The flames danced menacingly licking up the night sky; as the town of Lawrence, Kansas came under attack.
Everywhere you looked properties were burning; billowing black smoke filled the air and the dank decrepit smell of the smoldering fire wafted, usurping the smells of the city.
Men and women escaping with their children; many were mere tots, scattered about in various stages of undress.
They were murdered; shot down like dogs as they fled the raging inferno.
Some families had just sacked in for the night. Having finished their nightly victuals and recitement of the Lords prayer.
Only to be awakened to Dantes Inferno.
Watching as their sons, daughters, husbands and wives were gunned down. Looking on in a state of moral confusion.
William Clarke Quantrill was the leader of the guerilla force that committed this heinous attack on the town of Lawrence.
A former school teacher and Confederate fighter, he commanded an army of renegades that consisted of 450 riders.
Quantrill’s Raiders began as a dozen men harrying Union soldiers and sympathizers along the Kansas – Missouri border.
By the time of their 1863 strike in Lawrence, the group had expanded to its current 450 riders.
The city of Lawrence was notable for its abolitionist leanings.
Quantrill a former school teacher before the Civil War was also a recalcitrant gambler and a wanted horse thief.
He had enthusiastically joined the Confederate Army at the outbreak of the Civil War, but early in the war he formed his own guerilla band to harass Union troops, and to destabilize their supporters.
The Union declared Quantrill an outlaw while the Confederacy promoted him to the rank of Captain.
Quantrill’s Raiders murdered 183 men, women and children that day; in front of their families.
Burnt the whole city of Lawrence to a smoldering dust and blackened ruin.
Soon Union retaliation forced the Raiders to break up into smaller groups.
In Missouri, some thought of them as folk heroes, but to the Union they were vicious renegades and needed to be excised from this world.
Like a tick needs to be extracted from under one’s skin. Lest it take more blood.
President Lincoln had sent out a proxy to the Lawrence Kansas government officials.
The Federal Government would provide a heavy bounty to anyone responsible for the capture or killing of William Clarke Quantrill.
There were not many who thought this task even remotely possible; in fact, the general consensus of the times was that one must be completely detached from the constraints of his own mind to be fixin to mess around with the likes of Quantrill and his Raiders.
Sort of like sticking your hand in a vipers nest!
What possible good could come out of that!
Yessiree, that’s what most folks believed. ‘Cepting one.
The beautiful black steed immediately stopped eating from the grass and trotted towards his trusted companion.
It was a wonderful sunny morning.
The sunlight flicking through the glistening tree leaves as if delivering a message that the day was filled with possibilities.
Black Bart was ready for some tracking.
He reckoned he was getting closer to Quantrill and his men.
He was calm in his demeanor and had the conviction that they would pay for what they done.
Though he knew Quantrill’s Raiders were a murderous bunch, he felt confident.
As long as he had Nightrider, he felt sure of his chances, as the steed would lead him into battle.
His black mane shining in the wind; muscular legs galloping down the distance to his enemies at breakneck speed, having the effect of terrorizing most men into simple surrender.
Quantrill’s Raiders, he knew, would never surrender and so be it.
They had made their keep and now he was there to make them pay.
Black Bart could not abide what Quantrill and his men had done to those innocent families.
He owed it to his Ma and Pa; his little sis Catey who all had been murdered by the callous cowards.
Scum like Quantrill and his men.
He knew when the time came he would be ready.
He would uphold the law.
Black Bart knew that as sure as the sun rose in the eastern skies in the morning; there would be evil to contend with in this here world.
But as long as there were men like him; not afraid to confront evil and get up in its face, decent folks had a fighting chance.
He knew it was a fight he could die for, but one that needed him to keep on living.
He was just a days ride from Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
That was where Brigadier General Carleton’s intelligence had Quantrills and his mens last known whereabouts.
He’s find out soon.
He jumped onto the saddle of the great steed and said, “C’mon Nightrider, we gots some business needs tending to.”
Riding on the trail to Hoptown as it was known by the locals; Black Bart entertained remembrances of his family.
Tending to the farm with his Pa; his Ma cooking for him and teaching him how to read and write.
He later found out was a crime for it was illegal to teach a Negro to read and write.
Especially if the teacher was your Negro momma.
What kind of tomfoolery law was that?
He knew that even the law needed fixing in these here crazy times.
His lil sis Catey, oh what a beautiful and innocent young lass.
How he missed playing and laughing with her so.
He didn’t usually spend much time on memories as they could get in the way.
It was Nightrider who had lifted him through these terrible times.
The long rides and constant companionship of the black horse had kept him whole.
There is a certain symbiotic nature between a man and his horse.
Nightrider made Black Bart feel invincible; that he could overcome any obstacles with his steed by his side.
He knew that without the horse he would have never came out from these desperate and dark times.
Nightrider in turn was preternaturally calm around Black Bart; as if he knew no matter what the danger, Black Bart would lead them through it.
He’d always felt comfortable in black.
With his big black cowboy hat, riding atop Nightrider, his was a formidable presence.
Tall and angular with a thinly muscled powerful physique; Black Bart looked like the epitome of a handsome devil.
‘Cepting he was no devil, but the best dang sheriff the West had ever seen.
It was almost night time when they arrived near Hoptown.
Hoptowns towns folk had increased during the last few years due to the Homestead Act.
The Federal Government had proposed free land to settlers in order to expand and strengthen the nation. Although most homesteaders settled in the Western Plains they inhabited 30 states in all.
Somewhere in this town Black Bart was hoping to find Quantrill and his men.
Black Bart was passing through a big ole field with a house on one side while directly across from it was a barn.
He stopped near the barn; dismounted Nightrider and led him to a trough which was filled with water.
There was a clump of hay doled out beside it.
Nightrider was thirsty and got to lapping up the water.
Black Bart decided to go out by the trees to relieve himself.
He finished and started to zip his pants when: Click! Click!, a Winchester rifle was staring him right in the face.
“We don’t welcome darkies and horse thiefs’ around these parts too kindly.”
It was a woman’s voice.
“State your name and your business and don’t ye think for a second I won’t blow ye to bits,” said the determined looking lass.
Black Bart turned to the woman with his hands up and said, “Names Black Bart. I’m a sheriff Ma’am.”
“I’m looking for the Quantrill gang.
“I was hired by the Governor.”
“I’m sorry if I was trespassing on your property.”
“Just me and my horse Nightrider been riding all day.”
“You’ve got a badge,” said the woman.
“Of course Ma’am.” replied Black Bart.
Black Bart pulled aside his black leather coat to show the woman his sheriffs badge.
“Sorry to make our acquaintances like this Sheriff Black Bart but there’s a lot of horse thieves running around these parts, said the woman.
“And excuse my candor but I ain’t never known any Negro Sheriffs before.”
“Seeing as it’s only me and my daughter; my husband was killed in the war, I have to take matters into my own hands.”
“That’s okay Ma’am.”
“You can call me Black Bart.”
“Horse thiefs’ should be shot if they be stealing from a woman and her daughter,” said Black Bart.
“I’d shoot them for you.”
She cast him a funny look as if she liked what she saw.
“We need more of your kind around here Mr. Black Bart,” said the woman.
“Seems like outlaws been getting the jump on the law since I can remember,” she posited.
“Well anyways would you like a cup o’ hot tea and some biscuits.”
“Thanks Ma’am, I’d be much obliged,” replied Black Bart.
“Stop with that Ma’am stuff, the woman replied.
“My names Sarah.”
“You making me feel like an old coot with all that Ma’am talk.”
They sat at a big round wooden table in the kitchen area.
Black Bart had noticed pictures of Sarah’s husband in his Union uniform displayed.
“He was a Union soldier,” she said.
“Good man just stuck in that damn war like everybody else.”
Black Bart decided he would keep his days as a Union soldier to himself.
It was too disappointing to talk about.
“War will make a good man do things he wouldn’t ever think of doing elsewhere,” said Black Bart.
“Miss Sarah, you haven’t seen any new folks in town or anything peculiar like,” he asked.
“Well I have noticed some new folks moved into old Willie’s place.”
“Willie passed on to a better place about 2 months ago.”
“Some folks are better off dead than they was alive, you know,” said Sarah.
“Well I was coming from town and I noticed some strange looking fellows acting like they was having themselves a hoosegow,” Sarah continued.
“They was drinking moonshine; real loudlike and shooting off their guns.
“Some ornery looking fellows”
“I never goes that way anymore,” replied Sarah.
“Come to think of it they was flying a Confederate flag,” she remembered.
“How far would that be,” asked Black Bart.
“Just follow the creak down yonder,” she pointed out her window.
“It’ll lead you right to Wino Willie’s ranch,” said Sarah.
“Much obliged, Ma’am, I’ll have to get going,” said Black Bart.
Black Bart hurried outside to Nightrider; jumped on his horse and said, “I think we’ve found our quarry Nightrider.”
“We’re gonna ride in nice and easy like.”
Black Bart rode Nightrider down the creek until finally there was a clearing, and just down the hill he saw the rickety looking ranch.
From the dilapidated house smoke was rising from the chimney.
He’d have to go in and take a closer look.
A man came outside of the house and was rolling a cigarette.
Black Bart guided Nightrider gently behind some trees.
He slowly grabbed for his binoculars in Nightrider’s saddle, careful not to attract attention to himself.
He heard a cracking noise; twigs breaking and before he could turn around to look there was a Remington revolver pushed up against the back of his head!
“Well, Well!,” said a man.
“We got ourselves a snooper,” said the high pitched man’s voice.
“Ain’t nobody gets past Maddox son, especially no shine.”
“You fixin’ to meet your maker boy.”
“Got anythings to say before I sends you to Kingdom come.”
Black Bart turned and realized it was George Maddox.
Quantrill’s notorious scout.
A murderous thug who enjoyed killing.
Like it was a sport.
He could tell it was Maddox by the fancy coat he wore and the feathered hat that looked more like it was made for a woman.
Maddox was known for his audacious attire.
“You got the drop on me Maddox but the Lord don’t like ugly.” yelled Black Bart.
“Get!”, he screamed towards Nightrider.
Nightrider like a thunderbolt from the sky charged at Maddox and sent him hurtling to the ground.
Maddox’s fancy feather tipped cowboy hat lay besides him.
His stolen cavalry boots were splayed out in front of him.
Groaning in agony he yelled, ” Oh my God, my daggoned arm!”
His right arm was contorted in an unnatural position.
“I told you the Lord don’t like ugly Maddox,” said Black Bart.
“You’re going straight to hell,” yelled Black Bart as he shot Maddox dead.
Gunshots now rang out from the nearby house.
Black Bart jumped on Nightrider and yelled, “Get!”
The black steed raced across the field towards the house.
The man with the cigarette was firing at him as he approached.
His face registered a surprised look; when Nightrider leapt over the fence in the backyard and Black Bart shot him dead instantly in mid-air with a bullet right between the forehead.
He continued riding Nightrider to cover behind the barn.
Five men took off at that moment from the front of the house and jumped on their horses and fled.
They let off some warning shots and a huge skyward lifting cloud of dust formed from the rain of bullets.
Black Bart saw smoke pouring out the windows of the house.
They had set it on fire.
There might be some innocent folks inside.
He had to go see.
He ran to the backyard to check on the man he had killed there after dismounting Nightrider and hitching him to a tree.
As he got closer he knew it was William Clarke Quantrill.
He could tell by the thick handlebar mustache along with the long Fu Manchu beard.
This was the same man as the one in the photographs that General Carleton had shown him.
So after all this time him leading the Raiders; they just done run off on him, thought Black Bart.
He went inside the burning house to see if he could ascertain any hostages or details which might give some information about the men who fled.
There was a wallet left by a bed-stand in one of the rooms.
He grabbed it and put it in his pocket making sure it was securely inside.
Then he placed it inside Nightrider’s saddle pouch.
He stayed there for quite a while watching the house burn.
The end of Quantrill seemed strangely satisfying.
He thought that Providence must have wanted it this way.
He ripped off Quantrill’s Confederate captains badge and picked him up and carried him onto Nightrider’s saddle and secured him to the great black steed.
He thought to how at least Quantrill would have a decent funeral something he had denied all of his victims.
He whispered into Nightrider’s ear, ” He’s going where his kind belongs.”
“He won’t be bothering us no more.”
Black Bart met the Governor of Kansas a week later.
He asked him if they had ascertained who the man in the photo of his next quarry was.
“Yes we have, Sheriff Black Bart,” said the Governor.
“His information is all right here.”
He handed Black Bart a letter.
Black Bart glanced over the letter and thanked the Governor.
Told him he best be on his way.
He jumped on Nightrider’s saddle and gently leaned over to whisper in the big black horse’s ear.
“We’ve got ourselves a new quarry Nightrider and his name is Jesse James.”