A picture of the head a cowboy sitting on a smooth round white stone.

Two Gunmen in Little Bethany

The Creek

A creek is not a river. But, a creek is like a river.

Big cities are built on rivers. For a small town, the creek is your river.

There was a creek in Little Bethany. It divided the town in half.

The Eastside was the territory of the Roy family. Their large mansion sat at the edge of town. Denton Roy was in the lumber business and owned most of the buildings. The made the Roy side of the creek the side of commerce.

The Westside was almost entirely Parton territory. Their sprawling ranch touched every remaining acre of Little Bethany. So, the Parton side of the creek was cattle country.

Children of both families played in the creek. The women did the wash. The men fished and drank whiskey, smashing the empty bottles against wet stones and firing their pistols at helpless turtles.

Or they used to do those things before the fighting began.

Big cities are built on rivers. For a small town, the creek is your river.

There was a creek in Little Bethany. It divided the town in half.

A picture of the head a cowboy sitting on a smooth round white stone.
Art by Champagne Punch

The Trouble

When young Peter Roy snuck bride-to-be Hannah Turner out the back of the wedding tent, the war started. Old Matthew Parton, the scorned groom, his brother Arthur and the whole Parton clan swore vengeance on the Roys. Five years on each side had eight dead.
The blood feud put the town of Little Bethany in a deep economic recession. Very little got built. Almost nothing was traded. Only the Undertaker, the hardware store owner, with his stock of firearms and cartridges, and the Methodist Church saw steady business.

The Methodist Church of Little Bethany remained the only public space free of conflict. The saloon, the bank, and the once-thriving hotel were fair game for gunfights. Sundays at the church were off-limits, even though it was strictly Roy territory. The Partons were Episcopalian. Still, they weren’t going to launch an attack on a Sunday morning at Roys exited morning service. Even against Methodists.

Except, of course, for that Sunday.

Aaron Lease was charging into town.

Aaron Lease didn’t give a wipe or a wiggle about a sanctuary, or sacred spaces. The only thing Aaron cared about was killing Henry Roy.

Aaron Lease didn’t give a wipe or a wiggle about a sanctuary, or sacred spaces. The only thing Aaron cared about was killing Henry Roy.

The Killer, Aaron Lease

Aaron Lease was tall. His hair was a blonde color so brassy it seemed silver. His legs ran long and muscular; his chest broad and thick. He stood with shoulders rolled back, chin tucked in. The wide brim of his soft grey felt hat cast a shadow over cloudy eyes.

Aaron wore two six-shooters on his hips and kept a Henry rifle tucked in the left side of his saddle. On the right side of the leather, he carried a Confederate officer’s sword and scabbard. The sword was said to be a gift from Col. Lavar Nathan, renowned former Texas Ranger, and the then Lt. Governor of the state. Col. Nathan was known to be Aaron’s daddy. Aaron’s momma, an outcast cousin of the Parton clan, lived in relative comfort in neighboring Fort Prosper. Legend had it Col. Nathan sent her a monthly allowance. Along with the sword, he gifted his bastard his silver pistols.

Many believed that the Lt. Governor kept the boy out of prison and clear of prosecution. Others said that no lawman in the state was dumb enough to go against the young killer. Aaron Lease was widely recognized to be the deadliest gunman in Texas. And though he’d killed one Roy, Henry and Peter’s older brother Tanner, shot clean through the eye and skull, Aaron Lease had no love for the Parton clan and paid little attention to the family feud.

That changed when Henry Roy shot Phillip Parton dead in the Little Bethany Post Office and Train Depot.

The Accidental Killing of Phillip Parton

Phillip Parton was Aaron Lease’s baby cousin. Philip was a tag-along of the Lease gang on several robberies, often as the lookout. Phillip adored Aaron. Aaron loved his little cousin. A few days after his sixteenth birthday, Philip was made a full member of the gang and participated in a daring bank robbery in Elias County. During the escape, the gang split up. Philip went with Aaron.

They crossed the river at Frogville. Phillip got his clothes torn up, his hat lost and caught a severe chill. After convalescing a short while at Aaron’s hideout in Pin Hook, Phillip went away healthy and warmly dressed in his cousin’s navy waistcoat and proudly wearing Aaron’s soft grey felt hat.

The boy wasn’t supposed to stop in Little Bethany. He was meant to push on through to Abilene. But, he worried a long journey on horseback might injure his cousin’s clothes. So, he came into town to buy a coat and hat. Then, with the new garments wrapped in paper and tied with string tucked under his arm, but still wearing Aaron Lease’s waistcoat and soft grey felt hat, he went to the post office to see about mailing the old clothes to Fort Prosper care of Aaron’s mother.

Henry Roy, the deadliest of the Roy clan, was seeing about a train ticket for his baby sis, Lavender Roy, when he saw what he assumed was Aaron Lee in a waistcoat and soft felt gray hat, walk into the Little Bethany Post Office and Train Depot. Fearing for his life, Henry naturally pulled his sidearm and shot Philip twice in the chest.

Being a God-fearing man and ever an excellent example for his two young boys, Henry Roy turned himself over to local authorities, standing trial for the shooting death of Philip Parton. The jury found the killing justifiable on account of it being an honest mistake. There was even a Parton on the panel, Old Daniel Parton II. All agreed the death was an unhappy mistake and Henry was sent back home to his family.

But, when news reached Aaron Lease of the death of his beloved cousin, word spread like a sickness that the killer was coming for Henry Roy and neither God nor Satan’s demon angels could stop him.

Henry’s Dreams

Henry Roy was not a man to run from a fight.

Aaron was a notorious killer, sure, but Henry was top gun in the Roy family, having taken down four Partons himself.

However, as the days rolled on, Henry dreamed nightly of his own death at the hands of Aaron Lease.

Pastor Bennet told him that only a sinner took stock in his dreams. But, Henry knew that the pastor had it backward. Every fool who ever picked up the Good Book knew that dreams to be God’s messages. As far as he could tell, God was telling him to prepare for the end.

So, that’s we he did. He kissed his children nightly. Wrote letters to his wife to be opened only after his death.

He figured Aaron would get to town by Sunday morning.

God would give him one last sermon to hear and one final last prayer to offer up before meeting his fate. He’d made peace with it.

Confrontation at First Methodist Church of Little Bethany

A boy came running into the church screaming “Aaron Lease is riding in! Hatless and angry!”

Henry kissed his family, gave the congregants a tip of his hat, and stepped bravely out into the late morning air.

Aaron tied his horse up to the post outside the shuttered-up hotel. The killer pulled out his rifle and turned to face Henry. The two men were fifty paces apart. Backlit by the sun, Aaron was a tall, dark shadow.

He was Death itself.

Henry felt his mouth go dry. All at once he was overwhelmed with a single feeling: he didn’t want to die.

So, he took off running.

Aaron watched for a moment, stunned at the sight of Henry Roy sprinting down the hill, past the Little Bethany cemetery, toward the creek below.

Then he took off after him. A bobcat chasing a jackrabbit. The killer was fast, closing hard on his prey. But, Henry cut a smart path left and right through tombstones and the tall Maple Trees that lined the creek bed. As he ran, Henry whispered a prayer, the simple prayer of a child. Please, not today

Gunfight at the Creek

Fear put strength in Henry’s legs, and he thought, if I can outrun him here, I’ll keep going. I’ll run clear to Mexico and start a new life. I want to live more than I want anything else. More than I want a family. More than I want self-respect. I want to live more than I want to be brave.

There was a shallow bend in the creek up ahead. If he could make it across, he could lose Aaron in the woods.

But then, like dynamite, the heel of his boot exploded just as a sharp stone cute through the sole, shooting Henry forward into the dirt and mud. He rolled himself behind a tree for cover.

Pain shot through his foot. Panic made his breath shallow. He pulled his pistol and cocked it.

“Hold right there, Aaron,” he shouted. “God damn it. I’ll shoot you. Boy, you know I will.”

A shot rang out, and a piece of the tree blew apart. Aaron was ten yards away, standing in a clearing, rifle at his shoulder firing away. Three more shots formed tight clusters in the bark of the tree.

Henry heard Aaron toss the rifle to the ground and he knew in an instant Aaron would be charging at him with both pistols out.

So Henry fell to his left and rolled over just as Aaron moved right. He fired his pistol and missed the killer wide left. Aaron twisted his body toward Henry. Fired and missed with his left gun. Then he shot with his right and caught Henry in the throat.

Henry went limp and rolled onto his back. The bullet missed his windpipe, but a fountain of blood escaped. He could make small sounds. His last words were a request to his killer.

“Leave. Let my family find me and bury me. Please.”

Aaron put a bullet in Henry’s brain, turned and walked up the hill.

From within the church, the entire Roy clan watched as Aaron walked all the way back to his horse, pulled the sword from its scabbard, slung a lasso over his shoulder, and grabbed a box of rifle cartridges from his saddle bag.

The crowd made no sound nor made no movement, huddled behind stain-glass windows, as the killer marched, sword in hand, back down the hill to the creek.

Aaron grabbed the dead body by the feet and dragged him down to the creek bed. He tied one end of the lasso around the ankles of the corpse, and the other end around a tree. The top half of the body was submerged in brown water made pink by blood. He took the sword and shoved it through corpse’s belly deep into the creek bed.

Then, he loaded his rifle, climbed the tree, placed the small box of cartridges on the knuckle of a nearby limb and waited.

An hour went by before shame overwhelmed the men of the Roy clan. They marched down the hill, armed to the teeth, scared to pieces.

Ten men in all, Aaron took three out before a single man lifted a weapon. The remaining seven hid as best they could behind nearby maple trees.

Then the firefight commenced.

Smoke filled the clearing. Gunshots echoed up the hill. Even within the church walls.

The Roy men couldn’t find Aaron through the smoke and bits of exploding tree. In confusion, Peter Roy climbed a tree, spotted Aaron and got off two shots before being clipped in the shoulder and falling hard to the ground below. He took cover quickly and put pressure on his gushing wound.

The gunfight lasted five minutes. Finally, the seven Roy men fled back up the hill, leaving behind Henry and the three others dead.

They made their way through town, passed the wailing of the women folk, and into the magnificent Roy mansion at the far end of Little Bethany. They secured themselves inside the massive fortress to lick their wounds.

A Visit from Denton Roy

Aaron had seen Denton only once before, many years before when Aaron was a child. To his young eyes, the mighty man seemed as big as the sky. Seeing him now, limping unarmed through the clearing, tears on his cheeks, with hands held high, the man looked frail and mortal.

Aaron lifted a pistol then put it back down. He studied the old man’s face and found nothing to fear. Then Aaron glanced down at his own shirt and took note of the blood pooling under his lower ribs on the left side. Peter Roy had clipped him moments before. Aaron saw the young man take aim and fire. The bullet had ripped clean through, and he was able to knock the man off his perch with a shot of hid. Now he was bleeding badly. He needed to resolve things with the old man quickly, one way or another.

“I just want my son,” Denton said. “I just want to take him away and bury him. No vengeance. No fighting. I just want my son.”

Aaron lifted the pistol again but pain shot through his body. Impossibly, strangely, he saw standing up the hill at the near edge of the cemetery, his father, Col. Nathan. The great man gestured to him a kind of Indian-looking peace sign.

Aaron looked back at Denton and made the same gesture. Then he looked down to the creek bed to see the lasso had snapped, and sword and body had vanished. The body was floating downstream in the creek with the Confederate sword sticking sail-like above the surface. Aaron dove from the tree and raced into the creek, determined to save his father’s sword and return Denton’s son to him.

The Massacre

Denton wasn’t really there, though Aaron would never learn that. Denton was with the other Roy boys being slaughtered in his home.

The Parton clan used the rampaging Aaron as cover to sneak into the Roy mansion just after the family left for church.

The five-year war ended in a massacre with Parton boys unloading their firearms from hidden positions on the staircase in the great hall. All seven Roy men were murdered in a matter of seconds.

Two Gunmen Found

Aaron swam hard and strong with the current. The cold creek water cooled his aching wound. He kept his eyes on his father’s sword, bouncing like a bob on the surface.

Aaron bled out just as he reached Henry’s body. Three days later the two gunmen were discovered by a cluster of school girls banked against the creek bed. The two bodies clung to each other. The girls were runaways from nearby Bent City. They’d been three days lost in the woods.

The girls troubled themselves for the better part of an hour over the sight of the two men, blood-soaked and blue-skinned, one stuck through with a sword, holding each other like lovers.

Published by

Lee Trull

I am a Texan writing about the future, the past, and things in between.

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