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Published on Thursday, October 23, 2014

Make Haste Slowly

By John Porter


On a sweltering morning in 1877, a young man galloped his horse to Shanssey's Saloon in Fort Griffin, Texas. He dismounted, threw his reins over a hitching post, and hurried through the batwing doors.

He stopped at the bar, behind which Mr. Shanssey slowly dried a beer glass.

"Whiskey!" the young man shouted, pounding on the bar.

Mr. Shanssey looked at him.

"Forty-rod, tornado juice, firewater?" he asked.

"I don't care!" the young man shouted again.

"One should care about some things," said a man with a Southern drawl.


The young man turned and saw a Southern gentleman sitting at a table, shuffling a deck of cards.

"Whiskey is among them," the Southern gentleman said. He smiled, then coughed. "Mr. Shanssey, will you kindly bring two glasses and a bottle of reverent whiskey to my table?"

Mr. Shanssey took a bottle and two glasses to the table, then returned to the bar.

"May I offer you a drink, young man?" the Southern gentleman asked.

The young man glanced at the doors.

"If'n you pour fast," he said. "I gotta go."

"So, ultimately, do we all. But haven't we time for a drink and a conversation . . . something else, I daresay, one should care about?"

The young man hurried to the doors, looked outside, then hurried to the table and sat.

The Southern gentleman poured two shots, then raised a glass.

"To your very good--"

The young man grabbed the other glass, tossed down the whiskey, and stood.

"Why your haste, young man?"

"Gotta find work."

"What skills do you possess?"

"I can drink."

The Southern gentleman poured another shot, which the young man tossed down.

"Handle a gun, too," the young man added. "And cards."

The Southern gentleman dealt two hands: one to the young man, and one to himself.

The young man hesitated, then sat.

Both he and the Southern gentleman picked up their cards and looked at them.

The Southern gentleman placed his cards face down on the table.

"Are yours worthy of a wager?" he asked.

The young man frowned at his cards, then shrugged.

"Ain't got no money."

"If you did have, would they be?"

The young man looked at the doors.

"Hun'erd dollars," he said.

"Call and raise one hundred," the Southern gentleman said.

The young man looked at his cards, then at the doors.

"Call and raise a nuther hun'erd."

"Call and raise two hundred."

The young man looked at his cards again, then at the Southern gentleman.

"You ain't hardly looked at your cards."

"You've looked at yours thrice," the Southern gentleman said. "To know that he has something, a man needs to look but once."

The young man dropped his cards on the table, stood, and paced to the bar, then looked at the doors.

"I ain't got time for such talk," he said.

"You remind me of myself," the Southern gentleman said.

The young man looked at him.

"I was once impetuous, and I almost died several times," the Southern gentleman said. He drank his whiskey. "Now, I am deliberate, because my mentor taught me a lesson, which I want to share with you."

"How come?"

"My mentor was generous with his wisdom. I should follow his example."

The young man moved toward the doors.

"Yeah, well, I gotta--"

"Festina lente."

The young man stopped and turned to the Southern gentleman.

"'Make haste slowly,'" the Southern gentleman said.

The young man frowned, then hurried out of the saloon.

The Southern gentleman picked up the cards.

The hooves of a horse pounded on the ground.

Mr. Shanssey moved to the table.

"I didn't say it near so fancy as you, Doc," he said, picking up the young man's glass. "I said, 'No rush.'"

"Ah, but you are not pompous, Mr. Shanssey. And occasionally I am. Regardless, I shall remain ever grateful to you for having taught me the lesson."

"Think the young'un will learn it?"

"Did you think I would?"

Mr. Shanssey smiled and moved to the bar.

The batwing doors swung open, and a big man wearing a black hat and a badge entered, looked around the saloon, and looked at the Southern gentleman.

"Afternoon," the big man said. "Seen a young feller in a hurry to get somewheres?"

"In a great hurry," the Southern gentleman replied, "although he did not say where."

"Well, we'll get him sooner or later."

"A man after my own heart. May I offer you a drink?"

"Always time for a drink," the big man said. "And a word."

"A man after my own soul."

Mr. Shanssey brought a glass to the table, then returned to the bar.

The big man sat, and the Southern gentleman poured two shots of whiskey, then coughed, then raised a glass.

"To your very good health, sir," he said.

"And to yours," the big man said, raising his glass.

The men drank.

"I figured we'd meet someday," the big man said.

"As did I," the Southern gentleman said. "And I am delighted that today is the day. Let me introduce my mentor, Mr. Shanssey."

The big man turned to Mr. Shanssey, who nodded.

"Marshal," Mr. Shanssey said.

"Mr. Shanssey," the big man said.

"And my inamorata," the Southern gentleman said.

The big man turned to the batwing doors, which opened. Through them strolled a lovely woman dressed beautifully.

The big man and the Southern gentleman stood and removed their hats.

"Miss Mary Katherine," the Southern gentleman said, "the envy of the seraphim, cherubim, thrones, and all the other heavenly hosts."

He turned to the big man.

"Between you and me, sir, introductions are unnecessary. However, for the sake of form . . . John Henry Holliday."

He offered his hand, and the big man shook it.

"Wyatt Earp," the big man said.

"And the young man you seek?"

"Dave Rudabaugh. Robbed a Santa Fe construction site in Kansas. Been running like a rabid badger ever since. But like I say, we'll get him sooner or later."

"I suggest that you pursue him later, after another drink."

"And a few more words."

The Southern gentleman smiled, then turned to the woman.

"Will you join us, Miss Kate?"

She strolled toward the table. The big man pulled out a chair for her. She smiled and sat. The men sat, too.

"Mr. Shanssey," the Southern gentleman said, "will you kindly bring us two more glasses? And will you join us?"

Mr. Shanssey brought the glasses to the table and sat.

The Southern gentleman poured four shots of reverent whiskey, then raised a glass.

"Miss Kate, Marshal Earp, Mr. Shanssey," he said, "to your very good health."

"And to yours," they replied, raising their glasses.

The four of them drank.



In the mid-1990s, while John and his brothers, Charles and Chris, were feeding cattle on their family's ranch, they talked about their great-great-grandfather Isaac J. Sparks, who had received the ranch from the Mexican government in 1843. Chris suggested that they write a story about Sparks and his friend Allen B. Light, the first black resident of Santa Barbara. The result of that suggestion was John's first western, "Sparks and Light." Since then, John has continued to work on the family's ranch and has continued to write westerns.


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