Who Murdered Tulsa Rose?
by Gary Clifton
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
“Henry Paul Brannigan,” Elizabeth said sharply, “wake up! That’s the second time you’ve dozed off at the dinner table. You’re going to spill hot coffee on yourself. You come home barely able to walk, again. Finish your steak and get some sleep.”
He snapped to attention. “Sorry Liz. Guess old age is workin’ on me.”
“Too many hours Rangering, Henry.” She stepped around the table, leaned down and gave him an awkward hug. “It isn’t like we need the pennies they pay you to risk your life repeatedly. We own a bank, which I can manage just fine without you being there, but I certainly crave your presence.”
Wearily, he thumbed through the stack of mail that had accumulated in his absence. He opened an envelope from the Governor of Texas.
“Great Holy Hell,” he said quietly. “Governor Bass has appointed John King Fisher deputy sheriff of Uvalde County, effective in two weeks.”
Elizabeth asked quickly, “The outlaw Fisher who tried to ambush and kill you?”
“Yes, Liz, the same. Resulted in Buck throwing me, breaking my leg and awarding me a lifelong limp.”
“We don’t have a sheriff.” Liz slumped in a kitchen chair. “How does a deputy—?”
“Politics, Liz. You oughta know, being chairman of the Uvalde County Commissioner’s Court and all.”
“Henry Paul, I’m an elected county official and should have some say in who that old fool up in Austin puts to work in my county. I’ll wire him first thing in the morning.” She leaned over and hugged him.
Brannigan returned the hug and sipped coffee without comment. In recent years, he’d gradually realized that life on the frontier was changing in ways he did not fully understand. Age, experience, progress were all terms growing larger when survival had dictated his life. His gentle wife had been a Uvalde County Commissioner since 1876. Women smack in the center of politics was still alien to him.
“Come what may, Liz, Bear and I could use the help. Who knows, maybe Fisher has cleaned up his life and might be of some help in a scrape.”
“If it keeps you at home, Henry Paul, I’ll invite him to dinner.”
Their nine-year old son, Henry Paul Brannigan, Jr., called “Tad,” said, over a plate of beef stew, “Dad, you sure do work a lot as a lawman. I’d like it if we went fishin’ more and you’n me could spend more time together.”
Liz resumed lecturing from her chair. “You and I, Tad,” she corrected. “And, Henry Paul, Tad is right. A father needs to spend time with his son.”
“You’re right, both of you.” Brannigan grinned. “Gonna change my ways.”
Liz cleared her throat and said quietly, “Well, Henry Paul, since we’re discussing changes, as you know, I’m now the Chairwoman of the Uvalde Town Ladies’ Association and am due to be appointed President of the Uvalde County Commissioners. I might as well tell you, we intend to petition the governor about the woeful state of women’s rights in Texas.”
“Mary and I intend to travel to Austin and visit with him in person. We’ll discuss this King Fisher business at the same time.”
Brannigan, not easily excited, looked at his wife sharply. “You still talkin’ about that women’s’ suffrage business I read in Harper’s Weekly? I sorta thought you’d lost interest in that stuff after you got elected to the County Commissioner’s Court, Liz. Is the governor still on your side?”
“Henry Paul Brannigan, that “stuff” is the future of American women.”
“But, Liz, women don’t get into real politics. Next, they’ll be demanding the right to vote. I always thought those meetings were a knitting circle, and the County Commission position just a local deal.”
She huffed, “Women can already vote in county elections, Henry Paul. How do you think I got elected? Right now, women have rights about level with your horse. I intend to do something about it.”
“Well, hon, you and Mary certainly flexed your ladies’-rights muscles when those nesters robbed the bank and carried off Tad. Ya done good, girl. You’re the only lady politician I ever met who killed a couple of outlaws.”
Brannigan said nothing more. He was tired, dead tired. As early dusk was showing, he’d just returned to his ranch north of Uvalde from a fugitive hunt. A condemned murderer, Lafayette Charles Hadley had overpowered a Uvalde County jailer, escaped, and then led Brannigan, Uvalde town marshal Bear Smith, and Brannigan’s big mongrel Charlie along many miles of the Rio Grande.
Spring rains had caused the river level to be up, preventing the escapee from crossing. They finally ran the man to ground on the third day. Brannigan and Bear had re-jailed Hadley, who had vehemently claimed the murder was self-defense.
While pursuing Hadley, Brannigan’s big bay gelding, Buck, had slipped in Rio Grande mud and thrown him violently. The fall aggravated his left leg, already carrying a Civil War sniper’s bullet and a painful, poorly healed, broken femur sustained in a gun battle with King Fisher and his henchmen several years earlier. In the Rio Grande melee, Buck had stumbled, fallen and nearly cost Brannigan his life.
In intense pain, he’d barely managed to stay in the saddle on the long ride back to Uvalde after capturing the latest fugitive.
It was spring 1881. Brannigan had just turned thirty-six, still young enough to chase fugitives for days but more inclined to feel the wear and tear at the end of the pursuit. Charlie, Brannigan’s big black dog, had already wolfed down a huge portion of raw beef and was snoring on the front porch.
Soon, Brannigan was sound asleep in his rocker on the porch beside Charlie. He had intended to enjoy a warm, but pleasant spring twilight evening with his wife, Elizabeth, and son.
Brannigan had dozed for fifteen minutes when Charlie, sleeping quietly at Brannigan’s feet, suddenly raised his head, and gave a slight watchdog woof. The cloud of dust rapidly approaching in the failing light was a man on horseback, running his animal as hard as he could.
Elizabeth stepped inside and brought out Brannigan’s Henry .44 rifle, which she leaned on the railing, then re-took her rocking chair.
Elizabeth asked, “Expecting company, Henry Paul?”
The rider stopped short of the main gate and called out. Brannigan recognized the voice of young Cedric Brooks, the assistant to Uvalde City Marshal Bear Smith.
“Come on up, Cedric,” Brannigan called out. “And don’t let your horse get to the water tank just yet. He’ll flounder, sure as sundown, if he drinks too much too quick.”
Brooks dismounted, let himself in the double gate, closed it and led his lathered ride across the front yard.
Pulling himself up by the porch rail, Brannigan stood, his long frame towering over the youth. “Cedric, what’s the hurry?”
“Lafe Hadley escaped again, Ranger,” Cedric blurted breathlessly. “Climbed out a hole he managed to make in the roof and got smooth away. Marshall Smith says for you come right away.”
“Anyone injured?” Brannigan smoothed his handlebar mustache.
“Yessir. Lafe had been tight with one of them saloon girls at the Green Daisy. You know ol’ Pig Pickens sleeps ’em in them little rooms he had built across the rear of his place.”
Brooks gushed, “The one they call Tulsa Rose. She testified in the original murder trial where they gave him the noose.”
“Bear handled that case. I wasn’t involved, but I know the situation.” Brannigan also knew the little rooms were used for entertaining male customers as well as for saloon-girl bedrooms, but didn’t see the need to elaborate in front of his wife and son.
“Well, Ranger, looks like Hadley broke into Tulsa Rose’s room and beat her to death with an iron pipe. He stole a horse from the livery and lit out, probably makin’ for the Rio Grande again.”
Brannigan sighed. “He couldn’t get across before, maybe he expects better luck. I’ll saddle Buck. Get up, Charlie, time to go back to work. Maybe this time, he’ll angle toward the Del Rio Ferry.”
Charlie, sensing urgency, sprang to his feet, a hundred pounds plus of tired but capable help. Brannigan limped toward the barn.
With the help of ranch hand Emilio Alvarez, he soon had Buck and a pack horse ready to go. He profusely apologized to Elizabeth for being absent again so soon.
Liz, beautiful in the early evening light, stood resolutely at the top step, one hand on her hip, one on Tad’s shoulder standing next to her.
“Do your duty, Brannigan.” She smiled. “I’d expect nothing less. Emilio and his new bride are in the bunkhouse, and I have my little pocket cannon.” She pulled the small pistol slightly out of her apron pocket, showing the tip of the butt. “We’ll handle problems that arise here.”
Tad chirped in: “Dad, I wanna be a Ranger, too. Can I have a rifle of my own. A little .22?”
Brannigan looked down from Buck. “In due time, son. Soon as your mama gets elected governor.” He leaned down in his saddle and wordlessly hugged the two most precious people in his life.
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by Gary Clifton