“Deadwood Dalton” – Caden Green ’24

His Colt .45 peacemaker shook violently in his right hand as he clutched the side of his torso with his other hand. He leaned up against the backside of the teller’s counter, sweat beading down his forehead. Dalton ripped the black bandana from his face, pulled his blood-soaked shirt and vest up, and pressed it into the wound. Grinding his teeth, he resisted the urge to scream. The brim of his black felt hat lay in the pool of blood next to him

He hadn’t expected the teller to be armed…they never were. Typically, his revolver was enough to force the teller to open the vault and fill his saddlebag with paper currency and whatever gold the bank had. Dalton always chose small towns with small one-story banks. He always made sure nobody else was inside. But this time, the cashier had been warned. He was prepared when Dalton walked in, gun raised. He had pulled out his own revolver from under the desk behind which he worked. Gunshots rang out from both guns, but Dalton hadn’t had enough time to react and the gunshot pierced the right side of his torso, just under his ribs. He was lucky the cashier wasn’t a good shot like him or he’d have been the one lying face down on the ground, the wood floor stained red.

Still, the teller had hurt him bad. Dalton had dropped his saddlebag and crawled behind the counter, no longer worried about his original task. He sank to the floor, trying to treat his wound. He had already been inside the bank for longer than he had anticipated. He was supposed After a couple months, robbing small stores gave them no thrill and it wasn’t worth the cash. Soon, they moved onto bigger targets. Dalton started going into the banks with Beau and holding the teller at gunpoint while they opened the vault. Beau would go in and fill their saddlebags with gold and paper money. On the way out, Dalton usually shot the teller in the kneecap, turning tail before he had to watch them suffer and bleed out. Then they would run back to their horses and ride quickly out of town, usually chased by a posse of lawmen and townspeople.to be gone by now. He knew the sheriff would eventually hear about the gunshots and come to investigate.

It wasn’t the first time things hadn’t gone according to plan. Dalton was reminded of his first robbery. He had walked into a small shop as a young twelve year-old, his dad’s Colt .36 tucked awkwardly into his belt. He went up to the cashier, pointed the gun at him and said, “Give me all the money you got.”

The frail old man across the counter threw his head back and laughed in Dalton’s face, “Get outta here kid.”

Angry and humiliated, Dalton shook the pocket pistol in his face and said, “Wanna get shot?” “Go head kid, you ain’t gonna pull that trigger,” the cashier replied. And he was right. Defeated, Dalton left the store empty handed, promising himself that he’d come back and do it for real one day.

Dalton winced in pain as the memory of his youth forced a dim chuckle from his mouth. His body felt hot, like it was on fire. His breath was short and heavy as he struggled once again to get up. Dalton felt helpless as he lay there trying to think of a way out. He had always gotten away somehow, but this time felt worse. He could barely move without a thousand knives stabbing him in the stomach. Nobody was coming to save him. It was only a matter of time until the sheriff would come. Dalton knew how he’d go out if he had to. He’d go out shooting, just like Beau did.

Dalton was only fourteen when he joined up with a group of Confederate guerrillas. He spent almost a year hunting blue bellies all across Missouri before the war ended. That’s where he met Beau. Beau had been like a brother to him, making sure he survived, teaching him to shoot. Beau was an orphan too, and they had spent the year camping out together. After the war, most of his countrymen admitted defeat and went back home to work, but Dalton didn’t have a home. His father had been killed early in the war when he was eleven and his mother got sick and died right before he left home to fight. He had nowhere to go, and he wasn’t gonna go work on a farm. Instead, he and Beau kept moving, never staying in one town for too long. They got by by robbing general stores and stealing horses, something that they got real good at quick. They’d tie up their horses nearby, then Dalton would man the door as Beau walked into the store, shot the cashier and took the money. Most of the time, Beau would exit calmly, saddlebag of money in hand. They’d get on their horses, and ride out of town as quickly as possible, moving on to the next.

After a couple months, robbing small stores gave them no thrill and it wasn’t worth the cash. Soon, they moved onto bigger targets. Dalton started going into the banks with Beau and holding the teller at gunpoint while they opened the vault. Beau would go in and fill their saddlebags with gold and paper money. On the way out, Dalton usually shot the teller in the kneecap, turning tail before he had to watch them suffer and bleed out. Then they would run back to their horses and ride quickly out of town, usually chased by a posse of lawmen and townspeople.

Now Dalton lay there, face ghostly white. His heart beat fast, like the sound of a galloping horse. Dalton took his bloody bandana off his side to look at the bullet wound. The blood was not slowing, and his vision was going blurry. He rolled up the bandana and stuffed it into his mouth. The metallic and salty taste of blood and dirt filled his mouth. Then, pain shooting through his body down his legs, Dalton rolled over onto his hands and knees. His vision went white with pain as the bandana between his teeth stifled his scream. Slowly, Dalton got onto one knee. Then, using the counter for support, he pulled himself up. He felt sick as he leaned heavily on the counter, like he wanted to puke. He used the long desk for support as he made his way over to the bank’s window. He peered outside, half hoping for the sheriff to be there to put him out of his misery. The street was empty though. Dalton grabbed firmly onto the window’s curtain, and ripped it violently off the wall. He wrapped the brown canvas around his waist and tied it into a knot. He stifled another scream as he tightened the makeshift belt over his wound. The curtain made it difficult to breathe, but also partially numbed the excruciating pain. Clutching his side, Dalton glanced back out the window. He had left Old Hank, his jet black stallion, behind the rundown saloon three buildings down. If he wanted to get out of this mess, he had to get to Old Hank without being seen, but he didn’t know if he could walk that far, let alone evade anybody.

Dalton wished Beau was here now to bail him out. He had always been able to get them out of danger, even when it seemed impossible. The newspapers that had called him “Deadwood Dalton” claimed that he was just as cunning and dangerous as Beau, but Dalton needed Beau. He looked at the dead bank teller that lay behind the counter. He had never stayed behind long enough to feel regret, but as he stared at the back of his victim’s head, he began to have confusing thoughts of remorse. He wished the man hadn’t pulled a gun on him. Dalton hadn’t killed anyone since he left Beau, and he hadn’t planned to kill this man, but he had no choice. He was not like Beau who seemed too calloused to ever care about killing. In fact, Beau loved the violence. He seemed to get energy from the act of killing.

“I love to watch ‘em,” he would always say. “I can see it in their eyes, the shock…the fear.” Dalton would nod along, trying not to imagine their dead victims. “I can see the life drain from their eyes,” Beau would look up, reminiscing, like he wanted to do it again. That always bothered Dalton. He loved the adventure of their lifestyle, but he tried to avoid the violence.

Beau, however, was the opposite. He was addicted to the adrenaline, to the violence, to the money, and most of all, addicted to the fame. Once they started hitting banks, newspapers began to mention them. At first, they were described as two bandits, terrorizing small towns. But with each robbery, they played into the media attention, getting bolder, and often leaving press releases behind, and the papers began to describe them as daring gunslingers. They loved their reputation. Beau was especially addicted to the attention and continued to plan increasingly dangerous robberies.

Beau wanted to rob bigger banks in bigger towns with more people around just for the attention, for the chase that ensued each robbery. Dalton cursed Beau under his breath as he tried to think of a plan to get out of this bank. The curtain around his torso kept Dalton stiff. The bullet wound underneath ached and blood started to creep through the canvas. Dalton’s breath came in short, labored huffs. It was Beau’s fault. It was his fault that he died. It was his fault that Dalton survived. And it was his fault that Beau was alone right now. For a moment, Dalton imagined who he would be if he had not met Beau. He’d probably be slaving away on some farm in Missouri, making next to nothing. He might’ve lived longer, but he wouldn’t’ve lived at all.

Suddenly, there was movement outside the window. Dalton peered to his right as a man stood on the porch of a wooden shack. The man called into the building. He looked confused, like he was looking for something. Then, a woman joined him on the porch. They both looked down the road, directly toward Dalton. The man raised his arm and pointed at the bank. Dalton knew he had to move. If people had heard about the gunshots, a local lawman would be there any minute. Still keeled over, Dalton forced himself to move. He hobbled back over to the desk where his hat lay. He grabbed the black felt hat and put it on and pulled the brim down to cover his eyes. As he tied his black bandana around the bottom of his face to conceal his identity, he glanced once more at the dead bank teller. Dalton noticed a newspaper laying on the ground next to him, half soaked red. Dalton read the headline: “Deadwood Dalton Rides Again: Reckless Outlaw Returns to Seek Vengeance, Partner Slain in Fiery Showdown!” Dalton looked at the gun on the floor next to the cashier. He knew he had been warned. Dalton remembered how easy it had been before the attention. But Beau had chased it like a hound on the scent of its prey, and his greed was haunting Dalton now.

Dalton waited for a moment for the man and woman to step back inside, then took a deep breath, and shuffled out the door of the bank. He quickly turned left, away from the man and towards Old Hank. He tried to stay out of the street as he moved. Each step felt like a red-hot fire poker being driven into his stomach, sending shockwaves of pain down through his legs. Dalton moved slowly, trying not to leave a trail of blood. As he moved, Dalton half-expected to get caught…to get shot down just like Beau. He was reminded of that day, when Beau took it too far.

Once Beau got his hands on some dynamite, he couldn’t resist the urge to go after a Union Pacific train. It was the biggest, most dangerous score there was, and Beau knew they’d be living legends if they pulled it off. Even for Dalton, it seemed crazy to rob a passenger train with just two people, but Beau insisted and Dalton conceded. The plan was simple enough. First, they’d derail the train, then Dalton would take the expressman hostage while Beau used the dynamite to open the train safe, hopefully carrying a payroll shipment in gold. Then they’d shoot the expressman, take the gold, and get away on horseback. The passengers would be unbothered.

He thought back to the moment he lost Beau. They had found a stretch of isolated railroad, nowhere near any towns. Before the train came, Dalton used a pickaxe to destroy the rail. As the train neared, Dalton and Beau hid in the nearby brush. As it passed, the deep rumbling of the train was interrupted by the loud screeching of metal as the train derailed and the locomotive toppled over, smoke filling the air. As the rest of the train stopped abruptly, Dalton and Beau sprung into action. They ran down the line of the passenger railcars to the back of the train. As they neared the last rail cars, they saw the expressman walking toward the front of the train, shotgun in hand. Dalton and Beau snuck back into the tumbleweeds and waited for him to approach them. Just as he passed Beau shot a bullet into the air.

“Drop the gun!” Beau screamed as he and Dalton jumped out of the brush and trained their guns on the back of the man’s head. The man’s head spun, shotgun instinctively trained in front of him at Beau and Dalton. “DROP IT NOW!” Beau commanded. The barrel of the man’s gun slowly lowered and he tossed the shotgun off to his side.

“You ain’t gonna find anything on this train.” He said calmly. “It ain’t carrying no gold.”

“We’ll see,” Beau replied confidently.

Dalton kept his gun trained directly on the expressman. “Go Beau,” he said, “let’s get outta here quick.” The expressman didn’t move. He crossed his arms and stood there, eerily calm considering he was staring down the barrel of a gun. Beau ran over to the nearest rail car and opened his saddlebag. He worked quickly, setting up the dynamite, despite the fact that he had never used it in his life. While Beau prepared the blow the charges, Dalton and the expressman stood there staring each other down. Dalton tried not to show his nerves, but the man’s composure made them worse. He could feel the sweat beading down his temple from underneath his hat. Why is this guy not more scared, Dalton thought. The expressman reminded Dalton of the cashier in the general store during his first robbery. He remembered the way the man had laughed him out of the store. Dalton picked the expressman’s shotgun off the ground. He tucked his own revolver into his holster and shoved the long barrel of the shotgun into the man’s back. “Move” Dalton ordered, as he shoved the man toward the rail cars.

The hot afternoon sun felt like a spotlight as Dalton slowly dragged himself across the street towards the abandoned saloon. He could hear some commotion behind him towards the bank. He looked back and saw the man that had pointed peer through the front window of the bank. Dalton ducked out of sight behind a log building that looked like a general store. The violent movement made his wound scream with pain, and Dalton’s vision went dark for a brief moment before he regained his balance. There was shouting behind him now, coming from the direction of the bank. They had found the teller. Dalton knew they’d be right behind him. He was close though. The old saloon where he had left Hank was only three buildings down. The distance felt like miles to Dalton. He knew he wasn’t out of the dark yet. He remembered the loot that he had left behind with Beau.

Beau had finished setting up the dynamite on the locked car. He nodded to Dalton, took out a match, and lit the fuse. Then, he backed away from the car. The three of them stood there watching in anticipation as the fuse shortened.

BANG! The train shook as the metal doors of the rail car opened exposing the wooden crates inside. The expressman tried to take a step forward but Dalton quickly pressed the gun into him reminding him not to move. Beau jumped into the boxcar and pried a crate open. Beau threw his head back and laughed hysterically.

“IT’S GOLD!” he yelled, “We did it Dalton.”

Dalton smirked at the expressman who finally had a look of disbelief on his face. Beau quickly filled their leather bags with the gold. Once he had run out of space in the saddle bags, he reluctantly left the other crates behind and hopped down from the boxcar.

“Dalton, go grab Hank and Lucy,” Beau directed, “We can’t carry these ourselves. I’ll take care of him.” He nodded to the expressman who had regained his composure.

Dalton left the shotgun with Beau and ran back down the line of boxcars where they had left their horses. He whistled to get their attention and hopped onto Old Hank’s back, grabbing the reins of Beau’s horse, Lucy. As they galloped back toward Beau, Dalton heard the loud BANG of a shotgun. Dalton assumed that Beau had gotten tired of waiting and killed the expressman.

BANG! Another shot went off. Dalton was confused. As he neared the end of the train, a storm of gunshots went off. Dalton kicked Hank hard in the side, speeding up. Beau was pressed against the side of the gold-filled boxcar, shotgun in his left hand, revolver in his right. The expressman lay dead beside him. On the other side of the train, Dalton saw five men circling Beau. They tried to shoot at Hank as Dalton rushed to Beau’s side. Dalton dropped Lucy’s reins, allowing her to avoid the bullets and run away.

“GET OUT OF HERE!” Beau screamed as he fell to the ground. Dalton noticed the blood on his pants. He had been shot.

“LEAVE ME! RUN!” Dalton ignored Beau’s screams as he tried to pull him up onto Hank. He wasn’t strong enough. Beau wasn’t even trying to move. Dalton felt tears on his face as he screamed at Beau.

“C’MON BEAU! GET UP! LET’S GO!” Beau reached up for Dalton’s hand. Dalton tried to grab on, but Beau wasn’t trying to move, he was giving him something. Dalton took the gift from Beau, trying but failing to pull him up with it. Beau forced his hand out of Dalton’s and reloaded his guns. Tears flowed from Dalton’s eyes as he begged Beau to get up. Beau pointed his gun in the air and shot a bullet directly next to Hank. Startled, Hank reared up and took off sprinting in the opposite direction, carrying Dalton with him. Dalton sobbed as he heard another storm of gunshots behind him. He couldn’t look. He knew when the storm stopped that Beau was gone. He clutched the black bandana that Beau had given him in his right hand.

Dalton could taste the blood from the same bandana, now wrapped around his face as he shuffled toward Hank. The shouting in the distance became louder as more townspeople joined the mob of investigators. Dalton rounded the corner of the last wooden building and saw Hank, reigns attached to the same wooden fence. He stood there, unbothered by the sound of the angry mob. Dalton reached for his reins and struggled to get his left foot into the stirrup.

BANG! Hank’s legs went limp as he collapsed to the ground with a huge thud. Dalton dropped with him, hiding behind the fence. He peaked around the corner and saw the sheriff, gun raised, two men by his side. Another shot whizzed by his face. Dalton ducked back behind the fence. He looked at Old Hank’s lifeless corpse. He wished the sheriff had just shot him instead; he knew he was just as dead as Hank anyway. Dalton mourned the loss of his beloved horse. He thought again about Beau, how he had saved him by forcing him to leave him behind. Dalton wished he could’ve let Hank run like Lucy had. He tried to get another look at the lawmen behind the fence, but another shot skimmed the top of the fence, forcing him back down.

“THROW THE GUN!” the sheriff commanded from behind the fence. “Stand up, with your hands in the air!” Dalton remembered the storm of bullets that Beau had been consumed in as he reached for his revolver. His hands shook violently, making it difficult to reload it. He imagined how he would go: just like his partner. He would stand up, shooting wildly in the direction of the lawmen, gunshots penetrating his chest and dropping him to ground where Hank lay peacefully. He promised himself that he would take one with him to the grave. The gun shook wildly in his palm as he mustered his courage. Dalton was crying now, but not from the pain of his wound. He couldn’t feel it anymore. He cried for Beau, and for Hank, and because he felt weak.

“NOW!” The sheriff screamed. “THIS DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THE END!” Dalton wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand. His crouched body trembled behind the fence. His arms felt like lead. He pulled the bandana down from his face to relieve his panting. He had run out of luck. He staggered to his feet, gun raised. But as his eyes met the lawman’s, his will melted and the gun slipped from his hand.