I was trying to think back to what year all of this took place, and I guess I would be right in saying that Hank Williams was still alive and so it must have been sometime in the winter of ’49.
I remember that year ‘cause my daddy was always singing Mister Williams’ song, ‘My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It’ and then he’d wink at me, jump on Blue (his horse) and so go out riding to check on the stallions.
It had been an unseasonable few months, what with snow one day, then humid heat the next. Pastor Rick had suggested that perhaps his boss had gone off on vacation and had forgotten to set the thermostat: it brought a few laughs in church that Sunday.
Sometimes my daddy didn’t come home for a few sunsets, but it never worried anyone, ‘cause we always knew he’d have pitched up in some canyon or other and made himself a bed for the night.
But when it became a week, then we knew there must have been trouble, and my mom told me and my brothers to saddle up and go out looking for my daddy.
He’d been overdue before – once he was out for four days but he’d been caught in an unexpected snow storm, which had laid him up in the Last Hole cave – the one that lay at the end of Crimson Valley.
When he returned from that trip he had looked real fine – said he lived off of snow water and anything that was stupid enough to crawl across him in the cave. So by telling you this, I wanted to say that we weren’t too concerned about my father, we knew he could take care of himself.
Half way up Crimson Valley, me and my brothers split up and I went to the west, while Jake and Tom went north and east. I had only been riding an hour or so when I saw a horse just standing still and looking towards me. My first thought was that it was one of the stallions which had got lost from his kin, but as I got closer I could see it was Blue.
Blue, my daddy’s pride and joy, was wandering the valley and I started to think that maybe something wasn’t right. I tried to follow Blue’s tracks back a-ways but they led to a dead-end where the sand had got whipped up by some storm or other and had covered his trail. So you know what I did? I tried to comfort myself by singing my daddy’s favorite song. I could see Blue’s ears prick up as he knew what I was getting at, I guess he was missing him too.
Probably about five miles to north of where I was, I could see the sky darkening and decided to head for Aloopa’s cave just to lie there until it blew over. We made it by only a few minutes and as the snow storm whipped up real strong, my horse and Blue started to spook some. I took them to the back of the cave where I lit a fire and managed to brew a strong, thick black cup of coffee.
I must have been real tired ‘cause the next thing I know the Sheriff is kicking at my heels and telling me to wake. Can I say right here and now that I wished he had left me sleeping, ‘cause what he told me brought the cave crashing down on my head. They had found my daddy on the old Wisco Trail – no idea what he was doing up there but he had been shot straight through the head.
The Sheriff had found my brothers and told them the story and suggested they head back home and give my mom the news, he told them that he would go looking for me. The Sheriff guessed it was some stranger or another who had seen a man on his own with some money and had taken his chance.
I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t taken Blue, as a horse like that was worth something in these parts. The Sheriff just shrugged his shoulders and said ‘who knows?’.
There were more storms that winter and it was up to me and my brothers to keep our homestead going. We always knew we’d have to take care of the place sooner or later – it was just that none of us had hit the age of twenty by then, although I gotta say we worked hard and we got through the bad stuff. My mom was never the same after my daddy’s death, she used to sit and stare out of the window like she was just waiting for him to ride up to the door. It was only a couple of years later that she went to join my daddy – ‘a broken heart’ was what Pastor Rick called it and I guess he was right.
My brothers married local girls and moved away, ‘cause the farm and horses couldn’t really support the three of us. They decided that I should take the homestead being the youngest and still unmarried. If I was being truthful, I would say that they were just sorry at the sight of the lands where my daddy died.
The year that Kennedy got shot, I got to marrying a local girl. She was the daughter of the Sheriff who had found me that day in the cave. Although he wasn’t the easiest of men (at least in my company) his beautiful daughter made me feel like I was ten feet tall and the happiest man in the world.
The Sheriff died a few years later and left his home to his daughter and me (and our two kids). It lay on a beautiful little spot by the River Jordan that joined up with the Missouri a further ways down the stream.
I remember I was looking through her daddy’s papers when I came across a letter with my name on the envelope. Seemed a strange thing to do, but I opened it and read it.
‘My Dear Son-in-law I have to say I am as happy as a grasshopper that you married my daughter and gave me such fine grandchildren. I hope you all have many years of love and hope in this home. Since you’re reading this, then I must have gone to meet my maker and I know he’ll have a few things to say to me when I get there. You see I did a terrible thing and I ain’t asking for forgiveness, I’m just telling it, how it is. It was me, I shot your father. I had been making some money by running some goods into the Apache settlement up the Waco Trail. Your daddy found me one day and we got into an argument. I didn’t mean to kill him, you must believe me. My first thought was to hide the body, but I thought of you, your brothers and your ma being tormented ‘cause they didn’t know. So I went looking for you boys and told you the news. I took from you the most precious thing in your life and so I gave to you the most precious thing in mine. Don’t let the sins of the father fall on the daughter – your wife. She knew nothing of anything. I can only say again how truly sorry I am, and I probably won’t see you in the afterlife, as I guess I’ll be dancing to Old Nick’s tune. All the best and with much regret.’
bobby stevenson 2017