John Joseph Adam’s latest anthology is Dead Man’s Hand, and it includes a story by me called ‘Sundown.’ It’s a Weird Western based on what we know of the true story of Willie Kennard, Yankee Hill’s Black Marshal. Some snipped details of the start of his career:
After pausing momentarily to size up his quarry, Kennard moved toward Casewit’s table. Casewit and his cronies really thought it hilarious when Kennard told him he was under arrest. I’m just supposed to come with you? Casewit asked innocently. Where are we supposed to go? When Kennard told him it was his choice, either jail or hell, Casewit knew the new lawman was not bluffing.
Casewit got to his feet and, not heeding Kennard’s last-chance warning to give up peaceably, reached for the Colt .44s at his sides. The badman had barely gotten his hands on the butts when, according to Corgan, Kennard did something only talked about in legend but never before actually seen by anyone in Gaylor’s Saloon. Kennard drew his revolver and fired into Casewit’s still holstered Colts. The impact of the bullets knocked the butts out of Casewit’s hands. The shots almost ripped the holsters from his gunbelt and rendered his guns totally useless. Two of Casewit’s companions, Ira Goodrich and Sam Betts, decided this would be a propitious moment to make their moves on behalf of their friend. They were dead wrong. Kennard dropped them both with clean shots between the eyes as they drew, their guns barely clearing leather. Casewit’s hands instantly went straight up. He was taking no chances lest Kennard think he also might try something.
Casewit was found guilty of raping Birdie Campbell and sentenced to hang. Not wanting to waste time and money building a gallows, Corgan instructed Kennard to nail a crossbar to an old pine behind Glen Ritchey’s blacksmith shop. Casewit’s hands were tied behind his back, and a noose was looped around his neck. Kennard pulled him up about 10 feet off the ground. Casewit tried to delay his demise by wrapping his legs around the tree trunk and shinnying up it. He only succeeded in prolonging his agony. After about 20 minutes, the strength in his legs gave out. Releasing his grip, Casewit could only dangle helplessly as the rope slowly strangled him to death.
Kennard is the sort of gunslinging hero that Hollywood always tries to envision, but Kennard’s story will probably not be on the big screen anytime soon due to the same reason he was initially not taken seriously by the denizens of Yankee Hill.
Ever since coming across his story due to a chance reference on the show Justified, I’d wanted an excuse to write about Willie Kennard. I hope my story in Dead Man’s Hand is a good toast to a man who should be way more of a legend than he is.
I talk some more about the story in my interview at the anthology’s website.