New Western Adventure Story

The life and times of Marshall Luke Johnson

by a. j. Lombardi Copyright © 2019 All Rights Reserved

Part Thirteen

The Winchester Henry Rifle



Time had moved along, and I tried to not focus on the losses of the past.   The deaths of Sheriff Hockshaw, Mr. Lincoln and Riley faded from my daily thoughts.  I tried to focus on my family and my job as Marshall. The silver and gold rushes brought a lot of changes to Montana.  New boom towns were springing up everywhere, and there was a need for law and order in those boomtowns. Due to the overwhelming burden of keeping law and order and the dangers of the job, there was a very fast turnover of lawmen.  Back in July of 1862 a prospector found gold along a tributary of the Beaverhead river in Southwest Montana. Since then, things were never the same. Small boomtowns were springing up everywhere. People came from all walks of life to try to find quick riches



The important gold camps of Montana included Helena, Virginia City and Bannack


The one thing that has changed the landscape of Montana more than any other is the discovery of gold in the 1860s.  The gold rush brought thousands of people of many cultures and backgrounds to seek their fortune. These newcomers held different beliefs than the people who lived here.  The newcomers imposed their ideas on the land and on one another. Discovery of gold changed the landscape of Montana. Mines sprang up everywhere.  Towns sprang up overnight. Farms started to spread through the valleys. Ancient trails and pathways became roads for wagons.   The ongoing flood of   new people brought many changes into Montana. The newcomers used and thought about the land in an entirely different way than the Indian tribes who had made their homes here for thousands of years.    In a town located in Southwest Montana a newly appointed Sheriff by the name of Jeff Townson was in need of a hand in maintaining law and order. He sent word asking me to help him out for a short time. 


Both Jubal and Lucian tried to persuade me to not go alone, but I convinced them that I would be just fine alone.  I was familiar with the territory to where I was headed, and would be back in a month or so. At that time, there were army forts scattered throughout Montana that were stationed to help with the reunification. The soldiers stationed at these forts were also used to help move the Indians to the reservations.  Some of the forts I was familiar with included Fort Ellis, Fort Shaw and Fort Harrison.   There was a lot of resistance from various tribes who refused to go to the reservations. Some of the tribes included the Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Sioux, crow, Shoshoni. Nez Perce and others…  The U.S. Army recruited many Indian scouts from the Crow Nation. A few of the scouts that joined up with Lieutenant Colonel George Custer with the Seventh Cavalry included; White Man Runs Him, Curley, Hairy Moccasin.  These were the Crow scouts that    continued with him later in years in the Battle of the Little Big Horn.



On a rather warm September morning in the fall of 1870 I saddled up and headed out to a   boomtown in Southwest Montana to give Sheriff Townson a hand.  As I was making my way to Southwest Montana, I would pass large herds of buffalo and small bands of Indians hunting them.   I would also come across a lot of trappers who would kill the buffalo for their hides.   Along the way, I would bypass several folks on their way to seek fortune in the gold and silver mines.   Every now and then I would also come by the dead bodies of those who came upon attackers, or just faced some sort of mishap on their journey.    


Upon arriving into town, I headed over to the Sheriff’s office.  A young boy who was sweeping out front informed me that Sheriff Townson would be back later in the afternoon.  I decided to head over to the saloon and wait it out.  Walking towards the saloon I noticed two Appaloosa horses tied outside.   When entering the saloon, I saw one Indian man standing at the bar and an Indian boy sitting in the corner alone.  I suspect they might have been father and son. I thought it odd to see two Indians in the saloon.  At the time, most saloons would not serve Indians.  After closer inspection, I could tell that the older one was wearing a tattered U.S. army cavalry coat.  I suspected that he was a Crow  Indian scout.  Their faces were worn by the hard-outdoor life they lived.   They each carried Army Colts on their side belts.  I noticed that the Indian boy had a Winchester Henry rifle laying across his lap.  I could see a cross notched in the riffle as well as about twenty-six single notches.  I realized that it was the gun that was stolen from Sheriff Hockshaw after he was killed in his fight with the Indians that kidnapped Annie years ago.  I do recall that at that time the gun only had about twelve notches and not the twenty-five or so   it now had.


As I got up and started to walk over to inquire about the Winchester Henry rifle, Sheriff Townson walked in the saloon.  I had never met the gentleman before.  I only heard that he was a straightforward no nonsense type.  He was somewhat of a very tall man who wore his side arm outside of his long black jacket.  “By the way he straddled into the saloon and looked intently around, he demonstrated a high degree of self-confidence.  The loud talk and laughter seemed to tone down a notch as patrons saw him walk by.  He pulled up a chair and sat down across from me.  As soon as he did, the bartender brought over a full bottle of liquor and two glasses.  Sheriff Townson didn’t say a word.  He stared at me intently for about forty-five seconds and then poured a drink for me and himself.  He then raised the front brim of his hat and said, “I heard a lot about you Marshall Johnson, folks tell me that you and your deputy’s keep things running right smooth in your neck of the woods!”  I’ll get right down to my business by telling you that the main issue I face here is trying to keep folks from killing each other!  Since the gold and silver rush, this county is getting overwhelmed and busting at the seams.  “I got trappers hunting buffalo who are constantly having flare ups with the injuns hunting for food.  I am also facing a lot of issues with the folks coming in from back east and heading to the gold and silver mines.  Not to mention the cowhands that come in town a whooping it up on weekends.”  My jail is full to the brim, and the county judge hasn’t held court in over three months!  “Just last night, a family of newcomers were murdered just outside town by five drunken buffalo trappers.   I caught up with them rummaging through the family’s belongings.  I plum shot three of them dead!”  The other two managed to get away heading off to injun territory.  “I don’t reckon they will get too far!   Shoshone and Crow injuns aren’t taken to kindly to trappers these days.”  I do believe that they are the same scoundrels that robbed and killed three miners about five miles or so outside town a few months back.  There is a two-thousand-dollar bounty on them dead or alive.  Before you leave my county, I would advise that you take a poster.  If they make it through injun territory they might be heading your way.


As Sheriff Townson continued talking without taking a break, “I did not get a chance to get a word in.” When he finally did stop talking, he lit up an oversized cigar.  The constant obnoxious fumes seemed to hover over my head making my eyes water as I had to endure his constant yammering’s. After about three hours I told Sheriff Townson that I would sleep on what he was telling me and meet with him tomorrow to figure what I could do to help him. As I got up to leave, I noticed that the two Indians had left the saloon while I was talking with the Sheriff. 


Over the next month that followed, Sheriff Townson and I swore in three deputies.  The extra lawmen certainly did help quiet things down a bit in town.  As the weeks passed on, I accompanied Sheriff Townson on several rides out into Indian territory to bring in wanted outlaws who escaped into the badlands of Montana hoping to escape the law. “It was an incredible site to see the many easterners coming to the gold and silver mines with high hopes only to have their dreams of riches shattered by going home with less than with what they came with.” Gold fever made men who once lived by Christian values lose all values they once held and lived by. 


After about two months I decided that it was time to head back home.  It was late November, and I wanted to get moving before the heavy snow set in.  Before leaving town, I took the dead or alive wanted poster of the two men Sheriff Townson had spoken about when I first arrived in town.   In studying their faces, I noticed that one of them had a large section of his left ear missing.  I recall that Sheriff Townson had said that the injury was due to a tussle that the fellar once had with a young Shoshone Indian buck.     While crossing over Crow territory I would pass by many buffalo hunters and their camps where they would trade and sell the buffalo hides.  I would also see a mix of Indian hunters also on the hunt for buffalo. The difference was that they were looking for both   the hides as well as the meat from the animal.


About halfway on my journey home I stopped at one of the trading camps to stock up on supplies.    Before heading out, I saw the Indian boy I remember seeing back at the saloon back in town.  He was the boy holding Sheriff Hockshaws Winchester rifle.   I did not see his father anywhere.  It appeared that he was with a band of trappers.  From time to time I could see that the trappers were treating him unkindly.  It appeared that he was being held as a slave boy.  The Winchester rifle once held by the Indian boy was now strapped to the lead trappers saddle.   “Something was not right with this picture, I decided to follow them as they headed out of camp. So as not to be noticeable, I kept my distance.  After about one day of travel they made camp.  From a distance about two hundred yards I could see one of the men beating the Indian boy with a small rope.  “As a lawman, I had to do something!”

To be continued... check here for story updated and index links