Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter 1

Below is an excerpt of an unpublished novel by Chuck Walker of Pembina. The novel is set in the 1870s, in and around Pembina, featuring real people who lived here at that time: Charles (called Charley) Brown and John Kabernagle—listed in the 1880 census.

Chuck told me:

Charley came with the first troops to the Fort when it was organized in l870. He was a Sergeant at the time. During the Civil War he was captured and escaped. He became sheriff in l875.

He brought out Eugene Harris (Dr Harris’s brother), Dr Harris’ Mother and sisters, as well as his own Mother, in 1882. Charley was a cousin of my Grandfather.

What happened in the book actually happened. The names are accurate except for the girl [Marguerite] and her family. The times are accurate, so are the soldiers names and officer names at the Fort. As sheriff from 1875 until his death with cancer in l884 he farmed a quarter at the border about 3 miles west of the present custom house.  In addition to being sheriff of Pembina County those years, also ran a saloon just south of what we knew as the old Heneman store, with John Kabernagel. I didn’t mention John’s wife Hannah in the story, whom I knew very well as a child. The shootings are fact and true, the jail escape is well known. The trips west to recover the teamsters’ goods is true and accurate.

Chapter l, Dakota Territory, l878

Sheriff Charley Brown was beginning to feel the pressure. Things were getting complicated; work was piling up faster than it could be handled. A bachelor, he lived alone above his sample store located near the north end of the business block, a business block with no vacant lots. Wood-framed stores and shops were crammed haphazardly together, wall to wall, creating an excellent chance of a future, massive conflagration.

Now, at 31 years of age, Charley was beginning to have frequent occasions of strange dreams, nightmares that he had not had since his teens. They were of his war years, years long past. Usually it was the same dream but with subtle variations. He marveled that waking up from a dream only took seconds, but how long the dream seemed.

The Confederate captain was adamant. Charley was to be hung as a spy. The noose around his neck was snug and scratchy; then the officer suddenly swung his quirt at the horse Charlie was astride, the one he had attempted to steal. At the same moment the officer shouted, “That’ll teach you Yankee bastards not to steal horses!” Charley felt the sudden burning pain and choking as the rope tightened with a jerk.

Awakening in a cold sweat, he discovered his bed sheets clammy, damp from perspiration. He also realized he had again been grinding his teeth as his tongue detected a lump inside his cheek. Twisting in bed, he reached over to the bedside table, fumbling blindly for the kerosene lamp. As his fingers contacted the base, he slid his fingers lightly up to the chimney. Removing the glass carefully, he set it aside to grope for a match. Striking one under the bed iron, he touched it to the wick. Replacing the chimney, he flung the bed covers aside and swung his feet to the floor. It had not cooled during the night and the floor seemed warm.

Bewildered, he questioned his sanity. Why am I dreaming about the war? It’s been over for years. Something’s getting to me! What is it? The nightmare brought back memories of the time he and two friends had been captured by Confederate cavalrymen. The enemy had overrun them during a counterattack by the rebels against Buford’s Federals. Hiding until dark, they had attempted to steal enemy horses at St. James Church, only to be captured when the horses created a fuss.

The rebel captain of the cavalry unit wasted no time. All three were to dance at the end of a rope as spies. It was the timely arrival of General Jeb Stuart that spared their lives. The heavily bearded commander appeared out of the darkness, demanding the reason for the clamor. After an explanation, he addressed the captain scornfully. “They are just boys. Send them to the rear.”

Charley, already a brevet second lieutenant, and knowing how close they had been to death, saluted the General. “Thank you, sir!” he said.

General Stuart studied Charley briefly with a wry smile before turning away.

Reaching for his watch on the bedside table, Charley saw it was nearly 5:00 a.m. Even from a distance he could hear a cock crowing with pride over his harem. Dressing slowly, he picked up the lamp and moved to the kitchen to make coffee.

A faint light was showing in the eastern sky, faintly illuminating his kitchen. While the coffeepot rocked on the kerosene stove, he stepped to the sink, poured water into a china bowl and washed his face. Rubbing briskly with a towel, he bent further to look into a mirror that hung too low. Dampening his hair, he parted it, determined to get a shave later in the day.

Carrying a steaming cup of coffee downstairs, he unlocked the door of the saloon he shared with his business partner, John Kabernagle. Eyeing the spittoons as he began sweeping the floor, he shook his head in disgust. Men either couldn’t or wouldn’t spit straight, missing the receptacle, and making a mess on the floor. He made a mental note to tell their swamper to surround the pots with more sawdust.

Finally finished tidying up the floor, he put the broom away and began clearing and wiping the tables, moving the dirty mugs and glasses to the bar. As he stepped outside to lock the door, a last brief perusal of the room satisfied him. On the boardwalk outside, he found the air already warm. The morning sun was an eye-catching ball of fire that caressed the eastern sky with yellows and orange, fading westward to corals and turquoise. Glancing in each direction along the street, he found it totally deserted. The lightness of the morning air still carried faint traces of the acrid odor of smoke, smoke from the burning peat bogs to the east, in Minnesota.

At the north corner he stepped from the raised plank sidewalk to cross the rutted dirt street toward the jail. He knew that John, his business partner, would open the doors of their tavern promptly at 10 a.m.

Suddenly a resounding boom from Fort Pembina’s morning salute gun sounded throughout the town. It echoed among the buildings, the harbinger of another workday at the army post located just a mile to the south.

He hesitated momentarily to view the weather-bleached, two storied, squared-log jail. There was that bedraggled, swollen-bellied cat sitting complacently in front of the door. Turning toward the one-holer located behind the jail, he spent some moments, then returned to the front door to remove the brass padlock. As he opened the door, the feline arose to walk daintily inside, rubbing and purring against his boots the moment he sat at his desk. Exasperated, Charley shook his head, addressing the cat loudly. “You skinny, misbegotten critter, you’ve gotten yourself knocked up again!” A guilty feeling came when he realized he had forgotten to bring his table scraps of last evening. The cat looked up at Charley dolefully, blinking her eyes slowly. Charley knew the female to be independent and usually antisocial. Now, he thought, she’s looking for sympathy. Many times the cat had been inadvertently locked in the jail for a day or two, but had come to no harm since he always kept a tin of water inside the door.

Reaching into his top drawer Charley withdrew a sheaf of wanted posters. Gazing out the small, six-paned window directly in front of his desk, he mourned the dirty and cracked panes. Among the broken edges, purple and violet tints sparkled and twisted in the sunlight. Backing his chair toward the doorway, he gained additional light to ease his reading. While he scanned the sheets, the cat jumped to his lap, purring and nuzzling his hands. Petting her absently, he could feel her body throbbing beneath his fingers, giving him a feeling of tranquility. Lazily he attempted to memorize the poor facial drawings and described details of the felons.

His attention was momentarily diverted by the sound of footsteps as lawyer Bob Ewing climbed the outside staircase to his office above the jail. He heard the twang of the screen door spring, then the rattle of the key in the lock. The screen door closed with a slap, followed by a thump as the inner door closed.

Dust motes drifted down from the ceiling as a heavy chair scraped on the floor above. Charley mentally cursed the builder of the lockup, knowing that although the floor above was heavily double-planked, the carpenter had failed to put felt paper between the two layers of lumber. Dust gravitated down whenever the lawyer or his clients moved about.

Finished reviewing the wanted posters, he turned to a two-day-old copy of the St. Paul Globe, knowing well that the paper was owned by the railroad magnate, Jim Hill.

Charley was the only law for well over forty miles in each direction, excepting to the north. There, just two miles away, lay the Canadian border, where Constable Bob Bell was in charge, assisted by Fred Bradley, who was Justice of the Peace.

Recently Jud LaMoure, a local resident, had been made a Deputy United States Marshal. Unfortunately, he was seldom around, being involved in politics and his several business enterprises. Actually, Charley felt comfortable in his position as sheriff, since he had the full cooperation of Captain Collins, the commanding officer at Fort Pembina. He could usually find qualified men if he needed deputies.

Although the sheriff stood a bit over six feet in height, he was becoming conscious of his weight. In the army he had held just below 190 pounds, but now he tended to gain easily. He often thought of his friend Constable Bob Bell of Emerson. Bob, a huge man, was developing an overhanging paunch; also incipient dewlaps were beginning to sag from his cheeks. Perhaps it was conceit, but Charley found himself eating less and walking more, aware of the consequences.

His prowess of manly defense while in the army had made him a legendary figure, fame gained during the war and as First Sergeant of Company I, 20th Infantry. Even so, since the beginning of his sheriffing days, he was known to be a generous man, not a harsh disciplinarian. There were times when he was confused by his own emotions. He had killed men ruthlessly in combat, but now he held a live-and-let-live attitude. He knew he had been brash as a boy, headstrong and willful.

At sixteen years of age, he had run away from his West Virginia home to join the Confederate Army. His grandfather’s influence had resulted in his ignominious return home in the custody of a Southern sheriff. Within days he had run away again, this time joining the Northern Army, having been thoroughly disenchanted by the rough treatment administered him by his southern captor.

His thoughts turned to his problem with Marguerite. They were to have supper together this evening at the Crawford House in St. Vincent. Just last week she had brought up the subject of marriage. Since her younger sister, Susan, had married his friend, Ian McLaren, she had been pressing for a permanent relationship.

Looking directly into his eyes, she had said, “We’ve been walking out together for nearly two years now. Let’s get married at Thanksgiving time.”

When he was evasive, she became angry.

The breed girl was beautiful and talented, but Charley’s training while a youth had made the idea of a mixed marriage a hell on earth. Raised in the east, a son of strict and religious parents, made miscegenation unthinkable, almost a crime against nature. At times his conscience ate at him, knowing he was being unfair to her. Still, somehow, he was unable to face a breakup.

Although there were many attractive white females available, none had caught his interest. Marguerite had brought something new and vivacious into his life, something he had never shared with any other woman. He knew it would be impossible to forget her entirely and knew it would be up to him to terminate their relationship. His conscience ate at him, knowing the longer he put it off, the more difficult it would become. He had never before been so deeply troubled, his moral senses so debased. He felt guilt-ridden with remorse, feeling he had sullied his own reputation, and hers. His conscience eased somewhat, remembering that Margurite liked trinkets. He would stop at Feldman’s Jewelry tomorrow and pick up a small gewgaw for her.

Another thought came to mind. Recently renegade Indians from Wood Mountain, in Manitoba, had shown up in the Hair Hills to the west. They had crossed over into Dakota Territory from Canada, causing alarm among white settlers and trouble among the local Indians. After seizing a teamster’s horses, wagon and government goods, they had run the man out of the hills. Furthermore, Charley had word that the same redskins had been posting warnings on trees and cabins, ordering whites out of the area. He mused, “Thank the Lord the Indians posted those notices! Now the military will have to take action. They’ll have to give me backing when I try to get that government property back.”

As sheriff, he was sure the Indians were leery of the military, knowing well the aftermath of the Custer debacle just two years ago. Surely they would back down — that is, if they could be found. But how could he recover the government goods? A grim thought came, “Heck, if I know anything about Indians, those goods have been spread to hell and gone by now! Still, there’s a slim chance I might be able to recover the team and wagon.”

Another vexing problem had presented itself just last evening, in the form of a Deputy United States Marshal. Charley had been eating his evening meal at the Pioneer Hotel when the proprietress, Mrs. Fisk, brought a stranger to his table. Resting her hand familiarly upon Charley’s shoulder, the rotund lady smiled. “Charley, this gentleman says he has business with you. His name is William Anderson.”

She turned to the stranger coyly, “You’ll have supper with us I expect?”

“Yes. Thank you!” He locked eyes with the Charley, who had risen to shake his hand. “Do you mind if join you, sheriff?”

“Not a bit, take a seat.”

Mrs. Fisk turned away with a smile of satisfaction, knowing the stranger would contribute to her coffers.

Charley looked quizzically as Anderson adjusted his chair forward to the oilcloth-covered table. He noted the man’s heavy body, his oversized nose that emphasized the square jaw. Casually, Anderson placed a shiny Deputy U.S. Marshal’s badge on the table.

“If that’s a bona fide badge, maybe I’m the wrong man for you.” Charley remarked.

“How so?”

“Jud LaMoure is the deputy marshal in this district. I don’t intrude into his business unless he asks for help.”

“Let me put my cards on the table.” The marshal picked up his badge, returning it to an inside vest pocket. Then he fished in an outside pocket to produce a curved stem pipe and tobacco pouch. Taking his time, he casually filled the pipe, tamping down the tobacco with his index finger. Before striking a match he raised his eyes to Charley. “I’m looking for a Texan. He’s been involved in several bank holdups, and lastly, he was one of the gang involved in the train robbery at Mesquite, Texas.”

Charley mused, “No strangers in town that I know of. Oh, there are still quite a few railroad workers I don’t know personally, but I doubt your man is here.”

“He’s here! Believe me—I know! He had a local lawyer named Ewing write a letter to his wife in Dallas. Our postal people intercepted it; the lawyer carelessly used his personal letterhead. Perhaps I should explain further. You must have heard of the Big Springs train robbery last November. The robbers got $60,000, all in $20 gold pieces. You’re probably aware that we’re still looking for two of those bandits and a good chunk of the missing money.”

Charley’s interest grew. He had reward posters on two of the Big Springs robbers and recently the Grand Forks newspaper, The Plaindealer, had warned of their presence in the immediate area. The wanted posters listed their names as Frank Carter and John Underwood.

“I’ve heard of them, but few strangers have come into town recently. Sure, we’ve got about 4,500 residents between the towns of Pembina and St. Vincent, but the hotels usually keep me informed of suspicious characters. Weren’t most of those involved in the Big Springs robbery either captured or killed?”

“Yup, but the Mesquite robbery involving Bill Collins happened about four years ago. We’ve been biding our time ever since, waiting for a break. We finally got it!” Anderson looked confidant, then added, “He may have been living here for a month or more. He’s young looking, tall and husky—used to weight about 200 pounds. He’s got a booming voice and the personality to charm a rattlesnake.

His voice suddenly turned bitter. “We were raised together as lads and attended the same school. In fact we were the best man at each other’s wedding. Trouble was, his marriage didn’t keep too well after he began associating with thieves. By luck, I turned to law.” He puffed a few moments on his pipe, then asked, “Where does this lawyer named Ewing hang his shingle?”

Charley smiled. “That’s easy; he couldn’t be closer. His office is just above the jail. He’ll be there in the morning.”

The marshal glanced around the room, then turned back to Charley. “I’ll be around until I can gather up Collins. Can you recommend a clean hotel? I’ve had enough of crummy rooms and bedbugs.”

“We’ve got several good hotels and quite a few rooming houses. Where is your gear? Nothing wrong with this place; Mrs. Fisk has rooms in the back and upstairs. She’s fussy, keeps them clean.” Charley chuckled, “Watch out for her;  I think she’s looking for a husband.”

“This lodging will be satisfactory.”

The cold, unemotional reply and the look on the man’s face told Charley his attempt at levity had failed.

After cleaning his plate Anderson slid back his chair and stood. “Can I count on meeting with you tomorrow morning around 8 o’clock, say, at your jail? By the way, where is it?”

“A block west and a block north, just west of the street. You’ll see Ewing’s sign by the outside staircase.”

Charley removed a small oyster tin from a pocket and began scraping the remains from his plate. He noted the puzzled look on the marshal’s face, and said sheepishly, “This is for my mouser at the jail. She’s got a litter of kittens on the way.”

After his discussion with the marshal, Charley’s intuition took over. Putting the facts together, he suspected the wanted man to be Bill Gale. If it’s him, he thought, it’s a darn shame. Although he had met Gale only casually, he took an immediate liking to the man, but also a suspicion. He judged the man was a mover who never stayed long in any one place. The man had a southern drawl and had worked at odd jobs around town for the past few weeks. Yet he had caused no trouble and minded his own business. Charley knew that Gale now tended bar at Jim White’s Halfway-House Hotel in Huron City. It was just two miles north of Pembina, situated on the Canadian border. Gale was a six-footer, a husky man, as large and heavy as Charley. Charley knew he was no man to fool with; the bulge under Gale’s left armpit indicated a firearm. That didn’t bother him, knowing many of the men in town carried some sort of weapon, either gun or knife.

He knew the hotel where Gale now worked had an unsavory reputation, equipped as it was with girls who rendered services to men. It was located astride the border between Canada and the United States and was well known, famous for its red stripe painted down the center of the barroom floor. The north half of the room was in Canada and the south half in Dakota Territory of the United States.

Salty perspiration trickled down his forehead and burned his eyes as he looked up at the flyspecked calendar. The loud chirp of a lone cricket came from the rear of the jail cell, answered by another, located somewhere under his desk. It was the second Saturday in September, with the promise of the day becoming another scorcher. A drought condition had prevailed all fall and it had not cooled during the night. Nature was playing a dastardly trick, making winter seem far away.

Tugging the watch from his vest, he examined the gold-cased Howard casually. It was one of his few foibles, a fine, expensive watch.  Already it was 9 o’clock and the marshal had failed to appear. “Why am I waiting for him? I’m not his keeper!”

Deciding not to dawdle longer, he swung his feet from the scarred desktop. The springs under the slant-back chair protested as he stood. The thought came: “I’ll take things one at a time. Bob Ewing can wait; there’s plenty of time to find the moniker of the man he represented.”

Reaching for his keys and flat-brim Stetson, Charley closed and locked the outside jail door. Some days ago he had forgotten to lock the door and returned to find pranksters had taken the leg irons, cuffs and other restraints and secured them across the arms of his swivel chair. Then they had hidden the keys so cleverly that it had taken a half hour to find them. He suspected his occasional deputies, either Bill Moorhead or Ned Cavalier, to be guilty. More than likely it was Ned, since he was the practical joker and sport about town. He was usually involved in some wild scheme, usually a lottery that turned to his profit. The thought amused Charley, for he knew that eventually word of the guilty party would leak to him. The opportunity for revenge would come; he’d have the last laugh!

Cutting through the alley to Mason’s Livery, he entered the rear of the barn to get his saddle. A hostler, busy scraping out horse stalls with a shovel, nodded briefly.

“Durned hot day, dry as a popcorn fart.”

“It’ll be plenty cool soon, winter is just around the corner.”

“Want your horse saddled?”

“Naw, I’ll do it. It appears you’ve plenty of crap to shovel.”

His bay in the corral came obediently to his cajoling call. After a brief show of affection, Charley carefully spread the saddle blanket and eased up the saddle. Circling his horse, he lifted and examined each hoof in turn. Finally slipping on the bridle, he mounted and headed for the bridge. A disturbing thought came: that marshal’s not much at keeping appointments.

The hooves of his horse made brittle sounds on the dry planking as he crossed the makeshift bridge over the Pembina River. Stopping momentarily to pay the five-cent toll, he noted the water beneath the bridge to be only a foot or so deep. He reasoned a dam was needed here to hold back a head of water. It was obvious that the river was so shallow that it would in all probability freeze solid to the bottom this coming winter. When that happened, water for the livestock in town would have to be hauled by wagon from the Red River, a cold, miserable task.

He was pleasantly surprised to find a light breeze from the southeast as he turned toward the fort. The road held three well-worn ruts, formed by the ox carts that had traveled the path for years. The center rut was formed by myriads of oxen’s hooves. The ankle deep dust on the road muted the sounds of his trotting animal.

A warm feeling of satisfaction came whenever he returned to the fort. After all, he had spent twelve years in the army and most of his friends remained in the service. Also, he realized his timing was perfect. When he finished his business with Captain Collins, the officer would no doubt insist upon his staying for dinner.

He was determined to ask that Lieutenant Kirkpatrick be allowed to head the military escort needed for the foray to straighten out the Indians. He had worked with the Irisher before and they got along well. Since today was Friday, he determined they would leave for the Hair Hills early on Monday morning.

“Gadfrey!” he sighed, “It’ll take nearly three days just to get out there. Then we’ll have to find those scalawags!

On his way to the fort, Charley reviewed the loss of his horse and buggy in the Mason Livery fire just two months ago. As badly as he needed and wanted another trotting horse, good ones were few and far between. Also, they were mighty expensive.

His thoughts turned to Mrs. Geroux. “She’s had two buggy runaways this past month. Why does Lucien keep that wild team? More to the point, he’s wealthy and owns that big hotel. Why doesn’t he buy an older buggy horse for his wife? I’ll have to corner him on that!”

He smiled to himself, thinking of his business partner. John had recently discovered his buggy missing. The horse, untended and untied, had taken off, crossed the bridge and was found at the brewery just south of town. Fortunately, both buggy and horse were unharmed. Kabernagle was teased unmercifully about it. Ned Cavalier had jested, “John, your horse is a creature of habit. He knows your every Sunday desire. He just forgot to take you along!”

There was no doubt in Charley’s mind who had slashed his trotter, then burned Mason’s livery barn. Water under the bridge, he reflected. He’s dead now, the dirty pup! How many heinous crimes had Murphy gotten away with in his lifetime? How many murders? It was lucky Pete caught him when he attempted to rape Pete’s youngest daughter, Susan. It was certain Murphy would have killed her after using her.

Charley still felt guilty about arresting Pete for killing Murphy, then leaving him in the custody of Captain Bob. Gullible Bob, his jailer, had let railroaders tempt him with drugged whiskey then remove Pete from the jail and kill him. Although Charley knew several of the guilty men involved, he had no firm evidence. Now they were safely across the border in Canada, out of reach.

Shaking his head in frustration, he tried to relieve his conscience. “How could I have known those railroaders would seek revenge for Pete’s killing Murphy because Pete was a breed? I’m positive Murphy was the one who raped and killed that young Indian girl at Roseau Crossing; he probably was involved in the disappearance of those two missing soldiers too!” Reflecting, he was thankful Susan and Marguerite didn’t blame him for the disappearance of their father. They had been shocked at his removal from the jail by unknown assailants, but were not privy to the fact that their father was positively dead. The only ones who knew were the railroaders who committed the crime, the smuggler who had found his body while crossing the border, and himself.

Even he would have not known, except that the smuggler who stumbled on a protruding, moccasined foot exposed by the weather had reported it to him. He worried if he had done the right thing, since he had returned to the site of Pete’s grave with a shovel and completed the burial. At the time, it had seemed the right thing to do. Now he was beginning to feel guilty because he had withheld the information from the girls. He told himself, Someday, when the time is right, I’ll tell them.

Approaching the northwest corner of the fort he left the road, taking a shortcut across a stretch of rippling prairie grass. Entering the fort proper, he cut around the end of the long enlisted men’s barracks that extended across the north end of the parade ground.

Opposite, to the south, across from the esplanade, were several one-and-a-half story houses occupied by the officers and their families. The store on the west side of the open ground was long and of two stories. Adjoining the store, extending even further south was the hospital, a large portion of which had two floors with an attached kitchen and sick ward. From his past army experience he knew the post dayroom and headquarters were both located in the south portion of the store, there being no other suitable building on the post.

Each fort building foundation had been built of raised wood posts, with sides of the buildings boarded to the ground for winter warmth. The open side of the parade ground lay on the high bank facing the Red River, guarded by three solitary seven-pound brass cannons, standing side by side.

Dismounting from his bay, Charley casually wrapped the lines on the long hitching pole in front of the headquarters. He noted the inner door stood open, no doubt due to the heat of the day. His first steps on the porch alerted the Charge of Quarters, who stepped outside the door.

“Good morning, Sheriff! Come inside. Lieutenant Hoch is on duty.”

Following the corporal inside, the Lieutenant arose from behind a desk and extended his hand to greet Charley. “Good morning, Charley! What’s your pleasure today?”

“Hello, Oliver. I’m here to see Captain Collins. I’ve some trouble over in the hills west of St. Joe. I need a little assistance. Canadian Indians have crossed to our side of the line again, and are giving the settlers hell.”

Hoch shook his head dolefully. “The Inspector General is here inspecting the post, and we’re trying to finish qualifying the men on the rifle range before the snow flies. We’re hard up for ready patrols just now. I have my doubts, but of course, it’s the captain’s decision. He might spring for a few men.

“I probably need only about a dozen. Don’t believe the Indians have much support from the locals. Probably a small bunch who have their dander up and will back down and skedaddle back to Canada if pushed hard.” Reflecting, he added, “A couple of weeks in your guardhouse on bread and water would really straighten them out!”

Hoch turned to the corporal, “Find the Captain and inform him the sheriff is here. I think he’s at the laundry.” He turned back to Charley. “The steam jenny over there is giving the laundresses a fit. They’re afraid it will explode.”

Charley managed a wrinkled grin. “Hold up! It’s not necessary to send Corporal Donegan. I’ll walk over there myself.”

After Charley left the day room, Hoch questioned the veteran corporal. “Wasn’t he Captain Wheaton’s First Sergeant when the captain was in charge a few years ago?”

“Yes, sir! And don’t let that easygoing manner fool you. He was hell on wheels before he quit the army in ’75. He was a real tight soldier, a man’s man, tough as nails. During the war he was a real leader! He made brevet lieutenant after our first scrap and his platoon was usually given the dirty, most dangerous jobs. He took over the company command on more than one occasion, only to be deposed by Pointers who were jealous of his ability. His men would go through hell for him; I know, for he was my lieutenant until he was captured late in ’63.”

Taking a direct route across the parade ground Charley passed between two of the officer-cottages on his way to the laundry. A sudden spurt of firing came from the rifle range to the west, causing him a quick glance in that direction. Rounding the laundry building he found Captain Collier in the act of admonishing a soldier.

“Let the fire die out after the laundresses finish for the day, then disassemble the safety valve and clean it thoroughly. You don’t need that huge fire in the boiler. Keep it small and feed it often, just enough to keep the steam up. The noise of the steam escaping from the valve is frightening the women.” He half turned upon hearing Charley’s approach, then added, “Stay on the job when the boiler is fired. I don’t want to hear any more complaints from the ladies.”

Facing Charley, he began to smile. “Come to put the touch to me again?”

“Yup! Indians in the Hair Hills are putting the run to settlers. I’ve got to try to recover a team and wagon loaded with government goods they’ve seized. It was destined for the smallpox area. It’ll probably be a cold day in Hades if I get any of that stuff back!”

Collins shook his head. “Darn trouble makers! We underestimate the Indians at times. Fetterman sure did! So did Custer! I only wish I understood them better.” He sighed, “Charley, I can’t spare you any men until late next week. Can you wait that long?”

The sheriff shrugged his shoulders. “Guess I’ll ride out that way on Monday. If I have no luck I’ll be back on your doorstep.” He hesitated, “Hock implied that you’re swamped with the federal inspector visiting. I know what you’re up against.”

“Just my career,” Collins joked. “General Gibbon is the inspector; he’s not too hard to get along with.”

“He’s fair,” Charley admitted. “He’s inspected the fort before, back when I was stationed here under Captain Wheaton.”

Light conversation ensued as they walked back toward the parade ground, finally the captain suggested, “Let’s go over to the house. My wife and son will be put out if you don’t stop. We don’t see much of you—might as well have lunch with us.”

At 1:30 that afternoon, the sheriff arrived back in town. Hearing voices from Bob Ewing’s office, he climbed the outside staircase. Opening the screen door, he found Deputy Anderson and Jud LaMoure seated near the lawyer’s desk.

Anderson looked embarrassed, “Sorry I missed you this morning, sheriff. I ran across Marshal LaMoure at breakfast and we discussed my problem at length.”

Jud spoke up woodenly. “Charley, it seems the man Anderson wants is Bill Gale.”

Charley took a chair next to Ewing’s desk. “Kind of figured it had to be him. He hasn’t been around here long, and I kind of wondered about his accent. It’s from the southwest, sure not local.”

“I still need him,” Anderson spoke up softly.

Ewing looked guilty. “You’re right, Charley; he’s from Texas. Said he was trying for a new life. He had me write a letter to his wife saying he would soon send money to get her here.” His face bore a look of chagrin. “It’s my fault they’ve found him out.”

“He’s no innocent,” Anderson grumbled. “He was arrested in Dallas last February for assault and carrying a concealed weapon; he pleaded guilty to that — jumped a $15,000 bail in June, just took off.”

“Charley, wasn’t he working for Bill Moorhead this fall?” LaMoure asked.

“Yes, but he’s working for White now, bartending in his hotel at the border. At least that’s the last I’ve heard.”

LaMoure laughed, “What a grand place to work; White’s running a damned whorehouse out there.”

“Until someone complains, it’s not my problem,” Charley shrugged.

Anderson spoke up, “Collins has been moving. I traced him to Missouri in early August, then to St. Paul. Finally I got word from Dallas that he was here.” Anderson turned to LaMoure, “I stopped in Fargo and talked to your boss, but he was busy in court. He said to see you and the local sheriff. They told me he might have crossed the border into Canada by now. If so, I’d have to bait him across the line somehow.”

“You’ll probably have to do just that,” Ewing said. “If you take your warrant to Canada you’ll get the runaround. Best you catch him on this side.”

Charley turned to Anderson angrily, “What do you want me to do? I’m only the sheriff; you and Jud are both Federal Marshals. You two can make your own arrest; it’s a federal matter—your job.”

Anderson was defensive. “I told you Bill and I were friends back in Texas. He’ll recognize me immediately and be on his guard. He’ll know I’m after him and probably run again.”

LaMoure looked at Charley hopefully. “What if you and I go over to Huron City tonight? We shouldn’t have any trouble with him, seeing there are two of us.”

“Not tonight, Jud. I’ll be tied up in St. Vincent.”

Jud knew of Charley’s occasional dalliance with Marguerite and remained silent.

A long moment of quietude fell, finally broken by Charley. “Jud, I’ll go out there tomorrow night with you, but I’ll hate every minute of it. If he can be arrested without anyone getting hurt, him included, I’ll play along. It has to be tomorrow night though, ’cause I’m heading to the hills west of St. Joe early on Monday morning. I’ve got some Indians to fuss with out there.”

Deputy Anderson stood, and then began to smile. “I appreciate your help sheriff. Perhaps my stay in Pembina won’t be too long.”


I had never heard of a place called Huron City, just north and maybe a tad west of Pembina, but then, there’s a lot of things I don’t know, like there used to be a place called Sultan, Minnesota not far from St. Vincent, but it’s just a memory now. Chuck says this about Huron City: “The hotel there is well known as was the owner. The hotel bar had a red line painted down the floor, half in Canada and half in the U.S. Charley and LaMoure went out to Huron City to capture the desperado, but he was armed and dangerous.”

Trish Lewis is a network administrator in Fargo, North Dakota. She grew up in the farthest northwest corner of Minnesota, where the north wind outside in winter inspires…reading. She maintains a history blog at St. Vincent Memories.

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2 Responses to “Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter 1”

  1. March 15th, 2009 at 8:46 am

    a daughter's mother says:

    Please, please tell me there’s more!

  2. March 16th, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    She has posted 33 chapters so there is quite a bit to read. It is at Saint Vincent Memories!

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