Posse pointing guns at man sitting on ground.

In Jail

Esther May gripped the iron slats of her cell, straining to understand the two men.

“You can’t have a hanging,” Brother Pablo said. “With all the shooting, fighting, drinking, and gambling that goes on here in Pozo de Cobre, I can’t remember a hanging. We don’t even have a gallows.”

Sheriff Montoya waved the protest away. “We’ll throw a rope over the stable rafters. We don’t need nothin’ fancy.”

The crowd outside went silent as a third man entered the jail. He was not huge, just average height, but his bearing caught Esther May’s attention. His features spoke of Mexican heritage although he dressed as an American cowboy with a sidearm. The brim of a western hat cast a shadow over his eyes. His gaze swept the room as he announced, “Doña Maria Esquerra.”

Interested Parties?

The sheriff had been backing up since the cowboy came into the room. He swept low in a bow, his hair falling over his face as a six-foot-tall woman entered. Brother Pablo gave her a shallow nod.

To Esther May, the Latino woman didn’t look like royalty. Her face was pleasant enough, but she was big-boned, and dressed much like her cowboy companion. A red ribbon at the nape of her neck tied her shiny, black hair. The sweat-stained cowboy hat she wore didn’t detract from the silken beauty that reached the middle of her back.

Esther May raised a hand to her short-cropped, finger-combed, brown mop. Yes, the woman in front was a Lady—who wore a gunbelt.

Madam Esquerra held a leather quirt that she pointed at the sheriff. “I’m informed you’re to hang a horse thief.”

Montoya darted a sideways glance at Esther may. “Si, Doña Maria, unless you have some other, er, punishment in mind.”

“I didn’t steal horses or anything else,” Esther May shouted. She tried to shake the iron straps of the cell. Her effort produced a small cut in the palm of her left hand.

Sentence Approved

The unperturbed Lady waited until the men returned their focus from Esther May. “I think hanging is appropriate for a horse thief, sheriff. You’re to be congratulated on your willingness to uphold justice.”

“That’s what I was telling Brother Pablo.” Montoya beamed from the praise. “We’ll get a rope and do it today.”

Doña Maria slapped her leg with the quirt. Excellent! I’ll stay to watch since the horses stolen were mine.”

The sheriff lost his smirk. “What’s this? The man at the corral, Samuél, said they were his horses. When he tried to claim them,” he pointed at Esther May, “she shot him.”

Who’s Guilty?

“Then we have her to thank for capturing the thief. Do you remember a year ago when you could find no clue to who beat old Luis to death and stole my stable stock? My horses are now in that corral with the wounded man who claims they were always his.”

From her cell, Esther May saw that Sheriff Montoya was pale as lard. “But Señora—”

“Do you also remember that you were told that three hired men disappeared at the same time as the theft? That wounded man is one of them.”

“Well, yes, but—”

“I charge him with murder and theft. Get your rope.” She went to the cell holding Esther May. “I’m Maria Esquerra. Would you be my guest at the hacienda?”

Will Sheriff Montoya hang his relative? Leave a comment now.

Were there such women as Doña Maria in the west? Absolutely. One was Eulalia Elias. Here’s an article about her.

This week’s picture is from the Library of Congress titled “Hands up. Rounding up a horse thief. Find out more about it here.

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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