Mayor Harvey Pendleton banged his gavel a dozen more times. “Order! Order! I said, ‘Order!'”
The sanctuary, the largest available room in town other than the saloon, came to something like a hush.
“Now I know everyone’s upset, and I know most of you have never been to a town meetin’ in your lives, but there are rules about how this works. First and foremost is you speak when you’re spoken to and not otherwise. If you want to talk, you raise your hand and wait until I call on you, just like back in school. That’s the only way this can work.”
He cleared his throat and lowered his voice just a little. “Now,” he said, and he paused, thinking of what to say next. “Now. I know that everyone’s still atwitter about what happened last Tuesday. It was a dark day when the Fu Shi Gang came to our town and burned the hotel and shot all those folks. Why, I’d known some of them for years myself.” He cleared his throat again. “It’s hard. Hard losin’ ’em to that rotten rabble of Chinese.”
“At least the sheriff shot one of ’em!” somebody hollered from the crowd.
“Raise your hand first,” Pendleton muttered. “Yes, it is. Sheriff Hobart did well with that, and one of those miserable heathens is dead. But the gang itself still exists and there are always more Chinamen to take that one’s place. They’ve been here once and they could easily come back someday. Maybe even soon. So we’ve got to get the first licks in before they can come back.”
Pendleton gripped the edges of the pulpit and scanned his audience.
“I say we get up a posse and go over to Wagner City and that little Chinatown that’s there and blow the hell out of it and anyone we see. That’ll show their kind that they can’t get away with the terrible thing they did here.”
Miss Callie Showalter raised her hand and even though he had a hunch about what she was going to say, Mayor Pendleton beamed at her for doing so. “Miss Showalter?”
She stood. “But how can we punish people who may not have had anything to do with the Fu Shi Gang’s attack here?”
She was unceremoniously shouted down, and Pendleton didn’t hush anyone too quickly. “Now Miss Showalter, you being of such tender years and of the fairer persuasion, I would expect such kindhearted sentiments from you. But they are misplaced. You take it from me: one Chinaman is just like another Chinaman, and we have to teach the lot of ’em a stern lesson.”
Miss Showalter was not quite thoroughly cowed. “Let us not forget there was a white man with them that awful night. It is well documented that a white man shot and killed Abram Porter in cold blood as he tried to drag Seth Barrows, who was wounded, out of the way.”
There were mutterings of agreement as she sat down. Another man raised his hand and was recognized. “Bart Friesen. You wish to speak?”
Friesen stood up. “The problem is that we’re just sitting out here on the open prairie and anyone can ride in to our town and we can’t stop them. What the Fu Shi Gang showed us is that we aren’t safe. Destroying Chinatown over yonder is a good idea, but how do we protect our town as a whole?”
Pendleton nodded. “I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve got some ideas, but they may cost a little?”
“What does it matter what it’ll cost if we’re safe?” someone yelled.
“What I’m thinking is that we need to set up some watchtowers outside the town limits. The men in the towers will be able to see anyone approaching and give a warning. If it’s just one or two men, they could be met by deputies stationed at either end of town and asked their business. If they come from another direction, or if there’s a whole bunch, there’d be time to call the sheriff and a whole force of deputies to intercept them.”
Rafe Yonson raised his hand. “How many deputies are you thinkin’ we need, Mayor?”
“No fewer than twenty.” There was a gasp and a muttering. “Yes, I know, that’s a lot. But is anyone getting any sleep anymore? Aren’t we all looking over our shoulders as we conduct our lawful business? That many well-armed deputies would be able to stop trouble before it began. And we can hire a goodly number from right here in town.”
Yonson was still standing. “Well that’s fine for when strangers come to town. But what happens once they’re in town? What if they bamboozle the deputies about their true intentions and mean to start shooting up the place after a while?”
“Just because a man’s in town doesn’t mean the deputies won’t be wandering around and keeping track of him,” the mayor replied. “They’ll watch anyone who comes around. And we’ve got everyone else in town to watch, too. If you see a stranger, won’t you keep an eye on what he’s doing? And the men in the watchtowers will be able to see what anyone on the streets is up to.”
Another man jumped up. “Now wait just a minute. I’m Horace Odle. I know a few of you, but not too many. I farm way outside town and don’t come in all that often. I don’t want to be treated like I was fixin’ to commit mayhem just because I came to town to the general store.”
Mayor Pendleton nodded sagely. “You raise an excellent point, sir, and I shall address it. I propose that when the deputies check people coming into town, anyone they’re not sure of will get a big, bright orange neckerchief to wear while he’s in town. That’ll be a sign to us that he isn’t maybe to be trusted. Someone like Mr. Odle, here, the town will issue a card to that he can show the deputies. The card will tell the deputies that the town trusts this individual and he should be given a green neckerchief to wear in town. Anyone seeing that will know to be friendly. Indeed, I think we might give everyone who lives in town such a card, just to be on the safe side.”
“And what if we see a stranger without one of your neckerchiefs?” a voice yelled.
“Shoot him!” another cried out. And there was loud agreement.
“One more thing I would propose,” the mayor said after the commotion faded, “is that we build and maintain a 10-man gallows to show evildoers what will happen to them if they get rowdy in our town.” He glanced over at Parson Smith and bowed slightly. “We’ll put it at the opposite end of town from the church, of course.” The parson nodded back politely, smiling.
“So, good people,” the mayor said. “Give me your trust and let me get on the path to making our town safe and secure for decent people. All in favor…?”
There was a joyous roar of approval in the sanctuary.
“So let it be done,” the mayor said, and he struck a manful pose. When the tumult subsided again, he continued. “Tomorrow evening, I want every available man to meet out front of the church here, well armed, to ride over to Chinatown on our holy mission of vengeance. And once it’s mission accomplished, we’ll get started on all my other plans to keep our town free of the terror we saw last Tuesday.”
After the meeting broke up, the mayor stood at the door to shake hands and accept the good wishes of his people. The parson alone remained in the church and the mayor walked briskly down the stairs. He stopped when he saw a couple of his hired men. Although no one seemed to be around, he spoke quietly.
“It’s all set. Tomorrow, in Chinatown, the two of you and a few others I’ll choose will generally follow the posse and scoop up anything of value from the stores and homes. Take the wagon. I know a guy who will buy it all to sell back East. We’ll get a handsome profit.”
“It’s a shame we can’t do it more than once,” one of the men said.
“Says who? Let the Chinamen rebuild and restock and I’m guessing we’ll need to teach them another lesson for one reason or other. I have faith something will present itself.”