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Black Bird and Shootin' Bill
Legend has it that in the 1860s, bank robbers ran rampant through middle Oklahoma. Not many people were brave enough to catch these feared riders. This is the story passed down by my mother, of what my great-great-great grandpa did when he was young.
He was a boy at the time, growing up on a small ranch in Oklahoma. His father owned a business where riders would stop to water their horses and rest. Often, not much happened on their lazy dirt street- a few cattle drives here and there, with riders heading farther west seeking open land and then the more common families, coming to stop and water their horses and the the children play. He was in charge of tending the horses, often wandering off and pretending to play Black Bird the Indian chief and Sharp Shootin’ Bill the cowboy. He would go off into the barn, set up his hay stacks and make forts for his braves or his imaginary horses. Eventually in his games, he would remember he actually had animals to tend to and returned from his own world to care for the weary horses and cattle.
He had been doing this for about six or seven years. He had gotten used to seeing strange items in the saddle bags and wagons of the people who came through. His father had always told him not to touch anything that was not his, and generally he respected that rule. Until one day, a suspicious pair of riders came through, and curiosity took over.
“Boy! Where the heck are them hay nets!” Pa was in a fit of rage over his laziness on that particular day.
“I tol’ you, Pa, they already on the post! I got em’ ready when the last horses left.”
He slowly wandered over to the hitching post, kicking rocks as he went.
“Don’ you forget! We got ourselves a pair, supposed to come down tonight. Get em’ some fresh water an’ more grain for them horses!” Pa went back into the house to get the beds and dinner ready for the new pair of riders that were supposed to be coming shortly.
He sat by the post, waiting for the riders to round the corner of the wheat fields by the property. He started thinking to himself about some excitement, that he would finally be able to do something exciting, like Black Bird or Sharp Shootin’ Bill. “But none of that stuff would happen to a lil’ boy like me.” He had barely finished thinking the words when the pair of riders rounded the corner of the field. “Finally”, he thought “they had me sittin’ here for hours! ‘Bout time they showed up.”
“Howdy-doo sirs. Can I get ya some water for your horses?” The two men stared down at the boy with exhausted faces.
“Yea boy, keep them horses saddled though, I don’t want no funny stuff.”
“Yes sirs. Can I get your names for your rooms?”
The rider of the grey mare looked down “I’m Bill, and this here on the bay stud is Chappy. We been ridin’ long and hard, where can we get some food and the beds we been promised?”
Chappy had already gotten off his horse and headed toward the house, “Just over there, my Pa has some stuff for y’all.”
“Thank ya, boy.” Bill and Chappy headed off toward the house to eat and rest for the night while he took care of the horses.
Looking into the grey mares eyes he began to talk to the horses, “Them boys seem like they been runnin’ or somethin’. Well, I’ll keep y’all happy and safe, but I gotta keep your saddles on ya, not quite sure why. Never been asked that before.” He unbridled the horses and gave them water and grain. He decided to try and get on Bill and Chappy’s good side and clean their tack for them. He ran back to the barn to grab his saddle soap and returned to the horses. “Hmm let’s see here, y’all have some fancy bridles! They got ya silver and dark leather, you pampered beasts! Nice saddle ma’am and sir, that beading looks like them savages done on their slippers, with silver on that too! Dang, they must treat y’all well!” After cleaning the tack he got to thinking about what the two did for jobs. Were they gold miners on the hunt for new cash spots? Maybe they were hunters and trappers and sold furs! Or even maybe they chased bad guys through the plains!
All this thought and imagination got him so excited that he hardly noticed he didn’t check the saddle bags for food they might want inside. As he neared the saddle bags he noticed something a little different. The bags were lumpy and both were stuffed to the point of bursting! Most saddle bags that he saw were half filled on each side to avoid things being crushed. “What could they have in there that they didn’t want to carefully pack? ‘Ey mare, you hidin’ somethin’?” He smiled at the mare and she threw her head as if to say yes! He laughed “Oh what do you know, you’re just a horse. What about you stud, you got somethin’ to hide?” The stud just looked at him with a deep stare as if he wanted to say something but couldn’t. “Well might as well check it…”
Pa came bursting out of the door. “You better do everythin’ they be askin’! Or I’ll put the whoopin’ on you boy!”
“Yeah, Pa, I know! I got them horses saddled and fed! They don’t want nothin’ else!” Pa went back inside, satisfied with his answer. He sighed and looked back to the horses “Now, back to your bags, what could they have in there.” He lifted the flap on the studs right side bag. “Holy shoot!” He jumped back, nearly falling underneath the mares stomach! “What the cud! How the heck! Where… What?!” He was confused and shocked. “Surely that couldn’t be in all of your bags right? This is a mistake.” He chuckled and went to the mares left side bag and jumped back whooping and hollering like an Indian going to war!
“Ya shut up out there, boy! They tryin’ to sleep!” Pa yelled furiously out the window.
“Sorry Pa! I just seen some snakes fightin’ that’s all! I’ll stay with the horses tonight, don’t want em’ getting hurt by them snakes!” He watched as Pa shut his window then turned back to the horse’s saddle bags. “Y’all have bags full of money! I ain’t never seen that much money in my life! Bill and Chappy must be bank robbers!” He silently danced around, finally he could be like Black Bird stealing from Sharp Shootin’ Bill! “I ain’t gonna hurt you, I just gonna take all that money so y’all won’t be so tired. Sound good?” The horses stared blankly at him, they just wanted to sleep, not deal with some ten year old kid. He took all the money out of the saddle bags and ran every dollar to his secret hay fort in the barn. “They surely gonna notice all their money been taken. I gotta replace the money with somethin’. Ah ha! I got it! This is just like what Black Bird would do!” He ran back out to the horses and filled their bags with rocks and hay to make it feel soft but look full. That night he was so excited and nervous he sat up and watched the horses until dawn.
“Hey, boy! Them horses better be ready like we asked!” shouted Bill. “You better have taken good care of my stud, he’s my prized horse” said Chappy in a low, deep voice.
“Yes sirs, your horses have been safe and happy all night. Can I get y’all anythin’ before y’all go?” He calmly started backing away headed toward the barn, and the robber’s money.
“Yeah actually, I’d like a bit of hay to bring on the trip for my stud, huh Blaze?”
“Uh, I’m sorry sir but uh, you and Blaze will just have to grab some at the next stop. We ain’t got extra for trips.”
Chappy gave Blaze a pat and turned him around toward the road. “Thanks for keepin’ Blaze and Rose safe, HiYa!”
The men and horses took off at a gallop down the road and had not but rounded the corner than the sheriff came galloping to the house!
“Hey, boy! Ya seen some guys through here? Bank robbers, real nasty guys! Grey and brown horses, two of them, decorated saddles and bridles, one of em’ got a red shirt and the other a tan hat?” He tried to control his horse from taking off down the road, struggling a little more with every moment that passed.
“Yes, sir! They took off that way! If you hurry, you might catch em’!”
“Thanks son!” The sheriff took off down the same road that Chappy and Bill had gone.
“Well, I guess Black Bird always wins.”
He returned to his money, which, he never returned or told his Pa about. Turns out my great-great-great grandpa let Black Bird take over! Never thought that the robbers could be robbed!