Over the holidays, I was pleased to receive the proof/review copies of Contention and Other Frontier Stories, which includes my short story “A Grave Too Many.” It is always a thrill to get something published, but to be included in an anthology with so many fine writers and Spur Award winners is indeed a great honor. Coincidentally, Contention is scheduled for release on my birthday in May.
“A Grave Too Many” is one of two short stories I had accepted last year for future anthologies. Over the years I’ve written a few short stories, including most notably “One Man’s Word” in the short-lived Louis L’Amour Western Magazine back in the 1990s.
Even so I’ve had more books published than short stories, which I find harder to write, just because every word counts and must contribute to the ultimate resolution of the plot. You’ve got a lot more wiggle room in writing a novel.
While I was cleaning out some old files from my youth, I came across what I think to be the first western short story I ever wrote. Though the tale’s not dated, I suspect it was written when I was between the ages of 12 and 14. It’s named “Moonshine Potter” and told in the first person like my Memoirs of H.H. Lomax series. Too, there are touches of humor in the piece. So, without further ado, I present my first western short story as corrected for spelling and punctuation:
My name is Moonshine Potter. As I guess you know, I’m the sheriff of Coffin. That’s a town in Texas. The population is 629. Wait just a minute, the undertaker wants to see me. Now as I was saying, the population was 629, but now it’s 628.
Well, I guess I had better go find the murderer of John McGraw. He was the swingingest guitar player in town. First, let me find Messy Names. He’s the fastest draw in town. I found him.
“Messy,” I says, “I got reason to believe you killed John McGraw.”
“Now, Moonshine, you know I’ve got his autographed picture hanging on the wall of my shack,” Messy replied.
“Well, I’m coming back with a warrant of arrest,” I said menacingly.
Well, I got the warrant of arrest from the judge and went to find Messy. I found him in the saloon drinking a bottle of rust solvent.
“Here’s the warrant of arrest,” I said
“I’ve got an alibi,” said Messy.
“What?” I asked.
“That was the day I shot Jim Long for stealing my garbage,” he said.
Well, I arrested Messy. He said he was going to appeal to the judge, and he did, but it didn’t help. His lawyer lectured about the whole affair. I observed Messy was perfectly calm during the trial. He was found guilty of murder. If he would have surveyed the jury closely, he would have found out they were all McGraw’s brothers.
Well, the city folks broke into the jail and hung Messy in the orchard under a slender oak tree for his offenses.
One day I saw the only man in the world who would want to kill McGraw. I induced him to talk. He said he had chartered McGraw to play at his square dance, but he didn’t and you know the rest. So, I arrested Buffalo Hill.
Although Hill had an expert lawyer, he too was hung.
Today the inscription on Messy Names’ tombstone reads, “Hung by Mistake. Guess the Joke’s on Us.”
There you have it. Perhaps you now understand why I have written more novels than short stories. Even so, the movie rights are available for “Moonshine Potter.”