Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Murder on the High Plains



Last time, we examined awards, photos and memorabilia on Calvin’s mantle in his Quien Sabe house. A floor lamp made from the skulls and racks of two large bucks locked in mortal combat served as a reading lamp by Calvin’s easy chair. The bucks could not disentangle themselves and died together. Calvin found them on the ranch. He said their last words were, “You can have her.”

Family photos lined the walls of the hall. Calvin pointed and named each, pausing to clear a catch in his throat when he pointed toward Billy, the son he lost to cancer at 28.  Billy was movie-star-handsome.  Calvin told me he had won all-around cowboy in the Amarillo Ranch Rodeo several times. 

As I looked at Billy’s picture, I thought of the poem I had recently read about mettle. Calvin’s mettle had been tested as mine never had. And he had passed. Instead of using crutches like alcohol to deal with a tragedy, he had propelled himself to be a better father, grandfather, husband, and manager of men.

Billy’s children, Zack and Zane, were still riding their father’s trophy saddles. Billy had his own string of horses and started branding them with a cross during the years he battled cancer.  His sons now jointly own his string of horses.  They have a ZZ brand of their own, but also kept the cross in honor of their father.   

The boys live in the ranch bunkhouse and make cowhands during the summer. I learned that one grandson had recently won a trophy buckle at a dummy roping in Amarillo. As we walked outside in the pre-dusk cool, the kids all carried chicken ropes (short ropes used for roping everything that moves and everything that doesn’t).  

As we watched Grandson Zack, sixteen and already six-four, work colts in a round pen, the subject of another classmate came up. I think there were only about twelve in our class and half were girls. One of the boys we’ll call Joe (not his real name). Joe took charge of the family farm for his mother after his father died when he was a sophomore in high school. Joe was a big guy at sixteen with huge hands. The story of Joe and his wife Mary that Calvin told is complex and almost unbelievable, so bear with me.

I had heard that Joe had been shot and killed by a ranch hand a few years before and that his wife Mary (not her name, either) was in prison for being involved, but I was not sure of the details.  Thinking of our old friend meeting a violent death and the shy girl we knew in high school in prison was incredible to me. 

Joe’s wife Mary was in the class below us.  Joe and Mary went steady all the time I knew them. They were model students and seemed mature beyond their years.  Several years after they were married and had a family of their own, Joe and Mary took in a problem teenager, grandson of a friend in Adrian.  Joe put him to work on the farm and was a pretty tough taskmaster.

But Mary and her eldest daughter admittedly allowed the boy to seduce them.  The assumption is that the boy grew afraid that Joe would find out and kill him. Most of Joe’s friends agreed that was a distinct possibility. One evening while Joe was reading the newspaper at his kitchen table, the troubled teen approached from behind and shot him in the back of the head. Joe was later pronounced dead at the scene.

When the teen killer was arrested, he implicated Mary in the planning of the murder.  She was accused of delaying her call to the police after the shooting, allowing the killer time to get away and possibly delaying life saving measures for Joe.  Mary and her teen lover were each sentenced to 35 yrs in prison. 

Calvin’s stepson Troy (Linda’s son by a previous marriage), married Joe and Mary’s daughter (let’s call her Jane). Jane subsequently divorced Troy but maintained a relationship with ex-in-laws Calvin and Linda.

In fact, Troy and Jane’s daughter was employed at the ranch doing housework.  More complications: The granddaughter’s son from a second husband was staying in the bunkhouse at the ranch—a testament, it seems to me, of the depth of Calvin’s and Linda’s kindness, forgiveness, and hospitality.

I had heard that the teen killer had recanted his assertion that Mary was involved. I leaned on the round pen and asked if Mary was still in prison. Calvin answered, “Joe’s still dead, ain’t he?”

Next time: An forgettable morning and day on a huge Texas ranch.

1 comment:

Gloria Hargrave said...

Very interesting story --- true?