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The Sheriff, the Wolf and the Gunslinger (Part 1)
Mick Stratton
I am dedicating this story to Marsan, one of my three beloved sisters. Unlike me she loves animals for their own value (though I do think they are a great food source). This story is not supposed to be funny; I guess you could say it is touching?

The time was the summer of '82. In the small Texas town of Dogwood Springs he came riding in on a big buckskin, half mustang, half quarter horse. The cowboy rode up to the combination saloon dry-goods store, wrapped the reins around the hitching post and entered into the dry-goods side.

Behind the counter was a young man who asked the cowboy, “Can I help you?”

“I'm looking for a place to settle down, this might be the place. Do you know anyone around here hiring?”

“Maybe, what is your name and where are you from?”

“Call me Jake; where I'm from doesn't matter, but I am honest and a hard worker.”

The young man looked down at Jake's hips but didn't see a side arm, which was strange since most of the men in those parts wore one.

Jake noticing the glance said, “I don't much care for pistols; by not wearing one people don't see me as a challenge and therefore rarely causing me any trouble.”

John liked the looks of Jake, strong grey eyes, lanky with obvious strength in his arms and the beginnings of a beard and a mustache on his face.  John offered him a job cutting and splitting the firewood in back of his store. He also told Jake he could sleep in a shed located in the back. 

Jake was a hard worker and eventually started helping around the store and bartending on occasion. The town's people liked Jake and often offered him odd jobs. Jake eventually made enough money to buy a plot of land just outside of town and built himself a cabin.

John's wife had died in child birth leaving John with a beautiful little girl named Marsan. The six year old immediately took to Jake and when he was sitting in front of the store smoking a cigar, she would often climb into his lap and ask him to tell her a story. 

One day Jake was sitting on the chair in front of the dry-goods store when he saw the wolf. It was a large wolf, grey of color and long legged. The wolf was moseying on down the street as if he belonged there. Jake looked for signs of sickness, possibly rabies, but the wolf seemed to be very alert and healthy. When the wolf was about fifty feet from Jake he stopped, sat down and just stared at Jake.

Marsan saw the wolf and quickly ran in to tell her dad. John came out with his shotgun and told Jake to cover his ears because he was going to blow that wolf away. 

Jake said, “John, don't shoot. If the wolf is a problem I will get my Winchester and do it myself, but I don't believe he will be.”

John responded, “Then what the hell is he doing sitting in the street?”

“Animals are like people. They are all a little bit different. I think he has just decided to see what a town is like.”

John went back into the store shaking his head; but he had learned to trust Jake. If Jake said he would take care of it, then he would.

Marsan came out and crawled onto Jake's lap. “Jake, why aren't you afraid of him?”

Jake responded, “It's his eyes. Eyes will tell you what is in the hearts of men or animals; you just need to learn how to read what is there.” Then Jake said to the wolf, “Wolf, you cause trouble, I'll need to kill you, you mangy mutt.”

The wolf growled softly.  Marsan hugged Jake and said, “See he is going to attack us!”

Jake laughed and said, “Princess, you are going to need to learn to talk animal if you want to be their friends. Wolves and dogs have different kinds of growls. There is the 'let's play' or 'let's be friends' growl; then there is the warning growl, 'leave me alone'; there also is the 'I am getting ready to attack you' growl, and lastly there is the growl which means 'No quarter, to the death!' Wolf's growl is the first kind, I think he likes us.”

Marsan looked at Jake then went over to the wolf, knelt down and hugged him. The wolf looked at Jake as if to say. “She's mine now and not yours. Jake stared back, chuckled and said, “That's what you think, is it?”

A little boy about Marsan's age ran up and said, “Marsan, are you crazy. That wolf will kill you.”

Marsan giggled and said, “Rafael, you'd better be nice to me; from now on this is my guardian angel. His name is….” She looked at Jake and asked, “What is his name?”

Jake grinned and said, “Wolf.”

Rafael looked at Jake and said, “Mr. Jake, that is a silly name; why did you name him that?”

Jake responded, “I think it's pretty descriptive.” Then looking at the wolf he said, “What do you think, Wolf?”

The wolf just wagged his tail as if to say, “Fine with me.”

Soon Wolf and Jake became a fixture around town; rarely would you see one without the other. Most of the town's people were wary of the wolf giving him great distance. Wolf had nothing against the town's people but would not let them approach him. If they got too close, he would give them a warning growl.
The exception were the two kids, Marsan and Rafael. He would often play with them, and on occasion he would lick them on the face. Not Jake---he would never lick Jake. Once Marsan asked why that was. Jake replied, “He looks at you as his charges, and God help anything that tries to hurt you when he is around. He looks at me as the Alpha but has his pride, so he won't lick me.”

Soon after Wolf had arrived, Jake was in the back of the store splitting wood and the kids where playing in a nearby open field with tall grass. John had come out to talk to Jake about something when he saw the wolf approaching the kids growling ferociously.
John, with fear in his voice, yelled at Jake, “Pick up your Winchester and shoot that wolf; he is attacking the kids.”

Jake knew better; but he did pick up his rifle and then replied, “There is something out there.”

All of a sudden a huge bobcat rushed at the kids from out of the tall grass. As it leaped for little Marsan, Wolf hit it broadside and the fight commenced. It was a furious fight that went on for about a minute or so. Jake wanted to shoot the bobcat but couldn't for fear of hitting Wolf. Eventually Wolf got it by the throat and finished it off, but not without getting pretty cut up himself.

Wolf walked up to the two kids licking them both, leaving blood on their faces. Both the kids came running up yelling “Did you see that? Wolf saved us; he is the greatest wolf of all time!”

John looked at Jake, shook his head and said, “Every time I question you, you end up being right.”

Shortly after the bobcat incident, Jake was in the saloon sipping on a beer with Wolf lying at his feet. The saloon door swung open and in walked a woman. She walked up to the bar and said she would like to talk to the owner. The bartender yelled out to John who was in the dry-goods store. John walked into the bar and was taken aback by how beautiful she was. 

She looked to be about 26 years old, long dark hair and dark brown eyes. Her face was round and her color was such that she looked as if she had Indian in her. There was a roughness about her suggesting she had had a hard life. 

John asked if he could help her. When she turned to talk to John, she saw Jake and a flicker of recognition entered her eyes. Jake said softly, “Hi Paige, I don't know if you recognize me, but I am Jake. I used to ride with the Triple Bar.” 

Paige looked confused for a second and then answered, “That's right, I remember you now; the beard and mustache threw me off. You left shortly after the Rip Thorn gunfight.” She then looked at John and said that she was looking for a job and had experience waiting tables and tending the bar.” 

John asked Jake if he could vouch for her. Jake responded, “Yes I can. She is as honest as the day is long and is one hard worker.”

John hired Paige and over time became very close to her. Marsan absolutely loved Paige and even Wolf liked her. Eventually John and Paige got hitched; this made Marsan ecstatic because she now had a mother.
Wolf would always go hunting in the mornings and often in the evenings. Dogwood Springs was a small town, but there were a number of homesteaders in the county who would come in for supplies. They all knew about the wolf and at first were very suspect. But then things began to happen that changed their minds. 

Most of the homesteaders had chickens, some sheep and goats along with a few cows. From time to time they would have trouble with coyotes, coons, bobcats and foxes. One day one of the homesteaders came into town and told John that the other night he heard a raucous out by his chicken house, grabbed his gun and as he went outside he saw a wolf slinking away. He went over to the chicken coop and found a dead fox with his back crushed, the chickens were fine. 

Other stories started to filter in concerning dead predators on homesteaders' properties close to the various livestock. 

More and more of the town's people were singing Wolf's praises because it didn't take long to figure out it was he who was killing the predators.

Then one day the sheriff and a homesteader, Mr. Williams, entered the dry-goods store. The sheriff told Jake to hand over the wolf because he was going to take him out and shoot him for killing two of Mr. Williams's dogs. Jake looked at the sheriff with his cold grey eyes and said, “I don't think so.” 

None of the homesteaders liked Mr. William's dogs. There were three of them, all quite large averaging around 65 lbs. each. The dogs were known for causing problems with other dogs and harassing livestock.

The sheriff was a bully and a coward. Even though Jake was unarmed there was something about Jake that had always intimated him. So they stared at each other in a standoff.

About that time Mr. Hansen came running in. “John, you won't believe what happened. Wolf attacked all three of Mr. Williams's dogs, killing two of them and running the third off.” He stopped when he saw the sheriff and Mr. Williams.

The sheriff said, “See Jake, I need to take him; we can't have him killing the town's dogs.” 

But before he could do anything Mr. Hansen spoke up again, “No Sheriff, you have it all wrong. Last night I hear a commotion out by my cow pin. I grabbed my rifle and ran out to see the three dogs trying to take down a calf when out of nowhere came Wolf knocking two of the dogs down. He then grabbed the standing one by the throat killing him. One of the downed dogs leapt to his feet and rushed Wolf. Big mistake, Wolf took him down ripping open his jugular vein, killing him also. The third got up and ran off. Sheriff, if you are going to do anything you should kill that third dog.”

By that time, several citizens had entered and heard the story. The sheriff turned to leave, looked over his shoulder and said, “Just keep that damn wolf out of trouble.”

One day Marsan asked Jake, “Why does Wolf protect the homesteaders' livestock? They're not yours.”

“Jake has what he considers his territory and sort of considers the people living here part of it. To him he is doing his duty by taking care of his pack.”

Then she asked, “Why did Wolf take to you like he did? He never saw you before and now he is always with you.”

Jake thought for a second and then responded, “Wolf and I are of the same spirit. He and I realized this when we first looked at each other. Strange but true….”

Dogwood Springs was a quiet town, so there was not a lot for the sheriff to do. The saloon was normally non problematic, though from time to time someone got a little rowdy. Sometimes it was someone who lived there, though most often it was a few cowboys or drifters riding through. The sheriff had a mean streak, often manhandling those he thought were weaker than him.
Then one day two strangers came into town who were obviously tough customers. They stopped first at the sheriff's office, talked to him and then crossed the street and went into the saloon. No one knew what they said to the sheriff, but while they were in the saloon, the sheriff packed his meager possessions, saddled his horse and left the town. Inside the bar the strangers started bullying the customers, telling everyone that they were now in charge.
Paige was at the bar and told them they needed to leave. They told her to shut up. John tried to get them to leave and got knocked out for his trouble. Marsan and Rafael ran looking for Jake.

When they found him, they breathlessly told him that there were two very bad hombres hurting people in the bar. Jake looked at them and said, “Princess, Rafael, you two stay here. I'll see what I can do.

Jake entered in the dry-goods entrance and grabbed an ax handle; at the same time Wolf entered the saloon under the swinging doors and started growling at the two strangers.
The strangers moved over toward the dry good entrance staring at the wolf. The bigger of the two laughed and said, “Butch, I'm going to toss this coin in the air and when it hits the ground, we both draw and plug that wolf. Whoever hits him last buys the other a drink. He tossed the coin and when it hit they both drew. Seemingly out of nowhere Jake appeared, and as Butch's gun started to clear the holster, the ax handle came crashing down on his hand breaking it. Instantly Jake thrust the ax handle forward hitting the other stranger's hand knocking the gun out of it, just as the full weight of Wolf took him to the ground. Jake then swung the ax handle in a back swing hitting Butch in the head knocking him unconscious. One stranger was unconscious and the other was afraid to move with a wolf on top of him with fangs inches from his throat. 

Jake threw a pitcher of water on Butch and called Wolf off the other. He then marched them across the street, put them in a cell and locked it. After that he walked back across the street to the saloon, threw the keys to John, went outside to his chair, sat down and lit up one of his cigars. Wolf lay down at his side.

About half an hour later the town's council came up to Jake and said they wanted him to be the new sheriff. Jake at first declined but eventually accepted the position on the condition that he would not have to carry a gun.
So Jake became the sheriff of Dogwood Springs, and I guess you could consider Wolf his deputy.

For the most part Jake had a pretty easy job since the town and the surrounding area was quiet with the vast majority of the citizens being honest and hard working. On occasion someone would get rowdy or some fun loving cowboys might stir things up, but Jake's quiet but firm way usually settled things down without any trouble.
The story continues with Part 2: “The Sheriff, The Wolf and The Gunslinger (Part 2).”