“The Ending of a Desperado” by Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt recounts the story of one of his friends telling him the story of one of his scars.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“The Ending of a Desperado”

from The Wilderness Hunter

Theodore Roosevelt

One of my valued friends in the mountains, and one of the best hunters with whom I ever travelled, was a man who had a peculiarly light-hearted way of looking at conventional social obligations. Though in some ways a true backwoods Donatello, he was a man of much shrewdness and of great courage and resolution. Moreover, he possessed what only a few men do possess, the capacity to tell the truth. He saw facts as they were, and could tell them as they were, and he never told an untruth unless for very weighty reasons. He was pre-eminently a philosopher, of a happy, sceptical turn of mind. He had no prejudices. He never looked down, as so many hard characters do, upon a person possessing a different code of ethics. His attitude was one of broad, genial tolerance. He saw nothing out of the way in the fact that he had himself been a road-agent, a professional gambler, and a desperado at different stages of his career. On the other hand, he did not in the least hold it against any one that he had always acted within the law. At the time that I knew him he had become a man of some substance, and naturally a staunch upholder of the existing order of things. But while he never boasted of his past deeds, he never apologized for them, and evidently would have been quite as incapable of understanding that they needed an apology as he would have been incapable of being guilty of mere vulgar boastfulness. He did not often allude to his past career at all. When he did, he recited its incidents perfectly naturally and simply, as events, without any reference to or regard for their ethical significance. It was this quality which made him at times a specially pleasant companion, and always an agreeable narrator. The point of his story, or what seemed to him the point, was rarely that which struck me. It was the incidental sidelights the story threw upon his own nature and the somewhat lurid surroundings amid which he had moved.

On one occasion when we were out together we killed a bear, and after
skinning it, took a bath in a lake. I noticed he had a scar on the side
of his foot and asked him how he got it, to which he responded with
indifference:

“Oh, that? Why, a man shootin’ at me to make me dance, that was all.”

I expressed some curiosity in that matter, and he went on:

“Well, the way of it was this: It was when I was keeping a saloon in New
Mexico, and there was a man there by the name of Fowler, and there was a
reward on him of three thousand dollars—-”

“Put on him by the State?”

“No, put on by his wife,” said my friend; “and there was this–”

“Hold on,” I interrupted; “put on by his wife did you say?”

“Yes, by his wife. Him an her had been keepin’ a faro bank, you see, and
they quarreled about it, so she just put a reward on him, and so–”

“Excuse me,” I said, “but do you mean to say that this reward was put
on publicly?” to which my friend answered, with an air of gentlemanly
boredom at being interrupted to gratify my thirst for irrelevant detail:

“Oh, no, not publicly. She just mentioned it to six or eight intimate
personal friends.”

“Go on,” I responded, somewhat overcome by this instance of the
primitive simplicity with which New Mexico matrimonial disputes were
managed, and he continued:

“Well, two men come ridin’ in to see me to borrow my guns. My guns was
Colt’s self-cockers. It was a new thing then, an they was the only ones
in town. These come to me, and ‘Simpson,’ says they, ‘we want to borrow
your guns; we are goin’ to kill Fowler.’

“‘Hold on for a moment,’ said I, ‘I am willin’ to lend you them guns,
but I ain’t goin’ to know what you ‘r’ goin’ to do with them, no sir;
but of course you can have the guns.'” Here my friend’s face lightened
pleasantly, and he continued:

“Well, you may easily believe I felt surprised next day when Fowler come
ridin’ in, and, says he, ‘Simpson, here’s your guns!’ He had shot them
two men! ‘Well, Fowler,’ says I, ‘if I had known them men was after you,
I’d never have let them have them guns nohow,’ says I. That wasn’t true,
for I did know it, but there was no cause to tell him that.” I murmured
my approval of such prudence, and Simpson continued, his eyes gradually
brightening with the light of agreeable reminiscence:

“Well, they up and they took Fowler before the justice of the peace. The
justice of the peace was a Turk.”

“Now, Simpson, what do you mean by that?” I interrupted:

“Well, he come from Turkey,” said Simpson, and I again sank back,
wondering briefly what particular variety of Mediterranean outcast had
drifted down to New Mexico to be made a justice of the peace. Simpson
laughed and continued:

“That Fowler was a funny fellow. The Turk, he committed Fowler, and
Fowler, he riz up and knocked him down and tromped all over him and made
him let him go!”

“That was an appeal to a higher law,” I observed. Simpson assented
cheerily, and continued:

“Well, that Turk, he got nervous for fear Fowler he was goin’ to kill
him, and so he comes to me and offers me twenty-five dollars a day to
protect him from Fowler; and I went to Fowler, and ‘Fowler,’ says I,
‘that Turk’s offered me twenty-five dollars a day to protect him from
you. Now, I ain’t goin’ to get shot for no twenty-five dollars a day,
and if you are goin’ to kill the Turk, just say so and go and do it; but
if you ain’t goin’ to kill the Turk, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t
earn that twenty-five dollars a day!’ and Fowler, says he, ‘I ain’t
goin’ to touch the Turk; you just go right ahead and protect him.'”

So Simpson “protected” the Turk from the imaginary danger of Fowler, for
about a week, at twenty-five dollars a day. Then one evening he happened
to go out and met Fowler, “and,” said he, “the moment I saw him I knowed
he felt mean, for he begun to shoot at my feet,” which certainly did
seem to offer presumptive evidence of meanness. Simpson continued:

“I didn’t have no gun, so I just had to stand there and take it util
something distracted his attention, and I went off home to get my gun
and kill him, but I wanted to do it perfectly lawful; so I went up to
the mayor (he was playin’ poker with one of the judges), and says I to
him, ‘Mr. Mayor,’ says I, ‘I am goin’ to shoot Fowler. And the mayor
he riz out of his chair and he took me by the hand, and says he, ‘Mr.
Simpson, if you do I will stand by you;’ and the judge, he says, ‘I’ll
go on your bond.'”

Fortified by this cordial approval of the executive and judicial
branches of the government, Mr. Simpson started on his quest. Meanwhile,
however, Fowler had cut up another prominent citizen, and they already
had him in jail. The friends of law and order feeling some little
distrust as to the permanency of their own zeal for righteousness,
thought it best to settle the matter before there was time for cooling,
and accordingly, headed by Simpson, the mayor, the judge, the Turk,
and other prominent citizens of the town, they broke into the jail and
hanged Fowler. The point in the hanging which especially tickled my
friend’s fancy, as he lingered over the reminiscence, was one that was
rather too ghastly to appeal to our own sense of humor. In the Turk’s
mind there still rankled the memory of Fowler’s very unprofessional
conduct while figuring before him as a criminal. Said Simpson, with a
merry twinkle of the eye: “Do you know that Turk, he was a right funny
fellow too after all. Just as the boys were going to string up Fowler,
says he, ‘Boys, stop; one moment, gentlemen,–Mr. Fowler, good-by,’ and
he blew a kiss to him!”

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