The fastest Sheriff in the Old West never got his due.
You won’t find his name written down in the history books alongside legendary gunslingers or lawmen.
He never traveled far from the tiny town of Snake Junction, living just beyond the city’s limits somewhere in the Arizona desert.
Visitors passing through would stop at the town’s only Saloon – The National – and listen to the locals talk about their Sheriff Sledge, over shots of rot gut whiskey and mugs of warm beer.
“It’s his eyes,” one old-timer told the three visitors. “They’ll freeze you. He doesn’t blink,” he warned. “He’s faster than a snake and a dead-eye shooter.”
Wyatt Earp finished his beer and called for another one. He wasn’t the kind of man easily scared by anyone. Or, reputation. He had his own.
“I’d like to meet this gent,” Doc Holiday said while sipping whiskey from a flask.
Wyatt’s brother Warren was puffing on a cigar as his eyes roamed around the room. “Make that two beers!” he shouted.
“I just want to talk with him. We’re looking for some murderers and he might know something about them. He might have seen them recently,” Wyatt said to the old-timer, who went by Jack.
“It’s true Sheriff Sledge knows about everything in this town. Seems like he’s been here forever. I know for sure he’s been here before Snake Junction became a town ten years ago. I got to tell you he’s not much of a talker,” Jack explained.
Doc suddenly broke out into a coughing fit. He pulled a handkerchief from his jacket and put it over his mouth. His tuberculosis was getting worse. Speckles of blood tinted the white handkerchief.
Wyatt and Warren looked at one another. They both knew he was dying. Yet here he was, at their side helping them seek vengeance against The Cowboys. When his frail body ceased fighting for breath he reached inside his jacket and pulled out his flask and took a shot.
Doc stood beside them at the O.K. Corral. Regardless of what most foks thought about him, Doc was a gentleman and a loyal friend.
“How can we find him, Jack?” Doc asked, as he poured himself another shot.
“It’s not that easy. He only shows up in town for supplies once a week,” Jack replied.
“When was the last time he got supplies?” Warren asked.
“Friday,” Sheriff Sledge said.
All eyes turned on him. His tall slender body was framed by the setting sun behind him. His swarthy face was beardless and his arms looked too long in proportion to the rest of his slim body.
He wore a snake-skin vest with nothing underneath it. In the distance and in the poor lighting of the saloon it appeared he was heavily tattooed. His jeans were well-worn. Snake-skin boots covered his long narrow feet.
His leather holster wasn’t fancy, but the .45 Smith and Wesson in it was in excellent condition. The gun hung low on his right side, with a leather rope tying it to his leg for stability.
“Youuth looking for me?” Sheriff Sledge asked with a noticeable lisp.
“We’re looking for some murdering scoundrels. We’ve been deputized to bring them to justice, ” Wyatt spoke up.
Sheriff Sledge’s laugh was shrill and downright creepy. “Sssscoundrels …, he hissed.”
Wyatt stood up. “Yes. Murderous scoundrels. Have you seen any shifty characters around here lately?”
Sheriff Sledge slowly slid into the center of the room. Under the massive chandelier glow they could see scales, not tattoos, on his chest and arms. His eyes were green with yellow pupils that did not blink. A tension suddenly filled the saloon.
Warren and Doc both stood up, alongside of Wyatt.
Sheriff Sledge, whose Hopi name was Situlili (after the snake god), belonged to the snake clan called Tsu’ngyam. In Native American lore snakes enforce a rough type of justice, and breaking laws could result in a person being bitten by a deadly snake.
Or, by being shot with Sledge’s .45 Smith and Wesson.
The silence that fell over the saloon hung like a funeral shroud. Before the Earp’s and Holiday could even reach for their guns, Sheriff Sledge drew his, and shot their hats off their heads!
His pistol slide back into the holster in one smooth motion. Sheriff Sledge smiled at their astonishment. None of them had ever seen such speed and accuracy before. Nor, would they ever again. The draw was too fast for the human eye…and hand.
“Yooth thay your lawmen?” he calmly asked.
All three shook their heads up and down affirmatively and shifted uncomfortably. Wyatt knew he wasn’t fast with his clumsy Buntline Special, but Doc Holiday was the fastest draw he’d ever seen… until now.
They all prepared to die.
Then Sledge smiled and they swore (afterward) that his tongue slithered out and was forked. “Juuust doing my job keeping the peasss. Ain’t no sssscoundrels been by lately,” he said.
They watched him glide over to the bar and order a shot of tequila. There was a certain reptilian smoothness that made them all uncomfortable.
Afterward, when they were miles away and camping under the clear southwestern skies, all three men agreed to never tell the story about their showdown at Snake Junction. No one would have believed them anyway.
As It Stands, I’ve always suspected there were lawmen and gunslingers whose stories never got told.