The Death of Old Jo

by Beth

Notes: This is based on a true story…I won’t tell you about it until the end…it would give it away ·I needed a break from Prey, it’s getting really angsty, LOL, so I thought I’d stretch some other muscles.

This is dedicated to all those out there who live life to the fullest!

Special thanks to Yolande and to Antoinette who always has time for me…

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Chapter 1

Ezra was violently pushed back as the door to the sheriff’s office was thrown open and the monster of a man that had been detained rushed through. The prisoner grunted once, wishing he had a gun and leapt on the back of the horse tied to the closest hitching rail. He sped down the street without care or concern for those crossing, his legs beating the sides of the animal and his arms flapping viciously as though it would help them move faster.

Townsfolk yelled, gasped, and scattered as he sped by, most falling into and onto each other, the boardwalk, and horses. They were graciously helped up by people passing by. 

JD burst through the door, knocking the gambler back as he was just regaining his feet. “Prisoner’s escaped!” he yelled, as though Ezra hadn’t noticed.

“Obviously,” Ezra muttered, rubbing his elbow as he stood, and then he dusted his jacket and pants. “What on earth happened?” His brow furrowed and he watched as Chris and Vin rushed across the street, helping those who had the misfortune of being in front of the stampeding horse and rider.

“What happened?” Chris yelled, storming toward the office. He looked back in time to see Buck and Josiah racing from the saloon, just as Nathan rushed down the steps from his room.

“Wilson grabbed his plate of food from me and before I could jump back he grabbed my hand.” JD held his right hand with his left, trying to hide his discomfort. “He pulled me to the bars and took the keys then shoved me back—”

“You hit your head?” Nathan asked, having noticed the kid’s hand.

“Yeah, but—”

“Get ‘im back to the clinic, Nathan, the rest of us will go after ‘im,” Chris said with authority. He watched as JD followed the healer with reluctance in every step. “Buck, go back to the saloon and see if you can find a few extra guns…we’ll need more than five for a posse.” He looked toward the tracker. “Start trackin’ him, the rest of us will catch up with you shortly.”

“He ain’t right in the head, Chris,” JD pleaded, before being pulled by Nathan.

Vin nodded and rushed toward his horse. Buck had already disappeared into the saloon.

Chris stepped down and headed toward his mount, he spoke as he walked, expecting Josiah and Ezra to follow. “We’ll head out, the others will catch up.” He looked up as Vin sped by them, his horse moving at top speed. The townsfolk had already moved out of the way, anticipating the rush of the seven.

Chris sighed, looking at his men, and then mounted. “I want him alive.” I need him alive…

Josiah and Ezra nodded and followed the leader.


The batwing doors flung open and Buck stood in the frame. “I need some extra guns…Wilson’s escaped.”

Three men stood up and grabbed their guns off the tables. Jo Monaghan was a short fellow, with barely any meat on his bones. At almost sixty he was known as being a hard worker, quiet, and reclusive. Only on occasion he would come into town, and then it was only to share a drink with an old friend and send a letter back east. He was known though, for being an excellent shot. Byron Seeger was about Jo’s age. He stood taller and heavier set than his friend, and covered in hair, except for his bright red nose and weathered cheeks. Paul Burroughs was tall and lanky, kept his long black hair braided behind his back and wore a tall black hat…making him stand taller than anyone else in town.

Buck looked at the men, wishing more had volunteered, but he sighed and led them out. They were going to have to do.


The posse followed Wilson’s tracks into the desert canyons. Dust and sand moved over the land like water over a creek bed. Soft and subtle, leaving patterns on the ground and embracing rocks, stones, weeds, and bushes.

Vin crept to the edge of the canyon cliff. His soft soled shoes moving delicately in the sand. He turned back to Chris and nodded. Wilson was in sight.

Ezra took the reins of the horses and led the animals toward some trees and secured them, while the others prepared to capture the murderer. Wilson seemed mad, ranting and raving…waving his arms and screaming at the bushes, at rocks, and the walls he’d trapped himself behind. The horse he’d stolen shied away from him, tucking his tail, and raising his head allowing the reins of his bridle to whip about his face.

“He’s crazy,” Buck surmised, looking at Wilson, trying to understand his ranting.

Chris rolled his eyes and tried to assess how they’d capture the man.

“We could sit here, let him wear hiself out,” Jo said, rolling over onto his backside. He took out a pouch of tobacco and filled his pipe. “Sure as hell don’t want to catch what he’s got.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Josiah said, watching and listening to Wilson. He knew what madness was like…what it could do…how it changed people…and if Wilson had a weapon hid…

“And what, may I ask, is the plan?” Ezra asked, slipping in beside the others.

“We’re gonna wait his craziness out,” Buck surmised.

Ezra looked over the edge at Wilson and a grin came to his face. “How about a bet—”

“Ezra,” Chris hissed, “Now ain’t the time.”

“Seems as good a time as any,” the gambler replied. He pulled out his narrow record book and looked at the others. “Any takers…? Four to one odds?” He grinned, showing off his dimples and mischievous smile.

“Hell,” Old Jo said, pulling a dollar out of his pants pocket, “I’m in…I’ll give the bastard an hour.” He took a short puff from his pipe and let the smoke seep past his lips.

Ezra took the money and noted Jo’s time.

“Hour and twenty minutes,” Byron said, tossing his money to the gambler.

“Forty-five,” Paul said, nodding his head with conviction and confidence.

“One hour ten minutes,” Buck said, tossing his coin over. “And damn I’ll be pissed, Ezra, if you put somethin’ in Wilson’s water.”

Ezra grinned, “You overestimate my abilities, Mr. Wilmington.”

“Yeah, like I overestimate my ‘animal magnetism’,” Buck said with a wink, lying back against the warm sand. “I ever tell you boys about Abigail Summers, sweet little thing I met down in Ridge City—”

“Buck,” Chris snapped, “shut up.” He looked over the side, watching Wilson’s rampage…the man was mad…no doubt about it.

“I’ll give him two hours,” Josiah said, not quite believing he was betting on a man’s madness. He handed Ezra a couple of coins and said a short prayer, not for the money, but his sin.

“Mr. Larabee—care to wager?”

Chris stared at the man below and pressed his lips together before sending Ezra a deadly glare.

Vin shut the chamber to his rifle and nodded, as though he’d come to a conclusion.

“So what happens if nobody wins?” Byron asked, picking his teeth with a stick.

Ezra chuckled and shook his head: “It all goes to the proprietor of course.”

“Of course,” Chris sighed.

“Hell,” Byron sighed, “I’m makin’ some coffee.” He stood up and walked to his horse to grab what he needed. “Damn good thing y’all decided to let Wilson get free today,” he yelled back to the others, “Bought up all fresh stock.” He pulled out a bag of sugar, coffee, and his pot.

Jo laughed and sighed: “Man’s lived in this country near as long as I ‘ave…an’ he’s still usin’ sugar.”

“How long have you known him?” Josiah asked, pushing his hat away from his eyes.

“Came out here in ’43…spent most of those years with cows an’ sheep…met Byron in ’52—’53.”

“I’ve known Jo for over twenty years, an’ never seen ‘im without his hat, with a beard an’ mustache, or a clean shirt,” Byron said, tossing some wood into the fire.

“It’s too damn hot goin’ without my hat, an’ I ain’t never been able to grow hair on my face—besides, I’d get food all over it anyhow, and why wear a clean shirt when it’s bound to get dirty.” He laughed at his own joke.

“Knew a boy durin’ the war,” Buck said. “We’d called him Red, cuz of ‘is bright red hair—he tried an’ tried to grow a beard, never could.”

Jo nodded in understanding. “When ya look in the mirror thinkin’ that ya might be able to get somethin’ more ‘an peach fuzz.” He shook his head in disappointment. “An’ all ya see is three hairs, one on yer chin, an’ the other two on your upper lip—makes ya feel less than man at times.”

“It’s a beard…?” Chris responded in sarcastic disbelief.

“That comin’ from someone who can grow one,” Jo bit back, causing a round of chuckles from the others.

“I think he’s slowin’ down,” Vin said, laying on his belly and looking over the side of the cliff.

Ezra pulled out his pocket watch and carefully counted the minutes while the others watched Wilson.

Wilson yelled one last time and sat down, quiet for a brief moment and then without warning he started again, just as strong as ever.

Everyone returned to their spots.

“So, Buck, tell us about Abigail Summers,” Byron said, taking a seat by his coffee as it brewed.


It had started out as a relatively nice day, until Wilson went crazy. Four and a half hours had passed and Chris was ready to forgo the hanging and just shoot and kill the man, but he knew he’d never get any answers that way.

And he needed answers.

“Vin,” Chris said, looking over the side of the cliff. “Can you shoot him?”

“Thought you wanted him alive?”

“Don’t kill him, just wing him,” Chris said, running his fingers through his hair.

Vin nodded in understanding before looking carefully at Wilson’s unpredictable movements. He bit his bottom lip and brought his rifle up to his shoulder…and hesitated.

“What is it?” Chris asked out of concern.

“I can hit him, but I don’t know for sure if I can do it without killin’ him. ”

Chris nodded.

“How many rabbits ‘ave you done shot in yer time?” Jo asked, scratching his forehead.

“I ain’t sayin’ I can’t hit ‘im…I’m sayin’—”

“I know what yer sayin’,” Jo replied, “an’ I know why yer sayin’ it.”

Chris looked at Vin, knowing his friend was afraid of killing the one man that had ties to Ella Gains…he was the one reason she might show up for the hanging—if there was one. “I trust you,” he said with conviction.

“I know you do…but that ain’t the problem.” He sighed and watched as Wilson fell to the ground only to jump back up and continue his rampage.

“Hells bells,” Jo sighed, picking up his rifle. “Y’all have too damn much baggage ‘round yer necks.” He lifted the weapon to his shoulder and licked his thumb before rubbing the end of his sight. “Take some time an’ think about life—this is the easy shit.” He fired before anyone could protest.

Everyone’s eyes focused on Wilson who dropped to his butt and held his left arm.

“Easy as pie,” Jo chuckled, before turning toward the horses. “I’m hungry an’ I’m headin’ back to town.”

“I could ‘ave made that shot,” Vin sighed, shaking his head.

Chris chuckled: “I know,” he looked back toward Jo who was tightening the cinch of his saddle, “but I’m thinkin’ Jo’s gettin’ hungry.”

“Yeah, guess so.”


JD and Nathan stepped out of the saloon just as the posse returned to town, looking tired but all in one piece. Wilson sat in his saddle with his hands tied to the horn, a gag secured in his mouth, and a rough looking bandage wrapped around his upper arm. Nathan sighed, unsure if he wanted to know what had happened, and headed up to his clinic to grab his supplies. 

“What happened?” JD asked, stepping off the boardwalk with his wrist wrapped in bandages.

“Wilson went crazy,” Byron answered. He pulled his horse to a stop and dismounted. Jo and Paul soon followed.

“Thanks for the help,” Buck called after them, as he headed toward the sheriff’s office.

Jo waved and disappeared through the batwing doors.

“How ‘bout the judge buyin’ us a beer for our efforts?” Paul yelled toward the retreating forms.

“Ezra,” Chris paused, “Give the man some money for some beers—”

“Me?” The gambler complained, pulling his horse to a stop.

“I’ll have the judge reimburse you.” Chris continued forward on his horse, ignoring any and all future protests. The man had made five dollars in just a few hours…he could part with a buck or two.

“With interest I presume!” Ezra yelled after him, he knew he was being ignored and he knew he’d never see his money again—but that didn’t mean he’d have to let Larabee forget it. With a shrewd grin on his face he tossed Paul enough money to purchase some beers.


Josiah and Vin hauled Wilson off his horse and pulled him into the same cell he’d escaped from earlier. They slammed the cell door shut, having left his hands tied and the gag firmly held over his mouth. He grunted and threw himself against the bars, his madness having consumed him.

Josiah tossed the keys into the top drawer of the desk, he knew Chris would have the same talk with JD as he had with Vin just months before, letting him know not to carry the keys to the cell doors when they got close to the prisoners…only when they needed to release them.

Vin leaned against the desk and waited for the others to get settled. Chris stood back and watched Wilson’s movements like a hawk watching its prey. Nathan soon entered and waited for the okay to enter the cell.

“Ezra said Wilson’s gone crazy,” Nathan said, watching the prisoner pace in lunacy across the floor.

“Ezra say that?” Vin asked with a knowing grin.

Nathan sighed and shook his head: “Close enough.”

Buck nodded in agreement and chuckled. “I’m headin’ over to the saloon for a drink…y’all comin’?”

“Later,” Chris said firmly, keeping his eyes on Wilson’s form.

Buck looked at Vin and received his look of ‘I’ll watch him’, and nodded before slipping out the door. Josiah soon followed, needing some time to think as well. JD received a nod from Vin, letting him know it was time to go, and the kid did as he thought best and followed Buck.

“I should treat that arm,” Nathan said, unsure of what was happening before him.

“Let it be,” Chris replied firmly.

Nathan turned to the tracker. “Let me know when things settle down—I’ll wrap that wound.”

Vin nodded as Nathan left the office.

“He too far gone?” Chris whispered, watching Wilson’s erratic movements.

“Can’t tell you, Cowboy.”

“What can you tell me?” Chris snapped.

“Nothin’ you don’t already know.”

“He’s got answers, Vin.”

The tracker shook his head: “He’s got nothin’—an’ whatever he did have, is long gone.” He stood up and slapped his friend on the shoulder. “I’ll be in the saloon.”

Chris nodded and didn’t say anything as the door slammed shut. He just watched Wilson, trying to find reasons for everything—for all the madness. Why, he thought, why did he get so close only to have it taken away?


Buck sat at the table with one of the newest saloon girls resting comfortably on his lap. JD and Josiah sat across from him, drinking their beers and talking about the day’s events. Chris had entered some time ago and now sat alone in the dark corner. Vin watched him from a distance, while leaning against the bar. Ezra sat at his table playing cards with a few patrons. Nathan had remained at the sheriff’s office, waiting for the laudanum he’d put in Wilson’s coffee to take effect.

Jo and Byron had left, heading home after enjoying their beers. Paul was now telling the long tale of Wilson and his escapades, complete with voice changes and antics. The crowd that had gathered seemed entertained, if not worried about catching whatever Wilson had.

Chris had informed everyone, on Nathan’s approval, that Wilson’s madness wasn’t contagious…only a sickness in his mind. It did little to ease everyone’s fears, but it was enough to keep them from panicking.

Buck put his beer glass down and smiled up at Daisy. She wrapped her arm around his neck and giggled when he blew into her ear. “Boys,” he announced, “I’ll see you in the mornin’.” His eyes danced as he spoke and without warning he was standing with the woman slung over his shoulder. She laughed and giggled as they made their way upstairs, and she reached out to grab a bottle of whiskey before disappearing all together.

Josiah shook his head, thinking about Wilson and his madness…about Hanna.

“You okay, Josiah?” JD asked.

“I’ll be fine—how’s the hand?”

The kid shrugged, wishing he could have gone with them. “Nate says it’s just sprained.” He looked toward Chris and found the tracker was now sitting with him. “Won’t Ella still show up if Wilson gets hung?”

“Before men die…” he paused, “...sometimes, they say things that might postpone their hanging.”

“You think that’s what Chris was countin’ on.”

“Yeah, JD…he was.”

“But there’s a chance Ella might still show,” JD tried to sound promising.

Josiah shook his head. “She won’t, JD—there’s no longer a reason.”


“I’ll contact the judge tomorrow,” Chris said, watching as the flickers of the fire reflected off the surface of his drink.

Vin nodded, knowing what it was like to loose his one link to redemption.

“I want to make sure somebody’s with him all the time…I don’t want him tryin’ to take himself out.”

“I’ll tell the others.”

Chris nodded in thanks.

Chapter 2

The hanging took place as scheduled. Many stood around and watched a man that had been consumed by madness, drop from a rope—never realizing what was happening, kick his feet, urinate in his pants, struggle momentarily, and then stop all movements. Silence echoed over the crowd like whispers in a church.

Chris looked out over the crowd, looking desperately for any sign of Ella, but he knew she wasn’t there. He watched as the crowd slowly disbursed, looking for other things to fill their day. He noticed Byron coming in on a wagon and nodded to him as he rode past.

Vin paused, looking down the road as the rest of the seven went about their business. “No sign of her,” he said softly, leaning against the awning post.

“Didn’t think there would be.”

Vin nodded and watched as Wilson’s body was pulled down, and then checked by Nathan. “Buck’s buyin’ Inez’s new taco…figured I go on over an’ try a piece of it—maybe get one of my own.”

Chris grinned: “Maybe I’ll join you.” He sighed, thinking it would be fun steeling Buck’s food rather than him steeling everyone else’s. “I’ll be there in a minute,” he sighed, heading toward the undertaker’s office.


Byron slowly jumped off the buckboard and sighed before looking up and watching as the man he’d help capture was carried to the undertakers. He observed as Chris Larabee followed them inside. Byron looked at the form covered in the back of his wagon. Jo’s body lie still, unmoving…dead, for reasons he didn’t understand. His heart was heavy with the death of an old friend.

“You all right?” Chris asked, surprising Byron.

“Ol’ Jo died last night sometime—went out to see ‘im this mornin’, found ‘im sittin’ at his table…” He ran his hand over his face and sighed, unwilling to remove the tarp from Jo’s body.

“Go get yourself a drink,” Chris said softly, wishing death wasn’t so difficult. “I’ll take care of it.”

Byron pressed his lips together and nodded before quickly heading toward the saloon. He didn’t know how to deal with it—and he wasn’t sure he wanted to.

Chris carefully picked Jo up from the bed of the wagon and carried him inside.

Once Wilson was placed inside a wooden box, Jo was placed upon the cold wooden table. Chris stood to the back and watched as Nathan carefully looked over Jo’s body. He looked peaceful, lying with his eyes shut and a subtle smile on his face…as though he’d had the last laugh.

“His heart could have givin’ out,” Nathan said, not believing it had been foul play. He carefully unbuttoned Jo’s shirt and gasped, “Holy shit.”

Both the undertaker and Chris stepped forward with the same reaction. “What the hell?”


“No,” Byron said in shock. “It’s not possible.” His voice became harsher at the news being told to him by Chris soaked in.

“Mary’s doin’ some research now…we should know Jo’s real name in a couple of days.”

“Who all knows?” Byron’s piercing eyes turn upward in a threatening manner.

“This ain’t somethin’ you can keep hid,” Chris replied, unwilling to argue about it.

“Jo was my friend, Larabee…I ‘ave a right.”

Chris nodded: “I don’t know what to tell you, Byron, I don’t know why he—she, hid the secret from you for so long.”

“I should ‘ave known…” he sighed, slumping down in his chair. “I should ‘ave known.”

Chris turned, leaving Byron alone with his thoughts, and headed for the Clarion.


Ezra stood up when he saw Chris walking across the street from the Saloon. Vin and JD both stepped out beside the gambler, waiting to hear the news about Jo.

“You really think it’s true?” JD asked, moving from the doorway as Josiah joined them. “That Jo Monaghan was a woman?”

“I can assure you it was a bet I never would have made,” Ezra sighed, unconsciously flipping his cards between his fingers.

“How come nobody ever noticed…? I mean…he was a woman?” JD sighed, waiting for Chris to answer all their questions.

“Maybe she…?”

“Maybe she what, Josiah?” Ezra challenged. “Liked her own kind…?” He wasn’t comfortable with the idea, and frankly, it disturbed him more than he wanted to imagine.

“Let’s wait for what Chris has to say ‘fore we go makin’…” Vin sighed, unsure how he wanted to finish the statement.

“Accusations,” Ezra replied, “the word you’re lookin’ for, is accusations.”

“Why would he do it though?” JD asked himself. “Why would he—she, pretend to be a man?”

“I believe we may find that out shortly,” Josiah said, adjusting his position as Chris stepped out of the Clarion with Mary on his heels.

Buck and Nathan quickly walked across the street with every intention of hearing about Jo, and the reasons behind her charade. Chris waited for all his men to gather on the boardwalk before motioning to Mary to tell them what she had discovered.

Mary cleared her throat and began, “Jo’s real name was Josephine Monaghan, she was sending her son, Laddie, money and letters every month—which is why she came into town ever so often…”

“Why’d she pretend to be a man for so long?” JD asked, needing an answer of some kind.

“Jo wasn’t married when she gave birth, and because she refused to conform to her parent’s wishes, she gave up her child and headed west—finding that her opportunity was limited to prostitution, she cut her hair and disguised herself as a man.”

“How’d you find all this out?” Vin asked, watching as Byron left the saloon and headed to the undertakers.

“I pieced together a few items Jo had on her when she died and what I could find out from her brother—who seems unwilling to write much at this time.” He looked again at the telegram she’d received about Jo from her brother.

“Do you believe it?” Buck asked, unsure about the whole situation.

Mary smiled confidently. “Of course I believe it.” She turned on her haunches and headed back to her office with the intention of writing her next headline.

Ezra watched her go and a smile came to his face. “Perhaps, Mr. Larabee, the appearance of someone can change over time…even more so for someone runnin’ from somethin’ or to someone—say, Ella Gains.” He folded his cards together and returned them to his pocket before heading back to the saloon.

“He’s got a point,” Vin said, looking more closely as the individuals walking down the street.

Chris took his hat off and ran his fingers through his hair, all with the same hand, before sighing. “Shit,” he swore, before storming off toward the livery.

Josiah chuckled and looked around the town. “Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess, and to gain applause which he cannot keep…” he sighed thinking about the quote from so long ago.

JD sighed and leaned into Buck: “I don’t understand.”

Buck nodded and slapped the kid on the back: “Let’s go before he explains it.” He pushed JD forward, never missing a step.

Vin tipped his hat and slowly descended the steps. He pulled his hat down, hiding his eyes and walked toward the saloon to get a drink before he took off on patrol.

Nathan wiped his hands on his towel and placed his hands on his hips. “Still don’t understand it, Josiah.” He shook his head, thinking about a woman spending her life as a man.

Josiah smiled contently, as if understanding more than all his brothers. “She wanted to be free, Brother…and damn if she didn’t do it—on her own terms.”

The End

Josephine Monaghan “Jo”, moved from New York after the Civil War following the birth of her illegitimate son, Laddie, and moved to Southern Idaho where she lived as a man for 37 years. She died in 1903, and little is known about her life. It is said that she had strong feminine characteristics, but because it was illegal to dress improper to your sex during that time, no one ever questioned it.    

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