“Last stop, Jimtown, Stringtown, Amethyst, South Creede!”
Bob barely heard the conductor’s announcement as the steam train slowly carved its way through the narrow canyon housing his final destination. The familiar, jagged cliffs of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains towered over the chugging locomotive and passenger cars, whispering through ancient voices of the riches to be mined from their prized silver vein. The very sight of the steep rock formations prompted a reverent pause from the Missouri-born Robert Ford; he imagined they welcomed his return like old friends. His blue eyes stared upward in gratitude at the mountain walls outside his window, the excitement of countless possibilities and new beginnings lifting his spirits.
I’m back. Maybe it’ll have to be a different incarnation of the man who left, but nobody’s gonna tell me I don’t belong here ever again.
A month earlier, Bob had been forced to leave the untamed mining camp he effectively controlled since his February arrival. Originally drawn to the area with a population exploding from the silver boom, Bob capitalized on immediate opportunities to make money in Creede by establishing gambling clubs, saloons and dance halls. Using his notoriety as the “slayer of Jesse James” and reputation as a quick shot, Bob effectively bullied his way to the status of camp boss of the unincorporated community of miners, homesteaders, merchants and a flourishing criminal element. Assuming control of Creede’s business district, planning operations and criminal enterprises, Bob finally commanded the respect he had always craved.
That respect was not exactly earned or given freely. His three-month tenure as camp boss was challenged more than once, most noticeably by notorious con artist and frontier gangster “Soapy” Smith, and finally came to an end that April. Indulging in a late night of heavy drinking with Smith associate, Joe Palmer, Bob and his unlikely companion spent the wee hours before Easter Sunday shooting out street lights and windows on Main Street, disrupting the peace through their drunken rages.It was a step too far for the people of Creede, with public outcry finally reaching a boiling point against Robert Ford. Angered by the inaction of so-called police officers who made excuses for not arresting or even placating Ford and Palmer during their destructive rampage, residents sent a delegation of burly six-footers to confront the two offenders the very next morning.
Both men were forced to pay heavy fines for property damage and had their lives threatened unless they agreed to immediate exile from Creede. Witnesses were treated to the sight of a “very worried looking” Robert Ford and Joe Palmer as they were hurriedly loaded onto the afternoon train to Pueblo. Palmer was not seen in the area again, but Bob had negotiated his return to the camp ever since, starting with a campaign of self promotion through a sympathetic newspaper editor.
Briefly closing his eyes on the train back to Creede, Bob delighted in the mountain air wafting through the partially opened window. The high altitude always made him feel comfortably light-headed, like a prolonged buzz from alcohol without the ill effects of drunkenness and its aftermath. Consciously aware of his own smile, Bob sighed contentedly, tension easing from his shoulders. When his lashes fluttered open again, Bob glanced down at his lap to the neatly folded letters he had reread countless times during the two hundred mile journey from Pueblo. Deciding on one more celebratory readthrough before the train reached the Jimtown depot, he unfolded the letters and silently mouthed their contents:
I hereby pledge to you, Good Sirs and leaders of the upstanding business community of Creede, that you will not regret forgiving my past misdeeds. I am sincerely remorseful for my misbehavior, and promise you will find my manners to be immediately corrected. I will be a leading citizen of generous spirit and business, a true benefit to the district as intended. You will have no more trouble from me.
Dear Mr. Ford - Your expressed remorse and promises to adhere to the code of fine citizenship are accepted. Please consider this order as our approval, by the authorized signatories below, for your return and reestablishment of residence. Approval is also extended for reapplication of a license to operate your intended business in the Jimtown/Creede settlements. We trust the terms of your residence as previously discussed are fully understood, and that any repeat offenses shall be considered an egregious violation of said terms, subject to further penalty.
Bob smiled again. He had another chance to be somebody. Dottie would rejoin him from Pueblo in the coming week, once he reassured her their situation as stated on paper was, in fact, a reality. The moment he was off the train in his fine gentleman’s garb and derby hat, Bob would purchase a new lot and start plans for building the combination saloon, dance hall and gambling den he envisioned, the most spectacular establishment Creede had ever seen. He would again manage the cards and liquor, Dot would manage the ladies. He would be praised for his help and stature in the community, a man of charity, business smarts and style. Bob Ford would show them all what they’d been missing, even if Creede had come under the control of Soapy f***ing Smith during Bob’s absence.
The train was slowing as it neared the depot, and Bob stared through the windows ahead for a glimpse of the brick building, anxious to disembark and start the next chapter of his adventures. That was when he saw her, standing alone alongside the railroad tracks. Blinking in disbelief at the appearance of her stoic form, Bob strained to keep his sights on her before the train gradually edged closer, her mere presence stirring up peculiar memories he could not quite grasp or explain.
The woman was all too familiar, and yet he had never once spoken to her or confirmed her identity with anyone. Bob was overcome by an overwhelming sense of déjà vu before the term was widely recognized, a certainty that he'd seen her numerous times in his travels. He knew the copper-brown of her bodice catching the sunlight, the flare of her skirts, her dark hair swept up from her neck to accentuate her melancholy profile. And when the forgotten memory was triggered, Bob suddenly recalled where he had seen her before. She appeared frequently in his past, always before some pivotal moment or traumatic event in Bob's life, ever since he first met Jesse James. Yet she was always out of reach, some curiously ethereal being always beyond his reach before inexplicably disappearing from view.
“Well, you have some nerve, Sir!” The elderly lady’s protests fell on deaf ears as Bob unintentionally banged into her knees, having leapt from his seat to get a closer look out her window further up in their rail car. “What the devil do you think you’re…”
“Do you know who that is?” Bob blurted out his question, his long fingers gripping the window ledge, eyes widening in frustration at how long it seemed to take for the train to creep along the track. He was again straining to see the mysterious lady outside, at the expense of the elderly passenger seated with her little granddaughter, both shifting in their seats to avoid Bob’s intrusion into their space.
“Who? Young man, you are not…”
“My apologies, Ma’am. How ‘bout you, do you know who that is?” Breathless, Bob was already moving to another window, pointing anxiously for help from anyone who might be acquainted with the cause of his boiling anxiety.
“Mister, you better get your backside offa my seat, or…”
“There! Do you know ‘er?”?
Bob pointed again as the lady in the copper dress came fully into view at last. Her head was bowed forward, eyes downcast, as if she stood deep in prayer. When the train passed, she lifted her chin and met Bob’s gaze with an expression of such deep sorrow he swore he could feel the ache. Suddenly, her face was grotesquely distorted, her features erased, blurred in the manner of a subject’s unfortunate movement during the tedious process of posing completely still for a tintype. The vision was jarring, rendering Bob speechless and striking a pang of fear through his chest where her contagious sadness had been seconds before. The woman hadn’t seemed human.
“It’s alright, Ellie, I think this fool’s drunk. Sir, kindly remove yourself from our seats!”
“I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, folks. I was just hopin’ one o’you might happen to know who she might be, is all.”
“You’re imaginin’ things, son. Ain’t no one there except all them trees, and that deer.”
The lady in copper might well have been an apparition, or a trick played by Bob’s imagination. His fellow passengers turned to look behind them in the direction Bob was staring, where the woman’s form should still be standing or at least walking away from the tracks. But there was no trace of her, not a single sign she had ever stood there. All Bob could do was stand there and blink, dumbfounded and embarrassed. The eyes refocused on Bob reminded him of unforgiving audiences who heckled his performances in both the traveling stage show Outlaws of Missouri/How I Shot Jesse James and P.T. Barnum’s menagerie of human curiosities. Was he a prime candidate for committal to an insane asylum?
The conductor reappeared as the train slowed to a stop at the depot, soon announcing all passengers were clear to vacate the train. Bob pushed frantically ahead of other passengers, forgetting his bags in his haste to race along the length of track they had traveled. Kicking up gravel as he sprinted toward the site in question, Bob was greeted by still more disappointment.
She had completely vanished, if, in fact, she had ever been there at all.
Robert "Bob" Ford Forever known as The Coward Who Killed Jesse James. Dreamer. Outlaw. Killer. Betrayer. Performer. Card dealer. Saloon owner. Vagabond. Intelligent, impulsive, ambitious, high-strung, resentful, boastful and quick on the draw. Has a love-hate relationship with his unfortunate claim to fame. Multi-para writer, Victorian, historical AU, western, outlaws & crossovers. https://www.roleplayer.me/1841227
Robert Ford exhaled a weary sigh as he read the words scrawled sloppily across the glass window of his second story apartment. Staring at the letters from under the brim of his black derby, he did not have to guess whether the red substance used to convey the demand might be ink or even paint. The lifeless corpse of a disemboweled tabby cat, its fur matted with the same dried blood staining the windowpane, dangled menacingly above the message from a burlap twine noose. Bob’s solemn reflection in the glass was a curious addition to the sinister scene at the residence, his likeness a dark silhouette against the glare of pristine May snow bleaching the towering mountain sides of Colorado’s Jimtown-Creede mining settlement.
At least they’re showing some creativity for a change, Bob thought, with all the resignation of a man well-accustomed to threats and insults of varying severity. The irony didn’t escape him as he calmly slipped his key into the lock to allow himself entry with little more than a shake of his head. Across the street, the construction of his impressive new saloon and dance hall was nearing completion, and his status as Creede’s “camp boss” over the boom town’s population of roughly six thousand souls assured his ambitious business venture would be wildly successful. Bob would continue bullying the town into supplying him with allies, however transitory they may be, and sniff out the malcontents for punishment later.
Bob smiled at the thought; misguided delusions of grandeur and strutting like an arrogant peac*ck to hide his insecurities and resentments always made him feel better.
Setting his grocery parcels on the table without making haste to remove the bloody cat soiling his view of Creede’s bustling business district, Bob mentally directed himself to laugh off the ghastly little greeting. His common law wife, Dottie, noticing his swagger as he approached where she lay sprawled luxuriously in their bed, stretched her bare arms upward to accept his kiss when he leaned over her.
“Sorry, did I wake you?” He could still smell the rosewater clinging to her skin from the night before and allowed her to pull him back onto the mattress with her, reveling in the warmth. “I couldn’t sleep, so figured I’d go down to Tom’s and fetch us some sausages for breakfast. Then Mae was out with fresh milk, so I thought that’d be a nice surprise for when you finally stirred to life, and I had a few other chats before headin’ back.” Bob hadn’t paid too much attention to the minutes ticking past on his pocket watch while he had been out. However long he’d taken, it had been enough time for someone to vandalize his home while Dot was ensconced inside without him.
“No, I awoke to find you’d gone, thinking I’d have to start earning some coin early today if you’d up and abandoned me,” Dottie teased, ever the actress she’d been when they had first met during Bob’s two-year stint as a stage performer in the traveling show, Outlaws of Missouri. Pretending to be genuinely worried that her partner in crime had left her alone to fend for herself without his protection, she grinned at his grunt of feigned exasperation. Yawning into his chestnut hair as she cradled him to her breast, she laughed when he found her yawns contagious and indulged himself. The night before had been another late one for them both at their temporary saloon downstairs, with Bob working the faro table and Dottie managing the girls. Even with all the excitement about the upcoming opening of Ford’s Exchange, their new combination saloon, gambling casino and house of ill-repute, the two night owls usually kept to their apartment until early afternoon.
“Wouldn’t dream of it. I don’t like the idea of you goin’ back to whorin’ when you can be mine, and besides, I don’t know the first thing about wrangling all them girls. What would I do without you?”
“Oh, you’d definitely be all the worse for the wear without me, Bob Ford,” Dottie agreed, giggling as his fingers reached down to suggestively slide along the inside of her bare thigh. “You seem to be indicating I don’t need to entertain anyone else this morning, so my fears were definitely unfounded.”
“Utterly unfounded,” Bob agreed, as he slowly rolled on top of her. “But if you do decide to go out before this evenin’, I suggest you take the back stairs down rather than headin’ out front.”
(This is a quickie AU starter I did for someone who wasn't sure how to write in the historical/old west/Victorian-ish verse, so I kept it relatively simple. She was writing as a dance hall performer and singer in Oklahoma City. Not my best work, but it’s a more repentant, regretful Bob in this one, whereas in other ideas I tend to write more about his arrogance, desire for celebrity status and the fact that his traveling show performances actually did well with some of the public at first, before his ever-changing luck took another nosedive.)
Seven years and twenty days. Such was the length of time that had passed from the day Bob had gunned down his idol, outlaw Jesse James, and the moment in 1889 when Bob rode into the town recently renamed Oklahoma City. Just a day earlier, on April 22, the town had welcomed its incorporation under the new name, and Bob could see evidence of the festivities everywhere he looked. Colorful bunting adorned fences and discarded confetti littered the streets and boardwalks, all remnants of revelry from the day before. The first rush of eager white settlers was pouring in to take advantage of President Harrison’s opening of the area from its former “Indian Country” designation.
The excitement had nothing to do with twenty-seven year old Robert Ford, of course, and he was merely another face in the crowd. All around him were throngs of land-hungry Americans arriving in wagons, drifting in by foot or on horseback like Bob himself. But being prone to pangs of self torment and regret in recent months, something melancholy inside of the man was triggered by the sight of so much celebration and activity. Only the horse beneath him could sense the change in Bob’s mood, the memories weighing him down as if a blacksmith’s anvil had dropped to the man’s shoulders and added to the saddle load.
You know what I expected? Bob thought miserably to himself, remembering the aftermath of Jesse’s death. He still mourned the fall of his idol, the shooting of an outlaw by Bob’s own hand, a larger than life figure Bob had worshiped since childhood. Applause. Jesse had become a problem to everyone, including himself, and especially the law. I thought I’d be the hero, that I’d be the one celebrated with parades and accolades and confetti thrown in the streets when I passed by. But they didn’t applaud. Not even at the shows. Not once.
Before dinnertime, Bob had checked his horse into the local livery and secured himself a room at a boarding house while he surveyed the town’s potential for his personal interest. It would be good to sleep in a real bed for a change, he decided, after weeks of making camp in the hills during his travels from Kansas and his native Missouri. The railroad was not yet established in the lands of Oklahoma, much of it still considered the country of native tribes, and he’d been on horseback for so long his legs were chafed and sore. But the journey was worth it, if things materialized as he hoped. He enjoyed a bath and a long rest, before the following day would be the start of what he hoped to be a successful chapter in what had been a miserable life so far.
A longing for a quieter life in anonymity was precisely why he was in Oklahoma City. Two failed attempts to establish his own saloons in other areas had pushed him onward, armed with the idea of building another dancehall in a booming town. If he played his cards right, the new town held a great deal of promise, and the morning after his arrival Bob met with a banker to secure his own property claim. Over the next few weeks, Bob was relieved to discover that, with all the excitement around him, no one recognized the man who had shot the legendary Jesse James on April 3, 1882. Jesse’s killer no longer sought the attention and praise he once craved, and blending into the crowd was a breath of fresh air for the first time in his life. Once upon a time he'd resented being a nobody, but that had all changed for Bob Ford. If anything, he now just wanted to live comfortably in a quiet, decent existence while regretting everything he had been, and had become.
It was later that summer when Ford’s Hall was open for business, Bob’s new saloon and dance hall in Oklahoma City. Just as he’d hoped, business was booming like the town itself, but one of his handful of dancers had just run off with some cowboy who had gotten her pregnant. Another young woman had succumbed to laudanum addiction. Desperately in need of some fresh talent, Bob left his bartender in charge of Ford’s Hall for the evening and dressed for dinner in another establishment down the road. A quiet figure in his black, three-piece sack suit and bowler hat, Bob gazed at his unsmiling reflection in the mirror. Jesse would have approved of the clothing, he realized, hardly surprised by that admission. After all, Bob had been obsessed with Jesse, from the tall tales written about the James-Younger gang’s exploits in the dime store novels to the outlaw style of dress and mannerisms.
"But you never owned an honest business in your life,” Bob muttered to Jesse’s imaginary presence behind him. The man’s ghost was always present, it seemed. “And that’s where I need to draw the line from now on. ‘Cause you’re dead, and I’m the reason, and it was all for nothin’. So now I gotta do somethin’ about it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta find another dancer who’ll give an honest day’s work and give the folks in my saloon somethin’ to smile about.” He nodded to the reflection, forcing a smile. He didn’t feel it, but it would do.
The saloon he wandered into was noisy and crowded. Rough men huddled over a faro table or leaned in chairs around decks of cards. A mahogany bar was lined by other men hoisting mugs of beer and glasses of whiskey. A crowd was beginning to settle into chairs set up in front of a tiny, curtained stage, making ready for another show to start. Bob made mental notes as he leaned against the bar with blue eyes focused on the stage. This saloon was busy, sure, but he knew his could be better. He’d just have to see what the onstage talent might be.
You ever find yourself going from "ain't got no ideas in my pea brain" to "whoa, Nelly, I've suddenly got so many idea fragments and drabble topics roarin through my head that I can't wait for that free time to write it all down" in roleplay?
And all the ideas come flooding in when you're supposed to be adulting in the real world first?
A lotta folks these days don't realize that the first time I killed a man, well, Jesse James wasn't first. It was just under two months before my twentieth year when I cut down a man named Wood Hite, who was trying to shoot my friend, D*ck Liddil. Wood was Jesse's cousin, and I didn't plan on killing him. But Wood's death was a big part of the sequence of events leading to the day I shot Jesse James.
I still wonder how things might've played out for everyone, otherwise.
It was only with Dorothy Evans that Bob spoke revealingly or plainly, and it was with her that he spoke of things he didn't know he knew.
He told her that he had no real memory of the shooting and its aftermath. He could remember lifting the gun that Jesse had given him...and then it was Good Friday and he was reading about the funeral proceedings as if they'd happened a long time ago.
"Why did you kill him?"
"Well, he was gonna kill me."
"So you were scared, and that's the only reason?"
"Yeah. And the reward money."
"Do you want me to change the subject?"
Bob considered her question a moment. The need to finally admit the conflict in his heart overwhelmed his arrogance, the desire for fame and enduring connection to his dead hero.
"You know what I expected? Applause." It felt good to speak in hushed tones of how his obsession had led him to misjudging everyone and everything around him.
"I was only 20 years old then. I couldn't see how it would look to people. I was surprised by what happened."
Bob paused, acknowledging the painful truth.
"They didn't applaud."
-from The Assassination of Jesse James, by the Coward Robert Ford, with some additions by me.
//Multi-para, literate and chemistry-driven Writer needed for the role of (fictional) soiled dove Dorothy Evans, who could become his wife, or any similar ladies working in his saloons/dance halls.
At first, Bob Ford reveled in his instant fame following the murder of Jesse James, even as he was simultaneously scorned by the public. Pardoned for the murders of both James and Jesse's cousin, Wood Hite, Bob recreated Jesse's murder nightly in the stage show Outlaws of Missouri, which earned him cheers, jeers and death threats. Fancying himself a celebrity outlaw like Jesse himself, Bob's star never rose higher than a position of unwanted notoriety for cowardice and betrayal.
Every passenger sharing Bob's rail car was a stranger, none of them ever having made his acquaintance previously. Even so, he was haunted by the face of one woman in particular, who stirred up peculiar memories he could not quite grasp or explain. It was an overwhelming sense of déjà vu before the term was widely recognized, a sense that he'd seen her numerous times in his travels, appearing just before some traumatic event in Bob's life. (Teaser for a drabble idea in progress.)