Gumption Junction is a place where hope meets up with reality, confidence crosses paths with faith, and happiness turns into joy. Tis a little settlement in the Texas Panhandle, smack dab in the midst of the Comanche and Kiowa. Tis a place where the weather and the people are nearly always nice. There always seems to be just about enough variation in the weather the rest of the year that all them bluebonnets, Indian blankets, Mexican hats, and lilies bloom bigger, longer, and brighter than any other place in Texas. The milkweed draw the biggest monarch butterflies you ever seen in your life, and crepe myrtle are all over the place. This is a place where the sunflowers reach for the sky, drawing doves into the one place where this bird of peace can fly peaceable like all year long. In Gumption Junction ever body is welcome, so long as they are there trying to make the world a better place.
If German Jack Fordern were known for any particular spiritual gift, twas not patience. Throughout nigh on 25 years of dealing with him, twas something Bessie would gently bring to Jack’s attention from time to time. She knew that Jack always meant to figure out how to do better with dealing with them that were less confident and competent than hisself in his areas of expertise. Twas Fordern sure never more true than in Jack’s dealings with newspaper men. Newspaper men mad his ribs hurt more than normal. Jack wondered if his ribs would ever heal. Owing to this, Jack was Fordern sure none too happy when that scalawag Clem Samuels recognized him in his concealment against the weather. Mr. Samuels even hollered out for his attention in a voice that didn’t seem accustomed to fighting against them awful natural elements.
“Cap’m Fordern! Might you spare a moment o’ time please sir? I have strange news!”
“Do you ever have any other sort o’ news, Mr. Samuels? I must git home quick sir!”
“That is what I wish t’ tell you sir! I directed some men out towards thataway.”
“Do what? Who in th’ hell was they? What business did they have with me Samuels?”
“Cap’m, they said they knew you an’ th’ Loo-tenant from Abilene an’ come t’ settle up.”
“You’d better tell me who they was, Fordern shore quick, or git buffaloed right here!”
Jack reached into his coat for one of his two 1846 Walker Colt .44-calibre #3 wheel guns with which to bludgeon the dadburn newspaper man. Mr. Samuels’ eyes got big as biscuits, his face turnt white as a sheet, and he instinctively covered his face with his shaky hands. Somehow Clem managed to stammer out the words he hoped would save his life, if not his embarrassment: “Please! No sir!” Jack relaxed and dismounted, making the obvious play that he did not return his wheel gun to its scabbard on his belt. With a sense of urgency greater than he had ever known throughout his career as a journalist, Samuels quickly collected hisself and managed to stammer something out.
Clem frantically informed Jack, “Cap’m, th’ both of ‘em said they knew ya’ll from th’ end o’ th’ cattle drive. They’s big men, but I doubt they could have reckoned how t’ pour th’ piss out o’ their boots if’n th’ instructions had been written on th’ bottom o’ th’ heel. They presented me with badges that portrayed them as some sort o’ representatives o’ th’ constable’s office up yonder in Abilene. They sad you had raised a ruckus an’ broke out o’ jail up yonder. But I let th’ both of ‘em know that th’ details of their story didn’t cipher out as they pertaint t’ what I heard tell o’ you sir. That is when th’ both of ‘em took turns an’ buffaloed me just about where we’s standin’ right now. After that, you ought to see why you startled me so just now. When th’ both of ‘em was fixin’ t’ make good on threats t’ kill me right here in th’ street, I didn’t know what else t’ do sir. Yore wife ain’t home alone now, is she Cap’m?”
“Can you tell me som’pin outstandin’ about their physical features Mr. Samuels?”
“One of ‘em walked with a limp that’s a little more prominent than yore’n. Th’ other’n had a crookt arm as though he’d broke it fallin’ from a horse and never really got it set straight afterwards. The both of ‘em was Mexican, which I thought mighty odd since they’s passin’ themselves off as Kansas lawmen. And the both ‘em seem t’ be closer than colleagues, like brothers or som’pin. I could not figure out a single thang they said t’ one another. I barely made sense o’ what they said to me. They had a awful drunk that rode along with ‘em too sir. I reckon they’s speakin’ Spanish most all th’ time. Is any o’ that helpful t’ you in any way a’tall sir? I wish t’ God I had more t’ tell you, Cap’m.”
Jack let Mr. Samuels know, “I’ll tell you whatever in hell you want t’ know once I get all this squared away, Clem. You have my word on my Cinco Peso!” With that, Jack reached in his vest pocket and pullt out his Texas Ranger badge from a coin purse therein. [This symbol of law and order in Texas has always been reverently referred to by them that have worn it according to the type of Mexican coin from which all them badges are fashioned.] Jack carefully pinnt the Cinco Peso on his vest and spurred Raven to get out of town. Clem Samuels just stood there scratching his head, neither no more nor less confused than ever. He watched the big black horse storm off till Jack rode out of sight. Then Clem returnt to the business of putting together the next edition of The Gumption Gazette. He reckoned that whatever headline Hannah was setting up the type for might have to change.
Whilst riding as hard as he could towards the place he called Fordern Sure Home, Jack recollected his two brothers lost during all them years of fighting to establish and secure them border between Texas and México. Then he thought of yet another brother most recently lost to illness during the dadburn War of Northern Aggression. Jack’s parents had also taken ill and died whilst he was away on the battlefield during that most recent fighting. As he tried to clear his head and prepare hisself for whatever might have to be dealt with concerning Bessie at their home, Jack even thought about her family. Nearly all of them had perished down yonder in her home town of Saltillo, when Coahuila was still part of Texas. Banditos destroyed their village.
Jack reckoned that maybe, finally, he Fordern sure ought to be able to look into the cattle business twas commencing in West Texas. Bessie believed he could make thataway, so Jack knew he must try. Because of the struggle with them United States in the futile battle by the Confederacy for the supremacy of states rights, Jack had seen Bessie only a few times in the last several years. Now, with the impending birth of their child, Bessie was no longer in any kind of shape for Jack to be gone for any length of time. Jack wisht he had figured out a way to stay home with Bessie already. The cattle drive might have been more trouble than it was worth.
To worsen matters, Bessie and Jack still had not been able to hunt up the Rev. Dr. Rufus Burleson to make sure their family situation was tolerable in the Eyes of God. Even though Jack had never been much for paper work, his upbringing in the home of a Lutheran preacher and a teacher allowed him to want to settle up with God and ever body else afore he was going to settle down with Bessie. All he really wanted now was to settle down with Bessie. Jack had known Dr. Burleson since he was a young boy. Jack’s father had also been a cotton farmer. Then Dr. Fordern was one of the hires Burleson made whilst assembling the faculty of Baylor University.
Jack had Fordern sure learnt to keep a cool head in the midst of even the worst situation. When he seen smoke and fire amongst the brush arbor where his house ought to be, Jack spurred Raven towards his house as though he was again after Santa Anna hisself. Even as Jack dug in his heels, though, Raven stopped just outside of the house. Moving quick, Jack jumped off his mount, stripped off his EPH. 6:10-12 saddle, and wrapped the saddle blanket ‘roun’ his duster. Pulling his bandana up over his face, Jack tossed his 25 year old saddle back on his three year old horse. He then prodded Raven on down to Cripple Creek with an anxious slap on the muscular twitching hind quarters of the horse. Jack hoped the horse would find his mixt puppy Beowulf. This giant of a young dog was the result of breeding his big German shepherd named Bavaria with Bessie’s beautiful collie called Curandero. Holding the Sharps carbine he yanked from the saddle scabbard, Jack quickly and carefully entered and searched the burning house. Even in his sensitive state of anxiety, Jack was still Fordern sure surprised to find his house afire.
Jack pushed his way through the billowing smoke and tried to stomp out the smoldering flames. All the while he was hollering out to Bessie, “¡Abyssinia! ¿De dónde eres, Maestra Dulce? ¡Despierta! La casa está ardiendo!” From all his years patrolling the dadburn No Man’s Land, Jack had figured out Spanish about as well as he spoke English or read his father’s Gutenberg Bible in German. From this experience Jack knew Bessie spoke English real good and had Fordern sure figured out German as well. But he also knew that she would be dreaming in her beautiful native Spanish language. Bessie would never be able to figure out the meaning of, “Abyssinia! Where are you Sweetutor? Wake up! The house is afar!” in dream sleep.
All his hope was just wishful thinking on Jack’s part though. He Fordern sure searched through the smoke-filled cabin with speed and precision. He found the iron bed his parents had brought with them from Germany and through Pennsylvania. Jack found no evidence that any of the fire commenced in the stove, and he found no woman alive in the bed. Twas a singed and tattered remnant of Bessie’s clothing, bits of some smoldering flesh, and even a few handfuls of long dark Mexican hair. Jack did find evidence that Bessie had been with child. But there were Fordern sure no adult remains. To his traint eyes, Jack’s family was no more. The joy he was trying to rekindle with Bessie appeared to have been burnt alive in Gumption Junction.