Moonlight and Madness

It was moonlight and madness that one April eve.
When the cowhands all made it to town.
Two cattle outfits had finished their drives.
And were fixin to lay money down.

The saloons were both full on that wide dusty street.
As the cowboys drank whiskey and beer.
Many weeks on the trail and bad weather to boot.
Had 'em thankful for pay and good cheer.

There was laughing and joking and card playin too.
Spirits were generally high.
But a few of them fellers seemed edgy and tight.
There was one who’s soul matched the dark sky.

He was known as John Smith, from south Georgia they said.
Most figured that was not his real name.
A fair cowhand  it seemed, mostly kept to himself.
Sometimes moody, but mostly quite tame.

As the evening wore on and the bellies were filled,
With cheap rotgut rye by the quart.
A few troopers came in looking over the crowd.
No doubt from the cavalry fort.

So the stage was set now for some tragic event.
Some saw it coming, some not.
When a trooper bumped John at the end of the bar
It looked as if things might get hot.

Could have ended right there with a quick, “’Scuse me Pard’
But alas that just wasn’t to be.
The trooper ignored John like many had done.
But tonight was the wrong night, you see?

John Smith stepped back a step with his eyes flashing fire.
No one noticed at first. Then they did.
John was no greenhorn, he was trailwise and grey.
The trooper was only a kid.

“You crowded me Son”, ole John whispered real slow.
And the trooper just laughed and said loud.
"I ain't your son and don't push me old man".
And a dark hush fell over the crowd.

“Hold on now John”, said the Trail Boss just then
We don’t want any trouble tonight.
We’re just here for some fun, and some likker and cards.
But John’s eyes seemed fixed on some sight.

Maybe he saw his old boyhood town.
When Sherman marched through it that summer.
Maybe all he could see was flames, blue coats, and blood.
And himself as a young rebel drummer.

We don’t know what he saw. Guess we never will.
As his hand reached for his 44.
He screamed like a Banshee, an old Rebel yell.
And he stood with his back to the door.

The trooper died quick with a round through his heart.
Had a look of surprise on his face.
Then all hell broke loose and more pistols were pulled.
Blood and gunsmoke soon filled up the place.

Started by two men who wouldn’t back off.
That fight was a sight, so they said.
And when it was done on that cool April night.
Three troopers, four cowboys lay dead.

Six more were shot up, some bad, but they lived
The bartender took a round too
The Sheriff saw to it the cowboys left town
Said, ”It just ain’t safe here now for you”

The Trail Boss knew that the next drive would be different
They’d have to avoid this small town.
Too many, memories now. Too much bad blood.
And memories are hard to put down.

Like John Smith’s old memories that ate at his heart.
And made him the man he had been.
“What a shame”, said the Trail Boss as they buried old John,
Outside town, in the Wyoming wind.

Original artwork by
Gunner Gatlin aka P.J. Agnew