If ever a man had been more bitter on Dec. 13, there could be no proving it.
At least that’s the way Coyote Sam would tell it.
On that day, news had meandered up the hill, from one gold-panner to another, that Sheriff Jim Mele would retire.
The grudge Coyote Sam held against Sheriff Mele had festered since the two were just boys.
What Sheriff Mele had intended as a good-natured summertime mining competition had gone sour soon. Mele always came out ahead come the September weigh.
Sam had spent the better part of his life scheming. Believing. Hoping someday he’d take care of “that Jim Mele business.”
His final attempt would — again — end in his defeat. He stole the sheriff’s gold badge after a shotgun-fueled trip through downtown Sonora just last year. He’d scared off several shop owners that day. They’d had enough of Sam and his dusty gang.
But the sheriff’s posse tracked him down and recovered the badge.
As for Sam, he would spend the next four months breaking rocks at Folsom State Prison. Those boulders were broken, but Coyote Sam wasn’t.
The day he got out he set his course for Sonora.
His first order of business was finding his men and reorganizing his efforts. Dead Eye Doug, Dirty Dan and Mongo. He found them much the way he had left them. Drunk, dirty and ready for a fight.
Coyote Sam saddled his horse early one morning, days into his newest glimpse at freedom for the ride to Tuolumne City.
He’d buried a small leather pouch of gold. A saving’s account. Coyote Sam style.
He trotted into town only to find a different landscape than the one he’d left a year earlier. Some lucky sucker had that leather pouch now. The railroad was expanding and the ground had been plowed and covered in track.
Coyote Sam simmered in his saddle for a good 20 minutes before tugging the reins of his borrowed horse and digging his spurs fiercely into her sides.
That night as he sulked beside his campfire he began to lay out his plans. He needed money. And he needed to scratch that 40-year Sheriff Mele itch.
By the time the coffee was boiling the next morning the news of Mele’s retirement would reach Sam and his gang. There was a new sheriff in town. Come Jan. 1 Jim Pooley was in charge. He was a man known for his ability to read a man quicker than a miner spending his grubstake on a Friday night.
As for Sheriff Mele, turns out he was the benefactor of a New York land baron’s fortune. He once helped rescue the man from a collapsed mine while he was looking for investments in the Mother Lode.
The day of his retirement the sheriff had boarded a steamer for the Riviera Maya. He was gone, and so was any chance Coyote Sam had of settling his score.
The news plunged him into a depression his men weren’t quite sure how to handle. So they gave him whiskey at night and thick black coffee in the morning in hopes of wiping the final defeat from his mind.
On one occasion Sam’s men saddled the horses and took him to Murphys for a show. Senorita Grossita was in town and if a pretty woman with a prettier voice couldn’t wipe out the memory of Mele then nothing could.
After three days and eight shows, Coyote Sam was in love. And so was Senorita Grossita. Early one morning, with her cash and his wiles, the pair slipped away from town in a custom-made two-seat carriage.
Dead Eye Doug, Dirty Dan and Mongo took the news as one might expect. Badly. In their search for a scapegoat they rested their gaze on Sheriff Pooley. The next day they rumbled into Sonora. Pooley was having lunch at Emberz as the men rounded the corner onto Washington Street.
“Where’s Coyote Sam,” bellowed Mongo between skybound shotgun blasts.
By the time they made it to Sheriff Pooley’s table, the sheriff’s posse was in place. Hands resting easy near their holsters.
“How can I help you today,” the sheriff offered.
“We want help finding Coyote Sam,” shouted Dirty Dan between puffs on his dynamite stick-sized cigar.
“I’m not sure there’s much I can do about that,” the sheriff responded.
“If you know what’s good for you you’ll move yourself right out of that chair and start looking for him. You, and your men,” added Dead Eye Doug.
“Well I’ve been knowin’ what’s good for me for quite a while now and helping you find your boss isn’t,” the sheriff said between bites of his lunch, a ribeye, cooked rare.
As the three men kept their gaze on the sheriff, the front end of an Appaloosa appeared in the doorway. It was on-and-off-again gang member Slick Willy, waving a piece of paper.
“I got it,” he announced to the dining room before backing out and galloping out of town.
“It” was the contract and permit for the town’s prized event — the Mother Lode Roundup Parade. Every year folks from near and far gathered for a grand parade down Washington.
No permit, no parade.
Chairs scraped as posse members headed for their horses.
A calm wave of the hand from Sheriff Pooley put them back in their seats. He was a man of measured response, and this day would be no different.
Dead Eye Doug, Dirty Dan and Mongo mistook the gesture as a sign of defeat. And so they gathered themselves, and a bottle of whiskey, before walking out the door. If the threat of no parade didn’t rouse the town into an all-out Coyote Sam hunt, well then nothing would.
As the men sauntered away to the stables, the sheriff addressed his men.
“We’ve got one week to save this parade,” he said in a quiet voice.
With that the men laid out a plan for who would ride where and when. The sheriff finished his steak and headed for The Union Democrat’s office where he placed the following notice:
“A band of thieves has stolen the permit for this year’s Mother Lode Roundup Parade. Without that permit, our parade will be cancelled for the first time in 50 years. Anyone with information about Dead Eye Doug, Dirty Dan, Mongo or their leader, Coyote Sam, is asked to report to the sheriff’s office as soon as possible.”