Yuma – 1933
The railroad detective glared at me. “What the Hell are you doing back here?”
“Stretching my legs,” I said pointing to my extra long posts lying across the railway stock car wooden floor.
“Here’s my ticket.” Due to my size, the animal car was the only comfortable place for me.
He glanced at it and threw it in my face. “That’s for the passenger car, not the stock car. Get back to where you belong, or get off my train!”
“I’m not hurting anything back here and I can ride more comfortable.” I knew we were a few miles shy of the next station and I didn’t care to hoof it.
“You’re getting off this train, now!” The railroad dick pointed a finger at the closed door.
“I’m staying right here.”
“We’ll see about that!” He pulled a short barrel six-shot English Bull Dog and told me to open the door. I did.
“Jump!” He ordered.
I hesitated, and he literally booted me off with his right foot.
My seven foot six frame bounced and rolled a few feet, stopping in a patch of jumping cholla. Chollas thorns are a pain in the ass to get out. Each thorn has a briar sheath on it. When an animal or a man brushes against a plant, the sheath grips it and the pad flies off the mother plant. Cholla pads covered the outside of my upper left thigh. My folding knife was in my left pant pocket, out of reach because of the clinging pads. When I grabbed a dead creosote branch, broke it in two and plied the cholla pads off; a good many thorns stayed. I pulled my left pocket open and eased my folding knife around the remaining embedded thorns.
Thoughts of my father entered and quickly left my mind. The knife used to be his. It had all sorts of gadgets on it; mini tools needed when you're working cattle, or sunk low enough to work sheep. Ole knife comes in handy.
Thirty minutes later, most of the thorns were out. I moved away from the tracks, hunting for a place I could water the Lilies.
Cactus thorns can be aggravating if you miss one. I took several more out of my Levi's and then my long johns. When I disrobed, I had a few dozen in my flesh. I reckon it took me over an hour to be thorn free.
The sound of an on coming train was music to my ears. Unfortunately, it headed East and I needed to go West. I began hoofing it to Yuma and the rodeo job waiting. Being shy of water, I placed two pebbles in my mouth and kept on walking.
No one crossed my path as the miles went by. My Guardian angels must be somewhere sipping a cool one. In my condition, I didn't need to think of beer, or even water. I just sucked on my pebbles and put my right foot in front of the left. I ate up ground with my long strides.
According to the sun, it was late afternoon when I spied a large settlement I mistook for Yuma. However, it offered beer and shade. I must have walked ten miles or more, and my feet were cussing me out. I spied a horse trough and jumped in. The water was hot, but it was cooler than the sun. I adjusted my hat, closed my eyes and fell asleep.
"You're poisoning the water." I opened my eyes and seen a pot-bellied man with a tarnished star on his vest.
"Sorry about that." I climbed out of the trough, dripping water.
"I oughta arrest you for bathing in public, but the only two women here have seen more naked cowboys than Doc Peters has pills. You owe me two dollars for using public water."
"How about I buy you a beer, instead?"
"What's your name?"
I was hoping we wouldn't get around to that question. "Thomas Belle."
He studied me as he pushed his hat back and shifted his gun belt.
"Are you planning on staying?"
"I’ve a job waiting for me in Yuma."
"Good. There's a train coming through in about an hour. Be on it. You can forget buying me a beer and the two dollars. We don't need your kind of trash here."
"It was a pleasure meeting you, too, Sheriff." I tipped my worn out hat.
"Don't give me any lip, or you'll regret it." He put his hand on his forty-five and glared at me.
"I'm not planning to. I served my time and I've been out for over two years." He probably knew the story of my killing a drunken cowboy with my bare hands. I wondered if he knew I repeated the act with a bully in Florence.
"I see you ain't packing a gun. You seem to like doing your killings with your bare hands, Mr. Tinkerbelle." He smirked
I wanted to knock that smirk off his ugly face, but I had enough of prison. Ever since that damned Scotsman created his book about Peter Pan and his little fairy friend, ‘Tinkerbelle,’ my life has been Hell. Usually a left jab and/or a right hook finished my fights.
Unfortunately, Johnny Crawford had got off the floor with a knife in his hand. I slapped the inside of his elbow and he ended up back on the barroom floor with the knife in his heart. I ended up being charged with manslaughter and spent four years at Arizona’s State Prison in Florence, Az.
"Do you mind if I have a beer while I'm waiting?"
"Have you got the money?"
I bit back my retort, reached in my pocket and pulled out a nickel.
"Get your beer and get out of town. If the train don’t stop, you can flag it down. If you're still in town in the morning, I'll find some excuse to hang you. Like I said before, we don't need murdering riffraff like you around." He turned and walked away.
They don't cut you no slack, do they, son? I was used to Pa's voice in my head. He started off in life as a tinker, making things out of metal. He opened a small livery and made a few extra dollars blacksmithing. I was his unpaid help. Pa would drink away all of his profits, if I didn’t steal some of it for food and such, first.
Pa was drunk when a mule kicked him in the head. After the funeral, I sold the business for a hundred dollars and kept one horse with its tack. Pa’s debts ate up eighty dollars and it cost me five dollars, including the grave stone, to plant him.
I started working for pay, doing small jobs and drifted until I ended up in prison.
The train stopped and picked me up. I gave the conductor my last few dollars, took a seat and fell asleep. The sun was peeking through a cloudless sky when I arrived at the Yuma station.
The old abandoned Yuma Territorial Prison caught my eye. I was glad they had closed that hell hole before I served my time.
My stomach was glued to my backbone, but I ignored its groaning as I searched for the rodeo grounds, which didn’t take long. A wood shack made do as the office.
A bow-legged old timer leaning back in his chair turned and spit a wad of tobacco inches from my right foot. “Heard you were coming.”
“I’m here.” Smiling, I bent my head and went into the hot, but shady office.
A middle aged man sat at a table and busied himself writing on a form. A stack of forms lay at one end with a worn-out horseshoe holding them down. I stepped to the back corner and waited.
A young woman – mid- twenties, dressed in men’s clothing – entered and stopped at the desk.
“What gives you the right to scratch me from bronc-riding?” She stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at the seated man.
The man ignored her and turned toward me. “Glad you could make it, Tom.” He stood and shook my hand.
“I appreciate your inviting me, Mr. Sawyer.” I kept from squeezing his hand.
“Oh, my God!” The lady took her first gander at me.
“Ma’am.” I tipped my hat and turned back to my future boss, who decided to introduce us.
“Rose Shannon, this is Thomas Bell and vice versa.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.” I took my hat off and offered my hand. This is one Thoroughbred that hasn’t been branded.
She ignored me. “You haven’t answered my question, Sawyer.”
“I don’t intend to, Rose. Stick with the Ladies Event.” His tone of voice indicated he was talking to a rebellious daughter.
“I have the right to choose any event I want!”
“Not in my rodeo. Come on Tom, I’ll show you where you can bunk.” He put on his hat and avoided the girl as he left with me following.
With an advance of five dollars on my pay, I headed toward the closest eating hole. Rose beat me to it. Her dining partner, a dyed-in-the-wool Westerner, with a wrinkled face looking like a war map, gave me the evil eye as he sipped his coffee.
“Ma’am.” I tipped my hat. She continued to ignore me as I sat at a corner table with my back against the wall.
The owner came out with a pot of coffee, glared at me, and started filling coffee cups, all but my nonexistent one.
He continued to ignore me as he waited on newer customers. I stood to leave. It was a waste of time waiting for service that wouldn’t be coming.
“Mr. Bell, Won’t you join us?”
I couldn’t believe my ears, or my eyes. Rose Shannon was motioning for me to sit at her table. Her companion looked like he wanted to disagree, but kept his thoughts to himself.
“Are you sure, ma’am?” I took my hat off.
“Yes.” Her eyes flashed anger with an attitude. “In a way, we seem to be on the same boat in unfriendly waters.”
I sat down and placed my hat on the empty chair beside me.
“I don’t wait on murderers, cowards and thieves!” The owner inched his hand nearer to his hide-out gun.
Not wanting any trouble, I made to stand, but Rose put her hand on my giant paw. “Then you will wait on me. I want two steaks, a dozen fried eggs and a quart of grits along with a pot of coffee!”
I felt uncomfortable and Rose dug her finger nails in.
“While you’re at it, get me a couple of apple pies. If anything has extra ingredients, you’ll answer to me.” Rose’s dinner partner spoke with a soft Texas voice, but his steel-eyed glare carried the day.
I ate in silence and remembered to share the second pie with my host and hostess. “Thank you,” I said and reached for my borrowed half eagle.
“You won’t need that, Mr. Bell. This is on us.” My stomach twisted as she indicated her dinner partner, who she had introduced as her foreman, Mr. Jack Benson.
“If you would be kind enough to see me to my hotel, you gentlemen can visit at the saloon.”
Jack joined a poker game and I stood at the end of the bar, drinking my nickel beer. My night got brighter when a group of railroaders entered. It didn’t take me long to spot the bastard who had kicked me off the train even though I had a ticket.
I finished off my drink, wiped my mouth with the sleeve of my shirt, and eased up to the new group. I singled out the railroad dick and tapped him on the shoulder. “Remember me?” I back-handed him and lifted him over my head. He started yelling for help.
His friends felt honor-bound to come to my captive’s aid. I kicked one in the balls, another in the gut and floored the other three with my swinging human weapon.
The healthy spectators followed me out the back door to the nearest cholla patch.
“No! Don’t! Please don’t! Helppppp!” The railroad dick squirmed trying to break my hold. I teased him into thinking he could when I dropped him and he began crawling away. He yelped, when I grabbed him by the ankles and whirled him a few times before I released him. He landed in the middle of the patch and tumbled a few times, screaming and howling.
“Leave him be,” I ordered, and returned to the saloon. I’ll be heading back to Florence when the Sheriff hears about this.
The sheriff didn’t visit, and I woke in the loft of the barn. Outhouses are too small for me when I’m standing. All the stalls were filled, so I chose one in the corner and pissed. The outdoor pump helped me to clean up. I washed my face and wet my hair before finger combing it.
My stomach started rumbling and I headed for the diner, wondering if I would be served.
“The bastard is walking down the street.” A railroad man yelled and started for me.
He’s a stupid jackass if he plans to try me on. Just then, the saloon vomited a dozen or more railroaders, including one taller than the others and more muscular.
I was the only fly on the street and felt awful lonely being in their ointment.
Jake Sawyer came out of the diner, toting a Greener Riot Gun. He fired one shot in the air, getting everybody’s attention. “There’ll be no brawling in the street!” He replaced the used shell before continuing toward me.
A bright reflection caught me in the eyes. Jake’s wearing a badge and he has both hammers cocked.
“This bastard threw Roy into a cholla patch!”
“He threw me in one first and I had to walk ten miles before I could catch another train.” I ignored the railroaders and directed my explanation to Jake.
“Tell me the facts,” Jake kept the Greener pointed in the direction of my enemies.
“So you were in the stock car because your legs were too long for you to be comfortable in the passenger car?”
“That’s about the size of it.”
Jake scanned the crowd. “Where is Roy?”
“He’s still at Doc’s getting the stickers pulled out of his butt.”
“Do you want to fight Tinkerbelle?” Jake asked the biggest and meanest of the lot.
“You damn right I do.” Everyone, but Jake and I cheered.
Why did Jake call me by that name? He knows I hate it.
“Okay, noon next Saturday, at the Rodeo Grounds. A dollar entrance fee for you men, fifty cents for boys and the pot will be split 90/10. I’ll handle all bets at a five percent surcharge. Now, get off the street.” He fired another round and the crowd dispersed,
Shaking my head, I glared at him. “I hope to Hell you know what you’re doing. What's with the star?”
“Let’s go get some breakfast and I’ll tell you all about my election.” He turned and headed back toward the diner.
“Mr. Belle, where are you?” Miss Shannon, still dressed in men’s clothing, stood at the barn’s double doors.
“I’m up here, ma’am. I’ll be right down.” I put on my hat and pulled on my boots. “What are you doing here, ma’am?” I asked before I got off the ladder.
“I’ve came for you.”
“It’s not safe for you in town. Roy Jeffords is telling everybody he’s going to shoot you on sight. Sawyer arrested him for throwing you off the train when you had a ticket.” She turned around and walked toward two horses at the hitching rail. Rose pointed to the second horse. “That’s yours. Get on, we need to leave town.”
We rode in silence for several miles with Rose leading the way. She took a side trail that has seen some use in its day. Eventually, she stopped at an adobe ranch house. A small part of the front yard was fenced off displaying a flower garden at the front end and a vegetable garden at the rear. Both were well cared for.
Jack Benson was talking to a group of cowboys near the corral. He cut his conversation short and ambled over to Rose. “What’s going on?”
“Mr. Bell’s life’s in danger, so I’m offering him sanctuary until he fights Patrick O’Tool Saturday.” She searched through the crowd of cowboys, who had gathered around.
“Rodney, this is Thomas Belle. I want you to get him ready for his fight and be in his corner doing the fight. You’re free from any other duties until after it’s over.”
A stocky cowpoke, a head shorter than I and sporting a nose that has been broken a few times and cauliflower ears, nodded and gave me the once over.
“So, you are the famous Tinkerbelle…
I threw a right hook and landed on my butt with my own personal Milky Way. When my head cleared, Rodney stood over me with his hand out.
“Don’t telegraph your punches, Mr. Bell.” He grabbed my right wrist and jerked me to my feet.
That began my six days of Hell; my training started with no let up. Rodney had me up at dawn, running while he followed on his horse. I must have lifted the anvil a thousand times until I could hold it over my head without staggering. Behind the barn, he hung a burlap bag of dirt that I punched while he commented on everything from my stance to how I was delivering my blows. He taught me what he called, “The Orthodox Stance.” It protected the major part of me from my head down to my waist.
“Paddy is a lefty and will do everything the exact opposite of you. Go after his body, especially his kidneys and breast bone. When he lowers his guard, punch his head, mainly his nose.”
Rodney had me practice each maneuver until I had it down pat. He allowed me six hours of sleep and thirty minute breaks for my meals. He stopped everything on Friday at noon. “Rest up until your fight.”
I stood outside after dinner, enjoying the night air, when Jack walked up to me. “Rodney says you as ready as you’re gonna be.” He stared at the barn. “Rose is betting a lot of money on you. Don’t disappoint her.”
“You sound like she’s betting her ranch on me.” I chuckled.
“She is.” He left without another word.
Jack walked toward the bunk house, and I headed toward the main house. Rose, dressed in a robe, opened the door after my third round of knocking.
“I’m not dressed to receive visitors, Mr. Bell.”
“Jack told me you are betting all your money on me.” I had my hat in my hand.
“What if I am? Mr. Bell. Rodney told me you have a good chance of winning.”
“That’s kind of stupid on your part. What if I lose?” I twisted my hat into a ball.
“Then I lose my ranch to back taxes.”
I looked down at her.
“That why you wanted to ride the bronc?”
“Every penny counts. Good night, Mr. Bell.” She closed the door.
All of us, except for the cook’s helper and the wrangler, left the ranch around nine thirty Saturday morning. Rose gave all her help a half month’s pay. Jake was in the arena, supervising the building of the ring.
Rose rode right up to him, dismounted and offered him a small bag, which he refused. I stayed back with Jack and Rodney. We were not party to Rose and Jake’s conversation, but it looked like they were in the middle of an argument.
Everyone gave them privacy, until Jack walked over to them and took the bag from Rose. Then he and Jake got into it when Jack offered him the bag. Jake refused to take it.
Jack switched the bag to his left hand and placed his right on his holstered forty-five. They exchanged a few more words and Jake took the money.
Rose, holding a slip of paper, and Jack walked over to us. She placed her hand on my shoulder and pulled down. I bent my knees and she kissed my cheek.
“Don’t disappoint me, Mr. Bell.” She and Jack walked over to the bleachers where she had another argument with Jake. He threw up his hands, and the two took seats in the Judges’ stand. Some chairs were already occupied by other ranch owners, but Rose was the only woman in the stands.
Forty-five minutes later, Jake nodded his approval of the ring. He checked his pocket watch, had a brief conversation with two men, and joined Rose in the special area. He sat behind a make-shift table and started recording bets.
I could hear the drunken railroaders and the sober Patrick as they entered the arena. Most of the railroaders headed for Jake, but Patrick and another man sought me out.
“You’re dead meat,” Patrick snarled and spit on my boots.
Rodney placed a hand on my shoulder and I stopped. “Save it for the ring, Paddy.” He looked at the man accompanying Patrick. “Did you bring enough diapers for him?”
Patrick roared and took a step toward Rodney who had his hands up. A shotgun boomed behind me and I saw Jake with his Greener in hand. He pointed toward the other side of the ring.
My adversary and his friend walked to the other side of the ring. I relaxed.
“Paddy won’t fight fair, so don’t feel obliged to follow the rules, fight dirty when he does it first.”
Jake kept his seat when a middle aged man walked over to the ring, stepped in and motioned for Patrick and me to join him. Rodney and I started forward.
“The referee is the blacksmith, O’Sullivan, and he’ll be fair. If Paddy cheats, he’ll turn a blind eye for you to retaliate, but don’t overdo it."
The referee quoted the Queensberry’s rules about no cheating, three minutes rounds and stuff. The round was over when the three minutes were up or one of us hit the ground. He drew a line with the heel of his boot, telling us we had to touch the line at the beginning of each round. If either one of us failed to do it, the fight was over. The man standing would be declared the winner.
We each stood in our corner. Rodney didn’t offer any more advice. O’Sullivan blew his whistle and Patrick ran to the line and swung at me before I could step on it. I dodged his blow, touched the line as Patrick’s charge carried him by me. I turned and kicked him in the butt, knocking him down. Round One was mine.
Patrick tried the same trick, but slower this time. I dodged him and kneed him in the balls. Two rounds for me. My opponent started fighting fair in the third round. We went toe to toe throwing punches for all we were worth.
The whistle blew, I turned toward Rodney and Patrick delivered a blow to the back of my head. I heard O’Sullivan’s whistle as I staggered toward Rodney who helped me to my corner.
O’Sullivan left an obvious angry Patrick and walked to my corner. “Round Three is yours. Patrick has been warned.” He turned and blew his whistle.
I took my time walking to the line. Before I could step on it, Patrick charged. I droved my left boot heel into his knee and stepped on the line.
Patrick cursed me as he hopped around on one leg. I knocked him down by pushing him. The referee smiled at me before blowing his whistle. The crowd of railroaders screamed their anger when I was awarded Round Four.
In Round Five, I reached the line first and waited for Patrick to hobble over. He’s faking. I didn’t kick him that hard. Patrick fell and crawled to the line. When he touched it, I waited for his next trick. He rushed to tackle me, I stepped to the side and delivered an over-the-head hammer blow to his kidneys, causing him to fall flat on his face.
Before I returned to my corner, Rodney hurried past me. I turned and he was pointing at Patrick, yelling something to the referee. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but O’Sullivan rushed to Patrick’s corner. He grabbed Patrick’s hands and ordered him to open them. A yelling match started between O’Sullivan and the fighter. Rodney blocked the opposing manager from entering the ring, grabbed both wrists and twisted them, forcing the man to open his hands. Dirt fell out of them.
O’Sullivan pointed to the man and pointed his finger away from the ring. Patrick’s manager was ejected. During the confusion, I noticed Patrick rubbing his open hands against his pant’s leg. When O’Sullivan turned back toward him, Patrick showed his hands to the referee.
Rodney returned to me. “Whenever you knock Patrick down, have O’Sullivan check his hands.” The whistle sounded, and I nodded before going to the line.
Several rounds were fought fairly. I did not attack my opponent’s kidneys, but I did assault his body and deliver an occasional blow to the head. Patrick kept his blows high.
Things broke open for me in Round Thirty-Two. Patrick began to tire. He was unable to step on the line at Round Thirty Five, and I won the fight. Something struck me on the back of the head and everything went black.
I woke, diagonal in a strange bed. “What happened?” My head throbbed.
Rose leaned over me. “You won the fight, and then Roy shot you.” She offered me a sip of water before continuing. “Some cowboys caught him before he could get away. Jake has him locked up.”
“Why am I here?” Rose’s face blurred for a short period and came back into focus.
“After Doc bandaged you up, I had Rodney and Jack bring you out here in Doc’s buckboard. I nurse you in the daylight. Rodney nurses you at night.” She kissed me lightly on my cheek. “Roy’s bullet grazed your head.”
“The ranch?” After her special kind of nursing, my head ache lessened.
“Taxes paid with money left over. I have you to thank.”
Jack entered the room. “Has he asked you, yet?”
“No, but send for the preacher.”
“Preacher? I asked.
Rose was grinning. “While you were out, you made some ungentlemanly comments about me. When the preacher gets here, we’re getting married.”
“But I haven’t asked you.”
“No, but you did mention branding me on my rear end.”
“You better ask her, or me and the boys will search high and low to find a tree big enough to hang you by your balls.” Jack glared at me.
Rose gripped my right hand tightly. “What do you say, cowboy?”
I knew when to yell 'Calf roped,' so I put my free arm around her and pulled her on top of me. “Would you like to become Mrs. Tinkerbelle?”
Charles Lucas is my pen name. It’s meant to protect the guilty, namely me.