WHIP DODGE: Manhunter
Whip Dodge sat on his horse on the top of a ridge overlooking a vast valley that was covered with dense groves of pine and juniper trees. A large pine tree and a brushy undergrowth broke up his silhouette so that he couldn’t be seen from below. He lifted up an old pair of army binoculars to his eyes and peered through them. The binoculars and the old cavalry hat he wore were all that reminded him of his fifteen years in the Army.
He was born Carlton Louis Dodge to Melvin and Carla Dodge in the tenements of Philadelphia in 1845. When he was two, his father moved the small family to Chicago and went to work for the railroad. As a child, the older kids picked on him because of his name. They called him Carly, Carol, Caron, etc. As a result, he grew up tough.
He got the name Whip when he saw an older and larger bully whipping a puppy at the end of a dead end alley with a homemade hemp rope whip. “Stop that,” he yelled.
But the bully only turned and said, “Mind your own business Carly, before I use this on you.”
Something in Carlton snapped and he was on the bully in a heartbeat. His fists flailed into the bully’s face and body. Soon the bully’s nose was broken and his face was a bloody pulp. The bully was on the ground crying as Carlton used the whip on him.
Carlton stopped whipping the bully and threw the rope whip as far as he could over a tall fence at the back of the alley and picked the puppy up. Nothing would have been said about the incident if some other kids hadn’t seen what happened.
Carlton carried the puppy past the kids and heard one of them say, “There goes Whip Dodge, toughest kid in town. “ Word got around about the incident and the name stuck. Soon even his family was calling him Whip.
Whip had just turned fifteen when an accident at the railroad yard cost his father his life. His mother then suffered a nervous breakdown. Her mind slowly went away and she was soon institutionalized and Whip was left to fend for himself. For the next year Whip worked odd jobs around Chicago for what few pennies he could get.
Whip lied about his age and joined the Union Army in Illinois just as the Battle of Gettysburg was starting in the summer of 1863. But by the time his unit reached the battlefield, all that was left to do was to pick up the bodies of the thousands of dead soldiers, both North and South. After the war, when everyone else was mustering out of the Army, he decided to stay in and was eventually assigned to Fort Laramie in the Wyoming Territory.
Each month he would send half of his pay to the hospital where his mother was housed. Then one day he got a letter telling him of her passing. He took some leave and returned to Chicago for the first time since he left to join the Army. He laid a bouquet of flowers on his mother’s grave next to his father’s grave. He said a short prayer and never went back.
By now he was in his late twenties. His sandy colored hair outlined a round strong jawed face. He was just shy of six feet tall but had shoulders as wide as a train track. The muscles in his arms were like steel forged in the mills of Pittsburgh.
He befriended several of the Indian scouts that worked for the Army and they taught him how to live off the land. They taught him how to set snares for rabbits and squirrels, how to trap fish, what berries and plants were good to eat, etc. They even showed what plants were good for different medical applications.
Whip rose through the enlisted ranks faster than most men. He was even offered an officer’s commission but turned it down. Although he respected the officers he worked for, he didn’t want to be one of them. The arrogance of some of the officers turned his stomach. So after fifteen years of service, he mustered out with no real plans of what to do next.
He cowboyed some and broke horses some, but found what he really wanted to do when some drunken cowboys raped and killed a woman in Santa Fe. He was fond of the woman and had worked for her husband.
Cletus Hale was so grief stricken at the loss of his wife that he hung himself in the barn two nights later. Whip decided then to go after the cowboys and bring them to justice. The cowboys didn’t even make it out of the territory before Whip caught them and brought them in for hanging. The people of Santa Fe had collected a reward of just over a thousand dollars for the return of the killers and offered it to Whip. He used the money to put better than average markers on the graves of Cletus and Ellen Hale. That was five years ago.
While in the Army he had developed a knack for being able to read the trail left by men and horses. Something else the Indian scouts had taught him. Many times he had brought back AWOL soldiers or led the cavalry to renegade Indian camps. It was a skill that just seemed to come naturally to him. So he took up bounty hunting for a living, but he preferred to be called a man hunter.
Whip was now thirty eight years old as he sat on his horse looking out across the valley. He had made himself a reputation for being one of the best bounty hunters in the land. Feared by even some of the most fearsome outlaws.
He lowered the binoculars and looked at the setting sun to his right. “It’ll be dark in thirty minutes,” he said to his horse as he patted the big black stallion’s neck. He again raised the binoculars and peered at the valley below. “They’re down there somewhere. If that freak rain squall the day before yesterday hadn’t washed out their tracks, we would’ve had them by now.”
The four men he was now following had robbed a bank in Eagle Rock, Idaho Territory and were headed south toward Utah. Not only did they rob the bank, but they killed the teller and their horses trampled a small boy to death as they fled the town.
Whip was in town visiting an old Army buddy who happened to be the town marshal when the robbery occurred. George Anders prevailed on Whip to take up the hunt when the posse came back three days later empty handed.
“If you had rode with the posse, we would have had them by now,” Marshal Anders said to Whip over a steaming cup of coffee.
“No,” Whip responded. “A posse of town folk just announces your presence. Only dumb outlaws get caught by posses.”
“You name the price, Whip,” George said, “And I’ll see that the town pays it and I’ll even get Judge Merritt to make it dead or alive.”
“I don’t usually bring ’em back dead, George. You know that,” Whip said.
“I know, but just in case . . .” George started to say.
“Two hundred, each” Whip said as he held up his hand to stop George from saying anything else. “Fifty now so I can provision myself out and the rest when I get back.”
“Done,” said George as he reached out and shook Whip’s hand. “But that sounds awful high to me.”
“How bad do you want these men?” Whip asked.
“Bad,” George said. “Bill was a good family man. And little Abel Hayes was a nice boy. He didn’t deserve to be trampled like that.”
“Nobody does,” Whip said as he sipped at the cup of coffee.
“Whip, I don’t need to tell you, but you know how much the community needs that twenty thousand dollars they took,” George said. “A small town like this would disappear without that money.”
“I’ll bring back every cent,” Whip said as he stood, shook the marshal’s hand, and left his office.
“He’s still up there. I know he is,” said Curly Dobbins as he nervously paced around the camp. “You just don’t lose a man like Whip Dodge.”
It was now just over a week since Whip had taken the trail. Whip had gotten close enough that they had seen him and Clive Meadows recognized him. Whip had hunted Clive down a year before for bank robbery, but Clive had escaped before the trial and had been on the owlhoot trail since.
“Sit down and relax,” said Abner Tate. Abner considered himself the leader of the gang. “That rain and us doubling back has put some distance between us and him. He’s probably still headed south, thinking we’re still headed south.”
“Oh no,” Curly said nervously as he waived a finger at Abner. “I heard stories about him. I heard that he once trailed a man from Montana to Mississippi nonstop, and then made the man walk back to Montana so they could hang him. They say he can smell better than a bloodhound and see better than a hawk. Tell him Clive. After all, he hunted you down last year.”
“He’s right, Abner,” Clive said. “More than once I thought I had shook him. But then all of a sudden there he was right in front of me looking down the barrel of a sawed off shotgun less than twenty feet away.”
“He’s human,” said Frank Gimble, the fourth member of the gang. “He bleeds just like you and me. I say we set a trap and kill him.”
“And if you hadn’t killed that teller, and Clive run over that kid, he wouldn’t be after us now,” said Curly. “Why did you shoot that teller anyway? We had the money and was almost out the door.”
“He looked like that old drunken pig-turd step daddy of mine,” Frank said coldly. “And yes, I shot him, too.”
Abner said calmly. “Frank’s right. If Dodge gets close enough again, we just set a trap and kill him.”
“He’s not a man easy to kill,” Clive said. “Many tried and many died.”
“Well, we’ll just have to be the ones to succeed,” Abner said through gritted teeth. “Now the horses are rested and it’s getting dark. We’ll head due east for another two, maybe three hours before we stop for the night. I don’t want to hear any more about how good a tracker Whip Dodge is.”
The four outlaws then saddled and mounted their horses and rode east. They stayed in the shadows of the cliff line until the sun had completely set and then went from grove to grove until almost midnight before stopping.
Whip had decided to make his camp on the ridge. Using his Green Mountain knife as a pickax, he dug out a small pit and built a fire. The branches of the pine tree broke up the column of smoke as it wafted through them. The pit kept the light of the fire from being seen from the valley below. Soon Whip was sitting back and enjoying a cup of coffee and some beef jerky while his horse grazed contentedly beside him.
Whip was awake and tending to his horse before the first rays of sunlight shown in the east. Then he stirred the few embers left of his fire and added kindling wood to it. Soon he had a small fire going with coffee boiling. While he waited on the coffee, he took time to quickly scanned the valley below through the binoculars.
It was still too dark to see any details but he looked anyway. Slowly swinging the binoculars from west to east, he could just barely make out the different groves of trees in the dark. He looked as far east as he could and was about to put the binoculars down when he caught the faint flicker of a campfire. The flicker was so small that if he looked straight at it, it disappeared. But if he looked off to one side, he could see it plainly.
In the dark, he had no idea how far away it was. But now he had a direction to follow. And then the flicker was gone.
“What are you doing?” Curly screamed as he sprang from his bedding in the dark and kicked out the small fire that Frank had started. “Even the smallest fire like that can be seen for miles up in them mountains.” Curly turned and nervously searched the darkness for any signs of Whip Dodge.
“I was going to make coffee and fry up some bacon for breakfast,” Frank yelled. “I ain’t afraid of Whip Dodge or any man. And if a small fire gets him here quicker, then he’ll die sooner.” Frank then bent over and began piecing the small fire back together.
“Don’t you light that fire, Frank,” Curly said.
“I told you I’m not afraid of no Whip Dodge,” Frank hissed back. “Now, I’m going to fix me some coffee and bacon for breakfast. If you don’t like it, then you can just leave.” Frank took a match from his dirty vest pocket, held it up in front of Curly in defiance and used his thumbnail to pop the match to life.
Curly made a grab for his gun but stopped in mid draw when he heard the ominous click of a pistol hammer being pulled back beside his right ear.
“Don’t do it, Curly,” he heard Abner whisper. “A gunshot will get Dodge here faster than a little breakfast fire.”
“Abner, you and me been riding together a long time,” Curly said nervously. “First as honest cowhands, now as dishonest thieves. Frank has only been with us a few months. Are you taking his side over mine?”
“No,” Abner said as he lowered the hammer on his pistol and dropped it back into his holster. “I’m only trying to be a peacemaker here. But I do think that Frank is right. The quicker we get Dodge killed, the sooner we can go about spending the loot from that bank.”.
“But I told you and Clive told you,” Curly said as he turned to face Abner. “Dodge is not like any other man. You know me, Abner. I’m not normally afraid of any man. But Whip Dodge just ain’t normal.”
“I been thinking, Abner,” Clive said as he rolled from his bedding. “Suppose we split up the loot now. Each man take his share and go our separate ways. That way we’ll each have a one out of four chance of getting away from Whip.”
“You going coward on us, too?” Frank said as he put some small twigs on the fire he had rekindled.
“No,” Clive said. “Just being smart. There’s only one Whip Dodge but four of us. He can only follow one at a time. We go four different directions and we have a better chance of getting away from him.”
“Like you said,” Frank said as he stood up from the fire. “There’s four of us and one of him. I say there’s safety in numbers. I say we keep going east. We send someone back to check our back trail from time to time and if he gets back on our trail, we set a trap for him and kill him.”
“What do you have in mind?” Abner asked.
“On up ahead aways is a pass,” Frank said. “Its a narrow pass. We put two men on each side. When he comes through, we get him in a crossfire and cut him down.”
“That’s been tried,” Clive said. “Didn’t work then and I doubt it’ll work now.”
“I’ve been through this valley before,” Frank said. “Only way out at that end is the pass. He’ll have to go through it.”
“I like it,” Abner said. “What have we got to lose?”
“Our lives,” Curly said. “I vote with Clive. We split the loot now, separate up, and meet up in Salt Lake City in a couple of months.”
“Well we’re not voting,” Abner said. “We’re going for the pass like Frank said.”
“Abner, please,” Curly said.“It’s getting light,” Abner said as he turned and walked away to take care of some personal business. “We ride in an hour.”