The train screeched to a stop to avoid the large log lying on the tracks, prompting the Devils Hole Gang to surround the train from various hiding places.
The outlaw leaders approached the engineer as the outlaws assumed their assigned spots.
“Stand and De-liver!”
“Who are you?” cried the engineer.
“Hannibal Heyes,” said Kid, pointing to Heyes.
“Kid Curry,” said Heyes, pointing to Kid. “Now everyone stay calm, do as you’re told and no one’ll get hurt. We’ll be gone soon then you’ll be on your way.”
Heyes went to work in the freight car, gently seducing the tumblers to open the safe. He filled a carpet bag with stacks of money before Wheat interrupted him.
“Heyes’ you gotta come see this”.
“I’m a little busy here Wheat, can’t it wait?” said Heyes.
“Nope, I think this situation calls for the gang leader to deal with. Ain’t my job!”
“Can’t Kid handle it?”
“He’s tryin but they’re crying and carrying on somethin fierce.”
“What?” Heyes was puzzled. Since when couldn’t the Kid control the passengers with his easy smile and his six gun?
“Kid sent me to get ya. Said you need to get down there, see for yourself. We got us a trainful of young’uns, probly no more’n 7 or 8 years old.”
Heyes didn’t know what to make of that, so with cash-filled carpet bag in hand he headed to the front car. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw all the scared, crying children huddled together.
“Kid? Who are they?”
“How should I know? They ain’t talking.”
Heyes shook his head. He hated seeing children cry and more than that, he hated being the person who’d made it happen.
“Get the adults responsible for them up here.”
Wheat was quick to go get the adults and pull them out.
In his toughest voice, Heyes asked “What is this? Why are there so many children on this train?”
One man answered him. “Mr. Heyes, uh Sir, this is an Orphan Train.”
Heyes had heard vaguely of Orphan Trains, but he’d never run into one, much less held one up.
He continued, “We’re taking these youngsters west to find homes or jobs. Most come from city slums back east. At every stop, some of the children are adopted by local families. This is the best chance they have.”
Heyes and the Kid shared a glance. They knew what it was like to be young, scared, alone and not sure where or if there would be another meal.
“Come on boys, round up these young’uns and get them back on the train so they can be on their way.”
It was strange watching the big bad Devil’s Hole gang herding the children back on to the train. To a man, they were sweet and gentle with the orphans, feeling sorry for them.
“Move that log and get this train moving,” shouted Heyes as he helped a little blue-eyed, blond girl back onto the train.
She reminded him of Kid’s baby sister, long gone now. He shook off the memory.
As the train pulled away, the motley group sat on their horses, waving at the children until they couldn’t see the train no more.
“Okay, enough gawking! We gotta get moving and get this money back to the Hole.”
Two days later, the Devil’s Hole gang was hooraying the town of Jossville, having a fine ole’ time.
They’d gotten $18,000 in payroll money from that safe. All the gang was flush with cash, booze and happiness. Heyes was buying a whiskey when he heard one of the saloon gals mention “orphan train”.
“Hey, Kate what about the orphan train?”
“Everyone’s talkin bout it. Train got stuck near a town called Eagle cause of an early snow in the pass. Them orphans are there until after Christmas, if not until spring! Town gotta take care of them until then. I feel sorrowful for them kids.”
Later on the Kid came downstairs, a grin on his face and a bosomy redhead on his arm.
He saw the look on his partner’s face. “You’re gonna ruin my good mood, ain’t you Heyes?”
Kid gave the redhead a squeeze and kiss and sent her on her way.
“What is it this time?” he said, resigned to the end of his fun that night.
“Let’s take a walk, Kid. You know I do my best thinking at night.”
At daybreak, Kid went to gather the men. Lobo, Preacher and the others tumbled out of various rooms and stumbled downstairs.
“Why you getting us up so early Heyes? You better have a good reason.”
“Boys, we got another job to do. But you have to keep it totally secret. No one can know what we’re planning. It’s vitally important.”
Kyle gave Heyes a look. “Vitally?”
Heyes sighed. “It means extremely, Kyle.”
“Well, why can’t ya just say that Heyes?”
Heyes looked at all his men. “That orphan train we hit, it’s stuck in a small town called Eagle. Those orphan kids got no one to take care of them and they sure ain’t gonna have a Merry Christmas. Kid and me won’t let that happen. We’re going to make sure those youn’uns have the most memorable holiday of their lives.”
Kid spoke, “We grabbed a whole lot of money from that job. I think we made enough that each of us could contribute a bit to buy toys and doodads for a great Christmas, if each of you chip in a share.”
Wheat, frowning, reacted first, “You want us to spend OUR money on stuff for kids we don’t even know?”
“Yep, that’s what we’re asking. We want you give from the goodness of your hearts to bring joy to a bunch of orphans.” Heyes said.
“What’s the point of robbing a train if we give all the money away?” Wheat grumbled.
“Wheat’s right. What do we get for being do-gooders for children we don’t know?” said Lobo.
Kid spoke up again, “Boys, you will get more satisfaction from this than you ever got from a job before. It will be the best job you ever pulled. People will remember you their whole lives. You’ll be famous!”
Wheat puffed up. “Famous huh? From just this one job?”
Wheat thought, “I’m not sure about giving up my cash from the train, but I know how hard it is at Christmas not to get any presents. I guess we just have to do it, don’t we boys?”
The rest of the gang looked at each other, at Wheat, Heyes and the Kid.
“Sure do.” “Right there with you Wheat.” “I’m in for the orphans.” ”Famous? I always wanted to be famous.” To a man, the gang supported the plan.
Within hours, Heyes had organized the men with lists, and sent the outlaws off in different directions. No one town would have everything they needed.
“Just keep it a secret and you have to meet us in Eagle no later than Dec. 23 with your supplies.”
Heyes and Curry rode out, heading to Eagle. They needed to scope out the job and see what they had to deal with to pull it off without getting caught. They knew it would take impeccable timing to do it, but it would be worth it.
A week later, the partners slowly rode into Eagle, scanning the town for the sheriff’s office, as usual.
“Sheriff Cavett. Never heard of him.”
“Me either Kid, that’s good. Let’s get a room and a whiskey to warm up.”
“Heyes, I think it’ll take 3 whiskeys before I warm up.”
They were working on the 3rd whiskey each in the saloon. It was a friendly place and a great spot to hear all the local goings-on.
Heyes’ silver tongue had the barkeep gossiping in no time. “Yea, the snow blocked the pass, now we got a passle of orphans to feed. It’s been hard on the town, what with the depression. Last thing we need is extra mouths to feed. Most families have taken in an orphan, but about 25 of ‘em are staying in the church. They got blankets and sleep on the benches. The ladies in town are keeping ‘em fed, using the attached rec room. It’s rough, specially this time of year.”
Curry couldn’t help himself. “Must be hard on the orphans too. Not having homes or families, specially this time of year.”
Sufficiently warmed up, the partners left the saloon and did a walk around town, checking out the buildings, seeing what they needed to deal with for a successful job.
On schedule, each of the teams from the Hole arrived in town.
“Heyes, why do we have to stay in this abandoned cabin? It’s not very warm or comfortable. You won’t even let us go to the saloon.” Kyle whined.
“We can’t have the townsfolk seeing you. This is a very secret job. Remember? Besides tomorrow night we’re pulling off the job. You can handle one more night for the orphans happiness, right?”
Kyle spit on the cabin floor. “Ah can do it for orphans. Them little ones were so sad and scared. We need to make them happy.”
Heyes’ put his hand on Kyle’s shoulder, “Thank you Kyle.”
The plan was to meet up at 11pm the next night, quietly, with the supplies, to pull off the job. Meanwhile the Kid went out to do some hunting.
Lobo and Preacher were the outside lookouts, Kyle and Wheat the inside men. Curry checked out the building again, making certain no one was awake to see them. He gave the thumbs up sign to Heyes.
Heyes began silently directing the others as they brought in the supplies. It didn’t take long before it was done. They’d managed to get everything set up in the rec room without anyone hearing them and waking up. They quietly left the building, happy they had managed to pull off the job without being caught in the act.
Come morning, the church bell tolled and people called to each other, “Merry Christmas!”
Meanwhile, the Devil’s Hole gang was hiding, watching to see what would happen when their job was discovered. This wasn’t the kind of job where they had to get out of town as fast as possible. This was a special job.
Unbeknownst to Heyes and Curry, one of the orphans had caught a glimpse of them in town. He hadn’t said anything though, since the outlaws had been nice to them.
The orphans woke to the sound of the church bell tolling at 6am. No one wanted to get out of their warm blankets, even though it was Christmas. Why bother? There wasn’t any hope it would be merry.
One boy wandered out into the hall and screamed! Soon awestruck children stared at a Christmas tree decorated with ribbons and small toys, tables near bursting with oranges, nuts, cakes, candies and foods including geese and a big turkey, just waiting to be roasted. Dolls, games and toys were piled high. Warm mittens, hats and clothing loaded another table. They even had warm blankets.
The children were overjoyed! “He came! Santa Claus found us!”
It was going to be a Merry Christmas after all! Santa Claus had come, he’d managed to find them! They were screaming with joy as they fell upon the gifts brought by the gang.
Outside, watching the children’s joy, the outlaws knew they’d done something special. They would never forget the joy of being “Santa Claus”. What they didn’t know was that the boy who’d seen Heyes and Curry in town would soon be telling everyone the Devils Hole Gang was really “Santa Claus” but the adults said no way criminals like the Devils Hole Gang would spend a fortune on orphans! Even if it was stolen money!
The outlaws retreated to their horses, grinning at each other. As they rode out of town, they yelled out “Merry Christmas, everyone!” Kyle said it best, “This is the best Christmas ever.”