Horse Thief

A noose over a crossbar with a faded picture of a young woman in the background.


The vaquero was right.

It takes nerves or courage or plain stupidity to face someone in a gunfight. Esther May had her weapon aimed and ready when the robber forced her hand. He grabbed his pistol, and in that time-frozen second, Esther May wanted to drop to the ground and curl up. Instead, she fired.

First To Shoot

Her bullet struck nowhere close to the intimidating target between his eyes where she previously held the sights. The .44 caliber slug smashed into his left thigh throwing that leg backward. Hit before he could draw a bead, his shot kicked up dirt beside his boot as he twisted and fell.

Details revealed themselves to Esther May with remarkable clarity as time slowed: the vaquero’s hair, long enough to overhang his collar, fanned out over his pain-grimaced face, he fell tilted sideways, the bullet hole in his leg sliding out of sight underneath his body, the veins on the back of his hand gripping the gun.

The pulse in Esther May’s throat ballooned as clarity seeped into her brain.

He still held his pistol.

She had to reach the gun before he could use it again. Esther May couldn’t move through the air. It was thick as honey, pushing back and slowing her down.

Esther May’s heart, isolated from the dreamlike lethargy of external events, pounded with the frequency and power of galloping hooves. Her body moved, taking her screaming mind along for the ride, until she stepped on the hand that held the vaquero’s pistol.

She jerked the gun from her adversary, burning her hand on the hot barrel. Several deep breaths returned the world to real time.

The would-be intimidator of young women didn’t seem to know or care that he lost his pistol. He rocked on the ground holding his thigh with both hands, groaning and spewing Spanish words.


Esther May swung her Colt .44 around at noise behind her. It was Julio running toward the corral. His mamá yelling at him to stop. Others were coming down the dusty street from the Mission.

A small crowd arrived, concentrating around the gate, and all talking at once. Miguel, the horse-shoer, pushed through the mob. “What happens here, Senorita?”

Before she could speak, the vaquero almost yelled, “This horse thief shot me.”

Miguel looked at the man’s leg. “Yes. You are shot.” Turning to Esther May while pointing at the wounded leg, he asked, “You did this?”

“He tried to shoot me first. And I didn’t steal any horses. He’s the one—”

Miguel spoke to the crowd. “Get the Sheriff!”

Justice (or Not)

Sheriff Montoya tied his dappled mare to the ocotillo and entered the corral through the gate slid aside for him. The vaquero, with a rag wrapped around his leg, sat in the shade under a lattice covering the feed trough.

Montoya appeared to be annoyed that his Sunday morning was interrupted. He approached the vaquero. “What’s your name?”


“What are you doing here?”

“I came to see if those are my horses. Someone stole them from me and my friend, Miguel, said they looked like mine.”

The Sheriff indicated Esther May. “What’s your name?”

“Esther May.”

“Did you shoot him?”

“He tried to shoot me first.”

Brother Pablo spoke up. “We heard two shots, Sheriff.”

Samuél groaned in pain. “When I saw her with a gun I shot into the ground to scare her. Pity me. She’s a thief who shoots.”

Montoya pointed at the animals and asked Samuél, “Are all these yours?”

“Two are.”

Sheriff Montoya hitched up his gun belt. “We don’t tolerate horse thieves, Senorita. Young or old, man or woman, we hang ‘em.”

Brother Pablo whispered in Esther May’s ear, “Julio just told me that Samuél, the Sheriff, and Miguel are all related.”

Can Esther May fight her way out of this? Leave a comment now.

Were females hanged in early America? Yes. Check out this article.

To read the series click on the down arrow in the Archive list, start with Tales Old Roy Told and work up.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

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