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Letter of the Law
He rode into town in broad daylight as if no one would recognize him; or, if they did, care that he was there. But there was one person who cared very much that he was there. That person, however, wasn’t willing to make himself known…just yet. He allowed the man to walk inside the gunsmith’s shop and strike up a conversation with the man behind the counter. Then he began discussing his guns – they were a French design, hand crafted one of a kind set. He was very proud of them. He proudly stuck them into his holster. “I’d rather give up my right arm then part with them!”
He removed the gun belt from around his waste and threw it in the pile on the table. He no longer needed that – he had his own guns back. But suddenly, a voice from behind him sounded out. “Hold it, Stocker." He stared at the town Marshal, realizing he had been caught. He held a defeated look on his face. “Your trademark trapped you,” Micah stated. “A man wanted for murder should carry hand-made guns.”
The look on his face said that he regretted his decision to come get his guns. But as he walked out onto the porch, he remembered he had friends. Seeing that friend gave him the confidence he needed. “I wouldn’t count on keeping me pinned up too long, Marshal!” Stocker said. A smile had returned to his face.
The man that rode in with Stocker took off to plan what he would do next.
Meanwhile, Mark and I were at home. We were sitting on the front porch working on fractions. I was trying to stay patient with Mark, but he wasn’t making it easier. I started explaining the concept of converting fractions, but he didn’t let me get two words out of my mouth before he interrupted me. “Oh, now the arithmetic we had last year was alright. For instance, a person has so many head of beef and the price is so much. So, how much would he get for the herd? Now that is practical! But these fractions!”
“You’ll find these fractions would come in handy too,” I stated sternly.
“Well, what’s handy about finding out ½ a cow times 1/8 a pig times 1/3 a horse?” Mark complained to me.
Now mind you, this isn’t the first argument we had had over fractions, and I was getting a bit fed up with him. “Well you-“ I started.
But I didn’t want to go into a long, drawn-out lecture on the benefits of learning fractions. So I decided to keep my answer practical. “Look, all I can say is they wouldn’t be teaching it to you in school if-“
But I didn’t have time to finish. Micah rode up just then. I reckon that was good for both of us. It gave Mark a little more time from his fractions, and it gave me a little time to cool off and get my wits back.
Micah wanted me to do a favor for me. I invited him in for coffee while we talked about it, but he was busy. He threw me a tin star. “You’re deputizing Pa?” Mark asked excitedly.
But Micah told Mark it was nothing exciting. He just wanted me to take care of the office while he took Brett Stocker over to Silver City. I knew who that was. He was famous for carrying fancy guns. He was wanted on a Federal poster, and the quicker Micah got Stocker off his hands, the better he was going to like it!
I raised my hand. “Say the words.”
“Do you solemnly swear to uphold the letter of the law to the best of your ability?”
“I do,” I answered.
Mark was listening and wondered what “Letter of the Law” meant. You know my boy – always curious about something!
“Letter of the Law?” Micah was caught off guard with my boy’s latest inquest. “Well, it’s not something I rightly think much about, Mark. If you’re a Marshal, you just naturally do it. Like Brett Stocker – I get a poster saying he’s wanted for murder. Now, he didn’t commit any killing around here but upholding the law is as much my business as if it happened in my own backyard. It’s…uh…well, it’s upholding the law because it is the law. No matter what. Why, if my own brother was on that poster, it says I have to take him in.” Micah stopped, then added, “Well, I guess I’m better at doing then speech making!”
I told Micah his speech made good sense to me. Mark and I were coming into town later for some oats. I’d stop by Micah’s so we could go over some things before he left with Stocker. Micah wasn’t even out of the yard yet before I opened the book. I was just as ready to be done with this math lesson as Mark was in getting it done!
Of course Mark stopped me with a question. “Pa, could I maybe come and stay in town with you while you’re acting deputy?”
That was a funny question. He knew I couldn’t leave him here by himself the whole time! “Alright, under one condition. You study these fractions.” Mark started to argue. I’m sure he was about to give me a very good reason why fractions were impractical, but I didn’t want to hear it. “Don’t ask me why. You just do as I say,” I said sternly.
Then I started back on the lesson. I was showing him how to convert ¼ + 1/8, but Mark didn’t want to do the lesson and allowed his mind to wonder off. But I nudged him. Then I decided to have him do the writing while I talked him through it, making a point that he was going to learn this no matter what!
I didn’t know it, but Micah was running into some trouble on his way back into town. Three men were holding guns on him and ordered him to drop the gun belt. It was pretty obvious to Micah what was going on.
Mark and I rode into town that afternoon. I stopped the wagon at the Marshal’s office to go in and talk to Micah. Abel was watching Micah’s office when we got there. I asked Abel if he’d seen Micah, and he said Micah had never come back from my ranch – he’d been gone for 4 hours!
I was really worried. Micah wasn’t one to be way overdue somewhere. If he told Abel he’d be back in an hour, he should’ve been here. I turned and looked at Stocker in the cell and was worried. Micah had been really nervous about keeping him. I decided to walk around and see if anyone had seen or heard from Micah.
I left Mark in the office. That was a mistake on my part. I should have known a man like Stocker would suddenly want to “educate” my boy! Mark jumped up on the desk and took one of Stocker’s firearms from the gun belt. Stocker watched him examine the gun, and started in on teaching my boy. “You’re starting out right, kid! You wanta learn about guns, you gotta start our early.”
“You must be pretty good to be using a double action,” Mark complimented his guns.
But suddenly, Stocker said something that bothered Mark and made him think twice about handling those guns. “Killing’s a trade, Sonny. It’s the kind of trade you can’t afford to come off second best in!” Mark suddenly put the gun back in its holster. “What did you think I used them for? Target practice? I did all my target practicing when I was about your age. I use to shoot off over 200 rounds a day!”
Mark was impressed with this, but he wondered how he was able to get that many bullets. “I was raised close to an army supply depot. There was a hole in the barbed wire fence and I would crawl in there and get it and shoot it off during the day. You know I shot off everything from a mussel loader to a gatland gun?”
Mark was impressed with that. “Hey boy, why don’t you strap them on?” Stocker suddenly dared him. “What’s the matter? You scared?” Mark looked around, knowing that I wouldn’t approve. But for a small boy, the dare was too much for him. He stood up and began strapping them on as Stocker continued talking to him.
I came back with no answers to Micah’s whereabouts. Suddenly, I realized I had left mark inside the office with Stocker. I went in to check on him. I stopped when I saw what my boy was doing. “Mark, put those guns down!” I sternly ordered, upset that he was handling them.
“The boy’s old enough. ‘Bout time he learned,” Stocker commented.
I knew exactly who had influenced him to strap those on. “Not your way, Stocker!” I shouted, annoyed that he and Mark had been talking.
Mark started to explain what he was doing to me, but I didn’t need any explanation! He knew better then that! “Mark, he’s behind bars because of those guns, so anything he tells you, you just consider where it’s coming from.” I ordered him as I took the guns from him and threw them down on the desk.
Stocker didn’t like what I said he was going to remember what I said when he was wearing those guns again. “Well, from what I read on your poster, Stocker, this is as close as you’re ever gonna get to these ornaments of yours.”
Suddenly, someone rode by on a horse and threw something in the open door. I hurried over to pick it up. It was a note. I untied it and read the words. “They’ve got Micah. They’ll kill him if I don’t let Stocker go by sundown,” I stated worriedly. Now I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I sat down to think on this. What was I going to do? This was my best friend and his life was now in my hands! “Are you gonna do it?” Mark asked me.
“Of course he’s gonna do it, boy!” Abel answered. “He’s got no choice.
But I knew differently. I did have a choice – and that was the problem. I could leave Stocker in jail and kill Micah, or I could let Stocker go and maybe get my best friend returned to me safely. This was a decision I didn’t want to make!
Meanwhile, Micah was being held captive, guarded by three gunmen. Carl knew that us “church-going” people would turn Stocker loose. The boy in charge of watching Micah was getting nervous. “I sure wish he would get here.”
Micah was staying cool and collected as he talked to this young man who still had a chance to go the right way. Micah commented that he was too young to hate lawmen, and Fred Harris stated he didn’t hate Micah. “Then why don’t you let me get on my horse and ride out of here? I’ve got a lot of business to do!”
Fred found this really funny and he laughed. “I knew a Marshal like you once when I was a kid. He never scared.”
“Never?” Micah asked. “He couldn’t have been much of a marshal.”
“He was the best,” Fred stated proudly. “He raised me. I didn’t have any parents. I was with him from the time I was six until I was thirteen.” He got killed, Micah commented. “He was the best man I ever knew.”
“So you end up on the same side as the fellas that shot him,” Micah commented gently. He knew this kid and knew he could get through to him.
He commented that a man’s got to earn a living. But Micah knew better then that. Since Fred had a good upbringing, he could have found lots of honest ways to earn a living. “I met dancehall girls working on the Barbary Coast whose fathers were ministers. Water seeks it’s own level, that’s all. My stream just happens to be pretty low.”
Micah didn’t want to give up on this boy. He told him that he himself had been down and out once when someone talked to me. We all know he was talking about his drinking problem, and my words and care bringing him around. Micah told him he wasn’t going to get anywhere the way he was trying.
The man named Karl Galt came over to get some coffee, which put an end to Micah’s talking with the boy. Harris was getting nervous because it was only an hour until sundown, and there was no sign of Stocker yet. Micah was pretty confident that I wasn’t going to let Stocker go. “They don’t think you’re worth trading for Stocker?” Galt asked.
“They think I’m worth trading for a dozen Stockers!” Micah stated proudly. “But the law don’t take personalities into account. You don’t make bargains with the law, Galt. There’s no compromise.”
Galt announced that he was like Micah – he didn’t compromise either. Harris asked what that meant. “You don’t bargain with the law. From the minute we picked him off the trail, you’ve been talking to a dead man!” Harris hadn’t realized that and these words upset him greatly.
Meanwhile, I was in the Marshal’s office trying to figure out what to do. I paced the floor back and forth as I talked to John Hamilton, hoping we could come to some sort of decision. The street outside Micah’s office was crowded with people, watching…waiting to see what I would do. The weight on my shoulders was getting stronger every moment!
John suggested I let him go and follow him, but I couldn’t do that. The note said if I tried to follow him, we’d find Micah dead.
I was remembering our conversation from this morning about the Letter of the Law. I knew what Micah would want us to do. “You want Micah’s death on your conscience?” John shot out at me.
“Look, I just agreed to guarding an empty jail, John!” I stated. I wasn’t equipped to make such an important decision – not when my best friend was involved in this!
John mentioned that Stocker wasn’t even our trouble since he hadn’t even killed anyone around here. “So we let him kill anyone he wants as long as it’s no one we know?” I shot out. I was getting angry that this decision was up to me.
I knew what I had to do. Suddenly, I looked down at the guns and remembered something important about Stocker. I knew then for sure what had to be done. I unlocked Stocker’s cell and told him to leave before I changed my mind. Stocker strutted out of the cell, feeling victorious. I hated letting this man go! He reached for his guns but I put my hand on top of them. “These are staying right here! Now you mark that down for the right time too. Now get going!” I demanded.
Stocker threw his hat down on the desk and stated he wasn’t leaving without his guns. I plopped his hat right back on his head and told him to get going.
“You had to let him go,” John stated after Stocker left.
“No John, I didn’t have to,” I stated. “I just did.” I threw the keys down on the desk.
Harris and Micah were talking again. Harris suggested Micah make a run for the boulders. Micah suggested that while running to them, his back would make a nice target. “Not from my gun,” Harris assured him. “Don’t make me change my mind!”
“I won’t son,” Micah stated. “I just hope I’ll be able to pay you back someday.” But Harris owed someone like him a long overdue favor.
Suddenly Stocker was riding into their camp. Micah made a run for the boulders. The two men turned and saw Micah escaping. Bang! The gun goes off, hitting Micah in the shoulder.
Bang! Harris turned and shot one of the men as he continued to shoot Micah, still running for the boulders. Harris continued to shoot at the other two gang members. He killed him.
Then the man named Galt shoots Harris three times, knocking him to the ground. As Harris laid dying, he mumbled, “It’s just more of a favor I counted on.”
Micah made it to the boulders. He was free.
I sat outside the hotel deep in thought. There was a lot to think about after making such a decision. Micah wasn’t back yet and that was worrying me. Mark came out, asking if we were staying in town. I told him we were. Mark wanted to do something for me, so he said he’d go get our room, but I informed Mark I had already done that too.
Mark could tell I was really worried. “You had to let him go, Pa. You did the right thing,” he tried to assure me as he bent down close to me. Look at this! I was the one who was supposed to comfort him, but instead, he was trying to comfort me. “Everyone in town thought you should let him go.”
I thanked Mark for trying. He asked me if I was sorry I did what I did. “Oh no, I’m not sorry. I’m just trying to justify it to myself, but it’s not that simple. A man has to do what he thinks is right, not just because the rest of the town thinks it’s right.”
Mark was thinking from his simple mind, and stated that I had to save Micah. “That’s the point, Mark. You know, when I accepted this badge, I promised to preserve law and order. You remember what Micah said? He said that the law has to be preserved because it is the law. No matter what.”
I told Mark to go to bed. He hesitated, knowing I was still worried. I sternly told him to go to bed. He reluctantly obeyed me.
John and I sat in Micah’s office long after the sun went down. Micah was still not back, and with each passing second we had less hope that he would be returned alive. It was a risk we had taken, and we knew they didn’t have to let Micah go. I began thinking I wasn’t cut out to me a marshal. “It must be like being a doctor, know that if you have to amputate, you amputate – you get used to it. But I’m not used to cutting off a friend!”
But suddenly, Able came in, announcing to us that Micah was back and was at the docs. We hurried over. I can’t express just how relieved I was to know my friend was alive! I showed Micah just how happy I was as soon as I walked in the door. “Well never in my life have I ever been so happy to see anybody alive!” I declared with a relieved smile on my face.
But Micah let me know he was angry with me right away. “Why did you let him go? I swore you in, Lucas. You took an oath.”
John tried to stick up for me. “You can’t weigh a bunch of words against a friend’s life!” He continued on. “A man has feelings, Micah. Lucas had to let him go.”
Micah stated I had to keep Brett Stocker in jail because that’s what he would have done. He expected me to do it too. I told Micah that I figured it was the only chance we had. “I’m not here because of that chance,” Micah stated.
“Brett Stocker’s killed 15 men, and he’s free as a bird. If that’s your idea of law, well…maybe you oughta get yourselves another Marshal.”
Finally, I told him about my decision. “I weighed that before I made the move. I’m telling you right now I wouldn’t have done it, except I knew I’d get Stocker back!”
Micah and I stared at each other as he contemplated this last thought.
The remaining two outlaws were packing up their horses, getting ready to head out. Stocker told Galt that next time he took someone on; make sure he was old enough to shave. Then he announced they were riding back into North Fork. He was going to get his guns. Galt didn’t want to, and told Stocker as much, but Stocker was the leader, and he wasn’t giving Galt a choice. They were going into North Fork to get his guns.
It was late at night when they rode in. The streets were dark…quiet. The sound of their horses walking down Main Street could be heard all over the town as it broke the quiet, eerie silence. The horses stopped in front of the hotel. Even the Marshal’s office was dark this late at night.
They walked over to the Marshal’s office and Stocker looked inside. He smiled as he saw his fancy firearms still sitting on Micah’s desk where I had left them. Galt watched to make sure no one came. Stocker held a kerchief up to the window and broke the glass quietly with his gun. Then he reached inside and silently turned the lock.
Stocker strutted inside, proud that he was about to get his guns back. He reached out to grab the guns. “Hold it!” I was there waiting for him in the dark. “Drop the gun belts – one hand,” I ordered.
I watched Stocker’s hands slowly move. I could tell he was thinking about drawing on me. “I wouldn’t try that,” I stated. He moved his hands away.
But then Galt drew on me.
Just like that, it was all over. They both fell dead to the floor. It was all over.
A week passed and Micah got a clean bill of health from Doc Burrage. “Micah, just don’t do any roping or steer busting for a day or so,” Doc declared.
Micah asked the doc if he could think of anything new to say. Then he thanked him for what he did.
Mark and I were waiting in Micah’s office. In all the excitement, Mark probably thought I had forgotten all about his problem with math, but I hadn’t. As we waited for Micah to get back, we did one final lesson. Mark read the problem:
If there’s one pie and four people and you give each person 1/6 of the pie, how much is left for you?
I watched hopefully, almost holding my breath. I was praying that Mark would get this answer right. I watched him think through the problem in his head. “1/3!” He suddenly proclaimed.
I was sure proud of my boy! I knew he was finally getting it – Mark stated that we’d been at it long enough!
As soon as Micah walked in the room, I handed him back the badge. About one week as marshal was as long as I wanted – ever! I war ready to get back to ranching. Micah commented, stating he never would have guessed Stocker would have come back for his guns. “You were figuring from the man. I would have figured from the book.”
“Oh Micah, you don’t have to make me feel good. I won’t do it again,” I stated. Then for good measure, I added, “As long as you don’t get bushwhacked again!”
“I was wondering when you were going to start rubbing that in!” Micah stated.
I was ready to leave. “Come on, Mark. Let’s go find us a pie we can eat!”
I knew what Mark’s response would be to that. “Oh boy!” He shouted as he swung around and jumped off the desk.
piddlin stuff.....Vic Morrow appeared in two episodes ― The Angry Gun as Johnny Cotton, he's the cowboy who took Lucas' rifle and money ― Letter of the Law as Brett Stocker, he was the cowboy who had double action handmade guns with the fancy gun handles. He just had to come back and get them - that's what lead to his demise.
Ken Lynch played Karl Galt. He's the cowboy with the deep voice, who ended up going back with Stocker to get his guns.
For more information on Ken Lynch checkout Pete Villafea's website.
Paul Carr appeared in four episodes ― Shivaree as Derek Hanaway, the groom ― The Woman as Garth Healey, he was the one who was in love with Miss Adams ― Letter of the Law as Fred Harris, he gave his life to save Micah ― Smoke Screen as Doug Carter, he was in love with Marge Crandell, the cowgirl who got killed.
John Goddard appeared in two episodes ― One Went to Denver as Naylor, he was a member of Tom Birch's gang ― Letter of the Law as Davis, one of Stocker's gang.
Michael Fox appeared in four episodes — The Trade as Trager, the telegraph worker — Letter of the Law as Abel, the townsman Micah left guarding Stocker while he went to see Lucas — The Hangman as Joe Hannah, the townsman that ease dropped outside of Micah's office when Lucas brought in Volney Adams — Miss Milly as Jim Oxford, the townsman who Ryan & Adams ruffed up for payment due to Milly.
Milton Parsons has appeared in two episodes ― Letter of the Law as A. Parker- Gunsmith. He's the one who notified Micah when Brett Stocker brought his fancy guns in to be fixed ― Strange Town as the old man who gave Lucas directions.
Rhys Williams appeared as Doc Burrage in six episodes ― Blood Brother ― Bloodlines ― Letter of the Law ― A Case of Identity ― Sins of the Father ― The Prodigal.
There were two doctors before Doc Burrage although neither of them were ever named or given credit. Those two episodes were The Sharpshooter and The Marshal. In End of a Young Gun Lucas told Hank he would go get Doc Sedley? Doc Burrage was first introduced to The Rifleman in The Pet.
Doc Burrage was a regular character ~ how many different actors played Doc Burrage? Can you name them?
Harlan Warde appeared in eighteen episodes as John Maysfield Hamilton, President of the North Fork Bank. He was first introduced in The Safe Guard. In this episode North Fork's Bank was first established and John Hamilton was new to North Fork.
Archie Butler — Stuntman — Stunt coordinator — Actor - Archie has been in more episodes then anybody with the exception of the regular cast and he probably was in more episode then some of them. ~Arnold Laven
Remember him in The Sharpshooter? Remember when Lucas shot the whiskey bottle and it shattered into pieces? Archie was the cowboy who slid the whiskey bottle to Lucas. Sometimes Archie was a stand-in for Paul Fix.
Bloopers - Letter of the Law
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