Red Lands Outlaw:
The Ballad of Henry Starr
By Phil Truman Genre: Western, Historical
"Truman’s storytelling shines throughout..." -- Kathleen Rice Adams, Western Fictioneers
“Red Lands Outlaw: The Ballad of Henry Starr is a well-conceived yarn about one of the last of Oklahoma’s horseback-riding outlaws. A good read.” -- Dusty Richards, a Spur and Wrangler Award winning author
“Author Phil Truman captured a slice of Indian Territory history and has woven it into an interesting period novel. Anyone who loves the history of the West will enjoy Red Lands Outlaw: the Ballad of Henry Starr.” -- Tammy Hinton, author and winner of the Will Rogers Medallion Award for Unbridled
In the last years of the tough and woolly land called Indian Territory, and the first of the new state of Oklahoma, the outlaw Henry Starr rides roughshod through the midst of it. A native son of “The Nations” he’s more Scotch-Irish than Cherokee, but is scorned by both. He never really wanted to journey west of the law, yet fate seems to insist. He’s falsely accused and arrested for horse-thieving at age sixteen, then sentenced to hang at nineteen by Judge Isaac Parker for the dubious killing of a deputy U.S. marshal, but he escapes the gallows on a technicality. Given that opportunity, the charming, handsome, mild-mannered Henry Starr spends the rest of his life becoming the most prolific bank robber the West has ever known.
Bill Tilghman slowly brushed the whisker tips of his mustache over and over with his left thumb and forefinger, moving each from the middle of his upper lip outward, as he stared down at Henry. In all his law enforcement days, he’d never known so audacious, so brash, so prolific an outlaw as the man lying there in that bed.
Henry floated in and out of a morphine-induced haze while Tilghman stood there looking at him. Lewis Estes, his neck and shoulder and chest wrapped in bandages, in a bed across the room, lay there out cold.
“Henry,” Tilghman said in a firm voice. Getting no response, he called out the bank robber’s name again, this time a little louder.
Henry’s eyes fluttered open. He blinked several times, squinting to get his eyes and mind focused on the form standing beside his bed.
“Well, hello, Bill,” Henry slurred. “What the hell’re you doing here?”
Tilghman stopped stroking his mustache, and hooked both his thumbs in his vest’s watch pockets. “Come to arrest you, Henry.” He jerked his head to his right in a pointing gesture. “You and that other fella over there.”
Henry raised his head a little, and looked over at the bed where his patched up colleague lay. “I believe that there is Lewis Estes,” he said. “Guess he caught a little lead, too.”
Tilghman nodded. “Soon as you boys are able to travel, I’m taking you back to Oklahoma City to await trial. And it’s a good thing I come, too. Folks here in this town are callin’ to lynch you.”
“Why, hell, Bill, I’m crippled,” Henry responded.
“Yeah, you are that,” Tilghman said. “But Doc Hanson said he didn’t think it’d be permanent. Boy named Curry shot you in the butt. Bullet broke up your leg bone there, but the doc set it back as best he could. He thinks it’ll heal awright, but figures you’ll probably have something of a limp from here on out.”
Henry took Tilghman’s prognosis in with a solemn expression. “First time I ever been shot,” he said. “And by a damn kid to boot.”
“He’s used to shooting living things,” said Tilghman. “Butcher’s kid, I hear. Shot your partner over there, too. Some pretty fair shootin’, considerin’ what he had to shoot with.”
Henry considered all this, scrunching his eyebrows in a look of puzzlement. “I thought you’d quit marshalling, Bill. Ain’t you a politician, or something, now?”
“State senator,” Tilghman said. “But I’m also Chief of Police over in Oklahoma City. Town marshal here is an old friend of mine, so he called me. What you and your boys did was a federal crime, so you’ll have to stand trial in a federal court.”
Henry nodded. “Yeah, I reckon so,” he said.
Tilghman snorted and shook his head. “I swear, Henry. You just about beat anything I ever seen in an outlaw.”
“Why, thank ya, Bill.” A pleased smile creased Starr’s face. Coming from as renowned a lawman as Bill Tilghman, Henry considered the man’s comment a supreme compliment.
“I didn’t mean that as a tribute, Henry. I meant you’ve had several chances to straighten yourself out. When I arrested you down in New Mexico back in oh-eight, you promised me you’d never rob another bank. But in the year since you got out of Canon City Prison, there’s been a whole passel here in Oklahoma with your brand on ’em. And now you pull this double dutch.” Tilghman shook his head and laughed quietly. “I hear you were a model prisoner in Canon City. Warden even made you a trustee; sent you out as a walkin’ boss on the road gangs. But you just keep reverting back to your old ways. How many times have you been in prison? Two? Three times? This here’ll make one more.”
Henry stiffened a little. “I reckon I’ve robbed more banks than ever anyone did,” he said with pride.
“Yeah, I suppose that’s true,” Tilghman said. He pulled a chair out from the wall and sat down on it, crossing his legs. He removed his derby and wiped the sweat from the inside headband. “The question is why? You sure ain’t got nothing to show from it. And look at you now; your future prospects ain’t too bright.”
Henry stared back at Tilghman, but he didn’t have a good response. The lawman had pretty much nailed it. A reason existed as to why Henry kept on committing bank robbery after bank robbery, but he didn’t exactly know what it was, didn’t know how to express it. All he knew, he couldn’t stop doing it. He had quite a few acquaintances and relatives who drank alcohol, and the more they drank, the more they wanted. Finally, they just couldn’t do without it. Henry didn’t drink; didn’t smoke, either, but like the effect of alcohol on some of his red brothers, that’s exactly what bank robbing had done to him.
I'm a native Oklahoman, born in the small town of Miami in 1945. I earned my bachelor's degree in English from the University of Tulsa in 1970. As a Vietnam Era veteran, I served with the U.S. Army's 7th Infantry Division near the Korean DMZ from 1967 to 1968. Fresh out of college I worked as a teacher and coach, but transitioned into the business world after a few years where I morphed into an IT geek. My wife and I live in the Tulsa suburban city of Broken Arrow where we've spent the past 30 years raising our family. Now a full-time writer, my books include GAME, a '70's era sports inspiration novel; Legends of Tsalagee, a novel of mystery, romance, and adventure in a small town; and Red Lands Outlaw, the Ballad of Henry Starr, a historical novel set in the turn of the 20th Century Indian Territory.
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