Thomas Calabrese….The Hill family left Liberty, Missouri on April 18, 1886 and headed west on the Santa Fe Trail. It was not decided on whether they would go to Arizona or continue on to California, but they had plenty of time to decide, for they would be on the trail for over a month. George found a buyer for his forty acre farm and sold everything that would not fit in two horse drawn prairie schooners. (wagons)
George and Betsy Hill had four children, Andrew, Daniel, Ruby and Booth. Ruby was born with a weak respiratory system and the harsh and unpredictable winters of Missouri were having a detrimental effect on her health and the local doctor recommended a drier and warmer climate. George, Betsy and Ruby would be in the front wagon and the three boys would follow in the second. Andrew was the oldest and would do most of the driving and Daniel would relieve him when he got tired. Booth was too young and not strong enough to control a team of horses.
When they made it to Arizona, George gazed out over the barren landscape and drawled, “This don’t look like no farmland to me. I reckon’ we should keep on a gittin’ to Californie.”
The family took the Kearny Trail to California and when George saw the San Pasqual Valley, located north of San Diego, all he could say was, “Yup, this is it.” then proceeded to purchase sixty acres of land near the San Dieguito River from Judge Oliver S. Witherby.
The first year was rough for the Hill family as they slowly acclimated to their new environment, but after that, things slowly improved. George was a natural born farmer and one of the first things that he did was visit the residents in the area to get their opinions on crops. A Mexican farmer, named Juan Ortiz had been in the valley for twenty years and was a fountain of knowledge and eager to share his expertise.
He told George about the extended droughts that he had experienced and warned the new arrivals about the risks of putting in too many crops that required a lot of water. George heeded the advice and while he planted wheat, corn and hay, he also put in almonds, pistachios and grapes. George had a rapport with the land and could rub the soil between his hands and could literally feel it’s potential. After the first successful harvest, George was doing so well that he discussed leasing more property from Judge Witherby with the option to buy, but the best news for the Hill family was that Ruby’s health had improved dramatically since their arrival in California.
As a reward for their hard work, George decided to reward his two youngest sons, Daniel and Booth that they could take a couple of days off from their chores and go to the coast. It was a thirty mile ride by horseback from their ranch to the beach, so after the two boys had saddled up just before sunrise and were ready to hit the trail, George reminded them, “I’ll see you day after tomorrow, have a good time.”
It was ten miles down the trail and Daniel got off his horse and vomited, “I don’t feel so good.”
“Lie down for a while,” Booth suggested.
Thirty minutes later, Daniel struggled to his feet, looking pale and feeling weak, “I ate some berries yesterday, I reckon that’s it, I better turn around.”
“Okay,” Booth was obviously disappointed.
“You don’t have to go back,” Daniel said.
“I don’t want to go alone,” Booth replied.
“You don’t have to stay overnight, there’s no telling how long it will be before you’ll have the chance to go again,” Daniel suggested, “Your horse is strong, just give him a good long rest when you get to Oceanside, some water and hay and you’ll be back before nightfall.”
“I would like to see the ocean, that’s for sure,” Booth responded thoughtfully.
“I’ll tell pa that you’ll be back before dark, don’t make a liar out of me,” Daniel warned.
The two brothers went in different directions, Daniel’s horse at a slow walk and Booth’s at a steady gallop. When he got to the coast, Booth dismounted, took off his boots and socks and walked into the Pacific Ocean for a half hour while his horse rested. Before heading home, he stopped off a local livery stable so his horse could get some hay and water before the trip back. Daniel was right, he was going to make it home before sunset, Booth thought as he rubbed his horse’s neck, “Good boy, we’re almost there.”
He was only two miles from home when he passed twelve men on horseback and two wagons. One of men glared at Booth who pulled his horse off the trail to let them pass. The two wagons were filled with a variety of items and Booth thought he recognized his mother’s small wood dresser in the last wagon, but just assumed that it was a similar piece of furniture.
As soon as he reached their property line, Booth felt a cold chill and instinctively sensed that something was wrong. When he got closer to the house, Booth saw his two brothers lying in the dirt. He jumped off his horse to check on them and found that they had been shot numerous times. When he went inside the house, he saw that his mother, father and sister Ruby were also killed. The house was completely ransacked and everything of value had been taken.
Booth Hill walked around in a tear filled haze for next few weeks. Judge Witherby did everything he could to help during this difficult time, including making the funeral arrangements for Booth’s deceased family, “If you want to keep the property, I can get you a few men to help out.”
Booth didn’t have to think twice before he replied, “Thank you very much sir, but I can’t stay here knowing what happened to my family.”
“I understand, I’ll give you a fair price for it.”
Later on, Sheriff Willis Carson approached Booth with a handful of wanted posters, “Take a look at these and see if anybody looks familiar.”
Booth carefully examined the artist renderings of the outlaws and stopped at the sixth one, “This is the man that I saw leaving my property.”
Sheriff Carson shook his head in disgust, “Tiburon Mason, as bad as they come, he and his men have been raiding farms and ranches throughout California, Nevada and Arizona for years, then they hightail it over the border into Mexico every time the law gets close.”
Tiburon Mason was a bloodthirsty psychopath and sadist who took what he wanted and killed anyone who stood in his way or happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The men who rode with him were equally despicable human beings, and together they were creating a legacy of carnage and mayhem throughout the west.
Judge Witherby was extremely generous and Booth took the money and rode out. He forced himself not to look back and when he got to Escondido, he saw a shop with the sign Gunsmith and entered. Newley Hagan, the proprietor asked, “How can I help you?”
“I’m looking for a job,” Booth answered.
“I ain’t looking for no help,”Newley replied.
“I’ll work for free, sweeping, cleaning, anything you want me to do.”
“Why in the hell would you want to work for free, boy?” Newley asked.
“Because I need to learn about guns,” Booth answered.
“I ain’t got no time to be teaching nobody nuthin.”
Booth reached into his pouch and took out two fifty dollar gold pieces, part of the money that he got for the sale of his family’s farm, “I’m willing to toss in a hundred dollars.”
Newley looked at the young boy and saw the fierce determination in his eyes and responded, “So what you’re saying is, that you’re going to pay me to work, I don’t see how I can pass up that deal.”
For three weeks, Booth did exactly what he was told and never said more than a few words to Newley during the entire time of doing menial chores. Finally when his curiosity got the best of him, the Gunsmith finally asked, “I thought you wanted learn about guns?”
“I do,” Booth said.
“Then why haven’t you said anything?”
“We had a deal, I’m keeping my end of it, I figured you’d keep your part when you were ready.”
“I reckon now is a good time for me to do that,” Newley smiled, “One thing though.”
“What’s that?” Booth asked.
“Why do you want to learn about guns?”
“I want to know what the hell I’m doing when I catch up to the men who killed my family.”
For the next six months, Newley imparted information about pistols, rifles, ammunition and Booth was not only an attentive and gifted student, but an obsessed one. The young boy learned about double action, single action, and balance and how to disassemble any weapon and make the necessary repairs and adjustments.
Even Newley was amazed at how quickly Booth picked up things, “You got a real future as a gunsmith.”
“That’s not my intention,” Booth replied.
“I’ve taught you everything I know about how to fix pistols and long guns, but if you are bound and determined to ride the vengeance trail, than you better be damn sure that you’re better than the men that you’re going up against, otherwise you ‘ll be joining your family in the everafter.”
“I haven’t forgotten that part.”
“My pa used to tell me, live peacefully then rest in peace,” Newley said.
“With all due respect to your pa, I’m not interested in living or resting,”
The first order of business was finding the right pistol and after checking each weapon carefully that Newley had in his shop, Booth decided on the Colt M1878, Peacemaker 45 caliber and Newley installed handle grips that fit comfortably in the young man’s hands and eventually decided to wear four shoulder holsters and one on each hip. This would give him six pistols and thirty six rounds before having to reload. He practiced for hours drawing each weapon until it became second nature to him.
Newley commented, “If you can go through thirty six rounds and you’re still standing, then you’ll have plenty of time to reload later. Back in the Civil War, raiders would sometimes carry as many as eight pistols especially when they were coming up against infantry soldiers who were only carrying single shot rifles. It won’t be quite as easy for you because the men that you’re going after are also going to be carrying pistols, not muskets.”
Booth responded, “My pa used to tell me that a man who was ready for a fight was more dangerous than a man who went looking for one.”
“You dad sounds like he was a smart man.”
“He should have taken his own advice, he spent so much time working the land that he forgot how to protect it and his family,” Booth responded without emotion.
Booth eventually got to the point when he could draw all six of his pistols faster than most men could draw even one. Newley commented, “You may be the fastest draw that I’ve ever seen, but you still have to hit what you’re aiming at once you’ve cleared leather.”
Next step in Booth’s education was the subject accuracy and six weeks later he was able to draw all pistols in rapid succession and fire six rounds in under a second and hit inside a bulls-eye that was no bigger than three inches in diameter.
“I’ve gotten used to having you around and since I can’t talk you out of going, there’s one thing you can do for me,” Newley said.
“Come back alive,” Newley suggested.
Two days later and Booth was saddled up and ready to go, “Newley said, “I have to go down to the telegraph office, don’t leave before I get back.”
“I won’t,” Booth promised.
While waiting for Newley to return a young man about the same age as Booth walked in carrying two rifles, one was a Shiloh Sharps 1874 Long Range rifle 50/70 carbine and the other was a Henry 44 caliber repeating rifle. “I was wondering if you could take a look at my rifles.”
“I was just about ready to git going, but I reckon I got a little bit of time,” Booth replied.
“Want me to tell you what’s wrong?” The young man asked.
“Thanks anyway, I’ll figure it out,” Booth answered and took the Sharps rifle first and disassembled it and made several adjustments then did the same with the Henry and handed them back to the young boy, “Here you go, see if they work any better.”
The young boy took the Sharp and checked it, then did the same with the Henry and both of them worked perfectly, “What did you do?”
“The Sharps had powder build up on the breech, they have a tendency to do that so I cleaned it and the Henry had a weak trigger spring and I replaced it.”
“How much I owe you?” The young boy asked.
“Two bucks oughta’ do it,” Booth answered just as Newley walked in, “Here’s the owner, you can pay him.”
Booth got on the trail and headed south with no particular destination in mind and when the sun started to set, he looked for a place to settle in for the night. He saw a horse and rider up ahead and when he got closer, he recognized the boy from the gun shop. They decided to share a campsite and while sitting next to the fire, they introduced themselves.
“John Jefferson Hawk, but they call me J. Hawk.”
With their backs propped up against their saddles and gazing out into the darkness, J. Hawk pulled out a wanted poster and handed it to Booth, “Pa caught Bass Hardin cheatin’ at cards and whupped him good. When he turned to walk away, Hardin shot him twice in the back, so I’m going to go kill him.”
Booth pulled out a wanted poster from his pocket and handed it to J. Hawk, “Tiburon Mason and his men killed my family. I plan on doing the same thing to him.”
Next morning, “I was thinking that since we’re both looking for outlaws that maybe we oughta’ partner up,” J. Hawk suggested, “You interested?”
“I was kind of thinking the same thing,” Booth replied, “How good are you with those rifles?”
- Hawk pointed to a tree about a hundred yards away “See that tree?”
- Hawk took the Henry repeater, took aim and shot six branches off with six shots, “How good are you with those smokewagons?”
There was a tree about fifty feet away and Booth drew all six pistols in quick succession and shot six branches off that tree.
“Let’s ride,” J. Hawk suggested.
The two young men found Bass Hardin in a saloon in Julian, California, playing poker with two other gunfighters and two miners. Booth entered the drinking establishment and sauntered up to the bar where he could see Bass Hardin’s reflection in the mirror.
“What do you want boy?” The bartender growled.
“I want that yellow bellied snake Bass Hardin,” Booth said loudly for everyone in the saloon to hear.
The place went deathly silent as Booth turned around to face the outlaw. The two miners dropped their cards and made a hasty exit for the door as the outlaw responded, “I’m Bass Hardin, state your business.”
The other gunfighters made a move to draw their pistols, but Booth killed both men before they barely touched their weapons. The bartender made a move for a shotgun under the bar and Booth stuck his pistol under his nose, “Let it be,” when the bartender hesitated, Booth reminded him, “I can part your hair through the middle of your forehead if you want.” The bartender backed away.
Bass Hardin made a move for his weapon and Booth holstered his two weapons and drew two other ones and fired six rounds that hit the wall within inches of Hardin’s head. The gunfighter raised his hands, “Don’t shoot.”
Booth walked over and slapped Bass Hardin several times across the face, then took his weapon and pulled him outside by his shirt, “I’m going to give you the chance to die like a man.”
Once they got into the street, Booth put Hardin’s gun back in his holster and turned to walk away, “You better be ready to draw when I turn around.” Before he had even taken three steps, Hardin reached for his pistol with every intention of shooting Booth in the back. Suddenly he felt a burning sensation deep inside his chest and fell to his knees, a moment later he was lying dead in the dirt. J.Hawk walked up, his Sharps rifle barrel still smoking, and spit on Bass Hardin, “Once a back shooter, always a back shooter.”
Two days later, the two young men heard a woman’s scream in the distance. J. Hawk commented, “I’ll circle around,” then rode off at a quick gallop.
When Booth came around a bend in the trail, he saw a group of highwaymen ransacking a covered wagon. Another man was molesting a young woman while her husband and two little children cowered on the side of the trail as another outlaw kept his pistol on them.
When he got up to the wagon, Booth yelled, “What’s going on around here?”
Several men stepped out of the wagon while a big potbellied individual pulled the canvas cover back and glared at Booth, “Who in the Sam Hell are you?”
Booth looked off to the left and saw J. Hawk with his rifle at the ready then commented, “Are you robbing these people?”
If you’re looking for trouble, I’ll give you a mouthful,” Potbellied threatened.
“I’m always looking for trouble, serve me up a double helping,” Booth grinned.
When Potbellied reached for his pistol, Booth shot him twice and started shooting the other men while J. Hawk opened fired from his position. When Booth and J. Hawk were done, eight outlaws were lying on the ground. Booth walked over and calmly shot two seriously wounded men to put them out of their misery.
The man rushed over to console his wife and looked over at the two young men “Who are you?”
“I’m Booth Hill and this is J. Hawk,” Booth commented.
- Hawk started searching the dead bodies for valuables and the woman cried out, “You’re robbing the dead!”
“Damn right!” J. Hawk responded, “That’s what they were going to do to you!”
- Hawk filled up a hat with gold coins, currency, and pocket watches, then handed it to the distraught man, “This is for you, use it wisely.”
Booth added, “Take their guns, saddles and horses and if you feel guilty about it, bury the scum, if not then leave ‘em for the worms and buzzards. One more thing, if you’re going to live out here, you’d better learn how to defend your family.”
Booth and J. Hawk did not have any trouble finding Tiburon Mason’s hideout in Tijuana, Mexico. It was no man’s land for the law and there were dozens of vicious outlaws who paid a tribute to Tiburon to enter his sanctuary. There was a large sign on the side of the trail when they started to get close ‘If you ain’t known, you ain’t welcome and underneath those words in bigger print was this warning, ‘We’ll kill you.’
Booth smiled, “Who can turn down an invitation like this?”
“You know that we probably won’t make it out of this alive,” J. Hawk replied.
“If that’s a problem for you then you should turn around.”
“I got no problem with it, I was just making conversation,” J. Hawk said.
“It’s not how long you live, it is how many bad men you can take to hell with you that counts,” Booth philosophized.
When they got to a shack, there was a wooden gate across the trail and six armed men came out to meet them.
“Didn’t you see the sign?” One man said.
“We saw it,” J. Hawk snarled, “So?”
The six men were hardcases, but they were caught off-guard by the boldness of these two young men. After a few seconds of them staring at each other, Booth finally said, “Aw what the hell,” and drew his pistols and shot five men. J. Hawk shot the sixth.
“You didn’t give those hombres much of a chance,” J. Hawk smiled in admiration.
“No mercy for the merciless,” Booth replied.
When they got to the section of Tijuana that was control by Tiburon Mason, it was like the two young boys had entered a different world. It was not only survival of the fittest, but survival of the meanest and Tiburon reigned supreme in his kingdom.
“It’s a good day to die,” J. Hawk said as he scanned the area.
“You are already told me that you didn’t think we’d make it out of this alive” Booth answered, “ I don’t need to reminded again, it affects my concentration.”
“Sorry, just thinking out loud,” J. Hawk replied.
When Booth entered the saloon, he didn’t need a wanted poster to identify Tiburon Mason, the man’s face was seared into his memory right next to those of his dead family. He quickly surveyed the room and counted twenty armed men, seven senoritas and two bartenders. Booth walked up to the table where Tiburon was sitting with two women and two men, “My name is Booth Hill.”
“Tiburon laughed, “Boot Hill! That’s a strange name, boy.” “Best remember it, it’s the last one you’ll ever hear.”
Tiburon looked at the six pistols that Booth was carrying, “You’re well- heeled for a young pup, but a real man only needs one gun if he knows how to handle it.”
“You killed my family,” Booth calmly stated.
“I kill a lot of families, what’s your point, boy?” Tiburon snarled.
“Your killing days are done and your dying day is here.”
“That’s big talk.”
“It’s only talk if I can’t back it up,” Booth said, “Make your play Mason, before I shoot you down like the varmint scum that you are. This is a lot different than killing unarmed farmers, women and children. Let’s see if you got the grit to face someone who can fight back. Draw!”
Tiburon Mason made a move for his pistol and Booth right hand moved like a bolt of lightning and shot the outlaw six times before he could clear leather. When the men in the saloon realized what happened, they prepared to shoot Booth, but he was drawing and firing as he ran out of the salon, leaving dead bodies in his wake. J. Hawk was waiting across the street with his rifles and before the two young men left Tijuana, twenty seven outlaws were dead.
By the time they got back to Escondido, the legacy of a man that eventually came to be known as Boot Hill had been born. The Wild West was filled with, highwaymen, murderers and scoundrels who ran roughshod over innocent and law–abiding citizens. Every outlaw and desperado, no matter how tough he was or how many notches were on his gun, accepted the cold and harsh reality that if he had the bad luck to face the six gun vigilante, there was only one place for him to go from there and that was six feet under. When Booth and J. Hawk saddled up in search of ruthless predators and miscreants, the high mountains, deep valleys and wide open prairies echoed with the sounds of Hot Lead Justice. The End