The bodies of the rest were already hanging, mostly Indians, another bad pack of them to be rid of. There were two others, Irish that had made their way west looking for quick money, now dead as well. The men of the town, and even towns surrounding, had been quick to round them all up once the news had spread about the Coleman horses and the boy. There would be no trial. This is the way things had to be done here, the Sheriff knew, and there would be no stopping the vigilantes anyway. Not this time. He walked towards the row of dead, still and lifeless from the grayed wooden eaves of the building porches, the ropes making twisting, crackling sounds. No one in the crowd spoke, and the air was still, save for the footsteps of the Sheriff and a few others who had come from the house with him, flanking him silently.

The Coleman family was well-known for their horses; in fact, many of the U.S. Calvary elite, those fanciers who could afford them, and even the President owned horses that the Colemans raised. They had moved to Colorado from the Carolinas, and were deeply respected as hard-working, God-fearing people who never let their good fortune set them apart.

There had been so much thievery in the past few years. Mr. Coleman had come into town one day to speak with the Sheriff and the Sheriff's nephew, an up-and-coming young Cavalryman named Matthew Jeffers, about how best to protect the animals and his business. The Indians as well as career criminals from everywhere else were relentless, Matthew confirmed, and the Coleman’s horses were a certainly a prime target, the finest and most lucrative to steal. So that day the three men formed a plan. The Colemans would take 30 of their best horses up to a remote location, deep into their land. It was a treacherous path to get there, up a steep piney rocky ridge to the plateau, where the horses could spend the summer and early fall. It had been decided to tell no one about this change, and no one knew of it, save for the Sheriff and Jeffers, who both had helped the Colemans move the horses over a long and difficult day. The summer passed, and save for a few drunken brawls and a hailstorm that broke out the windows of half the buildings in town, things were reasonably quiet.

Late on an early September day, as the sky was turning pink and purple and orange as the sun began to rest, the Sheriff saw a rider bursting into town, a young man urging a clearly exhausted horse to keep going. As he came closer, dust kicking into the air, the Sheriff could see the face of William, the Coleman’s 19-year-old son. His hair and eyes were wild, sweat pouring from him and the horse, flecks of foam falling from the horse’s open mouth. His hands and clothes were covered in dried rusty blood. William flung himself off the horse, unsteady.

“The doctor! I need – I – the – please!! Help me!” He grabbed the reins of his horse, buried his face in the animal’s neck as the horse heaved heavily in and out, and let out a horrible cry, broken, desperate. Already people were coming out of their homes and businesses. A girl of about 13 brought a glass of water; someone led the horse away to be taken care of.

The Sheriff thought of that day as he walked through the crowd now, how the face of William Coleman would never leave his mind. William had become worried as the afternoon began to end. Very early in the morning, their lead ranch hand Miles, a half-breed known for his great skill with horses and his kind, quiet, and patient manner, had left with Nathaniel Coleman, the chatty, busy 10-year-old son of the Colemans, to check in on the horses up at the plateau. Mr. and Mrs. Coleman were traveling back East, and William had been left in charge of ranch in their absence, and took on the responsibility gratefully and soberly. He would ride out himself to see why Miles and Nathaniel had not arrived back yet.

After William had choked out the story, the Sheriff and practically the entire town made their way up to the plateau, urgent and angry. It was as William said. The horses, all of them, were gone. The bodies of Miles and Nathaniel, both shot in the back of the head, lay silent on the scrubby ground, in two pools of dark red, the body of the man lying over the boy’s thin frame. The Sheriff had thought then, out of nowhere, that Nathaniel had the brightest blond hair of any he had seen, almost white from being in the sun over the long summer. His chest boiled in rage and sickness and sadness, as the furious vengeful cries of the group started to drown out his thoughts.

The last man to be hanged waited, silently. The Sheriff turned to face him, the first time since the townsmen had dragged the thief from his home and strung him here, and stood him on a chair like the others. The face of the young man reddened immediately and his eyes shone with tears, brightest blue against his blue uniform, and looked back at the stony, slit-eyed glare of the Sheriff.

“…My family…”

The young man stopped himself. There were no excuses, and it wasn’t honorable to offer any. The Sheriff turned away.

As he did, he heard the sound of Matthew Jeffers kicking away the chair, the sounds of death. With no warning, unexpected and complete, Sheriff John Jeffers' legs buckled and gave way. A friend crouched next to him, and put an arm around the Sheriff’s shoulders, as the Sheriff’s grief for his nephew and all of what had happened washed over him, fallen to his knees in shaking silence. The crowd, in respect for Sheriff Jeffers, a good man, quietly dispersed.