ONE DAY LAST YEAR- A REFLECTION BY NATHAN JACKSON

by Kathy M



Winner of the GAMBLERS AND GUNFIGHTERS 2012 HEALER'S KNIFE Award

 


Another year over and this last year has sped by so fast. Although JD says we should be thinking of resolutions to make for the New Year, Josiah says we should take time to reflect on the past year.  After only a few moments thought it actually made me realize what an incredible year of change it has been. Although so much happened last year it’s one specific day that I’ll remember forever. A life or death day, and the days that followed, that not only changed my life, but that of other men too.  A day that set in motion so much change, incredible changes that affected all of us and the whole town. There are seven of us that would not all still be here, all together in this town, were it not for the events of that day.  
 
A year ago I had never set foot in this town I now call home. I had been moving from town to town trying to find a place that could use my skills as a healer; rather I should say would use my skills. I found many towns that needed a healer but whose townsfolk refused to visit me, “no such thing as a darkie doctor”, even though I only professed to be a healer and bone setter. Finally I found this one town where need seemed to outweigh those preferences and set out my shingle, happy to assist whenever I could.
 
I got to know many of the townsfolk such as the Potters who ran the general store, Mr. Watson from the hardware store, and even Mr. Conklin, who seemed to only tolerate me, however I realize now that’s more of his nature rather than anything personal. Mrs. Travis, owner and editor of the small local newspaper even printed an article stating that I had set up a clinic in town and I even started getting some patients from further outlying areas. Most of the time payment was by items such as foodstuff instead of money but when cowboys came to town from surrounding ranches on paydays, and especially from rival ranches, getting all liquored up and into saloon fights, they were happy enough to find anyone to take their cash and stop the bleeding! One day when I was in the store Mrs. Potter introduced me to a man buying some supplies. It seems Josiah Sanchez was trying to restore some mission ruins outside of town as some sort of penance. We struck up a bit of a friendship and I enjoyed many interesting discussions with him on a wide range of subjects. I was starting to feel a sense of belonging. Little did I know that was only the start of many strong friendships that were to lead to a much greater feeling of belonging.
 
I’ve never claimed to be a doctor and always make sure that folks understand that I’m a just a healer. I always do the best I can based on my knowledge and abilities and also depending on what supplies I manage to have on hand at the time. As far as I can remember I’ve always been interested in healing and medicine. Growing up as a slave on a plantation I certainly didn’t have many options but I eagerly absorbed whatever knowledge I could and helped whenever an opportunity arose. As a stretcher bearer during the war I was fortunate to work with a doctor who looked past my color, happily accepting my help and gladly sharing his knowledge with me, and I’ve managed  to learn more from many different people over the years since then, as I travelled around looking for a place to settle.
 
So when some cowboys brought their trail boss into my little clinic I knew that he was too far gone with gangrene. I told them I was not a doctor and could not save him but they were rather insistent to say the least. Thinking I could at least ease his passing I told them I would do what I could to make him comfortable, and I would like to think that I helped reduce his suffering. He was gone by early morning and they did not take it well when they found out later that day, blaming me for not being able to save him. They must have gone to drown their sorrows but got themselves all riled up after getting drunk. Even though I fought wildly I found myself being dragged down the stairs, tied up and slung into the back of a wagon as they loudly, and with gunshots, announced to the town that they would be stringing me up.  
 
As they headed through town to the cemetery the only person that tried to stand up to them was Mary Travis, who was roughly shoved down for her efforts. Sitting on the back of a horse, hands tied behind my back and with a rope around my neck I thought I would soon be facing my maker when I saw two men strolling towards us. One I recognized as a young man that had arrived in town last week and was working at the hardware store, Vin Tanner. The other was a stranger to me, dressed all in black with the swagger and look of a gunfighter, who I later found out was Chris Larabee. Standing shoulder to shoulder these men were standing up for me. Trusting in the innocence of a black man they didn’t know, they were willing to put their lives on the line for justice, to stand and fight for right. Neither side was willing to back down without a fight and soon shots were flying, the horse spooked and I was hanging by my neck from a tree when Vin fired off a couple of shots with that rifle. The first one missed but the second one severed that rope saving my life. A youth ran up wanting to help and chased after one of the fleeing men. He was stopped from shooting him, sternly admonished by the gunfighter not to shoot a man in the black. That was the first time we saw JD Dunne and that was the first of many lessons he was to learn here.
 
When it was all over Mary Travis ran up wanting to talk to my two rescuers who chose instead to head to the saloon for a drink. Accompanying them I was pleasantly surprised when the younger man ordered a drink for me, saying ‘a whisky for the doc.’ And just like that I felt accepted as an equal by these men.  While we were still there two men approached us, wanted to hire us to protect their Indian village. We agreed and knew we needed a few more men. Chris knew that Buck Wilmington, an old friend of his was in town, so he found him, in a compromising position as I found out later, and Buck readily agreed. I took them out to meet Josiah and we invited him to join us but he refused. Vin promised him a hell of a fight and we hoped he’d change his mind and join us. Back in town we met a hustler, a gambler, in the saloon, Ezra Standish, who scoffed at us. No, he was not interested at all but after Vin said he reckoned Standish should probably be leaving town anyway he said he’d sleep on it. Standish did join us in the morning. JD was there too wanting to join in the fight, and even though he was left behind it didn’t stop him from joining us in the village and we did pick up Josiah on the way so by the end of that next day we were seven.
 
We’ve been together ever since, through that hard fought battle and many more fights, injuries and illnesses, misunderstandings and strife, trials and tribulations, heartaches and tears. During the rest of the year there’s been many other memorable days, days that wore on a man’s soul, days that almost broke us apart, days where we almost lost one of us. But there were also days where working together brought us closer together; we grew and shared, and there were lots of quiet and fun days too. But it was that one day that started it all, that day laid the foundation; put all the players on the stage, set the events in motion that changed us all. Seven men coming together in that place, at that moment in time, each of us pieces of a puzzle that would come together to be so much more collectively than individually.

 If not for the events that happened that day we would have been like ships passing in the night, JD would not have leaped off that stagecoach. Ezra, Vin, Buck and Chris would have drifted off to the next town, most of us never knowing the others, never coming together as a team, as friends, never knowing what we would have missed. What an incredible year. I’ve found respect and trust which took some of us longer to find than others; became part of a team of peacekeepers and friends, and found a place to belong. We’ve all been through so much since that day but we faced it together, and we will stand together to face whatever will come in the next year.


 
The End

 

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Kathy M  2013