Friday, November 13, 2009

Thomas Hodges (aka Tom Bell): Sawbones to thief

Thomas Hodges was Alabama-born,
though raised in Rome, Tennessee.
His family was rather affluent,
so he was given an' education most folks would envy.
He even mastered medicine,
an' became a surgical Doc,
who went off ta' war ta' do his skillful chore
inspite of the shock.
He had the smarts an' he had the means
ta' take on this challenging career.
But he also had a since of duty,
that's why he joined the Tennessee Volunteers.
He served under Colonel Cheatham,
in the Mexican-American War.
He had ta' hear, an' see, an' do
what you an' I would surely deplore.
Perhaps he heard, an' saw, an' did too much
in that place where death increases ten-fold.
Cuz' upon his discharge he put away his scalpel,
tried ta' make it in California mining fer' gold.
But he was a doctor not a miner,
an' the gold was not his ta' be had.
Sadly, an' empty wallet an' belly
can often turn men bad.
He had the smarts but not the heart
at the start of his criminal charade.
So he quickly got caught an' sent ta' Angel Island
where he learned a lot more of the trade.
Alcatraz, part of Angel Island,
was run by the military back then.
An' when Bell served out his year
he became acquainted with several nefarious men.
These men would help him find others
after their scheduled release.
They would join as a band of outlaws
seekin' valuables ripe ta' be fleeced.
There was English Bob an' Monte Jack,
an' Juan Fernandez, the Mexican killer-thief.
Plus Bill Gristy, Ned Connor, an' of course Jim Smith,
who tattooed his body ta' get relief.
They began their criminal enterprise
in the same locale that Joaquin Murieta had rode.
But they kept ta' the stages an' wagons
since both were easy ta' catch an' unload.
Though unlike Murieta,
who seemed ta' take pleasure in dealin' out pain.
Bein' a "gentleman bandit"
would be Bell's criminal claim ta' fame.
He'd toss victims some coins
ta' get them a drink,
or leave some loosely tied-up
so they could get free in a wink.
A person might argue
Bell wanted ta' be caught.
Stop him from doin' the deeds
which he knew he really should not.
Why else would an educated man
do somethin' so obviously unwise
as to commit dozens of crimes
without even a simple disguise?
He was always identified as a man
with a flat nose an' over six feet,
with blue eyes an' sand hair,
a mustache, an' goatee.
His crew even unwittingly helped the law
by braggin' Tom Bell is our boss.
So give us yer' cash an' all that has worth,
ya' see, our gain is yer' loss.
Bell bribed a few squealers
ta' find out when pickin's were good.
Including his gal pal,
hotel owner, Elizabeth Hood.
The information was legit,
which meant the more cash they did count.
But with bigger rewards
the risks likewise did mount.
An' Bell had held off any bloodshed
as long as he could.
He even convinced a Wells Fargo guard
from ending up in a box of pine wood.
Though the bandits were rich
they were hunted like game.
"Let's take one last big haul
than forego all this fame."
They heard of a chance
fer' six-figures in gold.
It just required the right timing,
an' hearts that were bold.
Rideout, the owner,
would ride point ta' protect his loot.
Bell wanted the element of surprise
so they would not have ta' shoot.
They even had one
of their own men on the stage;
disguised as a miner,
as they rode through the sage.
It was at the California House
that this mole exited the rig
ta' signal Bell an' the others
that the gold was on board, so do the gig.
Back out on the trip
along the wild country road,
the gang rode up ta' the stage,
intent on stealin' the load.
But the driver John Greer
didn't stop, he went faster.
An' the "lesser of evils"
soon became a disaster.
Bill Dobson rode shotgun,
an' he used one quite well.
He killed Juan Fernandez,
then wounded Tom Bell.
No gold was lost an' they made it ta' town,
but the townfolk were soon in a rage.
Cuz' two men were wounded,
an' the barber's wife died on that stage.
When the posse came back empty,
Bell's ego got the best of the man.
Instead of leavin' like they should,
he mocked the law, sayin' "Catch me if you can."
So rewards were quickly posted
 an' they were caught one by one.
The first would squeal on the next,
there was no real honor among these sons of a gun.
It was Gristy who ratted out Bell,
he's at Firebaugh Ferry near the San Joaquin.
An' it was thereabouts they got him,
caught on the trail by a posse he hadn't seen.
The posse that got Bell
was in fact led by a judge.
But when it came ta' the law
this judge was willin' ta' fudge.
The possemen veered off
the upstandin' an' honorable road.
They became vigilantees
an' were willin' ta' bear the guilt load.
Yet Bell did not quiver,
nor shiver, or shake.
It had all been his choice,
so the punishment he'd take.
The posse admired Bell's grit
an' granted him a bit more time
ta' write "Good-bye" ta' his ma,
an' Mrs. Hood, who had helped him in crime.
They even offered Bell a last shot of whiskey,
an' he thanked them like friends.
Then they let him pray,
ta' make personal amends.
Then over the head
the rope he did take.
The horse was slapped once,
Bell fell, an' his neck it did break.
The heroic war doctor who had become a thief
could forget all his sins an' now rest in peace.

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