By James Hold
[Copyright 2016 James Roy Hold
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OSAGE CAN YOU SEE
For as long as folks can remember, the Yegua Creek, near Somerville, had been prone to flooding. Where other rivers went unfazed by heavy storms, the slightest few inches of rainfall would make the Yegua overflow its banks. Some said it was because the cypress trees were too lazy to bend their branches to drink from the stream and made the water rise to their level instead. Others said it was because nature spirits in the neighboring rivers did not want to be disturbed and so they directed their excess water down to the less particular Yegua. One time a scientist attributed it to an unusual geological shelf, but people knew better than to listen to that sort of nonsense. Whatever the reason, the Yegua remained notorious for its flooding. Still, it was good fertile bottomland, and folks continued to make homes along its banks.
One day though, a storm of such intensity struck Texas that even the mighty Brazos River threatened to overflow. And the helpless Yegua spilled water for a mile on each side of its banks. Fortunately, people took heed and most survived. One settlement of about twenty however did not. Days later, a rescue party searching for survivors, spotted a small boy knee-deep in a pool of swirling water. Attempts to identify the child proved fruitless. No one could recall seeing him before and the child itself would not speak. So, with nothing else to go by, folks took to calling him the Yegua Kid and for the next twelve years he became a ward of the community, folks taking turns rooming and boarding him while he took odd jobs at the different farms and ranches.
Then came a day when the Kid, who people judged to be of legal age, turned to the Widow Stafford who had fed him breakfast, and for the first time in his life, spoke, saying: “Thank you kindly, ma’am. I reckon I’ll be on my way now.” And rising from the table, he strode out the door and mounted a chestnut stallion that no one had ever seen before and rode into the sunrise.
Decent people, as a rule, don’t cotton to bank robbers. The citizens of Misery City, being more or less decent, shared this opinion. So when three hombres with bandanas over their faces took the money from the local bank, and shot the teller, the people were quick to organize a posse and go after them. One robber, shot and killed while getting away, turned out to be a ranch hand from a cattle drive outside of town. Logic suggested the other two must be part of that same bunch, so the posse brought them all in for questioning. Some citizens were for stringing the lot of them, only the sheriff pointed out they could only do two, since that and the dead one equaled the number of robbers who committed the act. The problem then was how to identify those two from the rest. The robbers had planned the burglary perfectly, choosing a time when the teller, an undeniably trustworthy man, was alone in the bank. The teller was alive, but in a coma, and his condition was iffy. The only other witness was…well, unreliable at best.
That was the scene when the Yegua Kid rode up. One look at him and the sheriff immediately drew his gun and ordered the Kid to step down. The remaining members of the posse covered him as well.
“What seems to be the problem?” the Kid asked.
“I’ll ask the questions around here,” the sheriff replied. “What’s in them bags you got hanging from your saddlehorn?”
“I came in to turn them over to you,” the Kid replied evenly. “I spied two hombres burying them under some rocks, so I waited till they rode off and took a look.”
The saddlebags, needless to say, contained the money stolen from the bank.
“You expect me to believe that?” the sheriff scoffed.
“I’d hope so. Why would I ride back into town if I was a bank robber?”
“Maybe he heard we rounded up them cattle drivers,” a posse member suggested.
“Yeah,” agreed another. “Probably figured he’d be safe now.”
The sheriff thought it over. “That does make the most sense,” he reasoned. “Well, looks like we got two of them anyway. Now all we got to do is pick out the third.”
“Wait,” the Kid protested. “You can’t convict me on such flimsy evidence. Haven’t you any witnesses?”
“Hear that boys?” someone laughed. “He wants a witness.”
“So get him one,” another joined in, and the Yegua Kid found himself face to face with Osage Joe, the town bum.
“There’s your witness kid, for all the good he’ll do you.”
The Kid considered his witness. “I know of you, Osage Joe. The waters of the Yegua speak highly of you. You were once a mighty warrior.”
“Water not sit still, but flow on to big pond.” The Indian looked down, sadly. “Joe old now. Old and useless.”
The Kid shook his head. “No, Joe. Not useless. Not useless at all.” He turned to the sheriff. “Very well. With Osage Joe as my witness I’ll not only prove my innocence but point out the other two guilty men.”
“Go right on ahead, kid.” It was all the sheriff could do to contain his laughter. “It’s your funeral.”
“Now, Joe,” the Kid began, “where were you when the bank robbery took place?”
“Day hot. Me sit outside door in shade.”
“And the robbers walked past you?”
“Um. Bad men walk by. Ignore Joe.”
“Now, Joe, I want you to sit by the door just like you did then. I’ll pull my bandana over my face and walk past you. Tell me, was I one of them?”
“No. You not one.”
“What the hell,” the sheriff sputtered. “Do you expect me to believe—”
The Kid raised a commanding hand and the sheriff hushed in spite of himself.
“Now,” the Kid continued, “I want each member of the cattle drive to pull his bandana over his face and walk past Joe one at a time. Go.”
The cattle drivers did as told. As each passed, Joe announced, “Not him. Not him. Not— Wait. Him one.”
The ranch hand pulled away. The Yegua Kid grabbed the man’s arm and the man winced as blood from a bullet wound seeped through his sleeve.
“There’s your number two man,” the Kid pushed the outlaw toward the sheriff. “Now let’s find number three.”
“Oh, no you don’t!” A burly cowhand snatched the gun from a posse member’s holster. “I don’t know what hoodwink you’re trying to pull, but everyone in these parts knows Osage Joe is blind as a bat so his testimony is completely worthless.”
“Unfortunately, your partner didn’t know it.” The sheriff leveled his gun at the outlaw’s belly. “And now you’ve given yourself away.”
The cowhand considered his options—his one gun versus all the rest—and surrendered quietly.
“Well, Kid,” said the sheriff, as the two crooks were escorted to jail, “that was sure clever the way you got out of that. Only I’m still going to have a hard time convicting them solely on Osage Joe’s testimony.”
The Kid helped Osage Joe to his feet, then said, “I don’t know why that should be, sheriff. After all, Joe may be blind, but he certainly isn’t deaf.”
“Is true,” Joe nodded. “Sun no longer light Joe’s eyes, but wind still speak to Joe’s ears. I know people by sound of footfall, jingle of spur, rustle of clothes. Maybe Joe old now, and no longer mighty warrior. But thanks to Yegua Kid, Joe know he not useless.”
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