To: Mr. Jedediah Simpson
San Franciso Chronicle
San Francisco, California
As I promised in my telegraph to you of October 1st, I’m recounting, on behalf of Mr. Buck Henry, events having transpired at the transfer station outside of Abilene, Texas. As I intimated in my brief telegram to you at the Chronicle, I was en route to Tombstone, Arizona to join some associates of mine.
As you are no doubt aware, poor health has somewhat constrained my activities. Advice rendered by reputable physicians of my acquaintance convinced me that the climate west of the Rockies would have an ameliorative effect on my condition. To that end, I embarked on a westward journey.
My skill and fondness for card play provided me a reputable profession that kept me in good stead. My skill with firearms likewise allowed me the means to retain the fruits of my labors. However, my abilities with a six shooter are not apropos to the following narrative.
My first encounter with Buck Henry took place at the Wells Fargo transfer station near Abilene, Texas on or about the 28th of August. The stage stopped to take on fresh horses and to allow the passengers to stretch their legs. I spied a prominent well due west of the station, and took a short promenade in that direction.
A large man, his back to me, sat on the lip of the well, facing west in the direction of the setting sun. I walked up to the well, and chanced to hear what sounded like a chirping sound from the depths. Another man, who I later learned was Mr. Henry, was calling out the name “Tiger”, poking amongst the desert scrub, apparently searching for a lost pet.
I don’t usually engage in idle conversation outside saloons, unless I’m among friends. Mr. Henry’s tireless search for his small companion caused in me an uncharacteristic stirring of compassion, an emotional liability I had constrained to cleanse from my character. I became predisposed to inquire on the nature of this fruitless search.
“Young man, for what, or who, do you search?”
“Oh, good aftr’noon sir! Might kind of you ta ask. I’m look’n for my friend Tiger, he’s a big yellah cat, been missing since the last stage. My name’s Buck Henry. Tiger ‘n me kinda had to make a quick exit from Dodge City a while back, on accoun a them Dorland brothers and me hav’n a slight disagreement.”
I had heard this tale when I was in Dodge City, but I assured myself that under no circumstances could such a tall tale ever have the stamp of truth on it.
“You’re saying that you are the Buck Henry who managed to lure the Dorland gang into a vat of lard?”
“Oh, well, yes sir, I guess that’s me. But I’s got to tell you sir, I was clear’d by the sheriff, an Big Mike was a witness too. If you’re a friend a theirs mister, it weren’t nothing personal, well, it’s gist that I was drink’n with Tiger and I was most like’ly a might rambunctious my own self.”
“Mr. Henry, if what you say is true, and I now suspect that it is, I would like to extend my hand of friendship to you. I most certainly was not a friend of the Dorland gang. The manner in which I was told the story caused me such joy; I was compelled to laugh the heartiest laugh I’ve had in all my twenty-some years.”
“Well I’ll be! Yes sir, well sir, I’m a mighty glad I caused you some happy moments sir! Trouble is, I’m a mighty attached to Tiger and so far I gots no idea where that darn cat is!”
“Mr. Henry, I might have a clue as to the location of your friend. I heard some small chirps from the depths of the well. Did you have occasion to search there?”
“Well…no sir, that well is a might deep, and Tiger don’t like no water, being as he’s a cat ‘n all. I s’pose I better stick my head in there and see!”
Mr. Henry approached the well. The man who had been sitting on the lip of the well had disappeared, as my back was turned to him while I was discoursing with Mr. Henry. The thought of the man’s whereabouts crossed my mind, and it should have. I recall thinking that I did not see such a gentleman on the stage, which meant he had been at the transfer station since the last stage of a week before.
Mr. Henry was by now calling into the well. Sure enough, the cat answered him with a waleful mourning. Mr. Henry lowered the water bucket into the depths, all the while calling out to his companion that all would be well.
I’m not sure Mr. Henry recognized the double meaning of his calls of affection to his beloved friend, and rather than strike me as humorous, they deepened my appreciation for his simple, genuine character.
“Now Tiger, you gist git in that there bucket, all right? Tiger, you in there? Climb on there Tiger!”
Apparently, his feline friend accomplished the feat of entering the water bucket, as Mr. Henry began slowly and carefully turning the handle on the take-up spool over the well until his damp companion saw daylight for the first time in many days.
If I had been a more compassionate man, at least one or two tears would have moistened the corner of my eyes as Mr. Henry grabbed hold of his dear friend.
From my vantage point, Mr. Henry’s tears and the pronounced purring of his striped companion while he licked Mr. Henry’s face would have given the Lord himself a better view of the Race of Man than it might have otherwise deserved.
Mr. Henry dropped the bucket just west of the lip of the well, and approached me, crying and thanking me for the sage advice I had rendered to him, thereby causing the discovery of his closest traveling companion. As I gazed upon this gentle soul walking towards me, the large man who had previously disappeared had just now reappeared in front of the well.
Mr. Henry’s cat was draped over his shoulder, facing the man, whose face was lit up by the setting sun. The cat began hissing, somewhat uncontrollably. Mr. Henry, visibly confused, tried to reassure his feline friend, but the animal was becoming more agitated.
What poor Mr. Henry did not know, but I suspected, was that the unfortunate creature was reacting to the man near the well. I have been forced, by my profession, to take a keen interest in the character of people I encountered, and had quickly acquired the ability to size up an opponent’s nature and intentions.
I was witnessing this same ability in Mr. Henry’s yellow haired partner, and I took the cat’s preoccupation with the man to be a cause for concern. Instinctively, I placed my hand near my revolver.
“Doggone it Tiger, I gist got you outa that well, and now you’re all riled up! What’s got into you?”
Presently, I recognized the man. He was a member of the Cowboys, a gang of rustlers, horse thieves, murderers and scoundrels I took great exception to. I expect, the man recognized me as well. Inasmuch as circumstances decide outcomes, the Cowboy in front of me began to draw his weapon.
The cat in Mr. Henry’s arms now realigned its nature to its feral roots, leaping out of Mr. Henry’s embrace and bounding in the direction of the Cowboy gunman. Confused, the Cowboy had two targets to contend with, as well as the setting sun in his eyes. That confluence of events caused the scoundrel a moment’s hesitation, which proved to be his undoing.
The Cowboy’s reflexes were such that he backed away from the rapidly advancing wild cat intent on sinking its fangs deep into his throat. As luck would have it, Mr. Henry’s inadvertent placement of the well bucket caused the leviathan Cowboy to stumble backwards, tumbling headfirst down the deep well.
There was a loud splash, then silence. Tiger the cat flew up to the lip of the well and continued hissing. Mr. Henry ran towards the well, distraught that his dear friend might end up again in the deep pit.
There was naught of danger for the animal, as any casual observer of nature knows how sure footed cats are. The poor beast only wanted to guarantee the final disposition of the rogue who now occupied the very prison the cat had just been rescued from.
Mr. Henry and I reached the lip of the well at about the same time. We both called into the depths, simply to see if the man might still be alive. Again, silence. Attaching a bale hook in place of the bucket at the end of the rope, Mr. Henry and I managed to snag the remains of the man, and retrieved, with great difficulty, his lifeless body from the watery grave.
Providence smiled on the innocent that day. The caretaker of the station, a Mr. Glumly, and several of the stage’s passengers witnessed this singular chain of events. All noted the condition of the body, that being that the assumed Mr. Smith had a clearly broken neck, and several partially healed claw marks across his face and neck.
Mr. Glumly kindly dug a shallow grave for the would be assassin, and did me the great favor of signing, along with those present, an affidavit I constructed testifying as to the circumstances of the man’s unfortunate accident.
Mr. Glumly then recounted his apprehensions about the Cowboy, and recalled to all present how the man, who identified himself to Mr. Glumly as Peter Smith (obviously an alias), complained loudly about the cat, but out of Mr. Henry’s hearing.
Mr. Glumly told Mr. Smith that he didn’t want no trouble, and subsequently Mr. Smith threatened Mr. Glumly with a good pistol whipping, if not something worse and more permanent.
Mr. Glumly further suspected, with good reason, that the disappearance of Mr. Henry’s cat was a direct result of Mr. Smith’s actions. Mr. Smith, presumably with some forethought, did not want to alert Mr. Henry to the possibility that he had disposed of Mr. Henry’s companion, which I thought, would have predisposed Mr. Smith to killing not only Mr. Henry, but Mr. Glumly as well. Since he might well have used his true name on the last stage run, the passenger manifest would have easily identified the culprit.
I suspected, and others present arrived at a similar conclusion, that Mr. Smith had thrust the unfortunate beast into the well when Mr. Henry was asleep. The feral animal inflicted severe wounds on his attacker before being deposited into the pit. Luckily for the cat, the bottom of the well concealed a large boulder, a small portion of which arose above the surface.
The fortunate feline must have landed in the deeper portion, suffering nothing more than an aqueous indignity in the pool, and ostensibly hauled itself onto the dry boulder, hoping for eventual rescue.
The unlucky fate of Mr. Smith was such that he landed on the boulder’s upraised surface, causing his neck to break and his spine to snap. There was no other plausible explanation.
Mr. Henry, now reunited with his furry companion, alighted the stage coach with me and the rest of the passengers. Soon, the rhythmic swaying of the compartment lulled everyone to sleep, including Tiger, who curled himself into a ball of fur in Mr. Henry’s lap.
Mr. Henry, after some time, awoke for a few moments, and apologized to me.
“For what possible reason do you have to apologize to me, Mr. Henry?”
“Well sir, I had a bad lapse of memry! I ‘member I was about to git your name when Tiger jumped outa my arms. Then I plum forgot about it! I just wanted to know the name of d’ man who helped me and Tiger so much.”
I then told Mr. Henry my name. His eyes got wide, and then he smiled and thanked me, saying he considered me a true friend. Soon, he was asleep again.
For the sake of a gentle, pure soul like Buck Henry, I was indeed proud to be his (and Tiger’s) friend for life.
Very Truly Yours,
John Henry “Doc” Holliday
Tombstone, Arizona Territories
October 15th, 1881