Wednesday, October 21, 2009

John Armstrong: One of the Good Guys

John Armstrong, middle-name Barclay,
born in McMennville, Tennessee in January, eighteen-fifty.
The son of a dentist, who took ta' travelin'
he was sort of a drifty;
leavin' home at an early age
in a quest ta' check out the southwest.
Points here, an' points there,
til he found himself in Texas:
Austin ta' be exact.
Then he picked up a wife,
as a matter of fact,
an' began a new life as a rancher,
who would raise himself up a seven heir brood.
Now young John, who was just twenty-one
in eighteen an' seventy-one
was a stickler fer' law an' order.
So he joined the paramilitary Travis Rifles:
a group that didn't look at rampant lawlessness
in Texas as mere trifles.
This union lasted til seventy-five
when he opted ta' strive
in a different way ta' bring about some peace.
Though his personal peace was sacrificed
in a job involving many dangers.
An' I doubt that he knew when he joined
he'd become one of the most famous Texas Rangers.
Initally servin' under L.H. McNelly,
with "excellent service" written in the log.
Armstrong was a fearless foe of outlaws,
quickly promoted ta' sergeant,
an' respectfully dubbed "McNelly's Bulldog."
On the first of October of seventy-six
he found himself doggin' some rustlers
alongside other men of the star.
They cornered them near Espinoza Lake,
with most of 'um tryin' ta' make a break,
'cept four who foolishly tried ta' shoot it out.
So out they went from this world ta' the next.
One second, pullin' a gun,
the next second, shakin' hands with the Devil;
cuz' Rangers like Armstrong know
ventilatin' outlaws is a necessary evil.
In fact, two more of them rustlers would soon bite the dust
at the hands of a small party under Armstrong's command.
Of course even the best lawmen don't always get roses
after spreadin' fertilizer on the ground.
There was the time when Armstrong
an' his partner Leroy Deggs
were told ta' fetch in a murder suspect
who didn't have ta' be found.
A rancher named John Mayfield,
with a hefty price on his head.
So the two rangers went out ta' his spread
in Wilson County,
an' confronted the yahoo out by the corral.
Well upon bein' arrested,
Mayfield jus' sorta' flipped his lid,
cuz' he laughed an' went fer' his gun.
Which, of course, was the last thing he did,
cuz' both rangers drilled him.
Then a dozen ranch hands come a runnin'
an' made their intentions clear:
"You ain't collectin' no reward,
cuz' you ain't takin' the body,
an' if you try, you'll never get out of here."
So with caution the better part of valor,
an' with more smarts than the one they jus' done in,
the two badge toters wisely withdrew.
Of course the cowboys took the corpse
an' buried it secretly, where no one else knew.
Another desperado Armstrong took after
was none other than John Wesley Hardin.
The fastest an' most feared gunslinger fer' a spell.
At the time there was a $4000 reward on his head fer' murder.
Thus Armstrong was set on bringin' him in
or sendin' him ta' hell.
Well the task was formidable right from the start.
With this match-up no gambler in his right mind
would take his wad an' lay it all on the law.
After all, it was a rancher turned ranger
goin' up against a spiteful, mean fightin',
greased lightnin' son of a gun:
though Armstrong surely had the heart.
Yet when days of trackin' turned ta' weeks,
an' weeks ta' months,
I'm sure even the well-wishers
wished fer' another wish.
But Ranger Armstrong wasn't called a bulldog fer' nothin':
truly there had been many good men with a star,
but very few were as tenacious.
A character trait highly prized when trackin'
someone as elusive as Hardin;
not ta' mention audacious an' contumacious.
Now ya'll may scoof
but the tenacity paid off,
allowin' the rangers ta' locate Hardin
an' the train he was a ridin'.
So Armstrong boarded it in Pensacola
along with his deputies,
though his deputies were nervous an' felt like hidin'.
Yet they followed their boss
as he marched through the coaches,
ever alert, lookin' fer' his prey.
An' sure enough, today was the day;
August 23rd, eighteen an' seventy-seven,
when the big burly ranger with steely eyes
an' uncompromisin' nature
caught up with the infamous badman.
Hardin was spotted in a seat
next ta' a gang member, Jim Mann.
While three other associates sat nearby,
all of them packin' plenty.
Ironically, as luck would have it,
an earlier mishap by Armstrong,
while cleanin' his weapon he plugged his own leg,
which forever left him gimpy.
Yet this stifled Hardin's normal suspicions;
so much so, in fact,
that there must've been a touch of elation
as Armstrong sat down right across from the outlaw pair,
while the train was still at the station.
Now ever aware, an' unlike the hare,
Armstrong eased out his forty-five,
an' placed it on his lap,
as if gettin' comfortable ta' rest.
Then up quick he stood,
aimed the pistol toward his prey, an' said,
"I'm a ranger an' yer' both under arrest."
Now Hardin cocked his head back,
muttered some words then went fer' his gun.
But tryin' ta' draw while tryin' ta' stand
from an awkward an' cramped position
caused one problem after another:
Hardin definitely weren't havin' no fun.
While Hardin's gun was caught in his suspenders,
Mann, jus' nineteen, drew his an' fired,
but only shot the stetson off the ranger.
Then found out ta' his dismay,
that even a wobbly legged ranger
still presents danger,
especially if ya' take yer' shot an' miss.
So with a cane in one hand,
his six-gun in the other,
Armstrong calmly squeezed the trigger,
an' blew a hole into Mann's chest.
The young outlaw dove head first out the window,
no doubt filled with fear an' dread.
He got ta' his feet an' took a few steps,
then fell ta' the platform dead.
Well, by then Hardin was up,
though his pistol was still tangled.
So in frustration he sent Armstrong flyin'
back down the aisle with a kick.
Which only pissed the ranger off,
it's time he got in a lick.
So up he rose, an' jumped forward,
bringin' a gun-butt down on Hardin's hard head,
again an' again,
til he was plum' out on the floor.
The three other outlaws still sat in their seats,
perhaps they were stunned by what jus' took place before 'um.
They handed up their hardware without a fight,
a much more civilized decorum.
So Armstrong took five, the Hardin gang zero,
when tallyin' up the final score.
An' it all took jus' a few minutes.
Oowhee! What a sight.
Armstrong took them back ta' Texas
an' collected his reward,
which set him up with a fifty-thousand acre spread.
He coulda' retired
but elected not to,
he kept catchin' criminals
an' rose ta' the rank of Captain instead.
Then after a star-studded career
he finally gave it up in eighteen an' eighty-two.
He spent the remainder of his days overseein' the ranch,
as rigidly as he had the law.
Which nearly became his downfall
when a cowhand took offense at a harsh command
an' put a bullet in him in nineteen ought eight.
But Armstrong survived
while prison was the cowpoke's fate.
Eventually, Armstrong died peacefully in bed.
It was May 1st, nineteen an' thirteen.
A wealthy rancher,
a famous ranger,
a survivor who succeeded,
an' most times made it look routine.

No comments: