September 20, 2009

Bob Ford in Creede, Colorado

(Click image to enlarge)
Creede, Colorado 1892
(courtesy of the Denver Public Library)

Within the Smith family is a story of how members of the Soap Gang would harass Robert Ford, the slayer of Jesse James by singing the Ballad of Jesse James around Ford's sleeping quarters in the late hours of the evening. In the book, Welcome Suckers by James Buchanan (2003) given to me by Friends of Bad Man Soapy Smith member Leah over at Old West Rogues, there is a fictional version of a closely related incident. I hope you enjoy it.

Bob Ford was sleeping in his office/apartment one night, his arm around a little whore named Rita who had never heard of Jesse James and was one of the few who answered to his blandishments these days. It was three o'clock in the morning and the streets in the north end had emptied. A warm summer night with a breeze teasing the curtains meant open windows. The the demon that had haunted Bob Ford for ten years crept into his dreams:

Oooh, Jesse had a wife
He loved her all his life
The children they were brave,
when that dirty little coward,
shot down Mister Howard
and put our Jesse in his grave....

(Click image to enlarge)
closeup of Orleans Club
Soapy Smith gambling hall

It wasn't bad enough that the voice was distinctly Southern, but also strange in the hearing, far away and yet somehow close, almost eerie in its lamenting evocation of distant hills, trails, and times. It was also a song that simply was not sung in public, not in Creede or anywhere else where Bob Ford held sway. The penalty had always been death.

It jolted Bob out of his sleep and onto his feet in one alarmingly eruptive jack-in-the-box movement, one that knocked the poor whore right out of bed as he leaped for his pistols on the post and then to the window. Leaning so far out in his attempt to see, he almost fell two stories to the ground. The voice was somehow, almost miraculously it seemed to him, far away now. There was no one on the street.

Oh, hear of Jesse's wife
Made a mourner all her life....

The voice became fainter and slowly disappeared. Ford threw the bewildered Rita out of the room with no little roughness and got back into bed to pull the sheets over himself, shivering. By dawn the linen might as well have spent the night under water.


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