Once upon a time in America’s Wild West, there was a woman known as Darling Clementine. Not her real name, of course. But a song on the radio brought instant fame.
Years later came a boy-child, named Samuel Clement, who took her name in jest. A friendly little guy until aged twenty-one in the 1920s, when he gained maturity and sprouted a further five inches in height.
Samuel read news and gossip stories on Clementine and another western woman wonder: Calamity Jane. He admired their exotic tales. Especially Jane’s, with her wild antics and straight shooting — she, from a photograph, could have been a man. Jane loved the legendary fellow called Wild Bill. This affection and hard liquor were the woman’s downfall.
One day Samuel’s prosperous father surprised, told him to take time off. “Explore this new country for a few months, Sonny, see how others live before returning to take over the reins of our family enterprise. Go find one of those loose ladies called Buffalo Gals. Tame one an’ bring her on back home.”
Samuel thought, why not? His father was not the usual ornery-old Smithy.
Cody Clement, Dad, owned two horse stables, with full-service blacksmith facilities in three nearby cities. His father had learned well, invested satisfactorily in the town’s traveling public, and was popular with visiting horse people. He was the richest man in his hometown of Olympia, Washington State.
Leaping at a chance to head away, Samuel had night dreams that could lead to interesting challenges. The near future was uncertain. His family’s underlying wishes were undetermined. With a favorite horse named Savvy, he packed a sack with sparse belongings, short pants, sandals, cookware. A snare for rabbits. It being winter, the young man headed south toward warmer climes. But not before father stuffed one saddlebag with a stack of greenbacks and a dozen gold coins. Encouraging any Buffalo woman to his northern abode would not come cheap.
During the early years of the past century, young Samuel Clement had purchased a couple of dresses, some lacy underwear, and high leather boots with tall heels. All for covert fun.
When Samuel finally got the gumption and started traveling, at age twenty-five, now a rough and ready guy, but remaining as the femme, Lady Jane, he battled jibes and scorn from intolerant persecutors. Along the way, he encountered a land of witches and minstrels telling fun fortunes, gamblers that told bald lies, and several times, during nights of a full moon, a talking Sasquatch. A shadowy, massive beast that urged him on to California. “It’s a la-la land of impossible dreams.”
Bushwhacking south, from Washington State’s dripping forests to The Mojave’s drier sands, in small-town California he changed again — Samuel became known as Clement, an intrepid, adventurous woman, notorious for causing chaos. With two six-guns on her dressy hips, ‘Wild Clementine’ could have been Samuel’s fighting name. Tossing the wig, letting his hair grow out, with his long nose and skinny features, she pictured herself joining a clan of frontier sorceresses.
It’s a long, lonely ride by Appaloosa through Oregon’s Coastal Mountains, and the tall Sierra Madres to California deserts. Along the way, Clement learned to cut and shape his gingerish curly mop and to shave the latent whiskers close. He stuffed an old corset with fur pelts, stuck out his chin and chest, and became his favorite heroine: Calamity Jane. No she-devil witches, not just yet. The stringy corset pinched.
“There are new worlds to explore,” the pursuing sasquatch persisted. Clement, as Samuel the boy, had dealt with this hairy beast before. Out camping near a lake he’d heard its fearsome screams in the night.
“Come to my fire,” said Samuel. “Be my friend.”
Mojave Village got smaller real quick one day. The sheriff there was a dead-eyed skunk named Slack Trump. Slacker appointed himself district mayor, his drunken three brothers, Huey, Archibald, and Duff, acted as small-town council.
Seems Mayor Slack and company tried to force Clement to dance a tune in that fancy dress one day. They thought her guns were unloaded. His inner heroine, Jane, came forth for a thunderous occasion.
Six-shooters empty, Clement buried them in County Mohave’s Boot Hill, what was left of that town soon fell to pieces. So — she looked down a beckoning trail. A woman in Barstow had called out for help. That city was three-days’ ride away, across dry mesas and ochre dunes of blowing sand — deserted places — those with sun-varnished log structures and howling ghosts of night’s long past.
Sasquatch, a magical northern creature, craved trees, hidden caves, and dark tunnels. One night he plain disappeared. His final word to Clement: “See you at Harrison Lake, Clem, in Canada. The water’s warm there, and I’m always at hand. Take life as it comes, boy.”
This high Mojave Desert came with lively spring flowers, Joshua trees, and tall, red-blooming Ocotillos. The land of Mojave held granite canyons and washed out rugged arroyos. Places where one could hide out for weeks. Or Clement could camp and watch any daring followers; company always welcome, but only certain types.
Those calling themselves the law wanted Clement as a painted lady, complete with picture posters. Still, inside, Samuel was a virile male who preferred a lady’s modest dress and the company of rare but gracious females. This, compared to most women’s more arrogant male counterparts.
The bigger town of Barstow’s women begged Clement to come by for cleanup. Their city was rife with gamblers, gunmen, crooked vermin, and cheerless prostitution. But, as Clement already knew — like fish, a town rots head down.
Barstow needed what’s known as a ‘Town Tamer.’ Those days, Clement possessed that crazy reputation. Dressing proper, shaving daily; watching her wishes became a way of life, she loved wearing bright lipstick, brass dangle earrings, and her pair of ivory handled .44s. If she must wear a weapon, as she usually did, it must be pretty. Her polished pistols glittered in noon-day sun.
Barstow’s more-honest and modest women had sent Clement a telegraph message. ‘Come help!’
“We dunt carry guns, Miss Clement,” said Sally Ann Rafferty, a truthful and friendly blonde, a grand bartender by reputation. “Me husband, Billy, he dunt do guns either. He works in the silver mine with dynamite an a pick. He won’t have me become any floozy. See me roll suckers, then bed-sack all those damned gamblers with silver coins and little-boy dicks. I ain’t no damn Buffalo Girl.”
The assembled troop of wives groaned and chuckled as one. Sally Ann grabbed Clement’s fist in hand and continued. “My Billy said, ‘I’m gonna get us a shotgun, Sally Ann. Or we’ll have’ta move to Tombstone, down in Ar’zona.’ I don’t wanna go.”
Another wild town, that Tombstone, Clement thought, rejecting it weeks ago. Another damn settlement of silver with no soul.
This meeting among worried women took place in the only schoolhouse left open by the appointed mayor of Barstow City.
A seamstress named Lucy-Lue waved a shiny pistol overhead. “This town is run by alcoholic brigands and oblivious clowns. I’m all for a clean-out of those chumps. My son taught me how to shoot.” She aimed her .38 Smith at the school’s whitewashed ceiling.
Clement’s and Sally Ann’s horrified looks emphasized a thundering blast of flame and blue smoke. A black hole appeared in the tall ceiling.
“Ladies … ladies be calm!” shouted Clement. “As a woman, I feel and hear your woes. I’m no needy bar maid, my big nose and horsey face scare most men away. I love children and reading books and I admire decent fathers. I bake biscuits over morning campfires. I pan creeks for glittery nuggets an’ I share hot meals with needy down-an-outers on the trail.”
Clement tossed her hat to a handy wooden stand, missing by a wide margin. Laughter.
“What’s needed tomorrow is more of us.” She grinned, adjusted her laced leather bodice, and lowered her speaking tone to a stage whisper.
All ears and eyes tuned as those attending focused on Clement’s soft-spoken voice.
“I want a dozen additional town-folks, girls. Maybe a few burly guys? Nice fellows, men us classy gals might control. ‘Specially those guys with families to protect.”
Clement chuckled low, with a solemn wink. Her extended eyelashes were colored to match her hair, with gold-dust and a mixture of campfire soot, dabs of lard mixed with honey. “Leave the town’s leaders, those sick mules, to me,” she expostulated. “We’re gonna tame this here city, going block-by-block and bar-to-bar.”
Lucy-Lue, perhaps seeing her chance as champion, stood and directed. “Go home, ladies. Tuck in the children, appease your man, spread the word to women. Changes is coming to town.”
Next day the scene was planned for that evening’s action. Twenty-five women of all ages, with six older men and four assorted teenagers, met at the school-house, the only place of education left by ill-informed town fools.
This crowd of rebels brandished weapons—from axes to ball bats to pistols, three shotguns, and a shovel. Not a lot of firepower to tackle a hundred business owners with thirsty gangsters and ranchers from those far-flung wilderness valleys.
Clement had no problem with any of this. As a would-be woman, she shared a fit of momentous anger with these good people. “I’ve seen hangings of innocents, I saw good women stripped and hung an’ flogged. I’ve dealt with the worst things any fella can offer. Barstow, from whut you all say, is chosen by the devil’s infidels. We must scourge this city.”
From her holsters, Clement drew two nasty black revolvers and pointed these to the hole in the roof. The crowd exploded to its feet, screams and applause, as she emptied both cylinders into a bare ceiling. “It never rains in Barstow. Who cares about holey roofs?”
Sally Ann called for quiet from the raucous assembly.
“We need a few more public schools, ladies an’ gents,” Clement crowed. “Politicians hate the educated. Get your tar and feathers, folks, an’ gallons of coal oil … we shall burn the saloons and Jukejoints to the ground.”
The women loved her bold and manly style. They roared with applause as Clement continued. “The cash and silver we shall take, these will help us build anew. Girls need educatin’, too.”
More trills and laughter came. Clement was on her way. Death before disgrace.
“Those women of ill-repute will have sticky new plumes for them to sport in public life—as the grifters all head out of town. Them swindlers that repents will make any local bachelor’s day and night.”
From her days as an educated young man, Clement knew New York was not built in a day. She would need these peaceful men and women at her side. Problem was—money. The town heathens owned it all. Honest men must have jobs to support families. Everything she torched would need rebuilding. However, Clement had plans. Once the incredible deeds were done, and all the reigning politicos put to rest under a wooden cross, she’d need Uncle Sam’s help.
The White House would need to send an army of trained soldiers and semi-honest bureaucrats to settle this coming rift. But first …! Well, shooting downtown puppets, packrats, and jugglers was still frowned upon by many. But not so much, Clement knew, if things happened in the wide-open Southwest States. From Dakotas through Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, real men made the law. California was a little iffy and laid-back.
After all, plans are plans. Clement could always move to New Mexico. No, never Texas. She would not tolerate their twang an’ southern slang.
Clement’s thoughts shifted back to an older lifestyle in northern Washington, where torrents of rain formed the misty goddess of all inclement weather. She, as Samuel, had once owned a wide, black Bumbershoot and knee-high gum-boots of bright yellow, for the wet. Bumbershoot, a combination of brelly and parachute names. A stupid contraption used by numbskulls in London and Corpus Christi, Texas, to leap from tall buildings in a bound.
How times changed. Today, along with her pink or yellow petticoats, Clement wore six-guns, a cowpoke’s white Stetson hat, and purple riding boots that made her stand just over six feet tall. The old rubbers and rain umbrella had long been chucked in a sandy wash for Sasquatch to take home.
At times, Clement missed her old self. Life as a gun-slinging woman could be somewhat severe.
Clement wondered if she would have to shoot the mayor and his gaggle of goonies. The town sheriff was appointed by the mayor, the owner of The Palace Gambling Hall. This man was a stocky and elusive abuser of innocent women. Named Marion Doolittle, with a pointed yellow goatee, a golden head of wild hair, and gray mutton-chops, he resembled some form of trumpeting demon.
Sheriff Axel Gomer was a red-haired runt. He was no match for Wild Bill Hickok as gambler or gunfighter. Wild Bill—as soldier, army scout and showman—was one of Clement’s earliest front-line heroes. Gomer and his wicked pals owed the mayor a ton of silver from gambling debts. No solution for that.
‘The Axe,’ as he was known to his party buddies, once said to Sally Ann: “I spit on my Ma and Pa’s graves. They made me short and skinny and angry. Now, ’cause I got a big badge, I get to spit on the likes a-you. Light my cigar, babe.” He’d smacked Sally Ann on the ass. He and his gutless cronies offered no help to children, women, or men of decent families.
Clement, acting as Jane, was mix-handed. With her ability to shoot fast and straight with two pistols, using both hands, she’d saved her own and others’ lives countless times. If her wiles as a young woman didn’t work, and they often did not, her six-guns surely did. A few friends adored her lifestyle. Bad guys did not.
If only men would stop coming on—daring me to draw a weapon and fire.
But for the rain, she’d head back home for Okanogan County and hang up her guns, jumpers, and skirts for good. Somehow, life as a loner interfered. This red-neck burg, Barstow, especially its little children, needed help. And Clement intended to give it all. Four simple lawmen, no huge problem. She had Lucy-Lue and Sally Ann at her back, both wielding shotguns. Not quite the OK Corral shoot-out, but something like it. Calamity Jane would be proud.
The town welchers, those businessmen who squeezed every last penny, offering marked cards or slinky women and raw whiskey, deserved to be exterminated—or ridden out of town on a rail. After-all, Clement thought, Barstow has plenty of empty boxcars to spare.
Next day, at high noon, Clement and friend Lucy-Lue explained the way it would work. Lucy-Lue, not to be outdone by a woman in tall boots and shorter dress, wore Levi Strauss blue denim and a .38 revolver. Sally Ann had her double barrel 10-gauge shotgun. These women did not have much to say. The news from Mojave had traveled lightning-quick by mouth.
Sheriff Axe and his deputies stood in awe before an array of angry women, one armed with a six-foot, lethal pitchfork. Another woman held a branding iron and pot of hot coals.
“You fellers are out of Barstow,” drawled Clement. “Ya leaves town in an hour, Axe.”
Sally Ann leveled her barrel at the three others. “Yeah, deputy dogs, before you jump a boxcar, we’re ordering you to deliver the mayor to Suzi’s Saloon. Bring his henchmen for our little party at three o’clock. You can drop the gun-belts and badges right here. Scoot now.”
The plan was underway. Clement, Lucy-Lue, and Sally Ann, with tin stars and weapons and a growing crowd of fifty women, stalked through city streets. Cash boxes grabbed, pockets emptied, roadhouse bars and tables flattened. “Leave. Take your sluttish Buffalo Gals along for the ride,” threatened Clement, as her female mob railed.
As unscrupulous owner after owner packed their bags, several sleazy saloons were crushed and razed. A pall of gray smoke remained, hanging over the city for a day or two. The hot rays of sunshine dimmed for several hours.
Clement stood at town square under a fluttering Stars and Stripes as some thousand assembled residents clapped, cheered, and whistled.
My first wolf whistle, she thought, savoring the moment. Clement held herself taller and straighter. For once it brought tears, her rouged face running, distorting features.
“Any hapless business owner here fails to heed our warning; we’re gonna paint his house pink and black. Then comes tar and feathers.”
By morning, two days after, the ever-blue skies cleared of smoldering wood-smoke. Barstow would never be the same. Houses of pastel pinks and flat black seemed deserted. Most buildings showed broken doors and sheet-covered busted glass. These structures aged over time in the sun. A reminder of a timeless woman. A man close friends called Clementine.
“Grapevine has it, according to Sally Ann,” said Lucy-Lue, “Clement, the gunfighter, became tired of blood, sweat and gritty dust. She craved cool rain and a warm shower.”
Clement had handed her guns to Lucy-Lue and disappeared one day from the city.
A year ago, the last time anyone received a letter from her, it was from Darling Clementine. Postmarked: Bodie, the ghost town, Okanogan County, Washington State. It showed a sizeable fuzzy imprint, a thumbprint in blue ink, on the reverse side. Inside, the writing was concise.
… Men like me are shameless being women like you, Lucy-Lue. But the witches in this state do not believe in guns and killing, or in men such as I. They prefer rainy nights, pointy hats and long-tailed corn brooms. And genuine males, regular guys.
—Clement and Sassy in Washington say Hi! Keep yur powder dry.
“There should be a ballad,” murmured Lucy-Lue. “That gal was a Darling fer sure.”
Rand Hill lives in the southern Okanagan area of British Columbia. He is a former reporter and managing editor of a weekly newspaper. Hill enjoys writing tales of the deserts of California and Arizona. He loves telling tales of many creatures inhabiting his novels—Roadrunners, Kit Fox, Kangaroo Rats and Raven. He learns the art of a novel from the writer's group Scribophile. His genres include romance, travel, mystery and humor. Road trips are special ventures.