BEYOND HIS MERCY
A Civil War Novel
TREATMENT FOR A MOVIE
Based on the Novel by Johnny Neil Smith and Susan Cruce Smith
Copyright 2017 by Johnny Neil Smith and Susan Cruce Smith
Contact: James Clois Smith, Jr. Sunstone Press (505) 988-4418
LOGLINE: Thomas Wilson, a renowned sniper for the thirty second regiment of Mississippi Infantry has been ordered to take down officers on horses, flag bearers and soldiers manning cannons but after viewing a family picture in a dead officerís pocket, he sees himself as a murderer and deserts the army in early 1863. As a Texas Ranger, he is once again killing men, this time Apache, and ends his time as a ranger but soon is tormented by the deaths he has caused and realizes that he is beyond Godís mercy: the joy in life that he once knew before the war is now over.
February, 1866, Little Rock, Mississippi
At an evening meeting, Lott Wilson addresses his family about the coming yearís plan for the farm during this post war period. His wife Sarah, his daughter Lucretia, his eldest son Thomas, and his youngest son John and Johnís wife Rebecca are gathered in the family room. Since much of the Southís cotton crop is being seized legally and illegally by Federal authorities, they decide to grow more corn and to breed, train and sell the finest horses in the state. The farm flourishes, and the family is slowly recovering from the devastation of Shermanís March through their land. The family begins to notice signs that Thomas is very troubled. Thomas has a flashback to the moment he sees the family picture in a dead officerís pocket and realizes he is a murderer.
Thomas finds peace in taking one of their horses for an early morning run. One morning as he races his horse, he collides with another rider, a beautiful young woman named Suzanne Olliver. Thomas is thrown from his horse, but is only bruised. He sees her beauty, but is gruff in his remarks making sure she sees the murderer that he is. But even after his impudent remarks, she asks if she can ride with him each morning. One day Suzanneís father, who is a dishonest and wealthy landowner responsible for Lottís brotherís death, is drinking heavily and orders his daughter to stop riding with Thomas or he will have his foreman, Junior Parker, kill him.
Lott is concerned when a letter arrives stating that Jonathan Lewis, who is married to his sister, Sara Ann and runs a ferry out in Cass County, Texas, has been murdered. A few days later, the federal tax commissioner of the county, Travis Davis, comes to assess Lottís property and impressed, places excessive taxes on the farm so the Northern-controlled government can seize it and sell it for a nice profit. He knows most farmers have little available cash and that a gentleman from Ohio will pay him a large sum for the Wilson farm.
The Wilson family is distressed over the probable loss of the farm, but Thomas presents a brilliant solution. They begin to clear the old deserted racetrack on the property to host a horse race. They will charge an entrance fee for each rider and after paying a portion to each winner, the profit will help them pay the taxes. After the word is out about the races, food, and musical entertainment, the people come from all over the state to enjoy time away from their difficult lives. The race is successful, and the tax collector is not happy when the Wilsons not only are able to pay their taxes, but clear enough money to help other struggling farmers.
The early morning rides with Suzanne seem to soothe Thomasís nightmares, but when a pastor at his church preaches on the bloody hands of King David of Israel, the demons return and he sees blood on his hands. Terrified, he dashes from the church and flees into the bordering woods. The family leaves church to find Thomas, and Suzanne borrows one of the Wilson horses to search for him in some of their favorite spots. She finds him on a bluff on the Chunky River with a pistol in his hands. After talking with him about how much he is needed by her and his family, she persuades him to give her the pistol and leaves him as he deals with his feelings. Thomas continues to have flashbacks to his time in the war. Thomas also flashes back to the time he killed Apaches in their village which ended his time with the Texas Rangers.
Thomas seems better and takes another one of his fatherís horses for a run. For a change, he decides to stroll the virgin forest that often brings him peace. Hearing gunshots, he follows the sound and comes upon an old cabin. Gun smoke hovers over the ground where two white men and two black men lay dead. Two young boys sit quietly on the porch. Thomas finds that both Suzanneís father, Frank, and Frankís foreman are dead as well as two former slaves of Frankís who had taking up residence at the old house and killing some of Frankís pigs. The Olliver family is devastated and feel it in their best interest to sell the plantation and move to Suzanneís grandfatherís sugarcane plantation in south Louisiana.
With the death of Frank Olliver, Thomas and Suzanne begin to pursue their relationship. One day, while Thomas and Suzanne are at the general store, a young Federal second lieutenant, Samuel Lowery, comes into the store to inquire about the thoroughbred horse out front. Thomas acknowledges that it is his fatherís and follows the officer outside. The officer tells Thomas he is confiscating the horse for the army, but Thomas quickly informs the officer that no one will take his horse. As Thomas reaches inside his pocket for a handkerchief to wipe his face, the officer, afraid Thomas is reaching for a weapon, fires at Thomas. In turn, Thomas grabs his knife and heaves it at the officer. When the scuffle ends, two federal cavalrymen are dead leaving one young soldier pleading for his life. Because Thomasís family fears he will not receive a fair trial, they encourage him to flee the country. Lott directs Thomas to go to the Choctaw lands in Oklahoma where his sister-in-law Hatta, a Choctaw, lives. Suzanne is devastated when she realizes that Thomas is gone.
The deceased Lowery has an older brother, Captain Matthew Lowery, serving in the same unit who is furious. After a thorough search of the Wilsonís property, he swears he will kill Thomas at all costs. Days later, Lott gets word that his sister, Sara Ann, has died leaving five children in Texas. He knows he must bring them to the farm, but his health and age will not permit such a trip. John, Lottís youngest son, informs the family that even though he does not know the territory and his wife is expecting their first child, he feels he should get the children.
After serious thought, Lott tells John to take one of the horses, plenty of supplies and board the train at Newton Station. From there he will travel west to Vicksburg, disembark and ride north through the Mississippi Delta, take a barge across the river at Greenville, cross southern Arkansas and run right into the Choctaw lands in Oklahoma. Here he should join up with Thomas and their cousin Homer, who is a Choctaw Ranger.
When word reaches Captain Lowery, he contacts his father, a U.S. Senator representing the state of New York, who then employs a former Pinkerton man named Andrew Stephens and three west Texas Army scouts to track John in order to find Thomas. He also places a reward for Thomas, dead or alive.
While struggling through severe winter weather, John discovers he is being tracked and takes routes through the woods to lose the men following him. Stephens and his men lose John but finally spot him at Greenville aboard a barge crossing the river and realize that John knows he is being followed. As the chase continues through Arkansas, Stephens gains knowledge of the Wilson family and now knows where John is headed.
Deep in the Choctaw lands and with the aid of a Choctaw agent, John locates his auntís place and finds his aunt, his brother and Homer, his cousin. Homer realizes the men following John are Pinkerton agents and that they will find Thomas. Homer and his Choctaw friends set a trap, capture the pursuers, carry them to the Arkansas state line and send them off on foot, threatening them with death if they come back.
While at her grandfatherís plantation enjoying shopping in New Orleans, picnics and balls, Suzanne meets an interesting, well- educated and handsome young man by the name of Carden Boudin who is totally fascinated with her.
One evening while Thomas is tending the horses, Homer asks John about Thomasís subdued behavior. Thomas seldom smiles, hardly ever sleeps, talks to himself in his sleep as well as during the day. John explains how the war has changed Thomas and how concerned the family is. Later an incident causes John to realize how desperate Thomas has become.
The three Wilsons ride into Texas. As they enter Clarksville, they stop at a saloon to get directions to the ferry on Sulfur River. They meet a burly man by the name of Cullen Baker, a notorious outlaw, and three of his men. When things seem to be spiraling out of control, Baker is informed that the Wilsons are simply looking for the children of the late Jonathan Lewis. Since Baker rode with Lewis for a while in the Texas Calvary, the atmosphere changes. Baker gives them the directions to the ferry and says not to worry about the man who killed Lewis because he has already taken care of him.
When reaching the ferry, the Wilsons are told that the eldest Lewis child has sold the place and headed to homesteads in western Oklahoma, not realizing that this is still Apache land and the government has not yet opened it for homesteaders. Thomas urges John to return to his wife, but John refuses and the three head west to search for the children.
Days later, Stephens and his men, on the hunt again for Thomas, reach Clarksville. Entering the same saloon, the arrogant Stephens begins demanding information from Baker. Baker tells Stephens that he knows about the shooting and the reward and that they are all fools for pursuing an innocent man. Before Stephens can respond, Baker and his men kill Stephens and his three scouts. Their bodies are never found.
Impressing Suzanne, Carden invites her to sail with him and his father to Italy on business and see the wonders of the land. He and his father are in the international import business. What he wants most is her hand in marriage. Even though attracted to Carden, Suzanne cannot forget the rugged, gruff and gentle man she left in Mississippi and wonders if he is still alive.
Finally after weeks of searching, the Wilsons finally receive word at Nocona, Texas, that a family of children fitting their description, have been through the town a few days earlier and even though warned, were determined to travel into Oklahoma.
Assuming a leadership role for the family, Tommy directs the family into the Apache lands, follows a creek several miles, finds a suitable camp site and settles in for the night. Two Apaches see the campfire, capture the children and carry them to their camp.
Crossing the Red River, the Wilsonís track the children to an abandoned campsite and Thomas, having served as a west Texas scout, knows what has probably happened. Thomas devises a plan to lure the Apache to the site and capture them. Knowing his life means nothing, Thomas leaves John and Homer behind and goes to the camp proposing a trade of the two Apache for the children. It seems to be working, but Geronimo, an Indian warrior arrives and recognizes Thomas as one of the rangers who had raided their camp in the Arizona territory two years earlier. The children are released, but Thomas is seized, beaten and will be executed at sunrise.
Knowing he will soon die, Thomas prays that God will forgive him for the people he has killed. As he prays, he remembers that King David who killed thousands was forgiven, and knows he too will be forgiven. A peace settles over him as he accepts that forgiveness.
As the sun rises, another group of Apache enter the camp. A boy recognizes Thomas and goes quietly and sits close to him. The chief discovers that Thomas saved the boy from a raid. Thomas told the chief how he resigned when he realized Apache women and children were being killed. Barely alive, Thomas is placed on his horse and is released.
Reunited, the group nurses Thomas back to health and head east toward home. Reaching Clarksville they learn that Cullen Baker has been killed. At that point Homer heads back to the Choctaw lands, John and the children depart for Mississippi, and Thomas, wanting to see Suzanne once more, turns south to the New Orleans area.
Having no funds, Thomas finds work at the docks in New Orleans to earn enough to finance his travels. As Suzanne and Carden are walking from the ship that had just arrived from Italy, Suzanne glances down and for a moment sees a bearded, sweaty man working below who reminds her of Thomas. When she looks again, he is gone.
When arriving home, John discovers he has a healthy son awaiting.
When reaching the plantation Thomas, bearded, long hair and underweight is not at first recognized, but Suzanne is elated and welcomes him. Thomas states that he is just checking on her and is on his way to California. Developing a warm relationship with her grandfather, he is persuaded to stay on as foreman until the cane crop is in. During this time, Thomas is miserable when Carden calls on Suzanne. Although he knows there is no future for them, he enjoys his moments with her, and after a ball given at the close of the season, Thomas informs her that he is leaving in the morning. Devastated, she watches him mount his horse, and as he starts to leave, a messenger brings Suzanneís grandfather a telegraph stating that Thomasís mother is deathly ill. Without a thought, Thomas tells Suzanne and her grandfather that he has no choice but to go to his mother. Suzanneís grandfather tells him that to go will be a sure death warrant, but if he is to go, they have to make careful plans. As Thomas rides away, Suzanne is glad that Thomas has found peace, and even though she is afraid she will never see him again, she knows she could never marry Carden.
Getting off the train in the middle of the night and thirty miles from home, Thomas leaves the train, saddles up and rides the backcountry to his home. He arrives just before dawn. The family is elated, but concerned for his safety. Thomas finds the Lewis children are happy and feel at home with his parents. Sarahís health improves and since Christmas is nearing, Thomas decides to stay a few days more.
Recognized by a neighbor, word gets out and Colonel Lowery, recently promoted, gathers some soldiers, circles the home place and arrests Thomas. During the arrest, Thomas is beaten as well as Lott and John who are trying to protect him.
Since the South is under military control, a military court composed of six officers plus a Federal officer serving as a judge, will conduct the trial. Because of the violence occurring in the Reconstruction time and the deaths of Federal soldiers and Negroes, the Northern government has decided to make this case an example for rebelling Southerners. Lowery is elated and gives orders for the building of a scaffold for the hanging. Thomas is charged not only with killing the two soldiers in Little Rock, but also with the murder of Stephens and his men.
With a packed courtroom and numerous newsmen, the trial begins. James Parker, a prominent prosecuting attorney sent from Washington, is advised to string the process out so more national coverage can occur. Thomas is to be hung. Frank Olliver Jr, Suzanneís brother, who was once a close friend of Johnís and is now in love with Thomasís sister, contacts a marshall out in east Texas and gains information about the death of Cullen Baker and is able to get Thomas cleared of this charge. The case then centers on the Little Rock shooting. A written statement from the young soldier who survived the killing confirms Thomasís guilt. Thomasís reputation as a sharpshooter who killed numerous Federal soldiers increases his sure conviction. During this time, Suzanne has arrived at the courthouse and is constantly trying to give Thomas hope.
One evening, an officer who feels Thomas is innocent, but afraid to intervene, comes to Frank Jr. and tells him that the soldier who made the report was mysteriously dismissed from the army the day after the report was made. He gave Frank Jr. the manís address and encourages him to locate this man immediately. Frank Jr. travels by train to Ohio.
On the last day, when the judge is going to give a guilty verdict for Thomas, Frank Jr. disrupts the court and brings the young man from Ohio to the judge. The report on the shooting is read to the man and a puzzled expression crosses his face. As it turns out, this young man can barely read or write and had nothing to do with this report. He then tells what really happened. The judge and court are surprised by his testimony. An apology is given to Thomas, and he is acquitted of all charges. In turn, Colonel Lowery, in anger, acknowledges that he wrote the report, and he is immediately arrested. When word of the acquittal reaches the large crowd gathering outside, a rowdy celebration begins.
The Wilsons gather on Christmas day to read the Christmas story and pray. The Lewis children thank Thomas and John for bringing them to their home. Rebecca cuddles little James Earl, named after Johnís brother who died during the war and smiles at John. As tradition, Lott places twelve red candles on the mantle which represents each of his children, including the Lewis children and his new grandson. Since there are really only eleven, Sarah asks him why the extra candle. Lott smiles and looks over to where Thomas and Suzanne are seated and winks. Later that evening with a full moon and a slight breeze, Thomas walks Suzanne out to the front swing and asks for her hand in marriage.
AUTHORíS NOTE: Smoke from thousands of muskets hovers over a battlefield as muskets crackle, cannons roar and men scream. Perched in a large oak tree, a southern sniper with a scoped, .451 Whitworth rifled musket takes careful aim. His order is to take down officers on horses, flag bearers and men working the heavy artillery. Being able to hit his target at more than five hundred yards, he takes down one after another. With federal forces driven from the field, the sniper walks out over the ground strewn with wounded, dead and dying men. Seeking the last officer whom he shot, he walks up to where the man lay. With glassy eyes, the Federal officer reaches inside his pocket and hands the Southerner a tintype picture. Without thought, the southerner takes the bloodied picture and sees a young woman and two small girls. With his last breath, the officer says, ďWhat will happen to my girls?Ē Heartbroken, the Southerner looks up to heaven and shouts, ďWhy Lord? Am I just a murderer?Ē With bloody hands he then throws his rifle down and walks off the battlefield, never to return. His name is Thomas Wilson.
The story of the Lewis children is part of the history of the author. His great, great grandfather, Lott Wiliams and his great grandfather, Joseph Williams were the two who went in search of the children.