Waiting for a Killer

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A cold morning broke in rose and gold colors over the vast Cimarron grassland. James Kenedy tumbled out of his rocky bed tucked under a long, narrow mesa and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. He hauled his weary frame to a depression in the earth, turned his back to the frigid, biting wind, and began relieving himself. His tired horse meandered behind him, alternating between gnawing on bits of brush and drinking from deep puddles made by the rain that had assaulted the region.

James finished his business and dragged himself to the saddle and bit he had removed from his mount the night before. The horse gave the outlaw a disapproving look as he approached him with the harness. Dried lather from profuse sweating beaded across the animal’s backside and his unshod hooves were tender and chipped.

The idea of riding on wasn’t anymore appealing to James than his horse, but it was necessary. The downpour from the previous evening had no doubt raised the level of the river further, but James was hopeful that the water had crested and would begin receding by late afternoon. If that happened, the ford would be passable and James and the cowboys he was sure his father had sent after him, could make it across.

No matter what trouble James had ever managed to get himself into, he knew there was sanctuary in Texas. His father had recently purchased Laureles Ranch; a one hundred thirty-one thousand acre spread 20 miles from Corpus Christi, and had hired a team of ranch hands to fence in the property. Mifflin Kenedy planned to build up his herds, raise a better quality of livestock, and isolate his rebellious son from persistent police or vengeful gunslingers.

For a brief moment in time Mifflin believed his spoiled boy had a future with the Texas Rangers. In November 1875, James joined a company whose main objective was to reduce the raids on cattle ranches by Mexican bandits. His knowledge of the wild territory made him a valuable asset to the troops, but his term of duty lasted only five months. In April 1876, he voluntarily left the Rangers earning a mere $59.72 for his time served.

Law and order was not in James’s nature. He thrived on misdeeds and violent confrontations with competing ranchers outside of the Texas Panhandle. He relished indulgencies of every kind and came and went at his sweet will. He could not conceive of a single circumstance where he would not ultimately be rescued from the consequences of his vicious actions.

 

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To learn more about the posse that tracked down Spike Kenedy read Thunder Over the Prairie.

 

 

 

Beyond the River

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Fog and a heavy morning mist danced across the wet scrub and brush grass that stretched toward the sun. The posse rode through the somewhat eerie scene without speaking. Their faces a study of relentless purpose, their every senses alive and straining. Their keen eyes searched for vegetation that had been trampled, twigs that had been broken, ground that been packed down, remnants of clothing, any sign that a desperate rider had passed through the area.

Wyatt Earp leaned slightly out of his saddle to study the terrain and the crude path they were following. His expression was resolute and competent. He sniffed at the wind that began to rise and coaxed his horse into a trot beside Charlie Bassett’s and Bill Tilghman’s roans. The men rode three abreast spurred on by an unspoken belief that they were headed in the right direction.

Bat Masterson lingered behind the others, glancing back over his shoulder at someone he felt was following them. Wyatt caught a glimpse of Bat bringing up the rear and pulled back on the reins of his mount, turned the animal around and rode towards the lawman. “Bat,” Wyatt said, scanning the surroundings cautiously. Bat smiled at Wyatt, but behind the smile was a look of uneasiness. “Remember when we were hunting buffalo?” Bat asked. Wyatt nodded. “We’d find a spot up wind of them and pick them off one by one,” Bat continued. “They never even stampeded when members of their herd began dropping. Not so long as they didn’t get a whiff of the hunter. All we had to do was make sure we stayed out of smelling range and drop each animal with one shot.” Wyatt peered warily into the distance they’d traveled. The significance of Bat’s memory resonating in his head. Bat walked his horse past Wyatt’s animal. “All we had to do was stay out of smelling range,” he repeated as he rode by. Wyatt gave another guarded look over the countryside then fell in after Bat.

In the two years Wyatt and Bat had served together as lawmen in Ford County, they’d had numerous run-ins with rowdy Texas cowhands. Both men knew any of those vengeful drovers and their crew could be just out of sight waiting to gun them down.

There were most assuredly rogue Indian braves, either Cheyenne or Comanche, keeping a watchful eye on the posse, but the policemen didn’t believe they were a threat. The bulk of the Plains Indians had been confined to reservations and generally would not launch an attack unless provoked. If there were anyone lurking beyond the tall grasses and iodine bushes, anyone following the lawmen using the crevices in the earth for cover, it was presumed to be the cowpunchers from the Kenedy family ranch. “They’re on their way,” Bat said, referring to James Kenedy’s fellow drovers.

After eight years in law enforcement, Wyatt Earp knew the risks and sacrifices that came with keeping the peace. Many of his friends and acquaintances insisted he was born for the job. One of the men who hunted buffalo with Wyatt recalled that he had “absolute confidence in himself that gave him an edge over the run of men.” Bat Masterson regarded him as someone who was “absolutely destitute of physical fear.”

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Caught In A Storm

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A pile of coal black thunder clouds unleashed a torrent of cold rain on the posse’s crude camp. The canvas lean-to tied to boulders jutting out of the bank of a stream, sagged with the weight of the water. Lightening pulsated, reflecting off the faces of the four lawmen waiting out the storm. They were tired, but resolute. A turmoil of wind blew rain into their poor excuse for shelter and splashed off their hats and slickers. “If any of you know where that ark is tied up, you might want to make your way for it now,” Bat said jokingly, his voiced raised over the weather. His fellow riders chuckled politely as he removed a soggy cigar from the breast pocket of his coat. He played with the wet stogie for a minute trying to convince himself that it could be lit. All at once any attempt to fire it up seemed foolish, and he threw the cigar down on the ground beside him. “Damn it all,” he said folding his arms across his chest.

None of the men were surprised by the water-logged conditions. The hot, dry Kansas summers could blister the paint off any building and the wet, cold winters that came behind it could scour it down to raw timbers. Prairie fires ignited by lightening scorched everything in its path and flash floods carried it all away. Members of the intrepid posse had experienced all the harsh seasons the territory offered. The forces of nature had shaped them and made them more resilient. They drifted in and out of a fitful sleep, hoping each time they opened their eyes the relentless rain would have stopped, and they could be on their way.

“The Lord sure must have pulled the cork,” Bat said noticing everyone was struggling to drop off. “I rode in rain like this for six days,” Bill said after giving Bat’s comment a decent moment of thought. “I was driving a herd of cattle for Mart Childers through Cheyenne country.” The conversation was a welcomed distraction from their attempts at slumber. Charlie, Wyatt, & Bat focused their attention on Bill. “The prairie sod was a quagmire,” he continued.

“The horses hooves sank ankle-deep in the mud. Heading north in the sloshing rain was slow going…and then we spotted Kicking Bird and his braves watching us through the rain.”

Charlie coolly scanned their immediate surroundings remembering that the Plains Indians could have their eyes fixed on them at the moment as well. Bill told the men about his riding partner, Hurricane Martin. He and Hurricane stood alone against fifty warring Cheyenne. The braves attempted to flank the cowboys on either side by dividing them into two groups. Bill and Hurricane urged their horses into full gallops to try and out run them. The rain soaked terrain made fast travel close to impossible not only for Bill and his friend, but for the Indians as well.

 

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Hell Rides With Them

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A crowd of Texas trail hands watched the prairie hurry past them as they pressed their rides into a full gallop. A whistle from a train racing in the opposite direction issued a long blast that floated over miles of grassy fields. Dr. Henry Hoyt, part-time cowboy and physician for the King Ranch, was out in front of the riders, an unlit cigar was clamped tightly between his jaws. Like the others on horseback beside him, he was dressed in rough clothing of the cattle trail. His tall hat was pushed back from his sunburned face. When he and his cohorts left Dodge City, they had in mind to intercept the posse pursuing James Kenedy and give the wealthy cattleman a chance to get out of the territory safely. Shortly after they started on their way, it was decided they should return to the ranch in southern Texas and inform James’s father about the incident involving his son.

The King Ranch, located between Corpus Christi and Brownsville, sprawled across six Texas counties. Hundreds of hands worked the more than twelve hundred and eighty mile spread. Dr. Hoyt suspected when Mifflin Kenedy learned about the trouble James was in, that he would dispatch a legion of dutiful men, indignant over the harsh treatment of a fellow Texan. Hundreds of discontented cowboys who believed their occasional, illegal actions deserved a free pass because of the hundreds of dollars they spent in Dodge, would go to great lengths to champion one another. Dr. Hoyt knew this and knew that Captain Kenedy was aware of it as well. Mifflin’s organized efforts on behalf of his son would be more effective than 25 or 30 rogue hands acting independently. It was with that thought in mind that Dr. Hoyt and friends headed off in the direction of the Chisholm Trail towards home.

A cold wind hissed through the cracks of the walls and doors of a sprawling, dilapidated mud and wood store near a place called Mulberry Crossing, 27 miles south of Dodge City. With the exception of an inebriated trail hand, the dusty stretch in front of the business was deserted and still. A weathered sign over the entrance read, A.H. Dugan, owner. Dugan, a heavy man who had sagging jowls and thinning black hair combed across his sweaty scalp, ran the stage stop which was a combination mercantile and saloon. He was wiping a mop rag over a rugged wood table when Bat Masterson and Bill Tilghman entered. Three riders with the look of seasoned cattlemen and the sound of Texas in their voices, were seated in the back of the room and looked up from their poker game at the police officers. The tension in the air seemed almost visible.

The cowboys continued on with their game as Bat and Bill meandered over to the bar. “It’s two bits for a bucket of water for your horses,” Dugan said, blowing the dust off a can of peaches and putting them back on the shelf. “We’re looking for someone who might have come by here,” Bat stated. “It’s still two bits,” Dugan replied unimpressed. The lawmen politely explained who they were looking for and described James Kenedy. Dugan told them no one that looked like Kenedy had been through. “And I would know,” he added. “I know every teamster, trail hand, and stage driver that passes by.”

Bat turned his attention to the men playing cards. The cowboys were too engrossed with their hands to care. Dugan told the officers that the ranchers were part of a nearby spread that had come in to load up on provisions and decided to stay for a game and a bottle. Satisfied with the response, Bat and Bill turned to leave. “What did this fellow do?” Dugan asked before the men reached the door. Bill told him that he’d shot a woman in Dodge. “She was a singer,” he elaborated. “Her name was Dora Hand.”

Dugan’s expression fell. He removed a bottle of cheap liquor from under the counter and poured himself a drink. “Damn shame,” he said sadly as he lifted the glass to his lips. “My sister dragged me to the Union church some months back,” Dugan confessed. “Miss Hand sang a solo. Prettiest thing I ever did hear.” The gruff businessman hummed a bit of the hymn he was recalling before asking Bill if he had known Dora. “Yes,” Bill kindly answered, “I knew her.” Before exiting the building, Bat warned Dugan and his patrons not to say anything about their passing through. “When you find the murderer, I hope you kill him,” Dugan snapped. “It may come to that,” Bat promised.

Wyatt and Charlie, who had been surveying the area around the primitive store, hopped aboard their horses at the same time Bat and Bill mounted up. Charlie let them know they hadn’t had any luck finding Kenedy’s tracks. “I think we need to get a wire to the Sheriff of Cheyenne,” Bat said adjusting himself in the saddle. “We’ve been through this, Bat,” Charlie announced. “Kenedy’s talk about Wyoming is a blind,” Bill added looking over the landscape. “He followed the Arkansas River way west and is going to cut across the Texas Trail and rejoin the Jones and Plummer Trail to get to the shallowest spot on the Cimmaron.” Bat resisted arguing with them further and led the riders back onto the wide-open plains. “Kenedy’s caught in his own loop,” Charlie interjected. “That’s about all there is of him. He doesn’t have none of his old Daddy, that’s why he’ll run home to him.”

Bill brought up the rear of the posse, his mind on the pursuit, the lateness of the day, and Dora Hand. “Half the population (of Dodge) were gamblers or prostitutes…,” Bill wrote to his wife Zoe, in 1877. “The prostitutes were painted up like a present day respectable woman, and looked mighty pretty in their satins and laces.” Dora was among those “painted ladies” he found appealing drifting across the stage in her stylish fineries. There were some Dodge City residents who suggested she was a soiled dove, but female entertainers west of Independence, Missouri were often viewed as harlots by the general population.

 

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Posse On The Move

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Four horsemen thundered out of Dodge City and quickly rode onto the open range. The land before them rolled for miles under a limitless sky. Wyatt Earp and Bill Tilghman held tight to their swift mounts, lagging a few feet behind Bat Masterson and Charlie Bassett. Charlie’s roan led the way. He sat forward in his saddle like a mad dog straining against a leash, his eyes fixed on the terrain ahead.

At 31 years of age, Charlie Bassett was the oldest among the riders. He had also traveled with more posses than the other men in his five-year law enforcement career in Ford County. He became the county’s first Sheriff when he was 26 years old and on June 5, 1873 he began the first of three terms in office. He had tracked vigilantes, jewel thieves, and cattle rustlers across Kansas’s mostly flat surface, and brought many felons to justice. Bill Tilghman claimed Bassett’s “boyish face belied the steel beneath” and described him as a “steady, level-headed officer who seldom displayed any kind of alarm no matter the crisis.”

Whatever Charlie felt about Dora Hand’s murder was evident in the way he sat his horse. His legs gripped the back of the animal firmly and he had the reigns threaded resolutely through his gloved hands with sufficient lead left over to spank the sides of the ride to make the horse go faster. His attentive gaze shifted from the horizon to the trail directly in front of him. He was driven. Charlie liked Dora. He thought she was, as Stuart Lake, the author of the Wyatt Earp biography Frontier Marshal wrote, “the most gracious, beautiful woman to reach Dodge in the heyday of its iniquity.”

Charlie had a fine appreciation for Dora’s talent as well. She had worked for him on occasion singing at the Long Branch Saloon, an establishment he opened shortly after he arrived in Dodge. The Long Branch, named after a celebrated sporting resort on the Atlantic seaboard, was the largest and most profitable in the region. As an east coast native himself, Charlie was familiar with the popular tavern. One critic called the Dodge City saloon “artistically functional. It offered a little of everything: a lengthy bar, gaming tables, music, entertainment, and dancing. On busy nights the swinging doors were kept open to expedite the traffic.” The doors were kept open every time Dora played the Long Branch.

Charlie’s second job as saloon owner wasn’t uncommon at the time. The risks associated with upholding the law were great and the rewards, especially the pay, were minimal. Charlie’s salary was $100 a month. Men like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson took on work defending the law in between gambling and mining projects. It was a solitary occupation for very few.

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Cold-Blooded Assassin

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Dora Hand

 

A steady beat of boots hurrying along the wooden plank sidewalks reverberated off the buildings and overhangs lining Dodge City’s Front Street. Curious onlookers peered out of the saloons and bathhouses as two familiar characters sprinted past. Lawmen Wyatt Earp and Jim Masterson, Bat Masterson’s younger brother, raced in the direction of town where a series of gunshots had popped five minutes earlier.

Both men wore the stern, focused look of peace officers accustomed to living in a dangerous unpredictable cow town. Each had a commanding presence that warded off as many as it attracted. Each wore a badge on their vest. Wyatt was an impressive man with blonde hair, a well-groomed mustache, and blue-grey eyes. His slender frame and erect posture made him appear taller than the six feet he stood. Jim was roughly the same height with dark hair and a thick mustache that covered a stubborn line on his thin mouth.

As the men neared the back entrance of the Great Western Hotel, they scanned the area carefully, their hands perched over their pistols, ready to draw if necessary. Fannie Garrettson was crouching near the back door of Mayor James Kelley’s home, sobbing. She saw the two men fast approaching as she backhanded a torrent of tears off her face.

As Earp and Masterson arrived, her plaintive eyes met theirs and before anyone could speak, she pointed a shaking finger at the house behind her. The men quickly noticed a bullet had splintered the door of the home. They entered Mayor Kelley’s place, lifting their six-shooters out of their holsters in the process. A fast inspection of the various rooms of the house led the lawmen to the spot where Dora Hand lay dead.

The two men made their way back outside. They were rattled by the singer’s blood soaked remains, but fixed on the job at hand. “Looks like four shots were fired,” Jim offered after a few moments silence, “maybe more.” Wyatt bent down next to Fannie and waited for her to gather her composure. “She was sleeping in the Mayor’s bed,” she said stammering. “He’s been sick for two or three weeks and last Monday he was obliged to go to the hospital at the post, Fort Dodge.”

The lawmen asked if she had seen the shooter. The grief stricken woman shook her head. Unable to continue holding back the flood of tears that insisted on coming, Fannie broke into more hysterical sobs. The officers waited for the wave of emotion to subside. “What a horrible death,” she cried. “To go to bed well and hearty and not dream of anything and be cut down in such a manner, without a chance to breathe a word.”

Sympathetic friends of the slain entertainer and of Fannie Garrettson were sent for at the same time the acting coroner; Judge Refus G. Cook. The distraught singer was escorted to a hotel, and the coroner was delivered to the deceased.

The mood inside Mayor Kelley’s home was heavy and foreboding. Wyatt and Jim, who had now been joined by Sheriff Bat Masterson, looked on as the Judge lifted Dora’s arm to inspect the spot where the bullet had entered her body. The Judge was a man of medium build with ice-blue eyes that reflected his mighty prowess and serious tone. He handled her still form with gentleness ordinarily reserved for the living. “Coward,” he said under his breath. Bat, a stout, compact man with broad shoulders, dark hair and heavy eyebrows and a mustache, turned away from the scene and headed into the sitting room, disgusted.

Thunder Over the Prairie

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The Killing of Dora Hand

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Dora Hand was in a deep sleep. Her bare legs were draped across the thick blankets covering her delicate form and a mass of long, auburn hair stretched over the pillow under her head and dangled off the top of a flimsy mattress. Her breathing was slow and effortless. A framed, graphite- charcoal portrait of an elderly couple hung above her bed on faded, satin-ribbon wallpaper and kept company with her slumber.

The air outside the window next to the picture was still and cold. The distant sound of voices, back-slapping laughter, profanity, and a piano’s tinny, repetitious melody wafted down Dodge City, Kansas’s main thoroughfare and snuck into the small room where Dora was laying.

Dodge was an all night town. Walkers and loungers kept the streets and saloons busy. Residents learned to sleep through the giggling, growling, and gunplay of the cowboy consumers and their paramours for hire. Dora was accustomed to the nightly frivolity and clatter. Her dreams were seldom disturbed by the commotion.

All at once the hard thud of a pair of bullets charging through the wall of the tiny room cut through the routine noises of the cattle town with an uneven, gusty violence. The first bullet was halted by the dense plaster partition leading into the bed chambers. The second struck Dora on the right side under her arm. There was no time for her to object to the injury, no moment for her to cry out or recoil in pain. The slug killed her instantly.

In the near distance a horse squealed and its galloping hooves echoed off the dusty street and faded away.

A pool of blood pored out of Dora’s fatal wound, transforming the white sheets she rested on to crimson. A clock sitting on a nightstand next to the lifeless body ticked on steadily and mercilessly. It was 4:30 in the morning on October 4, 1878, and for the moment, nothing but the persistent moonlight filtering into the scene through a closed window recognized the 34 year-old woman’s passing.

Twenty-four hours prior to Dora being gunned down in her sleep she had been on stage at the Alhambra Saloon and Gambling House. She was a stunning woman whose wholesome voice and exquisite features had charmed audiences from Abilene to Austin. She regaled love starved wranglers and rough riders at stage and railroad stops with her heartfelt rendition of the popular ballads Blessed Be the Ties That Bind and Because I Love You So.

Adoring fans referred to her as the “nightingale of the frontier” and admirers competed for her attention on a continual basis. More times than not pistols were used to settle arguments about who would be escorting Dora back to her place at the end of the evening. Local newspapers claimed her talent and beauty “caused more gunfights than any other woman in all the West.”

The gifted entertainer was born Isadore Addie May on August 23, 1844 in Lowell, Massachusetts. At an early age she showed signs of being a more than capable vocalist, prompting her parents to enroll her at the Boston Conservatory of Music. Impressed with her ability, instructors at the school helped the young ingénue complete her education at an academy in Germany. From there she made her stage debut as a member of a company of operatic singers touring Europe.

After a brief time abroad, Dora returned to America. By the age of twenty-four she had developed a fondness for the vagabond lifestyle of an entertainer and was not satisfied being at any one location for very long. The need for musical acts beyond the Mississippi River urged her west and appreciative show goers enticed her to remain there.

To learn more about the most intrepid posse of the Old West read Thunder Over the Prairie: The Story of a Murder and a Manhunt by the Greatest Posse of All Time.

 

Entertaining Women Honored as Spur Award Finalist

Entertaining Women: Actresses, Dancers, and Singers in the Old West by best selling author Chris Enss is among more than two dozen books recognized by Western Writers of America as a finalist for the 2017 Spur Award. Entertaining Women is a finalist in the category of Juvenile Nonfiction.

Spur Awards are literary prizes awarded annually by the Western Writers of America. The purpose of the Spur Awards is to honor writers for distinguished writing about the American West.

Enss’s book Entertaining Women: Actresses, Dancers, and Singers in the Old West tells the stories of the most popular female entertainers of the mid- and late 1800s who performed in boomtowns across the frontier. Entertaining Women will be honored at Western Writers of America’s upcoming convention in Kansas City, Missouri, June 21-24.

Entertaining Women: Actresses, Dancers, and Singers in the Old West is available through National Book Network (1-800-462-6420) and wherever fine books are sold.

 

The Last Inning

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The Death Row All Stars:

The Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder

 

On Friday, May 24, 1912, Wyoming citizens awoke to the news that the execution of Joseph Seng had been carried out and that his body had been shipped to his aged mother. Below an article about the hanging posted on the front page of the Wyoming Tribune was a column announcing the scores of the National and American League baseball teams that had played the day before Joseph was put to death. In stories that appeared about Seng’s execution in newspapers as far away as Wellsville, New York, writers included a few sentences about how well the former inmate had played the game of baseball. Alston’s All Stars never played again.

By the end of 1911, two of the infielders and two other players had served their time and had been granted parole. Utility player Ora Carman’s sentence expired on September 15, 1911, as did that of the left fielder Earl Stone. Third baseman John Crottie was released in November 1911, and second baseman Frank Fitzgerald was released in December 1911. In 1912 several more players departed the prison. Left fielder H. A. Pendergraft was granted parole in January 1912. Center fielder Sidney Potter’s sentence concluded in June 1912, and so did that of pitcher Thomas Cameron. Cameron moved to Colorado and went to work as a coal miner. Shortstop Joseph Guzzardo was pardoned in July 1912 after helping to extinguish a fire at the penitentiary.

In early January 1913 team manager George Saban petitioned the State Board of Pardons for a reprieve, but his request was denied. Saban watched as Warden Alston’s first baseman, Eugene Rowan, was granted parole in November 1913 and returned to his home in Rock Springs, Wyoming. On December 17, 1913, Saban escaped from the prison road gang he was working with near Manderson in Big Horn County. According to the December 25, 1913, editions of the Thermopolis Record and the Big Horn County Rustler, Saban had help with his getaway. On January 16, 1914, the Carbon County Journal joined them in pointing out that Warden Alston had extended to him “all the privileges that any man serving a penitentiary sentence of twenty years could expect and then some.” The Journal article continued:

D. O. Johnson, a special prison guard, was assigned to escort Saban back to the prison in Rawlins. Saban asked to be allowed to visit Basin to attend to business at the bank. This was granted, and he and Johnson stopped at a hotel. About 7 o’clock that evening Saban was allowed to go out and see some friends and that was the last seen of him.

For some reason Johnson did not give the alarm until 11 o’clock the next morning, explaining his action by saying that he thought his explaining his action by saying that he thought his man would return and that to report him would be to take away his credits.

Saban seems to have evaporated. There are plenty of rumors but nothing authentic can be learned of his movements after leaving the hotel. It is said that an auto passed through Greybull [Wyoming] that night, but that might or might not mean anything. It is also said that his plan was to reach the coast and take passage for South America. There is another theory that he is hiding at the home of some friend in Basin.

All these stories are vague and may mean nothing. One thing is certain and that is that he ought to be easy to get if he is trying to make the getaway. The fact that he is a large man with a pleasant voice and manner, has a habit of smiling and showing a handsome set of teeth when he speaks, and has crippled hands ought to attract the attention of any officer who has his description.

Death Row All Stars

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The Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.