they were moving, and trying to get their guns into play. As the tallest one reached the back door Jim shot him in the back of the neck, and then in his leg as he fell to the floor.
Something hot whizzed by his ear, and the mirror on the wall behind him shattered. Jim swiftly drew his second gun, and tossed the loaded gun into his right hand letting the empty one fall to the floor. The gun was spitting smoke, and lead as soon as it hit his palm. The fifth cowboy hit the floor with two slugs in his stomach.
Jim turned his attention to the last of the Texans who was running backwards towards the door and shooting. Had the man stood still he probably would have hit him, but he was running like the yellow bellied Texas coward he truly was. Jim’s first bullet caught him in the left shoulder spinning him around until he faced Jim dead on. The second shot cut the cowboy’s right earlobe off, and the third one hit him right in the nose.
Without saying a word Jim turned unlocked the door, and stepped out into the darkness. Just a few minutes later the sound of a horse was hear galloping west out of town, and no one in Newton ever saw Jim Riley again. He just rode off into the night, and was swallowed by the west, never to be heard from again.
Like so many before him, and so many after him Jim was just another example of everyone underestimating a man until a crisis forced that man to take a stand, and his real mettle was revealed. Jim was just a quiet boy who left four dead, and two wounded in his wake when he was forced to take a stand. Although the times have changed, men have not. Just because a man is loud does not mean he is brave, and just because a man doesn’t make waves does not mean he will fold under pressure.