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BLAST FROM THE PAST

THESE HISTORY BUFFS PLAYED AT RE-CREATING THE OLD WEST--BUT THIS GUNSHOT WAS ALL TOO REAL.ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST THEY WANTED TO RESURRECT THE PAST. INSTEAD, THEY GOT A THOROUGHLY MODERN LAWSUIT.

"Just then," Hanklo continues, "we heard gunfire from across the valley at the infantry camp. A couple of our guys took off and rode over there, maybe a quarter-mile away, and I followed after. When I got there, this Union guy had walked out of the rocks and was waving his pistol around and hollerin' and firing at the horses' hooves. At the time, I thought he should know better than to fire that close to anyone, even if they were blanks--and it never crossed my mind that they weren't."

The officer, John Luzader, was rapidly surrounded by Indians on horseback.
"Some of the Yankees were discharging firearms--it was a sort of target practice, I think," says McPherson, who was one of the first Indian riders to catch up with Luzader. "But Luzader came out toward us, pointed his pistol at us and said, `Dismount, you heathens,' which we didn't understand, because we didn't understand English at all."

McPherson saw the scene as a unique chance to display authentic Native American bravery. "It was considered much more honorable to touch an armed enemy than to kill him--it's called counting coup," he explains. "So various members of our group were riding by Luzader and touching him with their coup sticks. I didn't have one, so I tried to touch him with my hand."

This was the action young infantry soldier Jonathan Knotts encountered as he peered down from target practice.

"I was napping when it started, ma'am," he says, "and the next thing I know, Indians were coming up toward our camp, and our sergeant major went down to see what he could do. He was the only one who knew sign language or Indian affairs. That's how we were playing it, anyway." As the Indians rode in, Knotts couldn't help but notice their poor horsemanship. "Mr. McPherson fell off his horse twice," he remembers.

(Actually, that was probably Pisciotta, who admits to falling off his horse and spraining an ankle before he could even get to the scene of the shootout.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, things were getting stranger by the minute.
"A friend of mine had a nice big lance, and he planted it in the ground near Luzader," McPherson says. His Indian cohorts took it as a symbol meaning something along the lines of `Let's talk.'"

Luzader apparently didn't get the message. "As I made my second pass by him," McPherson says, "I realized that something didn't feel right. There was something about the look of this soldier. I knew him. I always thought he was a stickler for safety who never broke character. But he wasn't acting normal. He seemed not himself. I mean, anyone who would challenge seven mounted warriors--well, by all rights, he would have been dead! The lance was about ten feet away. I went to go pick it up, and as I did, he ran over and grabbed ahold of one end of it and tried to pull it away from me, and I'm thinking, here's this guy that's done re-enactments for years, and he's not playing it right. So out of the side of my mouth I said, `Jeez, John, give it up.'"

Instead, McPherson says, Luzader tried to pull McPherson off his horse with his left hand while still clutching his pistol in his right. "The next thing I know, there's a big explosion and I'm hit," McPherson recalls. "The bullet went right into my thigh. I'd never been shot in my life before, and there's this major shock wave that hits your entire body and, of course, that gets your attention real fast."

"I heard the muffled report," says Hanklo, who had just caught up with the group. "Tom rolled off his horse and everyone backed up, and I realized, my God, that wasn't a blank. And then this Luzader guy just instantly turned into a blubbering idiot, because he knew right away what he'd done. He went to bawlin' like a baby."

McPherson remembers Luzader as being somewhat glassy-eyed--but then, McPherson himself was distracted, what with trying to cut off his own bloody legging and turn a bandanna into a tourniquet. Knotts, who'd just taken a Red Cross first aid course, came running down the hill when he saw that one of the Indians had fallen off his horse and was not about to get back on. "I yelled that I was a medic," he says, "because right then, I needed his trust."

They were together for the next four hours. First, someone had to find a horseless carriage, and then Knotts piled into a pickup with McPherson, "who was looking awful shocky," he recalls. "The last thing he needed was a tourniquet, and I took it off."

The next-to-last thing McPherson needed was to bang across the Anderson Ranch's dirt roads. The bullet had entered his thigh eight inches above the knee and traveled to just below his tailbone, making any movement uncomfortable. McPherson vaguely remembers bouncing around the back of a truck with a heroic unknown Boy Scout and his old Indian buddy Hanklo. And then, from somewhere in his cloud of pain, McPherson heard a loud cry of distress--the truck had blown a tire, and the jack was sinking into the hot asphalt of a small county road. Just before they reached La Junta--"and I'm thinking please, God, don't let me die in the back of this truck"--the posse ran out of gas.

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