May 5, 1896
They say the fundamental job of strike breakers is to drive dissention into the ranks. If Laura and I are any indication, they are succeeding. Since father and I were arrested, my family has become a bit of the outcasts in town. Father still commands the respect of the miners but it is clear the respect of the townsfolk is waning.
“You know you’re the first woman to have ever spent the night in the jailhouse?” Laura asked.
We sat under a rocky outcropping where we had a nice view of the town from afar. Our horses stood nearby enjoying the break from our afternoon ride.
“Yes, I know.” I replied with the hint of a smile on my lips.
“It’s not a badge of honor, Sarah. You should be ashamed.”
“Why? I did nothing wrong. In fact, my stint in jail has exposed our sheriff for the louse he is.”
“That’s not what I hear. You slapped him just because he asked you to leave! You sullied the good man’s reputation for not.”
“Considering there was the sheriff and me in the room and no one else, I wonder what gossiper knows better.”
“Maybe the sheriff!”
Laura kicked a cloud of red dirt at me as she got up from her perch.
“You’d believe that scoundrel over me?”
“Why shouldn’t I? He’s a good and respectable man and you expect me to believe he’s acting improperly. What next, you gonna tell me my father is a louse too cause he doesn’t agree with your father?”
"My problems with the sheriff aren’t over political disagreements, Laura. For God’s sake you must see he’s corrupt!”
“What I see is you and your father stirring up the kind of trouble none of us need. My father says we’d all be better off if the two of you were still locked up.”
“Does he now? And what’s our crime against him?”
“How about keeping him out of work when times are already tough.”
“Nobody’s stopping him from speaking out against the strike.”
“Only your father!”
“He’s not like that.”
“Open your eyes, your father has every miner in this town intimidated. Otherwise they’d all be working like normal, like they always have.”
“My father is one man, the majority of the miners agree with him and it’s as simple as that. If they don’t do something, a lot more good men like Uncle Mike are going to die in those tunnels.”
“Mining is dangerous work. Nothing will change that.”
“Maybe something can.”
“You live in a nice fantasy. When you come back down to where the rest of us live..”
We both jumped as we heard the noise of someone approaching. It was getting dark and the noise reminded me vividly of my encounter in the woods only a few weeks back. Looking around my eyes settled on the intruder. This time it was vermin of the human kind.
“Look what we’ve found.”
I recognized the speaker as part of William Howe’s gang of trouble. I vaguely recalled seeing him in the hotel when delivering laundry the first afternoon they were in town. The other man I had a more vivid recollection of as he was the shirtless ape whom Laura had fixated on in the hall.
The two men walked purposefully toward us. No doubt they had rode up, but their horses were nowhere to be seen. Fleetingly, I wondered how they had known where to find us.
“Lookin like a couple of coal miners’ daughters.” Ape man said.
“Don’t they know it’s dangerous to go about unescorted?”
I stood and dusted myself off. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled.
“Good afternoon.” I interjected myself into their conversation.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Ape man began.
“Probably.” I muttered just under my breath.
“It’s little Miss Waters.” He finished, oblivious to my comment.
“You have us at a disadvantage, sir.” Laura spoke up as she walked between the men and me.
“Franklin Jones at your service, but you can call me Frankie, Miss Topper isn‘t it?” The ape said.
Laura fluttered her eyelashes and giggled whilst nodding her head too vigorously. I picked up on the telltale signs of nervousness from her. No doubt it was far from my imagination that these men were trouble. If Laura thought so too then we were most definitely in a bad spot.
“Jackson Boxer.” The ape’s companion nodded.
“What brings you gents all the way out here?” I queried.
“We heard there were angels in these hills.” Jackson snickered.
“Only things I’ve ever seen out here are wolves and rocks.” I replied.
“Maybe you ain’t looking in the right places.” Frankie said.
“Maybe we just don’t see things in the same light.” I said.
He grinned at me. I think the devil himself would have looked less menacing.
“I remember the first time I saw you two little ladies.” Frankie said, changing the subject.
“I remember the day.” Laura blushed.
“Seems like I was half naked on account of you two having my laundry.”
“Yes.” Laura replied.
“I think you two owe me for that.” His face turned dark.
“We didn’t soil your laundry, Mr. Jones.” I said.
The two men stepped closer to us. Laura and I backed up until our backs pressed against the rock.
“You’ve seen my chest, let’s see yours!” Frankie said greedily.
He grabbed hold of Laura and started tearing at her dress. Laura screamed and slapped him in the face twice. He grabbed hold of both her arms and shoved her back into the rock, hitting her head.
“Leave her alone!” I shouted and kicked him in the shins.
Jackson kicked my feet from under me and pinned me to the ground.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get your turn too.” He said.
I could no longer see Laura with Jackson on top of me but I could hear her cries. My struggles to free myself were in vain, Jackson was simply too big and too strong. I heard the awful sound of fabric tearing and then a heart wrenching sob from my friend.
“Please God, No!” She begged.
The men laughed.
Jackson looked back over his shoulder to watch. It was then I realized the convenient placement of my legs. With all the force I could muster I brought my right knee up hard into his groin.
Jackson grunted at first and moaned while turning his focus back to me. He let go of my left arm and pulled back his fist to strike. I brought my knee up a second time throwing him off balance and sending a new wave of pain through his body. With my free hand I pushed him away and rolled free.
A few feet away, Frankie stood holding Laura’s hands well above her head and pinned to the rock face. Her bodice was ripped open. Frankie’s free hand was wrapped around her right breast, squeezing it nearly flat, while his mouth bit on the nipple of her left. Laura looked panicked and tears streamed down her blushing face.
Anger coursed through my veins. Frankie was oblivious to Jackson’s rolling and moaning on the ground. I grabbed a loose rock and charged at him with all my fury. The rock connected with the side of his face. He staggered away from Laura releasing her.
He gazed at me, delirious.
“How the hell…” He began.
I slammed the rock into his face again and this time there was blood. He fell backward into some brush and rolled to a stop at the base of a nearby tree. Jackson, meanwhile, had recovered some and was pulling his pistol from his belt.
I threw the rock.
Jackson’s hand came up with the pistol just in time to connect with the rock. The pistol went flying to the ground, firing a reckless bullet into the rock face only inches from where I stood.
Jackson scrambled on the ground for his lost gun, cursing all the way. I ran at him tossing all caution to the wind and kicked him square in the jaw. He tumbled backward and off balance, sliding on the incline out of control.
“Come on!” I yelled to Laura.
She stood dazed, holding her bodice closed as though it alone could shield her from the men. I grabbed her arm and pulled her toward our horses.
Jasper new trouble was about. He pranced restlessly in place and whinnied as we approached at speed.
I shook Laura back to reality and pushed her up on Bangles’ saddle.
“Don’t wait just go.” I ordered.
Bangles’ turned in a circle and began to trot away at far too slow a pace. I moved to Jasper and stepped solidly into the stirrup. I grabbed at the horn and tried to swing myself up, cursing my ineptitude. I got my leg halfway up before losing my grip and my balance. I fell backward onto the dirt and rock.
He stood above me with his pistol drawn. It wavered in his hand, no doubt he was wondering which one of me was real. Blood ran from his forehead down into his eyes and his nose down into his mouth. He was angry but by the looks of him he could barely stand let alone shoot.
I rolled to a stand and launched myself at Jasper. My foot caught in the stirrup and rather than try to mount him again I yanked at the reigns and prayed he would run like the wind.
Frankie pulled his trigger.
Bangles made an awful noise and started to run. Jasper followed with me hanging onto his side for my life. We disappeared into the woods.
When I thought we had traveled far enough to have a moment’s rest I slowed Jasper and took the time to mount him proper. A trickle of blood was running down the hind quarters of Bangles and I realized with horror he had been shot.
“Laura!” I shouted to get her attention.
She looked at me tears streaming from her eyes. I knew from the vacant stare she was still back on the rock face with Frankie’s paws clawing away at her. There was nothing for it and no time to comfort her.
“Bangles is hurt.” I said hoping she would refocus.
“What?” She asked.
“Bangles, he’s been shot.”
“Oh, my God, Sarah. What are we going to do?”
“We have to keep moving. They’ll be coming after us as soon as they can get to their horses.”
“I never saw them.”
“Me either, but they’d have to be close.”
“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
“We don’t have time for that now, forget it, okay?”
“What are we going to do?”
“We have to split up.”
“No, we can’t.”
“We have to. We’ll never both get away with Bangles lame.”
“You’re going to let them get me?”
Laura looked about to scream.
“No, you have to get to the town. Find my father and tell him I’m heading for Sam’s Ridge.”
“Sam’s Ridge, he’ll know the spot.”
“But what if they follow me?”
“They won’t. They’re both too blinded with anger at me.” I hoped.
“It’s getting dark, I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“We don’t have a choice. I can hear them coming. You have to go now.”
“Let’s head to town together, please.” She begged.
“Trust me, Laura. They can’t follow us both and they want me more because my father’s the head of the strike. Now, go and tell him, Sam’s Ridge.”
She nodded her head and nudged Bangles toward town at a limping trot.
I heard the sound hoof beats approaching and turned Jasper toward it. Through the trees I saw them. Neither looked forgiving.
“Lose your way?” Jackson mocked.
I dug my heels in and prodded Jasper to a full gallop straight at him. He sidestepped his horse and made a grab for me as we rushed passed. I felt his hands on my waist and dropped my elbows into them for a second. They let go and I heard the sounds of tumbling behind me. I kept my gaze ahead and concentrated on keeping my head out of the way of branches.
Nighttime settled on us and the mild day turned into a cold night. My breath frosted the air even as Jasper cut through it. Were it not for the moonlight I would never have seen a thing. I knew I could find Sam’s Ridge despite the darkness but just finding it wouldn’t be enough. Somehow I had to stay ahead of my pursuers and more important I had to give Laura enough time to reach my father and my father enough time to get there.
Sam’s Ridge is an overlook into the valley. My brother Sam found it when he was twelve and the unusual flatness of the land in combination with the fantastic view had turned it into a favorite hiding place of his. Father eventually discovered it and ever since then it has been known to our family as Sam’s Ridge. I have spent enough hours out there to know my way there from anyplace else around.
Frankie and Jackson were still hot on my trail as the echoed sound of hoof beat revealed. Jasper was getting tired though and we would not be able to stay ahead of them forever. I decided to turn back toward town and hopefully confuse them or convince them I was lost when I made my turn back toward Sam’s Ridge.
Moments later we approached the edge of the woods. About 50 yards away I saw two more of William Howe’s gang just waiting. Clearly they had planned a trap for us and my thoughts wandered back to Laura. Did I send her straight into the clutches of William Howe?
No time to worry about that now. I turned back into the woods but not fast enough as now I had two more men after me.
Jasper seemed to understand the predicament and even though he must have been exhausted, he poured on the speed as we darted through the trees once more. I flattened myself on his back, hugging my head close to his neck.
We burst into a large clearing. I sensed instantly we were not alone and one word echoed in my head.
The realization did little for us. It was too late and the trap was sprung. A rope net flew over us and then yanked us toward the ground. Jasper fell on his side and I narrowly avoided being caught beneath him by rolling to my left.
Jasper, yelped in panic. I seethed with fury.
Out of the darkness, William Howe approached. His men encircled us with a few holding up lamps. William looked smug as he neared me.
“My oh my, looks like you‘re in a spot of trouble, Miss Waters.”
“Funny, cause from here it looks like you are the one breaking the law.”
“Laws are a curious thing. Sometimes ya see, they just don’t mean a thing.”
He stepped close enough to the net I could taste the spit of his words. I realized he thought I was harmless. I swung a left hook to make him think again. The air spewed with blood from his nose as I connected fist to face.
He staggered backward in shock.
“You’ll pay for that.” He threatened.
“It was worth it.” I spit back.
In the distance a voice called out into the night, “SARAH!”
A rifle butt slammed into the side of my head and I dropped to the dirt.
I awoke on a bundle of wet hay. It was dark but I could hear I was not alone.
“Please no! You said you wouldn’t hurt no one.” A woman’s voice said through sobs.
My head was spinning but I could have sworn it was Laura’s voice. I tried to sit up only to find my hands and feet were bound in rope.
“She’s awake.” A male voice said.
“Good.” Came another.
A hand grabbed a hold of my hair and pulled me from the hay only to drop me a few feet away on the ground. There was lantern light and I could make out the shapes of six men standing in a half circle.
“Please don’t hurt me!” Laura cried.
My eyes focused on her and I could see she was bound to a post, her dress ripped away down to her waist. She was trembling.
I realized then I had failed utterly. I was foolish to think we ever stood a chance.
A whip sizzled through the air and struck the bare flesh of Laura’s back.
“I like you Miss Waters, I really do.” William Howe said looking down on me. “That’s why this time your friend here is going to pay the price for your actions tonight.”
He leaned down and grabbed my hair to pull my face up so I had no choice but to look him in the eyes.
“You ever fight me or my men again and it will be you on that post. Understood?”
I remained silent. He smiled.
“Good.” He said.
The whip lashed out again. Laura screamed.
“You promised!” She cried.
Again the whip licked her back.
“Please!” She screamed.
The whip’s lash was the only response. Again and again it fell. Laura’s pleas became sobs of unrecognizable syllables. I cried for her.
“Please stop.” I begged.
“Please stop what?” William asked.
“Please stop, Mr. Howe.” I said hoping it was what he wanted to hear.
Another lash fell.
“Call me Billy” He said with an evil grin.
“Please stop, Billy.” I surrendered.
He held his hand up to the man with the whip. They untied her and she fell limp to the floor still sobbing.
William stood and led the men outside, leaving us alone.
Laura curled up into a ball and wrapped her arms around her knees. I eased myself closer to her an inch at a time, still constrained by the ropes at my wrists and ankles.
“It’s going to be okay.” I said to her.
“No, it’s not.” She replied.
“You have to have faith.”
“No, it’s all my fault. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“What are you talking about?”
She rocked back and forth cradling herself.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She repeated over and over.
My heart swelled with sadness and compassion.
Finally she stopped and looked at me.
“They said we wouldn’t be hurt.”