All Small Men Are Thieves

By R. Earle Harris
All rights reserved (c) 2015 (rearleharris@tuxfamily.org)


BLACK SCREEN

Fiddle softly playing The Cowboy's Lament.

Title Over:
			Wyoming, Powder River Basin, 1891

ARAPAHO BROWN (V.O.)
This is the story of the Johnson County Invasion. It's a story about how a bunch of rich men talked themselves into killing folks who maybe didn't have so much money. And about how a few strong, independent men stood up for themselves and got murdered. And then it's about how those rich men got away with murder scot free. Which is enough to tell you that this story is true.

BLACK SCREEN

Fiddle music stops.

Title Over:
			All Small Men Are Thieves

Pause. Then below that--

Title Over:
			--said the Governor of Wyoming.

Fade to black.

FADE IN:

EXT. HILLS - DAY

Just east of the Big Horns, before the first snows. Rolling cheatgrass-covered hills. Smoke winding up from somewhere down below.

Title Over:
               November 1891

EXT. HILLS - CONTINUOUS

Down in a hollow, next to a small fire, four men blotching brands on a few cattle with running irons -- this is like inking over the payee's name on a check so you can substitute your own.

EXT. HOLLOW - CONTINUOUS

BILL WALKER , a young cowboy, rides into view. The men notice him.

EXT. HOLLOW - CONTINUOUS

Closer. Bill innocently approaches close enough to see the bar eleven brand on their horses.

BILL
Hey, that's Jim Averell's cow!

One of the men shoots Bill out of his saddle.

FADE TO BLACK

EXT. HILLS - DAY

Same hills. Later. First snowflakes fall.

EXT. HOLLOW - CONTINUOUS

Bill's POV - looking up from flat on the ground - the darkening sky, the hills--

EXT. HOLLOW - CONTINUOUS

--his horse fills the view.

BILL (O.S.)
Hey, horse. Warn't that Jim Averell's cow?

FADE TO BLACK

EXT. HILLS - DAY

Day, meadows along the Powder River bottom, below the hills. First snowflakes falling.

EXT. HILLS - CONTINUOUS

Three wagons and twenty or so cowboys are working at gathering the cattle up along the river. They already have a herd of seven or eight hundred head. NATE CHAMPION rides up and greets the lead drover, FRED HESS.

NATE
Afternoon, Fred.

HESS
Nate.

NATE
You boys are a little early, aren't you? Association's roundup ain't till May.

HESS
We would have waited but you Johnson County boys announced your own roundup. So we thought we'd get a start on you. Save you boys from breaking the law.

NATE
Speaking of breaking the law, I believe you girls have swept up some of my herd. I thought I'd cut them out for you.

HESS
The law's the law, Nate. I can't let you do that. This is a Stockgrower's Association roundup. You can post the three thousand dollar bond to ride with us or you can apply in Cheyenne to get your cowbeasts back.

Nate looks at the cattle a bit.

NATE
I'll go check my piggy bank.

HESS
You do that.

Nate departs.

EXT. ROAD - DAY

Road south of Buffalo, Wyoming.

EXT. ROAD - CONTINUOUS

CHARLIE BASCH, Johnson County's prosecutor, and a RANCHER ride into view.

RANCHER
I read it in the Cheyenne Leader, Charlie Basch! They said we've had one hundred and eighty cases of cattle theft and not one conviction.

BASCH
I'd say that's an ignorant rough estimate. I've prosecuted nine cases since I came here three years ago. And I got one conviction, by God. The other eight were hungry cowboys.

Rancher laughs.

EXT. ROAD - CONTINUOUS

They are approaching the Canton Ranch gate as a wagon, driven by MRS. (Frank) CANTON, is coming up from inside the fence.

RANCHER
Well, if the big outfits want to close the winter grub line for those boys, they can't expect convictions for men eating wild cows. Charlie, look!

EXT. GATE - CONTINUOUS

Mrs. Canton has left her two daughters in her wagon and is closing the gate behind it when one of the girls clucks to the horses and they start to move.

EXT. WAGON - CONTINUOUS

Mrs. Canton darts for the wagon, startling the horses. As she catches the back of the wagon, the horses bolt heading off the double-track.

EXT. ROAD - CONTINUOUS

Basch leaps the fence on his horse to help them.

EXT. WAGON - CONTINUOUS

Trying to save her girls, Mrs. Canton hangs on too long and is knocked senseless when she is thrown clear.

EXT. WAGON - CONTINUOUS

Basch stops the wagon and drives it back to where the woman is lying in the wagon track.

INT. BEDROOM - EVENING

Bedroom in the Canton's modest ranch house. Rancher (above) and Basch are with the DOCTOR and Mrs. Canton, who lies bandaged in bed.. Exterior door heard opening O.S.

RANCHER
Here's Frank.

INT. BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS

Enter FRANK CANTON, handsome, in his 40's, dark duster and black Stetson with the crown creased down its length.

CANTON
Beth!

MRS. CANTON
Canton.

DOCTOR
She'll be fine, Canton. She's just had the sand knocked out of her. You should thank Charlie Basch - he saved your girls.

CANTON
Charlie.

BASCH
I'm glad I was there, Canton.

CANTON
I won't forget this, Charlie. I give you my word.

EXT. HILLS - DAY

Those cheatgrass hills again. A foot deep in snow.

EXT. HOLLOW - CONTINUOUS

Bill's POV again, we see the head of his horse, face to face. Bill trembling with fever.

BILL
You ain't Jim Averell's cow.

Beat.

BILL (CONT'D)
Damn, I'm hot.

FADE TO BLACK

EXT. CHEYENNE - DAY

The largest town in the state, 1891.

EXT. STREET - DAY

Outside the Wyoming Stockgrower's Association's Cheyenne Club.

EXT. STREET - CONTINUOUS

WILLIAM IRVINE, wealthy rancher and member of the Livestock Commission, rides up to the club on a horse that bears the bar-eleven brand.

EXT. CLUB - CONTINUOUS

Irvine dismounts and turns his horse over to an attendant.

INT. CLUB - DAY

Irvine walks up to door of private conference room in the Cheyenne Club.

INT. CONFERENCE ROOM - CONTINUOUS

The members of the Livestock Commission - William Irvine, H.B. IJAMS, and HUGO DONZLEMAN - and Governor AMOS BARBER are seated around a table.

EXT. TABLE - CONTINUOUS

Ijams is fired up.

GOVERNOR
Settle down, Mr. Ijams.

IJAMS
No, Mr. Governor. I'm not sharing one - not one! - of my mavericks with those little ranchers. All of us - every member of the Association - are still recovering from the winter of eighty-six.

IRVINE
That's right, Governor. The open range belongs to those of us who have used it longest. These little johnny-come-latelys have no claim to the cattle descended from what we brought in.

GOVERNOR
All these small men are thieves.

DONZLEMAN
As a lawyer, I wouldn't care to stake these claims of yours in court.

IJAMS
Who asked you. What do you think, Governor?

GOVERNOR
Bill.

IRVINE
We're not going to court. We are going to do what we have talked about for the past five years. We are going to run all the thieves out, starting with Johnson County.

IRVINE
It's about time.

IRVINE
H.B., I want a thousand dollars apiece from the hundred richest members of this association -- for expenses. And Governor, you can tell Frank Canton to send that man of his down to Texas. We'll want the men he promised. We need everything ready before that independent roundup of theirs up north.

He pauses to look around the table.

IRVINE (CONT'D)
Then we'll teach them that the days of the free range are over.

EXT. HILLS - DUSK

Those cheatgrass hills again. Smoke from the hollow again.

EXT. HOLLOW - CONTINUOUS

From Bill's POV, the face of a mule. Someone is sharpening something O.S.

BILL
You're not my horse.

EXT. HOLLOW - CONTINUOUS

Bill is now wrapped in a blanker. ARAPAHO BROWN, late fifties, a man who loves the free West, sharpening something small on a whetstone by a fire.

ARAPAHO
That's my mule.

BILL
Who are you?

ARAPAHO
Folks call me Arapaho Brown, when I'm around folks. The mule and I know each other by scent.

BILL
I'm Bill Walker. Where's my horse?

ARAPAHO
I believe you've lost her. All you had to your name when I came up was that bullet hole. You lay still and we'll have that sucker out.

BILL
What are you doing?

ARAPAHO
Sharpening a spoon.

BILL
A spoon?

EXT. HILLS - CONTINUOUS

Same from a distance. Bill screams O.S. like you would if I dug a bullet out of your shoulder with a spoon.

EXT. HOLLOW - NIGHT

Bill and Arapaho are leaning against Arapaho's wagon, warming their feet at a fire.

ARAPAHO
Here's some coffee.

Bill reaches with the wounded arm and groans.

ARAPAHO (CONT'D)
Use your off hand, son. You ought to get some sense. It'd keep you from getting shot. You say those cowboys were riding the bar-eleven brand.

BILL
Yes. They were Bill Irvine's horses.

ARAPAHO
That'd be right. Jim Averell's got no more sense than you do. He filed on Irvine's favorite bottomland to graze the cows his girlfriend gets from lonely cowboys.

BILL
They're all likely mavericks. Nobody owns a free-ranging, unbranded cow.

ARAPAHO
They're likely Irvine's mavericks. You don't think those boys care whose brand is on a calf's mama when they've got Ella's charms on their minds?

Bill finally sips the coffee and winces.

BILL
Any sugar for this coffee?

Arapaho hands him a jar with a spoon sticking up out of it.

ARAPAHO

Screenplay truncated at 500 lines.