The American Magazine: November 1926 – May 1927
Harper & Brothers, New York in 1928
One does not simply become a gunman. Something lies behind the choice to leave family and home to settle for a life where your own life is in danger from others wanting to test how good you are with your pistol. In the life of Jim Lacy (Nevada’s real name) those seeds were planted when he became an orphan. Nevada is both a savior and a crook. But most of all he is a loyal friend who is willing to stand up for those that he loves, even if they do not know about it.
“From the lake Nevada gazed away across Forlorn River, over the gray sage hills, so expressive of solitude, over the black ranges toward the back country, the wilderness whence he had come and to which he must return. To the hard life, the scant fare, the sordid intimacy of crooked men and women, to the border of Nevada, where he had a bad name, where he could never sleep in safety, or wear a glove on his gun-hand! But at that moment Nevada had not one regret. He was sustained and exalted by the splendid consciousness that he had paid his debt to his friend. He had saved Ben from prison, cleared his name of infamy, given him back to Ina Blaine, and killed his enemies. Whatever had been the evil of Nevada’s life before he met Ben, whatever might be the loneliness and bitterness of the future, neither could change or mitigate the sweetness and glory of the service he had rendered.”
Now that his friends have been saved, Nevada returns to Lineville and the people who knew him. Unfortunately he also returns to the life of men out to kill the famous gunman Jim Lacy.
“A man like you must always worry,” rejoined Burridge, with evident sympathy. “You can’t ever be free unless you hide your name. It’s bad enough to have sheriffs after you, an’ natural enemies, but it must be hell to know there’re men who want to kill you just because of your reputation.”
We jump four years into the future, to California-Tule Lake and Ben and Hettie. Ben is married to his Ina and they now have a son called Blaine. Hettie has just turned 20 years old and still pines for Nevada. She is not alone in missing him. Ben wishes his best friend would once more become a part of their life. He wants Nevada to claim the half of Forlorn River ranch and Mule Deer ranch that belongs to him.
Ben and Ina take Ina’s mother to San Fransisco for a visit with the physicians. The doctor recommends Ina’s mother move to a warmer climate like, say, Arizona. So Ben sells off most of the land and stock and they take off in their covered wagons bringing just a few people, some belongings and a few animals. The family ends up settling near Mogollon Rim close to the town Winthrop. Ben tells the rest of them just how he found the “ranch of his dreams”.
“‘They tell me you’re hard to please. But I’m makin’ bold to ask you personally just what kind of a ranch you want to buy?'”
“So I up and told him, elaborately, just what I was looking for. Then he laughed, sort of amused and, pulling at his long mustache, he said: ‘My name’s Burridge. I’ve got exactly what you want. Somewheres around ten thousand head. Lots of unbranded calves an’ yearlin’s. Cabins an’ corrals not worth speakin’ of. But water, grass, timber, an’ range can’t be beat in Arizona. It suits me to sell for cash. That’s what they call me–Cash Burridge. Suppose you get a lawyer an’ come over to the city hall an’ see my title. Then if it strikes you right, I’ll take you out to my ranch.’
Except something is amiss with their new home and they will once again need the help of Nevada. But where is Nevada? What has become of him? Will he make it back in time? Does he still care for Hettie?
One of the concluding statements in the story tries to explain the phenomenon of the gunman:
“I’m glad I hit upon the truth,” he said, with eagerness. “I watched you yesterday and I believe I saw then something of your ordeal. And I see now in your face the havoc that tells of your pain. It is my earnest hope to soothe that pain, Hettie Ide, and I know I can do so. Listen. It has been a terrible shock for you to find in your Texas Jack–or Nevada, as you call him–no other than the infamous or famous Jim Lacy. This is natural, but it is all wrong. There need be no shame, no fear, no shrinking in your acceptance of this fact. I’ve met and trusted no finer man than this same Jim Lacy. But I did not come to eulogize him. . . . I want to make clear in your mind just what such men as Jim Lacy mean to me. I have lived most of my life on the frontier and I know what its wilderness has been, and still is. There are bad men and bad men. It is a distinction with a vast difference. I have met or seen many of the noted killers. Wild Bill, Wess Hardin, Kingfisher, Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, an’ a host of others. These men are not bloody murderers. They are a product of the times. The West could never have been populated without them. They strike a balance between the hordes of ruffians, outlaws, strong evil characters like Dillon, and the wild life of a wild era. It is the West as any Westerner knows it now. And as such we could not be pioneers, we could not progress without this violence. Without the snuffing out of dissolute and desperate men such as Dillon, Cedar Hatt, Stillwell, and so on. The rub is that only hard iron-nerved youths like Billy the Kid, or Jim Lacy, can meet such men on their own ground. That is all I wanted you to know. And also, that if my daughter cared for Jim Lacy I would be proud to give her to him.”
Tom Horn: A Pinkerton Agent (undercover work in the Wild West)