The Best Medicine for Daisy
By Pat Storm
Dr Keefe came through the door and out of Daisy's room with his eyes downcast. He closed the door slowly and quietly. Slim
and Jess were sitting at the table, each with a cup of coffee in hand. They both looked up. Slim stood up as the doctor took
his hand off the door handle. "How is she?" Slim asked.
"I'm not sure, Slim. Right now it could go either way. She is one pretty sick lady", was Doctor Keefe's reply. "Pneumonia
is a tricky thing. Any weakness and it will take you right quick. But Mrs Cooper appears to be a fighter. Her age is the only
thing that worries me right now."
Jess fingered his cup and said, "Is there anything we can do?"
"Pray if you have a mind to. Give her anything she wants. Knowing she is loved can go a long way", Dr Keefe replied. "I suggest
one of you sit with her as much as you can. If she has difficulty breathing or a coughing spell you might need to help her set
up some or lay her down more till she can catch her breath. Keeping' her lungs from filling up with fluids is our main concern.
You will also want to try and keep her fever down. And I know you boys know how to go about that." Both Slim and Jess nodded
their heads in agreement.
"A cup of coffee, Doc?" Slim offered.
"No, thanks, Slim. I have another stop to make before I can get back to town. I want to try and get back before dinner. The
little woman is making my favorite tonight. It is our fifteenth anniversary." he proudly smiled.
"Well, congratulations, Doc." Slim said trying to show a smile for the doctor's good news, but the worry on his face remained.
He was unable to hide it.
"That's a long time for one woman, Doc," Jess said with an attempt at a smile, also unable to hide his worry. "Not sure if I
could get tied down that long in one place, especially with one woman."
"You don't know till you try, Jess." the doctor replied, his own smile genuine.
Slim shook hands with the doctor. Jess stood up and shook his hand, as well. "Are you sure you don't want some coffee? Fresh pot.
Made it myself." Jess said.
"Now I know I have to go. I've heard about your coffee, Jess." The doctor said. Jess just gave a startled look in Slim's
direction, but let it be.
Slim showed the doctor to the door and walked out on the porch with him. He thanked him again. "I will drop by daily to check
on Mrs Cooper. If you need me, you know where to find me. If I'm not there, they will know where I am. Send word with the stage
to let me know if there are any changes I should know about, or if you need me to come out for any reason." Dr Keefe said as
he stepped down from the porch. Slim nodded and waved him goodbye as he watched the good doctor climb into his carriage.
Slim slowly turned and went back into the house and sat down to the table to finish his coffee. Jess came walking out of the
kitchen with the coffee pot and refilled both their cups. "I had no idea she was that sick," he said as he sat the pot on the
table and sat down to take a sip from his cup.
"Yeah, me too. I don't think she wanted us to know. Just a cold she kept saying. I should have been more suspicious when I
caught her sitting a spell or napping in a chair when I came in from the barn. Said she just had a bad night and needed to catch
a nap. Even Mike seemed to know more was going on than I did." Slim admitted with a worried look on his face.
"Aw, Slim, don't go blamin' yourself. We've been so busy movin' stock around and mendin' the fences we just weren't around
enough to notice how weak she was gettin'. If Mike hadn't told us about her nappin' we wouldn't have known. She was always up
and about when I came in. That cough, though, I reckon I should have taken more notice. But shucks, why didn't she tell us?
Maybe she wouldn't be so sick."
"Well" said Slim, standing up. "If we keep blaming ourselves that isn't doing Daisy any good. I'll take the first shift to sit
with her. You go grab some shut eye. I think we will be putting off a lot of work for a spell. Daisy will come first, and this
might be the hardest job we come up against for a long time."
"You're right, there, Slim." Jess walked to their shared bedroom door and opened it. Before he entered the room he turned to
Slim. "If you start feelin' tired, come wake me. If I wake before you come get me, I'll put on some fresh coffee and come
relieve ya, okay?"
"Thanks, Jess. Sleep well." Slim fixed Jess with worried eyes as he continued, "Oh, Jess?"
"Say a prayer for her before you drop off to sleep."
"You know I will, Pard." Jess replied, his voice soft with emotion. Jess went into the room and closed the door. Slim walked
to Daisy's bedroom door, and taking hold of the handle he looked up, "Dear Lord. I don't ask for much, but this is real
important. Daisy needs your help, real bad. I am not just asking for her, but for all of us. We all need her here. I know that
is a little selfish, but I know her work here is not finished. There are so many more lives she can touch. She is a good woman
and has so much more to offer to so many. Please, let us keep her, a little longer? Please? Thanks, Lord."
Slim opened the door and walked over to stand and look down on the pale, sleeping woman he had come to love as a mother. He
straightened her blanket and sat down for his vigil. Daisy opened her eyes and gave a weak smile, acknowledging his presence,
then peacefully drifted back off to sleep.
All was quiet for several hours when the clatter of the late afternoon stage arriving woke Jess with a start. It took him a
moment to think why he was in bed sleeping, during the day, with all his clothes on. Then he remembered. "Say, Lord, remember
what I asked you about earlier? I hope you heard me. Just in case you didn't hear me, I'll ask again. Please take care of Miss
Daisy. She is a fine woman and just look at what she's done for me. She may have come a long way in makin' me a good God
fearin' man, but she still has some work to do on me. Don't take her away from us yet, okay? Please?"
Jess rolled out of bed and headed for the front door to meet Mike running toward the house.
He had bounced out of the stage coach almost before it stopped, after a day off to school. " Hey, Jess, how's Aunt Daisy?"
Jess stopped Mike before he reached the porch. "Well, the doc days she's pretty sick, so we have to be real quiet, okay?"
Slim walked through the door and headed toward the stage to help with the team and called to Mike.
"Yeah, Slim?" Mike asked, anxiety showing in his voice.
"I think you ought to go stay with the Millers for a few days until Daisy is feeling better. Meals are going to be scattered
and Daisy needs it quiet and not to worry about taking care of any of us. You know how she is."
"I can be quiet, I promise. Slim. I can help out a lot." Mike offered, determined to help.
"Mike, please. Do this for me, Jess, and especially Daisy. Jess and me, well, we are going to be extra busy and, well, I want
to make sure that you are getting proper care." Slim put his hand on Mike's shoulder and started walking him toward the barn.
"Now get your horse saddled while we change the team. We'll talk a little more before you leave."
"Okay.”Mike said, as he hung his head and walked slowly toward the barn. He jumped aside as Jess led a team out of the barn.
Jess saw Slim and called to him, "How's Daisy?"
"She's sleeping. Only a couple of coughing spells and her fever seems to be down some. I think we can trade off after we change
the team and grab something to eat. You can have the next shift sitting with her."
"Sure" Jess replied as he started to work to unhitch the hot, sweaty, tired team.
Mose, the team driver, walked over to Slim as he was working on the other side of the team. "What's up with Daisy?" he asked.
"She's real sick, Mose. Doc says pneumonia."
"Now that's a shame, Slim. I knowed she was coughin' pretty hard the last time I stopped and she offered me some coffee and a
piece of that good pie she makes."
"Oh, Mose. I'm so sorry. Did you want some coffee now? I can put some on real quick. I guess my head is lost with worry about
"No, Slim. I wasn't tossin' no hints. I 'spect yah got your hands full enough without worryin' yourself over an ol' geezer
like me." Mose laughed, and then turned solemn. "Tell Miss Daisy I will be prayin' for her. Anything else I can do for ya,
"Jess and I will be taking turns sitting with her around the clock. If you could just give a hand with the team so only one of
us needs to help, that would be a great."
"Well, then, what are you doin' out here? Get back in there and take care of our Miss Daisy. I'll be lookin' forward to a good
cup of coffee when she is better. If you or Jess are makin' it now," he laughed, "I best be passin' on it, anyhow."
"Hey, Mose, I heard that." Jess shouted from the other side of the team. "What's all this problem with my coffee? I make danged
good coffee. I drink it myself. All the time."
Slim and Mose just laughed. They completed the change of the team and Mose climbed up on the box. "Tell Miss Daisy she has all
my best, Slim."
"I will, Mose. Thanks."
Mose slapped the reins and the team started to move out. Jess and Slim waved as he pulled out of the yard. Mike walked over to
them, leading his horse.
"What's this?" Jess asked, motioning toward the horse and Mike.
"I am sending Mike to stay with the Miller's for a few days. Until Daisy is feeling better." Slim responded.
"Oh, great idea", Jess replied to Slim before he turned to lean down to Mike, "Hey, Tiger, you can go fishin' everyday down
there." he said with enthusiasm.
Mike just smiled weakly and shook his head, yes. "Slim? Can I see Aunt Daisy before I go?"
"Sure, but we need to be real quiet if she is sleeping." Slim put his hand on Mike's shoulder and lead him up the porch and
into the house to Daisy's closed bedroom door. He opened the door, quietly, and they both entered the room. Daisy was peacefully
sleeping and Mike looked disappointed. "Can I kiss her on the forehead before I go?" he whispered.
"I don't think that will disturb her, Mike." Slim whispered. "Go ahead, I think she would like that."
Mike leaned over Daisy, placed a kiss on her forehead and whispered "Goodbye, Aunt Daisy". Slim put his hand on Mikes shoulder
and lead him to the door.
They passed through the door together, and Slim closed the door silently. The 'goodbye' sounded so final, it grabbed his heart
making it hard for him to speak to Mike for a few moments.
Mike wiped at a tear that escaped down his cheek. "I know she is real sick, Slim. I promise, I can be real good and real quiet
if you let me stay. It's just," Mike paused and wiped away another tear, "I'm scared."
"Scared? Scared about what?" Slim questioned, knowing already what Mike would say.
"Scared that Aunt Daisy might not be here when I come back home." Mike said with more tears streaming down his face.
"Mike, don't think like that." Slim said a little more harshly than he meant it to be. "Jess and I are here and going to take
good care of her." He stooped down to put his face level with Mike's. "I promise."
Standing back up and leading Mike to the door, he continued. "The doctor is going to come by everyday to look in on her. Jess
and I won't be eating or sleeping regular. Just knowing that you are taken care of while this is going on will help us all. Do
you understand? We can take better care of Daisy if we only need to worry about her, till she is better."
"I know", Mike agreed. "Okay, I'll be good and go to the Miller's. When Dr Keefe goes back to Laramie, can he stop by the
Miller's and let me know how Aunt Daisy is doing?"
"I can ask him, and if he is passing by their place, I am sure he will stop and let you know. You know he doesn't always head
straight back to Laramie. There are other sick folks out there that he needs to see. Now get on that horse and ride. Tell Mr
Miller to stop by and I will tell him what is going on and send some clean clothes for you to wear while you are there. Now
don't worry, okay?"
They walked out on the porch. Slim stooped down to give Mike a hug. Mike showed his reluctance to leave by not wanting to let
go of Slim. Once they unlocked from the hug Slim helped Mike mount up on his horse. "Remember, don't worry. And Mike?"
"Prayers are mighty powerful."
"I know. I been sayin some all day."
"Off with you, Pard." Slim said as he patted the horse on the rump.
Mike turned his horse slowly and rode up the hill in a slow trot, turning and looking back to wave a few times. Slim waved
back hoping he had made the right decision to send him away. Daisy just had to get better. He had promised.
Jess came out of the barn, "Team's settled." Slim nodded his head. "I think that was a wise idea to send Mike to the Miller's.
I was kinda wonderin' how we were gonna deal with him if things got worse."
"Jess!" Slim almost shouted. "Don't say that. Don't even think it. Daisy is going be fine. I just know it."
"I hope so, Pard. I hope so."
Jess and Slim entered the house. Slim checked on Daisy while Jess headed for the kitchen. Sitting down, Slim watched the
sleeping Daisy. He was so happy that she was sleeping peacefully and the cough had eased up. He placed a fresh, cool cloth on
her forehead and bent over to kiss her cheek.
Jess peeked in, "How's she doin'?"
"Sleeping, shhh," Slim replied, closing the door quietly as they left the room and walked to the table.
"I rustled up some chow and made coffee. Let's eat somethin' and I'll take my turn to set with her." They sat down to the table
in silence. Jess picked up the coffee pot and poured a hot cup of coffee for each of them. Slim nodded his head in thanks. He
looked very worried. Jess looked up to say something but thought it best not to say anything and went back to sipping his coffee.
They both picked at their stew. Slim finally pushed his bowl aside only half eaten. "Why do these things happen, Jess? I just
don't understand it. A good person like Daisy should never be this sick and have to suffer so."
Jess nodded his head in agreement. "Why don't ya go get some sleep? I'll go set with her for now. I should be good for a few
hours. No more stages tonight. Sleep til mornin' if you can. I'll help ya with the first stage and then I'll get some shut eye."
"Yeah, I reckon we need to find some kind of schedule. Mose said he will help with the stage if one of us is sleeping or if
Daisy needs us. He doesn't want any of our coffee," Slim smiled, "so we don't need to worry about having any ready for him. I
think we have things covered, for now. If there is any change in Daisy, come get me, okay?"
"You know I will, Slim. Just get some sleep. Daisy will need you fresh in the mornin'."
"If I can sleep. Nite, Jess." Slim stood and moved toward Daisy's bedroom.
"Nite, Slim." Jess responded clearing the table as Slim took a final look in on Daisy then headed off to bed. When he lifted
the coffee pot Jess noticed it wasn't empty, yet. "Can't let this go to waste," he mumbled to himself and poured the last of
the coffee into his cup. He took it with him to Daisy's door. Putting his hand on the door handle, he looked down into his cup
as if he was searching for something, but it just wasn't there. He opened the door and walked over to the bed and looked down at
the sleeping form. He thought how tiny she looked there tucked in her bed. Sitting down, Jess took a drink from his cup, never
taking his eyes off his beloved Daisy.
After a long while of watching her soft breathing he realized how late it was getting. From her window he could see the sun
setting. Getting up and putting the cup on the night table, he walked to the window to take in the view.
It was a beautiful sunset. All the colors of the west were reflected in the sky. A lone coyote yipped off in the distance. He
heard the crickets chirping, real slow, as the temperature had dropped. All was so still and peaceful. Even the horses were
quiet in the barn.
Jess looked at the sunset again. To the left of the sun was a cloud formation. Jess swore it looked like an angel. 'Just like
the one Slim puts on the Christmas tree', he thought. 'Oh, Angel, I hope you are a good sign that Daisy will be alright.' He
looked over at Daisy and walked back to the chair to sit back down next to her. He accidentally bumped the chair and made a
small sound. He cursed to himself, under his breath. He was trying so hard to be quiet and careful to not disturb her rest.
She stirred a little and he leaned toward her and whispered, "I'm here. Everything will be alright." Daisy opened her eyes and
stared deeply into Jess' eyes. She gave him a weak smile and reached out her hand to him. He gently took her hand in his and
gave it a little squeeze and then a kiss. They held hands, looking deep into each others eyes for several moments. Jess finally
whispered, "How ya feelin', Daisy?"
She smiled as she answered him. "Better now that I know you are here, Jess." She started to cough and Jess got little panicky,
but tried not to upset Daisy with his ineptness.
"Shhhh, don't talk. It only makes you cough. Do you need to set up any?" he asked anxiously. She shook her head, no, weakly.
"Anything I can get you?" Jess asked. She shook her head yes and whispered, "Water?"
"Oh, yes, of course. I'm sorry. I should have asked. I was just so surprised to see you awake. I wasn't thinkin' straight. Here
Jess grabbed the glass of water off the night table, then gently lifted her head and shoulders and held her steady. He lifted
the glass of water to her lips for her to sip.
She nodded, to say that's enough, and he gently layed her head back on the pillow and put the glass of water on the night table
next to his now nearly empty cold cup of coffee. "Anything else you need?"
She shook her head, no. "Anything you want or somethin' I can do for ya?" She started to shake her head no, but a weak smile
spread across her lips and she indicated yes instead.
"Well, anything, you name it, Daisy. It's yours," Jess said eagerly. He leaned forward to listen to her wish so she need not
make much effort to speak.
"Jess, you know I love you and Slim and Mike." she whispered. Jess dipped his head in the affirmative, awaiting her request.
"Well, I know so much about Slim, but you, you are such a mystery to me." She started to cough but was able to get it under
control. Wheezing she tried to speak, again.
Jess leaned in real close, again, "What is it Daisy?"
"Jess? Could you tell me more about yourself? I feel I want to know you so much better and I fear I might not be around long
enough to solve the mystery of Jess Harper." She wheezed but did not break into a cough this time. "A little more water,
Jess helped her take a few sips and laid her back down on the pillow.
Her eyes were showing some of their old sparkle. How could he refuse her request? "Daisy, you know I ain't one to talk about
myself." he said, showing his discomfort at her request.
"I know, Jess, but, please? Start with your first memory." Daisy pleaded. "I love to hear your voice, and I am sure you have
so much to tell."
Jess leaned back in his chair with a slight frown and gave it some thought. He looked at Daisy and her pleading eyes and finally
said, "Okay, Daisy, I'll tell you some, but you gotta promise, this is between me and you. Not even Slim knows much about me.
If he did he'd probably hand me my stuff and my horse and set me back adrift again."
"I promise, Jess" Daisy whispered, her face lit with a smile.
“My first memory? I reckon it was the panic of my folks gatherin' us kids up to run for the storm cellar. There was a big ol'
Texas twister bearin' down on us. I could see it, but had no idea what I was lookin'at. No idea why Ma was cryin' and Pa,
well he was always angry about somethin', but he seemed almost crazy, if I even knew what that was back then. I reckon I was
only around 3 or 4 at the time.
Ma was carryin' my little brother under her arm, runnin' for the cellar. Pa was chasin' the horses from the lean-to and grabbin'
us older kids and pushin' us along to follow Ma into the cellar.
I still remember the sound of that twister as it passed near the small share cropper's house we lived in. My Ma was holdin’ my
little brother, rockin' him and cryin'. I was too young to know what was goin' on. It had to be bad with Ma cryin' and all, but
to me it was pretty excitin'. My big brother kept tellin' me everything would be alright and held my hand, but I wasn't scared.
The family was all together in that damp cellar. I can still smell the way that hole in the ground smelled. All earthy and how
dark it was till Pa lit the lantern. It was my first recollection of ever being in that cellar and it wouldn't be my last.
When the twister passed we came out to find that the lean-to had some damage, but all in all, we all survived in one piece and
still had a home. The horses all survived and with a little patchin' the lean-to was just fine.
Twisters were a part of life there in the panhandle. It got so that by the time I was 12, I knew every root that was comin'
through the wall of that cellar and how to avoid bumpin' into them in the dark. Sure, Pa would chop at them to keep them cut
back, but they always seemed to grow back by the next storm.
There are other early memories that I don't rightly recollect. I reckon I was too young to remember on my own, but Ma and
Francie, my big sister, would tell me stories about some of my more memorable adventures. I reckon I wasn't a shy kid. I made
my share of trouble and Pa was always quick, sometimes too quick, to take to punishment when he thought any of us stepped over
the line. It seems like his line and our line were never the same.
Yeah, Pa was fast with a belt. I can show you more than one place I still have a scar from that belt buckle. But it would not
be somethin' to show in polite company.
Eventually there were seven of us in the family. Pa made sure we kept out of trouble by workin' us from sunup to sundown. When
they opened the school in town, Ma insisted that all the kids should learn to read and write. Pa argued we didn't need to learn
nothin'. He couldn’t read or write and he was makin' do. We didn't need no fancy book learnin'. But Ma took on so, Pa finally
gave in. We still had our chores to do before goin' off to school and plenty more to do after we got home, till it was time to
go to bed.
I was seven when I first started school. Four of us rode to school double on two horses. Pa made us boys quit school when I was
about ten. With Ma ailin', and Hawkins always pushin for more tribute, he needed us to work the farm more.
I don't recollect when I learned to ride, but it was somethin' that came real natural. I loved the horses and took it upon
myself to make their care my special chore. We seemed to connect some how. I could talk to them and not worry about what I said
or told them. They were probably my only friends, other than Francie. I think it pleased Pa that I took such an interest in the
horses. It was one less thing he had to worry about. He knew I would take good care of them. The best thing I ever heard him
say was that I took better care of those horses than he ever did. He didn't ever say it to me, but I heard him tellin' a
neighbor about me. He almost sounded proud.
The work horses sure lived up to their name. Pa sometimes overworked them. I got many beatin’s for backtalk when I would tell
Pa he worked the horses too hard. He said he knew what was best for his horses and it was none of my business. I felt it was my
business. I needed them as much as they needed me. I could tell how weary those horses were at the end of the day. I would give
them some extra care, a good rub down and even sneak out after dark to make sure they were comfortable for the night.
If I had it I would give them a treat. If Pa ever knew I was wastin' our food on those horses, I would have got a whippin' for
sure. I knew we all would be back up early in the mornin' and workin' hard and wanted to make life for the horses a little
better. Makin' things better for them made things better for me. We were friends and I needed them.
After Ma had the last baby, she was in poor health. She tried to keep up with all the work and tried to keep Pa from gettin'
mad at her for not keepin' up. Ma was almost always feelin' poorly, but she would not let on to anyone. Francie and I both knew
she wasn't feelin' well. We would help her when Pa wasn't lookin'. When he caught us Ma would get a good tongue lashin' or maybe
a hard slap across her face. Pa would not abide laziness. We had our own chores to do and Ma had hers to do and he expected
everyone to do their share.
Pa took sick one winter. He couldn't even get out of bed. As sick as Ma was, she took good care of him and it wasn't long
before he was back to bein' his old self and makin' life hard for the rest of us. Of course, none of us kept our chores up to
his standards. We could never please Pa no matter how hard we tried.
I reckon Pa was the way he was because the farm was not his own. It seemed like everything we worked for was taken in exchange
for us livin' in that old shack. Food would often be scarce and I know Pa would go off and rustle a steer so his family could
eat. We all knew it was wrong, but if he hadn't done it, we would have starved or ended up eatin' the horses. Pa knew we
couldn't eat the horses, we needed them to keep up the farm and he needed one to ride to rustle up a steer for some food. We
needed those horses to live. They kept the farm goin' and were mighty useful for rustlin cattle.
When I was 8, Pa taught me to shoot his rifle and huntin' became one of my chores. Shootin' seemed to come as natural to me as
ridin' a horse. At first I would miss a shot for just bein' so danged excited that I was gonna bring dinner home. I remember my
first kill. A big ol' Texas jack rabbit. I was so excited that I shot him and proud that I was gonna provide the meat for one
of Ma's stews. I went to collect my prize and it was then I realized, I had killed another living creature. Up till now, Pa had
always done the killin' and butcherin'. I knew it was a part of life, but this poor critter died at my hand. I cried to myself,
in bed, that night. The stew was eaten, but was a little harder to swallow than anything I ever recall eatin'. But with time, I
learned to accept that the family had to eat and the animals were there to provide.
To this day, I give thanks to the animal I must kill for my own survival. It doesn't matter, steer or rabbit. It's probably
more than what a mountain lion or bear would do for me if I became his dinner. Sadly life depends on life to live. As I grew
older I found that life depended on how fast you were with a gun. It was called survivin’.
At ten, my Pa gave me my own rifle. Actually he bought himself a new rifle and gave me his old one. Because of the share
cropping, huntin' was becomin' more important to keep the family fed. Pa would take me or my brother with him on the hunt for
meat. It was alright with me that my brother used my rifle. We all had to share almost everything we had. I don't recollect
havin' anything that was my own. All our clothes were hand-me downs. Patched and re-patched over the patches. Dang, we didn't
even own our own selves. Pa had the say about everything we did.
By the time I was 12, I had learned how to rustle cattle. Pa, my brother and me would ride out and cut one out of the herd and
bring it home and butcher it. We always hoped the steer was never missed by the ranchers. It's a good thing the smoke house
never gave us away. Pa was real careful and never greedy. He only took cattle when we were runnin' outta food. We always had
plenty of hard tack on hand. Nothin' was ever wasted. But fresh beef was always welcome on our table.
Our farm was on the land of a rancher by the name of Hawkins. He was the one Pa had to pay tribute to and since our family was
eatin' pretty good, Hawkins reckoned he wasn't takin' enough. One day he came ridin' in on that fancy paint horse of his. I was
waterin' the horses and saw him dismount and walk over to Pa. They were close enough for me to overhear them. He told Pa that
since the family was growin' we should be producin' more and be able to provide him with more crops. Pa argued that we needed
more of the crops because us kids were eatin' a lot. If we couldn't eat, we couldn't grow the crops he wanted so bad. Hawkins
just laughed and said that we could just move on if we couldn't keep up with the rent. Hawkins got up on his fancy horse, spat
on the ground at Pa's feet, spun the horse around almost tramplin' Pa, and rode off.
Of course, this didn't leave Pa in a good mood. He headed for the house to get his rifle and go after Hawkins. When he told Ma
what happened and what he was fixin' to do, she pleaded with him to not do it. What would become of her and the children if
they hanged him for killin Hawkins? Hawkins was a big man in the territory, Pa would have been hanged for sure if he had
followed and killed him.
I overheard their argument and knew Pa would want one of the horses to go after Hawkins. So I just kinda let them out to
pasture a little early. Pa was not happy when he came out and told me to bring him a horse and I told him I had already let
them loose to graze. The look in his eyes made me feel that he might shoot me right then and there. Instead, he walked over and
hit me in the belly with the butt of his rifle. I collapsed to the ground. I had never been winded before. I thought I was
gonna die. I couldn't breathe. It was the worst feelin' I ever had.
Pa went to the barn and Francie came runnin' out to see if I was alright. She helped me into the house and into bed. Pa came
back in the house and he and Ma had more words. He was so angry the horses would not let him near them and he was unable to
catch any of them. I heard Ma cry out, so I reckon he must have hit her. He started shoutin' about gettin' even with Hawkins.
He would let him have all the crops he wants. We would be sitting down to more beef on the table from here on out. All Hawkins
beef. Rustlin' was about to become a big part of our life. After he cooled down, a little, he did go on to more rustlin' than
usual, but I think he feared gettin' caught.
I had just turned 15 when I was awakened one night to the horses makin' a lot of noise in the lean-to. I ran to the window to
see the sky was lit up. I felt my knees buckle but had to pull myself together to save the horses. I started yellin' to Pa and
Ma that the barn was afire. As I ran out of my room I saw the house was also ablaze.
Through the window I saw the man who put our house to fire. I will never forget his face. I later found out his name was
Banister. Banister and his gang were raiding all the ranches in the territory tryin' to drive the ranchers out. He wanted to
take over all the land in the area. Share croppers that he felt were in his way were part of his raid on the ranches. Too bad
our farm was so close to the main house. We might have been one of the lucky ones to not get burned out. But then, Banister
probably heard about Pa's temper and reckoned he best get him out of the way.
Chokin' on smoke I was able to make it to Francie's room and wake her. We both tried to get to the rest of the family, but
could only get to my brother and pull him out of the burnin' house. He was coughin' so hard, we thought he would die on us,
but he did come around once we got him away from the smoke. I can still feel the heat, the smell of the burnin' house. And my
The light from beyond the hill toward the Hawkins ranch told us they had been burnt out, too. On top of the hill were several
riders looking down at the fires. It was the men who killed my family. After watchin' for a while they turned their horses and
rode off. They were shoutin' and laughin' and firin' their six guns in the air. It was like they were havin' a celebration. I
wished I had my rifle. I would had jumped on one of the horses and gone after them, myself.
The last three Harpers stood holding ourselves close together. We were all we had left. What were we gonna do? No Ma. No Pa.
No home, just three young Harpers with nothin' and no place to go.
One of the other share croppers, nearby, woke to see the fire and came to help, but he was too late. He was related to Ma,
I think she told us he was her father's cousin, or some such thing. He was very worried to see the fire and what might have
happened to us. Luckily the horses made it out of the lean-to. If it had been a real barn, we would have lost them, too.
The share cropper offered to take my sister, brother and me in. With no place to go, we went home with him. Mr Brady and his
wife were kind enough to us, but I was wantin' revenge. I saw the man who destroyed my family, for what it was. These were the
only kin I had and most of us were gone, now.
The Brady's had three sons. None of them lived at the farm any longer. One son, Joe had gone back east and was doin' well for
himself. The second son, Gil, they hadn't heard from in years. They didn't know if he was alive or dead. Their third son, Jim,
they never spoke of him at all. I reckoned he was dead. Since they were all alone, now, they welcomed the help of what was left
of my family.
One day a stranger rode on to the farm. It was Jim, their third son. The one they didn't speak of. Jim had to lay low; he and
his gang were in trouble so he returned home to his Ma and Pa to hide out. I remember the day he rode into the farm. I can't
say he got a warm welcome from his Pa. But he came to stay for a while.
Jim and I got along great. I didn't know that he was a bank robber, but I was fascinated watchin' him practice his fast draw
and target practice with his six shooter. I later found out that Jim was involved with a gang of bank robbers. They did stage
coach robberies and had planned on doing some train robberies. So far they were successful and had gotten away every time and
no one knew who any of them were.
I showed enough interest in what Jim was doin', that he decided to teach me how to handle a six shooter. Mr Brady caught us
practicin' one day and almost made Jim leave, but I fessed up that it was my idea and that I was 15 and old enough to learn how
to use a gun for my own protection. Jim backed me up and we both stayed on, but things were never the same with Mr Brady. He
started to treat me as he did Jim.
It wasn't long before I became pretty accurate with the six shooter. I sold one of Pa's work horses and bought myself a used
gun belt rig and six shooter of my own. I finally felt I was growin' up and becomin' a man, and Jim encouraged me the whole
way. I sure wish I had known what I was gettin' myself into. But I was young and this was all so excitin'. I practiced and
practiced but could never measure up to Jim. He was so fast. If we weren't just playin', I would have been dead many times over.
He was like lightenin'. I envied him so. I wanted to be just like him.
I reckon it was around that time that I started wonderin' if there was more to the world than growin' crops and just givin'
them away for a place to live. Jim had been tellin' me stories of his many adventures and of his partners. He was becomin' my
hero, I reckon. I wanted to go places and do things, too. I wanted to live by the gun, just like Jim.
At first the stories were adventures. Later the truth came out about the robberies and the people he had killed. Now I wasn't
so sure if I really wanted to be just like Jim. But, it was still easy to overlook the bad side just to get away from becomin'
a sod buster with nothin' the rest of my life.
A few months before my sixteenth birthday, some friends of Jim's rode
into the farm. He was so happy to see his friends, he forgot all about me. I stuck close to listen to their stories and longed
for the adventure.
Mr Brady took me aside and tried to talk to me, but I brushed him off. I was almost sixteen. I could do as I pleased and it
pleased me to follow in Jim's footsteps. Mr Brady, then, talked to Francie and told her all about Jim and his past. This was
enough for Francie to come and plead with me to stay away from Jim and his friends. As much as I loved Francie, she couldn't
get through to me. I knew I was not meant to be a share cropper. I wanted something, something more, something different.
But I still didn't know what that was. I had already made up my mind, I was gonna leave the farm the first chance I got. I knew
the life Jim was leading was not right, but it seemed far better than share croppin' and never havin' anything. Maybe the money
wasn't honest, but there was money to be had. And the stories they told of the fancy ladies they met up with, and the things
they did with them. Even a bandit had a better life. As long as you didn't get caught, and I intended to never get caught.
One day Jim and his friends were out target shootin'. I watched for a bit, then went and strapped on my gun belt and joined
them. Jim's friends looked a little surprised when I walked over to them. They joked with Jim about me, askin' him if he was
groomin' me to be their replacements. Jim just smiled and said, "Show them Jess".
With all the practicin' I had been doin', I was gettin' pretty good. I don't think I surprised Jim much; he had been helpin'
me build on my new skill. But I sure shocked his two friends at how fast I was and that I hit each target with ease. I reckon
I may have surprised myself, as well. I think this was the first time I had not missed a single target. I felt so proud. I felt
like I belonged. I was as much a man as any of them.
It was Tom who suggested that I grease my holster to help me draw like lightenin'. I found this was their secret to how fast
they all were. Jim said he didn't want me to know about that, but now that I did, he was gonna show me how to do it right. He
also did a little work on my trigger guard, trigger and hammer. He said this would help me fire faster after my draw. It didn't
take much practice to get the hang of it and Jim and his partners were really impressed. So impressed that when Jim and his
buddies were fixin' to leave, they asked me to come ride with them. They didn't need to ask twice. This was my chance at what
I thought was gonna be a better life.
I told Francie the night before we were leaving. I told her I was takin' one of Pa's horses and a saddle. The other horses and
equipment were hers. I was gonna leave and most likely never come back. She pleaded with me to not go. She feared I would be
killed. She warned me, again, that Jim and his gang were no good, but I wouldn't listen. This was my chance to get out and
leave farmin' to the sod busters. I was about to become a man who lived by the gun. I shoulda listened to Francie. I reckon
things would have been far different if I had. I couldn't say things woulda been better or not, but that was somethin' I
The next mornin, after breakfast, we saddled and packed up to leave. I was already on my horse when Francie came to beg me not
to go, again. I told her this was my chance and I was gonna take it. We said our goodbyes. Francie cried. That made me feel
bad, but my mind was made up. I rode over to Mr Brady and thanked him for everything he did for me and my family. He tried to
talk me out of leavin', that it was breakin' my sister's heart. I looked at Francie, but she turned and ran into the house.
That was the last time I saw Francie. I told Mr Brady to not worry about me, I would be fine. I wonder if Francie hadn’t gone
into the house and begged me a little more, I might have changed my mind. But I don't think it would have made much difference.
Jim, Tom, Vern and I rode off to meet the rest of the gang. We met at the Colorado territory border. Colorado was new pickin's
for the gang. No one had heard of any of their exploits. They were startin' out fresh and new. No law on their heels in this
We rode into a small minin' town. Tom rode to the bank to check things out. The rest of us came into town a few at a time to
not draw attention to a gang ridin' into town. It really wouldn't have mattered. There was nary a person to be seen. As the
day wore on we drifed toward the town saloon. There were only a few customers at the bar or sittin' at tables playin’ cards.
I was lookin' for some of those fancy ladies I had heard about, but not one was to be seen. I was told it was too early for
those ladies to be out and about. I would get my chance to meet up with some a little later.
We gathered into small groups at tables near each other and tried to act like we were all strangers. Tom played the part of
the big spender, buyin' a round for the house. This was my first taste of whiskey. I know Pa use to keep a jug in the barn.
Ma wouldn't let it in the house. I reckon I wasn't curious enough to ever try it. I knew where he kept it hid, but if he'd a
caught me tryin' any, he would have beat me good for touchin' it. He made that very clear to all us young un’s.
A bottle was taken to Tom's table and glasses were passed around. Then the bottle was passed around and everyone poured their
own. It came to me and I had mixed feelin's if I really wanted to try it. But then, Pa wasn't around any more and my partners
encouraged me to take a swallow. Whew, I wished someone told me how to drink that stuff. It burned goin' down and made me cough,
and tears came to my eyes. How did they drink that stuff?
The bottle continued makin' the rounds and I found it easier to take as I drank more. It wasn't long before I was feelin' real
good. Feelin' this good, a little more should make me feel even better. But I was wrong. All of a sudden I started feelin' real
bad. I was feelin' real sick and had to go outside. I bumped into chairs and tables before I found the door. My feet just did
not want to go where I tried to put them. And when I found the door, I bumped into the wall next to it, before I passed though
The guys had a real good laugh out of it and would never let me forget it. I reckon I missed those fancy ladies comin' to the
saloon bein' sick out in the alley. But I don't think a fancy lady could have made me feel any better, anyway. Probably worse.
I reckon I passed out in the alley. I don't recollect.
The next mornin' I woke with a bangin' head and sick stomach. I slept on the floor of the stable where the guys left me
overnight. Jim woke me and asked how I was feelin' and I told him I thought I might die. He laughed and told me I learned a
good lesson about whiskey. I reckon I did. He said my next lesson would be about those fancy women. I was lookin' forward to
that lesson. It had to be a mite better than the lesson I learned about whiskey. He said the boys were meetin' for breakfast.
I told him I didn't think I was up to it, but he told me I would feel better after a little coffee and somethin' in my stomach.
I didn't really believe him, but I went with him, anyway.
We walked to the cafe and met up with Tom and Vern on the way. They sure had a great time funnin' with me. When we walked in
the cafe the smells were interestin', to say the least, but my stomach did not want to settle to eat. Just the thought of food
was makin' my stomach hurt again. And the bangin' in my head was gettin' worse. Everyone ordered coffee and bacon and eggs. I
figured I better follow suit so ordered the same, hopin' I would not shame myself in front of my friends.
When they served the coffee, it smelled heavenly. I never had coffee before. We were far too poor. We didn't even have a milk
cow. I was thirsty so I grabbed the cup ready to take a long sip. Surprised again. It was bitter and nothin' like it smelled.
I wasn't sure if I wanted more or not. But as I sipped it, I did start to feel better. By the time breakfast hit the table,
I was ready to eat.
After eatin’ we all sat around to a few more cups of coffee. I found I was beginnin' to like the rich, bitter, taste. Coffee
would become one of my best friends in the years to come. Besides my horse, I could always count on a good cup of coffee to
git me by.
When breakfast was done we all rode off in small groups, like we came into town and met about 3 miles outside town. Tom had
drawn up a map of the lay out of the bank. We were plannin' my first bank robbery. I was about to find out what it was like to
be an outlaw. Rustlin' cattle didn't count. We did that to keep from starvin'. This was different.
Everyone was assigned a place to be and a job to do. They chose me to hold the horses together for the git away. I was a mite
disappointed, and a little nervous. Okay, a lot nervous, this was probably a real good job for me, bein' my first time.
We all rode into town together, this time. We rode straight to the bank. Like yesterday, the town appeared to be deserted. Jim
pointed out where the sheriff's office was and told me that part of my job was to keep the sheriff in his office by gunfire,
if need be, if they weren't out of the bank before the sheriff might show himself on the street.
They all dismounted and pulled their bandana's up on their faces, handed me the reins to their horses to hold while they went
into the bank. I held all the reins with one hand, my other hand was on the butt of my six shooter.
Jim and Tom came runnin' out first carryin' bags of money. Vern and the two others were still in the bank and I heard gunfire.
Tom and Jim were already mounted when the others came runnin' out of the bank for their horses.
We were all mounted when the sheriff and his deputy came runnin' out of the office. Lead was flyin' back and forth. The deputy
went down. Jim fell from his horse. Vern was hit. I was stunned, but Tom grabbed my horse's reins as he rode by and we all
headed out of town ridin' hard.
I didn't believe we had done it and that we left Jim behind. Jim was my friend. We should go back for him. I argued with Tom
that we had to go back for Jim and we needed a doctor for Vern. I got no answer and we all took off on a long hard ride. We
split up in two groups, knowin' a posse would be out lookin' for us by now.
Vern was having trouble stayin' in the saddle after an hour of hard ridin'. He told us to leave him. He said he had friends
nearby and he would ride to their place and tell them he was bushwhacked. I never saw Vern after that. I don't know if he made
it to his friend's house or if he died out there where we left him. I never knew his last name so had no way to ever find out
anything about him.
Jim was wounded badly and I hear he died before they could have a trial. Since most of us didn't know anyone by their last name
there was no way he could tell who was in his gang. Once again, most of them got away without the law catchin' up with them,
The money? I never saw any of it. We never made contact after we split up and I wasn't with the group that had the money. They
never got caught. Years later I heard the deputy died and they shot a pregnant woman, in the bank, who started screamin'. She
lost the baby and then died a few days after. This was not the kind of life I wanted to lead.
All the senseless killin'. It just wasn't right. Shootin' a defenceless woman, with child, no less. That was purely uncalled
for. Just bein' part of that whole ordeal, I was as responsible as the one who pulled the trigger. I don't think I can ever
forgive myself for what happened to that poor woman and her child.
I never saw any more of the gang, and was glad for it. My life on the drift began. I continued to practice my fast draw. A good
thing, too, as it got me out of a lot of bad scrapes. I also learned how to use my fists. I took a lot of sucker punches,
loosened a tooth or two, split lip, black eyes, but I learned to fight. When to duck, when to block and how to put everything
I had into a punch.
I also learned how hard on the hands fist fightin' could be. Gloves! I needed a good pair of gloves. Somethin' that would not
affect my fast draw but keep my knuckles from being scraped up in a scrap. My hands were important to keep up my fast draw.
It meant my life. When I found that perfect pair they became a part of me. They even softened the hold on the reins on a long
ride. Kept my hands from gettin' sore with a lot of the jobs I had to take I drifted for a while doing cowhand work, stable
work, anything that came along as I drifted. I learned to blacksmith, to mend fences, do leather work. Build homes and barns.
And I sold my gun. Not proud of it none, but I always felt I was on the right side of the fight and I always gave the other
man the first move. Right or wrong, I walked away the lucky one. I sent a lot of souls on to their final reward. I had no
choice when the cards were on the table.
The greased holster was the advantage that kept me alive. Shootin' from the hip became one of my fine honed skills. I was
startin' to get a name for myself. Maybe there was some pride with it, but more often than not, I wished my life hadn't drifted
quite the way it had. I knew someday I would meet someone faster than me, or someone who didn't care if I drew at all. Just
someone wantin' to be known as the man who shot Jess Harper, fair fight or not. I reckon I'm real lucky to still be alive,
and able to tell you about it. I look back, often, and think about how things could had been different but there is no way to
change the past.
I reckon I knew from the time I put on my first gun belt, I would live to regret it. But then, if I stayed on the farm, I would
have killed myself just workin' myself to death. Maybe takin' up the gun kept me alive. I reckon I’ll never know.
Then the cry went up and we were at war. I found I had to choose up sides and decided to follow Robert E Lee. I don't think I
had much of a commitment either way, but bein' from Texas I felt a loyalty to the south.
Daisy closed her eyes as Jess was speaking. He finished his thought and leaned close to her and whispered, "Daisy? You asleep?"
She turned her head slightly to face him and her eyes popped open.
"No, Jess. I am enjoying this so much. If I close my eyes I can picture everything you are telling me", she said with a hint of
"I must be tirin' ya out with all this chatter," Jess expressed his concern. "How about some water?"
She nodded her head yes and as before Jess helped her sip at the glass of water. When he laid her back on her pillow she gazed
into his eyes and gave him a sweet smile and gently touched his face. "You sleep now, okay?" he said as he placed the water
glass back on the night table. He grabbed a cool cloth and wiped her brow.
"No," she said. "More".
"More water?" Jess said as he jumped up to reach for the glass of water again.
"No, tell me more."
Jess put down the glass of water and sat down with a sigh. He leaned his head back with his eyes closed for a moment, then sat
up and continued on with his story.
The war. Not a good memory. It lasted too long. So many good people died or their lives where changed forever and not in a good
way. At first I didn't see much action since most of the heavy fightin' was goin' on back east. Cause I was from Texas they
reckoned I would make a good scout. Sure, I was good at trackin' from my huntin' days, I was willin'. If a trail isn't covered,
anyone kin follow it. Through the more experienced scouts I learned how to cover a trail and how to read a covered trail.
When not out scoutin' I would be in camp. In camp I did anything and everything I was ordered to do. It was almost like bein'
back on the farm. You had no choice to what you could or would do. You were told when to eat, when to sleep and even when you
were allowed to take care of your personal needs.
As the months went by I was ordered further and further east and called into more action. We knew we were loosin' the war, but
the leaders would not admit defeat, so we kept fightin'. The few friends I made in those years ended up missin' a limb, an eye
or worse. It was a bloody and brutal war. Brother killin' brother. Father killin' son, son killing father. I watched a way of
life comin' to an end.
I faired out pretty lucky until I reached Tennessee and Georgia. In Tennessee I was assigned to General Johnston's company. It
was shortly after the Battle of Chattanooga, around May of 64. I saw a lot of action once we reached Georgia. Why did I ever
hope to see any action? And fightin' under Johnston we were destined to loose.
General Sherman was in charge of the western Union armies. General Johnston and our company were called up to go up against
Sherman and defend Atlanta.
We were outnumbered two to one and Johnston had to call for reinforcements. They were sent so it helped even things up, some.
Johnston was known for withdrawin' before makin' serious contact. He had been successful in other battles usin' this retreat
tactic. In Georgia, though, he was facin' Sherman and Sherman was known to be very aggressive. We were forced to hold a strong
defense. Sherman knew it would be suicide to attempt a frontal attack so he tended to flank us every chance he got. Our left
flack was always under fire. Johnston would have us retreat and prepare a new position.
We met Sherman in many battles as we tried to hold our supply line. We would stand and retreat, stand and retreat. We were
gettin' whooped. He might have stopped us then and there but he decided to send a force across the River at Lay's Ferry and
try taking our supply line. We couldn't hold him and had to retreat southward, again. We tried to take a stand just south of
Calhoun, but had to retreat a little farther to Adairsville. In Adairsville we held Sherman into the night. But, again, we had
We moved on to Allatoona Pass and fought Sherman for two days. Sherman tried to flank us to the left, but Johnston had a hunch
that Sherman would try it so we moved position and we were ready for him. We fought hard, but lost a lot of men. Men, shucks
most of us were boys. So many bodies on both sides. I saw friends I had made die. If not directly from battle, from just plain
exhaustion combined with a need for more and better food and fresh water. Most of our meat by this time was either rancid or
crawlin' with maggots. Fresh water was scarce, what little we had wasn't fit to drink.
Sherman was tryin' to get around our line to reach the railhead at Allatoona Pass so we were forced to follow to protect what
was left of our supplies. At Picketts Mill Sherman pushed to attack our exposed right flank. But we were ready for them, and
this time they had heavy casualties. Sherman retreated and we moved onward to Marietta.
Johnston moved us to Kennesaw Mountain and Sherman tried to attack the supply line, but our position held. As Sherman brought
in more armies they were able to gain some ground and we had to retreat, again this time south of Peachtree Creek, about three
miles north of Atlanta. Sherman split his troops and sent Thomas's Army of the Cumberland movin' north. Johnston was reviewin'
plans to attack Thomas when word came that President Davis relieved Johnston of his command and appointed General Hood to take
his place. Hood attacked Thomas as they were crossin' Peachtree Creek. We held for a long time and almost over run the Yankees,
but eventually they brought in reinforcements and we were forced to retreat, again. Leadership was something we were sorely
In this retreat my luck had run out. I was hit in my side, tore up pretty bad, and I went down. Several of the men helped me
up and moved me along with the retreat. We were headed right for Atlanta. We were supposed to protect Atlanta and now we had
been driven right into the heart of what we were there to defend and had little left to defend with.
My side was on fire. Every step was agony. I might have passed out, as much of this forced march was real fuzzy. I remember
passin' though some heavy tree coverage, but then there was a city in front of me and no trees near. I don't recollect the walk
between the forest and walkin' down the dirt road into the city. Daylight had turned to dusk somewhere along the way.
The hospital was near the edge of the city from where we were comin'
from. The wounded were taken to the hospital, includin' me. The hospital was already full of wounded soldiers. I had to sit
holdin' a bandage to my side until someone could look at my wound. It took hours.
We were sittin' in the halls since all the beds were filled. I reckon I finally passed out. I don't recollect when someone came
to put me on a stretcher, but I woke with someone diggin' in my side searchin' for the lead that was deep in my side. There
were several men holdin' me down so I couldn't move. I felt as weak as a kitten, but it sure is amazin' how pain can give you
new strength. It took eight of them to keep me from movin' so the doctor could take out the bullet.
There was no more chloroform left in the city. It had all been used for amputees. Now the amputees didn't have any chloroform
to spare for them when bein' operated on durin' my stay at the hospital. With infection and gangrene so rife, I reckon I was
lucky. Even if I got an infection, I couldn't have been saved by amputation. I don't think I could have handled loosin' an arm
The screams of pain where all around me. I became aware that some of that screamin' was comin' outta me. The pain was so bad,
I wished they had let me die; just left me lay where I fell. Whiskey was the best they could do for me, but I passed out long
before the whiskey did me any good.
I don't know how long I was laid up. I was unconscious much of the time from fever and infection. When I woke I had quite a
beard, so I know considerable time had passed me by. I tried to get someone to pay attention to me to tell me what was goin'
on with the war and how long I had been out. I felt feverish and reckon I may have been out of my head with fever for some
time. My side hurt, terrible. I was bandaged, but it looked like I had bled through the bandage and it hadn't been changed for
days. I also discovered a bandage around my head. I don't recollect a head wound. I wondered how much of the walk into Atlanta
I was really aware of. Had I been shot again?
I don't know why or how, but it seems like it wasn't my time. Somehow I survived and found myself gettin' a little stronger
every day. Laudanum made the pain less and I spent a lot of my time sleepin'. While I was in the hospital I became friends with
a fella from Missouri by the name of Will Tibbs. He was on the cot next to me, and we got to swappin' stories when both of us
were awake. Will had his leg shattered by a near fatal hit of a cannon ball, but the doctors figured since there was no
infection and the bone was still mendable, he could keep his leg. He suffered mostly muscle damage.
Neither of us was able to get up and about. We could hear battles goin' on all around us. I reckon we were lucky to be where
we were. We were still alive and our wounds didn't appear to be life threatenin' any more.
By this time laudanum was gettin' real scarce and what was left was used for only those sufferin' the most pain. Apparently
they reckoned I wasn't in much need of any, so I became aware of more of my surroundin’s.
Those who didn't die of their wounds in battle were dyin' of their wounds from infections. There were no real bandages to be
found. Women from all over the city were tearing up sheets, petticoats, any cloth that could serve as a bandage was torn into
strips. I must say those Atlanta ladies were a sturdy bunch to be at the hospital helpin' with the wounded. There was far too
many of us for the doctors to look after. These ladies were haulin' buckets around like farm hands. No matter how bad the
wound, how dirty the man, those women were angels. We were crawlin' with all sorts of vermin. So many were sick if they weren't
wounded and these ladies cared for everyone as if each of us was a brother.
By the end of August, both Will and I were up and about, but not allowed back on the battlefield, Will had a terrible limp and
needed a crutch, but was able to get about enough to help out the wounded. We were put to work in the hospital. The wounded
were brought in daily and we helped with most of the minor injuries. Then there were the times we were called upon to help hold
down a man or boy to have a bullet removed or a limb amputated. I can't say if it was harder bein' the one on the table or the
one tryin' to hold down the patient. Both Will and me knew what they were goin' through.
Me and Will were gradually gettin' our strength back and I knew it wouldn't be long before we would be forced back into battle.
The word was that Hood was fightin' two Union corps just west of Jonesborough.
That night Hood withdrew one of his corps and sent them to evacuate Atlanta. They were gonna burn Atlanta so the Yankees could
not reach the military supplies and installations. We were called on to help evacuate the hospital.
Anyone who could walk was helped to march out of town one leanin' on another. They couldn't stand on their own, but holdin'
each other up, they were able to slowly move out of the town before it was to be destroyed. Wagons were brought in from the
farms and plantations. We helped load those who couldn't walk. We wondered if some of the men would survive bein' moved. I
often wonder if we were doin' the right thing movin' them. We might have killed some movin' them, they might had been better
left behind. It was horrible.
"The war must have been terrible for you, Jess” Daisy whispered with a
trace of tears in her eyes. “So young".
"Yeah, Daisy. We never thought it could get worse, but it did. How about a sip of water?" Jess said, already reaching for
the glass of water. It was near empty, so he grabbed the pitcher and refilled the glass. He helped Daisy sit up and put the
glass to her lips.
This time she reached for the glass with one hand. Their hands touched as she sipped at the water. "Thank you, Jess", she said
as Jess helped her lay back on the soft
pillow. "Go on, please? How could it get any worse?"
Jess put the glass down and grabbed at a cloth resting in a wash bowl. He rung it out and wiped Daisy's brow. She smiled and
appeared to have a little more color to her cheeks. Jess wondered if this meant she was feeling better or was the fever
returning. He was hoping for the former.
He sat back down. Daisy raised her hand to him. He gently took her handin his. They held hands as Jess continued with his
Before we finished movin' the men out we could hear the explosions
startin' down at the railroad. It wasn't long before we could smell the smoke and then see the fire. It was time for those of
us left to make our retreat. Will and I made a pact that we would leave there together and decide our future once we were out
of the city and have a chance to think and decide if we had had enough war. I found him bandagin' a young boy with a wound in
his arm. When he finished we sent the boy on his way and slipped out the door.
We headed north leavin' town. We tried to stay clear of everyone. I sure wished I had a horse. I wished I had a gun. I wished
I was anywhere but there. But we were there, gunless and horseless and on our own. No one to do our thinkin' for us. After all
the years of bein' told what to do, it was hard to start thinkin' for ourselves again. We needed to find a company to join up
with, but needed to avoid runnin' into any Yankees.
Once we were far away from the city we looked for a place to hole up. We didn't dare look to go to any houses. If we were
caught by the Yankees they might shoot us on sight or send us to a prison camp. We found a stand of trees that had collapsed
upon themselves. After we examined the strange sight, we saw it had been something someone had done, purposely. For what reason,
we had no idea, but it gave us shelter for the night. We checked it all over to make sure it wouldn't collapse on us and we
were satisfied that it would hold, at least over night, so we crawled into the small sheltered area.
We were both still recoverin’ from our wounds, Grady with his bad limp, and me still in some pain if I lifted somethin’ heavy
or bent over too far and we didn't feel safe bein' alone with no way to defend ourselves.
In the mornin' we set out to try find some food and weapons. Most the farms and plantations were burnt to the ground. Those
that remained standin' were burnt on the inside. No food or weapons to be found anywhere. Our clothes were rags and the nights
were cold We needed some warm clothin' We were out on the road for three days now and would have wore a warm dress, if we
could of found one. And findin' a gun was more than we could hope for.
We found a milk cow in need of milkin', so we had milk for our meal, one night. Fruits, vegetables, almost anything edible
was now part of our diet. With no gun or knife, meat was not in our diet. We tried to stay away from any open areas to avoid
bein' seen. On the forth day we had a choice to try and cross a huge open field, or walk miles to a forest to avoid bein' in
the open. Since we were so tired, we went for the shortest route. It turned out to be a big mistake and was far from the
shortest route. We were in mid field when we heard many horses coming in our direction. We laid down in the tall grass to hide
and try to see who was comin' up on us. It was a company of Union soldiers. We lay still and could smell the horses and leather
as they passed by us. Once they passed us we ran for cover into the closest woods. We wouldn’t make that mistake again.
Eventually we came upon a small unit headin' north to join up with Lee in Virginia. But we never made it to Virginia. We marched
with the unit for about four days when we were come upon by a Union battalion. We tried to fight, but were outnumbered and our
weary unit was captured and put into a Yankee prison run by a General Paul Hallick. Life there was far worse than anything I
ever experienced. I don't like to even give thought to those days. I saw starvation, sickness and lost more friends.
Will and I befriended a young boy by the name of Newt Duncan. His brother, Johnny and he had been captured before us and they
were plannin' an escape. Somehow the Yankees caught wind of it and were waitin' for us. Those who got out first were shot on
sight. As I look back, they may have been the lucky ones. The rest of us were severely punished. Newt was badly beaten by
Hallick's men. All of us suffered some form of punishment, but none of us were beaten as bad as young Newt. If we thought
conditions were bad before, the worst was about to begin.
The smell of death was all over the camp. Bodies often laid for days before being buried. All the men were weak from starvation.
Diggin'graves took more energy than anyone had. Often those diggin' the graves ended up occupyin' the grave they dug, themselves.
I’m amazed any of us made it out alive. Some of us made a pact that we would get revenge for those who died in the camp. Will
didn’t want to go along with it. He had had enough of killin' and seein' death. He just wanted to get out and git back home.
Then the war ended just like that. They opened the gates and we were free to go. Go? Go where? Most of us had no where to go.
Many knew their homes were gone, families dead of disease or in the war. The whole world had changed. My first thoughts were of
home. I knew home was no longer there. But what about Francie? Maybe she was still living with the Brady's or they might know
where I could find her.
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