Bad Luck For Johnny       

Tom Bush

© Copyright 2016 by Tom Bush


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Kansas City, Kansas 1928

“I remember my brother Johnny vividly and I’m 77 years old,” said Joseph Fry, sitting down at the outside café talking to a reporter from the Kansas City Star.

“It has been a long time but he was my hero and still is. He was the best rider in the whole town of St. Joe! I thought he was 6’ tall and weighed 200 lbs., but I was only 9 years old. In reality he was only 20 years old and small. He couldn’t have weighed any more than 120 lbs. I was a young kid at the time but it is still clear as a bell ringing. I know this because I remember our conversation just like it was yesterday.  It was in the spring of 1860. We were in St. Joe with our Stepfather buying supplies and the Pony Express was just starting up.”

“Johnny, whatcha reading?” Joe, his brother asked as they sat on the porch of the General Feed and Seed Store.

“You don’t need to know everything I’m reading and doing Joe. You’re just a little pain, you know that?” Johnny said, grabbing his little brother and wrestling with him like big brothers do.

“Let me go, I’ll read it myself,” Joe said struggling to get loose from his brother grasp.

“You can’t read this. You ain’t old enough even if you could, you little stink bug,” Johnny said laughing and releasing his grip on Joe.

“ Give it here and I’ll show you,” Joe said struggling free and regaining his stance.

“Well, what does it say?” Johnny said while giving him the handbill.

“Pony… Pony,” he said trying to sound out the words.

“Here, give it to me,” Johnny said snatching the handbill back from Joe’s hands.

“It’s for hiring riders for the Pony Express. It says here that they want:

‘Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred’."1

“But you ain’t no orphan, and you ain’t eighteen neither.”

“You don’t know nothing Joe. They don’t care about a couple of years. I’m the best rider in this part of the country. I won’t have no problem getting this job. They may even come look for me,” Johnny said mussing up Joe’s hair.

“Why do they want orphans,” Joe asks agreeing with Johnny’s assumption about age and knowing he was a great rider.

“Oh, they’re just funning. They don’t mean it. It’s just a way to make the job more exciting, and don’t go telling ma about this neither, she’ll think they are serious. You hear me?”

“Yeah, I hear you.”

“Anyway, Billy says they’ll pay $100.00 a month. I can’t pass that up. I’ll be rich in no time at all.”

“One hundred dollars? I ain’t never seen a hundred dollars? Maybe when I get older I can get a job too?” Joe said smiling broadly, “When you gonna apply?”

“Now! I’m going over to the stables and put my two bits in right now. I suspect they will hire me on the spot with my reputation for riding and winning horse races. Come on, you can go with me.”

Just then he felt something against his legs. He jumped back and looked at a kitten purring and rubbing against his legs. It was black, jet-black.

“That cat scared you didn’t it? “Joe asked giggling.

“Where did that cat come from? He didn’t scare me, but I was surprised. I didn’t see him come up did you?”

“I didn’t see him come up neither.”

“Scat,” Johnny said, kicking the cat lifting it up in the air as it squalled and ran under the porch of the feed store.

“That is all I need is a black cat crossing in front of me, especially since I’m trying to get a good paying job. The boys will all be lined up,” Johnny said looking back at where the cat ran under the porch.

“I don’t like cats, especially black cats,” he said noticing the yellow, glowing eyes peering out in an eerie, evil fashion from under the steps.

“Pa says it’s bad luck to kick a cat,” Joe said.

“Oh, they just say that so you won’t run ‘em off. They keep the mice out of the house, but I still don’t like black cats. They look evil to me, and generally mean something bad is gonna happen. I saw one yesterday slinking around the barn. I ain’t seen it before neither,” Johnny said as they walked into the feed store.

Johnny told his dad that he and Joe would be right back, and that he was going over to the stables. He did not mention the Pony Express job or the cat.

“We went on over to the stables and sure enough they hired Johnny right then. I can still remember the Oath they made Johnny take.”

“While I am the employ of A. Majors, I agree not use profane language, not to get drunk, not to gamble, not to treat animals cruelly and not to do anything else that is incompatible with the conduct of a gentleman. And I agree, if I violate any of the above conditions, to accept my discharge without any pay for my services.”2

“I told Johnny he better not kick any more cats and he just looked at me and said they didn’t mean that. He said they were talking about beating horses, that they were concerned about damaging them.

Mr. Majors really liked Johnny and selected him to be the first rider taking the first leg of the trip to Seneca, Kansas about 80 miles away. They had originally wanted another rider but he missed his train connection and was late arriving.

It was an exciting time. A crowd gathered and our whole family was there. The Mayor gave a speech and it was like a circus come to town. Johnny was so proud. They gave him the mail pouch (Mochila). It fit over the special Pony Express Saddle.

He rode down to the river and took the ferry across and he was off on his adventure and we all cheered as he sailed away across the river. He would be going only 80 miles but he had to wait for the mail on the return trip. He would be back in about 10 days ready for another trip to Seneca.

He had some great stories. One in particular I remember was the one about the girls waiting along the route and would chase Johnny down
 and give him cakes and different stuff like that. He said they made them round and cooked them in grease and they had a hole in the middle. I think that is where donuts came from, they was easy to carry and handle from horseback.

One gal rode up to him as he galloped along saying she wanted his red bandana to sew into a Log Cabin Quilt. Johnny just smiled and said no, and that he liked his tie. He said he smiled at her, in a playful manner spurring his horse and galloped away, but the determined gal stayed up with him and reached out to snatch the red bandana from his neck. As he lurched to the side she grabbed his shirttail and ripped off a piece. He laughed telling the story and speculated that part of that old shirt was now in a quilt somewhere between St. Joe and Seneca!“

The reporter studied the old man relating the story and noticed a twinkling glimmer in his eye as he recounted his conversations with his brother so many years ago. Then the old man stopped and looked around and his eyes became misty as he noticed a small black kitten sitting at the edge of the patio hoping for a morsel of food. The old man took his cane and smacked it against the concrete floor and shouted.


The black kitten scampered away only to stop and look back with those same yellow, piercing, evil eyes of the cat Johnny had kicked so many years ago and the memory came rushing back.

“Paw said it was bad luck to kick a cat and I guess it was, of course he wasn’t really our Paw but we called him that cause he took all of us in after our real Paw died. Anyway, it was to be bad luck for Johnny.

He never was the same after his friend Billy got killed when a band of Paiutes chased him down. There was twelve of them and they had fresher horses than Billy and he had to make a fight of it in the rocks. He got a good vantage and killed 7 of those devils before they got him. He was riddled with arrows when they found him right after it happened. They heard Billy firing from the station but couldn’t get there in time to save him. He was only fourteen years old. He didn’t have no family.

They found seven of those red devils littered around him, but they didn’t scalp him because he fought so bravely.

When I saw that damn cat I couldn’t help but remember that they said there was a Black Panther there when they arrived. Of course it ran off and they couldn’t get a shot at it! But they talked about its evil appearance and it yellow eyes. “

The reporter said, “But I thought you said it was bad luck for Johnny. It appears it was bad luck for his friend Billy?”

“Well, it was, but the worst was to come. After two years they finished building the Telegraph all the way to California so, there was no need for the Pony Express. Johnny lost his job.

Then the war broke out and Johnny joined up with the Union Army under General Blunt. He was a courier and was sent over through Baxter Springs with an important message.3  While on the way Cy Gordon and five Creek Indians tried to capture Johnny when he came upon the Neosho River. It had been raining hard and he had to swim the river to get across all the while the scoundrels were shooting at him. He made it across and into Baxter Springs without a scratch but got everything wet.

He reported in and changed his clothes and ate. Then he decided to go out and check his pistol by firing them. Two more men from the Third Wisconsin went with him going beyond the lines toward the river ford. As they were firing their weapons at a target a troop of men came up dressed in blue uniforms but, they were part of Quantrill’s bushwhackers...”

Quantrill’s raiders!

Run for your lives boys!  It’s guerrillas,” Johnny shouted.

One of the men from the 3rd Wisconsin said, “Wait a minute we are expecting the Militia from Carthage.”

“Then the firing started. Johnny dropped one and the other man shot two before they fell in a hail of bullets.

They went through their pockets and one of the dead men was hacked with a Bowie Knife across the forehead. Johnny had six bullet holes in his body. He didn’t have a chance.

The funny thing about all this is next morning when they went out to search for them they said there was a black cat curled up next to Johnny and when they came up on ‘em it arched its back and squalled at them in such a manner they were stopped in their tracks. The cat whirled around and scampered off into the brush stopping to look back with its evil, yellow eyes and then disappeared into the under growth.

So that is why I say it was bad luck for Johnny. He was my hero, a good brother and the first rider for the Pony Express!”

The article appeared in the next Sunday edition of the Kansas City Star. It was entitled, “Bad luck for Johnny!”



3. The Border and the Buffalo, by John R. Cook

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