MacCallister, the Eagles Legacy: Dry Gulch Ambush, page 1part #3 of MacCallister Series
MACCALLISTER THE EAGLES LEGACY DRY GULCH AMBUSH
William W. Johnstone
with J. A. Johnstone
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
A Little Bit of William W. Johnstone
Argonne Forest, October 3, 1918
The American attack had begun at 5:30 a.m. on September 26, but the results were less than hoped. The Fifth and Third Corps were successful, but the 79th Division failed to capture the town of Montfaucon, and the 28th Division was stopped cold by formidable German resistance. The 91st Division was forced out of the village of Épinonville, and the 37th Division failed in its attempt to advance at d’Argonne. The result was an attack that ground to a halt, and for the next two days the American troops dug in, and waited for orders for the next move.
The entrenched infantrymen became passive participants as the Allied and German artillery continued to exchange fire. As they passed overhead, the shells from the French 75’s, and the American 155 heavy guns would make a sound similar to that of an unattached railroad car rolling down a track. That made it easy to tell the outgoing fire from the incoming fire, because the arming bands on the German 105 howitzer shells would emit a high-pitched, bansheelike whistle.
“Incoming!” someone yelled, though the warning wasn’t necessary as everyone could hear the shell come screaming in. The intensity of the whistle would also give some indication as to how far away the shell would be, and Duff Tavish MacCallister, Jr., who had his Springfield ’03 rifle disassembled and spread on a sheet of canvas before him, didn’t even bother to duck.
The impact was some two hundred yards away, and Tavish, as he was called, heard the heavy thump of the explosion, then a whirring sound of the shrapnel that spread out within the hundred-foot bursting radius of the shell. He was cleaning his rifle, and he picked up the barrel and looked down inside. That was when his platoon leader, Lieutenant Fillion, arrived in an olive drab, open body, Dodge touring car.
Tavish stood up and smiled, saluting the lieutenant when he stepped out of the car.
“Well now, Lieutenant, when did you get so highfalutin’ that you rated a car like that?”
“It’s not me, Sergeant. It’s you. General Pershing wants to speak with you, and he sent his car.”
“Wait a minute. The general wants to talk to me?”
“He wants to speak with Sergeant Duff Tavish MacCallister, Jr., personally, and he emphasized junior. I’m to take you to him.”
“All right, sir,” Tavish said. “Give me a moment to put my rifle together.”
It took but a moment to reassemble the rifle, and then Tavish followed the lieutenant back to the car.
“Sergeant MacCallister, do you know the general?” Lieutenant Fillion asked.
“No, sir. Oh, I mean I recognize him when I see him, but you sure couldn’t say that I know him. Do you know why he wants to see me?”
“I don’t have the slightest idea,” Fillion said. “I thought perhaps you would know.”
“I’m afraid not, Lieutenant.”
When the car arrived at the Château de Chaumont, Tavish was taken up to the castle. A guard saluted Lieutenant Fillion, who returned the salute.
“Sergeant, would you clear your weapon please?” the guard asked.
Tavish operated the bolt several times until the five .30-caliber rounds had been ejected. He left the bolt open, and the guard nodded, indicating that he could go in.
Inside the castle was a great room that was filled with tables manned by soldiers. In one corner of the room was a field telephone switchboard, and the operator was busily pulling and connecting cords. Attached to the back wall was a large map, marked with pins, and pieces of paper. There were at least four staff officers studying the map, one of whom was General John J. Pershing.
“Wait here, Sergeant,” Lieutenant Fillion ordered.
“Yes, sir,” Tavish said.
Fillion spoke to a major, who approached a colonel, who was one of the staff officers. The colonel looked back at Tavish, nodded, and then spoke to General Pershing. Pershing nodded, and then approached Sergeant MacCallister and Lieutenant Fillion, with a broad smile spread across his face.
Both Tavish and Lieutenant Fillion came to attention and saluted him.
“At ease, at ease,” Pershing said easily, returning the salute, and then offering his hand to Tavish.
“Sergeant, would your father be a big, ugly Scotsman who owns a ranch just outside Chugwater, Wyoming, called Sky Meadow?”
Tavish smiled. “I wouldn’t call him ugly, General. But he is a big Scotsman who owns Sky Meadow.”
“I thought so. The name, Duff Tavish MacCallister, Jr. gave me a hint. Then, when I checked your service file and saw that you had fired the maximum score on the KD range for rifle, I knew it had to be you. I’m a pretty good shot myself. Did you know that?”
“No, sir, though, as a general, I would expect you to be good at just about anything you attempted.”
Pershing laughed out loud. “Spoken like a true diplomat. But I’m talking about when I was a lieutenant. I was rated second in pistol, and fifth in rifle, out of all soldiers in the entire U.S. Army. That’s pretty good, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes, sir, I would say that’s damn g . . . that is, I mean, very good, sir.”
Pershing laughed again. “Damn good describes it, I would say.”
“I see you brought your rifle with you.”
“Yes, sir, but it’s cleared, sir,” MacCallister said.
“Yes, your bolt is open and I can see that. Come out back with me. Major Purcell, the little demonstration I asked you to arrange a bit earlier. Did you take care of setting things up?”
“Yes, General, I did.”
“Good. Gentlemen, I invite you all out back. Sergeant MacCallister is going to put on a display of marksmanship, the likes of which none of you have ever seen. Sergeant MacCallister, are you ready?”
“I beg your pardon, sir, but I’m not sure what this is all about,” Tavish said with a puzzled expression on his face.
“I’ll tell you what I’m talking about, Sergeant. I’m setting you up,” General Pershing said. “I’m going to have you attempt a very difficult shot. And I’m putting pressure on you, by having as big an audience as I can arrange. You see, it is important that you have p
“I’ll get to that later. In the meantime, if you can make this shot, and Sergeant MacCallister, I sincerely hope that you can make it, then I’m going to have a very special assignment for you—an assignment that could well be the means of ending this war. Are you game to try?”
“Yes, sir,” Tavish said.
“I never doubted for a minute. Gentlemen,” he said to the officers who were still gathered around. “Let’s go out back.”
Tavish followed General Pershing and half a dozen of his staff officers outside to the walled-in grounds behind the castle. He looked around once they were there, and saw a table some distance away. Sitting on the table was a wine bottle, and sticking out the top of the wine bottle was a candle. A tiny flame was perched, motionless, on top of the candle.
“I imagine you are wondering about the candle,” General Pershing said.
“Yes, sir, I am,” Tavish admitted.
“How far away is that candle, Major Purcell?”
“It is exactly two hundred and eighty-seven yards, General,” the major replied.
“There’s your range, Sergeant. Two hundred and eighty-seven yards. And, because we are inside the walled grounds of the castle, you have no wind to worry about. It should be an easy shot.”
“You want me to shoot the bottle from here, General?”
“Heavens no, Sergeant. I want you to extinguish the flame, without harm to the candle or the bottle.”
“What the hell?” someone in the group said. “Nobody can do that.”
“I don’t know, I bet a really good shot could,” another said.
“Gentlemen, I am betting that the sergeant can do it,” General Pershing said. “And I will personally cover up to twenty-five bets, as long as none of them are over a dollar.”
“You’ve got yourself a bet, General,” a colonel said.
“I want some of that, too,” another officer said.
“Major Purcell, will you hold the bets, please?” General Pershing asked.
“Yes, sir, General,” Purcell answered.
Pershing looked up at Tavish and smiled.
“There you go, Sergeant. There’s a little more pressure on you now. If you don’t make the shot, you are going to cost me twenty-five dollars. And I don’t like losing money.”
A few of the officers laughed.
“Are you getting nervous, Sergeant?” General Pershing asked.
“No, sir,” Tavish said.
“No? Why not?”
“Because I’ll make the shot, General,” Tavish said easily, confidently.
“Well, Sergeant, that’s a little arrogant, don’t you think?” a captain asked, with a derisive tone in his voice.
General Pershing held out his hand. “It isn’t arrogance at all, Captain, it’s confidence,” he said. Then, stepping back, he held his hand out in a sweeping motion. “Sergeant MacCallister, the stage is yours.”
“Thank you, General,” Tavish said. He took a single round from the ammunition pouch on his web belt, rubbed the point of it against the side of his nose, then put it into the chamber of the rifle, and closed the bolt.
“Don’t get nervous now, Sergeant,” one of the officers said.
Tavish paid no attention to the kibitzer. Instead, he raised the rifle to his shoulder, leaned his head down against the stock, and set up his sight-picture between the rear and front sights. He rested the nonflickering flame just on top of the front sight, took in a breath, let half of it out, then held it, and slowly began squeezing the trigger.
The rifle boomed, and the recoil rocked the end of the barrel up, but nobody was looking at the rifle. They were looking at the candle flame, which was instantly snuffed.
The crowd cheered and applauded, even those who had bet and lost a dollar.
General Pershing collected the money, and then gave all of it to Lieutenant Fillion. “Lieutenant, you and Sergeant MacCallister are in the same company, are you not?”
“Yes, sir, A company, 1st Battalion, 38th Regiment of the Third Infantry Division.”
“I believe the commanding officer of that company is Captain Royal?” Pershing asked.
“Give him this money and tell him to use it to throw a party for his company the next time they are off the line.”
“Yes, sir!” Fillion said with a broad smile.
“Sergeant, come with me.”
Not only Tavish, but Lieutenant Fillion and Major Purcell, who was General Pershing’s adjutant, started with him as well.
“No, gentlemen,” Pershing said, holding out his hand to stop them. “I want to speak to the sergeant alone.”
Tavish went back into the castle with Pershing, through the great room, and to a smaller room off the great room. There, Pershing poured two glasses of wine and handed one glass to Tavish. “To fallen comrades,” he said, holding his glass out, inviting a toast.
“To fallen comrades,” Tavish repeated.
“Before I tell you what task I have in mind, I want to talk to you a bit about your father . . . about my personal encounter with him, and also what I learned about him from Colonel Gibbon, who was once my commanding officer. It might be a rather long story, if you have the patience to hear me out.”
“General, I’ll stay here as long as it takes, and feel honored to do so,” Tavish replied.
Pershing opened a silver cigarette case, offered one to Tavish, and when he declined, lit one for himself before he continued.
“It all began in Chugwater, Wyoming, in 1888.”
Chugwater, Wyoming, July 4, 1888
There was a banner that stretched all the way across First Street from Bob Guthrie’s Lumber Supply to Fred Matthews’ Warehouse. The banner read:
HAPPY 112TH BIRTHDAY
TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
FROM THE PEOPLE OF CHUGWATER, WYOMING
The entire town was turned out for the Independence Day celebration, with First Street turned into a midway of sorts. On each side of the street, the ladies from town and from the surrounding farms and ranches were manning booths where they sold everything from home-canned tomatoes, to baked goods, to quilts. A traveling medicine man had set up his operation at the far end of the street and the barker was doing a brisk business.
The most important event of the day, however, was the big shooting contest, and after two hours of participation, the field had been narrowed down to four people: Elmer Gleason, Biff Johnson, a visiting U.S. Army lieutenant named John Pershing, and Duff MacCallister.
Elmer Gleason was Duff’s ranch foreman. Biff Johnson, who was one of Duff’s closest friends, owned Fiddler’s Green Saloon. Biff, who had served with Lieutenant Pershing during the Apache campaigns in New Mexico and Arizona, was well aware of the young officer’s marksmanship, and had invited him to participate in the shooting match. The competition among the four men, though spirited, was friendly.
For several minutes, as bets were made and covered, the four shooters matched each other shot for shot, with no apparent separation between them.
Rarely had such shooting been seen anywhere, and as word spread through the town of the amazing accuracy shown by the four shooters, the ladies who were manning the booths, and then even the medicine show barker, closed down their own operations so they could witness the magnificent marksmanship that was on display here today.
Each of the shooters had their own supporters, and Duff’s biggest supporter was Meagan Parker, owner of the Ladies’ Emporium, a dress shop which was next door to Fiddler’s Green.
Finally the judges conferred, and then decided to move the target farther away. They did that, and the four men stayed neck and neck until they were shooting from two hundred yards. At the two hundred yard mark, Biff Johnson fell out of the contest, one of his bullets striking three-fourt
There were no other dropouts until the three hundred yard range, when Elmer dropped out. Now, only Duff and Lieutenant Pershing remained.
“We’re out of targets. What are we going to do now?”
“Light a candle,” Duff suggested. “We’ll use that as the target.” A candle was lit, and Lieutenant Pershing fired first. The flame flickered at the pass of the bullet, but didn’t go out.
“Hit,” one of the judges said, observing the candle through a pair of field glasses.
“T’was nae a hit,” Duff said.
“Sure it was,” the judge said. “I saw the flame flicker.”
“T’was but the wind of the passing bullet, t’was nae a hit. If it had been a hit, the candle would have gone out.”
Pershing laughed. “There is no way you are going to snuff a candle from three hundred yards. Not unless you hit the candle. And we aren’t shooting at the candle, we’re shooting at the flame.”
“I can do it,” Duff said, matter-of-factly.
“If you can put the flame out from here, Mr. MacCallister, I’ll hold that you’re a better man than I am,” Pershing said.
“I tell you what,” Duff said. “If I can nae snuff the candle with this shot, I’ll be declarin’ you the winner. If I snuff it, I’m the winner.”
“You don’t have to that, Mr. MacCallister,” Pershing said. “You’re putting it all on the line with one shot.”
“Aye, but there’s other things to do today than stand here shooting until nightfall. And as good as you are, ’tis likely to come down to that.”
“I’ll say there’s other things to do, today,” Meagan said. “You’ll not be forgetting there’s a dance tonight, Duff MacCallister.”
“Sure ’n how would I be forgettin’ the dance, now, when I’ll be takin’ the prettiest lady in Laramie County, aye, and in the whole territory of Wyoming.”
Shortly after Duff MacCallister had arrived in Chugwater, eight men had come to kill him, and before it was over, all eight were lying dead in the street. Duff hadn’t done it without help.
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