Thrown by his horse, Nathan Mathes watched his only transportation gallop off into the distance. It was the scorching hour of noon and July of 1876 was the hottest in years.
Nathan looked at his tattered map. One hundred miles to Deadwoodâ€”and now he was on foot.
It had all seemed so simple back home in Cottonwood, Nebraska. He was tired of being a preacherâ€™s son in a one-horse town. His father treated him like a child, despite the fact that Nathan was almost twenty-one. And his girlfriend, Cynthia Methlhorn, threw himm over for another man. There was only one thing to doâ€”join his uncle out in the gold fields of Dakota territory as a reporter.
Nathan left home, with just a note to say good-bye. The train ride from Omaha, Nebraska to Sidney was o problem at all.
But at Sidney, where he was to switch to a stagecoach, there was an obstacleâ€”the Concord stagecoach. It was mounted on leather through braces.
â€śYep,â€ť the grizzled driver informed Nathan, â€śIt swings in every direction possible and some youâ€™d have thought impossible.â€ť
It made Nathan stagesick just to look at it. It was then he made his decision. He was a man of action. He didnâ€™t hae to go in a stuffy old stagecoach. He would buy a horse and ride the two hundred miles to Deadwood, sending his suitcase on the stage.
The plan had worked fine for one hundred miles. But then a rab bit spooked Nathanâ€™s horse. It reared, throwing Nathan off and running away
Well, Nathan couldnâ€™t sit in the mud all day. There was no choice. He had to walk, so he might as well get started.
Nathan trudged through the endless mud that covered the Dakota prairie. At least he was out of Nebraska and into Dakota. But his dazlling dreams of the Dakota gold territory left out this reality: as far as the eye could see was mud. It was sucking at his feet and legs and draining away his energy with every step. How could he ever walk a hundred miles in this mud?
Nathan sank no his heels to catch his breath and rest his aching legs. He got out his map to Deadwood and looked at it again. He only wished that the map and compass didnâ€™t turn out as useless as that blasted horse.
With a sigh, Nathan stood and started walking again. What was to worry? He had a map and a compass. He was young and strong. How could he fail?
As muddy mile followed monotonous muddy mile, nathan began to stop counting his journey by the miles marked onthe map. He concentrated instead on putting one foot in front of the other. But then, finally, he put his right foot forward--and fell flat.
He lay there, too exhausted to move.
â€śGod,â€ť he said in a voice hardly above a whisper, â€śIf youâ€™re even up there...is this what you think of me? That I should die out here? I have no right to ask, but help me--help me please.â€ť
Nathan gathered his strength to push out of the mud and saw something that made him blink in surprise. Right in the middle of this desolate, muddy landscape he saw three men riding up on horseback.
Nathan greeted the three men who were rough, dirty and unshaven. He was hoping for a ride, and he saw these strangers had several extra horses.
â€śHowdy,â€ť he said.
â€śHowdy,â€ť they said, without warmth.
â€śYou wouldnâ€™t be headed for Deadwood, would you?â€ť he asked, trying to keep his voice steady.
â€śWhy not?â€ť whispered one of them to the leader, â€śHe looks harmless enough. And weâ€™ve got a long ride ahead of us.â€ť
â€śSure, weâ€™re heading that way,â€ť the leader drawled, â€śAnd we could use some company. Go and hop onto one of extra horses. At this invitation, Nathanâ€™s exhaustion vanished in a flood of elation. He almost didnâ€™t need the stirrup to mount the pinto pony.
â€śSay,â€ť he commented, â€śThis horse looks like itâ€™s really been galloping. You men leave somewhere in a big hurry?â€ť
â€śJust been giving the horses some exercise,â€ť snapped the leader, his moment of good humor gone, â€śWhen I said we wanted company, I wasnâ€™t inviting you to a tea party. Letâ€™s GO!â€ť
The horses werenâ€™t able to travel much faster than Nathan had, but his exhausted muscles were grateful for the rest. A scant mile down the road, Nathanâ€™s gratitude evaporated in a instant when they were surrounded by a hostile group of armed men.
â€śWho--who are you?â€ť Nathan asked. His new â€śfriendsâ€ť stayed silent. They knew all too well who the armed men were.
â€śWeâ€™re from Rapid City. And we donâ€™t cotton to folks stealinâ€™ our horses. We aim to show you just how much we hate it.â€ť
â€śYour timing was bad, boys,â€ť said another vigilante, â€śIf youâ€™rd stayed in the treeless prairie we wouldnâ€™t have know what to do with you, but youâ€™re almost out of the prairie. Look at whatâ€™s ahead.â€ť
Nathan looked--and what he saw chilled his blood. There was a clump of trees , and one in particular grabbed ihs attention. It had a long branch sticking out that looked tailor made for the vigilantesâ€™ deadly purpose. The remains of a rope still tied to the branch swung in the breeze.
With the posse surround them, the rustlers and Nathan had no choice but to ride their horses over to the hanging tree.
Once they got there, one of the vigilantes said,
"Let's take the talkative young pup first," jabbing Nathan in the shoulder.
"Why not," the lynch mob leader said with a shrug. Nathan was too dazed to fight back as the deputies tied his hands behind his back. The leader threw a rope over the tree branch, secured it and placed the noose around Nathan's neck.