Twenty Bucks on the Greenhorn-Scott's Journal Entry #6
by  Shelley


Scott’s Journal

Twenty Bucks on the Greenhorn

June 21, 1870


Hazing seems to be a part of society everywhere, especially when groups of men come together. It’s a way to test the boundaries and establish the pecking order. I experienced it back east, first at school and then in the army. Now I’m experiencing it here at Lancer.

It doesn’t matter that I’m the boss’s son; that just makes it a bit more subtle. The questions remain the same; are you good enough, are you tough enough, do you know what you’re doing?  My life would be much easier if I could answer an unequivocal yes to all these questions but, unfortunately, I cannot. Good enough? I don’t suppose they’d settle for me telling them to wait, I will be. Tough enough? Oh, I think so, my mettle has been tested in a hotter fire than most of them would ever imagine. Do I know what I’m doing?  There’s the crux of it, because I have to admit I don’t have a clue about ranching or cattle or cowboys. I’m a greenhorn (that seems to be the western term), and they know it.

They’ve already had more than one good laugh at my expense. If that were really all it was I’d laugh right along with them, but it’s more important than that. The laughter gilds the surface but deep down it’s about respect and dignity and the right to lead. And because of that, surviving the hazing and “passing the test” may be one of the most important things that I do in these early days at Lancer.

My brother, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be the victim of this type of incident. Perhaps because he grew up out here and they see him as one of them, or perhaps, and I think this more likely, because his rather fearsome reputation sits out there like the cautionary buzz of a rattlesnake. It warns off all comers and states that whatever else my brother may be, he is above all, a dangerous man and not to be approached without caution.

They respect and probably fear who he is and what he is capable of and they are uncertain of his reactions. Therefore they hesitate. They watch him from the corners of their eyes and shy clear of him.

He is aware of this, I know. And he responds by putting on a cold and vaguely menacing front. I can’t really explain it; he’s not a big man but it seems sometimes as if he grows by inches and dominates the crowd. And his attitude, ha! It’s as if he owns the very air and only allows the rest of us to breathe on sufferance. Once I get to know him better, I’m looking forward to disabusing him of that notion.   But seriously, I think he’s shoring up his image as a defense against their superior numbers. I find that distressing because it means he carries around with him a circle of solitude that for some reason I don’t believe is his natural inclination.

This morning Murdoch threw Johnny and I together again. He handed me a list of errands. “Go into town,” he said. “Take care of these and pick up an order of supplies from the general store.” I believe he thinks that putting us together for work assignments whenever possible will force us to get to know and like one another. He’s rather transparent about it. I find myself hoping he’s right.

At any rate, we had a pleasant drive into town. When we arrived Johnny went to load the supplies and I set off to the bank, the post office and the feed store. We agreed to meet at the saloon in two hours and have a quick beer before heading back to the ranch.


I was about ten minutes early when I walked through the batwing doors, strolled over to the bar and ordered a beer. Western beer, by the way, can be a rough and raw brew compared to what I knew back East, but there seems to be something about miles and miles of dust and heat that improves the flavor. The first swallow slid happily down my throat, and I turned to survey the room. I was surprised not to find Johnny there before me. I wouldn’t have thought it would take him this long to load the supplies.

I was just lifting my beer for a second long pull when I was jostled by a rather large individual who had walked over next to me. I ended up wearing most of my drink.

“Aw,” he said, turning to face me with a sneer on his face. “Look what I done, boys, I messed up this pretty dude.” His big hands swiped over the front of my shirt until I pushed him away.

“Now that ain’t very friendly,” he growled. Then he smiled. “But I really wasn’t making it any better, was I?” He stepped back and kicked a chair out of his way, a feral look in his eye.

“Mr. McKittrick,” I said, recognizing him from an earlier encounter.  “You are going to push this, aren’t you?”

He grinned.

I sighed, put my glass down and began to remove my jacket. The best I could hope for was that this was going to remain one on one because five or six of the noisy patrons seemed to be friends of Bud McKittrick, cowhand, loudmouth and general troublemaker. “You know, McKittrick,” I said as I laid my coat on the bar, “you do have nice teeth.”

He frowned in confusion.

“I hope I’m not going to have to mess them up for you.”

His face got red,  “Why you stuffed shirt Eastern jackass. You think you’re big doings just cause Murdoch Lancer claims you’re his long lost son. . .”

“Nah, Bud.” A soft drawl cut across the rising buzz of excitement, “I’m the long lost son, ol’ Boston, here, wasn’t never lost. He just had better things to do than grow up around a beef-brained, ham-fisted tub a lard like you.” My missing brother sauntered across the room and motioned for a beer.

“Well, if it ain’t the local gun-for-hire. You gonna come in here and shoot us all dead, Madrid?”

Johnny blew the foam off his beer and took a sip. “Hell, Bud, as good as that idea sounds, I usually get paid for killin’ and as far as I know, ain’t nobody cares enough about you to pay to see you dead.” He turned a lazy smile on McKittrick and leaned back against the bar, his beer held casually and conspicuously in his left hand.

McKittrick lost a bit of steam but he glanced at his friends and puffed up again. “Just don’t think you can walk in here, Madrid, and pull this greenhorn out of the mess he’s gotten himself into.”

Johnny shook his head. “Now, Bud, why would I want to butt in on your private little set-to?” Johnny gave me an appraising look and turned back to McKittrick. “Hell,” he said, jerking a thumb in my direction. “He ain’t gonna have any trouble with you anyway.” He took a long slow pull on his beer and then shot a hard look at McKittrick’s friends. “Of course, any of you other boys decide you want a piece of the action, well, that might be a different story.” He smiled at me and hiked himself up on the bar to await results.

The last thing I heard before all hell broke loose was my brother’s voice. “Twenty bucks says the greenhorn takes him.”

I almost didn’t see the first swing, a haymaker that would have taken my head off if I hadn’t ducked when I did. The miss left him off balance and I stepped in under his reach and landed a quick, hard left to his ribs and a punishing right to his cheek, then dodged away again.

He shook his head, and with a grunt of anger, moved in and swung hard again. I ducked and scored another jab to his ribs.

I dodged again waiting for another opening. He wasn’t quick but he had a couple of inches of reach on me and the power behind those haymakers was frightening.

I moved in and connected again with his face but he came in under my guard and his fist slammed into my ribs, sending me flying back to land on one of the tables, scattering the cheering crowd. I gasped for breath and rolled aside just as his hands slammed down where my head had been.

He came at me again, head down like an angry bull.

I was still trying to regain my balance and catch my breath when I saw the next blow coming at me. I rolled away from the worst of it but it still caught me over my left eye and sent me to my knees. Before I could recover, McKittrick yanked me to my feet, wrapped his arms around me from behind and started to squeeze the life out of me.

If I thought I couldn’t breathe before, it was nothing to this. I could feel my ribs bending under the pressure and black spots were intruding on my vision. I jabbed him as hard as I could with my elbows and got a little breathing room but not enough. I was starting to lose my focus when a voice penetrated the growing fog.

“Hey, Boston,” I heard, “this ain’t over yet, fight, damn it!”

“I know,” I gasped and stomped my heel down viciously on McKittrick’s instep and smashed the back of my head into his face. I heard bone crunch and his grip on me loosened. I wrenched free and spun around to bury my fist in his gut. His breath left him in a whoosh and as he bent forward I brought both fists down on the back of his neck and then stepped back out of the way as he crashed to the floor. I had a totally irrational urge to shout “Timber” but instead staggered back another step, tripped over a chair and sat down hard on the floor. I ended up propped against the bar, my legs stretched out in front of me, still trying to catch my breath.

The raucous din of a room full of men watching a fight had gone silent when McKittrick hit the floor. Now the only sound seemed to be my heavy breathing as I desperately tried to draw enough air into my starving lungs, until a soft voice from above my head sliced through the smoke and silence.

“It ain’t your fight, mister.”

I looked up to see one of McKittrick’s friends moving toward me with his fists balled up and a mean look in his eye. The cowboy stopped, uncertain, and then regained his bravado. “Don’t know why it should bother you, Madrid, ain’t your fight either.”

“You touch him, and it will be.” I was reminded again of the menace in a snake’s rattle.

The puncher hesitated until one of his friends grabbed his arm and pulled him back into the crowd, whispering urgently into his ear as they went.

Suddenly the atmosphere in the place relaxed, voices grew to a loud rumble and someone laughed. I dragged myself to my feet, turned and draped the upper half of my body over the bar.

“Greenhorn?” I panted, looking up at Johnny.

"Better for business." He grinned and waved a handful of bills at me. “Hey Pete,” he called and a second later a cool beer appeared in front of me along with a fairly clean-looking wet cloth. I grabbed the beer and Johnny snagged the cloth.

“Come here,” he said as soon as I finished my first deep swallow. He put his knuckle under my chin and lifted my face. “Ya done good,” he said as he began dabbing a spot over my left eyebrow.

I grunted as he poked a bit too hard and he slapped my hand away.

“Quit it,” he said, peering closer. “Ain’t even going to need a stitch. Of course, I knew you wouldn’t have any trouble with Bud.”

I pulled away and grabbed my beer. “Really? And just how did you come to that conclusion?”

“Aw, he’s big,” he tossed the cloth at me. “Wipe off your mouth, you’ve got a smear of blood there in the corner. He’s big, but he’s a bully. Hasn’t got the guts for a real fight. He didn’t stand a chance against a Lancer.”

I almost choked on my beer.

He slapped me on the shoulder, slid down from the bar and peeled off half the stack of bills he held. “Here,” he said.

I looked at the cash in my hand with confusion, still trying to take in the impact of his last statement. “Why?”

He flashed an infectious smile at me, one I hadn’t seen before. “Well, it was your twenty to begin with.” He fished a gold piece out of his pocket and flipped it into the air.

I caught it on the way down and looked at it, remembering where I’d seen it before. I shook my head. “You keep it, brother, it seems to work for you.”

He took it, studied it for a long moment and grinned at me as he slid the coin back into his pocket. “Come on, Boston, I can’t wait to get back to the ranch and hear you explain to the old man about how you’ve been brawling in saloons.”


He was right about explaining to Murdoch, and my little brother took an inordinate pleasure in my discomfort. Then again, maybe he has it coming since he is usually on the receiving end of our father’s ire.

The hazing has continued but is starting to slack off. Frankly, it doesn’t seem as important as it did before, perhaps because I’m beginning to find a place for myself here.

Oh, I forgot to mention, as we drove out of town, a very lovely young lady stepped to the edge of the boardwalk and gave my brother a smile and a wave. He tipped his hat and drove on by looking very pleased with himself. It seems that gunplay isn’t the only game that my little brother is skilled at. 


The end.






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