All three of the McKay boys were out tending the ranch, as was there custom, when they received the news. Their little sister, Johanna, came running out to them from the woods that stood between the field they were in and the homestead. She was badly beaten and her clothes were torn, she was trying to keep a shawl across her torn dress as she limped along. She raised her hands, letting go of the shawl and screeched, “They’re killin’ us!”
And that was all she got out.
A rider, his face hidden behind a yellow bandanna, came riding out of the woods and shot her quick in the back of the head. The bullet came straight through the nose and whisked by the boys. She flailed forward with her arms drawn upward and collapsed to the ground as dead weight. The rider stopped and looked on the boys for a moment, then reared his black stallion back and galloped back into the woods and towards the house.
Jonathon, the eldest brother of the three, lept on his horse and rode after the strange rider. Matthew looked down from his saddle to Thomas, the youngest, “Check on Johanna!”
It didn’t take Thomas long to see what had been done and that she was meeting the Maker. He took her shawl, and covered her from the face down to her stomach. She had turned fourteen not two months previously.
As he came upon the house, Matthew and Jonathon came outside the front door and sat down on the porch. They hung their heads and removed their dirty Stetsons. Now Thomas expected the worst, but he had to ask, “What’s been done? Where’s ma, where’s pa?
Jonathon set up tall next to Matthew on the bench; he held his head high and looked straight ahead. His black hair glistened from the sunlight, and he spoke with no emotion, “They’re dead, Thomas. How’s Johanna?”
“He done had his way with her and you saw the rest.”
“Yep,” Jonathon looked down at his Stetson, stroking the sturdy brim, “They did the same to ma. Matthew and I saw ‘em ridin’ off as we came up. There was six of ‘em. They were cowboys,” he looked up and out somewhere, his eyes wondering back and forth, his jaw locking occasionally as he spoke. Thomas recognized that this was a tick Jonathan had when he was really mad, “I’m supposin’ Sheriff Jenkins won’t do nothin’ ‘bout it. You know how he don’t like to tangle with cowboys.”
Matthew finally looked up, his eyes were red from crying, “Jenkins can’t do it any how—they was our kin, we’ll settle it.” He wiped his nose with his sleeve, “I’m figurin’ they’ll be stoppin’ in for a spot in town, we can find ‘em that way—or at least someone would’ve seen ‘em. They can’t be too hard to track.”
“We’ll find ‘em,” Jonathon patted Matthew on his back, providing comfort, “And when we do… the McKay brothers will have their revenge.” He released his hand from Matthew’s back and put the hat back on his head, “But for now, we bury our dead. Ain’t right to leave ‘em exposed. God’s calling ‘em home.
Standing over the fresh graves of their father, mother and little sister the McKay boys watched as the sun set in the sky. Jonathon, being the eldest, did the talking. He kept it short, and simple. It’s the way they all were about speaking; they had picked that up from their father. But also in the back of his mind, he knew they were losing ground on the cowboys.
“God, you know pa was a good man. The best father any of us could’ve asked for. He gave us food, he taught us to fear ya. And well, I suppose he taught us just about everything there is to know about life. Take him now, enjoy his company as we have,” he reached down and set their father’s Boss of the Plains hat on his grave, it was white and a gift from the boys. They had to save money for two years to get that Stetson, but they had finally gotten it for him and he wore it with pride. “Now, I suppose ma was the best cook we’d ever met, but she was also kind and sweet. She never hurt no one and didn’t deserve to go the way she did. Treat her right up there, as only you can. She’s earned it.” He laid her favorite apron, the one she always wore, across her grave. It was bloodstained now. “Johanna was a good little sister… sure we had our disagreements, but that’s the way it is when we’re growing up. You gotta learn to be better than those things. We boys have figured that out now, and she would have too—if she’d had the time. But she was virtuous to the end, a real lady. She had a pure heart and a kind spirit. She would have made any man happy having her as a wife,” Jonathan began to cry, “But I guess that won’t be happening now… all she wanted was a man of her own. A husband. A family. Well, I guess she’s with her family now, God. Make her right at home as only you can.” He knelt on one knee and felt the mud seep into his denim. He placed her turquoise broach on her grave; she always wore it to church on Sundays and promised everyone she met that she would wear it on her wedding day for the last time.
Johanna McKay couldn’t have been more wrong.
As the McKay boys rode on towards town, Matthew noted that it felt like a sin burying his little sister under the weight of the earth. His brothers agreed.