The Legend of Arthur Tanner and Johnny Red

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksiesilk Classic Group

This is the seemingly tall tale of the outlaw so brutal that the Devil would be ashamed to mention his name and the lawman determined to bring him to justice, whether that be the jailhouse or the graveyard.

The Legend of Arthur Tanner and Johnny Red

Copyright © 2014 by Jason Wallace



Some say that Arthur Tanner was just a mean drunk who liked to tell tall tales.  They say that the town of Jericho Springs never even existed, that Tanner was never Sheriff, that he told his stories to sound like a “big man” and to get people to buy him drinks.  No one but those involved ever knew the real truth.  Men bought Tanner drinks because they liked to hear what he had to say, though none ever believed him, except for the occasional child who wanted so badly for the stories to be true, especially Tanner’s story about his brush with Johnny Red, the most notorious gunman of the latter part of the 1880s.  The history of it all has been lost to posterity because it all seems too vivid and vivacious to be reality.  The following, however, IS how it really happened.


It was a cool, clear day in Jericho Springs, crisp as could be, when Sheriff Arthur Tanner stepped out of the local saloon and into the dusty, unkempt street.  It had been of a particularly unexpected climate as of late, leaving some of the townsfolk quite unhappy and others, quite giddy at the relief from the usual dread heat.  Recent immigrants from the East found it a welcome boon, reminding them of their days before having departed for lands unknown in an unrelenting desert.  Those, however, whom had spent much of their lives in the desert climate, found it disturbing, almost painful to bear. 


Some of these malcontents were of such unpleasant temperament that they began picking fights in the saloon or even in the streets.  Neighbor fought with neighbor, father with son, brother with brother, sometimes turning quite bloody.  Sheriff Tanner had been called to the saloon to break up one such fight between Abel Miller and his younger brother, Thomas, a fight that had begun with a round of drinks paid for by Thomas, followed by Abel telling Thomas how he should save his money and not spend it on “good fer nothin’ dingy dogs ya find in such a place as this.”  Thomas, quite confused, wondered if his brother considered himself one of such "dingy dogs."


The Sheriff quickly ended the fight, ordering the two brothers to part ways or face arrest.  Abel felt no inclination toward spending a night in the local jail, having been there many a time, while Thomas was still so enraged at his brother that it took the Sheriff hitting the man atop his head with the butt of his pistol to quiet him and make him loosen his grip on his brother’s shirtsleeve.


No sooner than had Sheriff Tanner stepped a foot from the saloon, he bumped into Maddie Jenkins, paying little attention due to being flustered and a little angry at the Miller brothers’ altercation, nearly knocking poor Mrs. Jenkins down the steps that she had just climbed.  If it hadn’t been for Maddie’s catlike reflexes, instantly grabbing ahold of the nearest pole supporting the porch’s roof, she would have taken such a tumble.


Grabbing Mrs. Jenkins’ arm to steady her, the Sheriff begged the woman’s forgiveness.  “Why, Ms. Maddie, I am ever so sorry, and I do pray you forgive my rudeness and brutality toward one so lovely as you.”


“Sheriff, no need.  I understand how busy a man you are.  I know that you are likely about some pressing business that I shan’t keep you from.”


“Why, no, Ms. Maddie, you are not keeping from a thing ‘tall.  I cherish the moments I get to spend with the finer, more respectable members of the fairer sex.  Seeing a face so lovely as your’n is a true pleasure.”


“You Sothern boys,” Mrs. Jenkins began, “You have a way about you most men simply do not possess.”


“Well, my mother did always tell me that I should be kind to lady folk.  My mother was the purest and genteelest of all hearts you would ever meet, and I have made it my life’s work to treat all women as if they were as wonderful and kind as was my mother, unless they give me a reason to not be so inclined.”


“I appreciate your benevolence toward my person, dear Sheriff.  I take it you have heard that we are to get a new minister shortly.”


“Yes, I have heard of that, Ma’am, but I am afraid I do not know of this new minister that is to tend to the flock of this region.”  The Sheriff had a certain gruff appearance to him that suggested to many that he was constantly angry, though he was, quite often, the happiest among men. 

Only those who knew the Sheriff well knew that there was never a mean spirit about him if no reason were given to behave in such a manner.  Among those whom knew this about the Sheriff was Maddie Jenkins.  As a resident of Jericho Springs for many years, she knew the Sheriff better than most.  He was one of the first locals to greet her when she and her family arrived from Pennsylvania.


The Sheriff was elected partly because of this perceived mannerism, partly because of his reputation as a fast and fierce gunman, and largely because Maddie Jenkins rallied many local voters to the man’s side.  The voter turnout was minimal, but the vote went almost unanimously to Arthur Tanner. 


Sheriff Tanner felt an affinity toward Maddie from the moment he met her, and since she helped secure his office, the Sheriff felt a deep and sincere need to repay the debt.  More than this, Sheriff Tanner harbored romantic feelings for the woman to which he now spoke; however, he knew that it was wrong to entertain such notions toward a married woman in anything more than one’s own mind, and even that served a cold and agonizing guilt that tormented the Sheriff’s very soul.


Responding firmly yet warmly to the Sheriff, Maddie Jenkins reminded Sheriff Tanner, “Sheriff, the reason that you have only heard rumor is that you have not attended church in a very long time.  In fact, I believe that the last time you were in church, I was still carrying my last child.”

Attempting to choke out a response, the Sheriff could only stammer, “Well, I… I… That is quite so, Ma’am.”


“Well, Sheriff, I am sure that if you would attend church, you would learn much more about the new minister, though I cannot say that he has arrived yet.  I am to join the other ladies of the church in welcoming him.”


“Well then, Ms. Maddie, I will not keep you.  I will leave you to your business, and I do hope that you give my sincerest regards to your husband and to your children.”  Tipping his hat, the Sheriff began to turn, but not before Maddie could have the last word, something that she was well known for, but this did not bother Sheriff Tanner.


“Paul’s real sick, you know.  So are two of my boys.”


Turning back, the Sheriff inquisitively posited, “Ma’am?”


“Paul, and my dear ones, John and Matthew have taken very ill.  Paul says that it will pass soon, but I do not know what to do.  I did not plan to speak of this to anyone, but I know you, Sheriff Tanner.  You’re a good man.  You listen.  I’m afraid that Mark, only twelve years in age, is left to attend to the fields and to the animals.  I help him all that I can, but Paul and the other boys have been down for almost a week.  Though they are all in good spirits and seem as though they may get better, much as Paul says, they are all too weak to rise more than to sit.”


“Ma’am, you know I would surely come to your aid and help your boy, but I can’t leave the townspeople alone for too long.”


“I am not asking you to do such a thing, Sheriff.  I just wanted someone to listen.  I am beside myself and needed a kind ear.”


Sighing deeply, the Sheriff was unsure of what he could do but felt compelled to help in some way.  “I’ll speak to a few men I know who are quite able bodied and see if I can bend their ears toward aiding you and yours.”


“Sheriff, I know that we, as Christians, are to help one another whenever possible, but I am not sure that my husband would approve of other men doing his work.”


“You tell that stubborn husband of yours that your poor boy cannot do all the work himself and must have help and that the good people of Jericho Springs take care of one another.”


With a heartfelt smile and nearly a tear in her eye, Maddie Jenkins walked away, everything that needed said fully displayed in her countenance.


The Sheriff began a casual stroll toward his office, getting halfway before a young boy came running to him, so fast that he nearly knocked into the Sheriff.  “Sheriff,” the boy started, exhausted and panting. 




“What, Joey?”


“I got somethin’ for ya from Mr. Sellers, a telegram.”  Holding out a piece of paper, flapping in the breeze, the boy hung his head low to catch his breath.


Taking the paper from the boy, Sheriff Tanner read it, growing more and more concerned with each passing word on the piece.


The Sheriff was angry now, one of the rare times when his true feelings showed without words.  Without thanking the boy, leaving him still trying to catch his breath, the Sheriff hurried toward his office, emerging back out the door soon after, with as many guns as he could carry.


As the Sheriff stepped back into the saloon, the Miller brothers both turned. 


“Listen up,” the Sheriff shouted.  “I need every man here to follow me.”

The Sheriff expected that his authority would be respected and that the handful of men present would follow, but not a one rose from his seat.


“I’m only gonna tell all you boys this one time.  I got word that Johnny Red may be on his way here to Jericho Springs, and we got only God knows how much time to prepare us a defense.  He was seen barely a hundred miles away two days ago, headin’ straight this direction.  Now, if’n you boys don’t follow me, I’m gonna stop lookin’ the other way at you comin’ in here on Sundays, at your gamblin’, at the whorin’ goin on upstairs, and about your general rabble rousin’, all clear violations of the Jericho Springs city code.”


Johnny Red was feared throughout most of the West, rumored to have ridden with Quantrill’s Raiders, with the James Gang, with Billy the Kid, even by some, to be Billy the Kid himself, either risen from the dead or to have never been killed at all.  Many said that Pat Garrett, being the good friend of Billy the Kid that he was, had helped Billy to fake his own death and make Garrett famous.  Billy was believed to have grown tired of the outlaw life and to desire a peaceful existence. 


Some among those believers claimed that Billy the Kid only wanted to disappear for a while, to put an end to his own illustrious career, and to start anew.  No one knew of Johnny Red’s history for sure because all those close to him had either been killed or still rode alongside him and would never speak a word about him. 


Some said that Johnny Red got his nickname from having an Indian mother.  Others said his skin was remarkably red because he spent too long in the hot desert some.  There were many others, however, who believed Johnny Red not to be red at all, to have gotten his nickname from all of the blood that he had spilled, sometimes taking so much gluttonous pleasure in his kills that he played in his victims’ blood.


Needless to say, Johnny Red was no mere vagabond or hyped up menace.  He was the real thing, the stuff of wild stories, the human embodiment of evil extraordinaire.  He was a man that lived to kill, loved to rob, to rape, to pillage, a modern day barbarian in all his pre-civilized glory.  Johnny Red was even known, from time to time, to urinate on his victims, some of whom were still alive when receiving the dark and putrid punishment.  One such victim, a newspaper reporter, received just such a punishment simply because he didn’t look Johnny Red in the eye when speaking to him. 


Johnny Red was known to ride at what many called “the speed of lightning.”  Any of his men who could not keep up with him were either left behind to wonder where there leader had gone or were even shot.  Johnny Red “had no place” for “yellowbellies and stragglers.”  He rode hard.  He rode fast, and he often rode over those in his way.  No law man had ever been able to best him.  Few had even tried.  Even the bravest of such men heeded the advice of others to stay out of Red’s way.  Arthur Tanner, however, was not such a man.  He fought gallantly in the “War Between the States” and had seen far worse than anything that Johnny Red could bring his way. 


Tanner figured that if he died, he died, no questions, no remorse, no begging.  It was as plain as day.  He said to any who would listen , “Dyin’ is dyin’.  Ain’t no sense in squabblin’ ‘bout it.  When it’s yer time, it’s yer time.”


Tanner knew that Johnny Red would be in Jericho Springs soon enough and that there would be a fierce battle to engage.  It didn’t bother Tanner.  His only fear in all of it was knowing that he might not be around much longer to protect the good people of Jericho Springs.  He hated the idea of leaving them lawless.  There was no telling what Johnny Red would take and what he would do if there were no one to stand in his way.


Little did Sheriff Tanner know, but Johnny Red and his men were a lot closer than was thought.  The information in the telegram was off a little, and the men were riding even faster than anyone had been able to calculate.  They would be in Jericho Springs by late that night.


After a bit of persuasion, if it could be termed that, including Sheriff Tanner knocking Abel Miller hard across the face with a much calloused hand, the Millers followed Sheriff Tanner out of the saloon and accepted his handing over of two guns.  Soon, another man, Jim Wainwright, asked what the commotion was about and agreed to join.  Tanner knew that he and only three other men could not stand up against Johnny Red and all of his men, but it was a start.  Tanner ordered the Millers to take positions on roofs opposite one another and hide.  He told them that food would be brought to them later but that they would have to “piss in a bucket” and that they had better not leave their posts, or they would face his severe wrath.


Tanner soon went about the town, hurrying up and down the street, begging, pleading, even demanding that every able-bodied man join the fight or “get the hell out of my town.”  A shopkeeper took his rifle from behind the counter and marched into the street, claiming that he would always support his Sheriff, no matter the cost.  A few boys offered to help, but they were all far too young for Tanner to consider.  He thought it to be such a shame that those who could not fight were the ones willing to do so while those who could fight sat idly by. 


Finally, exasperated at finding only four men to aid him, Sheriff Tanner began to shout as loud as he could, “I’m declarin’ marshal law here.  Any man that don’t join up is gonna get the butt of my rifle in his skull.”


When all was said and done, Tanner had another three men.  He didn't know if they would be enough to take on Johnny Red and his men, but he knew damn well that they would have to try. Tanner positioned two men to hide between buildings on one side of the street and two more between buildings on the other side.  Two more men were sent to the rooftops, one to aid each of the Miller brothers.  That left only Sheriff Tanner and Jim Wainwright to remain in the street.


"I'm orderin' one more time...," Sheriff Tanner began with a thunderous shout, "for every able man who can get his self a gun to get out here and help and do his fair share!  If I don't get at least a half dozen volunteers in the next few minutes, I'm gonna make sure there is hell to pay!"


The people feared Arthur Tanner as much as they respected him, but very few were ready to risk their lives against the most notorious killer that any of them had heard of.  Johnny Red was said to make Billy the Kid look like a reverend on a Sunday stroll.  No one, save a handful, wanted any part of getting in Johnny Red's way.


Only one man, Denison Blackmore, stepped into the street, gun toted over his shoulder.  Blackmore, some speculated was convinced of his duty.  Others said it was because of his great fear of Arthur Tanner and what he would do.  Whatever it was, Tanner was pleased to have another gunman present.  He kept Blackmore by his side, thinking that the four men on the rooftops and the four men hidden in alleys would be surprises for Johnny Red, perhaps, enough to scare him, perhaps, even enough to pick off some of his men, though Tanner was not quite sure of Abel and Thomas Miller's shooting skills, especially after a day of heavy drinking.


Sheriff Tanner again and again reiterated his order, but most only looked on in awe or went back about their business.  Tanner vehemently protested and made loud, public promises of the retribution of justice, guaranteeing that he would remember the name of every person whom had refused to help.  There was no expectation for women, boys, or men greatly advanced in age or too infirm, but everyone else was definitely getting on the bad side of a man who had a very destructive temper when agitated.


In fact, as a twenty something, very healthy man walked behind Tanner, on his way to the saloon, Tanner turned and grabbed the man by the collar and shook him, eventually, tossing him to the ground, where he slid several feet.  Rising to his feet, the young man began to shout curses at Tanner.  Tanner, rather nonchalantly and non-eloquently informed the man that if he ever saw him again after that day, he would make absolutely sure that the man couldn't use his quick legs or "coward belly" for a long time.


All of a sudden, a very large cloud of dust was seen in the distance, obviously a result of many men riding hard and fast toward Jericho Springs.  Tanner anticipated that his fight with Johnny Red was coming.  When the group of men got a lot closer, however, someone shouted that it was not Johnny Red but appeared to be Paul Jenkins and some other local farmers.


Tanner, well before Jenkins and the others could fully arrive, exclaimed cheerfully and adamantly, "Paul Jenkins, you ol' dog.  I thought you was sick."


Stopping quick and dismounting in great pain, Jenkins replied, "Yeah, well, Arthur Tanner, last I checked, was my friend.  Arthur Tanner was a man anybody 'round here could count on in times of trouble, not to mention this is my home," and pointing all around, "and their home and their home."


"Well, some folks apparently ain't as dependable as some others.  I count Paul Jenkins my friend as much as he ever counted me his."  With a tremendous smile, Tanner extended his hand to his friend and possible saving grace.


Jenkins and the five men with him took their places in the line formation in the street, now numbering nine men, including Tanner.  Now, with the men on the rooftops and in the alleys, there were seventeen men to take on Johnny Red, and Tanner was absolutely certain that he would need every single one, maybe more.  There was no telling how many men Johnny Red had these days or how brutal they may be, not to mention that Johnny Red and some of his men were far better shots than the average man.


Tanner and his men, at least most of them, were ready.  They figured that come what may, it would be a hell of a fight, and justice would be attempted.  Everyone's guns were loaded, waiting, ready to aim and fire.  It may be a while, they knew, before the enemy arrived, but so be it. 


Afternoon was approaching fast, the sun finally beginning to warm up the town.  No one knew how long the wait would be.  As the sun grew hotter and hotter, some of the men felt more than uneasy, feeling as though maybe they were actually cooking underneath their clothes. 


There were plenty of lurkers and lookers, watching for what they believed would be awe-inspiring festivities of bloodshed.  After a long while in the sun, a couple of women decided that the men might be hungry and brought all of them sandwiches and coffee, all hungrily and happily consumed, two boys sent to the rooftops to take the food to the Millers and the men with them.


Finally, at nearly 2:30, another would-be gunman showed up, informing the others that he had decided enough was enough and that "if'n there's gonna be a fight, I'm gonna be a part of it all."


At a little after 3 p.m. and many hours of the men standing around impatiently, another man joined, followed a half of an hour later by his brother.  The Joneses were welcome additions, as was the previous volunteer.  Including himself, the Sheriff now had exactly twenty armed men.  Some of them were surely poor shots, but the sheer number may be enough to get Johnny Red to back down, though he would certainly never surrender.  Sheriff Tanner, unbeknownst to the other men, however, had no intentions of letting Johnny get away.  He would be shot dead or put in irons. Either way, the day would end with his.


Little did Tanner know that all of this was exactly what Johnny Red had hoped for.  Jericho Springs was the only town for many miles.  If word got to Sheriff Tanner of Johnny's approach, Tanner would plan defenses for the town; however, Johnny Red would be free to pillage the countryside on his way to Jericho Springs, as Tanner and his men would remain in town and probably would hear nothing of what the outlaw and his men did on their way.


Johnny Red and his men set fire to a house, barn, even fences on a farm nearly twenty miles away.  They shot the man who lived there, killed his livestock and ate some of those that were killed, beat the man's son until he was near the point of death, and absconded with everything of value, including the man's wife and daughter, a girl of only fourteen years.  They set about on a trail of blood and fire that would not be quenched as long as no one could arrive to stop them.


After Johnny Red had personally soiled the two females just outside of a nearby canyon, he beat both of them severely and kicked them toward his men.  Their clothes ripped nearly off, their hair matted with blood, tears, and sweat, the mother and daughter could barely crawl, trying to escape the fate of now being shared by the rest of the men, men so dirty, filthy, nasty, and evil that the Devil himself would be ashamed to claim them.


The women, after receiving more of the same harsh treatment as Johnny had given them, were left, naked, beaten, bloody, exhausted... yea, nearly dead, as the men rode away toward Jericho Springs.  Johnny decided to stop one more time, barely five miles from the town, in order to pillage another farm.  Luckily for the owner of the place, he had gone to town to join the posse after Maddie Jenkins had heard the news of Johnny Red's trek southeast and had rushed home to inform her husband of the matter.  Paul Jenkins, weak and ill as he was, mustered all of his strength, and he and his one healthy son rode in opposite directions to gather their neighbors.  The whole Jenkins family came back to Jericho Springs, mother Maddie set to watch the children in the local church.


There was not much of value at the Jenkins farm, but what little there was, Johnny Red and his men found it, namely, a silver broach of Maddie's, a few silver dollars, and a golden serving dish.  Paul and his neighbors had carried away all of the guns and ammunition that they could gather from every farm, both their own and all that they passed by on their way.


The house and all buildings were set ablaze as at the previous farm.  All livestock were shot, though none would be consumed.  With nothing left to burn, kill, or steal, the men resumed their journey.  All in all, including Johnny Red, there were fifteen men.  Tanner and his men did outnumber them, but most of the outlaws were good enough shots that the odds were still greatly in their favor.


It took no time at all for the men to reach Jericho Springs.  It was now approaching sundown, the amber hue of the sun now beginning to fade into a mix of colors so beautiful that words cannot utter their exuberance.  Many of the townsfolk had left town, or, at least, gone inside.  Tanner's men had grown so weary of waiting that nearly half of them, grumbling and groaning with displeasure, had threatened to leave.  If it hadn't been for threats by Tanner and much coaxing by Paul Jenkins and a couple of others, that very thing might have happened. 


The men noticed the outlaws as they got within a half of a mile from the edge of town.  They braced themselves, some of them shaking nonetheless.  Their hands tight on their guns, death grips causing bones to ache, they knew that the fight would be on soon and would be so bloody that it would take a very long time to clean up all of the mess.

Tanner ordered his men not to fire until it was absolutely necessary.  If any of Johnny Red's men fired, Tanner and his men would fire. 


However, if Red stopped and could be spoken to, any chance of reason  and justice to prevail, there would be no fight.  Tanner knew that this was not possible, yet he also knew that as a lawman, he had no choice but to try.


Johnny Red and his men came rushing in with such force that they nearly ran Tanner and his men down.  With twelve visible rifles aimed at them, however, they stopped twenty feet away from the line of legal gunmen.  Johnny Red, leaning down a bit in his saddle, seeming quite cocky and arrogant, smirked, then laughed, then spit a large stream of tobacco juice several feet in front of himself.


"What you thinkin' you're gonna do here, Sheriff," asked Red inquisitively, believing the gunmen no match for his band of outlaws. 


"Johnny Red, in the name of the law, I, Arthur Tanner, Sheriff of Jericho Springs, order you to dismount your horses, you and all of your men, and follow me to the jail where you will be held until the law can decide what shall be done."


This has been a sample of The Legend of Arthur Tanner and Johny Red.  To read the rest or to hear the exciting audio, find the story on,, iTunes, or wherever else books are sold online.


About Jason Wallace




Jason Wallace is a self-published Indie author from the Midwest.  After his divorce, he attended graduate school, earning an M.A. in American and European History.  In his free time, he writes avidly, in a range of genres, including poetry.  Jason has been writing for twenty years, beginning in junior high but has only published since 2011.  His ultimate goal is to one day gain enough recognition for his work to garner a publishing deal; however, he enjoys the craft for its inherent benefits of self-exploration, creative outlet, and the joy it brings to others.  He loves sculpting new characters that hopefully readers can identify with and love reading about as much as Jason enjoys creating them.


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Submitted: April 18, 2015

© Copyright 2023 Jama Literary Agency. All rights reserved.

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