GREEN RIVER SAGA
Green River Saga
Based on the novel by Michael W. Shurgot & Rick O’Shea
Copyright 2019 Michael W Shurgot & Rick O’Shea
Contact: James Clois Smith., Jr. / Sunstone Press / (505) 988-4418
LOGLINE: Jeremiah Staggart, who lost his wife and child to Yankee marauders and deserts the Confederate Army at the battle of Chattanooga in November, 1863 arrives in Green River, Wyoming in September, 1866 He finds work with a vicious cattle baron named Brett Tompkin, and eventually joins forces with Sheriff James Talbot and an Irish-Indian named Johnny Redfeather in their efforts to save a band of Northern Cheyenne from a fatal attack by Tompkin’s herders.
September 22, 1866. A gang of drunks, mostly Brett Tompkin’s herders but also some Union Pacific railroad workers, shoot up Millie’s Green River Saloon. Nobody is killed, but several patrons and women who work at Millie’s are injured by bird-shot, flying glass, etc. Sheriff Jim Talbot must initially defend the saloon and its patrons and staff by himself.
Johnny Redfeather, an Irish-Cheyenne half-breed who is a fearless, quick-drawing, two-gun fighter, having heard the gang’s plans at Hal’s Saloon, rushes to Millie’s and saves Talbot’s life and he and Talbot stave off the initial attack.
Realizing that several of the young women are seriously wounded, Sheriff Talbot rides off to fetch Dr. Mark Johnson. Since this is a Saturday, Johnson will be at his cabin outside of town, not in his office down the street. so his arrival is delayed.
Johnny Redfeather assembles an “army” of some of Millie’s girls and sets up a defense of the saloon against an expected second attack while he awaits the return of Sheriff Talbot and For Johnson. We meet Snuffy, Johnny’s “lieutenant,” a rambunctious twelve year old “tom-boy” who chews “apple-cured baccy” and infuriates Millie and everyone else who tries to discipline her. Redfeather positions his “army” at crucial points around both floors of the saloon.
A second attack on the saloon occurs, and Redfeather acts heroically to ward off the drunken attackers while several of his “soldiers” also perform bravely. The saloon is saved, and no one else is seriously hurt. A young black women on the second floor, Cornelia, then sees another wagon approaching, and Redfeather recognizes it as Doc Johnson’s. With him are Sheriff Talbot and two women assistants: Maria Santa Anna, a curandero of Indian and Mexican descent, and Maggie, a large African-American woman.
Doc Johnson, Maria, and Maggie, assisted by Talbot and Redfeather, establish a triage approach amid the shattered glass and splintered wood of the saloon, and begin treating the most seriously wounded first. A young woman named Marilee, who will later fancy the Sheriff, is most seriously wounded. Doc treats her while Sheriff Talbot helps.
After all the wounded are treated, Johnny Redfeather formally introduces himself to Sheriff Talbot, then goes off by himself to seek some solace. He is a very troubled soul, displaced from his Indian heritage and trying to survive amid the growing white settlers. He seeks refuge in alcohol and laudanum. Doc Johnson tells Sheriff Talbot about Redfeather’s exploits in the Civil War with Colonel Bill Swanson, whose mysterious death deeply distresses Johnny. After Doc’s story telling, Sheriff Talbot walks back to his tiny office next to the jail, and muses about the statue of an Indian and white man in the round-about.
In flashback, we learn of Sheriff Talbot’s war experience, his reconnecting after the war with a young woman named Abigail Delacourte, their marriage, and his decision to leave Virginia and head west. After he settles on Green River he sends for Abigail, who joins him and they set up housekeeping in a small cottage on Brown’s Wash outside of town. In July, while they are riding back to their cottage on a Saturday evening after dinner in town, she is killed by a stray bullet fired by a drunk storming out of Hal’s Saloon.
In a further flashback, we learn that Jeremiah Staggart fought at the battle of Chickamauga in October 1963, and after the following battle of Chattanooga in November he deserted his unit and fled into the woods, taking only his rifle and pistol. Surprised by three Union soldiers on horseback and driving a supply wagon, Staggart ambushes them, kills all three, and steals a large amount of money, which he will use to buy food and new clothes as he travels west and north. Hungry and tired, he eventually confronts a farming family and demands food and clothes from them. He tells them that while on leave he returned to his farm in eastern Tennessee to find that his place had been attacked and burned by Yankee marauders. Inside the remains of the barn he found the charred corpses of his wife and son.They had been tied up and burned alive. He tells the family that that he can fight no longer.
Staggart eventually arrives by train in Omaha, where he works for three years for the railroad. Hearing that the Civil War has ended, he travels by train and stage coach to Green River, arriving in August, 1866. At Millie’s Saloon he meets Sheriff Talbot as he is evicting a drunk named Rensfeld, a railroad worker, who will later try to kill Talbot.
At a hotel several days later he meets Brett Tompkin, a cattle baron, who hires him to tend a small cabin in the mountain valleys and to provide clothes and food for his herders. As he works for Tompkin he continues to have terrible memories of finding his wife and son amid the charred ruins of his farm. He hears his wife’s screams nearly every night. Many of Tompkin’s herders tell Staggart of Tompkin’s hatred of a band of Northern Cheyenne who claim that Tompkin’s herds are violating their sacred land. Late one night a band of Cheyenne raid the corral near Staggart’s cabin, kill two horses, and nearly kill him. Staggart wounds one of the warriors, who dies at Doc Johnson’s cabin. Tompkin’s anger festers.
Sheriff Talbot visits Tompkin’s mountain cabin after the raid, and is surprised to find Staggart there. They discuss the Indian raid, and Talbot warns Staggart about Tompkin’s intentions regarding Indian land. Staggart tells Talbot how he lost his wife during the war, and Talbot tells Staggart about the random shooting of his wife in town the previous July. They thus form a kind of bond, although the Sheriff knows that Tompkin has been deliberately herding his cows on Indian land and, given that Staggart was almost killed in the Indian raid, Talbot suspects that Staggart is still loyal to Tompkin and his cattle operation.
On a ride into the mountains in early Fall with some of Tompkin’s herders, Staggart wanders alone into Eagle Canyon and surprises an Indian woman and her son who are washing clothes in a stream nearby. He startles them, and the woman grabs the boy and runs back up the canyon trail toward an Indian Brave who aims a gun at Staggart and orders him to stop. He freezes, and then after the three Indians leave Staggart experiences a terrifying, violent vision, a seizure, and falls paralyzed to the ground.
A man named Bridges, whom Tompkin hired to bring additional rifles and ammunition to Staggart’s cabin, is caught and scalped by Indians, and Tompkin begins plotting to attack the Cheyenne settlement up in Greens Canyon himself because he fears the Sheriff will do nothing about the Indian raids. Sheriff Talbot, Johnny Redfeather, Doc Johnson, his new deputy Butch Grogan, and a small posse visit Chief Running Bear at Sandy Bluff, hoping to arrest the man who killed Bridges, but Running Bear refuses to cooperate, and the attempt at peace fails. Meanwhile, Jeremiah is continually haunted by visions of his dead wife and son, while simultaneously he has visions of the Indian woman and her son whom, in his developing delusion, if not madness, he comes to believe are his own wife and child.
Sheriff Talbot and Butch Grogan visit Tomokin at his cabin again, and Talbot tells Tompkin that Running Bear will not negotiate. Talbot again tells Tompkin that he must nonetheless keep his cattle off of Indian land, and especially avoid Eagle Canyon, which the Cheyenne consider sacred land. Tompkin decides it is time to act on their own, and so he visits a man named Luke O’Sullivan, head of a railroad gang in town. Together they plot to attack the Indian settlement in Greens Canyon. O’Sullivan mentions Rensfeld as the man who shot Sheriff Talbot’s wife back in July, and Tompkin, along with Curly, plot to hire Rensfeld to kill Talbot on New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve, 1866: Millie hosts a large party at her saloon. Sheriff Talbot, Deputy Butch Grogan, Jeremiah Staggart, Maggie and her husband, plus most of Green River’s finer inhabitants all attend. During the festivities Marilee tells Sheriff Talbot of her affections for him, and invited him to spend the night in her bed. But Talbot refuses, haunted still by memories of his dead wife.
As Sheriff Talbot, Deputy Grogan, and Jeremiah are walking back to the Sheriff’s office after the party, Rensfeld steps from behind a building, yells at Talbot, but before he can shoot, Grogan whirls and fires at Rensfeld. Just before he dies, Rensfeld says to Talbot, “Got you both.”
Talbot now suspects that Rensfeld killed his wife and that Tompkin hired him.
New Year’s Day, 1867: Sheriff Talbot and Deputy Grogan ride to Tompkin’s cabin one last time, but now mostly because the Sheriff wants to know if Tompkin did in fact hire Rensfeld to kill him, and what Tompkin knows about his wife’s murder. Tompkin pleads ignorance, and as they are leaving, Grogan, who is lightning fast, nearly shoots Curly who had tried to shoot Sheriff Talbot in the back.
Tompkin resolves to attack the Cheyenne once the weather warms. In mid-February, while some of Tompkin’s men are feeding and watering cattle near Eagle Canyon, an Indian hunting party ambushes them, and a herder named Williams is killed. Curly, Tompkin’s most violent cowboy, swears revenge, and he and a man named Mitchell begin riding into Greens Canyon looking for an advantageous place from which to attack the Indian settlement.
In mid March, after experiencing what he believes is a cleansing experience and calling from the Lord during which he immerses himself in a cold running stream, Jeremiah returns again to Eagle Canyon. Here, at the bank of the stream running from the cliffs above, he sees the same Indian woman desperately trying to rescue her son from the swollen waters. He leaps into the stream, rescues the boy and pulls him and his mother to safety. Just as they get back to the bank, an Indian brave points a rifle at Jeremiah’s chest, and the woman has to explain that he rescued her and her child. The Indian brave finally believes her, and before they leave the woman says “I thank,” and touches Jeremiah’s arm. Jeremiah now becomes convinced that he must “rescue” this woman and her son, and that somehow the Lord has forgiven him for not having been able to save his family in Tennessee during the war.
In late March, Jeremiah, on one of his rides into the canyons, sees Curly and Mitchell spying on the Indian encampment below. He immediately returns to Tompkin’s compound, and the next day at dawn rides to town and tells Sheriff Talbot what he has seen. Talbot orders a posse immediately. Tompkin meets again with Luke O’Sullivan and they plan their attack on the Northern Cheyenne in Greens Canyon.
Two weeks later, Sheriff Talbot is awakened by furious pounding on his door. Jeremiah tells him that he has seen that morning Brent Tompkin, Luke O’Sullivan, and about two dozen armed men riding our toward the canyon complex. Sheriff Talbot realizes what has happened, and he immediately summons his deputies who are staying at a nearby hotel. He also alerts Doc Johnson. They ride furiously to the southern edge of Greens Canyon, through the middle of which runs a stream.
Jeremiah explains that he suspects that Tompkin’s raiders are perched on the northern edge of the canyon, from where they could easily descend into the settlement below. Looking down Talbot sees a long house, several teepees, and a stone circle in the middle of which women are preparing food. Children are playing near the stream, throwing stones into the water to splash each other and screaming in delight.
Sheriff Talbot sends one half of his posse down to his right to near the Indian ing house, while he takes the other half down to his left. As the deputies are deploying, Tompkin’s men suddenly attack. Many men, women and children are killed immediately, and the remaining braves desperately try to defend their chief and his family. Luke O’Sullivan’s men set fire to several teepees, and the fire spreads.
Jeremiah, seeing the flames, immediately assumes in his mad delusion that he is now rescuing his wife and child in Tennessee. He rides down the embankment toward the burning settlement and grabs the Indian woman and child as they race out of a burning teepee. The woman screams when she sees him, but suddenly recognizing him as the man who rescued her son from the swollen river at Eagle Canyon, she senses that he is her only means of escaping the carnage. He then quickly loads them onto his horse, and they begin riding east along the river; in his complete delusion—madness?— Jeremiah now believes they are riding back toward his Tennessee farm. They ride for a mile, then stop.
As the fighting rages, Tompkin’s and O’Sullivan’s men are trapped between the two flanks of Talbot’s posse, and most are killed. Curly escapes, and runs east behind the long house then up the stream bank. Realizing that he has lost, Tompkin emerges suddenly from behind a rock, saying he will give Sheriff Talbot just enough time to know who is going to kill him. But before he can fire, Johnny Redfeather suddenly appears from nowhere and slits Tompkin’s throat, thus rescuing the Sheriff for the second time in the novel.
Doc Johnson, Maggie, and Maria Santa Anna arrive in his buggy to tend the wounded. From the long house Chief Running Bear emerges holding his dead son in his arms. Howling in rage, he walks to the middle of the stone circle, kneels, lays down his bleeding son, and says in English, “White man kill son. Cheyenne die now.” Redfeather and Doc Johnson try in vain to console Running Bear, while the women begin trying to help whomever they can among the bloody battlefield and in the remaining teepees. The soldiers try to suppress the fire as best they can with water from the stream. Sheriff Talbot, realizing he has not seen Staggart, rides off looking for him.
Jeremiah stops his horse carrying the Indian woman and her son a mile up stream from the battle. They dismount, and Jeremiah leads them to the stream. Cupping water in his hands, he pours it over the heads of the bewildered and terrified Indians to baptize, and he believes, save them. Just then, Curly comes out from behind a tree. The terrorized Indians dash behind Staggart, who tells Curly that he and his family are heading east “back to our place in Tennessee,” and pleads with Curly to leave them alone. Curly curses Staggart as a traitor, says he is “plum loco,” and then kills him. Before he can kill the Indian woman and her son, Sheriff Talbot rides around a bend in the river and from his horse kills Curly with a single rifle shot. Seconds later Talbot ascertains that Staggart is dead, then urges the woman and child to wash the dust and Staggart’s blood from their clothes while he turns his back. They wash, then get on his horse as Talbot begins riding back to the battlefield with Staggart’s body draped over the back of the horse.
When they return to the settlement, the woman runs to the long house, then screams violently. Moments later she, Running Bear, who has returned to the long houjse, and several other Indian braves emerge from the long house with blankets, a head dress, and some oils. Johnny Redfeather explains that Running Bear wishes to take his son away, up the stream a ways from the settlement for a proper burial service. Sheriff Talbot agrees. He and Doc Johnson and the remaining soldiers assist Doc Johnson and his women treating the wounded. The scene dissolves in a soft rain. Pools of white men’s and Indians’ blood form in the dust.
Two weeks later, at high noon, Johnny Redfeather takes Sheriff Talbot to the rim of Eagle Canyon. Redfeather says he wanted Talbot to see this canyon, which he says is all that is left to the Cheyenne and is the one place white men cannot destroy, though Redfeather realizes they may try. Johnny is also angry at Talbot for being late with his posse and not preventing the raid on Running Bear’s encampment, although he recognizes that Talbot did what he could once he recognized fully the danger. But he was, as Running Bear had said, “late.”
Redfeather, who has been with Running Bear most of the past two weeks, asks Talbot if he has ever buried a child. Talbot, still unaware that his wife Abigail was pregnant when she was shot to death, says no, but tells Redfeather that he had to bury his murdered wife, so yes, he has buried someone he loved. Redfeather is stunned to hear this, and it mollifies somewhat, but only somewhat, his anger toward Talbot.
Johnny says they must now part, though he does say it was “right good” knowing the Sheriff. Talbot calls Johnny Redfeather “A damn fine man,” and they execute the wrist-to-forearm shake they exchanged the night of the attack at Millie’s saloon and that is carved into the statue in the roundabout in Green River. Sheriff Talbot turns his horse back toward town. Johnny dismounts, walks to the rim of Eagle Canyon, and gazes into its mysterious depths.
Above him, unseen, a lone Indian woman and her son look down upon him. A soft rain begins falling.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: opening credits. Visual: Sun setting behind the high mountains of south-western Wyoming. Saturday, September 22, 1866. Music from a decrepit piano and untuned guitar, laughter and shouting, the clinking of whiskey glasses emanating from the front of Millie’s Green River Saloon. Camera moves through the large swinging doors into the interior.