lightning flashed across the sky as heavy rainfall made the ride into town slow. Maverick, a blond muscular man wearing a wide-brimmed hat became drenched from head to toe as he rode handcuffed on the back of a pulled horse. He kept his head down as the locals gathered in the muddy street to see who Marshal Pete was bringing to Bleakvilles jailhouse.
Several women shoved men out of the way to get a look at the man trying to conceal his face. Widow Thornton, jumped in front of the marshal’s horse stopping his advance abruptly.
“Whoa boy! Stop,” the marshal shouted while pulling back on his horse’s reins to avoid trampling the woman. More women took advantage of the stilled animal and surrounded the cuffed white man on horseback.
“Lift your head mister. I wanna see them eyes,” 50-year-old Widow Thornton yelled as wrinkles around her own eyes betrayed perfect brown skin. The women on each side of the stallion snatched and grabbed at Mavericks wet clothes almost causing him to topple. Mavericks body trembled at the sound of the widow’s voice. With eyes shut tight, he stammered three words through gritted rotten teeth.
“Not me Ma’am.”
Marshal Pete spat chewing tobacco over the widows head, the wad mixing with the muddy street, but not before a fine mist of the bile caused some women to blink and wipe their rain-soaked faces.
“Ladies, please. Let me get him to the calaboose. You can eye him there if you want to, out of the rain,” he grumbled.
“Okay marshal. You take him, but god as my witness, I’m tailing right behind and I’m bringing a loaded pack iron with me,” cut in Lucille, a pale white voluptuous painted lady working her trade in Bleakvilles Saloon. Widow Thornton agreed with her.
“Me too,” she called out as she locked eyes on the women in the street.
As the tired rain-soaked women wearing grimy petticoats and dirty boots allowed the marshal to take his prisoner to jail, they all chanted “Me Too, Me Too, Me Too.”
Maverick stood behind the metal bars of a 6 by 8-foot enclosure. Redbrick walls covered with symbol signatures of prisoners gave no clue who was there before. Two tree stumps and a wood board nailed to each end acted as a makeshift bed and a place to sit during the day. White knuckles and dirty fingernails held onto the metal bars. He watched Florence Jacobs, a tiny brunette with a long scar on the right side of her face give Marshal Pete a rolled-up document.
“Marshal, I’ve got signatures from 50 women in town that want that man strung up. We’ve suffered losses at his hands that can never be recovered. Some of these people you know,” she explained. Marshal Pete agreed but the mayor of Bleakville was good-hearted. She was adamantly against lynching any man, but he allowed Florence to speak her voice anyway.
“Like Widow Thornton’s husband Sam, God rest his soul. After 14 years of marriage, shot in the back after a card game… by that animal.” Florence pointed a finger at Maverick, then went on. “Lucille Mcintyre? Over at the dancehall?” She spent time with him that turned ugly when they went up to a room. Now I don’t like the way that gal lives but nobody deserves what he did to her behind closed doors.” She snarled at Maverick, her eyes flared, matching a flushed face.
“I didn’t hear about that situation Ms. Jacobs,” the marshal said, knowing gambling and prostitution crimes weren’t reported very often to the law.
“Well, it happened. And look at what he done to ma face,” Florence added, as tears started to fall. I was a barmaid at the Rusty Spur the day he wanted to skip paying for his whiskey. I got this scar when I tried to stop him from leaving without settling his tab,” she insisted, throwing a hateful look at Maverick again. Marshal Pete, a tall white man with black hair was sweet on Florence until she was disfigured. It was wrong but he wondered how many men thought the same.
“Now Ms. Jacobs…Florence, I understand your anger with him,” Marshal Pete acknowledged. “That’s why I made you unload your shooter before you came in here. The man’s evil, but evil men deserve a fair trial too,” he lied while avoiding eye contact with her.
Maverick quietly stepped back from the steel bars and sat on his bed board. His movement jostled the chamber pot he relieved himself in during the night, causing some urine to spill out. He wanted to join in the conversation, to say that colored widow’s husband talked down to him and deserved what he got. And that red-headed whore? He just took what she promised to give him after he bought 2 rounds of whiskey. His only regret was his social stature as a white man had less clout in this slavery-free state. He lost all bravado when he spotted Florence and Marshal Pete still eyeing him as they talked.
“Pete, I’m getting one more name to go on this petition, she said with confidence. She’s on her way lickety-split so I’ll leave it here with you. When she signs, you will have to take action then. Good day marshal.” Florence turned and stomped away towards to door. She took her gun and bullets from the sock with the number 3 written on it, identifying her possessions and left without another word.
Edith Fowler left her horse curbed by the saloon and walked the short distance to the jailhouse. She opened the row of buttons on her brown twill riding pants to give it the look of a full skirt. A pleated blouse and leather vest complimented the business look she wanted for a meeting with the towns marshal. As mayor and owner of all properties in Bleakville Pennsylvania, she would decide what would become of the towns only prisoner. She subconsciously touched her medium length twisted style hair for any strands out of place, then knocked on the door and walked in.
“Good afternoon ma’am, I mean mayor,” said Marshal Pete with a smile.
“I trust Florance told you I’d be a calling?”
“She hinted at that ma’am… mayor,” he conceded.
Maverick stood up with eyes wide. In front of him was a smartly dressed woman that had the appearance of wealth. His jaw dropped open a full minute before he spoke. “A Nigress?… is the mayor? How can that be?” he protested while shaking his head left and right.
“I’m the mayor and owner of Bleakville, population 857, soon be 856,” she said without missing a beat.
“Bah, this is a joke. I won’t answer to you,” Maverick said with contempt. “I demand a trial by jury in another county. And I want the sheriff, not your flunky marshal, to get me a white lawyer,” he demanded.
“You can talk to me that way, but I wouldn’t go it strong with the mayor of Bleakville if I were you,” cautioned Marshal Pete.
“I don’t need your advice lawman, chided Maverick as the mayor studied the interaction of the two men.
“Pete, let me see the document Florence left for me to sign,” Edith said, ignoring Maverick.
The marshal handed the petition to the mayor. He watched her as she looked over the document.
“Where’re my manners, mayor. Would you like to sit down while you go over the details?” asked Pete.
“I can read it for you if that helps,” Maverick called out through the bars with a smirk.
“I have no need to sit marshal. Got other business. I won’t be here that long,” Edith said. “Thank you for the offer Maverick, but good white people taught me in secret long ago to read and write which gave me a power few colored have. I can read it just finely. The sheriff is in Gold Rose county, 5 days from here, so I reckon you have me to speak for you,” she clarified. Putting on her specially made gold octagon spectacles with a crank bridge, she looked closely at the document.
“Let’s see now. Maverick James Lawson. You are being charged with assault, robbery, harassment, public drunkenness, and murder. This petition was signed by 50 townfolk, after all of them coming here to see if you were the right man. They all swear you are and I believe them.” she stated.
“I don’t care what they believe.”
“Whether you care or not, the townfolk want swift justice done,” she said while returning her glasses to a leather case with her initials hand-stitched in.
“You can’t convict me without trial,” Maverick declared.
“How many colored men and women you seen lynched without trial?” she challenged.
Maverick said nothing. He sat back down as the spurs on one boot tapped the side of the emptied chamber pot, causing a tink sound.
“Swift justice needs to be done here, Mr. Lawson, but I’ll wait till the sheriff is back in town to start your trial here in Bleakville, not another county,” she vowed while the image of her father dragged from bed and hung by a white mob when she was a child flashed in her mind.
“Marshal, I want you to keep him under guard. I’ll have meals sent over from the Rusty Spur for your troubles from here on.”
“Thank you, mayor. I’ll keep eyes on him.”
Mayor Edith Fowler decided not to sign the document. The law would decide Mavericks fate, not a mob. Her town was going to be a symbol of justice for all. That’s why she became mayor, to stand by that symbol. She rolled up the petition to take with her.
“I’ll see myself out marshal,” she said while tucking hair behind one ear.
Two metal trays loaded with food were brought to the jail as the mayor promised. The marshal put one on the bed, now a table for Maverick. Steam rose from the marshal’s plate of rabbit meat with potatoes, beans, and biscuits. Sweet tea with lemon was provided to wash it down. Maverick picked up the cover as his stomach growled and looked at the food. Deep in thought, he put it back down without taking a bite. Marshal Pete sat at his desk enjoying his tray of food.
“The mayor had them make this over at the Rusty Spur special,” Pete said between bites. “Go on and eat. Don’t worry about poison or whatnot. I had someone watching. They weren’t told which plate you would get, so eat,” he pressed.
“I might wanna see the mayor for just a short spell to apologize and fix this predicament I’m in, if I could marshall,” Maverick lamented since being in custody.
“Well, I reckon it can’t hurt, but it won’t change nothing. She road outta town but will be back in a day or two. You can say your piece then. For now, let me enjoy my meal. You do likewise.”
Pop, Pop… Pop, Pop, Pop, rang gunshots outside the jailhouse. Marshal Pete jumped up and pulled out his holstered gun, aiming it at the door, expecting a mob to burst in. Cautiously looking out the only window in the jail, he saw Norma Thornton on horseback with guns causing a stir in the middle of the street.
“Not waiting any longer. I’m gonna git him now! Who’s a coming with me?” she ranted to a small crowd. I’m gonna see him swing before morning!” she yelled to a bunch of women onlookers. A little nipper named Willis cheered her on too before the teens Popa made him go back inside General Merchandise to fetch supplies.
“Christ almighty, it’s the widow, with guns blazing!” squealed Pete.
“Fetch some men quick, before shes comes a gunning in here!” Maverick squealed as he trembled.
Marshal Pete looked at his prisoner then put his gun back in the holster. He opened the door and stepped outside with raised hands.
“Ladies. I’m on your side.” He paused for a second, waiting for everyone’s attention. “While the mayor and sheriff are out of town, let’s get some justice.”
“Yeah!” hollered the widow. “Finally a man in this town taking action. I’ll git some rope from General and we do this now!” she blurted out on horseback, galloping away.
The marshal calmly stepped back into the jailhouse. He looked at Maverick. All color had drained from his face. “I’m sorry boy, but I don’t agree with the mayor. Sam was a good friend of mine. Make your peace with the lord. Justice will be carried out today.”
After a spell, Marshal Pete lead Maverick by horse to the back of the Rusty Spur followed by Norma Thornton with a half dozen armed colored men on each side of her. Their job was to keep the prisoner from getting away and show strength in colored owned Bleakville.
Lucille Mcintyre, with ruby red lips, followed on foot in a light blue petticoat, wearing the holstered gun she fired earlier outside the jail with Norma.
Mavericks heart raced as he called out to Marshal Pete while handcuffed on top of the same horse that brought him into town, this time leading him to a tree.
“Marshal sir, please. I was hoping to see the mayor before this posse came,” he pleaded. I had time to do some thinking at the jail. I just want to apologize for my behavior earlier and my actions in your town,” he said in a humbled voice. I want to make amends to the townsfolk by standing trial for my misdeeds,” he offered as tears flowed.
Marshal Pete heard Maverick pleading, but his mind was on how he was going to explain these events to the mayor and stay out of jail himself. Cross that bridge when I get to it, he thought.
Behind the saloon, an Angel Oak tree with branches outstretched like fingers ran between several filled up pits where the bar privy had been moved to make a new hole. A hang man’s noose was thrown over a sturdy branch that towered about 12 feet in the air. Mavericks horse was positioned under the branch as the men in the posse roughly cinched a noose around his neck. A makeshift blindfold made from pieces of his shirt covered his eyes. The worn material looked like two damp spots over his eyes as Maverick cried like a baby without shame. He shivered and sniffled on the horse as the bite of rope cut into his throat. The stink of human waste from the outhouse masked the smell of Maverick’s soiled jeans. Everyone was conscious of where they stepped.
“Since you killed my husband its only fitting that I lead the show here,” Norma said. “Maverick Lawson, do you have any final words to say before I send you to the good lord?”
“Please ma’am. Please, I’m only 35 years of age. I can make it up to you and the town. I, I’ll work here as a laborer like I had some colored people do for me in Georgia.” he whimpered.
Norma shook her head as the crowd gasped at Maverick’s words. In this new day and age, he still owned slaves! She allowed him his say, proving to everyone his words were as blind as his eyes.
“I have some gold rocks I left in General Merchandise. The town can have them all. I just ask for mercy. Please,” he whimpered.
“What about my husband?” Norma said. “No gold rocks can compensate me for that,” she said.
“Or what you did to me,” said Lucille Mcintyre speaking up.
“Yeah… what you did,” chimed Willis, the teen son of Ole man Bennie Mays.
A loud voice commanding attention spoke boldly behind everyone.
“Who defied my orders to let this man be?” demanded a feminine figure approaching from the rear of the mob.
Everyone cleared a path as Mayor Edith Fowler walked from the rear of the crowd to the front. Dressed to the nines she wore black leather boots and pants, a white short-sleeved victorian blouse buttoned up tightly from the neck down with an open black vest. The vest brought attention to a pearl handle shooter in a specially made holster that moved seductively on her hips as she walked. She might have gotten catcalls from the few men present, but the new accessory put an end to that before it started.
“Mayor, I apologize. I let the mob take him after they threatened to tear down the jail to get at him,” Marshal Pete lied, but that’s how most lynchings started.
“Mayor? Is that you? Thank god! I want the marshal arrested. He let them take me. I demand justice,” yelped Maverick trying to see through the blindfold.
“I was the instigator ma’am. I got the town all riled up at the jailhouse,” Norma confessed. Can’t blame Marshal Pete. It was too many of us for him to stop. But Maverick is guilty mayor. Guilty as sin.”
The mayor looked between Pete and Norma, trying to decide what to do, then focused on the only teen in the crowd.
“What are you doing here younging? she asked Willis.
“My name is Willis Mays ma’am. My dad let me sign that paper and come out here,” he politely answered. “Cause he did something to me too.”
“That’s a lie! I didn’t touch that lying freckle boy!” Maverick yelled out, trying to break his cuffs. The spurs on his shoes slightly jabbed the horse causing it to take a step forward. Maverick froze in place, the rope tightening more as the beast stilled again.
All eyes went from the mild voice of the boy to Maverick. The mayor pulled out the petition still in her possession and saw Willis Mays had signed the complaint. Florence Jacobs who was quiet during the events spoke to the prisoner as she rubbed the scar on her face.
“I don’t see no freckles on his face. How you know the boy got freckles… Maverick?” She left the question open for a response but none came. Edith pushed sickness down her throat, as her anger rose. Memories of her father dying and the family being sold off like cattle came to mind. She and her mother sold to plantation owners that wanted young women and her brother about the same age as the Mays boy sent to an owner that had a penchant for young boys. Without hesitating, she swatted the stallion Maverick was sitting on.
“Ya! Giddy Up!” she screamed as the animal whinnied and took off as the noose yanked Maverick backward and fully tightened around his neck. He jerked and gaged while legs kicked the air. The soil in front of his pants matched the one in the back as he kept flailing on the rope close to 3 full minutes. Two men in the posse expelled vomit while the others managed to hold onto their supper.
In the stillness of the night, the mayor said a quiet prayer for herself.
“Should I cut him down ma’am?” said one of the men that didn’t get sick but was shaking like a leaf.
“Wait till morning, Lester,” she instructed.
Without warning Norma, recovering from the actions of the mayor, aimed her shooter and blasted Mavericks body. Lucille did the same followed by one of the men. Maverick briefly came to life, bouncing around like a pinata. The air smelled of human waste and sulfur.
“Now justice has been done,” said Norma. The other women agreed, and so did Willie. He wanted to shoot Maverick but the mayor wouldn’t allow it.
“You’ve been through far too much for that son,” the mayor said. You dont want to add to nightmares. Now go home.”
“Mayor, what do we tell the sheriff when he returns from business?” Marshal Pete politely asked, unsure of his fate.
“We tell him the same thing that folk say when coloreds get lynched. Maverick was taken from the jail, hung and lynched by a person or parties unknown,” she told Pete as the small group looked on.
“Have somebody from our newspaper come to my office in the morning. I’ll give a statement,” she instructed Pete.
“Yes ma’am will do,” he assured her.
“Now go on home everybody, and speak nothing further of what happened here,” she said with an authority befitting the town mayor.
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