Postcard from the Past – ‘Boys, I Die for the Pick’
In this final postcard in series of five relating the experience of Henry Seton-Karr on a Wyoming ranch in the late 1870s, we learn the conclusion of the tale…
‘Hello, Jack, what are you doing here?’ was my greeting.
‘There’s trouble on the creek, I guess,’ was his reply. ‘Charley Smith killed Chico yesterday.’
And so the news was brought.
At supper that night we heard the whole story. The morning after we had left, Chico gave Charley Smith notice to quit, being convinced of his dishonesty. His private herd of cattle had increased beyond all natural bounds, and his presence on the roundup would doubtless have meant still further unlawful additions to the ‘flat-iron’ brand at the expense of the Pick herds.
On receiving his dismissal Charley lost his temper and, drawing his six-shooter from his belt, struck Chico, a much smaller man than himself, over the head. Chico was then unarmed and, thinking Charley was going to shoot, ran to his bed under the wagon, secured his weapon and, fatal error, fired the first shot. The bullet struck Charley in the neck and rolled up in the thick silk handkerchief commonly worn by cowboys round the throat. This saved Charley’s life. The two men then dodged one another round the mess-wagon, firing as they did so, until Charley was left with one loaded chamber, Chico’s gun being empty. Charley then shot the foreman through the body. Six hours after Chico died. His last words were, ‘Boys, I die for the Pick’
This sad catastrophe changed all our plans. It was clear that our projected hunting-trip was at an end – for the present, at all events. All our force would be required to join the roundup and complete the gather of beef cattle in time for the autumn market. Two of the boys were required to take the foreman’s body to Rawlins and give evidence at the inquest. Charley Smith also rode into town and surrendered to the Sheriff. The verdict was ‘justifiable homicide,’ on the ground that Chico had fired the first shot.
I may note in passing that two years later Charley Smith came to his expected and untimely end. ‘That’s a bad man,’ remarked old Bob Snell one night, ‘and he’ll die with his boots on, you mark my word.’ Bob’s prophecy was literally fulfilled. Charley, who always carried a ‘gun’ and was known to shoot on sight, had threatened a certain law-abiding ranchman whose cattle had been stolen and who had not hesitated make known his losses and his suspicions. Fate decreed that the two should meet on a lonely path near Caspar, north of Sand Creek, when the ranchman had his Winchester rifle across his saddlebow, and Charley had only his Smith and Wesson’s six-shooter.
As the latter’s hand was at his hip, the ranchman, in fear of his life, fired from the saddle and broke Charley’s leg and then ‘filled him up with lead’ as he lay on the ground.
Thus concludes another short chapter in Wyoming’s rich history.