Published on Sunday, January 1, 2012
Dutch Creek Hideout
By Lowell "Zeke" Ziemann
The instant the teacher rang the three-thirty dismissal bell, Bert Lonigan and Davey Canby bolted for the schoolhouse door. The twelve-year olds leaped down the front steps of the one room school and dashed to the end of the schoolyard. There they picked up the pitchforks that stood against a tree. Bert's fork once had five tines, but one was missing. Davey's was a four-tiner, but the handle had been broken off about two feet above the tines.
Bert and Davey's Pa's allowed the boys to take the old forks to school that Friday, so they could walk along Dutch Creek on their way home and try to spear a trout.
It was late May. The trees had leaved. The grass was green. The fertile soil of the wide Verde Valley looked lush and ready for Spring planting. The creek was full of carp and and occasional trout swimming upstream.
Taking the Verde road that ran by their respective farms, was a shorter route of course, but as long as they got home in time to do their chores, things were fine. Nothing could beat the fun of spearing fish in Dutch Creek.
The small stream flowed just south of the school yard. From there, the creek meandered west through open pastures for a couple of miles, then it angled south and made a horseshoe-like U-turn through a dense thicket. After leaving the thicket the creek zigzagged back north, then turned west again, passing under a bridge near the lane that led to the Lonigan farm.
Tall cottonwoods, clumps of oaks, box elder trees, milk weeds and brush surrounded a hidden, grassy, quarter acre clearing in the middle of the thicket. To get to the clearing, the boys hiked a narrow path along the creek bank, or walked barefoot in the water. If on horseback, one could enter the hideaway only by riding in the stream. Bert and Davey often met there on Sunday afternoon, speared carp, and had "shootouts" with imaginary Indians or bandits. They called this secluded spot their "Hideout". It was mystical lair; a country boy's paradise.
Davey could follow the creek for about one mile before he reached the driveway that led to his house. Bert could continue walking aside the creek through the thicket, or take the road for about another mile until he came to the lane that led to his home. Seven miles beyond the Lonigan place lay the town of Verde.
The boys walked slowly along the banks of Dutch Creek, one on each side, carefully watching for ripples in the rushing stream; ripples that might mean a trout was swimming by.
The boys were free! Chores were two hours away, and Bert could imagine a huge trout dangling at the end of his fork.
Bert, small in stature, but well muscled like his father would not be distracted from the duty at hand. A thinker, methodical, and determined, he strove for perfection. He studied the stream. "If you see one, sing out. Then I can get upstream and get a good angle on it to make a stab."
Davey's long skinny arms held his fork like he was ready to stab at anything that moved.
Always anxious, easily excitable, Bert knew that Davey would leap into action at the first sign of a fish.
"There's a carp!" said Bert. He ran a few steps upstream to get to a flat rock on the bank. He stood there and waited with his spear cocked and ready.
Davey however, immediately dropped to one knee on the bank and made a lunging stab at the fat, yellowish, scaly, fish with his short-handled fork. In the process he lost his balance and his right foot slipped into the water, soaking his shoe, sock, and bib overall up to the knee.
"Got him!" said Davey. His muddy foot made a sucking sound as he pulled it from the muddy water . "I'll take him home to the hogs." But he forgot that the fork had no barbs, and the slippery fish slipped off of fork. Fortunately, it landed on the bank and Davey speared the flopping fish once more before it could gain the stream.
Bert looked at Davey's soaked leg and laughed. "You're all wet! Your Ma will be mad."
"So what," said Davey. "It'll dry out."
"Wish we'd get a trout. I'm mighty partial to trout. Ma fries 'em up and boy they're good," said Bert. "You can't eat carp... but I guess the old hogs like to root around with 'em."
Fifteen minutes later they reached Canby's lane. "You gonna follow the road home or go through our hideout in the thicket?" Davey asked.
Bert squinted into the late afternoon sun. "I got enough time. I think I'll go through the thicket. Might be a trout in there."
Davey shook his wet foot and turned up the mile long graveled driveway that led to the white frame house. He left a muddy footprint with every other step. The ugly carp swung back and forth on the fork as he walked. "Okay. gotta go. Let's meet at the Hideout on Sunday after church."
Bert waved to his friend, walked along the bank for another ten minutes and then took the narrow path into the thicket. He stepped softly, watched the water, and wondered if fish could hear. He came to a sudden stop. He listened. I hear voices. Voices! Then--- only the sound of a soft breeze whispering through Cottonwood leaves.
Suddenly the muffled whinny of a horse filtered through the late afternoon air.
"Dammit Oney, keep those horses quiet," came a mysterious growl from the hideout. "You want some dumb sodbuster to find us here?"
"Why ain't we movin' on?" said Oney. "Hell Jarvis, ain't nobody gonna look in these brambles."
"We wait until dark," said Jarvis. "Ain't that right Bob?"
"We come nigh to fifty mile," muttered Bob, in a low sober tone. "We play it safe and wait 'til dark. Two more full night's ride and we'll reach the border."
Bert slinked backward slowly, softly. A dry twig snapped under his foot.
"I think I heared something," said Bob. "Oney take a look-see on the other side of that creek... but stay out of sight."
Bert froze. Crouching low, he eased back a few more paces.
"I din't hear a damn thing," said Oney. "Bob, you been hearin' things ever since we robbed that Holbrook stage. Anyhow, if some sodbuster does find us here, we'd have to shoot him. That'd cause some fireworks." Following a drawn out, subtle, silence, he added, "All right Bob, all right. I'll take a look-see."
"Any sodbuster comin' in here is a dead man. That's for damn sure." said Bob.
Bert looked for a place to hide. Behind him, about six feet away stood a tall cottonwood tree. He crept to the back side, grabbed a low branch, and started to climb. Remembering his fork, he reached down and took it with him. About fifteen feet in the air, the huge tree divided into two branches with a large limb bending away from the main trunk. Bert crawled on it, and lying on his stomach placed the fork next to him. He was unsure if anyone standing below the limb could see him.
Oney walked right under him. A tall gaunt man, he wore high boots and a torn plaid shirt. Seeing the six-gun tucked in the waistband of his dirty trousers sent a shiver down Bert's spine. "There ain't a damn thing 'cross the creek," Oney announced as he headed back toward the hidden clearing.
Bert was trapped. His folks had commented on a stage robbery that took place near Holbrook, but the Verde Weekly reported that the posse chasing the three robbers headed east, toward New Mexico, not down here in Verde Valley. Then he remembered that the robbers had murdered the stage guard. Should I yell for help? No, that wouldn't work. I better lie still and remain quiet. Think. Think.
Bert knew his folks would worry when he was late. Then it struck him. Pa will come lookin' for me. He'll walk right into these killers.
The leaves of the cottonwood shimmered in the slight breeze. Bert peered through them and could see that there was about an hour, maybe two, of daylight remaining. Pa will be here before sunset.
Bert froze on the limb. By five o'clock Ma will start to worry. Pa will just be mad. He'll think I stopped at Davey's house. By dinner time Pa will start to worry too. Then he'll come looking for me.
Bert knew he should do something. But what? Should he try to get down and run? They were too close. They'd hear, and shoot me sure. Wait until dark. He stayed quiet, and listened.
"Why don't we divvy up now and then I can ride out?" asked Oney.
"No you fool!" Bob demanded. He must be the boss. "You'd spend yours at the first saloon. Then the law would back track you and all of us would get shot."
"Hell Oney," added Jarvis. "Just wait. It's only a couple of hours 'til dark."
"Aw damn," Oney moaned. "Jarvis, toss me that bottle."
"Quit pullin' on that jug. Yer gonna drown yer brains---what little you have," threatened Bob.
"Where is that boy?" asked Sarah Lonigan as she dried her calloused hands in her apron. She pushed her silver-streaked dark hair back under the checkered scarf she wore and turned to Hank, who wiped his boots on the door mat as he entered the kitchen. "He's way late. Shouldn't you go looking for him?"
Hank hung up his straw hat, wiped the sweat off his balding head with his sleeve, and poured water in the basin. He grabbed the soap, washed and dried his hands, using the towel that hung on a peg. The towel hung limp in his hands. "The boy's gotta learn some responsibility. I just done his chores."
He glanced at the clock that hung between the cupboards. "Good heavens, is it nearly supper time? He's never been this late."
Sarah's motherly intuition leaped to full alert. "Something is wrong. Look for him now, before it gets dark. Take the buggy and go look for him!"
Hank forgot his hunger. Concern, fatherly love, instant courage and determination replaced his anger. "I'm going to ride over to Canby's. He might've took sick there or something."
Sarah's forehead wrinkled. She tossed her apron aside. "I'm going along."
Gus, Davey, and Betty Canby had just finished the evening chores and entered the house, when Hank and Sarah rode up in their buggy.
Betty opened the screen door. She wore her customary man's bib overalls and held three potatoes and a paring knife. Davey and his Pa also stepped out onto the porch to greet the visitors.
"What brings you over? Care to take supper with us?" asked Betty.
"I'm looking for Bert," said Hank. "He hasn't come home from school yet, and I ---"
"What?" interrupted Davey. "He said he was gonna go through the thicket when I left him. He should'a been home an hour ago."
"I didn't see him on the road when we rode over. I was hoping he was here," said Hank. "He must have followed Dutch Creek into the thicket then."
Gus Canby did not hesitate. A tall, strong, burly man of action, he donned his straw hat, covering up a huge shock of coal black hair. "Let's go. I'll help you look for him Hank."
"We're all going," said Betty.
Gus took down the double barreled ten gauge shotgun from over the fireplace and grabbed a few shells. "Never can tell, Bert might have been treed by some wolves or javelina or something." Then he hurried to the barn and hitched up the buck board.
Betty climbed in. Then watching a teary-eyed Sarah, she said, "Gus, ride in the buggy with Hank. Sarah, Davey, come ride with me in the buckboard."
Hank slapped the reins and urged the horse into a trot. Puffs of dust rose behind the buggy. The men rode in silence as the shadows lengthened and cool evening temperatures arrived.
Sarah looked toward Betty with anxious eyes. "Tain't like him, Betty. He's been late before when he stopped to play at your house, but never this late."
Betty put the reins in one hand and patted Sarah's forearm. She hid her own concern with resolute words. "He's an able lad, Sarah. Don't you fret. Gus and Hank will find him. He'll be alright."
The buggy and buckboard hurried down the lane, turned up the road for a half-mile, and stopped where Dutch Creek coiled into the thicket.
Hank secured the reins and got down from the buggy. "The brush is dense. Keep a sharp eye. Sing out if you see him."
"I'll hurry around and walk in from the other side. That way we're sure not to miss him," said Gus. "Davey, you and Ma stay here with Sarah."
Betty grabbed Davey's arm. "You heard your Pa."
Lying on the limb, Bert whispered a prayer when he heard the outlaws saddling their horses. Maybe they'll be gone before Pa gets here.
The setting sun created a dusky amber glow in the thicket. The breeze waned. The hue and calmness created an eerie atmosphere. The only noise came from chirping crickets.
Suddenly a familiar voice shattered the silence. "Bert, Bert. Where are you son?"
Bert sat up on the limb, but remained mum, afraid to reply.
"Who the hell is that?" said Bob. "Oney, you and Jarvis walk upstream and take a look. Somebody's comin'! Don't shoot unless you have to."
Oney and Jarvis worked their way through the undergrowth until they were nearly under the tree where Bert hid. Oney looked a foot taller than the squat, bowlegged Jarvis. Jarvis was old. His long, dirty white hair hung out the back of his old Confederate hat. When Hank appeared, Jarvis drew his gun. "Keep coming stranger. What the hell are you doin' in this brush?"
Hank took a step back as he looked at the pistol pointed at him. "I'm lookin' for my son. He didn't come home from school." His answer was direct, calm.
"We ain't seen no kid," said Jarvis. "Oney get Bob. You, sodbuster, stand where you are!"
Bert stayed quiet. Please, please, let 'em just ride out.
Bob came up leading three saddled horses. He wore no hat. A long scar ran across his forehead. A dense, long black beard hid his mouth. He appeared plain-old mean, and straight- out ugly. "What the hell is this?"
"Sodbuster came through the brush lookin for his kid," said Oney, pointing at Hank with with his gun. "But there ain't no kid around here nowheres. What'll we do with this plow pusher?"
"Can't have no witnesses that we was here," said Bob. "You two get mounted up and I'll take care of him. Then we ride out fast!"
When Oney and Jarvis were mounted, Bob drew his gun and walked slowly toward Hank. He stopped under the tree where Bert was hiding.
Bert grabbed the fork with both hands, aimed, and threw it as hard as he could down at Bob's gun arm.
"Eeeyahhh!" Shrieked Bob as two tines of the fork went clean through his forearm. The killer dropped the gun and fell to his knees. He bellowed in pain, grimaced, and pulled the fork from his bleeding arm. In a screaming rage he rose and bent to pick up the gun. Quickly, Bert leaped from the tree, landed on the outlaw's back and threw his arms around his neck. Bert grabbed the heavy black beard and rode Bob like a cowboy on a bucking bronco. With the bloody arm dangling, the outlaw spun around and around, but couldn't dislodge the rider.
Hank charged Bob like a raging bull, driving his head into Bob's stomach. The three of them flew backward and splashed into Dutch Creek. Hank rose and his fist hit Bob's jaw like a sledge hammer. Bob flopped back into the water and didn't move.
Bert leaped out of the water. Oney's mount squealed and bucked and nearly unseated his rider. Jarvis recovered his wits, drew his gun and pulled the hammer back. He peered through the brush and attempted to get a clear shot at Hank. Paying no attention to Jarvis, Hank dragged the unconscious Bob from the creek.
Hank dropped Bob to the ground, and moved out in the open.
"Pa, look out!" yelled Bert.
Jarvis took aim.
The roar of a shotgun erupted from the bushes. Jarvis screamed and grabbed at a gaping wound that ripped open his side. His startled horse reared and Jarvis somersaulted backward from the saddle and lay twitching in a pile of leaves that reddened with his blood.
Gus emerged from the brush and pointed the shotgun at Oney. "I've got one shell left for you if you want it. Throw down your gun or expect the same."
"Don't shoot," Oney said throwing his arms in the air. "Bob did all the killin'... twern't me... was Bob."
Bert looked up and saw his Ma, Davey, and Betty, running down the narrow trail. Sarah ran to her son and hugged him.
Hank picked up Bob's pistol as Gus kept his shotgun trained on the outlaws.
The isolated calm of the thicket slowly returned.
"Who are these bad men?" asked a wide-eyed Davey.
"They're the robbers who held up the Holbrook stage and killed the guard," said Bert. "I heard 'em talkin' about it when I hid up in that tree."
Gus prodded the captives to the buckboard. "We'll take these killers to Sheriff Jacobson in Verde."
Hank took a deep breath of relief and directed a smile toward his wife and son. "You know I read that there is a $1000 reward." Then he whispered a few words to Gus who grinned and nodded.
"Boys," said Hank. "When we get the reward money, how would each of you like a real fish spear, one with barbs and a strong handle?"
"Yippee!" yelled Davey.
"Maybe then I'll get a trout... huh Pa?" said Bert.
Davey laughed. "Guess this'll teach outlaws not to come fiddlin' around in our hideout."
Lowell "Zeke" Ziemann was a mathematics instructor and basketball coach for sixteen years. For the last thirty years he has worked in the financial services field, as a planner, registered representative, and compliance supervisor. He is now semi retired.
Zeke has had a life long interest in the Old West. He has a large collection of books, movies, and magazines that deal with many facets of that era. He has visited historical sites from Deadwood to Tombstone and is a member of the Wild West History Association.
He has had six short stories published online.