One Day Last Year by Kathy M
A Reflection by Nathan Jackson

Main Character: Nathan

Notes: Winner of G&G Healer’s Knife Award 2012

Thank you to Sue M for the edits and for the magnificent collage

Another year over and the last twelve months have sped by so fast. Although JD says we should be thinking of resolutions to make, Josiah says we should take time to reflect instead. After only a few moments of thought I realized what an incredible time of change it has been. Although so much has happened it’s one specific day that I’ll remember forever. A life or death day and those that followed not only changed my life, but that of other men too. A day that set in motion so much incredible change that it affected all of us and the whole town. There are seven of us that would not all still be here, all together in this town, were it not for the events of that day.

A year ago I had never set foot in this town I now call home. I had been moving from town to town trying to find a place that could use my skills as a healer; rather I should say would use my skills. I found many towns that needed a healer but whose townsfolk refused to visit me, “no such thing as a darkie doctor”, even though I only professed to be a healer and bone setter. Finally I found this one town where need seemed to outweigh those preferences and set out my shingle, happy to assist whenever I could.

I got to know many of the townsfolk such as the Potters who ran the general store, Mr. Watson from the hardware store, and even Mr. Conklin, who seemed to only tolerate me, however I realize now that’s more of his nature rather than anything personal. Mrs. Travis, owner and editor of the small local newspaper even printed an article stating that I had set up a clinic in town and I started getting some patients from outlying areas. Most of the time payment was with items such as foodstuff instead of money but when cowboys came to town from surrounding ranches on paydays, and especially from rival ranches, getting all liquored up and into saloon fights, they were happy enough to find anyone to take their cash and stop the bleeding! One day when I was in the store Mrs. Potter introduced me to a man buying some supplies. It seems Josiah Sanchez was trying to restore mission ruins outside of town as some sort of penance. We struck up a bit of a friendship and I enjoyed many interesting discussions with him on a wide range of subjects. I was starting to feel a sense of belonging. Little did I know that was only the start of several strong friendships that were to lead to a much greater feeling of belonging.

Though I’ve never claimed to be a doctor and have always made sure that folks understand that I’m a just a healer, I always do the best I can based on my knowledge and abilities and depending on what supplies I manage to have on hand. As far back as I can remember I’ve always been interested in healing and medicine. Growing up as a slave on a plantation I certainly didn’t have many options but I eagerly absorbed whatever knowledge I could and helped whenever an opportunity arose. As a stretcher bearer during the war I was fortunate to work with a doctor who looked past my color, happily accepting my help and gladly sharing his knowledge with me, and I’ve managed to learn more from many different people over the years since then, as I traveled around looking for a place to settle.

When some cowboys brought their trail boss into my little clinic I knew that he was too far gone with gangrene. I told them I was not a doctor and could not save him but they were insistent to say the least. Thinking I could at least ease his passing I told them I would do what I could to make him comfortable, and I would like to think that I helped reduce his suffering. He was gone by early morning and they did not take it well when they found out later that day, blaming me for not being able to save him. They must have gone to drown their sorrows and got themselves all riled up. Even though I fought wildly I was dragged down the stairs, tied up and slung into the back of a wagon. Shouting loudly and with gunshots they announced to the town that they would be stringing me up.

As they headed through town to the cemetery the only person that stood up to them was Mary Travis, who was roughly shoved down for her efforts. Sitting on the back of that wagon, hands tied and with a rope around my neck I thought I would soon be facing my maker when I saw two men strolling towards us. One I recognized as a young man that arrived in town last week and was working at the hardware store, Vin Tanner. The other was a stranger to me, dressed all in black with the swagger and look of a gunfighter, and who I later found out was Chris Larabee. Shoulder to shoulder these men were standing up for me. Trusting in the innocence of a black man they didn’t know, they were willing to put their lives on the line for justice and fight for right. Neither side was willing to back down without a fight and soon lead was flying.

The horses spooked and left me hanging by my neck from a tree then Vin fired off a couple of shots with that rifle. The first bullet missed but the second one severed the rope and saved my life. A youth ran up wanting to help and chased after one of the fleeing men. A bullet at his feet stopped him from shooting, before being sternly admonished by the gunfighter not to shoot a man in the black. That was the first time we saw JD Dunne and that was the first of many lessons he was to learn here.

When it was all over Mary Travis ran up wanting to talk to my two rescuers who chose instead to head to the saloon for a drink. Accompanying them I was pleasantly surprised when the younger man ordered a drink for me, saying ‘a whisky for the doc.’ And just like that I felt accepted as an equal by these men. While we were there two men approached us, wanting to hire us to protect their Indian village. We agreed but knew we needed a few more men. Chris knew that Buck Wilmington, an old friend of his was in town, so he found him in a compromising position I found out later, and Buck readily agreed. I took them out to meet Josiah and we invited him to join us but he refused. Vin promised him a hell of a fight and we hoped he’d change his mind and join us.

Back in the saloon in town we met a hustler, a gambler, Ezra Standish, who scoffed at us when we asked him to join us. No, he was not interested at all but after Vin said he reckoned Standish should probably be leaving town anyway he said he’d sleep on it and Standish did join us in the morning. JD was there too wanting to join in the fight, and even though he was left behind it didn’t stop him from following us to the village. We had also picked up Josiah on the way and so by the end of that next day we were seven.

We’ve been together ever since, through that hard fought battle and many more fights, injuries and illnesses; misunderstandings and strife; trials and tribulations, and heartaches and tears. During the rest of the year there’s been many other memorable days. Days that wore on a man’s soul and days that almost broke us apart. Days where we almost lost one of us. But there were also days where working together brought us closer together; we grew and shared, and there were lots of quiet and fun days too. But it was that one day that started it all, that day laid the foundation; put all the players on the stage and set the events in motion that changed us all. Seven men coming together in that place, at those moments in time, each of us pieces of a puzzle that would fit together to be so much more collectively, than individually.

If not for the events that happened that day we would have been like ships passing in the night. JD would not have leaped off that stagecoach. Ezra, Vin, Buck and Chris would have drifted off to the next town, never getting to know the others, never coming together as a team, as friends, never knowing what we would have missed. What an incredible year. I’ve found respect and trust, which took some of us longer to find than others; became part of a team of peacekeepers and friends, and found a place to belong. While we’ve all been through so much since that day we faced it together, and we will continue to stand together to face whatever will come in the next year.

The End

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