Stutterin' Andy by Will C. Barnes

"Oyez, oyez, o-y-e-z, the Honorable Court of the Third Judicial District of the State of New Mexico is now in session," cried the one-armed bailiff, and the district court in Alamo came to order for the afternoon session.

The judge settled back in his easy chair; the twelve jurymen at his left idly watched the crowd pour into the little courtroom. By the time the prisoner had been escorted in by the sheriff, every inch of space was occupied by eager spectators, both men and women; for the case of Andy Morrow, locally known as "Stutterin' Andy," charged by the grand jury with stealing one red yearling branded X V from Joseph Barker, had attracted the attention of the entire community.

During the morning session, the prosecution had given their side of the case. Old man Barker and a detective from Denver had each testified to finding the hide of a yearling bearing Barker's well-known brand, buried beneath a pile of brush on Morrow's "dry farm" claim.

The resurrected hide was also placed before the jury, the X V on the left ribs being plainly visible and when court adjourned for the noon recess, Barker was jubilant.

"We'll git him, we'll git him," he said to his foreman as they tramped down the narrow staircase leading from the courtroom. "I'll make a shinin' example of Mister Stutterin' Andy, what'll put the fear o' God into a lot of them cow thieves, an' last this here community for some time."

"I reckin' so," replied the foreman who felt that the reputation of the X V outfit was at stake. After lunch, court having been duly opened, the young lawyer, who owing to Morrow's poverty, had been appointed by the court to defend him, addressed the jury with a short statement of the case.

The poverty of the prisoner, his struggles to make a home, the iniquitous "fence law" which forced the little farmer to fence his crops against the wandering herds of the cattlemen, the wealth and standing of Barker, the complaining witness, and his use of a hired detective to hunt up evidence, was all pictured to the jury in his strongest language.

"Say, Barker," whispered a man at his side, nudging him with the point of his elbow, "don't you feel sort of ornery like, to be made out such a consarned old renegade?"

"Don't you be a-feelin' sorry for me," he snapped back, "them what laughs last laughs best, an' I reckon' we got a big ole laugh a-comin' when this here performance is concluded."

"I swear," muttered a man in the audience to his neighbor, "ef that there lawyer chap hopes to make anything out of Andy's testimony that will help him, I miss my guess. Why the pore devil stutters so that nobody kin git a word outa him scarcely, when there's nothin' excitin' goin' on, let alone with all these here people a-settin' there a-listenin'. I'm a-bettin' he won't be able to tell his own name to say nothin' about explainin' how he didn't kill that there yearlin'."

But the attorney knew his business and Morrow remained quietly in his seat beside the sheriff. Having finished his preliminary statement, the young lawyer whispered to the bailiff, who walked across to a small jury room opening off the main courtroom, and opened a door.

A low-spoken word, and there stepped from the room a woman—the wife of the prisoner.

She was tall, slim and about twenty-five years of age. From the corner of her mouth protruded the "dip-stick," that ever present solace of the sex among her class, and without which she probably never could have faced the crowd.

A faded blue calico dress over which she wore a small shawl, and on her head a bedraggled hat with a few tousled roses stuck on one side, made up a costume which only accentuated her drawn face and sorrowful eyes.

After a few moments of whispered conversation with the lawyer, she took the witness chair.

At first her answers to his questions as to her name, age, etc., were given in a low, scarcely audible voice, and the room was so still it was fairly oppressive.

"You understand, do you," he asked her, "that your husband is charged with killing a yearling belonging to Mr. Barker?"

"I shore do," was the reply.

"Will you, please, tell the jury in your own words, just what you know about this matter," the lawyer said.

"Mought I tell it jist as I want to, jist as I done tole it to you down to the hotel?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied very kindly, "tell the jury your story just as you told it to me."

She carefully removed the "dip stick" from her mouth, placing it in a little wooden box which she carried in a battered leather hand bag. Then, turning to the jury, she began her story in a clear firm voice, as if she realized that upon her testimony hung the fate of her husband.

"I want to tell you-all men, the truth about this here thing," she said looking into their faces with unflinching eye, "jist how it happened, an' don't mean to hide narry part of it from nobody.

"Andy an' me's been married now nigh onto six year. We moved into this country about a year ago, comin' from Arkin-saw in a wagon. We had two chillen, a boy an' a gal.

"When we gits here, Andy located down there on the claim an' tried dry farmin'; 'kaffir korners' I reckin' some of them calls us. It tuck mighty nigh every cent we had to git the seed an' some farmin' tools, an' after the crap were in, Andy he gits work in a sawmill up into the mountings, leavin' me an' the kids to make the crap.

"Andy he done built a little loghouse an' a corral, an' puts a brush fence around the land we broke up to keep the critters out, we not havin' any money fer to buy barbed wire fer the fence.

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 "Andy done built a little ole log house"

"We had a heap o' trouble with the range stock all summer an' it kep' me a-steppin' pretty lively to keep 'em out, but I managed to fight 'em off, an' we done pretty well that year.

"Andy worked all winter in the sawmill and jist about spring the man closed down, an' tole the boys a-workin' fer him that he couldn't pay 'em anything he was a-owin' 'em. Most of 'em he owed a right smart to, because he kep' a-promisin' he'd pay every month, an' when he done busted up he owed my man 'bout two hundred dollars.

"So Andy he come home to put in the crap, an' we both worked powerful hard to git it in, an' as we owed the store up thar so much, we couldn't git anything more on our account.

"So, 'bout all we had to eat was taters what we raised the year before. Then the little gal took sick, an' we nussed her fer a time till she got powerful weak, an' then Andy he goes to town fer a doctor, tellin' him we ain't got no money to pay him, but fer God's sake to come an' see her.

"'Twas twenty-five miles fer the doctor to ride, but he come along with Andy all right, an' when he sees the little gal he ses, 'Scarlet fever, an' a bad case too.'

"The doctor done give her some medicine he brung with him, an' said she'd orter be carried to town where he could see her, kase he couldn't come out that way very often, even if we done paid him fer it.

"So me an' Andy hooked up the hosses an' brung her in here, an' bein' as it was what the doc calls a contagious disease, we couldn't git no house to live in; so we had to camp down below town in the creek bottom under a big cottonwood. 'Twere powerful hard to take keer of the little gal there, an' Andy had hard work gittin' grub an' medicine, an' 'cept fer Frank Walton, the man what keeps the 'Bucket of Blood' saloon, we'd never a-pulled her through.

"Frank he sends down a lot of stuff fer us an' tells Andy to git all the medicine he needed at the drug store an' he'd pay fer it hisself.

"Bimeby, the little gal gits better, an' Andy he bein' anxious to git back an' look after the crap, we packs our traps an' goes back to the ranch.

"The doc he ses the little gal's all rite if we git her plenty good strengthnin' stuff, an' Frank he gits us considerable to take home.

"When we left the place we done turned the ole milk cow out on the range till we comes back. Andy he rode three days a-lookin' fer her an' finally meets up with her where she lays daid in a little medder up on the mounting. Andy ses he reckoned she was pizened eatin' wild pasnip. She had a big long-eared calf along with her, but 'twan't nowhere about, an', as the round-up passed that-away a few days afore, Andy he 'lowed they done picked it up fer a dogie an' put ole man Barker's brand on it.

"Andy he couldn't git no work, fer he couldn't leave me alone with the two chillen, an' we tried to save the little handful of grub we brung out fer the gal, an' lived mighty nigh on straight taters an' water. One day, the little boy he come sick too an' Andy he gits on a hoss an' rides to town to see the doctor agin'.

"The doctor he ses he reckined 'twas scarlet fever too, 'cause the simptons was about the same an' he give him some medicine to take out an' sed he'd come out hisself soon as he could, but he had a lot of sick folks to look after, an' didn't like to leave 'em to make the trip, he bein' a lunger hisself, an' not fitten to work very hard.

"Somehow the little feller didn't seem to do very well, an' Andy he goes in after the doctor agin', an' he come out to see him. He looks mighty serous when he gits thar an' he sed: 'I reckin' this little chap's mighty porely; what be ye a-feedin' him?' Andy he busted out a-cryin' an' ses; 'Doc,' ses he, 'we ain't got nothin' but taters an' a little hawg meat what Frank Walton sent out when we brung the little gal back, an' we been a-savin' that fer her, not thinkin' that the boy was gittin' sick too.'

"'Ain't ye got no cow,' ses the doc, an' Andy tole him how she done died while we was all in town before.

"The doc he ses fer Andy to git ready an' come on to town with him that night, an' he'd git him some more grub, an' so 'bout a hour afore sun Andy an' the doc sets off fer town leavin' me with the two chillen."

The courtroom was so still excepting for the low, spiritless voice of the woman, that one could hear the muffled sobs of one or two of the women in the room whose hearts were touched with the sorrowful story she was unfolding.

She stopped for a moment to choke back her own tears, and the attorney, leaning towards her as she faced the jury, said almost in a whisper, "What happened that night?"

"The pore little feller died in my arms jist about a hour before sun up next mornin'," she replied without a quaver in her voice, but with both hands clinched in an agony which could find no tongue in her disheartened, hopeless condition of mind.

"Please continue, if you can," said the lawyer kindly, knowing that in her homely recital of their grief and misfortunes lay the open road to her husband's acquittal.

"Well, that mornin' Andy he come home with the grub, but 'twas too late fer the boy.

"He was shore all broke up over it an' sat all day long without sayin' a word 'ceptin' he guessed the Lord 'sort of had it in fer us pore folks an' only looked after the rich ones like ole man Barker an' his kind.

"'Twas fifteen miles to the nearest neighbors, an' anyhow they was all a-skeered of the fever, they havin' a lot of kids of their own, so me an' Andy we reckoned the best thing we could do was to bury him rite in our field whar we could take keer of his little grave.

"'Bout this time, the range stock began to bother us a-gittin' in the field an' a-damagin' the crap. Andy he sent word to Barker to send some of his men down thar an' carry off the worst ones, but the foreman he said 'twan't none of his business, thar was a fence law in this here state, an' we must fence our land ef we wanted to raise a crap.

"Then the grub what we brung down from town done give out an' the little gal she sort of seemed to be a pinin' away right afore our eyes.

"One evenin' some of the cattle broke into the field agin', an' Andy was a-drivin' 'em out, a yearlin' calf breaks back an' dodged into the little pole corral we done made fer a milk pen.

"Andy he vowed he'd put a 'yoke' onto him, he bein' the wust one of em all for breakin' through the fence; so he puts up the bars intendin' to fix him as soon as we got the rest out.

"Bimeby, we goes to the corral meanin' to fix him with a yoke an' turn him out, but when I seed that there brand of Barker's onto him, an' we ain't nothin' to eat but taters, an' Barker's stock a-ruinin' our crap faster than it could grow; I just got that bitter I didn't much care what did happen.

"Andy he sets down the axe he done brung out to the corral to make the yoke with, an' goes into the cabin fer a piece of balin' wire to tie the yoke on with, an' while he's gone all the bad in me come to the top, an' I drives the yearlin' into the little calf pen where we shuts up the milk calves, an' taken the axe an' hit him a lick on the haid with it as he made a sort of pass at me, which brung him to the ground.

"When Andy come back with the balin' wire, the calf was daid. He were terribly cut up about it but I ses, 'We can't be much wuss off, an' I'm that hongry fer somethin' besides taters, that I don't care what happens to us.'

"As fer the rest of it, I reckin what the detective feller said is about right. We done butchered the calf the best we could, an' buried the hide what was found, an' so I reckin you all men knows now jist who killed that thar yearling of Barker's, fer 'twere me what did it an' not Andy Morrow a-tall."

Her voice was raised as she spoke the last few words, and she threw her head back, and swept a look of defiance around the courtroom.

Directly before her sat old man Barker, his eyes staring straight into hers, his great hairy hands gripping a red bandana until the cords and veins stood out like ropes, while down his face the tears were making their way through the rough stubbly beard that covered it without any effort on his part to stay their course. Barker moved uneasily in his chair; in the tense stillness of the room its creaking smote the silence like a shot and drew every eye in the room to him. He grasped the back of the chair in front of him, struggled partly to his feet, and then sank back again. His mouth opened; he licked his parched lips like some hunted wild animal.

"The, the—gal," he gasped, never taking his eyes from the woman's face, "the little gal, wh—what come of her?" he demanded hoarsely, a great something in his throat almost choking him, "did-did-sh-he," and his voice failed him completely.

The woman smiled scornfully. "She did not," she said, realizing the drift of his unspoken question, "we done made a pot of soup out of some of that there yearlin' an' fed her some of the meat, an' she perked up an' come through all right." Then—daughter of Eve that she was—she broke down and burst into tears.

Over the face of the old cattleman swept a look of joy and relief that words cannot portray. He mopped his flushed face and streaming eyes with the handkerchief, utterly unconscious that every eye in the courtroom was upon him, then, turning, brought his great hand down upon the back of his foreman beside him with force enough to have almost broken it. His face was wreathed in smiles. "Glory be," he almost shouted, "glory be—thank God for that."


Five minutes later Stutterin' Andy walked out of the courtroom a free man.