William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone, the beloved, bestselling frontier writers, chronicle the true story of John Henry Sixkiller: born on a Cherokee reservation, known as the most cunning lawman in the West.
THINK LIKE A CRIMINAL. STRIKE LIKE THE LAW . . .
Sixkiller has come to Ringgold, Wyoming, on the trail of Bart Skillern, a vicious murderer he’s been carefully stalking for weeks. But before Sixkiller can strike, Skillern takes a job with the town’s duly elected mayor, a politician so corrupt that the only way to get near him is by being even more corrupt. So Sixkiller takes a job as a hired gun, and sets out to destroy the mayor’s gang from inside out. Sixkiller’s carefully masked plan is just about to work when he discovers that, except for one beautiful, crusading newspaper woman, there’s not a decent soul in Ringgold to take over from the power-crazed mayor. Now Sixkiller can’t leave Ringgold behind until he tears it apart—pitting one bad man against the other and praying that the Lord and a Colt will somehow sort them out . . .
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The hour of death had come. Twelve humans, men and women, had fallen into the killers' trap. Eleven would die, but one would live.
Because of that strange twist of fate, the Hour of Death would come again, more savage, violent, relentless.
John Henry Sixkiller paid a courtesy call on the governor of New Mexico Territory, a good-bye visit that turned into hello to a dangerous new mission.
The Governor was working late at night in his office at the Palacio del Gobernador in Santa Fe. The building was three hundred years old, a massive structure of adobe and stone built by Indian slave labor toiling under the whips of the conquistadors to house the official administrators of Old Mexico when it was a colony of even older Spain.
Later generations of Indians had led a whole scale massacre of their colonial masters.
An assistant escorted Sixkiller inside the Governor's office and closed the door behind him.
Like most Westerners, he usually kept his hat on outdoors and indoors. But as a gesture of respect, he took it off and held it in both hands.
The governor sat behind a desk that seemed big as a freight wagon. The room's rich brown shadows were broken by a globe desk lamp and some smaller lamps set on side tables. With pen in hand, he was writing on a piece of paper. The metal-tipped quill pen made scratching sounds as it moved across the paper. A pile of papers some six inches high stood stacked at the right-hand corner of a green desk blotter.
Governor Lew Wallace was fiftyish, with a black beard and sharp eyes. He wore a smoking jacket over a white shirt and black tie. He had been a major general in the Union Army during the Civil War, not the winningest, but successful enough to keep moving upward through the hierarchy.
Wallace was a territorial governor, recently appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes to curb the corruption and violence in which the vast region was steeped.
Big John Sixkiller had recently done his bit to clean up some of the mess. It had taken plenty of violence on his part to see the task through. That was his job. He was a lawman, a United States deputy marshal.
His usual bailiwick was the Oklahoma Territory. He hailed from Tahlequah in the Cherokee section of the territory reserved for the Five Civilized Nations, Southeastern Indian tribes who'd been forcibly removed from their home grounds and shipped west in the 1830s.
Sixkiller was half-Cherokee and half-White, a mountain of a man, a Titan standing six feet and four inches tall in his bare feet. His broad shoulders and straight torso were as wide across as a room door.
He had a massive leonine head with a hawk-like profile. He was beardless, the Cherokee way. As each facial hair had sprouted in adolescence, he'd plucked it out according to tribal tradition. His hair was cut short to collar length.
He had copper-colored skin, dark almond-shaped eyes and a wide thin-lipped mouth with the corners turned down. A long-barreled .45 Colt Peacemaker hung holstered on his right hip. Everything about him said here is a man who could get the job done.
He was a long way from home. He'd been sent to New Mexico where nobody knew him so he could take on an undercover job smashing a murderous outlaw gang.
Governor Lew Wallace put his pen down and rose, motioning to Sixkiller with a welcoming gesture that said Advance, friend.
Sixkiller crossed to him with long-legged strides that ate up the carpeted floor as Wallace came out from behind the desk, hand extended. They shook hands. Wallace was a good-sized man but his hand seemed to vanish when gripped by Sixkiller's oversized mitt.
"Welcome, Deputy. Good to see you," Wallace said. "You belong in politics. With a grip like that you could shake voters' hands morning, noon, and night without ever tiring."
"Reckon I'll stick to my line of country, Governor. The voters'll be better off that way, too."
"Sit down, make yourself comfortable." Wallace indicated a set of armchairs in front of his desk.
"Thanks." Sixkiller sank into an oversized armchair, leather-covered, deep-cushioned. He was grateful. Lots of times ordinary-sized furniture was too small for him.
"May I offer you a drink, Deputy?" Sixkiller managed to accept without showing too much eagerness.
On a silver tray on the desk was a cut-glass crystal decanter filled with brandy. Wallace poured some into a glass and handed it to Sixkiller.
"Much obliged," the lawman said.
They clinked glasses and drank up.
"Sorry if it's a bit warm in here," Wallace said apologetically. "With some of the enemies I've made trying to suppress violence in the territory, I dare not leave the windows uncovered at night lest some sneaking assassin try to take a shot at me."
"Heat doesn't bother me."
Indicating the pile of papers on the desk, Sixkiller said, "Looks like you're working late tonight, Governor."
"I am, but not on official business. I don't want to give a false impression that I slave night and day strictly on territorial matters. This is something I've been working on for my own amusement. I'm writing a book." Wallace smiled sheepishly, as if confessing a secret vice. Warily, he steeled himself against jibes or mockery.
Sixkiller nodded, encouraging the other to continue. "Something about your wartime experiences?" "Not a personal reminiscence, no. It's a work of fiction, a historical novel set in the days of the Roman Empire," Wallace said, warming to the subject.
"After all, if an English member of Parliament such as Lord Bulwer-Lytton could write The Last Days of Pompeii, I don't see why an American can't do something similar. I call it Ben-Hur. That's the name of the lead character, a Jew in Palestine during the days when our Lord walked the earth."
"Sounds inspirational," Sixkiller said. Roman Empire? It was all Greek to him. He wasn't much of a reader and on the rare occasion he cracked a book it was a dime novel with plenty of action.
Wallace refilled Sixkiller's glass and his own, then went behind his desk, lifting the lid of a handsome Moroccan leather-bound box. "Cigar?"
"Don't mind if I do," Sixkiller said.
Fortified with cigars and brandy, they sat smoking and drinking.
"I just stopped in to say so long. Time I was on my way home. My work here is done," Sixkiller said.
"Ably done, to be sure. There's not enough of that damned rascal gang left to hang."
"Well, that's how things work out sometimes, Governor. Those hombres weren't much minded to surrender, they wouldn't be taken alive —"
"You misunderstand me. That was a compliment, not a complaint. Those scoundrels needed killing."
"I didn't plan it that way. That's just how it works out some times." More often than not, when Sixkiller was on the case.
Governor Wallace got down to brass tacks. "I'm glad you stopped by. If you hadn't, I would have sent word requesting you to come in. Something's come up. Something important that's in your line.
"Your recent efforts have not gone unnoticed. The price of success, I'm afraid. It seems unfair, somehow, that your good work here puts you in line for another risky assignment. Though after seeing you in action, I'm convinced you're the man for the job.
"This isn't my idea, mind you. I'm just the middleman passing along a request. And it is a request. You're free to turn it down with no black marks against your record." Wallace rested his forearms against the desk's edge, leaning forward. "Frankly, I wouldn't blame you if you did turn it down. It's a dangerous mission, one that's already cost the lives of a half-dozen good men."
"You interest me, Governor." Sixkiller was stiff-faced as always, but his eyes were alight. Trouble was his meat.
"Ever been to Wyoming?" Wallace asked.
"No, sir," Sixkiller said.
"That's where the trouble is — in southeast Wyoming — in Ringgold in the Glint River Valley. Some damned fool of an Englishman seems to have gone missing there. Worse, he took a dozen or so of his people along with him. They're missing, too.
"Naturally it couldn't have been just any ordinary Englishman who disappeared with his entourage. Oh no. That would have been too easy," Wallace went on. "This one's a wealthy aristocrat from one of the leading families in England. Bletchley, Lord Dennis Bletchley. As if that weren't bad enough, he happens to be a close relative of Queen Victoria.
"She happens to be the Queen of England," Wallace added, in case U.S. Deputy Marshal John Sixkiller from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, had never heard of her.
Sixkiller had, though. The mission fathers who'd educated him as a boy hadn't left him totally blank about people and places outside the United States. Hazy, yes, but not totally blank.
"Bletchley was touring the western United States on a combined business and pleasure trip," Wallace said. "Apparently he's a keen hunter who was eager to bag some of our native American wildlife for his trophy collection. He's also looking for business properties to invest in — timber, mining, that sort of thing. In Wyoming, cattle is the coming thing."
Sixkiller generally didn't crack too much, but he made some kind of sour face.
The governor found it necessary to respond. "An English lord getting into the cattle business on the Western frontier? It may not be as ridiculous as it sounds. It's no secret that the cattle business is booming in Wyoming. Look at Alex Swan, a foreigner who's become one of the biggest landholders and stockmen in Wyoming in recent years. He's already made millions of dollars." Wallace solemnly pronounced the phrase "millions of dollars" with the profound reverence for big money that American politicians so heartily express.
"The East has an insatiable appetite for Western beef, even that of the tough, stringy Texas longhorn. But the new trend in Wyoming is to mix blooded, pedigreed stock known for rich fat-marbled cuts of beef with the rugged hardy longhorn.
"Lord Bletchley wouldn't be directly involved with the operation. He'd have been a kind of absentee landlord with a hired foreman to manage the enterprise. Bletchley would have stayed back home in Old Blighty collecting his profits. By last report, he was quite interested in the prospects of the Glint River Valley northwest of Laramie.
"Bletchley was last seen in the town of Ringgold on the Glint. That may have been a fatal mistake, as you may or may not have heard," Wallace prompted.
Sixkiller allowed as to how Ringgold and its reputation was unknown to him.
Wallace was only too happy to enlighten him on that score. "Some funny business has been going on in Ringgold for some time now. Not that there's anything funny about robbery and murder. For the last year or so, but especially in the last few months, Ringgold has logged more than its share of killings — murders and so-called suicides and accidental deaths.
"Bletchley's isn't the only mysterious disappearance on the Glint, only the most recent. There have been other vanishings and violent deaths of wealthy men in the area — cattle buyers, bankers, big ranchers, and the like.
"Bletchley went to Ringgold two months ago, taking with him a dozen or so of his entourage — friends, business advisors, even servants and a cook. They went into the hills north of town on a hunting trip and never returned. Vanished — swallowed up in the wilderness somewhere north of the valley. Search parties were unable to turn up a trace of them. Foul play is suspected, the worst is feared."
"Indians?" Sixkiller suggested halfheartedly, not really buying it himself. The days of the wild Plains Indians were pretty much done in the Central and Northern Rocky Mountain regions. Closer to Wallace's own New Mexico territory warlike Apaches under Victorio, Chato, and Geronimo were a real threat, but there was no similar threat from the northern tribes in the Laramie Mountains region.
Wallace agreed. "Four years ago, after Custer at the Little Big Horn maybe, but not now. The Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho have all been neutralized. There was always the slim possibility that Bletchley might have been attacked by a renegade band of Arapaho or some far-ranging Ute, but recent events have ruled that out.
"Bletchley's family is wealthy with plenty of pull. Lawmen have gone up into the Glint to investigate, look for clues. They were killed, shot dead by person or persons unknown. The family hired detective agencies to do some digging — Pinkerton and the Continental. The investigators who couldn't turn up a lead went home empty-handed. The ones who thought they were on to something went home in coffins."
"So the savvy sleuths died and the dumb ones didn't," Sixkiller summarized.
"That's about the size of it. These murders of detectives is sure proof of criminal conspiracy. A robber gang killed and plundered Bletchley and his outfit. They'll kill again to preserve their secret.
"Ringgold is a problem without a solution. No authority is willing to take responsibility for cleaning up the mess. What passes for local law on the Glint is useless. The territorial governor is on the spot. The violence simply isn't enough out of hand to call in the army and besides, what could the troops do?
"But a manhunter might succeed where soldiers would fail. You're the best manhunter I know."
"Nice of you to say so, Governor."
"It would not be an overstatement to say that your country needs you."
That worried Sixkiller. The last time his country needed him, he wound up fighting in the Civil War, on both sides at different times.
"Bletchley's disappearance is in danger of becoming an international incident," Wallace said. "With the Queen of England taking a personal interest in Lord Dennis's fate, the affair reaches to the highest levels of our government. I can say this much to you in all confidentiality. The president is closely following the case and is anxious for a speedy resolution. I'd like to be able to report that we've got our best man — you — looking into the matter."
There was only one answer as Sixkiller saw it. "Can't say no to the president."
Wallace's smile showed real relief. "I'm glad to hear you say that. Your mission will be twofold. Find out what happened to Lord Bletchley and bring his killer or killers to justice."
"You've got some idea of how I go about my work, Governor," Sixkiller said guardedly. "It can get messy. Bodies tend to pile up. I wouldn't want to embarrass the White House."
"I can assure you that you'll have a free hand in this matter," Wallace said. "Do whatever it takes. Anything is better than the violent lawlessness running amok in Ringgold, Wyoming."
"In that case, I'm your huckleberry, Governor."
Wallace looked puzzled.
"That means it's a go," Sixkiller explained.
"Good man! I knew we could count on you," Wallace enthused.
"Of course, you'll have to clear it with my boss Judge Parker," Sixkiller said.
In the chain of command of federal marshals and magistrates, Sixkiller answered to Judge Isaac Parker, notorious throughout the frontier as The Hanging Judge. Parker was based in Fort Smith, Arkansas, but his jurisdiction also included sections of the Oklahoma territory — one of the most violent and lawless regions on the North American continent.
Sixkiller's bailiwick as U.S. deputy marshal covered the Indian Nations region of the territory, originally set up as a homeland/reservation for the Five Civilized tribes. One of those tribes were the Cherokee, Sixkiller's people. Or half his people, rather, for he was part-Indian and part-White.
Owing to the peculiar legal status of the Nations, fugitives from other states could not be easily extradited from there nor could outsider lawmen pursue fugitives into reservation lands, causing it to become a haven for some of the West's most vicious outlaws.
A quirk in the law prevented Indian tribal police from arresting, trying, and imprisoning non-Indians who committed a crime in the Nations. Judge Parker had gotten around that miscarriage of justice by appointing one John H. Sixkiller a deputy federal marshal under his jurisdiction.
Sixkiller was legally authorized to make arrests. Prisoners had to be taken to Fort Smith for incarceration and trial. Malefactors usually received short shrift and harsh penalties from the famous law-and-order judge.
Sixkiller was good at his job of man hunting, though generally he more often brought them in dead than alive, a policy with which Judge Parker could find no disagreement. The lawman's growing renown had become known to the higher-ups in the federal law enforcement system, who sent him on special assignments far outside his home grounds. Most recently he had served in New Mexico and now it seemed he was headed for Wyoming.
Excerpted from "Sixkiller, U.S. Marshal: The Hour of Death"
Copyright © 2013 J. A. Johnstone.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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