The Cowboy’s Beginnings

The third member of our League is Thomas Jones, the freed slave turned American cowboy, this is part 1 of his origin.

In an effort for authenticity, the story contains some derogatory and racist names used by certain characters in this time period. This is a work of fiction. They are purely for use in the story and do not reflect the views or beliefs of anyone involved in the creative process.

The sounds of the screaming could be heard for miles around, but for once they weren’t his. Thomas pulled with all the might he could at the chained manacles he had wrapped around the plantation owner’s neck. The Emancipation Proclamation had been passed over three months ago. Slavers all across the south were turning their slaves loose without so much as a “sorry about that”. Not his owners, not the Jamiesons. Mr. Bertram Wallace Jamieson had been furious when the Confederacy had lost the war. Despite the order from President Lincoln, Jamieson had refused to capitulate. Union soldiers were currently working their way through the plantation slowly due to Jamieson Jr. and his men putting up a fight. Mr. Jamieson, the man who had made his life a living hell since birth, was here in his shack, spouting how he “.. would rather see his monkeys burn than set their savage hides free”. He had arrived with a torch, intent on burning the shack down with Thomas and the others inside of it. Mr. Jamieson had made the mistake of opening the door to throw the torch inside of the ramshackle barracks; it was the last mistake he would ever make. Thomas and some of the others had seen Mr. Jamieson approaching their meager home. They could hear the shouts and rifles being fired somewhere off on the east side of the plantation.

Thomas climbed down from his makeshift bunk which was nothing more than a slab of wood held up by 2x4s and motioned for some of the others to take up a position on the other side of the door. The crunching of Mr. Jamieson’s feet on the gravel as he neared the barracks were louder than the fighting they could hear in the distance. His booted feet thudded on the wooden porch of the shack as he prepared to torch his “property”. Mr. Jamieson kicked the door open with a force that was actually surprising to the men and women of the plantation who were slowly waking up from the noise outside. 

The torchlight framed the furrowed sweaty brow of the white southern plantation owner as he stepped into the shack preparing to throw the torch onto the straw covered floor. The men hiding beside the door were on him in an instant. They weren’t able to move fast or far with their manacles on their wrists and ankles, but they weren’t far from their target. Two of the men, Abraham and John, grabbed the torch out of Mr. Jamieson’s hand while the one beside Thomas, Peter, swung with a sucker punch, connecting against the older man’s jaw. “Which one of you filthy niggers just laid a hand on me?! I will skin you alive!” the old man shouted, struggling against the burly workers holding him.

“Not no more Mr. Jamieson, we’ve heard the news. The soldiers are here to free us. We aren’t your property no more” Thomas said with a definitive tone as he stood in front of the restrained man.

“I don’t care what that monkey loving hack in the White House or those soldiers say. You’re my property and I will do with you what I goddamn well please! Now let go of me you filthy animals!” he shouted as he continued to struggle. The older man was very wily for someone of his age and he managed to slip a hand free and took a swing at Thomas. The younger man easily avoided the blow with a small tilt of his head as Jamieson grunted with exertion. The two men holding Mr. Jamieson tightened their grip and managed to get his arm back under hold as Thomas approached the old man.

“Get out of my face.. I should’ve squashed you under my boot when that animal you called a mother gave birth to you on my stable floor..” Mr. Jamieson muttered through clenched teeth.

“You won’t be hurting anybody anymore, not ever..” Thomas said quietly as he wrapped the chains that held his manacled hands together around the old man’s throat and began pulling. With the two men holding him in their tight grips, the old plantation owner was powerless to stop it as his life was squeezed out of his body. 

Thomas looked straight out the open door of the shack onto the wide open fields. A faint fog still hung low over the crops  from the heat of the day. Thomas’ stare never wavered off that field and the horizon it bordered. Nothing else mattered to him now, not this farm, or the man who had bound him his entire life, as he choked the life out of him. As Jamieson gurgled and gasped for any final breath he could muster, his face began to change colour. His normal rosy complexion turning beet red as the capillaries in his eyes began popping from the pressure. Thomas never relented. He would not look Mr. Jamieson in the eye. He would not show any kindness or final humanity for this man. This man would die alone, without a single loving soul to see him go. Thomas felt the weight go dead against him and in that moment he knew, the man in his control was dead. Thomas loosened his grip slightly, but did not let go. He stared. Straight ahead with the horizon and the life he was planning for himself in his own mind.  With a deep breath, the reality of the situation set in and Thomas let the lifeless body fall to the ground. The master was dead, “next”, Thomas thought, “was his son.”

The sounds of battle were fading really quickly. It seemed as though the Union soldiers had won the fight and were moving cautiously, like a slow wind blowing through the farm. They stopped at each building checking for potential slaves still held against their will: the barn, the mansion, the carriage house, the warehouse and finally, the slave barracks. The sound of muffled conversation could heard as the soldiers approached from the main path. The scuffling of stones and dirt drowning out the hushed silence in the barracks. Three Union soldiers rounded the corner as Thomas and the others were undoing their manacles with the master key Thomas had found in Jamieson’s pocket. They looked at the dozens of slaves and their horrible living situation. Over 40 people had been crammed into a small shack that should only have housed ten people a max. bunks had been hap hazardously thrown together and stacked against the walls. Some bunks had 2 or 3 people sleeping on them while other had as many as 5. The soldiers stared in horror at what they were seeing before quickly averting their gaze from the poor people in front of them. One of them, a younger soldier, shifted his gaze down out of shame for what had been done to these people and came to rest on the dead Mr. Jamieson on the ground.

He pointed to the dead owner and nudged the two others with him. They all looked at the dead man and then back to the crowd of newly freed slaves.

“Is this the land owner?” the soldier in the middle asked, the three chevrons on his tunic noting him as a sergeant in the Union Army.

“Yes it is, Sir”, Thomas said as he stepped a pace in front of the rest who were all frozen in fear of what would happen to them. Prior to the proclamation, if a white man had been found dead in their barracks, they all would’ve been skinned alive and left out in the hot South Carolina sun. Now though, things might be different.

“And you did this, did you?” the Sergeant asked Thomas pointedly.

“Yes sir, I did. He deserved it.”

“What’s your name, boy?” the sergeant asked with a gruffness taking over his voice as he questioned Thomas.

“My name is Thomas Jones, Sir”

The sergeant shook his head slowly from side to side as he closed his eyes. He stopped shaking his head and opened his eyes to stare at Thomas, “No son, what’s your real name?”

Thomas stood there for a second, not sure what this Union officer meant. Suddenly an elderly lady stepped out from the crowd to address the officer with a thick accent, “I be begging your pardon sir, but Thomas here was born on this plantation. He only has the one name”.

“My mother used to call me something else when I was young, but I don’t remember it. She’s been dead a long time now sir, I’m sorry I don’t know what it is”, out of reflex Thomas hung his head in shame. It was something he had been taught to do ever since he was a little boy if he couldn’t do something a white man had asked him. The sergeant moved forward suddenly. Thomas sensing the movement instinctually flinched expecting a blow, the union sergeant laid his hand on Thomas’ shoulder calmly. Thomas looked up to see the gruff round and bearded faced sergeant looking him dead in the eyes.

“I’m sorry for what this man and his own have done to you..”, the sergeant moved his gaze up and looked at the sea of slaves huddled in the shack; “.. to all of you. If you will follow my men, we have a wagon on the road with rations and blankets for all of you. You’re free now. No man will ever hold dominion over you again. Private, escort these people to the wagon!” the sergeant said, his order to the young soldier coming off as a bark at the end of his nice gesture.

“Yes sir!” The young soldier said as he snapped to attention quickly. “If you’ll all follow me, we’ll get you set up. Bring any possessions you have, I don’t think you’ll want to come back here”. 

“But Sergeant”, the other soldier piped up, “…they killed a man. This can’t go unanswered.”

The sergeant rounded on the other soldier as the newly freed slaves filed out of the shack, “yes we can private. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Do you know why?”

“No Sergeant.” the soldier replied quickly.

“We’re going to let this go because this man broke the law himself. He was ordered to free these people and he refused. Without the help of Fox, we would never have learned about the Confederacy supply line through the county or about how this man was still holding his slaves.”

Thomas stopped grabbing the few things he had abruptly and whipped around to face the sergeant, “Excuse me Sir, did you say that you were in contact with Fox?”

The sergeant quickly turned to face Thomas, “I did, do you know him?”

“I do know him sir, he’s me” Thomas replied.

“You’re Fox? How do we know that for sure?” the sergeant asked as he eyed Thomas with suspicion. The sergeant stared at Thomas with an eyebrow half cocked waiting for an answer.

“Because Fox always signed the messages with a drawing of a fox head, he always used a red cardinal to deliver the messages, and the dead drop for his messages is a tree on the top of an outcropping about 6 miles north that has been struck by lightning” Thomas replied confidently. “And, because I have this…” he muttered as he reached behind his bunk and pulled out a small scrap of paper. Scribbled on one side of the paper in barely legible writing were the words “Message received. We’re coming tonight”. The sergeant read the paper and then looked up to see Thomas standing there with a crooked smile.

“Well private, it looks like we found our spy!” the sergeant announced as he clapped Thomas on the back. A blow that nearly sent the frail man sprawling. “Come with us, Fox, we have some supplies for you”.

The three men marched along the dirt road that connected the various buildings on the plantation with the main road. As they walked down they could hear the sounds of the newly freed slaves looting the mansion for anything and everything they could carry with them. They wound their way down the lane towards their wagon on the side of the road; as one by one they were passed by slaves with all sorts of trinkets and clothing from the mansion. Each newly freed American thanked the Union soldiers on their way by as they headed in every direction for freedom. They watched as some of the workers actually stopped in the fields to pick some of the crops to take with them; filling up blankets they used as slings strapped across their chests and backs. Thomas and the soldiers stopped at the wagon. It was a simple wagon, no burnished metalwork or polished wood. It was a plain and simple wagon meant for military use with a dark cloth covering to keep the supplies as dry as possible. The sergeant reached in through the flap and pulled out a small knapsack. “Here’s some gear Fox. This victory wouldn’t have been possible without your information, I hope you know that, son”, the sergeant said as he handed the bag to Thomas.

Thomas grabbed the bag, a standard military issue, and opened it to check the contents: 2 canteens of water, 7 rations, a change of clothes, a map, a compass, and a Bowie knife. “Now you take that gear and you look after yourself, you hear, Fox?” the sergeant said as he gestured for Thomas to take the supplies.

“Make sure to stay on the main roads too. You might be free but there’s still a lot of people out there who aren’t happy about it. Best move northward if you can.” the young private added.

“Thank you very much sirs, I will, I will” Thomas said as he shouldered the pack and took a swig from one of the canteens.

“I’ve heard they’re looking for workers over in Arkansas. It will be similar to this but you’ll get fair wages and better living conditions”, the sergeant told Thomas as he started moving some of the supplies in the wagon around, making room for him and his men to sleep if they needed to.

“Thank you very much sirs, for everything.” Thomas said as he bowed his head slightly to the soldiers.

“Thank you Fox… or should I say, Thomas Jones” the sergeant said with a hint of pride in his voice.

Thomas started off down the road towards the next town where he would find transportation to Arkansas. He stopped and turned around quickly and looked at the sergeant. “One more questions sirs, Mr. Jamieson is dead, but did you find his son? He was the one who did a lot of the beating and murdering on that piece of land there”.

There were three who fled into the woods to the west of the plantation. If you don’t see their bodies at the farm, odds are they’re the ones who got away. Private Robinson here managed to knick one in the thigh with a shot, so they probably aren’t that far away”, the sergeant answered. Sensing what Thomas was going to do he offered a warning, “If you’re going after them, might want to try and go after them one at a time. Would be a bit of a more even fight then. Here.. take this too. I think you’ll get some use out of it”. The sergeant reached into the wagon and pulled out a pistol in the holster with a box of ammunition. “This belonged to one of our men who died during the battle at Gettysburg. We were bringing it back to his family, but they upped and moved northward without any note as to where. He was a US Marshall before he enlisted. Maybe that’s something you could look into. You seem like a fine, fit lad”.

Thomas reached out with his dirt covered hands and grasped the weapon and holster. He looked at the pistol, a standard Colt Model 1860, with its new cylinder pin system. The box of ammunition was nearly full, almost 100 rounds of .44 caliber ammunition. More than he would need for Jamieson Jr. and his two cronies. Thomas fastened the belt to his waist and clasped the buckle, tucking the excess leather into the wait line. He drew the pistol from the holster quickly and methodically. The sergeant watched with a hint of pride at the newly freed man testing out his skills.

“You’ll make a fine Marshall with that pistol there Thomas. I hope you put it to good use, Son” the sergeant said as he beamed at Thomas, who was busy loading the pistol with some of the ammo.

“Thank you sir, I will.” Thomas said, as he holstered his weapon and with a final nod of his head, started off towards the west and Jamieson Jr..

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