In my latest release, FUGITIVE HEARTS, widow Claire Daines, who has confessed to killing her husband, slips away on a train bound for Texas to search for her runaway foster son. Attempting to evade Sheriff Frank Garrity, she makes an unscheduled detour through lawless Mus-ko-gee.
The town of Mus-ko-gee—named for the Muskhogean people, the Creeks who inhabited that part of Indian Territory—sprang up overnight. Literally. The day the Katy Railroad drove stakes to mark land reserved for the depot and adjacent wagon ground, several tents and board shacks appeared, providing gambling, liquor and whores.
“Before breakfast, one man was dead and the murderer was being chased over the prairies by a lot of men. So, Mus-ko-gee was born in blood.” Locating Engineer F.O. Martin, later dean of the School of Engineering at University of Kansas.
The town’s first “citizens” were mostly the rabble that infested the previous terminus points of the expanding rail line. In fact, folks called this brand of criminal “terminuses” because they followed the railroad to each terminal point, looking for easy pickings.
“Three men were shot about twenty feet from our (rail) car in one night at Muskogee. Oh, this was a little hell, this was! The roughs took possession in earnest… There was no law here and no means of getting any.” George Reynolds, Special Agent to the Indian Territory
One visitor appalled by the lawlessness asked why the government didn’t do something about it. He was told, “there is no government, but lots of trials.” That is, if both parties were Indian, the offender would be tried under Indian law. If either party was a white, he would be tried at Fort Smith, and that was pretty much no trial. There was a reason the officiating judge, Roy Bean, had the nickname, The Hanging Judge.
In 1873, a writer from New York’s Scribner’s Magazine visited Muskogee’s version of “boot hill” where eleven men were buried with their boots on. “Each grave,” the reporter noted, “is a monument to murder.”
Brad Collins (who makes a brief appearance in FUGITIVE HEARTS) was a typical terminus type. He was a half-breed whiskey smuggler, a “desperado and a dead shot.” It was said he could throw a pistol in the air, catch it as it fell and hit a target at thirty paces. Even the other “shootists” in the Territory were in fear of him.
(Information, images and quotes taken from The Katy Railroad and the Last Frontier by V.V. Masterson)
In this excerpt, Sheriff Garrity catches Claire trying to evade him (again) and is escorting her to safety when they encounter the outlaw Brad Collins and members of his gang outside a saloon.
“Don’t talk.” The sheriff’s voice dipped low. “Keep going.”
Claire replied in a whisper. “I wasn’t planning to stop for a conversation.”
He slipped his arm around her waist and picked up the pace.
The three men cut them off at the street. The sheriff had to stop, attempt to run around them, or barrel through. He hesitated.
The bold sheriff never hesitated. She’d never known anyone with more courage than the lawman. What kind of men would scare him?
The one who confronted them had the blackest eyes she’d ever seen. Looking into them was like staring into the darkness of a sealed room. The soulless man smiled. That was even more terrifying. “Mister, she don’t look like she wants to be with you. Why don’t you hand her over?”
She clung to the sheriff’s arm.
“My wife isn’t feeling well. Let us pass.” Sheriff Garrity delivered the lie smoothly, as he tucked her behind him.
The cold-eyed man stopped smiling. His hand drifted to one of the revolvers in twin holsters strapped to his thighs.
“I wouldn’t do that,” the sheriff warned.
Claire’s heart fluttered into her throat. These devils would kill Frank to get to her and he knew it. She considered asking them nicely to step aside. But they weren’t the type to respond to polite requests or reason. One look told her they wanted what her cousin had wanted when he attacked her in the barn and tore her dress.
Wait… Hadn’t her “husband” said she wasn’t feeling well?
Claire screwed up her courage. “Ohhh!” she groaned and put her arm around her waist. She staggered in front of the sheriff and wove toward the other man with her hand outstretched. “Oh, sir, please…please help me! I-I’m terrible sick…”
“Claire, come back here!”
If the sheriff would play along, he might avoid getting killed.
The troublemaker reacted with surprise when she grabbed his sleeve. “Oh God, help me. Get me a doc,” she choked out. “I got…cholera.”
“Cholera? Christ!” The man couldn’t shake her off fast enough.
She gagged and retched. Couldn’t force anything out of her empty stomach, so she spit a wad of saliva on the ground and let it drip from her lips.
“Hell, Brad, she’s pukin’,” one of his companions blurted out. “She’ll infect you.”
The two cowards turned tail and ran.
Claire dropped to her knees and threw her arms around her would-be rescuer’s legs. “Help me…”
“Get the hell away!” The man called Brad shoved her aside. He shuffled backwards, and then turned on his heel and fled.
Frank Garrity bent down and scooped her up, satchel and all. She wound her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder, moaning, as he carted her across the street to the boarding car.
He mounted the steps, swept her inside, set her on her feet and then slammed the door and latched it. Her moans turned to laughter. Inappropriate, but she always burst out laughing after she was scared witless.
Her protector turned. He wasn’t laughing. Not even smiling. His face was set in a grim expression. Apparently he didn’t experience relief in quite the same way.
E.E. Burke is giving away an e-book to one lucky commenter today. If your name is chosen, you will win your choice of books from the series Steam! Romance and Rails.
“Sheriff…I just shot my husband.”
Hotel owner Claire Daines is a respected member of the community. Until she shocks the entire town by rushing into a saloon wearing only her nightclothes and confessing to very inebriated lawman.
Is she a killer? Is she crazy? Or is she covering up something worse?
For years, Claire hushed up her husband’s dangerous condition to guard his reputation. When tragedy strikes, she puts her own life at risk when she vows to keep another terrible secret.
Sheriff Frank Garrity must get to the truth, although the tough, hard-drinking lawman hides his own secrets and would rather walk a lonely path than face his demons. But as Frank unravels Claire’s subterfuge and unlocks her heart, he’s torn between his desire to save her and his duty to bring her to justice.
You can pick up your copy of FUGITIVE HEARTS at Amazon or other online retailers.
Weave together rich historical detail, passionate romance, add a dash of suspense and you have books by E.E. Burke. Her chosen settings are the American West, and her current series Steam! Romance and Rails takes place during the tumultuous era of America’s steam railroads. Her writing has earned accolades in regional and national contests, including the prestigious Golden Heart®. Over the years, she’s been a disc jockey, a journalist and an advertising executive, before finally getting around to living the dream…writing stories readers can get lost in.