The trial was fixed. The judge knew it. The rancher had the town buffaloed. The jury would deliver the verdict the rancher wanted.
The judge was concerned that the rancher’s rowdies would use the verdict for a lynching. The rancher didn’t want any more nesters around. The nester’s wife was a good-looking woman, and the judge worried that the rancher had ideas about her as well.
The rancher had cut the fence and run his herd over the nester’s crops. Finding it hard to feed his family, a wife and two kids, the nester had killed one of the rancher’s steers. The rancher had him up on rustling.
When the ranger passed through the town, the judge asked him to stay, though it meant a cold trail for the outlaw he was tracking. Nothing like a ranger on hand to prevent a lynching, and the judge made his point that forestalling a crime was better than chasing after a man who had already committed one.
The town’s reverend would have liked to have stood up for the nester, but he could not. The rancher was a big donor to the church, having supplied the resources to build it. The town store was dependent on the rancher’s business. The saloon didn’t want any trouble. But a couple of townspeople spoke up for the nester, asking how big a crime it was to kill a steer to feed a starving family.
The answer was that if everyone was so shiftless as to live off other people’s property, there would be nothing left of the country.
With this question dealt with, the next was what would become of the wife and kids if the man of the family was sent to prison. This was a touchy question. Kids have to be fed, and the town had no job for the woman. The store was run by the owner and his wife. The bank had a teller/clerk. The hotel hadn’t enough customers for a full-time maid.
The general consensus was that either the rancher would get her or she would set up above the saloon to entertain the customers.
When the judge explained the situation to the ranger, the ranger was perturbed.
Rangers were hard men who had no qualms about killing outlaws and Indians, but they were protective toward women and children. That the law was being used to ruin a man and his family didn’t sit well. The ranger rode for the law, but not this kind of law.
The ranger told the judge that he couldn’t sit in the town forever to protect a man from lynching. The judge said the solution was for the ranger to take the nester and his family back to the state capital after the trial. There was a prison there, and the larger town provided better opportunities for the woman. The judge would write a letter to the ranger’s captain explaining that he had asked the ranger to prevent a lynching and the ruination of a woman.
The ranger agreed. He was happy not to have to bring in the outlaw. The man had been pushed into crime and didn’t really belong there. A fresh start, and he would come out alright.
The trial went like the judge feared it would. The jury delivered its guilty verdict while the rancher and rowdies leered at the wife.
Jaws dropped when the judge announced that the ranger would be taking the convict to the state prison and that the nester’s family would be escorted to the capital.
Angry looks shot the ranger’s way but were quickly arrested by the contempt in the ranger’s eyes, inviting them to give him an excuse. One way for the ranger to settle this was to plug the rancher, but the rancher wanted none of it and sat on his anger. So what if he didn’t get the woman? He had finished off the nester.
On the way back the ranger made up his mind that he was not delivering the nester to prison. He thought the judge would agree, and he worked out his story in his mind.
An attack by Comanche renegades who wanted the woman and children. Sending the family fleeing, the ranger held off the Indians. A prisoner was lost, but a family was saved.
New Orleans was a growing port, the ranger said, and there was work for stevedores.
The ranger filed his report. The captain said, “Just one thing. You must have used quite a bit of ammunition holding off those Comanches, but you didn’t put in for a box of ammo.”
“Oh, sure, captain,” the ranger replied, “I forgot. Afraid I’m not much count at paperwork.”