Thursday, March 06, 2008

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter XVII

It was noon the following day when Frank Myrick burst excitedly into Charley's saloon, shouting, "Charley, there's a fight in front of Angus McLellen's hotel. Gilbert Godon has gone crazy and is beating the hell out of Alex Montreault. Montreault hasn't a chance against that big bastard. You'd best get there damn quick or he'll be killed."

Charley knew of Godon's reputation1 as a troublemaker, and also knew the man was wanted in Canada for murder. As he ran out the door following Myrick2, he wondered why the Canadian Government had failed to file wanted papers on Godon, and why Godon had suddenly appeared in Pembina?

He arrived at the scene just as Godon was kicking mercilessly at the apparently unconscious Montreault. Spectators had surrounded the pair, but were making no effort to stop the abuse. Seizing Godon by the sleeve, Charley shouted, "Stop it! Stop it! That's enough!"

Godon, a huge powerful man, turned and unleashed a roundhouse swing at the sheriff that would have downed a horse. The blow skimmed Charley's shoulder and in reaction he loosed an open-handed chop that caught Godon across his throat. Godon's eyes bulged as he froze in motion, gasping, suddenly unable to breath. For moments Charley regretted the almost deadly blow, realizing that massive damage might have been done. Godon slowly settled to a sitting position in the snow, his hands at his throat, apparently helpless, unable to breath.

Charley knelt at Montreault's side, carefully rolling the man's body face-up, from the snow. At first glance the man appeared dead, but after long moments small convulsive jerks began in his body, indicating returning consciousness. Disgusted, Charley shouted angrily to several of the bystanders who had watched the fight. "Pick up Alex and take him into the hotel. Get him to a cot."

Turning back to Godon he was relieved to find the man apparently capable of restricted breathing, all of the fight apparently gone.

As the men began to pick up Monteault, Charley exploded, "Don't pick him up like a sack of wheat, he's in bad shape. Get your hands under him and carry him flat.”

Leaning over, he grasped Godon by the shoulder. "Come on, Gilbert. This is one fight you'll pay for."

Getting Godon to his feet required some doing. The man was heavy, retching continually, barely able to breath or remain upright. A small rivulet of blood ran from the corner of his mouth. Charley realized that he had probably caused serious damage to Godon's pharynx. Grimly he thought of the repercussions, then shrugged. What the heck! I was only defending myself.

Escorting the man two blocks to the jail took several minutes, his prisoner barely able to move. The stout, stone-faced breed seemed almost helpless, wheezing for each breath, the damage to his windpipe evidently severe. Flinging open the outside jail door Charley thrust Godon inside. Captain Bob, the jailer, hastily arose from the desk in alarm, "What the hell?"

"Another customer for you, he's been fighting with Montreault. Search him and lock him up -- don't know the charge as yet, it depends upon Montreault's condition and what the witnesses say. The least charge will be assault, but it could also be attempted murder, or even murder if Mantreault dies. Gilbert has killed before."

"Yah, I heard about that. Used an axe on a man at Fort Dufferin, in Canada, just a few miles north of Emerson. But that was years ago."

"It was in October of '73, if I remember right." Charley said. "I was stationed at Fort Pembina at the time. Chief Constable Richard Power of Canada picked him up and he was charged with murder. He was found guilty, suppose to hang, but somehow he evaded the sentence, and then escaped. I'll check further with Fred Bradley, the Justice of the Peace in Emerson. He's a good friend, also a fellow Mason."

Captain Bob quickly searched the prisoner for weapons, finding only a pocketknife and small change. Ordering the two other prisoners to the rear of the cell, Godon was thrust inside, the cell door was closed and locked.

"Will you tell Jud that I've three to feed now?" Bob turned to Charley.

"No problem, everyone downtown probably knows about it already." He walked to the door. "I'm going over to see Alex now; he looked to be in bad shape. I hope those men who carried him into McLellen's had enough sense to send for Doc Appel at the fort. If I see him, I'll have him check Gilbert too." He warned, "You be careful with these three. Remember what happened to Pete. No booze, and make sure no eating utensils or tools are hidden."

Directed into a side room at McLellen's hotel he was surprised to find Doctor Appel already there. Montreault had been stripped to the waist, the doctor busy wrapping his chest with a roll of muslin. Looking up at Charley, Appel said, "He's got at least five broken ribs and one lung is punctured -- also a broken leg. He's black and blue everywhere and coughing blood, might even suffer a concussion. That brute nearly kicked him to death. He should be charged with attempted murder!"

"He will be!" Charley gritted, "How serious is it?"

"It's critical. The puncture of his left lung is causing internal bleeding. If it stops, or if no infection occurs, he's got a fair chance. If not,” He shook his head. Turning to McLellen who stood nearby, he said, "He's got to be kept as quiet as possible. I've given him enough laudanum to keep him asleep for hours, but when he wakes up, you'll have to get more into him. Any movement could kill him. I'll remain in town and check him again after supper. If he has trouble breathing because of an accumulation of blood in his lung, roll him gently onto his right side. It may serve to drain the blood. Come now", he beckoned to McLellen, "I'll show you further, what you must do."

Charley waited in the small lobby until Appel again appeared. The doctor looked incensed. "Isn't Godon supposed to be in prison in Canada? Wasn't he sentenced for murder?"

"Truthfully, I don't know the circumstances, but I'm going to look into it. I'd heard he escaped from prison a couple of years ago, but he's not shown up around here until now. He probably has been farther south. It's my bad luck that he's appeared in town, but I'll see he's charged.”

The doctor looked troubled, "I'm headed to Geroux's for lunch, It is lucky I was in town when this happened. Will you join me? I'd like to discuss the LaRose with you. It appears he won’t come to trial for a long period."

A smiling Marguerite met them at the door of the dining room and seated them at a table. Returning with menus, she asked, "How is that old man, Mr. Montreault. I heard he was severely beaten?"

"News travels fast in this town," Charley smiled grimly. "The doctor here says he's got a chance, but he took quite a beating."

"Good afternoon, young lady!" Appel smiled pleasantly. "What is your interest in Mr. Montreault?"

Marguerite smiled, "None I guess, except that he's harmless. His only trouble is his mouth, he can't keep it shut."

Charley looked down at the table and smiled. "A lot of people in town have that problem."

Marguerite looked perturbed, "I hope you aren't referring to me."

"Nope, just spoke in general terms -- making an observation." He looked up to wink at her.

After placing their order, Dr. Appel said, "Do you think the jury will bind LaRose over for trial?"

"I'm sure of it. His reputation will be the clincher. The trouble is, now I've got three men to hold for trial in July. I've got to feed and keep them until then. The commissioners will be wild at the expense since the district court won't pay a cent on their keep. I'll be glad when they get the new courthouse finished, but that won't be available until fall. The old log jail isn't too secure. Then again, taking the prisoners out each day to cut their own firewood isn't a safe policy. Still, it's an order set down by the county commissioners in an effort to save money. I just hope the jailers keep on their toes. By the way, would you stop over there and check Godon? I may have damaged his neck with the heel of my hand. He has trouble breathing."

"You could have damaged some of his laryngeal cartilage. That's a chancy place to strike a man."

"I know, but I did the first thing that came to mind. He's a dangerous man!"

"I'll check him over after we eat. Frankly, if his windpipe is damaged there is little I can do. It will probably heal with time."

With the LaRose case still not settled, Charley decided to contact Fred Bradley, the Justice of the Peace at Emerson, concerning Godon's status.

Bradley was surprised to hear that Godon had made an appearance in Pembina. "You bet we want him over here, Charley. Although his sentence for the murder of Marchand was commuted, he was transferred to our provincial penitentiary at Upper Fort Garry. In September he broke from the woodpile where he was working with several other prisoners. He made it to a small boat moored on the river. The prison guards were lousy shots; they fired at him but missed. You probably know the rest. He gathered up his wife and scooted to your side of the line."

"But wasn't there some hassle in Emerson shortly after that? Wasn't he captured again?"

"That's the embarrassing part." Bradley wore a look of chagrin. "I had heard he occasionally visited his brother in Emerson, so I laid a trap for him. I deputized Bill and John Lucas, together with my bailiff, William, in case he came back. When we received a tip he was at his brother's house, William was posted at the back entrance to seize him. Bill burst into the house to confront Gilbert, but Godon's mother and sister-in-law tore into him, kicking, biting and screaming. During the excitement Godon slipped out the door and surprised William, grabbing his revolver, then throwing it into a clump of weeds.”

"John managed to run around the corner of the house just as Godon calmly walked away, but his gun failed to fire. Bill, finally free of the two women, got out of the house and was able to fire four shots, but he missed each time. When I arrived at the scene it was all over. Godon had disappeared into the underbrush along the river, evidently crossing to your side of the border. He hasn't been seen since. We never did get around to issuing papers on him; he just disappeared." He smiled guiltily, "We figured he'd stay away from Canada."

Charley shook his head, hardly able to believe his ears. He remarked sarcastically, "Three men and he got away clean?"

Fred looked sheepish. "I should have gone along with my men. I knew they had no experience at apprehending a desperate man. 'Course, neither had I, come to think of it."

"Well, I'm charging him with attempted murder. Another minute or two and Montrault would have been dead. As it is, he has several broken ribs and a punctured lung. He's hanging on, but it's going to be close. If he dies, Godon will hang just as sure as God made little green apples. Incidentally, where did Godon come from originally?"

"Don't know exactly, but I know a few things about him. He came into being shortly after the Riel uprising, used to hang out at Fort Garry and St. Boniface. He also had a bad reputation for fighting and swinging a bottle -- hung out at Fort Garry's, Pride of the West Saloon. It's said the soldiers patronized the bar by day, the Métis, by night. It was only a matter of time until they tangled since they hated each other.”

"During one of the many donnybrooks between the soldiers and Métis, someone fired a shot at Sinclair, the bartender. Godon stepped in the way and took the bullet in his right arm. When reinforcements arrived from the soldiers barracks, Godon was treated and the whole thing was covered up as youthful exuberance.”

"Later he appeared out at Fort Dufferin where old Fawcett was selling illegal liquor to the soldiers. I guess everyone got pretty drunk and when Fawcett tried to shut them off, Benjy Marchand caused trouble, pushing and shoving at Fawcett. A wild fight began between Marchand and Godon, and as Godon's brother and father were present, the Marchand bunch was booted out of the house. They were badly used.”

"When the fight was over Fawcett proceeded to set-em-up again. Then Godon went outside and dragged Marchand in, beating him even more, knocking him to the floor unconscious. Seizing an axe he struck Marchand, and when a man attempted to intervene, Godon again hit Marchand with the blade, killing him, almost splitting his head."

"Faucett was scared so he ran over to the Boundary Commission headquarters and returned with a group of soldiers under Sergeant Armstrong of the Royal Engineers. Godon surrendered and was held overnight, but the head of the Boundary Commission refused to accept the responsibility for him. Released, he escaped prosecution by crossing over to your side of the border."

"I recollect that," Charley murmured. "Bill Morehead put him in jail a few days after the affair for picking fights in town. I remember when constable Power came over to pick him up."

"Yes, a grand jury brought a true bill of murder against him, and a bench warrant was issued. When we got him back the jury deliberated only a few minutes, then sentenced him to death. He was only 22 years of age then, tall, heavy and bull-strong.

"He shared a cell with Joseph Michaud, a gunner of the artillery. Michaud was to hang in August for stabbing a passerby who attempted to stop a fight between Michaud and another soldier. When Michaud was hanged, Dugald Sinclair took up for Godon, beginning a campaign for clemency. He managed to get Godon's sentence commuted to a long term in prison, that's when he was transferred to Upper Fort Garry." He hesitated, "You know the rest as I've told it. He escaped from there."

Charley rose to his feet. "We'll see how he fares at his trial in July. If he gets off lightly, I expect you'll want him back, won't you?"

"I certainly do! I'll watch your trial with interest and have papers forwarded so you can hold him for us."

During his ride back to Pembina, Charley considered the problem of his three prisoners. His worry was compounded by the caliber of his jailers. They each served a twelve-hour shift for their one-dollar a day pay. He knew that all three prisoners would be actively planning an escape. He wished he didn't have to resort to the dregs of town for jail guards, but the county commissioners refused to pay more for good men.

Charley finally made amends with his mother after she surprised him with an evening visit to his apartment. Invited inside, she eyed the interior of his apartment with surprise. "You certainly have improved your quarters. Eugene said your furniture was all old and worn. What I see looks new. Did you lose all your other belongings in the fire?"

"No, it was all saved, I just decided to splurge a little." He smiled, "Kinda miss the old stuff though."

"Still, it's not a home for a woman." She watched intently for his reaction.

"Mother, it suits me just fine. I'm a bachelor and don't need fripperies. I don't have a wife to please and I have no immediate plans to acquire one." Instinctively he knew her thinking; she was probing his mind, attempting to delve into his association with Marguerite.

She changed her tactics at his blunt answer. "I may have a pleasant surprise for you in the near future, perhaps in the month of May. I won't tell you any more, since it's to be a surprise, but you'll enjoy it."

Puzzled, he asked, "Are the rest of the Harris family finally coming out here?"

"No, that's not it; I've had no word from Charles or his mother; this is entirely another matter." She felt a smug satisfaction.

"Well, I'll not worry if it's a secret." He arose from his chair, turning toward the kitchen. "As long as you're here I'll make us tea. Do you still take lemon with yours?"

"So you remembered!" She followed him to the kitchen where he struck a match to light both a table lamp and wall sconce.

"Do you remember the good times back in Martinsburg when you were a boy?"

"Oh, there good times, but then bad times came just before war broke out. I never realized the stress Pa must have been under, trying to keep the lid on things. No wonder he rode me so hard."

"Yes, while Martinsburg was predominantly pro-slavery, there were plenty of Yankee dissenters. We never did understand why you turned to the Union; it nearly broke your father's heart."

Charley looked up at her accusingly, "You've forgotten! I joined the Southern cause, and then Pa and Grandpa Boarman sent some red-necked sheriff after me. After his abuse I was thoroughly disenchanted with the South. You'll remember, the next day I went north and joined the Union Army."

Spooning tea into a pot he then added hot water from the kettle. "I'll let it steep a moment."

As she seated herself at the table, she said, "You were too young for the war, that's why your Father sent south for you. When you were returned to us we never dreamt you'd run away again."

While filtering out the tealeaves he broke into a smile. "I was lucky in the army, managed to stay alive. It was just after I made lieutenant that I was captured. Libby Prison, in Richmond, wasn't all that bad except there was mighty little to eat. Luckily nearly sixty of us managed to escape through a tunnel and got back to Union lines. I guess a lot more were captured because they didn't know the lay of the land. I headed west, swiped some clothes, then I conveniently developed a bad limp." He smiled, "Wrapped my leg with rags so it looked bad. 'Course by the time I got back to the outfit, the war was nearly over."

"Yes, and I remember when the Union troops came to search our house and took everything of value. Grandma had her few gold and silver coins hidden in the bottom of a bowl of peas she was shelling when they searched. They didn't leave us much. You must remember that they took our horses, cows, pigs and everything they could eat."

"Those were hard times," Charley admitted.

"Why did you leave after coming home from the war? I thought you liked your job at the store."

"I was at loose ends and storekeeping grew boring. Plus Josey jilted me. I traveled until my money ran out, then rejoined the army as you already know. In my youth I craved excitement. Now I've settled down to a more staid life."

"Isn't your sheriff job dangerous at times?"

"Nothing like being in the army. While there have been occasional crimes, it's been quiet of late."

"Quiet indeed! I heard you have two murderers in your jail at the moment."

"It runs hot and cold at times."

"Son, you've continued to run with that Grant girl. You must know she's a breed?"

Charley turned to her with a fierce expression. "Yes, I know it. She's a lovely girl, beautiful and talented. Just leave her out of this discussion."

His mother had finished her tea and stood to put on her coat. "She's not a suitable woman for a person of your caliber. You should be more discriminating. You can do far better than to demean yourself."

Charley coldly escorted her to the door. "I've run my own life since I was sixteen years of age. While I respect and love you as my mother, don't attempt to push me. My life is my own."

After his mother left Charley returned to the kitchen to muse over a second cup of tea. Why is it she can get my dander up to easily? She still tries to run people. That surprise she spoke of? I wonder what she's got up her sleeve?

1 - 1872: Gilbert Godon, a Metis from the Red Lake district of the Minnesota Territory, has gone down in history as Manitoba's first official outlaw when he killed Benjamin Marchand during a drinking brawl in 1872. Godon was in many fights and usually nothing serious happened until the night of October 10th 1872. Godon and a group of drinking buddies arrived at the Fort Dufferin home of A.J. Fawcett who was selling liquor illegally, when Fawcett refused to serve the new arrivals he was pushed and threatened by Benjamin Marchand. Godon, in defense of Fawcett, intervened and chased Marchand outside. Marchand?s son (Benjamin Jr.) retaliated by grabbing a shovel and banging Godon on the head. The fight was then joined by Godon's father and brother and the Marchands retreated to the backyard. They then attacked the Godons for a second time and were again repelled. After the victory, Fawcett remembered that he did have some whiskey hidden, and began serving the victors of the fight. An hour later Gilbert went outside for fresh air and ran into young Benjamin in the yard. Fearing another attack, he grabbed Marchand and dragged him inside. He then knocked him down several times and began striking him on the head with the back of an axe head. Before his family and friends could intervene, Godon struck Marchand in the head with what was to later prove to be a fatal blow from the blade. Fawcett then went to the nearby headquarters of the Boundary Commission (help at Fort Garry was 95 km. north). He returned with fifteen men led by Sergeant James Armstrong of the Royal Engineers. Benjamin died shortly after their arrival so they detained Godon. However, the officer in charge of the Boundary Commision refused to accept responsibility for him and he was released. He then fled across the border into Dakota Territory. Subsequently, a coroner's jury found Gilbert to be responsible for Marchand's death and on November 12, 1873, a grand jury brought a charge of murder against him and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Six months after arriving in North Dakota Godon was involved in another fight and jailed at Pembina. Manitoba's chief constable, Richard Powell, learned of this and traveled to Pembina to return Godon to Winnipeg. On June 19th, 1874, Godon appeared in court and plead not guilty. The following Monday, his trial was held, the jury deliberated for thirty minutes, found him guilty and he was sentenced to hang on August 26th. Godon, however, still had the sympathy of one man, bartender Dugald Sinclair, whose life Godon had saved in 1870. Sinclair began a campaign for clemency and in response to these petitions, the government commuted Godon?s sentence to 14 years imprisonment. He was then transferred to the provincial prison at Upper Fort Garry. On the morning of September 23, 1876, Godon bolted from the work gang he was on, grabbed a small boat and took off across the Red River. He then collected his wife and his horse and again fled to the Dakota Territory. He lived back and forth between Pembina and his brother's place at Emerson. In 1877, Bradley, the Justice of the Peace at Emerson sent a posse to pick Godon up at his brother's house. Godon met them with a revolver in each hand, then in the meelee caused by his mother and sister-in-law he again escaped. In February of 1880 he was again arrested for a brawl at Pembina, locked up again only to escape soon after with Frank La Rose. He and LaRose were reported to be in a Half-Breed camp on the Missouri River five months later. LaRose died shortly after their arrival of hunger and exposure. Gilbert Godon survived, never to be seen in Canada again. - From the Manitoba Metis Federation website...

2 - "...Prior to 1878 there had been a few shipments of wheat, which had been picked up along the river by the boats. Frank C. Myrick, who was in the commission business from 1864, made the largest shipment on one of the boats ever made from Pembina. It amounted to 500 bushels of wheat, which he had collected from the back country on the Pembina and Tongue rivers." - History of Wheat Raising Wheat in the Red River Valley (First Wheat Raising Near the Pembina River), Minnesota Historical Society Collections (1899-1904), General Collections, Library of Congress