Stupid is as Stupid Does

Ann Pratt

 

My momma always said life was like a box of chocolates.... you never know what you're gonna get. – Forrest Gump

 

 

Chicago, Illinois, October 8, 1871

 

Kyle Murtree stood dumfounded in the middle of the road.  Not that this was an unusual occurrence for him, but this time it was because he had never seen so many people in one place at one time.  And they all seemed to have somewhere to go in a hurry.  He had come to Chicago to try and find a job and maybe a little adventure.  He was wondering if he had gotten more than he bargained for.

 

“Hey get out of the way you idiot!” A man driving a wagon almost ran him over.  Kyle quickly moved over to the sidewalk, bumping into a few more people, knocking over a vegetable cart in his haste, and leaving an angry mob behind him.  He decided that he better find a place to hide out and maybe sleep for the night as well.  Stumbling down an alley, he came upon a small stable.

 

Kyle cautiously crept up and slipped inside.  It was empty except for a cow, which didn’t seem to mind his company. 

 

“This looks good.” He thought to himself.  “I’ll just spend the night hidden in here and I’m sure I’ll have better luck tomorrow.”  He found a lantern hanging on the wall and lit it, casting the small barn in a cozy glow.  The soft hay and the warmth of the barn eventually made him doze off.

 

Kyle awoke to the frantic mooing of the cow and the smell of smoke.  He jumped up and realized that he had kicked the lantern over in his sleep and now the hay was on fire.  He tried putting it out, but it soon got too big for him to handle.  As he led the cow out of the barn and turned her loose, he saw that the fire had started to spread to the buildings around it.

 

Kyle saw a group of people running towards the fire, all yelling, “Get the fire department, Mrs. O’Leary’s barn is on fire!!”

 

“Uh oh, I better get out of here.”  He ran quickly down the street and out of town.

 

 

Adair, Iowa, July 20, 1873

 

“Frank, tell me again why we brought him along?”

 

“Now Jesse, he’s family, besides, Mama made us.”

 

Jesse James shook his head as he watched Kyle trying to help unsaddle the horses.  So far he had gotten tangled up in some reins, and dumped out several saddlebags.  The other members of the gang were starting to grumble.

 

“You better go rescue him Frank, before one of the Younger brothers shoots him.  I always knew that Murtree side of Mama’s family wasn’t quite right.”  Jesse sighed and turned his attention to the plan for the next day.  He had gone over it several times.  Frank had found out that a train carrying more than $100,000 in gold would be passing through the small town of Adair the next morning.  This would be their first train robbery and Jesse wanted it to go just right.  He gathered the gang around to go over the plan one more time.

 

“Ok, you all know what you are supposed to do, right?”  They all nodded, except for Kyle, who looked a little confused.

 

“Now what was I doing again Jesse?”  Kyle was trying to hard to get it right, he was just nervous. 

 

“ONE more time Kyle, all you have to do is go into town and double-check the schedule of when the train is coming through.  Ask when the morning flyer is due, should be around sunrise, and come back here and tell me.  You think you can handle that?” 

 

“Yeah, sure, I got it.  Morning flyer.  I’ll be back soon.”  Kyle rushed off and the rest of the gang gave a sigh of relief.

 

All the way to town, Kyle repeated it to himself. “Morning flyer, morning flyer, I won’t forget.”  Suddenly a rabbit ran across the dark road, chased by a coyote.  Kyle’s horse reared, throwing him to the ground.  Luckily he held on to the reins so the horse didn’t run away, but he was a little shaken as he stood up, brushed himself off and remounted.

 

“Stupid rabbit.  Gotta’ get into town and ask about the morning…dang, what was the name of that train.  Oh well, can’t be too many trains early in the morning, I’ll figure it out.”

 

Kyle went to the ticket window at the train station.  A little old man with wire-rimmed glasses sat behind the counter.  He wrinkled up his nose like he had smelled something bad when he saw Kyle standing there.

 

“Can I help you?” He asked, in a voice that said he’d rather not.

 

“Uh, can you tell me what time the morning train comes through?” 

 

“Which morning train?”

 

“There’s more than one?”  Kyle was starting to get a little nervous. “I’m not sure…”

 

The man gestured impatiently. “Would it be the express?”

 

“Well, I don’t know…” Kyle shifted from foot-to-foot nervously. “Yeah, I guess that’s the one, what time does it come through?”

 

“6:30am.  Will there be anything else, sir?” The clerk asked sarcastically.

 

“Uh yeah, could you write that down for me so I don’t forget?”

 

The clerk rolled his eyes and sighed, but he wrote down the time on a piece of paper.  Kyle put it in the pocket of his coat and left.  When he got back to where the gang was hiding he made sure he gave it right away to Jesse.

 

“Did I do good?”  Kyle was pleased with himself.

 

“Yeah Kyle, you did good.”  Jesse was just relieved that Kyle didn’t mess this errand up.  “Now get some sleep, we got an early morning ahead of us.”

 

At sunrise the gang went to a stretch of rail outside town.  They removed spikes and wooden ties from a section of track and tied four ropes around each rail. Then they lay in wait in some thick bushes away from the rails.  They could see the black smoke of the train as it raced down the track.  As the train got close, they pulled hard on the ropes, pulling the track apart.  The train was going too fast to brake and it went off the track, sinking slightly sideways into the dirt.  Part of the gang rushed into the passenger cars, relieving the stunned passengers of their valuables before they even knew what hit them. 

 

Jesse led the assault on the baggage car, looking for the $100,000.  The guards didn’t put up a fight when the gang demanded that they open the locked boxes, especially when the request was made with a shotgun.  To their surprise, the boxes contained a grand total of $2000. 

 

“Where’s the hundred-thousand you’re supposed to be carrying?” Jesse demanded.

 

The terrified conductor stammered out “It…it came through on the morning flyer.”

 

Frank smacked him with the back of his hand. “This is the morning flyer!”

 

“N…no sir, that one came through before sunrise.  This is the morning express.”  He braced himself for the sound of the shotgun going off, ending his life, but all he heard was the sound of the outlaws cussing and horse hooves receding into the distance.

 

Kyle was the recipient of many glares and mumbled curses back at the camp.  The only thing that saved him from being shot right there was being kin to the James brothers.  He slipped away that night, deciding to leave before someone decided that losing the money outweighed his family ties. 

 

Little Big Horn River, Montana, June 1876

 

Kyle stopped his exhausted horse at the edge of the river.  They both needed a break after being chased by a posse for so many days.  The Devil’s Hole gang had decided to split up after their last job to make it harder for the posse to catch them and somehow Kyle had gotten really lost.  He sank down on the ground under the shade of a tree. 

 

“Heyes and Kid and the rest of the boys are gonna’ be wondering where I am. Where am I anyway?”  He decided to walk to the top of a nearby hill and see if he recognized any landmarks.

 

As Kyle surveyed the valley below him, his heart sank as he saw a large group of soldiers heading his way.

 

“I cain’t believe they sent the whole dang army after me.” He thought to himself as he ran back down the hill towards his horse.  “We didn’t get that much money from the train.”

 

He stopped short at the sight of a large number of Sioux braves standing right where he left his horse.  Kyle was sure he was a goner.  He was surprised when one of the braves addressed him in English.

 

“Who are you and what are you doing on our lands?” The man looked very fierce and Kyle had to swallow a couple of times before he could answer.

 

“Uh, I just got lost, I didn’t mean any harm, I swear!  I’ll give you my horse, whatever you want, just don’t kill me please!”  Kyle closed his eyes, waiting for his death.

 

The brave translated Kyle’s words for the rest of the group.  After some heated discussion, they turned back to him.

 

“We’ll deal with you later.  Get on your horse.”  They handed the reins of Kyle’s horse to a boy who looked like he was barely in his teens and told him to take Kyle back to camp and guard him.  The boy looked none too happy about being sent away from the scouting party and in the short distance to the camp, he mumbled under his breath in a language Kyle didn’t understand. 

 

Kyle was sure he was a goner when they reached the camp and men, women and children curious about the captive immediately surrounded him.   He was pulled off his horse and shoved in a teepee.  Kyle didn’t need speak their language to know what the consequences would be if he left the tent. 

 

Kyle sat in the teepee for what seemed like hours.  There seemed to be a lot of activity going on outside, but he was afraid to stick his head out to see what it was.  Every once in awhile, a curious child would peek in to look at him, so he passed his time making faces at them, causing a lot of giggles and even more kids to join in the game.

 

Kyle about jumped out of his skin at the sound of rifles firing nearby.  The sound of people screaming and running by the tent finally got the best of his curiosity and he poked his head out of the opening of the tent.  What he saw stunned him.  There were cavalry soldiers everywhere, and the Sioux were fighting back with the ferocity of men defending their families.  Kyle sat immobilized by fear, not sure what he should do, and wondering how he was going to get out of this mess without getting killed.

 

“I’ve really gotten myself into it this time.”  Kyle said out loud.  Over the noise of the fighting, he heard a child crying.  About 50 yards away, he saw a little girl standing alone crying for her momma.  Kyle’s heart sunk to see that a soldier on a horse was headed right for her. 

 

“No!!”  Kyle yelled and ran out of the teepee, not thinking about the consequences.  The only weapon he could find was a long, stout stick.  As the soldier got close, Kyle knocked him off the horse, ready to do battle to save the little girl.  Luckily, the soldier hit his head and was knocked out cold, saving Kyle the trouble.  He ran over, picked up the girl and hid in some bushes until he was sure it was safe to come out.

 

As he crawled out of the bushes, cradling the girl, he saw dead soldiers all over the ground.  The Sioux were stripping the bodies of clothing and weapons, anything that might be useful.  A woman screamed when she saw Kyle with the girl and ran over and grabbed her out of Kyle’s arms.  She was yelling things he didn’t understand and trying to hit him.  He was ducking her blows and trying to explain, even though she didn’t know what he was saying.

 

“Ma’am please, I was just trying to help her.  The soldier was going to kill her.”  He curled up in a ball and covered his head with his arms trying to protect himself.  They attracted the attention of one of the braves who came over looking like he was going to kill Kyle himself.  Finally, the little girl got the woman’s attention.  Kyle didn’t know what she was saying, all he knew was that he wasn’t dead yet, and that was a good thing.  He figured the little girl must have told them what happened because he found himself being helped up and the girl’s mother was smiling at him.  Relief washed over him when he realized that he might actually live through this.  He even enjoyed himself at the victory celebration they held later.

 

The next day, he was given back his horse and enough provisions to get to Devil’s Hole.  He sheepishly admitted to the brave that spoke English that he didn’t exactly know where he was and how to get back, so after they finished laughing, he was given a map drawn on deerskin and an escort to the edge of the Sioux territory. 

 

“Boy am I going to have a story to tell the gang this time.” Kyle thought.  “I just hope they believe me!”

 

 

Tug Fork River Valley, Kentucky, 1882

 

Kyle was kicked back on the front porch of his little log cabin overlooking the river, just enjoying the nice afternoon.  He had come to Kentucky after Heyes and Kid had helped him get his amnesty.  A small but pretty patch of land that still belonged to his family made the perfect place for an ex-outlaw to spend the rest of his days.  He fit right in with the folks around here, and he was even courting a girl who lived a few miles down the road.  Life was good.

 

Kyle got up, stretched contentedly, and decided to do a little hunting for supper.  He grabbed his gun and started off into the woods.  He had been wandering around for a while when he noticed two pigs following him.  This wasn’t too strange, farm animals got out all the time, and pigs seemed particularly fond of Kyle.  They did get to be a nuisance sometimes though.

 

“Shoo, go home!”  Kyle tried to run them off, but they seemed quite taken with him. He decided the only thing he could do was to find out where they lived and take them back.  He saw the smoke from a cabin not too far off, so he headed that direction.  When he got there, he called out, but didn’t get an answer.  Seeing an open gate to a pigpen, Kyle just figured that’s where the pigs had escaped from.  He put them in the pen and walked off whistling, feeling good that he had done a neighbor a good deed.

 

The occupant of the cabin stepped out on his porch later to see another man standing at the gate of his pigpen.

 

“What’re you doin’ on my property McCoy!”  He challenged.

 

“You done stole my pigs Hatfield!”  The man raised his rifle and pointed it at the other man on the porch.

 

The Hatfield man reached for his rifle and pointed it at the McCoy. “Ain’t your pigs, them’s my pigs.”  And a feud was begun.

 

Kyle was leaned back in the chair on his porch when the sound of gunshots in the distance made him sit straight up.  He leaned his chair back again and pulled his hat over his eyes.  “Glad that doesn’t have anything to do with me.  Yep, it’s a good life.”