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Monday, 24 September 2018

Wild West Campaign Update: The Mule Thieves

So our latest adventure started out when Bat Masterson approached Crazy Miller about the two of them taking a trip back to Dodge City.

(dodge city)

Turns out that Jim, Bat's brother, had asked him to come immediately as he was in a fight with the co-owners of the Lady Gay Saloon; a fight that had escalated to death threats.

While Crazy and Bat headed back to Dodge (the players again noting the astounding difference the existence of the train had made in the west, with a trip that would previously have taken ages being manageable in just five day, and that including two by stagecoach), the other PCs stayed in Tombstone. A couple of days later, they were surprised to see a couple of US Cavalry lieutenants riding into town (from Camp Rucker, it would turn out). They had come on account of the theft of 6 mules destined for service at the camp; their Colonel wanted them to hire Wyatt Earp to find them and the thieves who stole them (he's a huge Wyatt Earp fan). When they offered Wyatt $600 up front, he reluctantly agreed, and he convinced Kid Taylor, Other Miller, and Jeff Young to come along. He didn't invited Doc Holliday because he knew Doc would never agree to doing work for the army, and because Doc had been busy having vicious fights with Big Nose Kate lately.

(Tombstone around 1881)

Wyatt asked himself just where would there be a market for mules? And the answer was clear: The Tombstone Mines. As they rode out to the mines, they crossed paths with their friend Frenchie the prospector. When they explained what they were looking for, he told them to go check out a guy named "Muley" Smith, who was the owner of the mule pens at the mining camp.

(the Tombstone Mines)

When they got to the camp, finding the mule pens was easy enough.  Muley stated that he certainly didn't have six mules with Army brands, and while the two Lieutenants (who, it turns out, were both named Thompson, though like the Millers they weren't related, and one didn't have a "p" in his last name) clarified that they hadn't been given an army brand yet and had a double-twig brand, Muley didn't have those either.  Initially, Muley claimed that he never bought anything but mules with all their proof of ownership; but after being intimidated by Other Miller and threatened by Wyatt, he broke down and admitted that in fact he bought mules from two suspicious customers. One was a Mexican bandito named Angel Suarez, the other was Frank Patterson, a member of the Cowboy gang.

Meanwhile, Bat and Crazy had come to Dodge, and Jim Masterson was waiting for them at the train station.

(James Masterson)

It turns out that Dodge City's glory days as a buffalo and later cattle-drive boomtown were done. Of the nearly 40 saloons that once graced Front Street, only four remain operating. One of them is the Lady Gay, which was owned by Bat and Jim, but when Bat lost his election as Ford County Sheriff he left town, selling his share to Jim.  The Lady Gay wasn't doing well and Jim wasn't a great money manager, so he soon found himself selling part of the bar to his bartender Al Undergraff. Then a second part. Then Undergraff sold part of his share to prominent Dodge businessman and "Better People" member AJ Peacock. Suddenly, Jim found himself holding only a minority stake in the bar, with Peacock (who was not a friend of the Mastersons) wanting to buy him out and Undergraff taking Peacock's side.

Bat and Crazy Miller both realized that it would actually be much better for Jim to sell out, and Peacock had offered him $2000 for his remaining share, which was not a bad sum, but for Jim this was a matter of pride. They spent some time trying to convince Jim, and he finally agreed if Bat could make it $3000, and of course Bat being a silver-tongued devil, he was sure he could.

They decided that before heading to the Lady Gay to negotiate with Peacock, they'd go visit the Long Branch and the Alhambra, two of the other remaining saloons, to catch up with their friends Luke Short and Frank Harris (owners at the Long Branch), and Dog Kelley and his bear Paddy (owners of the Alhambra). As they were headed to the Long Branch, Crazy Miller suddenly spotted a couple of shadowy figures in the alley on the other side of the street, pointing guns in their direction!

There was a quick firefight, and while Bat and Jim were both shooting, it turned out to be Crazy Miller who hit his shots. He shot the gun out of one assailant's hand, causing him to run away. Then the other one was turning to flee so Crazy shot him in the foot. Several shots from the assailants hit the Long Branch saloon, and several shots from Crazy and the Mastersons hit the new jailhouse. Soon Bill Tilghman, who was now the city Marshall, came out and discovered that the man shot in the foot was Al Undergraff! What's more, Al immediately claimed that the Mastersons and Crazy Miller shot first, and were trying to kill him.  Unable to find any witnesses of who fired first, Tilghman was forced to arrest them all.

(Bill Tilghman)

Over in the Tombstone Mining camp, the PCs, the Thompsons and Wyatt Earp were keeping watch on the mule pens, waiting to see if one or the other mule-smuggler would show up. Finally, Angel Suarez made his way into camp, with 10 mules and 3 other Mexicans. When he had arrived at Muley's, the team ambushed them calling for them to surrender. But the Mexicans fought, and fought hard! It took several shots to finally take Suarez down.

Unfortunately it turned out that the mules were not the ones from Camp Rucker. At this point Wyatt Earp decided to say 'fuck it' and led the team toward the Clanton ranch, sure he'd find the mules there.

In Dodge City, Crazy, Bat and Jim were all in jail but were at least enjoying the wonders of Cooter's coffee for the first time in ages. Al Undergraff was there too, at least until his foot was tended to, but he was released by morning on his own recognizance (by the highly biased Mayor's office). Not, however, before Bat and Crazy managed to plant the seeds of doubt in him as to whether his senior partner (AJ Peacock) hadn't really intended for Al to be killed by the Mastersons so the Mastersons would in turn go to jail, leaving the Lady Gay all to himself. They also told Undergraff to tell Peacock to come and see them, as they were ready to deal.

So Peacock comes down to the jailhouse, and there's a tense negotiation between him and Bat with help from Crazy. As usual, the two best negotiators in the entire campaign get their way, and Peacock gives Jim Masterson a good payout for the Lady Gay. They're freed from their jail cell as soon as they sign the papers.
Then they stop off for drinks in the Long Branch and the Alhambra, but when they step out they're confronted by County Sheriff George Hinkel (the man who beat Bat in the Ford County election), his deputy, and Marshall Tilghman. They've been ordered by Dodge Mayor Webster to use the same law that was enacted in the cattle-drive era to empower the lawmen to kick anyone out of Dodge without any required justification. The three men were escorted right to the train station and made to leave.  Jim Masterson decided not to go with Bat and Crazy back to Tombstone; instead he was taking his money and going to Colorado, where he was hoping to find work as a Lawman and get out under the shadow of his older brother.

Back in Tombstone, Wyatt, Other Miller, Kid Taylor, Jeff Young and the two Lieutenants ride up to the Clanton ranch. They find a welcoming committee armed and waiting for them, including Pa Clanton, the Clanton brothers, the McLauries, alleged  mule-smuggler Frank Patterson, and Sherman McMaster.

(you just couldn't make up a better evil boss than Pa Clanton)

 The Earp party was seriously outnumbered. Wyatt told Pa Clanton they were looking for the mules, and Pa Clanton responded that they didn't have any US Army Mules. The officers stated that the mules didn't have the army brand, but the double twig. Then Pa Clanton made a claim that they did receive some mules, by someone who claimed to be from that ranch, but instead of returning the mules to the men, he said he needed to verify the story and the authenticity of the mules (and the officers) and if it all checked out he promised to return the mules in two days. It was nothing more than a blatant display of power, of showing they didn't even fear the authority of government. But the Earp party had little choice, other than a shootout, so they agreed.

The mules would never be returned; instead Pa Clanton used his connections with the Arizona Democrats to get the army to look the other way and in the following days Cowboys would be mocking the lawmen on the street.

The PCs learned several important lessons in this session. They also discovered one important fact I didn't mention above: the Cowboys' criminal business previously relied considerably on rustling and other robberies across the border in Mexico. But in the last few months the Mexican government has significantly increased its Federales forces all across the border (yes, in the 19th century it was Mexico that was frantic about border security and criminal cartels). So part of the reason why they'd noticed the Cowboys resorting to more criminal activity nearer to Tombstone is because they had no other choice if they wanted to keep their profits up.

All this made it clear to the PCs that some big conflict is coming up very soon.  Of course, they all know about the shootout at the OK Corral, and that this is going to happen (well, unless the PCs do some really really freaking weird stuff to change the historical timeline), but what they don't know is how things in Tombstone as they were lead up to the eventual confrontation, and how the hell things after the OK Corral turn out like they did. And they're quite excited to find out.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Egg + Elizabethan Mixture

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