Steeds 11

21 03 2017

“Good evening, Charlie. Now that you’re here, I’m calling a meeting.”

Deputy Sheriff Charlemagne Carlisle walked through the front door at six o’clock sharp, as usual. He worked the twelve-hour night shift Monday through Saturday, during which he doubled as law officer and jailer. “Oh, yeah? What’s it about?” he asked Lee.

“Horse thieves.”

“Whoa! There’s really somethin’ to all that?”

“Philip, I’m asking you to stay a little late today.”

Deputy Redman at this time would normally go out the front door or go upstairs to his quarters. When present in the building, he would assist Charlie as needed. “Yes, sir,” he said to Lee.

Lee opened the door between the sheriff’s office and the jail. “Chet! Dorothy! Charlie’s here, but don’t leave. I’m calling a meeting. Make sure everything and everyone is secure, grab a couple chairs, and come on over.” Lee moved to his desk and took a seat on the west edge.

Chet entered the office, followed by his wife. “Leave the door open?”

“Yes. Sit where you can keep eyes and ears on things in there.”

“Must’ve been some meetin’ you had with Mascoutin’s chief of police today,” said Charlie.

“The meeting was cordial,” said Lee, “but the news, I believe, is serious. That is, the news is to be taken seriously. That commences here and now.

“As I was telling Philip, Chief Kaatz told me of four horses having been stolen in and near Mascoutin over the past several weeks. Two were taken on separate occasions, and two were taken at the same time. In every instance, only the horses were taken, nothing else; all the tack was left behind.”

“None of the owners was robbed?” Charlie asked.

“Of wallets, watches, jewelry, and such, no. Not so much as a cigar or stick of candy. A medicine show wagon loaded with merchandise….”

“Devil’s brew,” Dorothy interrupted.

“Of alcohol, opium, cocaine … maybe so,” Lee continued. “That was untouched.”

“Anybody hurt?” Charlie asked.

“Maybe, maybe not. One drunk awoke to find himself draped over his saddle in the dirt at the edge of town. He had his complaints. In addition to the hangover, there were the aches and pains associated with sleeping on the hard ground on a cool spring night and waking up at dawn wet with dew. Chief Kaatz couldn’t tell if he had passed out or had been encouraged to pass out with a blow or two from the horse thief.”

“Or thieves,” Charlie added.

“Right. We don’t yet know if there is one or two or more than two.”

“So,” said Philip, “add four horses to the three missing down here.”

“Yes. The Stancil horse, the Chesney horse, and I suspect the Sommerfeldt horse, too. And again, only the horses are gone. Nothing from either farm so far as the farmers can tell. Nothing from Walt’s wagon, to include the harness.”

“So now what?” Chet asked.

Lee answered, “I want to ascertain whether other horses have gone missing elsewhere in the county. That means getting word out to all twelve township constables. Chief Kaatz said he would contact those in Neshkoro, Fox Prairie, and Nicolet. I, prior to leaving Dartford earlier today, spoke with Bill Morris, the constable for Bluffton.”

“Any reports from him?” Charlie asked.

“No, though he became concerned when he heard the two Quarter Horses were stolen near Daycholah Creek.”

“Stealing young, blooded Quarter Horses in good condition makes sense,” said Chet. “And I don’t know about the farm horses. But Stancil’s? What’s the value in that?”

“Good question,” said Lee. “Andy Vande Zande told me he wouldn’t bother taking her to Metomen for sale at the tannery. I can see his point, from his perspective as a businessman. But I’m trying to see it from the perspective of thieves. Suppose they’re young men, just getting started. Suppose they’ve been reading too many dime novels about Frank and Jesse James and the Youngers.”

“Or too many dime novels of almost every kind,” said Dorothy.

“Not to mention all the newspaper stories over the years,” said Chet, “and especially those since April 3rd.”

Lee continued, “We heard right here what the Barnett boys wanted to do.”

“They were caught and convicted,” said Charlie. “They’re on their way to Waupun for a couple years.”

“Yes, but might they have friends? Partners in crime, so to speak, maybe leaders? Other young men of a mind to form their own James gang?”

“You really think so?” Philip asked.

“Consider,” said Lee. “This is the Midwest, not the so-called Wild West. Most of the people in Tuscumbia County are farmers and not at all fighters. Most of the people are law-abiding, if not God-fearing. The guns they have are for hunting geese, ducks, and deer, and for shooting downed livestock, slaughtering hogs, and killing feral dogs. Moreover, while many of our people have a Yankee heritage from back East, most of our people are first and second generation immigrants from Europe. For them, dreams are coming true. Unlike their poverty-stricken families and forbears in Europe, they have land and livestock. But that’s land and livestock, not cash.

“So consider. If you were a young man hereabouts lusting to go into business as an outlaw, what would you do? What could you do to get started in such business? Steal from your own parents, your own siblings?”

“Maybe,” said Charlie, “if you didn’t get along with your kinfolk.”

“Remember Joseph,” said Chet.

“Joseph didn’t become a brigand,” said Philip.

“Remember David’s son Absalom,” said Chet. “Think, too, of the Prodigal Son.”

“Yes,” Lee said. “But think, too, of this. You take advantage of your unwitting family, using―and abusing―your homestead as a hideout while you steal little things, easy things, from other people to sell cheap, for a little money now and again. Little by little, you get enough money to buy the tools you need to break out and steal big things, things more difficult to get.”

Dorothy said, “You steal barbed wire sitting out in the open from a railroad depot within a community where people trust one another to be honest. You sell the wire to unsuspecting, honest farmers who don’t know you or the hardware store that owns the wire. You take your money to an honest shopkeeper and purchase handguns and ammunition in honest transactions. Then you use the guns to rob banks and trains and express coaches.”

“Not quite in that short a sequence, but so I suspect,” said Lee.

“But the Barnett boys got caught,” Chet repeated.

“The Barnett boys were stupid,” said Charlie. “They should’ve never returned to Mascoutin to buy those guns. They should’ve gone to Waupaca or Oshkosh or Montgomery Ward.”

“Maybe,” Philip said. “What’s the word? Bravado?”

“Hubris,” said Chet.

“Maybe. But maybe they were just itching for action, and for fame as well as fortune,” Philip continued. “They just had to be seen here the way the James brothers were seen by so many in Missouri.”

“This is Wisconsin,” said Lee.

“Quite right,” said Chet. “This is not Missouri.”

“Exactly,” said Philip. “Pastoral, pacific, peaceful Wisconsin. Placid, plodding, insipid.”

“Sounds like those nuns taught you a few words,” Charlie said. “But why, then, steal only the horses? The saddles, the tack, that’s all worth some money. And Stancil’s stuff. And patent medicine. The wagons themselves.”

“Selling such stuff would raise too much suspicion, I think,” said Lee. “Prospective buyers would ask questions. Certainly the wagons would have been dead giveaways.”

“Buyers won’t ask questions about good Quarter Horses?”

“Ah, but maybe those aren’t for sale. They are too valuable. The thieves want them for their own use as mounts.”

“So what are we doing?” Philip asked.

Lee answered. “Philip, first thing tomorrow, you ride over to the tannery outside Metomen. Take your Colt; borrow an office rifle or shotgun, if you want. At the tannery, ask whether any of our horses have been sold or offered for sale. This evening, I’ll write up copies of the various descriptions you can take along. If they have news, try to obtain what you can from copies of bills of sale. At the least, try to get descriptions of the person or persons who brought the horses. On your way there and back, stop and talk to the constables of Spring Grove and Ceresco townships, if possible. Put them on notice; obtain any information they may already have.

“Charlie, I’m asking you to work early tomorrow. Get a little sleep at home after sunrise. At noon, though, borrow a rifle and ride out to that new mink farm near Puchyan. Our thieves may try selling horses there for cheap meat to feed the minks. Be aware the thieves may have slaughtered and butchered the horses, like cattle or deer, so they can sell the meat itself. Doing so would be safer for them and more appealing to the mink farm owner. Ask the same questions as Philip. I’ll give you a copy of the horse descriptions this evening. And on your way there or back, confer if possible with the constable of Pleasant Valley Township.

“Chet and Dorothy, Charlie will be tired by the time he gets back, even if he makes it by six o’clock. Let’s give him time for some sleep here at the office. Please plan to stay longer tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir,” said Chet.

“That will, of course, require fewer privileges for the prisoners for the sake of security while we’re distracted. I expect Philip will return by mid-afternoon. Before that, I’ll make inquiries from here. After that, I’ll ride out to the constable of Green Prairie Flats and get back before all the Friday night frolicking here in town. Saturday morning, I’ll try for Utley Township.

“Philip, Saturday I’d like you to try for the constables of Friesland, Puckaway, and Monapacataka townships.

“Now, this goes for all three of us when we’re on the road: look for the horses. If seen, assess the situation. Make an arrest if it can be done with prudence. Otherwise, obtain assistance first.

“Do you have questions?”

 

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