"Ever hear tell o' the takin' of Buck Weaver?" said Big Bill, of Artcraft fame, to a bunch of his cowboys up on the Mojave Desert where they were camped making some scenes of Hart's latest Artcraft feature, "The Tiger Man."
"Well, if you didn't, boys, here goes. And I happen to know about it, 'cause my dad was mixed up in it some. Buck was a sure-enough bad ombre, and he didn't get his reputation eatin' ice-cream in a drugstore, neither. He'd been layin' around town for some time and getting' away with a whole lot o' stuff that he wouldn't 'a' got away with ordinary, 'cause he and Jim O'Connell, the sheriff, had punched cows together a few years before, all through that country.
"And right here, boys, is where happens the moral of the story, as all the book and novel writers speaks about, and speakin' of novels, I'm goin' to branch off a bit, 'cause it seems to me I can put somethin' in here that has a whole lot o' bearin' on the takin' of Buck.
"I played in a play once on the stage. It was taken from a book, and that book was written by one of the greatest American authors, and he was some author, too, boys. Why, that feller could reach right down in your insides and play with your emotions until they almost bust. It shows just how big a writer he was when he could put somethin' over that we all know is dead wrong. In this play I was a foreman of a big ranch; my partner was caught brandin' calves. He made his getaway and was hidin' in the hills. The owner of the ranch came to me and said: 'You're the only man that knows this trail; will you lead the sheriff's outfit to him?" The part I played did lead the sheriff's outfit out to this feller and hung him, and the part I played was just the foreman of a ranch, gettin' fifty bucks a month. Can you see it, boys? — he would like hell.
"Well, comin' back to Buck and what a cowpuncher would do under like circumstances in real life, Buck got mixed up in a row and killed his man in cold blood. As I said before, he was a bad ombre. He made his getaway 'cause him and the sheriff — or anyway, somehow, it took Sheriff Jim and awful long time to gather his men and start out to follow the trail for Buck. And they come back empty-handed, and in six months the whole thing was forgot.
"And then one day a couple of bunches of outriders from the Circle Star rode into town, and, in exchangin' o' gossip between drinks in the Palace, they says that Buck Weaver's punchin' cows for the Triple X outfit over in Powder River country. There was no denyin' the source of the information, and there was nothin' left to do for the Citizens' Committee but to tell the sheriff to go get his man. But this Citizens' Committee wasn't no fools. They hadn't seen Sheriff Jim O'Donnell exercize no great haste in catchin' up with his man the first time, so they were goin' to block any deal of that sort. Right here's where my dad comes into the story.
"My dad was a man who never packed a gun in his life, but he was known from one end of the country to the other as one of the most upright and fearless men that ever had two fists, and he sure did use both o' them on occasions. So the Citizens' Committee delegated my dad to go along with his friend, Sheriff Jim, just as sort of representin' man and to keep Jim company. The team was hitched up and the buckboard started on its 160-mile trip.
"They arrived all right, and they got Buck all right, 'cause Buck was workin' there, just like they said he was. Buck didn't put up to resistance; he just said, 'Hello, Jim,' and Jim said, 'Hello, Buck, you're my prisoner,' and that's all there was to it; but Jim sure didn't seem in no particular hurry to hit the back trail. He laid around there for two or three days swappin' stories with the boys and enjoyin' himself in general. My dad didn't savvy what it was all fur till it was too late. The night they started back in order to kill a big part of the trip in the cool of the evenin' it was darker than Erebus. And I think Sheriff Jim must a-known somethin' about astronomy, if the movin's of the moon comes under that headin'. Buck was tied in the back of the buckboard — tied up by Sheriff Jim. Jim and my dad occupied the seat, and the start was made.
"'Long about midnight when the dark had just settled down — it wasn't dark any more, it was just black, that's all — Jim said to my dad:
"'Nick,' Nicholas was my dad's name, but everybody in that country called him Nick, 'this is the darkest night I've ever seen, and I'm sixty-two years old, and have spent fifty years on these prairies.'
"'Yes, it is dark, Jim,' replied my dad.
"'Dark,' snorted Jim, 'why, I can't see them horses' ears.' Then he talked in loud tones like he was talkin' to somebody fifty yards away.
"'Ain't much use of a man's totin' a gun a night like this, if he's cocked. He'd run as much chance hittin' himself as he would the other feller.' That must a-been Buck's cue — and remember, Sheriff Jim had tied the knots. There was sort of a thud at the back of the buckboard, like somethin' hittin' the ground. Jim yanked up to his six-shooter and started in to blaze away, every shot hittin' the darkness like a streak o' lightnin', but Buck was gone.
"That Citizens' Committee had failed to remember the unwritten law of the plains, to never set a cowpuncher to get a cowpuncher, 'cause they won't do it."
"Did the committee do anything to Jim?" asked one of his boys.
"Do anything? No," replied Bill. "How the devil could they? Hadn't he performed his duty to the best o' his ability, and wasn't my dad a witness? And they didn't blame my dad none, neither, 'cause he looked them right in the eye and then he says to 'em:
"'Why, you damn fools, you oughta known better'n that!'"
Webmaster's note: How involved Hart actually was in the writing of this piece is not known. "Moving Picture Stores: A Weekly Magazine Devoted to Photo-Plays and Players," founded in 1879 and put out by Harry E. Wolff of New York, was a 6-cent publication that promoted new films. While Hart was credited as the author of this story, obviously it is "as told to" another person, and was timed to coincide with the April 1, 1918 release of "The Tiger Man," then his latest film for Artcraft Pictures Corp., a small company that produced 31 features between 1917 and 1921. Hart, a trained Broadway actor, probably would not have spoken in "cowboy" when relating a story himself — although he was perfectly capable of writing that way when appropriate for a character in one of his books (see, for instance, The Golden West Boys: Injun and Whitey, which Hart wrote and published the following year, 1919.) Hart's father's name, incidentally, was indeed Nicholas; he was a (saw)miller — an occupation requiring strong hands — and lived throughout the Midwest and the East. In his 1929 autobiography, My Life East and West, Hart writes of his father (who died in 1895), "Honesty and manhood were all he knew."