Doubts about the Law

Doubts About The Law was published in CHRONICLES, September 2009.

“Rawhide” Andrews was a Texas Ranger. He came to the force after it was reconstituted in 1874, the Rangers having been discredited in the years following the War of Yankee Aggression as an enforcement unit for carpetbaggers.

Comanches were in decline from smallpox and cholera and from the near extinction of buffalo by hide hunters. The Comanche attack on buffalo hunters at the Second Battle of Adobe Wells in 1874 brought the U.S. Army against their diminished numbers. The last of the free Comanches were driven into reservation in 1875, two years after the advent of the Winchester Model 1873, the “gun that won the West” according to the myth, but in actual fact the Winchester was too late.

In 1876 a few Comanche warriors led by Black Horse left the reservation and renewed raids and attacks on buffalo hunters, but the Comanches lacked the numbers to make their frustration with reservation life effective, bringing to an end Comanche resistance to white encroachment on their lands that began in 1820.

With the Comanches subdued, the violence that confronted Rawhide Andrews came from the outlaws among the white illegal aliens who had overrun Comanche lands—lands the Comanche had taken from the less numerous Apache.

On the frontier, violence flared easily, and a badge was scant protection from a faster gun. Rawhide wore two Colts, tied down for a smooth, easy draw. The rare left-handed gunmen always wore two pistols. The opposing gunman, being right-handed, would watch his opponents right hand at the cost of his life.

Rawhide was equally fast with either hand until a Comanche arrow caught his right arm, an injury he kept to himself. Although still fast on the draw, he was now faster with his left pistol.

Texas Rangers sometimes pursued wanted men into other states or territories. Few objected. To kill or arrest a Ranger could bring a dozen Rangers upon a settlement, regardless of jurisdiction.

The dusty street in which Rawhide faced the notorious killer, Abe Hindeshaw, was far outside his jurisdiction.

Hindeshaw had survived many encounters with gunmen. He saw Rawhide as another body to fill with lead. The two tied down pistols he regarded as decoration. Experience told him that any action would come from the right-side pistol, if it came at all.

Still, Hindeshaw wondered, why had this man accosted him? Was he a greenhorn hoping to make a name for himself as a gunman?

Rawhide himself wondered if delivering justice justified the extraterritoriality he was asserting and whether he had met his match in this dusty street.

Rawhide could not escape the fact that his pursuit of Hindeshaw left him no choice but to kill or be killed. It struck Rawhide, unnerving him, that he did not know if Hindeshaw had actually done the deeds attributed to him or whether his notoriety was a scapegoat for the crimes of others. It was too late to invite Hindeshaw into the saloon for a drink in exchange for his life story. He couldn’t tell Hindeshaw “don’t come back to Texas or you’ll be arrested” and ride away.

Here Rawhide stood facing death or the delivering of death. What had this to do with justice? Was Hindeshaw the murderer of innocents or a person demonized by authority, a person glorifying in the reputation that demonization had bequeathed him, a man too proud to be held accountable by liars? These questions arrived too tardy to avoid what was now inevitable. Swift movement, the flash of flame, vital organs smashed by lead.

Hindeshaw’s confidence gave Rawhide time to shake off his doubts, to recover his intent, to focus on the deadly situation to which his hubris had brought him. It was no longer a question of right or wrong but of live or die. Demonized or not, Hindeshaw was a deadly man with a pistol.

Especially at this range. Many gunmen preferred close encounters where speed couldn’t miss. Rawhide found his edge in distance. He was a good shot as well as fast.

He had let Hindeshaw get too close. Now he could not back up a ways without looking like he was running from the fight.

But he still had that edge. Let his right hand twitch while his left prepared for the draw.

Hindeshaw was fast—too fast. His bullet was several inches off and smashed Rawhide’s right arm as Rawhide’s bullet took Hindeshaw in the heart.

Rawhide had prevailed, but he realized that his injury was permanent. He had lost his edge. Henceforth he would be known as a left-handed gunman. He thought this over. Time to ask the Rangers for a desk job. Let younger, more certain men, unbothered by doubts, bring in the wanted. Rawhide had become too deliberative to serve justice. It could cost him his life—or the life of an innocent man.