THE GUN DOCTOR
taken from The Hotspur issue: 785
HIS PATIENTS ARE COLT SIX-GUNS, WINCHESTERS, DERRINGERS, CARBINES – ANYTHING THAT FIRES HOT LEAD!
WORKSHOP ON WHEELS
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
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.
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
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.
THE RIFLE THIEF
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.
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
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