WESTERN LEGEND PLOT, IN SUMMARY
Told in false document, Western Legend recounts an episode in East Texas history, wherein four legendary figures of the Wild West cross paths by chance in the town of Nacogdoches, Texas in the Autumn of 1899, find themselves entertaining adventurous children with tales of their more infamous exploits, and eventually come to the aid of the community by dispatching a full company of cattle rustlers.
The book begins with an “Author’s Note” stating that the entire story is false. However, in following pages “A Brief Introduction” reintroduces the story in false document, as being an actual historical incident. This is followed by two fake quotes, one by then retired U.S. Marshall Virgil Earp, in 1901, the other by retired Texas Ranger and U.S. Marshall John Armstrong, in 1911. Both quotes tease separate aspects of the coming story.
The story then opens in rural Nacogdoches, Texas in 1899, with an account of an attack on a young rancher named Tommy Henderson, by cattle rustlers. At sunset, he is chased across the open countryside and into a forest by at least a dozen men on horseback. The entire incident is described in horrible detail, and the condition of Henderson is eventually detailed from archived medical documents as being that of a person in “literal shock.” When Henderson passes underneath a pulley hanging by wires in the trees, he realizes he has been traveling in circles and screams out. The men chasing him mock him, but his scream is overheard by another man, identified in a later Sheriff’s report, as “Rancher, Charlie.” Charlie decides to investigate. Meanwhile, Henderson is trampled by the horse of one of the rustlers, and told that if he lives long enough, to identify his attacker to the authorities, as “Raybourne.” Charlie arrives on the scene in darkness and sees several shadowy figures retreat back into the forest. When he finds young Henderson, both the young man’s condition and pleas for help, sicken Charlie.
The story then segues to the following morning and the metropolis of downtown Nacogdoches. Four young boys are introduced: J.D. Hays, Foster Modisette, Mahlon Singleton, and Sean Josserand. Within a local General Store, the four boys express a love for the dime novels of the era, before running out and engaging in a mock shootout among the populace. Eventually, J.D. aims his gun-hand across the street at a man named John Barclay Armstong. A retired Texas Ranger and current United States Marshall, known for apprehending a fugitive murderer and criminal named John Wesley Hardin. Armstrong stands with the town Sheriff, who send s forcible wave in the direction of the young boys. Then two men then engage in a discussion regarding the previous attack on young Tommy Henderson. After the Sheriff describes what he knows of the attack, Armstrong relates a similar incident in another County which involved the deaths of local children and elderly citizens. The Sheriff expresses his surprise at this, but both men assume they are only dealing with a small company of criminals. Armstrong reveals he has sent a cable to the State Capital for assistance, and received a response indicating that help is on the way.
Outside of town, a rider approaches on horseback, an elderly man approaches by train, and two gentlemen approach within a Stagecoach. The elderly man within the train recognizes the rider and notes that someone has trouble coming their way. The rider is then spotted by the Sheriff’s Deputy as he nails a wanted poster to a tree, relating the recent rustling activity. And the two elderly men within the stagecoach are revealed to be sound asleep.
All three parties arrive in town, simultaneously, and amidst great commotion amongst a very busy populace. All have been recognized and the word is spreading fast. The four boys: J.D., Foster, Mahlon, and Sean, are overjoyed by this event. Armstrong recognizes brothers Virgil and James Earp, exiting the coach. He and the Sheriff soon also discover that the rider has been identified as Tom Horn, and has made his way into a local Saloon, and that Frank James has disembarked from the morning train. Armstrong assures the Sheriff that this event is nothing more than a coincidence, but the Sheriff isn’t believing that. Armstrong takes the initiative and meets the Earp brothers in the street. The Earps reveal that they were in Austin advising lawmakers when Armstrong’s request for assistance arrived, and they promptly volunteered. Armstrong thanks them, but alerts the men that retired outlaw Frank James has arrived by train. The Earp brothers offer to have a drink with him inside the local saloon. Armstrong acquiesces, and the Earps cross and enter the saloon. Having overheard the entire conversation, the four boys argue over their next move; eventually taking off through the busy street to find Frank James.
Inside the saloon, the Earps marvel at the commotion their presence has caused, before recognizing Tom Horn and inviting him to share a table. He does, and the men begin chatting about the coming 20th Century. Frank James eventually arrives in the street outside, and they observe as Armstrong and the Sheriff debrief him on the current “event” of himself, the Earps, and Horn, all arriving concurrently. Then Frank follows Armstrong and the Sheriff into the saloon. After a tense moment, Frank is offered a chair and the men flow into the same round-robin discussion concerning the coming Century. Then word arrives to the Sheriff there there is a “committee” having a meeting within his office. The Sheriff and Armstrong excuse themselves, with Virgil encouraging them to “appease the public beast.”
In the street outside a small crowd of people have gathered on the sidewalk opposite to the saloon, and watch them men through windows. Among the crowd, is a young woman named Amanda Austin. She remains transfixed on the men within the saloon, until the Sheriff’s Deputy arrives on horseback. She flirts with him a moment, then directs his attention to the saloon windows. The Deputy leans from his horse to look inside and is very surprised. He instructs those on the sidewalk not to cross the street. And then addresses the same at the balcony above; which is where the four boys have perched themselves.
When the Sheriff and Armstrong arrive at the Sheriff’s office, they are confronted by an angry mob who demand action be taken against these men who these local citizens believe are behind the current rustling problem. After some volatile exchanges between the men and the locals, the “committee” is ordered to leave and not to approach the saloon. The Sheriff’s loan Deputy, having informed himself of the situation, requests further instruction. He is told to keep an eye on the roads leading into town. After he departs, Armstrong asks the Sheriff if he’s ready to return to the saloon. The Sheriff holds out his hand laterally, revealing it to be trembling.
Back in the saloon, the four boys have planted themselves on the floor around the table occupied by Virgil, James, Frank, and Tom. The men warn the boys that they will have to ignore their foul language, if they intend to stay. The boys are happy to comply, and begin asking questions. The men answer their questions in earnest for some time, discussing many of the more notable incidents and more prominent figures of the Wild West they have been associated with; with additional research provided by the author. These anecdotes include a highly detailed account given by Frank James of the James-Younger Gang’s failed bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota in 1876. And Virgil Earp’s version of the truth behind the legend about a street fight in Tombstone, today known as the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Within the larger structure of the story, these chapters are occasionally interspersed with the occasional reminder that the rustlers are still out there and planning something big. The reader is also reminded that the actual number of the rustlers is far greater than the authorities in town are aware of.
As the day goes on, the men begin to bond with the young boys. Frank James even allows J.D. to hold his pistol. Though the other men at first protest this, Frank asserts his dominance over them and they quickly recognize his ploy. At first J.D. is very excited. That is until Frank will not allow him to give the heavy instrument back. And the weight of the pistol very quickly becomes painful to the young boy, who tears up. When his arms begin to shake, J.D. attempts to place the weapon upon the floor, but Frank shouts at him. When J.D. attempts to hand the weapon to one of the other men, Tom, Virgil, and Jim each refuse it. Finally Frank relieves the young boy of the burden and begins to lecture all four boys about his own mistakes in life. All of which began with him picking up this very gun. At this point, the Sheriff and Armstrong arrive and send the four boys home before the sun goes down. They don’t want children out at the same hour Henderson had been attacked the evening before.
Meanwhile, on a rural road out of town, the Sheriff’s Deputy finds Amanda Austin walking alone and we discover that the two of them are in fact in a romantic relationship. He chides her for being alone out here, given the recent advent of criminal activity in the area. But after some brief flirting, he leaves her and moves on. Eventually, he discovers evidence of further rustling activity and investigates. When the reader last sees him, he is surrounded by the rustlers, and Raybourne fires a gun aside his eardrum, giving the Deputy a head start.
Once the four boys have left, Armstrong and the Sheriff provide Virgil and James Earp with further information regarding the current crisis. And Frank and Tom offer to assist if necessary. The lawmen thank them, but voice their hope that this will not be necessary. The four boys, meanwhile, are passing a graveyard as they exit town. J.D., still disturbed by his experience with the pistol, suddenly realizes what Frank was attempting to teach him, and comes alive again. Two miles later, the boys meet Amanda, running as fast as she can from a group of rustlers. Weighed down by a heavy object inside a potato sack tied to her wrists, she is utterly terrified and in shock. The four boys help her escape the rustlers, but are separated. Two of them go into hiding in the forest, the other two arrive at the Sheriff’s station, with Amanda. The Sheriff and Armstrong are completely taken by surprise, and very disturbed by Amanda’s condition. When they cut the rope from her wrist and look inside the potato sack, they understand. They push Amanda for the more information, and she manages to impart that a man named “Raybourne” told her to inform others to stay away from the rural area where she was attacked.
After sending the two boys and Amanda to the doctor’s office, Armstrong and the Sheriff return to the saloon and intimate to the legendary men sitting around the table that their help is needed. Virgil, Jim, Frank, and Tom waste no time. The men stand and begin loading their weapons. There is much discussion involving their plan of attack. And once the name “Raybourne” is brought up by Armstrong, Tom Horn recognizes the identity of the trail boss and relates a horrific story he heard in connection with the name. After that, the men hastily depart for the outskirts of town. Halfway to their destination, the men stop to rest their horses and reflect on their coming action on behalf of the local citizens, and as retribution for the acts of their own violent pasts. Later, they find the remains of the Deputy, and this only furthers their resolve.
The next chapter begins with a statement informing the reader that while modern law enforcement agencies have reserved comment regarding the reported events that follow, many have privately confessed a fascination with an apparent alliance between certain historical figures known for their notorious criminal acts, with those known as prominent figures in law enforcement — all for the singular purpose of retaliating against a company of horse and cattle thieves.
Arriving at the field where Tommy Henderson was left for dead the previous evening, Virgil, Frank, Jim, and Tom discover the rustlers in two separate neighboring campsites. The four men then split up: Frank and Jim approach the campsite openly seen within the field, and Virgil and Tom approach the campsite seen glowing from within the nearby forest. Frank and Jim count nineteen Rustlers in the field, and Virgil and Tom count eleven in the forest. Tom departs to scale a tree with his sniper’s rifle, leaving Virgil to confront the eleven men alone, but utilizing Tom as cover fire. After listening to the men in the field discuss their pursuit of Amanda, and boast openly about what they will do to the missing two boys when they find them later this evening, Frank fires the first shot.
A series of action set pieces follow. These include: a shootout in the field interpolated with a shootout in the forest, another shootout on horseback between Frank and Raybourne, Tom being ambushed during a thunderstorm in a ravine by eight rustlers, and Frank chasing Raybourne through a moving train. Meanwhile, the two lost boys (Foster and Mahlon) now emerge from their hiding place, revealing one of them has been shot in the ankle. After binding the wound with a shirt, the two begin the long trek into town to see the doctor. Virgil and Jim have found a cave the rustlers are using as a way station to hide supplies in, and they are left with the impression that the rustlers are working for a larger Corporation, attempting to secretly regulate an illegal cattle rustling operation. Elsewhere, when Frank finally catches up to Raybourne and has the opportunity to put him out of his misery — he instead merely taunts the rustler, before turning the tables on Raybourne by giving him a head start.
During an interim taking place in the wee hours of the morning, Virgil and Jim are seen combing the countryside, searching for the two lost boys. Tom crosses paths with Frank, who’s still chasing Raybourne. Foster and Mahlon are again seen gradually making their way back to town. Armstrong and the Sheriff are revealed to have been keeping watch on town all night, with Armstrong stationed upon a balcony, and the Sheriff down on the street on horseback. The glow of dawn can be seen through the trees.
It’s morning now. Raybourne, having been run hard by Frank for hours, makes his way into town and slides into an alley. Frank, right on his tail, makes eye-contact with Armstrong and the Sheriff, and goes searching through the alleys and back-alleys, for the rustler. One street over, two more rustlers have made it into town and break into the Sheriff’s office, taking rifles and shells. Soon Virgil and Jim arrive, make eye-contact with Armstrong, and split up. While Frank and Raybourne play a game of cat and mouse on one side of the street, the remaining two rustlers make their way up to an empty room and prepare to use the balcony to ambush anyone below. J.D. and Sean see this from within the Doctor’s office, and sneak out, hoping to assist their heroes. The two rustlers spot Frank exit an alley onto the street, and begin shooting. Frank, Virgil, and Jim each take cover. J.D. and Sean sneak around behind Frank and give him a head’s-up on the location of the two rustlers. Frank motions for them to go away. J.D. and Sean make their way onto the roof of a store, just as Raybourne exits with his arms filled with rifles, pistols, and shells.
J.D. leads Sean around the rooftop, pointing out the participants in the fight below. Across the street, Raybourne has met up with the other two rustlers in the vacant room. Once inside, he drops his additional armaments to the floor, and looks past the balcony, searching for someone in the street to shoot at. He spots the figures of J.D. and Sean at the edge of a rooftop and fires upon them instead. J.D. and Sean duck. It takes the wind out of them, and they voice concern for their friends. The two lost boys (Foster and Mahlon) are still trying to make their way into town; one barely conscious, the other utterly exhausted from the weight of his friend. One mumbles defeat, the other mumbles an argument to press on.
Back in town, the shooting continues. Tom arrives, and takes up defensive position at the end of the street. Frank and Jim run out of ammo and both momentarily retreat into the back-alley, searching for a store. They find one, and it’s the same store Raybourne raided earlier. Upon seeing the amount of armament and ammunition missing, both men quickly realize that if they don’t figure out a way to get the rustlers out of that room, that they could be up there a very long time. Frank takes a miniature barrel filled with gunpowder, a length of fuse and some matches. On their way out, the two men elect to ascend to the second floor. Once in position, they open the windows and join Armstrong, Tom, and Virgil, by continuing to shoot upon the balcony across the street. Then, they hear small footfalls on the roof above them. And soon, they look over their shoulders and find J.D. and Sean behind them.
Frank has J.D. roll him the gunpowder and orders both boys to the floor. Then he fixes the gunpowder with fuse, lights it up and hurls it across the street to the balcony, like a bowling ball. The balcony explodes and the two rustlers and Raybourne exit into the back-alley behind the building. There, they are confronted by, and shoot the Sheriff. Though one of them is killed by Tom’s rifle, the other two flee down an alley and across the street. J.D. and Sean sneak around the alleys, until running into Raybourne and the other rustler. Initially, Raybourne wants to shoot the boys, but the other rustler has another idea. There is an impromptu, quiet confrontation wherein the rustler drops a pistol to the ground and encourages J.D. to go for it, if he can move fast enough. J.D. refuses, then sees a look of shock on the rustler’s face. J.D. and Sean turn and find Jim standing behind them, with his coat tail pulled back. He instructs the boys to get down, and the rustler instructs them not to. The boys hit the dirt and Jim kills the rustler, leaving only Raybourne, who attempts to flee. But reaching the street, he meets Frank and drops the only pistol he has left.
A crowd is gathering. As the town doctor exits his office, Amanda and Tommy Henderson exit along with him. Henderson’s appearance is shocking. He’s had a stroke and one side of his face and body are left mostly immobile. In broken English he pleads for Frank to kill the Rustler. Frank looks around at all the locals now gawking, and no longer wanting to be seen as a murderer, decides to send Raybourne back to his employer with a message. That is until there are gasps and screams, and Frank turns to find Foster and Mahlon in the street behind him, desperate for help. Seeing the two boys horrifies everyone. Frank revises his strategy and fires upon Raybourne. Tom, Virgil, and Jim also fire upon Raybourne. But when it stops, everyone is surprised to find Amanda has commandeered a rifle, and is still firing upon the body, keeping it momentarily aloft. Tom puts his arms around, and she stops. She cries with a stone cold expression on her face. A moment passes, and Tommy Henderson walks over and pisses in the face of the corpse.
That afternoon, wagons filled with workers are returning and the men are going straight for pitchers of water set up by the Sheriff. Among the men are Frank, Virgil, Jim and Tom — all of whom quietly confer with the Sheriff over the burial of all rustler bodies in the cave. They’ve also brought back the Deputy’s body for a decent burial.
Late in the afternoon, the four men are preparing to leave. They’ve had heir clothes cleaned and they’ve wired friends or relatives. As they make their way to the train station, they stop by to see the four boys one last time. The men shake hands with their parents, and suggest that the four boys walk with them to the train station. Two of the boys are now on crutches, so Frank and Tom lift them onto their shoulders. As they walk along, the men notice everyone is staring. Humored by this, Frank begins extolling tall-tales of how these four boys greatly assisted in dispatching the rustlers. The other men quickly realize his ploy, and begin doing the same. The boys, of course, are in heaven.
Arriving at the train station, the men say their goodbyes to the four boys, and Frank gives J.D. a hand drawn map of Northfield, Minnesota as a souvenir. The men walk to board the train, and discuss next move. They’re going after the men these rustlers were working for. Once in their seats, they have a laugh at their overnight experience, and when asked by a rail employee for their destination, Frank replies, “Chicago.”
Keeping with the novel’s false document style, there are several short paragraphs relating the fates of the principal characters in the story.