Authors: Forrest Carter
GONE TO TEXAS
THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES
Forrest Carter, whose Indian name is Little Tree, is known as Storyteller in Council to the Cherokee Nations. Orphaned at the age of five, he lived with his grandpa (half Cherokee) and his grandma (full Cherokee) in Tennessee until their deaths when he was ten. He has been on his own ever since. He has worked ranches in the South and Southwest - calls Dallas County, Texas, home. History is his main interest, especially of the South-Southwest and the Indian; he uses the council storytelling method of the Indian in passing on the history of his people. A number of Indian organisations will share in the proceeds of this book.
© Copyright 2011 Pages Of Death. If anybody asks, I own the copyright, okay? That means that everyone who downloads this has to either pay me £10, or make me a sandwich, I don’t care which.
Missouri is called the “Mother of Outlaws.” She acquired her title in the aftermath of the Civil War, when bitter men who had fought without benefit of rules in the Border War (a war within a War) could find no place for themselves in a society of old enmities and Reconstruction government. They rode and lived aimlessly, in the vicious circle of reprisal, robbery, and shoot-out that led to nowhere. The Cause was gone, and all that remained was personal feud, retribution… and survival. Many of them drifted to Texas.
If Missouri was the Mother, then Texas was the Father… the refuge, with boundless terrain and bloody frontier, where a proficient pistolman could find reason for existence and room to ride. The initials “GIT,” hurriedly carved on the doorpost of a Southern shack, was message enough to relatives and friends that the carver was in ‘law trouble,” and Gone To Texas.
In those days they weren’t called “gunfighters”; that came in the 188o’s from the dime noveleers. They were called “pistolmen,” and they referred to their weapon as a “pistol,” or by the make … a “Colts’ .44.” The Missouri guerrilla was the first expert pistolman. According to U.S. Army dispatches, the guerrillas used this “new” war weapon with devastating results.
This is the story of one of those outlaws.
The outlaws… and the Indians… are real… they lived; lived in a time when the meaning of “good” or “bad” depended mostly on the jasper who was saying it. There were too many wrongs mixed in with what we thought were the “rights”; so we shall not try to judge them here… but simply, to the best of our ability, to “tell it like it is”… or was.
The men… white and red… and the times that produced them… and how they lived it out… to finish the course.
The dispatch was filed December 8, 1866:
FROM: Central Missouri Military District. Major Thomas Bacon, 8th Kansas Cavalry, Commanding.
TO: Headquarters, Texas Military District, Galveston, Texas. Major General Charles Griffin, Commanding.
Dispatch filed with: General Philip Sheridan, Southwest Military District, New Orleans, Louisiana.
DAYLIGHT ROBBERY OF MITCHELL BANK, LEXINGTON, LAFAYETTE COUNTY, MISSOURI DECEMBER 4 THIS INSTANT. BANDITS ESCAPING WITH EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS, U.S. ARMY PAYROLL: NEW-MINTED TWENTY-DOLLAR GOLD PIECES. PURSUIT TOWARD INDIAN
NATIONS TERRITORY. BELIEVED HEADED SOUTH TO TEXAS. ONE BANDIT SEVERELY WOUNDED. ONE IDENTIFIED. DESCRIPTION FOLLOWS:
JOSEY WALES, AGE 32. 5 FEET 9 INCHES. WEIGHT 160 POUNDS. BLACK EYES, BROWN HAIR, MEDIUM MUSTACHE. HEAVY BULLET SCAR HORIZONTAL RIGHT CHEEKBONE, DEEP KNIFE SCAR LEFT CORNER MOUTH. PREVIOUSLY LISTED WANTED BY U.S. MILITARY AS EX-GUERRILLA LIEUTENANT SERVING WITH CAPT. WILLIAM “BLOODY BILL” ANDERSON. WALES REFUSED AMNESTY-SURRENDER, 1865. IN ADDITION TO CRIMINAL ACTIVITY, MUST BE REGARDED AS INSURRECTIONIST REBEL. ARMED AND DANGEROUS. THREE-THOUSAND-DOLLAR REWARD OFFERED BY U.S. MILITARY, MISSOURI DISTRICT. DEAD OR ALIVE.
It was cold. The wind whipped the wet pines into mournful sighing and sped the rain like bullets. It caused the campfires to jump and flicker and the soldiers around them to curse commanding officers and the mothers who gave them birth.
The campfires were arranged in a curious halfmoon, forming a flickering chain that closed about these foothills of the Ozark Mountains. In the dark, cloud-scudding night the bright dots looked like a net determined to hold back the mountains from advancing into the Neosho River Basin, Indian Nations, just beyond.
Josey Wales knew the meaning of the net. He squatted, two hundred yards back in the hollow of heavy pine growth, and watched … and chewed with slow contemplation at a wad of tobacco. In nearly eight years of riding, how many times had he seen the circle-net of Yankee Cavalry thrown out around him?
It seemed a hundred years ago, that day in 1858. A young farmer, Josey Wales, following the heavy turning plow in the creek bottoms of Cass County, Missouri. It would be a two-mule crop this year, a big undertaking for a mountain man, and Josey Wales was mountain. ALL the way back through his great-grandfolk of the past in the blue ridges of Virginia; the looming, smoke-haze peaks of Tennessee and into the broken beauty of the Ozarks; always it had been the mountains. The mountains were a way of life; independence and sanctuary, a philosophy that lent the peculiar code to the mountain man. “Where the soil’s thin, the blood’s thick,” was their clannishness. To rectify a wrong carried the same obligation as being beholden to a favor. It was a religion that went beyond thought but rather was marrowed in the bone that lived or died with the man.
Josey Wales, with his young wife and baby boy, had come to Cass County. That first year he “obligated” himself for forty acres of flatland. He had built the house with his own hands and raised a crop… and now this year he had obligated for forty more acres that took in the creek bottom. Josey Wales was “gittin’ ahead.” He hitched his mules to the turning plow in the dark of morning and waited in the fields, rested on his plow stock, for the first dim light that would allow him to plow.
It was a long time before Josey saw the smoke rising, that spring morning of 1858. The creek bottom was new ground, and the plow jerked at the roots, and Josey had to gee-haw the mules around the stumps. He hadn’t looked up until he heard the shots. It was then he saw the smoke. It rose black-gray over the ridge. It could only be the house. He had left the mules, running barefoot, overalls flapping against his skinny legs; wildly, through the briars and sumac, across the rocky gullies. There had been little left when he fell, exhausted, into the swept clearing. The timbers of the cabin had fallen in. The fire was a guttering smoke that had already filled its appetite. He ran, fell, ran again… around and around the ruin, screaming his wife’s name, calling the baby boy, until his voice hoarsened into a whisper.
He had found them there in what had been the kitchen. They had fallen near the door, and the blackened skeleton arms of the baby boy were clinging to his mother’s neck. Numbly, mechanically, Josey had gotten two sacks from the barn and rolled up the charred figures in them. He dug their single grave beneath the big water oak at the edge of the yard, and as darkness fell and moonlight silvered over the ruins, he tried to render the Christian burial.
But his Bible remembering would only come in snatches. “Ashes to ashes… dust to dust,” he had mumbled through his blackened face. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” “Ye’re fer me ’er agin’ me, said Jesus.” And finally, “An eye fer an eye … a tooth fer a tooth.”
Great tears rolled down the smoked face of Josey Wales there in the moonlight. A tremble shook his body with uncontrollable fierceness that chattered his teeth and jerked his head. It was the last time Josey Wales would cry.
Though raiding had taken place back and forth across the Missouri-Kansas Border since 1855, the burning of Josey Wales’ cabin was the first of the Kansas “Redleg” raids to hit Cass County. The names of Jim Lane, Doc Jennison, and James Montgomery were already becoming infamous as they led looting armies of pillagers into Missouri. Beneath a thinly disguised “cause” they set the Border aflame.
Josey Wales had “taken to the brush,” and there he found others. They were guerrilla veterans, these young farmers, by the time the War between the States began. The formalities of governments in conflict only meant an occupying army that drove them deeper into the brush. They already had their War. It was not a formal conflict with rules and courtesy, bat-ties that began and ended … and rest behind the lines. There were no lines. There were no rules. Theirs was a war to the knife, of burned barn and ravaged countryside, of looted home and outraged womenfolk.
It was a blood feud. The Black Flag became a flag of honorable warning: “We ask no quarter, we give none.” And they didn’t.
When Union General Ewing issued General Order Eleven to arrest the womenfolk, to burn the homes, to depopulate the Missouri counties along the Border of Kansas, the guerrilla ranks swelled with more riders. Quantrill, Bloody Bill Anderson, whose sister was killed in a Union prison, George Todd, Dave Pool, Fletcher Taylor, Josey Wales; the names grew in infamy in Kansas and Union territory, but they were the “boys” to the folks.
Union raiders launching the infamous “Night of Blood” in Clay County bombed a farmhouse that tore off the arm of a mother, killed her young son, and sent two more sons to the ranks of the guerrillas. They were Frank and Jesse James.
Revolvers were their weapons. They were the first to perfect pistol work. With reins in teeth, a Colts’ pistol in each hand, their charges were a fury in suicidal mania. Where they struck became names in bloody .history. Lawrence, Centralia, Fayette, and Pea Ridge.
In 1862 Union General Halleck issued General Order Two: “Exterminate the guerrillas of Missouri; shoot them down like animals, hang all prisoners.” And so it was like animals they became, hunted, turning viciously to strike their adversaries when it was to their advantage. Jennison’s Redlegs sacked and burned Dayton, Missouri, and the “boys” retaliated by burning Aubry, Kansas, to the ground, fighting Union patrols all the way back to the Missouri mountains. They slept in their saddles or rolled up under bushes with reins in their hands. With muffled horses’ hooves, they would slip through Union lines to cross the Indian Nations on their way to Texas to lick their wounds and regroup. But always they came back.
As the tide of the Confederacy ebbed toward defeat, the blue uniforms multiplied along the Border. The ranks of the “boys” began to thin. On October 26, 1864, Bloody Bill died with two smoking pistols in his hands. Hop Wood, George Todd, Noah Webster, Frank Shepard, Bill Quantrill… the list grew longer… the ranks thinner. The peace was signed at Appomattox, and word began to filter into the brush that amnesty-pardons were to be granted to the guerrillas. It was little Dave Pool who had brought the word to eighty-two of the hardened riders. Around the campfire of an Ozark mountain hollow he explained it to them that spring evening.
“All a feller has to do is ride in to the Union post, raise his right hand, and swear sich as he’ll be loyal to the United States. Then,” said Dave, “he kin taken up his hoss … and go home.”
Boots scuffed the ground, but the men said nothing. Josey Wales, his big hat pulled low to his eyes, squatted back from the fire. He still held the reins of his horse … as if he had only paused here for the moment. Dave Pool kicked a pine knot into the fire, and it popped and skittered with smoke.
“Guess I’ll be ridin’ in, boys,” he said quietly and moved to his horse. Almost as one the men rose and walked to their horses. They were a savage-looking crew. The heavy pistols sagged in holsters from their waists. Some of them wore shoulder pistols as well, and here and there long knives at their belts picked up a twinkle from the campfire. They had been accused of many things, of most of which they were guilty, but cowardice was not one of them. As they swung to their mounts they looked back across the campfire and saw the lone figure still squatting. The horses stomped impatiently, but the riders held them. Pool advanced his horse toward the fire.