It's Christmas Eve, and I am seated in a Cheyenne Saloon as a reporter interviewing the notorious Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry for the New York Times. I’d heard stories about them as a girl growing up on the East Coast. I have wanted to write their story since I was a little girl. My dream story. I had to pinch myself to make sure it was really happening.
"So, gentlemen, you've spent years on the run. What's it like for you to spend Christmas Eve in a saloon without a home to call your own?”
The handsome blond gentleman’s eyebrow raised. "What do you think it's like?" Curry said, his eyes narrowing. “We are like everyone else. Tonight, we’d love to gather around a fireplace with family decorating a Christmas Tree and opening presents.”
Heyes winced, dropping his head. "Don't think about last Christmas, Kid. It will only hurt."
Something about the look on his face told me I had to know more. "What happened last Christmas?"
Lifting his shot glass and gazing towards Heyes, Curry said. "It's a long story."
I looked at the clock on the wall. I wasn’t going anywhere. "We've got all night."
Heyes and Curry exchanged looks. Heyes leaned forward and pushed his hat farther back on his head. "Well, it all started with a train robbery."
“I thought you’d given that up.”
“We have,” said Heyes, “we were in the mountains on our way to see Sheriff Lom Trevors when we broke over a ridge. Below us, four horses attached to a stagecoach galloped at top speed. The driver slapped the reins and held on with one hand as the coach swayed from side to side. The wheels came off the ground four times. Dust flew.
Curry interrupted, "We don’t rob stagecoaches anymore, but that sight still gives me a rush."
"Yeah, Kid, me too,” said Heyes. “Anyhow, behind the stagecoach was an outlaw gang led by John the Butcher. Kid and I never killed anyone in all the stagecoach robberies we pulled. Butcher had a reputation for leaving no one alive.”
"When the stagecoach lurched our direction, a blond lady fell halfway out of the window. The only reason she didn’t tumble to the ground was because the coach tipped the other direction," Curry said, taking another drink of his whiskey. "I knew then; we had to save her."
"I told him it was a bad idea," Heyes sat his hat on the table. "But he was already halfway down the ridge by the time I ended the sentence. What could I do? We gave chase. But we were too far back. By the time we got close enough, Butcher had grabbed the two women, shot the four male passengers, and taken off with the stagecoach."
Curry leaned forward, "Confronting them in the daylight was risky. We were afraid the girls would be caught in the crossfire. We followed them several miles to an old cabin. At 2 am we saw we had to act. The men had counted their loot, celebrated with whiskey and fine brandy scored from the robbery, and they were fixing to take turns with the women. We couldn't let that happen." His voice grew quiet as if he relived the whole experience. “Heyes got an idea.”
Heyes looked at Curry. Life on the run seemed to have given them a silent method of communication. Heyes continued the story. "We lit the stagecoach on fire. While the gang members ran towards the fire, we broke through the door of the cabin, scooped the girls up, and grabbed two horses. Kid untied their other horses. We hoped the fire would spook them into running. We freed the girls’ hands and boosted them into the saddles riding as fast as the girls could with only the light of a slivered moon. Just before dawn, we figured we were safe and slowed to give the horses and the girls a rest. That was a mistake. Ten minutes later, Butcher’s gang was behind us. We rode into the closet canyon home of The Hole in The Wall Gang.
"You're old gang?" I questioned.
Curry leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs. "Our old pals. The girls grew tired. The Butcher followed us in. They were on top of us. We exchanged gunfire. A bullet hit Heyes in the chest. Knocked him clean off his horse. I managed to get the girls and our horses behind some boulders. I had to get to Heyes before Butcher did. I crawled from rock to rock. It was just breaking dawn. I had Butcher in my sights. I raised my head just a hair and felt a bullet rush past my head. A second later, one of Butcher’s men went down. Jenny saved my life with a lady’s gun. Tommy and Patch, two members of our old gang, appeared on the rocks above and shot The Butcher. His gang scattered. I sprinted to Heyes. He was barely breathing. Heyes was alive but unconscious. Tommy, Patch, and I got Heyes on a horse, and we rode into the hideout. I was sure he was going to die."
"Me too," said Heyes. "Luckily, Karla was studying to be a woman doctor and her sister a nurse. For two weeks, they slaved over me night and day. What we didn't know then was they were the Governor's daughters."
Curry interrupted. "Tommy snuck into town and brought back a newspaper. A picture of the Governor and his two daughters appeared on the front page. Jed, who is now the leader of our old gang, decided it was time to cash in on the hospitality. He planned to ransom the girls and then turn us in for the reward on our heads. He locked us all up in the barn. The girls were frightened, and Heyes was still healing. We were in close quarters, under threat, I fell in love with Jenny. Heyes with Karla."
Heyes leaned forward and took a sip of his whiskey. A shadow crossed his gaze. "Yup. Kid, Jenny, and Carla worked for hours to dig a hole under the barn wall. When the gang rode off to rob another stagecoach, we crawled under the wall, took some horses out of the corral, and rode for the Governor's mansion."
"It wasn't that easy." Curry said. "Heyes's horse was green broke. In the struggle with the horse, he started bleeding again. By the time we rode into the Mansion, Heyes had lost a lot of blood. We carried him inside.”
“They say I was as close to death as a man could get, but Karla pulled me through it. Her face, her voice, her soft hands on my body. I think for the first time in a long time, I wanted to live. Really live. Not exist. I fought to live. I planned to make a life with her.”
“Yes,” said Curry. “I was beginning to believe we were finally through running. How could the Governor not grant us amnesty? We’d saved his daughter. We were in love with his daughters. They loved us.” He summoned the waitress for another glass.
After the waitress had placed their drinks, Heyes continued. “Christmas Eve, we celebrated around a ten-foot tree. Drank brandy and ate an eight-course meal, sang songs. I asked Karla to marry me, and she said yes.” Heyes’s voice grew quiet. A tear ran from his right eye.
Curry grabbed Heyes’s shoulder. “I planned to purpose to Jenny on New Year’s Eve. Christmas Day was filled with guests and appreciation for our bravery. Suddenly we were no longer Outlaws, but Heroes. It felt good being heroes. Felt better being loved.”
I studied them for a long moment. What had happened? Had Jenny and Karla said No. I couldn’t imagine, after going through all they’d been through together, the girls would say that. Not only were these two handsome men, but well- mannered, and they emanated goodness and decency. Yes, they were outlaws. But I got the sense that was a job, not who they were at their core.
“Obviously, that didn’t happen.”
Curry shook his head. “No, it didn’t.” He looked at Heyes.
Heyes crossed his arms on the table. He leaned forward. His eyes searched my soul. He wanted me to understand. “Christmas night, the Governor’s men woke us from our sleep and carried us out. Jenny and Karla heard the racket and came to help, but their father pushed them into a room and locked it. The men beat us and dropped us at the edge of town with a note from the Governor to never return, or he’d order the sheriff to arrest us. As for our amnesty, he’d grant it when the story cooled as long as we stayed away from his daughters.”
“You didn’t go back.”
Heyes continued. “We wanted to. But we were afraid of what the Governor might do to Jenny and Karla. He was crazy that night. An evil look haunted his eyes. We watched the dressmaker’s shop on the edge of town. When Karla came into town one day alone, we rode up on her as she was leaving. She cried. We cried. She asked us to stay away until they could get away from their father’s rule. If we came for them, their father would make life miserable for all of us.”
How tragic. How could a father do that to his daughters? Why can’t people leave other people to their happiness?
“So, you haven’t seen them in a year?”
Curry shook his head. “What do we have to offer them? Life on the run. We are wanted men. And their daddy is keeping it that way.”
“So, what did you learn from that experience?”
“Never trust a politician,” they said in Unison.
“Do you think you’ll see them again, now that the governor is dead?”
“The Governor is dead? Heyes asked.
“According to a telegram I received before I met you, he died and a few hours ago after signing your amnesty papers.”