Bang! Bang! Thud.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Daniels?” Cliff Johnson knocked on the open door of the Daniels family home.
“Deputy Johnson, did you catch the bad guys?” Alice answered with a smile on her face, looking up from the ball of dough she had been kneading.
“Can I talk to you in private?” he asked, nodding in the direction of the children who had been practicing their lessons at the table.
Alice turned pale as she stepped out on the porch with the town’s newly appointed deputy. She knew it was only a matter of time before this day came.
Johnny and Alice Daniels had moved to Fort Robinson 2 years ago after the family farm had been overrun by grasshoppers. Like so many family farms in those days, this disaster was one they couldn’t overcome.
Fort Robinson began as a base for the families of the U.S. Army serving to protect local communities from the Native Americans. The town’s population boomed as its reputation for safety spread for miles around. After a few months, the government assigned those men to a new area in a different part of the state. That is when the Daniels moved to town.
Johnny Daniels had always been a stickler for justice. When the Army evacuated Fort Robinson, the townspeople were left vulnerable. A gaping hole was left open for thieving, violence, drunkenness, and other crimes against the community. Johnny Daniels took it upon himself to fill that hole.
The Daniels’ family moved into one of the homes abandoned by an army family on the west end of town. The people of Fort Robinson were very welcoming to the new comers and it didn’t take long for them to assimilate to the culture of the town. They made fast friends with the Johnson and Burns families. Johnny had farmed his whole life, so, out of necessity, he had acquired a jack-of-all-trades skill set. Walter Burns offered to pay him minimal salary for helping out at Burns Grocery until he found his own niche. Johnny and Alice made the money stretch to cover the needs of their family.
Being a farmer’s wife, Alice was used to raising vegetables, sewing clothes, and teaching their children as well as making a little bit of food go a long way. Alice was prepared to wash clothes or teach other people’s children in order to make ends meet if Johnny needed her to. She already had a reputation for having well-dressed and well-behaved children. The oldest of the Daniels children, Billy, was going to be 13 soon and was wanted as an apprentice by many of the town tradesmen. Eleven year old Susan was very adept at embroidery and had made some money selling handkerchiefs to some of her peers. Molly, age 9, was the “little mother”. She prided herself on helping with the four-year-old twins, Ben and Bonnie.
After living in Fort Robinson for a few months, Johnny and Alice became aware of an increase in lawlessness. Thieving, drunkenness and shoot-outs went from being a discreet part of the town culture to a public embarrassment.
One day, when Johnny was working at Burns Grocery, Sheriff Jones walked in. Na¯ve to the ways of the town, Johnny decided to mention the reports of a local outlaw, Mac Krenshaw, hiding out in their town.
“Sheriff, what is being done about Mac?” he asked casually.
“Mr. Daniels, I expect you to keep your nose in your own business.” the sheriff replied with a smile.
“As long as my family is living in this town, I believe it is my business.” Johnny replied, taken aback by the sheriff’s response.
“If you make it your business, you won’t be living in this town.” Sheriff Jones threatened.
“Johnny, can I get your help with this?” Walter asked, trying to prevent his friend from danger.
When the sheriff left, Johnny asked Walter, “What was that all about?”
“You don’t want to mess with Sheriff Jones. He’s not afraid to pull a gun on an unarmed man. But when outlaws like Mac show up or drunks like Hubert get dangerous, he turns a blind eye. Some say he gets paid off, some say he is scared of what could happen to him or his family if he speaks up. All I know is, Fort Robinson sure ain’t what it used to be.”
“How did William Jones get to be sheriff of this town anyway?” Alice asked that night when Johnny came home and explained what had happened.
“That’s the thing, Alice, no one knows. The Army left one day and the next day William shows up with a shiny star and keys to the jail.”
“Johnny Daniels, as long as I’ve known you, you’ve never let a bad man’s actions go unaccounted for. Whatever you decide to do, I pray you’ll be safe.” Alice gave him a supportive hug.
“Men, we can’t just stand around and let our town become a breeding ground for crime! We’ve got our wives and children to think about!” Johnny preached in the kitchen of the Johnson house to his friends Walter Burns and Cliff Johnson.
“Just what are you proposing we do, Johnny?” Cliff asked.
“I am proposing we rid Fort Robinson of crime! of thievin’! of public drunkenness! of outlaws like Mac! And we’ll start with getting rid of Sheriff Jones!”
“That’s a tall order, Johnny.” Walter warned.
“Walter, just how much revenue do you suppose you’ve lost in the last month alone by thieves?” Walter’s eyes went downcast. His recent losses had caused him to cut Johnny’s pay in half. Walter’s own wife had taken to doing the Jones family’s washing to make ends meet. “And Cliff, how much damage was done to your store front by Hubert’s latest drunken escapades?” Cliff, the blacksmith, lost two days’ worth of business while repairing his store front where Hubert had dropped and spilled a half bottle of whiskey on a dry hay bale before passing out on top of it, lit cigarette in hand. Lucky for Hubert, Cliff opted to move him out of danger before extinguishing the flames. Not many men in Fort Robinson would have done the same. “And what has Sheriff Jones done about it? Nothing! Are we to sit by passively waiting for change? Eating the costs of other men’s follies? Driving our own lively hood into the ground while the Jones family clothes themselves in fineries? Not me, Gentlemen, not me.”
Johnny paused while Cliff and Walter sat in silence. Then he continued, “I am proposing we rid Fort Robinson of Sheriff Jones.”
“How do you plan on making that happen?” Walter asked.
“This town needs to elect themselves a sheriff. A real sheriff. And here’s how it’s going to happen.”
It didn’t take much to get the townspeople talking about the need for change. Even Alice and the other women talked about it around the well. But they weren’t the only ones talking. Mac Krenshaw and his cronies were making plans of their own in the backroom of the town saloon.
“This town is as good as ours, boys! After tonight, everyone in this pathetic town will be throwing their money at us! They’ll be scared to leave and scared to stay.” Mac and his gang cackled in amusement.
“Johnny! Johnny!” Cliff hollered while knocking, breathless at the door.
“What is it, Cliff? Come in!” Johnny answered the door half dressed. It was Friday morning, just after sunrise.
“This morning when I was walking down Main towards my shop, I ran into Doc Rivers. He looked terrible and I asked him what was wrong. He told me that last night, on his way to check in with his last patient, he found Merle Benson hung on his front porch!”
“Merle? Hung on his front porch?” Johnny asked, bewildered.
“That’s not all. He had a note pinned to him. It said
‘˜Merle Benson refused to pay the price, so he paid the price —
“So, Mac Krenshaw is in town. Has anyone talked to the sheriff?”
“He told Doc Rivers that he would look into it. Whatever that means.”
Cliff left the Daniels’ house and headed back to Main after agreeing to spread the word of a town meeting to be held that night to discuss the sheriff situation.
“And then that Daniels guy demanded justice. He will run for sheriff with Cliff Johnson as deputy. Of course, they will have an official election next week.” Hubert finished his report of the town meeting to Mac before being given his reward of a pint of whiskey and sent away.
“What are we going to do, Mac? It seems the gig is up.” Jones said.
“William, you idiot, do you think I’m a coward? I’ll take care of Daniels. Don’t you forget, I know your secret.”
“Open up, Daniels!” Sheriff Jones ordered. He was followed by a mob of curious townspeople.
“Sheriff, what is this all about?” Johnny answered.
“Daniels, you have been accused of stealing goods from your employer, Burns Grocery. I’ll have to take a look around.”
“Ha! Look all you want, I am no thief!”
Jones entered, followed by a skeptical Doc Rivers. Cliff and Walter came in behind.
“Walter, what is going on?” Johnny asked.
“An anonymous note was left on the doorpost of the store this morning, accusing you of robbing the store. Personally, I don’t believe it, but the sheriff happened to be walking by and read the note. He got all fired up, making a lot of noise and attracting a lot of attention.” Walter answered gesturing to the crowd in front of the Daniels home.
“Johnny, what is going on?” Alice asked as she walked in with the twins close behind.
Before Johnny could answer, the sheriff hollered, “Burns! Get over here! I think you’ll want to see this!”
Walter followed the voice into Johnny and Alice’s bedroom. Sheriff Jones was hunched over a chest filled with personal belongings mixed with goods that had been stolen from Burns’ Grocery.
“Is this the stuff that you reported stolen from your store last week?” Jones asked.
“Uh — I, uh — yes, Sheriff, it is.” Walter stammered, looking to Johnny as he joined them in the bedroom.
“Johnny Daniels, you’re going to have to come with me.” Sheriff Jones proudly announced.
“Sheriff — Walter — I didn’t do it!” Johnny pleaded, and then looked to Cliff. “Cliff — I didn’t do it! Take care of Alice and the kids!”
Sheriff Jones marched Johnny to the jailhouse while his wife and kids looked on with tears in their eyes.
“You’ve got to get him out of there, Cliff!” Alice demanded once the crowd had left. “You know he didn’t steal those things!”
“I know, Mrs. Daniels, but what can we do? How do we prove it?” he replied.
Alice and Cliff sat in silence for a few minutes before he excused himself and left. Alice checked on the children, assured them of their father’s innocence and that everything would work out fine before heading out to the back porch to come up with a plan.
“Come on, Eloise. You can’t tell me you haven’t happened upon any dirty laundry, other than dirty laundry at the Jones’s house?” Alice asked Eloise Burns.
“Alice, I need this job! If I get caught sniffing around where I don’t belong, we won’t be able to eat!” Eloise explained.
“Think of it this way. If we can find some dirt on William Jones, we can get a real sheriff and there won’t be any more stealing from Walter’s store. You won’t need this job, and Fort Robinson will be safe again.”
Eloise thought over Alice’s plan before agreeing to poke around a bit sometime when the Jones family wasn’t home.
“I can’t hold him forever, Mac. Walter isn’t pressing charges.” Jones explained to Mac.
“Let him go. I’ve made myself clear to Johnny Daniels. What’s the word on the sheriff situation?” Mac replied.
“Once I release Daniels, they will hold official elections. Do you think you have enough men to control the vote?” Jones asked.
“I’ll have my men make a few visits to the good gentlemen of Fort Robinson tonight. If they won’t give their word to vote for you, let’s just say they won’t be voting for him either.” Mac assured him.
Johnny Daniels was released from jail the next day. That night, the men of the town gathered into the town hall.
“Jim Hoff, Billy Manson, Chuck McCoy and at least 3 others aren’t here.” Cliff told Johnny after making a sweep through the crowd. “In fact, they haven’t been seen since yesterday.”
“Well, we can’t wait any longer. We’ve got to get this meeting started.” Johnny replied before making his way to the front of the crowd where Sheriff Jones and Doc Rivers were waiting.
Doc Rivers opened up the meeting. “Men of Fort Robinson, we all know why we are here tonight. The law of our town is in question. After tonight, we will have elected a sheriff. When asked, please raise your hand for our present sheriff, William Jones, or for Johnny Daniels.”
When Doc Rivers called for votes for William Jones, an astonishing number of hands were raised. It was obvious who had won, but before Doc could call for a raise of hand for Johnny, a woman burst in through the doors.
“What is she doing here, Daniels? Get her out of here!” Sheriff Jones said. Alice had entered where no woman of Fort Robinson had entered before.
“Wait! Doc, is the vote over?” she asked.
“No, not officially, Mrs. Daniels.”
“Men, I have some information you might like to hear before casting your votes.”
Sheriff Jones shifted uncomfortably. “Doc, these men have already voted.”
“I think we better hear her out.” Doc replied.
Alice stepped to the front and announced to the crowd, “Men, I have here in my hands proof that William Jones is not who he says he is. He has committed numerous crimes in a few states up north under the name — ” she paused before continuing, ” — Willy Krenshaw!”
The room filled with gasps. Johnny looked to his wife. “Thanks, Alice,” Johnny said, “now get out of here before you get in trouble.”
“Johnny, he’s running!” Cliff called.
“Mac! They’re on to us!” William said as he burst through the door to the back of the saloon.
“What? How?” Mac answered surprised.
“That Alice Daniels — she showed up at the meeting — with my papers — ” William explained, breathless. “What are we going to do?”
“Did you win the vote?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t made official before that woman burst in.”
“I’ll take care of this. We’ve worked too hard to be run out of another town.” Mac said as he grabbed his six-shooter.
Mac stepped out of the saloon just as Johnny approached. “Mr. Daniels, I presume?”
“Mac Krenshaw, you and your brother are not welcome here.”
“My brother is still sheriff of this town, Mr. Daniels. We will be making the calls around here. I’ll tell you what. I’m willing to settle this dispute fair and square.”
Everyone who had been at the town meeting now lined the road in front of the saloon. Johnny and Mac were ready to square off. All eyes were on those fingers, poised over their holsters.
Mac made the first move, but Johnny beat him to the draw. Bang!
But as Mac went down, a second shot was fired. Bang!
Johnny stammered to the ground as William Jones, or Willy Krenshaw, held a smoking gun. Cliff pulled his pistol and aimed at Krenshaw, warning him to drop his gun. Some of the other men helped Cliff take Krenshaw to the town jail as Doc Rivers attended to the two shot men.
“Mrs. Daniels, Johnny has been shot.” Cliff explained to her all that had happened after she left town hall. “Doc says he’s going to lose his leg. He’s in a lot of pain. The bullet shattered the bone just under his knee.”
“And Mac?” she asked.
“Can you take me to see Johnny?” she pleaded.
Doc Rivers performed the operation and Johnny was fitted for a peg leg. It was a week before he was healed enough to be moved home.
Cliff and Walter were there to help transport him.
“What’s going to happen now is, you’re going to go home and rest and once you’re back on your feet, you will take over as sheriff. I will do my best to fill in until then.” Cliff explained.
“What about William Jones, or Willy Krenshaw, or whoever he is?” Johnny asked.
“We’ve sent a wire to the government. They are going to come and get him. They should be here in a couple of days.”
“There is one thing that is still bothering me. Why didn’t he kill me? I know he’s a better shot than this.” Johnny said, gesturing to his peg leg.
Cliff had asked Krenshaw that same thing. Krenshaw had explained to him that he and his brother used to be big time thieves and murderers. They had made quite a living off of other people’s wealth. About 4 years ago, William met his future wife. He became quite ashamed of who he was and what kind of lifestyle he was living, so he fabricated one he could be proud of. He fell in love with her and decided to run away with her. He married her using his assumed name and they moved to Fort Robinson. Eventually, Mac found him. Mac was impressed with the lie his brother was living and threatened to ruin his cozy life. That is when things in Fort Robinson had begun to go downhill. The more he was around Mac, the more William fell, once again, for the exhilaration of the criminal life. It took the final showdown to bring him back to his senses. He didn’t want Johnny to die, but he wanted him to pay for killing his brother.
Johnny made the men stop at the jail house before taking him home. He shook hands with a repentant Willy Krenshaw and promised to look out for his family.
“Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!” Ben and Bonnie cheered as their father was brought in.
“Welcome home, Daddy.” Susan and Molly said.
Johnny gave hugs to the twins and to the girls before shaking his son’s hand. “Mr. Burns tells me you’ve been doing a great job working at the store. He might not let me come back.” Johnny chuckled. “You’ve made me proud, son, the way you have taken care of things.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Billy answered humbly.
Alice hugged her husband, “Welcome home, Sheriff Daniels.”