Tale Of The Frontier
The had been a murder at Red Fox Run, one of the tributaries of the Smoky Hill river, in Western Kansas.
A murder was not a novel thing in those days, for of the eighteen men sleeping in the unfenced graveyard, on top of the undulating right bank of Red Fox Run, not one of them had died a natural death. Eleven of them had been killed in the summer of ’76 by the combined band of Sananter and Roman Nose, when all the tribes on the plains united against the whites. Four had been killed in bar room rows, one in a duel, and two by Wild Horse Smith, one of the most noted desperadoes that had ever came to Red Fox.
But Wild Horse Smith was tried by a jury, each time, at but a few hours after the crimes, and it was proven to the satisfaction of his peers, that the dead man first, but Smith, with his usual luck and dexterity got in the first shot.
In view of these facts, no jury of that kind, and in that day could do otherwise than to bring in a verdict of justifiable homicide; so Wild Horse Smith was acquitted, and became the model of the many good men and terror of the few good ones.
He was a tall, bony man of twenty-five with gray eyes, long black hair, and long leathery cheeks, as devoid of beard as the plains about Red Fox were of trees.
Four or five families had moved to this part of the State, to farm in the rich bottom. Among them was “Zachary” Bowman, who had a family consisting of his wife and five children, the eldest, Sarah a handsome, healthy-looking girl of twenty.
As there were very few young ladies in Red Fox compared to the number of men and as there was not one who at all equaled Sarah Bowman in personal charms, she at once became the belle of the settlement, and was besieged by a dozen marriageable men, among whom Wild Horse Smith stood first – in his own opinion.
There was another young man named Henzy, who was very devoted, and still another, Frank Colton, a sturdy, steady young fellow of some five or six and twenty.
So prudent was Sarah Bowman, that not one of her admirers felt himself to be the favored one. But it must not be imagined from this that she had not preference. There was one whose footfall was very welcome, whose presence shortened the hours, and whose voice was music, and this was Frank Colton. He did not know his good fortune, for he never, being a bashful fellow, told his love.
The people often discussed the chances of the rivals and the shrewd ones, “reckoned it lay between Wild Horse Smith, Henzy, and Frank Colton,” with the chances of winning in favor of the first, as it wasn’t thought safe to run against Smith for anything, and more than one was afraid the rivalry would end in trouble.
Whether Sarah Bowman was the cause or not, there was a man murdered at Red Fox Run.
The body was found about two miles from the settlement, up the stream, and when it was brought in, lying across a horse, everybody that saw the body, and that was everybody in the settlement, recognized it at once as the remains of young Henzy.
He had not been killed by the Indians – the most unpracticed eye could see that at a glance, for apart from the bullet hole in the head and two in his breast, the body had not been mutilated. The long hair and clothing was as intact as when, on the day before, he had been seen to ride away with Frank Colton.
The news of the murder and the fact that Sarah Bowman was dangerously sick with fever, that rendered her unconscious, came to the people together; and, of course, the girls illness was attributed to the shock Henzy’s death gave her, and from this the people reasoned that the murdered man was the favorite.
Before Henzy was buried on the hill above Red Fox Run, making the number nineteen, twelve of the enlightened settlers held an inquest, and Wild Horse Smith was made foreman. To be sure it was hardly a legal body, as there was not a coroner within one hundred miles; but the settlers were determined to go through the legal forms, as they had tried their foreman, and so they examined all the wounds, made all the inquiries they could as to who had been with Henzy, and although no information was given them that they were not aware of, the twelve men, with an all legal solemnity, locked themselves up in the faro room of the Coyote saloon, and with some spiritual refreshments on the table, sat down to solve the mystery on Henzy’s murder.
Frank Colton had a great many friends in the settlement, for he was honest, temperate, and industrious; but as the foreman of that jury put the ase, the warmest friends of the young man were forced to think that, “things looked bad again’ Frank, and his stayin’ away is a powerful strong point.”
The people were not therefore surprised when the jury asserted, as their verdict – first that Henzy was murdered with some fire arm, and, second, that all the evidence pointed to Frank Colton as the one who fired the shots .
One, two, weeks passed, and still Frank Colton, as if dreading to come near the scene of his crime, remained away, though his crops needed attention.
All they wanted now to proceed with the trial was the culprit, whom they were prepared to hang the moment he put in an appearance.
There was considerable flutter in Red Fox Run, when, on the fifteenth morning smoke was seen issuing from Frank Colton’s house, and examination of the premises developed the fact that the owner of the house was at home.
A few hours from this time the twelve jurors, with Wild Horse Smith at their head; and rifles on their shoulders walked down it in military order, surrounded the house, and called on Frank Colton to come out.
There was not a little surprise on their part when Frank walked boldly out with his left arm in a sling, and looked at his neighbors with such astonishment in his face, that if it were not genuine, showed that he was an actor of no ordinary type. As foreman of that jury it became Wild Horse Smith’s duty (he did it with a wonderful amount of cheerfulness however) to inform Frank that he was a prisoner, and why.
The twelve men saw Frank Colton’s face turned ashy pale, and he staggered up to the house for support, as he gasped: “Henzy murdered!”
“He’s number nineteen up thar’ on that hill,” replied Smith, nodding in that direction. We’ll give ye a fair trial Frank, but you mout as well know that everything’s again ye, an’ everybody on Red Fox Run has made up their mind that you killed Henzy, said one of the men who was a great stickler for law and order.
Frank Colton denied it then, but it was too late. He was made a prisoner and marched down to the Coyote saloon, where a court was at once established, and Wild Horse Smith, having unexpected legal acumen as foreman of the coroners jury was selected as judge.
Everybody was there but Sarah Bowman. She was in bed, worn down with fever, and barely over her delirium.
The trial went on with a rapidity that would startle an Eastern court of justice, and it was shown that Frank Colton was the last person seen with the murdered man; that he was himself wounded, as by the resistance offered by the wounded man; that he fled, remaining away two weeks; and finally, that there was a motive for the act, as they were both suitors for the same girl’s hand, and for some time an ill feeling was supposed to exist between them.
The jury came to a conclusion without leaving the chairs which had been brought from the Coyote saloon for their accommodation. They found Frank Coulton guilty of the murder with which he was charged.
Then Wild Horse Smith, who had reason to know something of the judicial form of proceeding in such cases, asked Frank if he could offer any reason why sentence of death should not be passed.
In reply, Frank acknowledged that when he left the settlement, Henzy was in his company, and that they had ever been friends. He parted with Henzy up the run, and continued himself toward Fort Harker, where he expected money from his friends from the East. That when he was about ten miles from the settlement, he was himself shot by some person or persons secreted near his route. That his arm was broken, and he would have come back at once, but fell in with an army train returning from Pond Creek, and the surgeon gave him all attention, and took him on to Harker, where he had been for ten days under attendance.
This was all said I a plain, fearless way that accounted for everything, and should have carried conviction with it; but the judge had made up his mind, and with well affected solemnity, passed the sentence of death and then pointed to a tree back of the Coyote saloon as a suitable place for the execution.
There was no want of rope, and Frank Colton, was at once seized, and the jury with wonderful zeal were about to pick him up and carry him to the tree, when they were startled by a piercing cry, and the next instant Sarah Bowman, pale as a spectre, with her hair disheveled, and her brown eyes twice their usual size, rushed in and threw her arms about Frank Colton.
“Men you are about to become murderers!” she shrieked, as the bravest started back in fright.
“Do you want the murderer of Henzy?” she asked, fastening her eyes on Wild Horse Smith.
“Yes! Yes!” cried the crowd.
“Then seize him! I saw h im do the deed, and there he stands!”
Her long white finger was pointed at Smith, who now turned livid, foaming at the mouth, and finally hissed: “It’s a lie!”
“Seize him before he escapes, and hear me out.”
There was a ring of command in her voice, and some of the party drew their pistols, and laid their hands on the Judge.
Then Sarah Bowman told how she had been up the run, gathering flowers, the morning of the murder; how she saw Henzy and Frank Colton shaking hands when they parted, and then that Wild Horse Smith rode down a ravine, out of Henzy’s sight, soon after which she heard three shots; then saw Smith galloping away as if in pursuit of Colton.
“Wild Horse Smith is the only man in this part of the country who has a Spencer’s rifle; and there are the three shells I found near Henzy’s body. Whose gun will they fit?”
The shells were passed from hand to hand; they were Smith’s. The body was exhumed, and the balls found to fit the shells, and Frank Colton showed a similar ball that had been taken from his arm.
How quick the current of public opinion changed, and how bravely they resisted Smith’s effort to get away! They saw through all and felt that the brave girl’s illness was the result of the shock the murder gave her. He confessed, defiantly, and was hanged back of the Coyote saloon, with the rope that had been prepared for Colton. Then another grave was added to those on the bank of the Red Fox Run – number 20 – and the bit of board at the head had rudely carved on it, “Wild Horse Smith, hanged for the murder of Henzy.”
Red Fox Run is a well to do, law-abiding place now, within the sound of the locomotive whistle. Sarah Bowman is Mrs. Colton, and while Frank thinks her the best woman in the world everybody in that region thinks her the bravest. The Iola Register, Iola, Kansas. May 27, 1876. Page 1. © Transcribed by Darren McMannis for the Kansas Council of Genealogical Societies, Inc.