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First episode taken from The Hotspur issue: 785 November 24th 1951.




With necks outstretched, manes tossing and tails streaming, the two horses raced the heavy waggon down the trail at full gallop. They could smell the Apache Indians behind and were afraid. Judging by the rattling and the clanking, the lumbering vehicle was filled with old iron. Seth Kean sat easily in the driving seat, as if the horses were going at a gentle walk. His face, usually carefree and friendly, was serious now. There was a touch of grey at his temples, under the sides of his battered wide-brimmed, low-crowned hat, and his buffalo-hide jacket was shiny with wear. Hugh pockets hung on either side of this jacket, and from these there came a clinking and rattling too. The driver’s eyes were grey and shrewd, and peered out at the trail from beneath bushy, curling eyebrows. Not two miles distant he could see Bowie Camp, with its stockade and fort. If he could get there he would be safe. Anxiously he glanced behind him, through the open canvas flaps which gave him a view of the trail behind. Half a dozen Apache Redskins on wiry little ponies, were gradually closing in on him. The morning sun shone on their war-paint, and glittered on their scalping-knives and tomahawks. It was not often they found a Paleface travelling alone in Arizona, and they were after this one’s scalp. The wind rushing through the covered waggon caused the stout canvas hood to bulge. On each side of it there was painted in large, black lettering: “The Gun Doctor. New Guns of All Types. Repairs a Speciality.” Again Kean glanced behind him. Two of the Redskins were racing neck and neck to the fore. They were striving to reach the backboard of the waggon. If they could leap on to that, they would be able to dive through from inside and attack the driver. The Gun Doctor dropped one hand to a wire loop which was fastened to a nail on the seat at his side. He gave this loop a hard jerk. Bang! There came the report of a heavy shot-gun from the back of the waggon. A charge of big buckshot literally swept one of the Indians from his saddle. His horse reared, and collided with the other. Seth Kean, known far and wide as the Gun Doctor, grinned to himself. Two stockless shot-guns were built into the tail-board of his waggon, and he could fire them by pulling wires. The startled Redskins dropped back and regarded the riddled body of their companion in awed astonishment. They could not understand how death had come to him. The Gun Doctor chuckled. “We’ve done ‘em Nan! It’s all right, Patsy! You’ll be in a stable quarter of an hour. They won’t follow any further.” He was right. The Apaches decided there was something unwholesome about this waggon which rattled and clanked so loudly. The Gun Doctor slowed to a canter, and then a trot. He wanted to cool off his horses before entering Bowie Camp. He half-turned on his seat to make sure the contents of the waggon had not shaken loose. Everything was quite safe. His portable forge, his blacksmith’s equipment, an array of assorted tools, a score of guns of various types and in various stages of completion, metal gadgets of all kinds, everything was in its place. Thanks to a system of clips and racks, things could rattle but not jolt loose.

The waggon was his workshop as well as his home, and he made his living by travelling about the West. There were not many men who did not carry a gun in those exciting days, and Seth Kean had the reputation of being a wizard with every variety of firearms from breech-loading cannon to miniature Derringer pistols. Ten minutes later he deftly swung the waggon into the gates of the stockade, and drove slowly into the main street of Bowie Camp. It was just a little frontier town. Before many years were past it would be a thriving, little prairie city, but just now it was a lawless camp with a fort nearby which housed a detachment of troops whose job it was to tame the local Redskins. Kean pulled to a halt at the water-tank hard by Brady’s saloon, and jumped down to remove the bits from the horses’ mouths. Two or three idlers strolled over. “Say, what’s the idea of calling yourself a Gun Doctor?” drawled one. “None of our guns are sick around here. They get too much practice against Injuns. See any on the trail?” “Just half a dozen or so,” reported Seth. “They don’t seem very well behaved round these parts. Mebbe it’s because you fellows can’t shoot straight.” A swarthy man flushed angrily. “Can’s shoot straight?” he echoed. “We’ve durn well got to shoot straight for the soldiers up at the fort can’t! Can you do better’n this?” The man twitched a big six-shooter from his belt, and at a sign from him someone tossed an empty bottle high into the air. Three times the man’s gun blazed as the bottle fell, and the third shot smashed it to fragments. Pleased with himself, he turned to the Gun Doctor for applause, and was surprised to see him shaking his head sadly. “Pretty poor, mister, pretty poor!” said Kean, and before the other could make an indignant reply, the Gun Doctor took the six-shooter from his hand. Holding it at arm’s length, he looked along the barrel. “Tch! Tch! I thought as much. The sight ain’t straight. A gasp escaped the bystanders as he swiftly produced a short file from one of his bulging pockets, and gave half a dozen sharp rubs at one side of the foresight. Again he glanced along the barrel, nodded to himself, and handed it back. “Try again,” he advised. “Maybe you’ll be able to shoot straight next time.” Almost choking with rage, the gunman finally exploded. “If you’ve spoilt that gun I’ll blow your head off. I’ve had that gun for twelve years—” Growling with fury, the owner of the gun nodded to a friend, who hurled a second bottle into the air. Up came the gun, the trigger was pulled, and the bottle flew into a hundred fragments high overhead. The gunman gasped with amazement. “Well, I’ll be fried!” he spluttered. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done it first shot. I got it second shot once, but—” “Yes, the sight was out at least a thousandth of an inch,” drawled the Gun Doctor. “I saw you had a good eye, but the best shot in the world can’t shoot with bad tools. If anyone else has a gun they want overhauled, I’ll be glad to take on the job for a dollar a time.

My working hours are seven to seven daily. My waggon will be at the back of the saloon.” Smiling again, he prepared to drive round to the stable at the rear. As a piece of advertising the Gun Doctor’s stunt had been a great success. Then, he whipped up his horses, he leaned over and demanded as though by an afterthought: “What was that someone said about the soldiers up at the fort not being able to shoot straight? Think I could find a job or two if I went up there an’ offered my services?” Mex Peters, the marksman, snorted. “Not even you could make their guns fire straight, Doc. They’re at least thirty years old, an’ worn to a frazzle.” The Gun Doctor looked puzzled. “Thirty years old!” he echoed. “But new Winchesters were dished out to all the frontier troops only a year ago. I saw ‘em coming through.” Someone laughed harshly. “They’ve got Winchesters all right, but they’re not allowed to use ‘em. Old Colonel Brush is so pig-headed an’ old-fashioned that he keeps ‘em under lock an’ key an’ makes the garrison use the old guns he was used to when a young ensign. He says the new guns are only toys! He has a dozen casualties every time his men face the Injuns. It’s not a gun doctor they want up at the fort, mister, but a brain doctor fer old Colonel Brush.” Kean shrugged and coaxed the waggon through a narrow space into the stable-yard at the back of the saloon.


For more than a week the Gun Doctor did a roaring trade in Bowie Camp. News of his skill spread far and wide in the district. It was said he could glance down a gun barrel and in two seconds tell whether a rifle or revolver threw right or left of the target. It was proved he could take a worn out gun, re-rifle it, and make it shoot like a new one. His fame spread to the fort on the hillside. Word came one morning that Colonel Brush wanted to see him. Seth had already seen the stiff-backed, moustached, old martinet from a distance, but now he harnessed up his horses and drove the waggon up to the fort. He brought the waggon to rest in the drill square, and was immediately summoned to the presence of the Colonel. Seth found him in the armoury, glaring wrathfully at an array of rifles on a bench. Even to the inexpert eye they resembled museum pieces. A sad-looking armoury sergeant was standing stiffly by. The Colonel glared at the newcomer, his red face set in stubborn lines. “They tell me you call yourself a Gun Doctor!” he rasped. “I’m going to give you a chance. This fool of an armoury sergeant of mine says these guns can’t be repaired. How much do you want to make ‘em fit for use?” The Gun Doctor looked them over, then shook his head. “Can’t be done, Colonel! They’re plain worn out. You’d need new barrels, new trigger-springs, and even new pawls. It would cost as much as buying a batch of new Winchesters.” “Bah!” roared Colonel Brush. “New Winchesters, bah! Do you think I’d let my troops use those new-fangled toys? Out here we need man-size guns, and these are the kind we used to conquer the West thirty years ago. They’re the finest guns in the world. Get out!” At that moment a gunshot cracked from the top of the watch-tower, followed by a second shot, and a third. The Colonel swung about with a fiery snort. “The alarm signal! Injuns again, I’ll be bound. Sergeant, have the actions-stations signal sounded.” Seth Kean was pushed into a corner. A bugle blared, and the fort came to life. Blue-coated soldiers came rushing from their quarters at the double. Every man had a rifle of the old-fashioned type. On to the raised platforms behind the stockade they climbed, crouching behind loop-holes. Colonel Brush was in half a dozen places at once, bellowing orders with swiftness and precision. But above the orderly confusion in the fort could be heard the shrill war-cries of a host of Redskins. It was going to be a big attack. Snatching a rifle from the rack in the armoury, the Gun Doctor made for a vacant loop-hole. “Prepare to fire…fire!” came the order from the officer on that side of the fort, and twenty rifles thundered as the oncoming horde of Redskins speeded up for the final rush. Kean had aimed at a young brave whose blood-red feathers tossed proudly in the wind. The Gun Doctor had drawn a bead on the Redskin’s chest, and pressed the trigger confidently. It would be impossible to miss at such a range. But the Redskin still came on. The bullet had not touched him! With a snarl, the Gun Doctor threw down the rifle and turned towards his waggon to fetch one of his own trustworthy guns. Very few of the Redskins were falling.

At that range the defenders of the fort should have been able to mow them down in swathes. Hundreds of shots were being fired, but few were finding their mark. Seth Kean realised that most of the men at the loop-holes had rifles little better than those he had classed as useless in the armoury. The Colonel’s insistence upon them using these worn-out, old-fashioned weapons looked like losing them the fort. Growling under his breath, the Gun Doctor raced back to his post. Man after man he picked off with his specially-sighted Winchester, and opposite his loop-hole Redskins kept a respectful distance. Elsewhere it was otherwise. In three places the Indians managed to swarm over the stockade, and landed amongst the soldiers with their tomahawks. Desperate hand-to-hand fighting took place. The Gun Doctor found himself attacked from the rear. Backed into a corner against the stockade, he was assailed by five Apaches at once. It was impossible to use a rifle at such close quarters, and the Gun Doctor drew his revolver, a hugh clumsy Colt which had produced considerable amusement amongst those who had seen it in Bowie Camp. The men down there had all marvelled that a Gun Doctor could not equip himself with a better gun than that. Their eyes would have been opened if they could have seen him going into action now. The trigger catch had been so closely filed that it needed no more than a hair’s pressure to send it off. The cocking arrangement had been specially adapted by the Gun Doctor to allow of “fanning” with the palm of his hand. A brand-new, modern barrel had been fitted to the ancient stock. Six shots rattled out as swiftly as he could work the palm of his left hand on the cocking catch. When the smoke cleared, the five Apaches lay dead. Kean leaned back against the stockade and reloaded. His expression was grim. He was watching the desperately courageous efforts of the garrison to hurl out the attackers. At one time there were over a hundred Indians inside the square. Only by sheer bravery, and the use of the bayonet, were the soldiers finally able to drive them out, and when at last the Apaches fled, there were seventeen blue-coated bodies on the ground. Once again Fort Bowie had been held, but only at great cost. Grimly the Gun Doctor helped to tend the wounded.

On all sides he heard the same bitter complaint from the men. They realised the Redskins should never have been allowed to get to grips. Rifle-fire should have kept them at a distance. It was in hand-to-hand fighting their casualties had been inflicted. If the Redskins had been kept outside, there would have been only one or two dead amongst the soldiers. It was the fault of the rifles. Colonel Brush’s stupid insistence upon the old type of weapon was handicapping his men. Those were the sort of whispers that were going round the garrison, and the Gun Doctor’s thoughts grew grimmer and grimmer. Finally, he marched up to Colonel Brush. “Sir, I’d like to speak to you!” he blurted out. “Yes, yes, what is it, man? Can’t you see I’m busy?” snapped the officer. “We’ve beaten ‘em off, but they’ll be back again at dark. The best thing you can do is clear out while you’re safe.” “Yes, sir, but before I go I’d like to make an offer,” said Kean. “During the fight I noticed that some of the rifles jammed.” “Well, one expects a few accidents of that kind during a fight!” snorted Colonel Brush. “Maybe the men haven’t oiled them properly.” “Certainly, sir, but if you’ll allow me to overhaul each rifle, I can get through the lot before dusk, and I promise that you’ll have no trouble with them to-night.” The military man glared at him in astonishment. “You can do it in the time?” “If the men are told to bring the rifles to my waggon, I can complete the job before dusk,” promised Seth Kean. “It will make a big difference to the course of the next fight.” “Very well, I’ll have the necessary order given, but I still advise you to clear out before dark,” said Colonel Brush.


In his covered waggon just inside the gateway of the fort, the Gun Doctor stood receiving the rifles of the garrison. One by one the men came to the rear of the waggon and handed up the sorely worn weapons. Some of them did so with a snarl. Many muttered under their breath: “It isn’t oil this thing wants, but throwing on the junk-heap!” Kean said nothing, and neatly stacked the rifles in his travelling workshop. The pile grew. In the end he had one hundred and ten rifles in his possession. Only the men on top of the watch-tower kept theirs, though it was almost certain no Indians would show themselves before sun-down. Then the Gun Doctor set to work to clean and oil the rifles. An n.c.o. who glanced in during the afternoon was amazed at the skill and speed with which he worked. The Gun Doctor peered down a barrel where the rifling was broken and worn. “Who opens and closes the gate here?” he asked, mildly. “Why, the corporal in charge of the sentries is responsible. You want to leave before the attack begins?” “Yes!” grunted Kean. “I think I do. You might give word I’d like that gate opened for two minutes just before sunset please.” The corporal frowned. “But we’ve been ordered to parade to get back our rifles half an hour after sunset!” he objected. “That’s just why I want the gate opened before sunset,” drawled the Gun Doctor. A long, hard look passed between the two men, and the corporal pursed his lips. “Whee-ee-eeeeeew!” he whistled, and hurried away to talk to his pals. For hours the Gun Doctor laboured mightily. Once Colonel Brush put in his head. “How are things going, gunsmith?” “Splendidly, sir! I think you’ll find things different the next time the Apaches attack. “Yes, I always knew it was only oil and attention those guns needed. The finest guns in the world—the very finest!” grunted the Colonel, and with a twirl of his moustaches he passed on his way to see the wounded in the sick bay.

The sun gradually neared the western hills. From the watch-tower men stared anxiously towards the ridges behind which they knew the Apaches were massing for their next attack. The Gun Doctor had harnessed up his team of two. Rested and well fed, Patsy and Nan were eager to go. The pile of rifles which had been oiled was growing larger but the Gun Doctor’s mind was not on his work. He was watching the gate so close beside him. He could see his friend the corporal talking to the men there. Suddenly men began to lift down the massive bars which kept the gate closed. Gradually the heavy barrier swung open, and at that same moment the Gun Doctor dropped the gun he was oiling and scrambled forward on to the driving-seat. Grabbing the reins, he flourished the whip over the two willing horses. “Gerrup, Patsy! Go on, Nan!” he hissed. The two horses lurched forward, got the laden waggon on the move, and broke into a swift gallop. Rattling and rocking, the heavy waggon sped through the gateway on to the prairie outside. The sun was just dipping. Shouts came from the men who were not in the secret. One of those on the watch-tower fired a rifle, but the bullet went wide. Colonel Brush and the other officers came rushing from their quarters. “The rifles, sir!” shouted someone. “The Gun Doctor’s made off with all the rifles!” Seth Kean drove like the wind. There was some attempt at pursuit, but after a few minutes shots were heard from the watch-tower. The look-outs had seen the Indians on the move. It was not safe to leave the fort. The men were recalled, and the heavy gates closed. Colonel Brush’s voice could be heard raised in wrath. The Gun Doctor was taking a risk. If the Redskins came after him they would have an easy job capturing him but he was backing on them heading for the fort again. His gamble came off. No one barred his way to the river, and there he halted just long enough to hurl those one hundred and ten rifles into the deepest part. They sank immediately, and were swallowed in the mud. Standing on the seat of his waggon as a look-out, the Gun Doctor stared back in the direction of the fort. His expression was anxious. If that pig-headed Colonel still proved stubborn, there would be a massacre, and he, the Gun Doctor, would be responsible.

He need not have worried. Ten minutes later he was approaching the closed gates of Bowie Camp in the growing dusk, and from the direction of the fort came the loud howl of the massed Indian braves hurling themselves at the stockade. The Gun Doctor strained his ears. A moment later he heard the sound he had hoped to hear, the sharp, staccato bark of Winchesters fired in rapid succession. Volley after volley was poured into the charging Redskins, and their triumphant howls changed to cries of alarm. Seth Kean grinned as he shouted for the gates to be opened. Men stared at him anxiously as he drove into the main street. The township was in a state of defence. Armed men crowded round him to ask if he had any guns he could share out. “You’ll need none,” said the Gun Doctor. “The soldiers at the fort will settle the hash of those Injuns to-night. Colonel Brush has dished out those fast-shooting Winchesters. He had to! I stole all the other guns. He either had to give out the new ones or be massacred. Guess I’ll be getting away west before dawn to-morrow. Brush might have a few things to say to me if he ever sees me again!” And when the covered waggon rolled westwards down the prairie trail that following morning, Seth Kean took with him the knowledge that the soldiers had slaughtered so many Apaches the previous night it was extremely unlikely the Indians would ever bother Bowie Camp or Fort Bowie again.


© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007