Mystery of the Hollow Tree – Garren’s First Job (Part 2)

20130301-114240.jpgGarren Rader, US Marshal, rode upon the heart-breaking scene with a totally different intent. It seemed like only yesterday to him as well that he had received a message at his brand-new desk at the home office. The telegram had come to him as the newest member of the Marshal force.

“We need your help in Valley County, Nebraska. Just last week a neighbor of ours was killed after he refused to give some strangers his horse. The men have stayed around, and we are unsure of what to do. Please send someone to help with this problem if at all possible.”

The telegram had been signed by a “Sam Hawthorne”, a name totally unknown in the office.

“Does anyone know how we got this message?” Garren asked Captain Smith. “And where in the world is Valley County, Nebraska?”

“The message actually came from a local sheriff.” Captain Smith looked over Garren’s shoulder. “He forwarded it to us in the hopes that we might be able to help out.”

“Why doesn’t he handle it?”

“It appears to be outside his jurisdiction. See that there?” Smith pointed to the words that indicated the truth of what he was saying.

“So, I’m the one to help out, is that what I’m hearing?” Garren wasn’t excited about the trip to Nebraska, but looked forward to his first job with the US Marshals.

“Are you up to it?”

“I’ll do my best, sir.”

With those words echoing in his ears, Garren rode up to a low soddy the day before the funeral. He had been told that the Hawthorne’s lived over the hill to the west, but the neighbor was not sure what he would find.

“They’ve had a rough time of it lately,” the bushy, soft-spoken farmer showed a remarkable interest in the situation.

“What do you mean?”

“Sam sent the kids over here a few days ago. Said his wife was in the mothering way. He came back yesterday and said the baby had died. It’s been a tough year in a number of ways for us out here, but Sam has sure gotten more than his fair share.”

This man seemed inclined to talk, and there was not another man alive more capable of getting information our of a talkative informant than Garren Rader; easy-going Irishman, and openly friendly.

“That’s tough alright.” Garren drew the man into deeper conversation. “This land looks like it would take a real man to make it pay – even in the good times.”

“You’re exactly right, lad. By the way, the name’s Matthews…Joseph Matthews. Sam’s our closest neighbor…what’s your reason for riding this way?”

“I got a message saying you had some men stirring up trouble.” Garren took his badge from his pocket and held it out to the man.

“That’s one of those things Sam’s struggled with these past few months.”

“What do you mean?” Garren sensed that Joseph could be a big help.

“Several months ago some rough men started coming into the area. We have been looking at starting a school, and it’s been a wee bit divisive – to say the least.”

“That wouldn’t be the first time.” Garren wanted to make sure this man kept talking. “But what does that have to do with my message?”

“The man that brought in those men was another neighbor of ours, George McMillan. He wanted control of the school situation, so he brought in men that would do what he wanted.”

“And…” Garren was trying not to sound too excited, but it wasn’t easy. He knew this type of information could save him days or weeks in doing his job. To get this type of largely unbiased knowledge was worth a tremendous amount of leg-work.

“After the matter was decided, those men stayed around.” Joseph was trying to choose his words with care. “It seems as though George felt that he needed to…ah…impress those men. He picked a fight with Sam and even took a shot at him as Sam was leaving the school meeting. We had to arrest him for assault and battery with intent to kill, first in the county. George ended up in jail over to Loup City.”

“So he’s not our man.”

“No,” Joseph shook his head in agreement, “but one of those men murdered a man a few weeks later. As far’s we know, that man is still in the area. Sam might know more.”

That was all Garren knew as he stood waiting for the funeral to end the next day. He had made camp in a dandy little clump of trees that night rather than approach the house at this difficult time.

Now he looked at the haggard face of Sam Hawthorne, wishing there was something, anything, that he could do to ease even a little of the pain there. He felt as though he could read the anguish that this young father was going through. One of these loses could be defeated, maybe even two, but this was too much. He could live with being shot at, could handle the loss of the farm – maybe, but now the death of his newborn son…it was just too much.

Suddenly an idea came to Garren and he moved over to the side of the new mother, and grieving parent. She was trying to sit up so she could see and hear.

“Ma’am,” he whispered as he moved to the side of the wagon, “is there anything I can do for you? Are you comfortable?”

“Mister,” the eyes that looked into his were filled with pain almost beyond belief. “That grave contains my newborn son. I would sure like to be able to hear the words being said over him.”

“I’m your man. Do you mind if I pick you up?” Garren reached over the side of the wagon as she shook her head, and easily picked up the underfed woman. “Have you had anything to eat lately?”

“I’ve been too weak. It’s alright. I’ll bounce back quick.”

Garren was not so sure, but now was no time to argue. He could feel the fragile body, almost feel the anguish as Sarah Hawthorne tried to hear the words that were being said.

“Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.” These words, from Psalm 104 are worth considering today.” The preacher was trying to put things in perspective; trying to finish up the service.

Garren carried Sarah to the edge of the small crowd. Sam saw them and moved over to stand next to his wife.

“Honey,” Sam immediately turned his attention to his wife, “you should be in the wagon.”

“And miss the service of my dead son?”

“Don’t talk that way. Honey, you’re too weak…” He seemed unsure what to say next. Instead he turned back to listen as the pastor finished up the sermon.

They all bowed their heads as the minister finished with a short prayer. While several of the crowd started toward Sam and Sarah, Sam wanted to care for his wife first.

“This strong man carried me up here like it was nothing.” Sarah turned and looked at Garren again. “I don’t even know your name, sir.”

“Garren Rader, US Marshal.”

Sam immediately turned his attention from his wife. “You’re the one that answered my letter?”

“That would be me.” Garren allowed the smallest smile to cross his lips. “But I’m sorry I have come at such a hard time.”

“We’re so glad you’re here.” Sam held out his hand and then withdrew it again as he realized that Garren couldn’t shake hands while holding his wife. “i’m sorry. Let’s get Sarah back to the wagon.”

The rest of the small crowd was slowly dispersing, and the pastor walked up to them as they got back to the wagon.

“If there’s anything I can do…” He placed his hand on Sam’s shoulder.

“Thank you, pastor.” Sam turned and shook hands. “We’ll be fine. This man is a US Marshal. I’m sure he’ll be able to help us.”

“I pray that will be true. He’s got his hands full.” The pastor moved off to talk to some of the last people still gathered as they filed away from the freshly turned soil.

Garren suddenly wished, for one of the few times in his life, that he was more knowledgeable. He was finding himself wishing he had someone to back him up. He wasn’t sure why he felt that way, he assumed it was because of the pastor’s words.

“…we’re sure that the man is still in the area.” Sam had been talking to him, and he was drawn back to the present.

“I’m sorry,” Garren grew slightly red with embarrassment. “I was just thinking. What did you say?”

“The man that murdered Mike is still in the area. We’re sure of it.”

‘How do you know that?” Garren was surprised by the certainty that Sam and Joe had in this fact.

“Well,” Sam thought for a moment, “for one thing no one has seen him leave. And we’ve all been keeping our eyes open for him.”

“But there’s lots of room to leave undetected.” Garren wasn’t convinced by this piece of news.

“There’s also the fact that the man’s personal articles are all still in his house.” Sarah added this bit of information.

“But the main reason I’m so sure,” Sam concluded, “is that these men seem to feel that they are untouchable. None of us has the ability to take on this man with a gun, and everyone know that Sheriff Gooden can’t come across the county line. We even had to arrest George ourselves.”

“How about the soldiers at the fort?” Garren was surprised that the people of the community hadn’t asked for help from the fort, which was only thirty miles away. It would have been much quicker than calling in the Marshals.

“I contacted them.” Garren would quickly learn that Sam was a very competent man, and had tried everything he could think of already. “Captain Ord said that they had to keep the soldiers close because of the threat of Indian attack right now.”

Garren had heard rumors of unrest among the nearby Indians, but had not thought of it. “Alright. I had to ask. Is there a motel where I can stay?”

“You’ll stay at our place,” Sam replied quickly.

“I…I couldn’t do that…I’ll just—”

“Mister Rader,” Sarah spoke up again, “you will stay at our house.”

Garren was ready to dismiss the invitation with a quick “no thank you” until he saw the way Sarah was looking at him. She seemed even more committed to his being their guest than her husband was. “I’ll be glad to stay with you.”

* * * * *

The next day Garren began the hardest part of his job. He enjoyed what he did once he knew who the “bad guy” was, but the work of investigating was still something he was learning to appreciate. Once the criminal was exposed, and he could wade in with fists or guns, he felt comfortable – his strength and speed made him aware that he was uniquely qualified to do those things. But he was just coming to realize that investigating was a big part of this new job of his, for now he just wished he had someone else that could do it for him. He couldn’t afford to miss anything with this case, the community – and the Hawthorn family in particular, needed the encouragement. He realized how much he had to learn in the area of fighting crime.

“The man who really knows how to get things done as a Marshal is Ross Peters,” another Marshal had informed him several weeks earlier.

“Well, Ross, whoever you are,” Garren whispered. “I could sure use you now.”

His first stop was at the house where the men had stayed that were known to be friends and accomplices of the man who had shot Mike. Sam had informed him that he and several others had all looked the place over and found nothing, but Garren had received a lot of training that they hadn’t gotten. He was hoping that he could find something they had missed.

When he arrived at the house he approached the door with caution. Turning the knob he allowed the door to swing all the way open, but he didn’t step inside. Instead, he stood in the doorway and looked over the interior.

The shack was what people referred to as a dug-out. Built into the side of a hill, the back wall was composed of the dirt that made up the far side of the bank next to the river. For that reason Garren didn’t have to take much time to look there, but the rest of the house was something else. There was a simple rough table sitting in the center of the room, with a single chair. A bed had been built into the left side wall, if one could call it a bed, it was more of a odd kind of hammock with a number of straps made of old canvas and a straw filled tick. The walls were made of relatively small logs, reflecting the difficulty of finding decent lumber, and the shelves around the fireplace were very coarse – at best.

Garren’s first impression was that Sam had been right, there simply was no place in which something of value could be hidden. There was nothing suspicious about anything he could see. He immediately felt a level of let-down that there seemed to be little chance of finding anything of importance.

Then, quite unexpectedly, Garren found himself talking quietly out-loud. “This is what my training was all about. I am expected to see things, to look in places, that others wouldn’t. Get busy and find out if you’re a legitimate Marshal or not.”

The first thing he did was pick up a heavy stick lying amount the rubble in one corner. With everything piled around, he began to wonder if the clues were going to be hidden somewhere under the garbage.

“They sure weren’t tidy housekeepers.” Garren smiled as he realized he was talking to himself again. “That’s one thing I’ve learned since coming west; a horse or an empty room, they’re both good places to talk to one’s self.”

With his stick Garren began tapping the walls, floor, and other furnishings of the room. He was listening for a hollow sound, an empty place. The tapping took two hours, and uncovered nothing!

Frustrated, Garren sat down on the bed and wondered what to do next. He seemed to have no leads, no idea where to turn. Then, when hope seemed to be rapidly rushing unimpeded toward the western horizon, he noticed something. From the bed his perspective was slightly different. From the bed he could see the ridge-line of the roof. From there he could see the part of the outer wall that could not be seen otherwise. He obviously couldn’t see it from the door.

“It’s there.” Garren spoke out-loud yet again, but this time without so much as a hint of realization. “There’s a natural compartment up next to the roof.”

He grabbed the chair and set it just inside the door. Climbing onto the seat he was able to reach up into the gap he had seen from the bed. Sure enough, tucked into that small gap was, what appeared to be, a single piece of paper.



Mystery of the Hollow Tree – Garren’s First Job (Part 1)

This post is a little different. I want to share one of the first stories I ever finished. I’m interested in using it as an introduction to my work, and offer it free.

What I’m wondering is what you think. Would you be willing to give your opinion on this piece? I won’t do anything to introduce it other than simply thank you for taking a look.

“Mystery of the hollow tree”

Garren’s First Job

by C D Myers

Copyright 2006

ISBN 978-0-9786771-0-7


I want to begin by thanking you for your interest in my work. This is my first short story printed in paper form, and you will be reading the second edition of that work. This booklet was the first attempt at writing for more than my simple pleasure.

* * * * *

Let me simply say, as a way to begin, that this story is an introduction to one of the characters in the much longer, and more complex, “Dawn Trilogy” – a full-length pocket size trilogy of the Old West.

The main character in this story is the US Marshal named, Garren Rader. Garren is a major character, though not the main one, in the “Dawn Trilogy”. This story arose out of a desire to introduce Garren to my readers. Garren becomes a very good friend to, and works closely with, Ross Peters, the main character of the trilogy.

One of my desires has been to write historical novels about the Wyo/Braska area, so there is also a lot of historical information in the stories I have written. For that reason, the other characters and place (Arcadia, Valley County, Nebraska) are historically accurate – though the names have been changed. The main event in this short story actually occurred and my decision to write about it was based on the curious account I was given about a murder that happened around this time, and in this location. The hollow tree, the circumstances, and so forth are based upon the actual events surrounding that crime.

Another interesting part of this story, and the whole “Dawn Trilogy” set is that many of the characters are based on friends and acquaintances from places we have lived and people we have met. Garren’s name is based upon a high school student I had the opportunity of knowing (he asked to be included in the books), as are many of the other characters, especially in the Dawn Trilogy.

The loss of the infant son, whose actual name was Charley, is the first recorded death in the town of Arcadia. His grave marker can still be found there as well. His older sister’s grave (her name is Sadie in the novel), is right to the south of his, and is another story entirely.

Various other items of historical significance are included in this fictitious account in the hopes of sharing the lives of those original settlers who gave so much to open up the area to those of us who came after them. Things such as the trip of the original family, the struggle with grasshoppers in those early years, and the stress of a severe lack of water on many occasions, are all historically accurate.

I hope and pray that you enjoy the story you are about to read, and will come back for more.

—CD Myers

The family looked even more wilted and wounded than the simple wildflowers that were meant to brighten the dreary scene. A cute little girl with dirty blonde hair and a sprinkling of freckles across her nose held the straggly goldenrod blossoms, picked down by the river, in her hand without notice as each member stood side by side next to the unpretentious grave complete with a inglorious cross made of sticks. Father, in dusty overalls and drooping bowler hat, the little girl holding his hand, and a young boy, kicking at a dirt clod that had rolled away from the hole. Only Mama was absent, and each – in their own way – wondered what had happened. If rain had come, if the grasshoppers had not eaten everything, if Mama had been stronger…if…but never this particular hole in the ground. This earth was meant to hold crops on this lonely corner of their brand-new property. This small piece of dry soil was never meant to be the final resting place for their newest family member.
It seemed like it was only yesterday that the family had been riding the covered wagon, looking for a new life; excited about the wonderful opportunities that lay ahead. The risks were real, but the rewards would be amazing, and the excitement had been a truly palpable thing.

The date at the top of the tower in the rail-yard in Grand Island, Nebraska read March 1, 1874. Father had filed on sixty acres of land along the Middle Loup River in Valley County under the Homestead Act a mere three months earlier, and committed everything they owned to the venture. He had taken a train, then ridden horseback to the site and established the claim that would be home for the family in a few short days.
“The next stop is ours.” Father turned to each child in turn and slowly shook their shoulder. Then he returned to his seat and said to Mama, “Grand Island is coming up quickly. We’ll get off the train there. You and the children can get a hot meal and have a bath.”
“Is that where we purchase the wagon?” The petite woman with long hair the color of wet sand, wore a full-length, yellow dress and a simple, hand-made bonnet; and appeared just a pinch anxious. But, most of the young mothers leaving the train in the frontier town had the same type of look.
“Wagon, supplies, horses, seed; we’ll get them all in Grand Island.”
“Papa, how far to our house?” Mont was the son, and at six years old felt compelled to ask that age old childhood question.
“It will be several days before we get to our new home.”

They left the train station by way of a lesser used side door, walked across the street to purchase a covered wagon, and headed for the hotel. While Father went looking for horses the rest of the family had a warm bath.
Two days later the family left Grand island headed northwest toward Loup City. Things got quite scary when the family was forced to fight through a late spring snowstorm, ending up stranded in the middle of nowhere for a night, and making the horribly hard decision to split the family when another homesteader was able to give Mama and Sadie a ride into town while Father and Mont stayed with the wagon.
Days later the family arrived at the sod house that would be their home until the wooden house was built. Mama would have said that it looked like a slice of heaven, but she didn’t like to lie. Instead, she struggled to get settled as the children explored their new home. Father was forced to get to work right away.
For a month they fought the elements getting their first crop in. Everything they did was a fight against the environment that seemed bent on destroying them from the start. The drenching thunderstorms turned into wind strong enough to blow the seed right out of the ground they had just placed it in.
Once the corn was planted the seedlings came up well, and they were able to enjoy the beauty of the new growth for several weeks. By the second month, the second week in July, the young corn covered the ground in a beautiful carpet of green. Father even said it wasn’t exactly Heaven, but you could see it from here. If things continued this way, they would be well on their way to a great first year.
“If this continues we’ll have enough to buy some cattle, start on the house, and maybe even buy some trees.” Papa said this with a gleam in his eye as he surveyed the field from the doorway after supper.
“Things are that good?” Mama, her name was Sarah, looked deep into his eyes trying to determine if her husband was kidding. They had been living in the soddy for four months, and every member of the family looked forward to a “real” house.
“Honey, it should be a great crop,” he ended the conversation with excitement.

The following friday everything changed. The children were playing in the yard when they suddenly came screaming toward the house.
“Mama,” Sadie was yelling the loudest, “a storm is coming. There’s a dark…”
“It’s the end of the world!” Mort made up for Sadie’s volume with a remarkable energy of his own, as he ran around in little circles like he was trying to flee the storm without losing sight of it.
Sarah rushed outside and instantly knew this was no normal storm. “Sam! SAM!!”
She didn’t get very far before she met her husband headed back to the house. He had seen the cloud from the southwest field where he had been planting alfalfa for the cattle he was sure they would be purchasing in the near future. “Get everyone in the house. It’s not a storm, it’s grasshoppers.”
Sarah wondered why Sam would be so worried about some small bugs, but something about the movement of the cloud started her toward the house. “Hurry, children, get in the house.”
Even as she turned back to the door the cloud turned into a moving, buzzing mass. There were trees along the river southwest of the house, and the huge army of grasshoppers was descending on them. Her hand flew to her breast and she raised a prayer of thanksgiving now that the tiny beasts had found food.
She didn’t know grasshoppers like these!
The cloud didn’t even seem to slow down as the bugs that found no green leaves simply continued on their destructive journey toward the house.
“Get inside,” Sam was standing next to Sarah. “I have to put the horses away.”
Sarah turned the handle of the wooden door and hurried into the house. The sound of the rushing army outside grew louder and louder.
Ten minutes later Sam opened the door and slipped through as quickly as possible. Even so, dozens of the small hopping critters followed him into the room.
“Children,” Sarah yelled, “kill the grasshoppers.”
The children screamed with joy as they ran around the room trying to jump on the evasive little creatures. They had fun until bedtime when trying to sleep was nearly impossible, with scratching and scraping sounds coming from every flat surface outside. The beasts covered the waxy surface of the windows so they couldn’t even see out.
“I wish we had the glass windows in.” Sarah was lying beside her husband, as neither one was able to sleep. “They can’t get through the paper can they?”
“Of course not.” Sam tried to reassure his wife, but he was actually worried about the same thing. He moved to the window and slapped the surface. Through the opening created in the insects he looked out on a sea of moving black creatures. It was almost as though the ground itself had come to life and was trying to run away. He turned back to his wife without a word.

Three days later the grasshoppers moved on – there was simply no food left for them. The family walked out onto what looked like a battlefield. The corn was gone, stripped to stalks only inches above the ground. The ground was nearly bare, with the waving Indian grass simply nubbins on the hillside. The wonderful crop of just days before was now a thing of the past.
A month after that the alfalfa which had failed to sprout because of a lack of rain, not a drop had fallen since the grasshoppers had moved on, looked nearly the same as the corn. The native grass that was to be used for pasture in the case of emergency was just barely peeking through the brown ground once again.

Two months later the children were surprised to be ushered out of the house. There were a number of people that they had never seen before, and a couple that were only slightly more recognizable to them.
“Joseph is going to take you home for awhile.” Sam told the children as they finished up breakfast.
“But we don’t want to go.” Mont shook his head and ran for the blanket that hung from the ceiling creating his parent’s bedroom.
“Mont, come here!” Sam’s voice left no room for debate, and he had no desire to see his son go behind that curtain. The command stopped Mont in his tracks. “You’ll be back soon.”
“Why do we have to go, Papa?” Sadie asked.
“Your mother is sick,” Sam answered evasively.
The children spent the next three days at the Matthews’ house. The Matthews family was kind to them, seeing they were scared, but those three days still seemed to take forever. Finally, papa came back for the kids, and they walked home together.
“Is Mama alright?” Mont asked.
“She’ll be fine.”
“Is she all better?” Sadie wouldn’t let the issue go with a simple “fine”.
“Yes,” Sam said it slowly, “but we’ll need to help with chores and meals for awhile. Mama’s pretty weak.”
“What was wrong with her? Mont asked again.
“You just need to be quiet and you’ll see.” Sam had ended the conversation by making sure that they understood the need to be as quiet as they had ever been. They didn’t disappoint him.

The next day the family stood around the open grave as their newborn brother and son was lowered into the ground. Sarah lay in the back of a wagon nearby, too weak to stand for the ceremony.

It’s finally here!

It’s finally available. After years of work, the document that started it all is an ebook.

Working on multiple manuscripts at the same time, leaving full-time pastoral ministry, and dislodging our family and reestablishing it in another place were all the results of this first story.

While that might be considered an over-statement of the most grievous kind, it is really quite accurate. The wonder of writing about western history led to many other stories that we wanted to share. The results were a whole collection of various types of writing – all based in a passion for discipleship.

When the idea first came about to write a western containing friends, family, and other members of the communities we served, it was simply a fun idea. Now, a dozen years later, we hope that a reasonably good story will also be a tribute to the many – unmentioned – people that made ministry so special for us for years.

We have tried, very hard, to only use names and positions in the most basic way. This was to try to make sure that there was nothing that would be thought of as – in any way – communicating anything but pleasant memories of the people that meant so much. If we failed, in any way, to achieve that – we apologize.

We hope you enjoy the story even if you are unconnected to the characters in any way, but for those who were connected to these ministries – thanks so much!

Oh, by the way, you can find the book in the Kindle store at