Sam couldn’t help but to stop and reminisce once they’d reached the hanging tree. It had been seven or eight years since the last time he’d been party to a posse. He’d had his first brush with death towards the end of that ordeal. A bullet had gone clean through his hat, missing his scalp by a mere two inches. It was one of those memories that are impossible to forget. The kind that often come to mind at the most inopportune of moments. Of course, he’d heard the stories going the rounds, but he didn’t believe them for a minute. Sam was too ‘down to earth’ to entertain ideas that pertained to ghosts, or hauntings. “A bunch of malarkey,” according to him. He rather viewed the big oak as a landmark. It was the only one of its kind in the area, and stuck out like a sore thumb. When he dropped Luke’s rope down beside it, he explained to the men, “It’s weight is slowing me down. We may be in for a long ride.” That’s all he said. His men had to be wondering about that excuse, and we can imagine they thought he really did mean to hang the fugitive if they caught him, but they kept their mouths shut.
They’d all heard the reason he gave Luke for needing the rope. They thought that Sam had had a change of mind and plans from when he’d first questioned the Deputy. Perhaps, he’d come to his senses, they thought. None of his men really wanted to participate in a murder, and risk going to jail, or worse. They didn’t know what to think about Sam’s latest action. They didn’t know if they could take him at his word, although they wished to. Their job was their life, and it was in his hands. The men kept their reservations to themselves. Second-guessing Sam was never a good idea. It didn’t matter now anyway, Sam was already second-guessing himself. The winds of change were making themselves known.
Let me tell you about Sam. To begin with, he was a large man. He stood over six feet tall, and weighed somewheres around two hundred and fifty pounds. A good decade past his prime, he was to turn fifty years of age that coming December. He’d never been married, although he claimed to have once been ‘in love’. He wanted to go West, and she didn’t. End of story. When he was ‘in the mood’ for romance, which wasn’t all that often, he’d visit a lady friend who kept a room on the saloon’s second floor. Sam had never known his father. He’d abandoned his mother when he was but a wee tot. Sam regretted the way it had all gone down when he left his mother back in St. Louis. He was thirty years old at the time. It wasn’t a good parting. He gave her one of those, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” kind of things. She died of consumption before he’d procured the means to make his first return trip back home.
Sam was known to have been a rambunctious self-made man. He also knew the value of saving money. He was finally able to buy that dream ranch of his, and did so during the year of 1864. Sam was reliable, trustworthy, and loyal. He demanded those traits from his hired-hands, and for the most part, he received it. He wasn’t afraid to act on a hunch. Sam thought he knew where he might find the murderer, or at least pick up his trail, and that’s where they were headed. His was an educated guess. In the past, bank robbers, horse thieves, and other hardened criminal types were known to have hid themselves out in a small cave not too far on past the river. Sam had been there before on his previous posse mission. The way Sam figured it, if the stranger wasn’t there, and they saw no sign of his tracks, then he was probably headed to Mexico, and that’d be the end of the chase. “We did the best we could.” He imagined himself saying that to everyone. Nothing more would need to be said in the way of a justification.
Of course, everyone has fears, and Sam was no exception. He had his own private insecurities, but he never spoke of them, and would never have admitted them out loud. More than death itself, Sam feared losing the powers of his two-armed beast. One of those arms represented his position in society. Sam loved his hard earned success. He loved what he’d made of himself, and his ranch gave him the means to do good business. He had hoped to make a fortune from the land, and he was well on his way to doing just that. So, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear — Sam loved his money more than he loved speedy justice. Oh, he wanted to hang that sonuvabitch! Please, don’t get me wrong. The thing was…Sam had a business deal scheduled for Tuesday. He only had two days to play with, and then he’d have to be back. He didn’t want to miss that meeting for anything. Oh sure, he thought catching the bad guy was a ‘good idea’, but it wasn’t paramount. Not in his book, anyway. And his book was the one of financial security. Sam was somewhat content, but he thought he could handle more. He was sorely afraid of becoming poor and destitute somewheres on down the road.
The other arm of this fearful beast was the arm of physical prowess. Sam had been big and strong since he’d turned 18. He’d made a habit out of playing the ‘tough guy’. Men feared his very presence, and that bought him a peculiar type of respect. He could push people around without laying one finger on them. That’s the way he liked it, and that’s the way he wanted it. It provided him with an odd sort of happiness. Sam wasn’t ready to give up that respect. He wanted to retain his reputation. He was still a ‘bad ass’. This characterization gave him a heightened sense of self-esteem, and made him feel important. Intellectually, he knew it couldn’t last forever. His power of strength would slowly fade away someday, and he was just beginning to realize the nearness of that stage.
Sam had never necessarily intended on breaking the law. He couldn’t afford to. This excursion, and his role in it as the ‘leader of the pack’? That was his game. That was his hype. He was putting on a show, and Sam was a well-polished actor. He’d had lots of practice perfecting his — ‘Don’t mess with me!’ — persona. Sam could act genuinely outraged, and angrier than hell, when in all actuality, he wasn’t mad in the least. He put on a display, and assumed the posture of authority, which in turn acted as a deterrent, and an efficient one at that. Now that Sam and his men had been put on the side of the law, their choices as to what they could do were limited. If indeed they did end up catching the murderer, they’d have to bring him back alive, or kill him in self-defense. That was their only other choice, but it would work all the same. It was a plausible possibility. Most importantly, it could be carried out in complete compliance with the law of the land. Sam had enough witnesses to back up his story, if that’s how it all came down. He was ready and able to do just that, and prepared himself accordingly.