West of the Dead Line:
The Complete Series - Episodes 1 – 8
By Phil Truman
Genre: Western, Historical
1 – Bringing in Pike Cudgo
2 – Freed Men
3 – Runaway
4 – Redemption along the Red
5 – The Getaway of Cross-eyed Jack Dugan
6 – The Reluctant Posseman
7 – Dupery at Corncob Forks
8 – Last Will for an Outlaw
West of the Dead Line
The Dead Line, as it came to be called, was a railroad, the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas, cutting across the middle of Indian Territory. It ran straight south from Caldwell, Kansas to Fort Reno, I.T., then on down through the Cheyenne and Comanche and Kiowa lands, crossing the Red River into Bowie, Texas. It was a line on the map, a demarcation. West of it there was no law, only outlaws. On trails out there, notes would be put up on trees and posts, sort of reverse wanted posters, letting lawmen know they’d be killed if they continued their pursuits west of the Dead Line.
Throughout the 225 years of the U.S. Marshals Service, over 200 deputies have been killed in the line of duty. Of those, more than 120 lost their lives in the Indian and Oklahoma Territories between 1850 and Oklahoma statehood in 1907.
In the storied history of the American West, no place comes close to matching the dangers and mortality these federal officers faced doing their jobs. Their courage, resolve, and dedication to duty were beyond reproach... for the most part. Those who survived became titans in the legends of the West, particularly one man called Bass Reeves.
These stories are fiction, but the encounters this lawman faced, and The Dead Line, were not.
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“My momma name me Bass after her daddy. Las’ name Reeves, same as my massuh. All us belongs t’him called Reeves.”
The man nodded, still looking at Bass with his coal-black eyes. “You like bein’ a slave, Bass?” he asked.
Bass chewed another bite of jerky and put his hands out toward the fire again, thinking about his answer.
“On’t know,” he said with a shrug. “Alls I ever know. Marse Reeves, he don’t treat me bad. Give me food t’eat, place to sleep. Give me clothes. Ain’t nevuh whip me much. He mistress good to my momma and sistuh, too. They works in the house.”
“That all you ever expect to do? Ain’t you ever wanted to get free; do things you wanted to do yourself, go wherever you want to go without nobody telling you when and where?”
The Yankee waited for a response, but none came. Bass looked into the fire and chewed the jerky.
After a bit, his captor added, “Wouldn’t you like to take a piss without gettin’ another man’s permission?”
Bass looked up at him, jaw muscles moving; he turned his gaze back to the fire.
The Yankee let it go, changed the subject, shifted his weight on his butt. “’Spect there’s gonna be a fight here tomorrow. Mess of Rebs up north. Looks like old Van Dorn’s trying to get ’em around behind us. Them Texas boys of your’n look to be comin’ down the road yonder to meet us.” He gestured with the gun barrel through the dark trees. “We’ll be ready for ’em.”
“Where you from, Yank?” Bass asked.
The man stared at Reeves squarely before looking into the fire. “Kansas, mostly,” he said. “Rode with General Lane’s Jayhawkers. He didn’t much cotton to secessionists… or slave owners. Called himself an ‘abolitionist.’”
“That why you rode with him? You uh…ab-bol-lishnest?”
The Yankee threw back his head and laughed. He stood and walked out to the edge of the firelight to take his own piss, chuckling to himself as he did so.
When he came back to the fire, he sat again opposite Reeves, stirred the coals with a stick, threw on another piece of wood.
“You even know what that means, boy? Abolitionist? “
“Sho’ I does,” Bass answered, a little indignant. “It mean freein’ slaves.”
“Seems to me the only freed men is the dead ones,” his captor said. He paused to stir the fire some more, looked at Bass. “I’ve personally freed a few myself,” he said with a grin and a wink.
“Naw, I rode with Lane because he offered me the job,” he continued. “Pay wasn’t much, but it kept me out of jail. I needed that more than money at the time.
“Still, sayin’ it’s legal to own a man don’t seem right to me. Sure as hell don’t believe I’d put up with anyone claimin’ they owned me.”
Silence fell between the pair again. The haunting sound of a harmonica drifted in with the cold night air. Men’s voices echoed through the black forest; voices in calm conversation and some laughter, distant but clear like coming across a still river at night.
“”Whas yo name, then?” Bass asked. Another long pause followed before the Yankee answered.
“I got several names. Go by Haycock in this here army, William Haycock. Back in Kansas some folks called me ‘Wild Bill.’ Called me that because of the shape of my nose, made fun of how it swoops out sorta like a duck’s bill. I didn’t much like it at first, made a few callin’ me that pay. But now I believe I like it…yes sir, believe I do. You can call me Wild Bill.”
Bass nodded, and grinned back at the man. “Wild Bill,” he repeated.
“You realize I’m only telling you this ’cause you’ll be dead before sundown tomorrow.”
Bass looked cold-eyed at Haycock. “You gone kill me, Wild Bill?” he asked.
Haycock laughed again. “Naw, I ain’t gonna kill you, Bass. I’m gonna let you go. But boys see a nigger runnin’ free through these here woods, I figure one side or t’other’s bound to shoot your ass. Ain’t that what we’re fightin’ for? To set your likes free?” He cocked an eyebrow and grinned at his captive.
Bass stared back at Haycock. After a bit, he said to him, “You frees me, Wild Bill, how you know I ain’t finds myself a gun an’ free yo’ ass?”
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