|A stranger comes to Chimney Rock by
Prof. Fuller Bullspit
Afternoon clouds danced along the
tops of the mountains above the peaceful town of Chimney Rock offering
some relief from the too-warm-for-Fall weather and the promise of much
needed rain. That evening, flashes of lightning could be seen and the rumble
of thunder was heard all through the valley and rain fell on the town.
One of the bright flashes struck a tree high on the open face to the West
of town and started an avalanche of rocks and debris that was noticed by
several people in the town. Even closer to the bolt of lighting was Clayton
Reese, an old miner working a worn out claim. Noting the lighting had hit
near the edge of his claim he planned to visit the area the next day. Little
did he know that what he would find there would one again turn Chimney
Rock into a bloody cauldron of hell.
Sunup found the old miner scrambling
his way over the rock slide at the South of his claim to see what the lighting
had done. “Getting too old for this rock climbing” he thought to himself
with a smile. As he rested his mind drifted to the old thoughts of striking
it rich and arriving back in St. Louis in fine style. He thought too of
his only kin, a daughter whose letters still came monthly full of big city
notions and concern for him living out in the Wild West. “She should see
me today,” He thought, “I bet she would scold me for being out here on
this loose rock.”
By midmorning Reese had found
the lighting strike, a gnarled old tree with roots deeply planted in the
rocks. But even more interesting was the cavern entrance that had been
exposed by the rock slide. An experienced hard rock miner, Reese could
tell that despite pains taken to hide the fact, this was no natural cavern.
This space had been hewn from the solid rock and then hidden. And it could
have stayed hidden forever if an act of nature hadn't exposed the secret.
In the freshly exposed rock Reese could see strange symbols that had been
painstakingly chipped into the granite surfaces. Among these was a box
with a cross above it and a triangle within a circle.
Fishing a candle and matches from
his vest pocket Clayton Reese crawled into the small entrance. He lit the
candle and noted by the candle flame that there was a strong current of
air flowing from the small entrance he was in towards the inky blackness
of the tunnel. For that was what this surely was. The candle flame
bounced crazy dancing shadows on the tunnel walls as he crawled forward
until after about 10 feet the tunnel opened up into a tiny room, carefully
constructed and well braced with timbers.
In the middle of the space was a
raised bench with a strongbox atop it. Reese wasted little time investigating
each wall of the small room, noting still more strange symbols and a clever
vent hole that was responsible for the airflow. Taking the very heavy strong
box down from its pedestal Reese heard the jingle of gold coins within.
It took the old miner the rest of
the day to drag and carry the strongbox to his cabin where he used his
mining tools to break the locks. Inside he found gold, a lot of gold and
a few baubles that were no doubt worth plenty. He also found maps, a journal
and a pistol. Reese had a problem. The strongbox held treasure, and maps
that hinted of still richer rewards, but Reese couldn't read them nor the
journal. Having chased the golden dream his whole life Reese knew what
gold could do to a man. But that didn't stop the greed from rising in him.
Hiding the strongbox with most of
the gold, Clayton Reese took a few coins, the journal and the gun to town
the next day to see if the most educated man he knew, a dentist by the
name of Thomas Francis Shelby could help him puzzle out the meaning of
the pages of neat print and the strange symbols on the smallest map.
The next morning, in Shelby's back
room, secure from the gaze of others, Reese revealed the journal and the
small map. Being a well connected Southern man, Shelby immediately recognized
the symbols on the map as those of the Knights of the Golden Circle, a
semi-secret organization of the South committed during the recent war of
Northern Aggression on expanding the South's reach into Mexico and other
regions. While the map was interesting, Shelby's attention was captured
by the journal. Could it really be a journal written in Jesse James's own
Rumor had it that many KGC, including
the James brothers had been and some were still active in trying to put
together enough money to support a rising of the South. If so the map and
the journal might be the path to part of the fortune that the James Younger
gang had stolen but that had never been recovered. Perhaps even more treasures
were to be found because it had been said that in the waning days of the
war Jefferson Davis himself had worked to put much of the South's gold
in the hands of the KGC for safekeeping.
“Have you shown these to anyone
else?” Shelby inquired?
“No, I was careful not to show them
off, didn't show off this neither.” said Reese, holding a large gold coin
in his hand for Shelby to see. “I found this stuff and came straight here
so you could help me sort out the writin’. Course, I'll share anything
we find that comes of this.”
Thinking of the hidden treasure
box, the old Miner mused to himself that he wouldn't share that, just anything
else they found. This moment of introspection caused the old miner to miss
the flash of greed in Shelby's eyes. “I should show you where I found it
because they is more scratching like on that there map.”
Shelby and Reese left town quickly,
but without attracting attention. The sun was getting low in the West when
the old miner and Shelby made it to the now exposed tunnel. “This is amazing!”
said Shelby as he examined the KGC symbols. “There is more like this inside?”
“Could be” was the cagy reply. As
the old man stooped down to enter the tunnel Shelby slipped his .32 from
his pocket and shot Reese in the back. As the old miner laid shuddering
in pain Shelby searched him quickly, finding several pieces of gold but
missing the pistol secreted in the miners belt. With contempt Shelby then
rolled the still breathing old man off the narrow path they had been on
to tumble out of sight down the face of the rock slide.
Shelby was incensed when he found
the small treasure room empty of riches, and felt a sinking feeling in
the pit of his stomach as he investigated the pedestal in the center of
the room and the large, but empty, rectangular spot that was clearly outlined
in the fine dust that had settled on everything in the room. “That old
man fooled you.” He drawled to himself. “But there is a treasure out here
and I'm going to need help in finding it now that that old man is dead.
Reese knew he was hurt bad, but
he wasn't dead yet. All he could think of was to get to his cabin and the
treasure box hidden so carefully nearby. As Shelby picked his way carefully
down the mountain in the darkness, the old miner dragged himself towards
Two days later….
“Hoss, it's getting near dark and
we ain't in Chimney Rock yet. I won't hold it against you, even though
you promised me we would be there tonight. I guess we had better find ourselves
a spot to camp for the night. I sure do wish for a hot bath and a meal
I ain't cooked my ownself though.” The horse flicked his ears back
to listen to the man; he was used to the sound of his voice as the two
had been traveling the lonely trails together for several years.
>From the top of the ridge the rider
surveyed the terrain in the limited light of the setting sun. Spying a
green bench that at least promised some food for his horse about ¼
mile away the stranger and his horse headed down in that direction. The
horse alerted the lone rider to the old man trying to drag himself towards
that same grassy bench. Dropping from the saddle the stranger tended the
bullet wound in his back and made him comfortable. Through the night the
man's feverish ranting kept the stranger awake and puzzled, but with some
periods of lucidity the story began to become clear.
The next morning the old man, sensing
his time was near told the stranger the story of the treasure, revealed
the location of the treasure box and maps. He wrote a note on the back
of an envelop the stranger had ceding ½ of the treasure on his claim
to the stranger an anyone else who helped him. He gave Jesse James's pistol
to him and made the stranger promise that he would try to get the other
half of the money to the old miner's daughter in St. Louis. After promising,
and then burying the man properly high up in the mountains in the green
bench, the stranger traveled the short distance to the old man's cabin
and located the treasure and the maps. He placed Jesse James's pistol back
in the box and after examining the remaining maps and coming to grips with
the enormity of the treasure they promised he took the maps but left the
box and the rest of its contents where the old man had hidden it in order
to hurry down to Chimney Rock. He knew he was going to need help finding
the treasure, and dealing with the troubles that Thomas Francis Shelby
was going to cause. For the stranger knew of Shelby and understood like
no other what the man was capable of doing. Little did he know that Shelby
had already wired for help and the first of the gunmen he had contacted
had begun to arrive in Chimney Rock.
The stranger drifted into town unnoticed
and wanted to keep it that way. To any who saw him he was just another
drifter passing through. He went to the saloon and listened and learned
enough to know that Shelby was starting to call in some bad men. Many of
these had been in Shelby's irregular unit during the war and most hadn't
learned a trade beyond thieving, robbery and murder after the war ended.
There was talk of treasure, and trouble and the town was getting worried.
The stranger also learned that Shelby had disappeared from town and nobody
knew where he was to be found.
After his long awaited bath the
stranger went to the general store and stocked up on ammunition, some jerky,
salt, flour, writing paper and a few airtights of peaches and other staples
of the trail. Considering the enormity of the task he had to do, the promise
he had to keep, the stranger knew he needed the help of the good people
of Chimney Rock. While these folks had become accustomed to living in town,
many had served in the war and knew their way around guns and wouldn't
shy from doing right. Taking paper in hand he carefully spelled out a dozen
handbills and posted them around town:
|A Promise, I aim to keep.
Good men of Chimney Rock! I need
your help to keep a promise I made to an old local miner I found shot in
the back. I'll explain on Nov. 30th in front of the Chimney Rock Depot.
On the 30th the stranger saddled
his horse at the livery and began leading him to the depot as a crowd gathered.
Just then a shot rang out. The stranger felt the breeze of the slug as
it passed with a sound like an angry bee. Rolling out of the line of fire
as he drew his gun the stranger answered in kind. Then as suddenly as it
started the gunfight was over. No blood was on the ground, yet, and no
sheriff seemed to care so the stranger quickly made his way to the depot.
As he mounted the platform he felt
all eyes on him and some of those eyes didn't feel too friendly. He had
no doubt that the man who attempted to kill him was in the crowd but the
stranger doubted that he would try anything where there were witnesses.
As the crowd fell quiet the stranger spoke.
“You all don't know me, as I'm a
stranger around here. But let me tell you about a man you all know, and
how we can help him now that he is dead.” And with that the stranger told
all he knew of the discovery that Clayton Reese had made, and the treachery
that lead to his death.
As is the way with most towns like
Chimney Rock, most who had gathered that day decided it was none of their
business, and in fact that it might even be bad for business and they left
murmuring to each other after the stranger had said his piece. A few others
stayed but they had gold lust in them and the stranger clearly told them
that they had no part to play in helping him keep a promise to a good old
man. Still others were sound and they agreed to help the stranger recover
the gold that was surely hidden in the hills and make sure that the old
miner's daughter in St. Louis got her fair share.
The group of good folks, with the
honest stranger in the lead wasted no time in heading out towards the old
miner's claim. The stranger planned to find the tunnel and now empty treasure
room for the maps seemed to indicate this as a starting point for the search.
As the group rounded a bend near an old bridge leading out of town shots
rang down from the hills above! The group scattered and returned fire with
rifles hastily grabbed from scabbards. A few good man were wounded trying
to flank the ambushers but soon the good guys got into position and the
bad guys were routed out of their perches in the rocks.
With wounded to care for the stranger
led the good guys back to town. Arriving there they found the doctor who
related some interesting news as he tended the injured. This very afternoon,
Persephone Reese, the miner's daughter had arrived by train from St. Louis.
The stranger thanked the Doctor and went to the hotel to meet the girl
so he could explain the situation to her for according to the Doctor she
had planned on surprising her father with her visit.
After explaining the situation to
her as best he could Persephone asked to be taken to her father's burial
site. The stranger tried to explain that it wouldn't be safe, but she was
a headstrong woman and wouldn't be dissuaded. She said that all the money
Jesse James had stolen wouldn't return her father to her, and she didn't
care the least for it but she wanted to pay her last respects to her father.
The girl explained that she loved her father, but hadn't seen him in 10
years. She had grown tired of the city life and had decided to travel to
the Wild West to see it for herself. As the stranger left he agreed to
take Persephone to her father's grave in the morning.
The stranger left the hotel to go
to the livery to arrange for a horse and buggy for the trip. As he rounded
the corner into the alleyway he sensed a presence, and then saw the badge
of town sheriff glinting in the lamplight. Just as he was about to greet
the lawman the big sheriff hit the stranger aside the head with his Colt.
The stranger slumped to the ground only to be dragged to the jail by the
big corrupt badge wearer.
The next morning the stranger awoke
with a headful of pain and a hat that wouldn't fit anymore. The sheriff
laughed at the stranger's plight and told him that Shelby would be back
in town soon and he would get the fun of killing the stranger, in return
for a healthy share of the gold of course. The sheriff also indicated that
Persephone had been tricked into thinking that she was to meet the stranger
out at the grave and had been accompanied out of town by a couple of Shelby's
men. She was now a prisoner, and a pawn in this treasure hunting chess
As she rode in the surrey driven
by the foul smelling man who said that he was sent by the stranger, Persephone
wondered about the story she had been told. She trusted the stranger, but
these men seemed a different sort. However, once they arrived at a sunny
meadow at the base of the mountain far below her Father's claim she met
Thomas Francis Shelby who charmed her with his Southern Gentleman's manners.
He told a vastly different story about her father's death, implicating
the stranger and assuring Persephone that it was he, Shelby who had found
her father after the stranger had killed him. He continued to win her trust
by explaining that it was he who had read all of her letters to the old
man, and it was he who had penned the infrequent responses that arrived
with the money her father had sent her. He knew so much about her father,
and the letters that she had to believe that her father and this man Shelby
had indeed been friends. He showed her a gravesite in the meadow and prayed
with her as she mourned the father she had never really known.
Back at the jail the stranger was
busy with the lock. He had worked a bit of metal out of the bed frame and
was about to break out. With a muffled squeak the last tumbler turned and
the cell door opened. The stranger crossed the space to the sheriff's desk
on cat's feet. He grabbed his gun while the sheriff looked out of the window.
With his gun in had the stranger told the dirty sheriff to put his hands
up. The sheriff instead turned faster than a big man should be able to
move and drew his own gun. The stranger had no choice but to shoot the
man dead. Alerted by the shot some of Shelby's men in the street rushed
the jail only to be dealt a hand of hot lead by the stranger.
Reloading his gun on the run the
stranger found his horse, saddled it and rode out of town following the
only pair of buggy tracks he could find. They led him at last to a meadow
where he could see a group of men preparing the evening meal. The stranger
made a quick plan and settled down to watch the camp until night fell.
He found it strange to see how friendly Persephone was with the men who
had obviously kidnapped her. In fact, he feared that she might not be who
she claimed to be at all and might instead be one of Shelby's gang. A couple
of times the stranger thought he saw Shelby himself, but it was only a
glance as the man entered the largest tent in the camp.
When darkness came and the camp
settled down into slumber the stranger made his move. Creeping to the string
of horses secured at the edge of camp the stranger took up a tomahawk that
had been used to split some kindling for the fire and used it to cut the
horses free. The horses milled about as the stranger turned to the camp
just in time to see a man drawing a bead on him with a rifle. The tomahawk
flashed through the night air striking the man down just as the shot echoed
through the night warning the camp.
The stranger ran toward the camp
to save, or at least grab Persephone when he saw her running towards him
with bad men shooting past her towards him! Yelling at her to stay down
or out of the way the stranger shot at the men until his gun was empty.
Just as this happened he saw Shelby mounting a big black horse that had
been tied by the tent and ride off into the night. The stranger ran to
the rifle of the man he had killed with the tomahawk and taking it up dispatched
still more of the gang as Persephone came up to his side. Grabbing her
he turned to the horses still milling about and threw her up on one and
jumped on behind her. After quick ride to his hiding place, with the rest
of the camp's horses following along, he mounted his own horse and the
pair made their way carefully to the only place the stranger thought might
be safe, the old Miner's cabin. Along the way the stranger convinced the
girl that he was in the right by showing her the real grave of her father.
She insisted upon seeing the body and after a short digging spell was satisfied
that the stranger was indeed telling the truth. He also filled the girl
in on the type of man Shelby really was.
Due to the time spent at the grave
it was midmorning when Persephone and the stranger reached the miner's
cabin. But they were not there alone, the big black horse was tied to a
nearby tree and smoke rose from the chimney. “Shelby, in the cabin” called
the stranger. A rifle boomed from the window in answer. “Shelby. You may
be my brother but I will kill you!” yelled the stranger from behind a rock
“You will never get me out of here
brother and my men will be riding to the sound of gunfire so you had better
clear out or die!” Shelby yelled from the shelter of the solidly built
Investigating the well house the
stranger found a supply of dynamite and an old civil war cannon ball that
the old miner probably recovered powder from to use in his mining pursuits.
The stranger positioned himself and then began throwing lighted sticks
of dynamite at the cabin from the shelter of the well house. Shelby held
out as long as he could but as the risk of the cabin being turned into
his tomb he bolted from the door firing his pistol as he ran. The stranger's
gun bucked in his hand as he returned fire and he saw dust rising from
Shelby's black overcoat at the impact of his rounds. Shelby stopped and
opened up with a shotgun and a second pistol before falling to the ground.
Knowing they weren't safe at the
cabin the stranger and Persephone rode quickly to the giant hollow tree
where Reese had hidden the treasure box. They planned to take the box and
ride to town to get help from the good people of the town. As the stranger
knelt down to uncover the box he heard a thud and turned to see Persephone
fall to the ground, struck in the head by a pistol barrel. He heard that
pistol being cocked and the cool voice of Shelby. “You might want to see
this journal brother.” And with that Shelby tossed the journal of Jesse
James onto the top of the now exposed treasure box. “My friend Jesse wrote
quite eloquently about my little adventures in the war. Seems he thought
I was a bit brutal when I went with Quantrill to Lawrence, but we got the
job done and that is what Jesse cared about. I enjoyed killing our dear
stepfather that day. He always loved you more than me anyway.”
The stranger was puzzled. How was
Shelby still alive? He had seen the bullets hit him there by the cabin.
Shelby continued as if reading the stranger's mind, “Yes, you shot me,
but I learned a little trick or two along the way. This silk coat stops
bullets quite well don't you think? Now drop your gun belt.”
The stranger, Richard Henry Shelby
was desperate. His mind raced, but keeping outwardly cool he asked as he
unbuckled his gun belt and let it fall to the ground. “What else is in
the journal Brother Thomas?”
“Funny you should ask brother, there
isn't much else about me, but the part you would like the best is the information
that our Cousin Jesse wrote down about our family history and the real
events of that night in Kansas City. It would be quite enough to clear
your name back home, if you were still alive.”
Just as Thomas Shelby was bringing
his gun in line to kill his brother the stranger's horse blew a warning
snort. This distracted Thomas just long enough and the stranger threw open
the treasure box and with Jesse James's own gun shot his brother right
between the eyes. As his brother fell dead at last, the stranger, Richard
Henry Shelby made sure Persephone was alright as he patted the journal
that would allow him to return home.
The men of Chimney Rock, having
been alerted to what was going on by the gunfight at the jail had formed
a posse and were riding up the trail. The leader of the band called out.
“We caught the rest of Shelby's men. Most are dead, the rest are headed
back to town and since most have paper they will be headed to prison or
for a long trip on a short rope. Are you two well?
“Just fine my friends,” said Richard
Shelby. “We have part of the treasure here; I suspect that you will find
the rest hidden in a room under the pedestal in the first treasure room.
Cousin Jesse was always good at hide and seek; I was just always a bit
better. Go get it and let me bury my brother here where he fell. He wasn't
a good man, but he is kin and deserves a few words spoken over his grave.
Later that night, as they divided
the treasure, with the stranger giving his half to the town of Chimney
Rock and the other half to the old man's daughter Persephone, the town
seemed brighter than it had ever been before. Richard didn't think it was
just the gold and other treasures. Persephone’s eyes sure did shine. The
were especially bright in fact when she turned to thank the stranger with
a big kiss and a whispered invitation to take her home with him to meet