The Treasure and the Bounty
It had been a long time since these tired eyes had focused upon the city of Virginia City, Nevada, and yet, here I was. Despite being more recognized and associated with Hannibal, MO and the Mississippi River as well as the fact of being actually physically born in Florida, Missouri, many claim the city of Virginia City to be my birthplace. And in a sense, it is. You see, this town, where I hold so many fond memories of a misspent youth, was where I came into existence.
It was the birthplace of Mark Twain.
It was during my time here as one of the hard-working and under-appreciated silver miners, putting forth a challenging and honest effort, unlike the rapscallions of the US Congress who are not challenged nor honest, that the inspiration for my alter ego developed. It was my failure at the mining process that led to my employment at the Territorial Enterprise, one of the West’s least finest publications. And it was here where my better known pseudonym took root. Samuel Clemens was now just a footnote in the history of the universe. From this point forward, my nom de plume became my identity.
Yet, I digress. This story is not about me. I have not returned from the Midwest to Virginia City for personal glory or a pat on the back. Far from it. Inspiration has once again struck this self-professed wanderer to express the vernacular of a time and the compelling characters found within. It is for this reason that I have returned to the place of my “birth.”
The Bucket of Blood is not a literal phrase, but I could not have conceived of any more apropos moniker for a local saloon than that. The orneriest, bordering upon lunacy, scalleywags were regulars in this saloon, bringing a new definition to the word “colorful”. The attraction of the Bucket of Blood was unmistakable and unavoidable. It was where all patrons of the establishment, no matter how ugly… how vile… could come for refreshments of the potent variety. I have it on good authority that even the world’s most horrendous, Congressmen, would be allowed to drink, though one would wonder how long they would actually last with the dregs before either offending them or blending in.
The swing of the door opened easily and, immediately, the reputation of the Bucket of Blood was confirmed by my own eyes. How could this collection of reprobates be allowed to co-mingle outside of a secure location with armed men guarding the exterior? Putting those thoughts out of my head, the one individual whom I had traveled to find was in this room, and he stood out like a beacon on a foggy night, though I expect that was the last thing he had intended.
In the dark corner the man sat, a half-full (or should that be half-empty?) bottle of McCutcheon’s whiskey rested upon the table top in front of him. The shadows of the saloon cast across him, only serving to make him stick out even more. This was no ordinary varmint. Another shot of whiskey passed his lips as he scanned the area for any trouble, because he knew that trouble always found him. He was surprised the respite had lasted this long.
His reputation proceeded him wherever he had traveled. The tales of a ruthless killer and a bloodthirsty bounty hunter frightened some, but made for a challenge to others. The world of the outlaw was a rough one and any advantage that could be parlayed into further success had to be exploited. If a man could claim that he was the person to finally put him into the ground, well, his reputation would be rock solid. Because of that, even at his most intoxicated, Jonah Hex was on edge.
The scars on his face were truly hard to view. The punishment from an Apache tribe for the breaking of one of their sacred rules, the murder of an Apache, was a reminder forever of Jonah Hex’s lot in life. The confederate soldier uniform that he still wore, despite his departure from the Confederacy and his betrayal of the tenants of the South, had been stained with blood and dirtied from years of questionable behavior. Why Hex continued to wear the uniform was as much of an enigma as the man himself.
And this mystery was the real reason for my return trip to Virginia City. The tale of Jonah Hex and what would happen in this place brought me back from my own safety net, my security, to chronicle the events as they occur. This story was not about Samuel Clemens or Mark Twain. It was about what happened in Virginia City, Nevada, and how it affected Jonah Hex and those around him.
The bounty hunter sat at the shadowy table, hoping for the briefest respite from the chaos of his life, but knowing too well that hope was a fleeting emotion and not something that he was able to count as an ally. As Jonah Hex slammed back yet another shot of the expensive whiskey, he had no idea the ironic joke fate prepared to spring upon him.
Imbecile is a powerful word with many negative connotations, but, in this case, it would not be too strong a term. The dictionary definition of the word came unwittingly through the saloon entrance. The unmistakable stains and grub from a hard day in the mines colored their faces and clothes, but they were oblivious to, not only their appearance, but much more than that.
“Tell me, Theodore,” the round faced man said to his spindly associate, “why do we have to work in those mines? That’s hard work.”
“Now, Amos…” the bug-eyed man named Theodore said. “I told you once… the mine is just a necessary evil… this is where we STRIKE IT RICH!”
The excitement had overtaken Theodore and he had blurted that line out louder than he had intended. He immediately shushed Amos, twitching nervously around the saloon, bumping into yours truly. The air was suddenly filled with a dirt cloud from the clothing upon Theodore, engulfing me.
“Pardon me,” he said, straightening up. “Nice suit.”
“It was,” I said, brushing the new dirt off my white suit.
However, Theodore had lost interest in my plight as he spotted Hex drinking alone in the corner. His eyes bulged out even more, if that was possible, and his cheeks flopped in horror. Spinning around as quickly as he could, Theodore excused himself from me and scattered back to Amos.
“Amos… Jonah Hex…” Theodore’s teeth were tightly clenched and his attempts to be nonchalant only made him even twitchier… and incomprehensible.
“Flow spa specks?” Amos repeated, confused.
Theodore’s face scrunched in frustration, and he slightly tilted his head toward the corner table.
“Jonah Hex,” he said again through his clenched jaw.
“No naw sex?” Amos said, still confused.
Theodore closed his eyes and took a deep, nasally sniff. This was a scene that he was, unfortunately, not unfamiliar with, and he was no stranger to the frustration that came with being Amos’s friend. Just then, Amos saw the bounty hunter at the table. He turned his back to Hex and made eye contact with Theodore.
“Don’t look now, Theodore, but Jonah Hex is here,” Amos said, upon which he received a slap to the head by his colleague. “Hey, what was that for?”
“Why is Jonah Hex here?” a suspicious Theodore asked.
“He can’t be after us for Carson City?” Amos said, phrasing it as a question, but meaning it as a deep set hope. “Can he?”
“He’s a bounty hunter,” said Theodore, who followed that factual statement with one of the most ridiculous comments these old ears had ever processed, “and we’re desperate, dangerous outlaws.”
“What’ll we do?” Amos said.
“Let’s get outta here,” said Theodore.
Shoulder to shoulder, Theodore and Amos shuffled their feet slowly toward the exit, keeping their eyes fixed behind them on Hex. They looked for any sign from Jonah Hex that might require a faster pace from them. Unfortunately for the duo, the constant attention paid to Hex limited their perception across the saloon floor and they ran right into another patron.
“Watch what yer doin’!” exclaimed the tree of a man that Theodore and Amos had bumped into, and despite the fact that the bump was hardly noticeable, the man reacted physically. He swung at Theodore, who ducked. The blow struck Amos, sending him hurtling across the saloon. Amos ricocheted into another customer, who shoved Amos back as well, projecting Amos into a different direction like a bullet deflecting off the wall.
It would have been pathetic if it had not been so humorous.
Amos’s journey came to a halt when he smashed into the table, the bottle of whiskey crashing to the floor. The remaining alcohol poured free from the container, lost forever among the dirt and grime of the floor of the Bucket of Blood. Amos watched the whiskey disappear, drop by drop, as if he were frozen in time. He silently hoped that he hadn’t ended his voyage where he thought he had.
The sound of the gun being cocked removed that hope.
“You done made a bad mistake, Mister,” Hex said, extending the firearm at the back of the man who had knocked over his table.
Amos turned slowly around to face the bounty hunter, his eyes crossed as the cold iron poked just below his nose.
“Howdy, Jonah,” Amos said, hands in the air.
Hex’s face dropped as the wave of recognition washed over him.
“Aw, Hell,” Hex said.
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
Hex hesitated before lowering his gun. One could only imagine what thoughts were running through Hex’s head, the possibilities of freedom from the incessant idiot standing cross-eyed before him. Theodore moved over beside Amos, with his hands raised as well.
“Both of ya? Course…” Hex grumbled, placing his gun back into its place.
“Howdy, Jonah,” said Theodore, echoing what his partner had said just a few seconds before.
“What are you two idiots doing here?” Hex said. “And how much will it cost to get you the hell out of here?”
“Aren’t you after us?” Amos said.
“Amos!” Theodore said, flashing him an angry face. “Inxay on the bountyay”
“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” Hex said, with disbelief etched all over his face. Hex looked down to the spilled whiskey knowing there was not enough to rescue that could help him forget this. “Hightail it outta here.”
But before the infamous Apple Dumpling Gang could follow those instructions, another man strode confidently into the Bucket of Blood and a hush came across the saloon. It was rare when the sheriff of Virginia City set foot in this establishment, but when he did, the assembled patrons knew that there would be no good come of it. Theodore and Amos stood still as Little Bill Daggett moved toward Hex. Each man he passed, dropped their head and quietly whispered “Little Bill” or “Sheriff”. The saloon had ground to a halt.
“Well now,” Little Bill said, “what do we have here? Would this be the one and only Jonah Hex is my town? What business do you have here, Hex?”
Jonah continued looking at the whiskey bottle on the floor, trying to determine how things got so complicated so quickly. The image of Amos kept flashing cross his mind. Shoulda shot him when I had the chance, Hex thought.
“Cat got yer tongue, Hex?” Little Bill continued. “That surely ain’t right. When a man speaks to you, especially a man of the law, the only right thing is to be respondin’, What business bring you to Virginia City, Hex?”
“No business…” Hex said. “Just havin’ a drink.”
Little Bill laughed a deep belly laugh.
“I never knew you was funny, Hex. Jonah hex… bounty hunter… court jester,” Little Bill said. Hex was emotionless as the tension int he bar escalated. Even I found myself cover for I knew the dangers of ricocheting lead for innocent bystanders and I figured that my odds of survival only increased by placing myself behind the player piano.
Theodore and Amos were not as wise, as the pair stood still… motionless… their eyes fixed upon the confrontation playing itself out in the saloon. The rest of the patrons and the barkeep scattered to the four winds. The Apple Dumpling Gang remained stationary… targets.
“I shall repeat myself, Hex… what brings you to my city?” Little Bill said. “I will not repeat myself again.”
“Howdy,” Theodore said, interjecting himself into the conversation. “Let’s not get too jumpy. Jonah is here after us.”
“No I’m not,” Hex said.
“Sure , he is… and we’re ready to go now, ain’t we Amos?” Theodore said.
“Huh?” Amos responded.
“Come on, Jonah, take us back to claim the bounty,” Theodore said, stretching each syllable out to make it obvious to all that he was trying to get his point across to Hex. Hex just shook his head.
“So if you are wanted men,” Little Bill said, “then I should take you in myself.”
Theodore’s eyes bulged again. He hadn’t considered that. And Theodore was the brains of the outfit. Little Bill grabbed Theodore by the arm with a force, buckling his knees. He then grabbed Amos as well.
“Hold on there,” Hex said, taking a step forward, reaching for his gun, but before anything else could happen, Little Bill shoved Theodore into Hex, followed by Amos. Hex’s gun was knocked from his hand and the bounty hunter dropped in a pile beneath the pair. “Get off’n me!”
But as soon as Theodore and Amos rolled from atop Hex, Little John had his own gun drawn and aimed directly at Hex.
“Jonah Hex… you and your little gang are under arrest.”
The cold steel bars of the jail cell told its frustrating tune as Jonah Hex stared off into space. Sitting on the jail cell floor on either side of him was Amos and Theodore, and Hex was doing everything he could to keep from strangling them. As Hex debated silently inside his head about the benefits of choking the pair out, Theodore started talking.
“Listen Jonah, Amos and me were here to strike it rich. Iff’n you want, we could cut you in on the claim.”
Hex shook his head. They never shut up, he thought
“You see, there is a treasure in them there hills…” Theodore said, with a laugh and a sniff. Amos started laughing too. They both stopped laughing when they realized that Hex was not laughing. Clearing his throat, Theodore continued. “See… there has been a story for years about a hidden treasure outside of Virginia City, and Amos and me are fixin’ to find it.”
“Yes sir…” Amos said, nodding in full agreement.
“And we could cut you in iff’n you want… once we’re outta here… we could work together to…”
“I know about the treasure,” Hex said, an icy chill on each word.
“You do?” Amos said, surprised.
“Yep,” Hex said.
“Oh…” Theodore said, “so you came here to go after it too?’
“No,” Hex said. “That’s not why I am here.”
As this conversation was happening in the jail cell, across town at the hotel Little Bill knocked on the door. Looking over his shoulder, he entered the room. A black haired man with a long mustache waited ominously.
“Is it true? Is it Jonah Hex?” the man said.
“Yes, but I have him and these two squirrelly accomplices of his in my jail right now. I don’t think there a gonna be a problem.”
“Don’t underestimate Hex,” he replied. “If he’s breathin’, he’s dangerous.”
“Well, Mr. Cavendish…” said Little Bill, “I guess we’ll have to go a fixin’ that.”
Butch Cavendish sat down in the chair, lit up of cigar and smiled.
An hour later, Little Bill walked into the jail, and he leaned up against the bars.
“So, Mr. Hex… it looks like we’ll be havin’ ourselves a hangin'”
The rope draped across his neck, brushing against the whiskers from a day’s worth of not shaving. The assembled crowd had shown up expectin’ fireworks, but so far they had been right disappointed. Jonah Hex, the infamous bounty hunter, stood upon the platform preparing for the end.
The two on either side of him did not look like they belo9nged with the bounty hunter, but the town sheriff, Little Bill, had said they were in cahoots and the crowd either didn’t care or was too afraid to question him. That was not an uncommon situation.
Little Bill stood before Hex and shook his head.
“Do you have anything to say to the crowd… words to appease your tortured soul or to pay respects to those poor innocents that you sent to the great beyond prior to their time?” Little Bill spoke in poetry, but he knew his motives were not clear. Yet, he would not allow that to prevent him from doing what he had to do.
“Yeah… I’d like to say somethin’,” said Amos, but a flash from the cold stare of Little Bill stopped him still. Amos understood that the offer was only extended to Hex.
Jonah Hex stared at Little Bill, a grim visage reflecting the nerves of steel. In the distance, a sound of a hee hawing burro cut through the tension. Hex cracked the slightest smile.
“Maybe you would want to hold off,” Hex said, nodding toward the distance.
An old man slowly walked, pulling at the bridal of a burro, who did not seem to be too interested in moving as quickly as the situation demanded. The man was not being too kindly toward the animal.
“Now Number Seven, you flea-bitten varmint. I have never in my life ever come across a critter as ornery or stubborn as you were… you, pardon the expression, mule-headed beast. I swear, maybe it is time we be lookin’ fer a Number Eight.”
Little Bill stared at the old man as he dragged the burro toward the gathering.
“Now hold on a minute… I’s got somethin’ to say,” he said, wrapping the bridal of Number Seven
“We do not have time for these games, old man,” Little Bill said.
“Ah…. well, there is the problem… because I think you’d be wantin’ to make time for me,” he said. “My name’s Mad Jack, and I’ve been traipsing these hills and lands for… well, for a might. And I do believe, Sheriff, that you need to hear what I got ta say.”
Mad Jack tossed something up to the platform. The golden circle landed at Little Bill’s feet. The form of a golden dubloon clanked on the wood platform. Little Bill stared in disbelief at the treasure before him. The crowd gasped when they realized that the old fool had found the treasure… the treasure that they all believed was nothing more than a myth.
“Now, you’ll be lettin’ my friend Jonah Hex and the two little fellas with him go, or you will never know where that came from,” Jack said.
Hex added, “and we know that the real power around here wouldn’t like that… now would he?”
“So you’re a thief, Mr. Jack?” said Little Bill.
“What in tarnation are you talkin’ `bout, Sheriff. Why I ain’t never heard such hogwash in all my years of travel. I have a legally obtained deed fer the land and the claim… well… it is signed by you, Sheriff. Everything here is completely legal.”
Little Bill’s face curled in anger. He knew he was stuck. He could not risk the fact that this old man was telling the truth. That treasure was the reason behind it all.
“So…” Hex said, his hands still tied behind his back. “What are you going to do, Little Bill?”
Little Bill held the level in his hand, caressing it. One tug of the lever and the floor beneath the platform would give out and the three troublemakers would be gone. He could pull the lever and still take out the old man, but the lawlessness of the entire situation would not appear right. He had a reputation to uphold. But the conflict was digging deep in his evil soul. He knew Cavendish would not be happy. This was a lose-lose…
So he pulled the lever…..
The tension left the rope as the stage beneath the bounty hunter and his twitchy colleagues dropped away. The three of them dropped toward the ground, preparing for the ropes draped around their necks to end their fall.
A shot rang out… and another… and another.
The rapid fire shots punctured each rope, before it could tighten around the necks of Hex and the Apple Dumpling Gang. It sent Little Bill diving for cover, gun in hand, scanning the area for where the shots came from. The assembled crowd scattered, screaming.
I was standing near the recent arrival, the man they call Mad Jack. Mad Jack was shocked when Little Bill had pulled the lever, sending Hex to his believed death, and he was just as shocked when the trick shots severed the hangman’s rope.
“Come on, Number Seven…” Jack said, pulling at his loyal friend’s bridle, “we done need to get to cover.”
The beys of the animal was lost among the chaos in the streets. Another shot bounced from the stage. This shot was an obvious cover shot…a warning. I mean, we just seen this gunman take three bullets through the hangman’s rope sparing the lives of the doomed trio. He wasn’t going to fire such a wild shot now.
Beneath the stage, Hex wriggled his hands from behind him and worked on his binds. He knew he did not have the time to waste, but he could not help himself. He untied Theodore and Amos.
“Stay outta the way,” he warned, hoping to find himself a weapon.
I decided that I needed to find myself some cover as well, so I followed Mad Jack. He had moved his burro to an alleyway, and had braced himself behind a fence post. Bracing myself beside him, I pictured the easy days traveling down the Mississippi on a steamboat, the sun setting upon the West, and a tasty drink in hand. How did I wind up here?
“This ain’t no place for a city slicker,” Mad Jack said, seeing the dust cover my white suit.
“Of that, I cannot argue,” I said. The sight of the man leaping from above Mad Jack caused me to yell out at the old mountain man. “Look out!”
Before my words could warn Jack, the man was standing behind him, shoving his six shooter in the old man’s face.
“Easy does it, old man,” he said, the gun resting on Jack’s chest. The man looked to me. “Stand up and move into the alleyway.”
“Who are you?” I said, as I followed his instructions. “What do you want?”
“My name is Jack Wilson… and I think this old fool knows what I want.”
Bottom of Form
“You’ll be wantin’ to be lettin’ Mad Jack go,” said Hex, gun in hand, as he entered the alleyway. I wouldn’t mind telling you that I was becoming a might uncomfortable in this situation. I had not planned on being in the middle of any kind of shootout, but it certainly appeared that that plan had gone the way of the dodo.
As Jack Wilson held his iron on Mad Jack, Hex moved strategically into the alley. I could see Theodore and Amos in the distance, wisely keeping it. I wondered how long that good sense would continue.
“Now Now, Jonah Hex,” said Wilson, “where be yer gratitude. If’n not fer me, you’d be swinging from that contraption still. I do believe that you owe me yer life… what there will be of it.”
“I appreciate the help, but that don’t mean you can put a gun to my friend’s chest,’ Hex said. “Leave Jack alone, take yer leave, and there will be no trouble between us. I am not here fer you.”
“And I am not here your you, Hex. I am here for what yer old friend here was throwing around. The treasure of these here parts. I’m here for the Lost Dutchman.”
“You are dang blamed nuts. The Dutchmen isn’t around these parts. It’s in the Arizona area,” said Mad Jack, adding, “Dang fool.”
“You know that is not truthful, coot,” said Jack Wilson. “In fact, I do believe you know it first hand. That deed you have in yer possession gives you the rights to the Dutchman itself. Am I not correct?”
“If you want the deed,” Hex said, “let Jack go, and it i all yours… no questions asked.”
Wilson paused at the unexpected words spoken from Jonah Hex. It caught me off guard as well. There had been speculation over the years about a hidden treasure in this area, but it was widely regarded as a hoax… or a myth… to drum up tourism… to attract folks to the city. I had never considered the possibility that it was the truth… let alone it being the legendary Lost Dutchman mine.
“I let the old fool go, and he gives me the deed outright, and we part friends?” said Wilson.
“Yep,” replied Hex.
“What kind of fool do you take me fer?” Wilson said.
“I ain’t here for the Dutchman,” said Hex. Wilson had a doubtful expression on his face until Hex said four specific words. “You have my word.”
“I am afraid, I cannot allow that,” said Little Bill, who walked into the alleyway, joining the growing tension. Bill had Theodore and Amos tied together and had a gun against Amos’s head. I curse myself for losing my view of the Apple Dumpling Gang, though I should be excused for not wanting to take my eyes from the standoff going on around me.
“I wondered how long it would take you to get here, Little Bill,” Hex said.
“It looks like we are all here,” said Little Bill.
Jonah looked around and said, “Not yet.”
To Be Concluded
Option Pick: The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine
Top of Form
There had been many times in my life where I had wished that I had taken a different path… a different choice…
This was one of those times.
I had certainly not intended to find myself on the business end of a gun, let alone several of them. Yet my trip to the birthplace of my moniker, the mining town of Virginia City, Nevada, had not been the pleasurable trip I had hoped. But interesting… that it were.
Jonah Hex, bounty hunter extraordinaire, stood in the alleyway beside me while the dangerous gunman Jack Wilson held his gun upon the old mountain man Mad Jack. Mad Jack had a claim to a parcel of land that he claimed held the location of the mysterious Lost Dutchman Mine. It was believed that the mine was in Arizona, but Mad Jack had used this piece of information to waylay a hangin’… if only fer a moment.
Sheriff Little Bill Daggett was in the alleyway as well, and he had his own hostages. Theodore and Amos, dubbed the Apple Dumpling Gang, the last pair that you would expect to be at the side of a cold hearted bounty hunter like Hex. But at his side they were.
But Hex was waiting for one more guest. The one he was really after. Treasure held little appeal for Jonah Hex. He was after something else. He was after what he was always after… the bounty.
And so, through coincidence and bad luck, we all wound up together in a standoff of all standoffs… a standoff where I knew… we all did… that we all would not survive.
“Where’s yer boss, Daggett?” Hex said.
“No man’s my boss, bounty hunter,” replied Little Bill, the venom spewing from his lips.
“Fine,” Hex said, “Where’s Cavendish?”
Butch Cavendish was an escaped felon… a criminal of the worst kind. This was the first time that Hex had mentioned his name, but everyone knew that Cavendish was the real reason Hex was in Virginia City. There was a huge bounty on Cavendish’s head… dead or alive. Just the challenge Hex loved to undertake.
“Cavendish is here?” asked Wilson, turning green.
“Bring him here,” Hex said to Little Bill.
“It would appear that you are lacking some leverage, Hex. Mr. Wilson has your old friend and I have your idiot friends. Why should I worry about what you want?” Little Bill said.
“Because I’m the only one who knows the location of the mine. Mad Jack’s deed is a fake. He don’t know nothin’ about the location of the Dutchman.”
Mad Jack laughs.
Little Bill looked at the mangled face of the bounty hunter and he knew…. Hex was telling him the truth. He turned to me.
“Mr. Twain,” Little Bill said. Funny, I was unaware that anyone here knew who I was. The power of anonymity had been overwhelming, but I realized at this moment, it had been a smoke screen. “I would like you to go fetch my associate.” With that, Little Bill whispered a place in my ear and beckoned me to go. My heart raced as I rushed across the town with only my imagination to fill the gaps of what was occurring in the alleyway. I am sure whatever my pen could write, it would not match the tension of the truth.
It did not take much convincin’ to bring Cavendish to the alleyway.
The hail of fire in the alley filled the morning sky, a sound of gunfire scatterin’ the people. Their skills were like surgeons. Hex offered Wilson the mine for his loyalty. Hex did not want the Dutchman. He wanted Cavendish. In the end, Little Bill and Cavendish were overwhelmed by the bounty hunter and the trickshooter. Even the mountain man fired off his rifle. The body of Cavendish ended strapped to the back of Hex’s horse.
At least… that is what I wrote. I admit, I never returned to the alley. Self preservation took over. I try not to think of myself as a coward… just a realist. And a smart man. I haven’t lived as long as I have by being foolish.
Hannibal, MO never felt so good.