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Straight Shooters


Kevin Gonzalez 

            Any of the half-dozen Arizona Rangers stationed at Douglas, where the group headquartered, knew they could expect a solid dose of marksman training under the tutelage of ranger captain Tom Rynning himself. While the ex-military man believed that “one live outlaw was worth two dead ones,” as he often said, Rynning also knew that many a man of the owl hoot trail boasted of not being taken alive by a law officer. Shooting straight was good life insurance and he meant to make sure his men had up-to-date policies. He even threw in an incentive for practice – the ranger with the best shooting scores got time off from the job.

            Which explained why ranger Eli Weiss was riding his mustang, Golem, on the outskirts of Douglas one late spring morning in 1904, accompanied by Capt. Rynning – Weiss was hoping that his shooting score would be high enough to earn him time off to observe Shavuot, The Feast of Weeks, which was celebrated seven weeks after Passover. But he knew that many a crack shooter wore a ranger’s badge and that the competition would be as hard as a gun barrel.

            He hoped that he could use his time off to refrain from work while studying the Torah. And since the enjoyment of a dairy meal was part of the day’s observance, he was thinking of spending time in Douglas’s one and only ice cream parlor. Eating dairy foods, he knew from his mentor Solomon Pliskin, was a reference to receiving the Torah because King Solomon described the holy book as “honey and milk … under your tongue.”  The Jews present at the time the Torah was accepted were immediately bound by its laws, which included the ritual slaughtering of animals. Because the food they had prepared prior to this event was not in accordance with the new laws, they decided to eat only dairy meals to honor the holiday. A great excuse to enjoy a big bowl of ice cream, thought Weiss.

The head ranger rode alongside Weiss, wearing a suit that was topped with his usual white hat, left brim curled up higher than the right at a dashing angle. Weiss, who had just signed another 12 months’ contract with the Rangers, dressed in a similar fashion around Douglas, wearing a checked sack suit buttoned to the neck. He wore his gun belt cinched outside of his suit coat for easy access. A broad-brimmed Stetson, cocked to the right, replaced his usual sombrero. His light canvas range clothes were stowed in a footlocker in the building that served as a barracks for the rangers in town.

            Weiss was eager to do well on the marksmanship maneuvers for reasons other than the chance to practice his religion. He had just come back from a stressful but successful manhunt for robber and rustler Bradford Cutler, and looked forward to some rest.

Weiss knew what to expect today. Rynning thought that a mounted man shooting a rifle wasn’t worth a hoot when it came to accuracy, and had come up with a drill that encouraged the men under him to shoot their rifles in a different and more effective way.

            “Sgt. Weiss, can you spot a man-sized tree stump on that hill up there to the left?” asked Rynning, breaking into his thoughts.

            The ranger reined Golem – named “Blockhead” in Yiddish because of his cantankerous nature – and scanned the scenery. “Yes, sir.”


            “I make it just over 200 yards.” He knew that Rynning preferred his men to make accurate guesses on the fly.

            “Near enough. You know the drill.  Now!”

            At the command, Weiss halted Golem and slid off the back of the mustang in one motion, clutching onto the butt of his Krag-Jorgensen carbine as he did so. He hit the ground and rolled into a prone position. He had the carbine sighted dead on at 150 yards, so he knew the sight picture he needed to acquire to hit the stump. Working the bolt action, he aimed the Krag and squeezed off a round of .30-40 ammunition. Other rangers preferred the 1985 Winchester, but he liked the smoother action of the Krag. He also felt it was easier to shoot prone with it without needing ground clearance to work the Winchester’s lever action.

            “A hit. Continue, ranger,” said Rynning, looking through his binoculars.

Weiss emptied the five-shot magazine, rolled to one side and, loading from loops on the right-hand side of his gun belt, slid another five rounds into the horizontal magazine of the Krag. Rolling back into position, he began firing again. Fifteen seconds later, the carbine was empty. In another two minutes, Weiss had reloaded and emptied the weapon again.

“Hits?” asked the captain.

“I make it 15 for 15, sir. At least, that’s what they felt like.”

“I’m inclined to agree.” The ranger captain marked an entry into the tally book where he kept the shooting scores of his men.

“Let’s try your idea about mounted pistol practice at the gallop,” said Rynning. “You’ll see another stump off to the right, about half the size of the rifle target. At my command, commence firing.”

“Yes, sir.” Weiss walked up to Golem, who had been broken to tolerate the sound of gunfire. From his saddlebags, he pulled out cartridges for the rifle and loaded its magazine. Then he put another 10 rifle rounds into his empty gun belt loops. Only then did he take to the saddle. It was a precaution he had learned on the trail, and had practiced ever since until it was a habit. Rynning noted that in his tally book, too.

Weiss gigged the mustang forward with his old cavalry spurs. As Golem galloped, he spotted the smaller stump. When he was about 20 yards away, he heard Rynning’s signal.

Weiss wore his long-barrel Colt .45 revolver butt forward on his left hip. Using a cavalry twist draw, he unlimbered it with his left hand, thumbing back the hammer. Leaning forward, he made a throwing motion with his left arm, like he was chopping something, and pulled the trigger as the barrel drew level with the target. A spurt of dust right next to the stump marked the bullet’s strike. Damn, he thought, a miss first thing.

He kneed the mustang to the left. Riding broadside to the smaller stump, Weiss fired twice more with that same chopping motion, waiting until the barrel was in line with the target and ignoring the Colt’s bobbing front sight. Wheeling around, he emptied the gun at the stump, using the same technique that had served him well in the cavalry.

Rynning rode alongside him while Weiss reloaded. “Not too shabby. I make it another five for five.”    

The thought of losing a day off made Weiss hesitate just a bit before speaking. “No, sir,” he said, frowning. “Begging the captain’s permission, but I make it more like four, and only three real solid hits at that.”

Riding up the stump, which was pockmarked by bullets, he pointed off to the left. “The first one hit there, real close maybe, but all it really struck was the ground. The next three were more centered, true, but that last one? Heck, it just grazed the wood.”

He indicated a ragged furrow on the right-hand side of the stump as proof. “Nothing that would knock a man down, even if it would definitely get his attention.”

“I appreciate the honesty, ranger.”

“And I appreciate compliments on my marksmanship, sir, but only when I earn them.”

“Maybe you’ll do better next time. Which is right now, sergeant.”

Weiss grinned, rode back to the same distance, and did the drill twice more. His best run was scoring four solid hits, which he did while shooting right-handed. The ability to shoot well with either hand was another hard-earned virtue he had discovered only under fire.

At Rynning’s prodding, Weiss did one more of the captain’s drills. Riding up to the stump as if it were a man, he halted Golem and dismounted, using the mustang to shield himself. When he stepped out from behind the horse, his drawn Colt covered the stump. It was a slick move that he had used many a time to get the drop on lawbreakers, one of Rynning’s gimmicks. He did it several more times as smooth as a card sharp dealing off the bottom of the deck.

“That’ll do, sergeant,” said the ranger captain, making his last entry in the tally book. “How do you rate yourself today?”

Weiss held out a hand, palm down, and waggled it. “Pretty good, I guess, but I’ll never be a pistolero like Jeff Kidder,” he confessed. Kidder was known as the fastest draw on the force, someone who practiced every day, going through cartridges like a drunk emptying bottles. Only ranger Harry Wheeler was deemed to be his equal.

  “Jeff’s too fast for his own good sometimes,” commented Rynning. “And I’ve told him so. He knows how to use a gun, but not always when to use it.”

“He’s always telling me to get a Colt with a shorter barrel for a faster draw, but I prefer the cavalry model,” said Weiss. “Something about a seven-and-a-half inch barrel that makes it more accurate for me, especially while riding. Speed’s fine, they say, but accuracy is final.

“And as for arresting the occasional hombre who considers himself fast on the draw, just look at ole Brad Cutler. I took him without any gunplay at all,” added Weiss.

Rynning smiled. “Just like I taught you. When you spot a wanted man, especially one who considers himself a fair hand with a gun, you don’t just walk up to him and tell him he’s under arrest. Challenged like that, he’s sure to go for his six-shooter. Bad for you and could be worse for any innocent bystanders. What you do is walk past him like you don’t know him from Adam, and then get the drop on him from behind with your own gun. Or with a blackjack like you used.”

Weiss had indeed sauntered right past Cutler. He had eased his blackjack out of his back pants pocket and rapped the outlaw’s right elbow, paralyzing his gun hand. When Cutler tried for a left hook, Weiss chopped down with the blackjack on his collarbone, breaking it. Things went a lot smoother after that.

“Didn’t even need handcuffs. Doc Rothschild set that broken bone and made up a sling for Cutler’s arm. The outlaw moved right ginger-like when I escorted him to the hoosegow,” recalled Weiss with a grim smile.

They rode in silence until reaching the stable behind the rangers’ headquarters in town. “Looks like you’ve earned yourself some time off,” said Rynning.

“How’s that, sir?” asked Weiss, more than a bit surprised. “I did that well?”

“Heck, everybody did well. Straight shooting’s part of the job description. But you were the fastest to correct me when I gave you a hit that you didn’t deserve. I told you that I appreciated honesty. Always thought a man who would cheat for small stakes will cheat when it comes to bigger things. I can’t abide that in a man. And I won’t tolerate it from any of my rangers.

“One in particular -- never mind asking me his name because I won’t tell --really took his time owning up to a miss. He was currying his horse here before he finally said, ‘Captain, sir, I think you made a mistake back there.’ But at least he got it out of his craw in time. Any longer, and there would have been consequences.

“A man’s aim can be true when it comes to shooting, but he also should aim to be true in all aspects of his life. Especially when he’s a ranger,” stated Rynning. “After all, there’s more than one way to be a straight shooter.”

Weiss nodded his agreement. His left thumb rubbed the mesquite stock of Colt on which he had carved the six-pointed star that symbolized his faith, another of his habits. The five-pointed star he pinned to his shirt reminded people of law of the land that he represented. But the six-pointed star reminded him of the higher authority to which he held himself accountable and answerable. Lying would have been a sin – first against himself, then against the captain, and then against God.

“Which reminds me, sir,” said Weiss. “Think I’ll take that time off to observe Shavuot.”

“Sha voo-what?” asked Rynning.

 This time, it was Weiss who smiled. “It marks the time when we Jews accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai almost three thousand years ago. It’s when we became a nation, a nation of straight shooters, you might say, always aiming to be true to their God. Guess I started observing the holiday a little early this year.”

The ranger captain reached out and shook his hand. “I don’t think so, Sgt. Weiss. Honesty and integrity aren’t things anybody should reserve only for certain times of the year. And that goes for all of us, gentiles or Jews.  

“So, how would you put it? Mazel tov. Congratulations, and don’t ever stop practicing shooting straight,” said Rynning.


The End  






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