Open Range

Button's Story

(Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters from the movie and I am getting no compensation for this. Now I know in the movie Charley tries to explain to Sue Button's story and it was a sorry explanation. So I decided to write my own version just 'cause it made more sense.)

Boss and Charley rode across the valley and travailed the river heading to the town where they had sent Mose to buy some supplies. Mose had tarried too long, nearly four days, and so the two of them rode to inquire about their friend. Slowing down a bit so their horses wouldn't get over heated Charley looked at Boss. It was apparent a question had formed in his mind so Boss waited to hear what Charley had to say.

"You think Button will be alright by himself with the wagon?" he asked the older man.

"If I didn't think so I'd never left him," Boss answered as he watched a hawk circle above the trees in the distance. "Why? You got a feelin' about it?" he looked at Charley, a frown knitted across his forehead.

"No, just wondering." They were both rode quietly for several minutes before Charley continued. "Where'd you find Button anyway?" Not getting a reply right away Charley look over at Boss as a small grin spread across Boss's jaw and he chuckled softly while rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

"Found him in a bordello," Boss announced and looked at Charley expecting a look of shock and not being disappointed.

"A bordello?" Charley could hardly believe his ears. "What was he doing in a bordello? Looking for work?"

"Something like that," Boss look off into the blue sky as though gathering his thoughts.

Slowly Button's story unfolded like a book.

A baby was born in the back of a dirty barn by a young woman named Karen. She was one of the young prostitutes who worked at the Lucky Pair Saloon in a small town that sat on the banks of the Rio Grande River. For $3.00 American you could buy any gal of your choosing for fifteen minutes. The girls got to keep 50 cents while the establishments kept $2.50 of it for their expenses. The only way the girls could make any money was to take on as many patrons as they could. It was rumored once that one girl had taken home $15.00 for her efforts. It was a hard and difficult life but it was the only way they could survive.

One day Karen realized she was pregnant but she kept the pregnancy to herself fearing what the owner would do to her. Depending upon the girl if one came up expecting the owner would call a so called doctor who would rip the unborn baby from the mother's womb. Too often the girl would bleed to death in a backroom. But if she was lucky to survive she would be so damaged she'd never be able to bear children ever again. It was either that or be thrown out into the street to fend for herself and her bastard. Charity was hard to find for soiled doves or their illegitimate offspring.

Karen chose to keep it a secret for as long as she possibly could until there was no hiding it. One day she sought the solitude of the barn and, alone, she bore the child. It was a boy but that was not the worst. He was a Mexican. Or at least half Mexican. How many Mexicans came into the brothel and paid for her services over the many months, even she couldn't say.

Unfortunately the delivery had been extremely difficult. A stable boy found Karen barely alive holding a squalling infant in her arms. The Sheriff was called and she told him who she was and who her employers were and promptly died. Not knowing what else to do with the newborn he was taken to the brothel.

For three years Karen's baby boy lived with and was cared for by various prostitutes. One of the first memories he could recall was of him dancing to the tune being played on a piano for the drunken patrons. They roared with delight at the antics of the little half cast.

"What's your name, boy?" one wealthy customer with red cheeks asked him.

The tyke thought hard for a moment and came up with the name of one of the gals that worked there.

"Button!" he announced in an attempt to say Burton and grinned widely, his tiny hands on his waist. The entire saloon erupted with laughter. The name stuck.

Button grew into a skinny, gangly boy and, at the age of 10, did various jobs around the saloon. He couldn't read or write and barely spoke at all. The Chicanos who would visit and stay taught him to speak fluent Mexican and how to cheat at cards. Late at night after the saloon would close he'd sweep the wooden floors. Sometimes he would entertain the patrons with a dance. Any tips he received were taken away by the saloon owner with the excuse that it cost too much to feed him.

At 12 years of age he was given the glorious job of cleaning and polishing the spittoons. If a customer spit a spray of tobacco juice and miss the spittoon Button would have to clean it up with a rag. On one occasion a drunken, rowdy man, claiming to have been robbed by Mexicans, beat Button with a cane. If the owner didn't make his financial quota he blamed Button for keeping the customers away and gave him a sound thrashing. One night when Button stole some food from the kitchen because he had not eaten all day the owner used a buggy whip to teach Button a lesson. Button was constantly sporting bruises on his arms and back or a black eye from being smacked in the face.

This was how he looked when one grand afternoon Boss came into town. Boss had just brought in and sold a herd of beef cattle and, after paying the crew that had worked for him on the drive, Boss decided he deserved a hot meal, a drink of whiskey and a hot bath, and maybe one of the gals that worked the saloon.

Boss sat at a table eating a meal when he noticed a skinny Mexican boy that was not more than a child sporting a shiner and a fat lip. The boy couldn't have been over 14. He carried a heavy tray of beer mugs to a waiting bunch of rough looking cowboys when a man with dirty boots stuck out his foot and deliberately tripped the boy. The boy hit the floor as the tray and mugs of beer shattered on the floor sending the brew over the cowboys. Dirty boots guffawed with wicked delight as the men jumped up from their seats and began angrily pushing and hitting the boy with their fists yelling insults at the lad.

One who never liked to see another being taken advantage of Boss tried to intervene in the defense of the boy but the cowboys were having none of it and turned on Boss. For every fist he was hit with Boss hit back with two back until the group of rowdies were on the floor moaning in pain and Boss stood over them catching his breath.

Picking up Boss's hat and, wiping blood from his nose with the back of his hand, the boy looked up at him. "Gracias, Senor," he said to him.

"You're welcome, son," Boss nodded at the boy as he took his hat from him. "What's your name, son?"

"Button, Senor."

"What's a young man such as you working in a place like this?" Boss asked him, wiping blood from his own nose.

"BUTTON!" the bartender yelled over at him. "Quit bothering the customers and clean up your mess! Those glasses are coming out of your pay!"

"HEY!" Boss yelled back at the big bellied bartender who stood behind the bar as though it were a fort. "He's not bothering anyone and if anybody pays that muddy booted son-of-a-bitch bleeding on your floor ought to pay. He's the one that tripped the boy on purpose. Get you money from him!"

"Get out, you half-breed bastard!" the brothel owner yelled from across the room.

"But where will I go? I have no where else to go!" Button pleaded with him.

"I don't care," the owner moved over to Button. "And you! Get out, too! We don't need your kind in here causing trouble."

"I'm leaving, Mister," Boss told the owner and turned to say something to Button but the boy was already gone. Boss made sure he had all his belonging and headed for the door. Stepping outside on the boardwalk he saw Button sitting on a bench curled up in a ball crying bitterly, his thin shoulders quaking as he sobbed. Sitting next to the boy for the next several minutes Button told him his short life story as he knew it and had been told. The brothel had been the only home he had ever known and now he had nothing and no one.

There was only one thing Boss could do. "I'll be going on another drive in a few weeks and I need a hand. You ever rode a horse?"

Button looked at him with tear stained cheeks and shook his head no.

"Shoot a gun? Herd cattle? Drive a wagon?" Each question was answered with the same shake of Button's head. Boss nodded and sighed. This boy was in a fix and no one was willing to lend a hand. "Where's your Mama? She one of those gals working the there?" Boss motioned towards the brothel.

"No, sir. She's dead. They told me she died when I was born. I don't know who my Padre is. I am sorry, Senor."

"No need to be sorry, son," Boss patted the boys leg."Tell you what, you come with me and I'll teach you how to be a cowboy. The work is hard and the pay is low but I'll treat you fair and you'll never have to fear being beaten ever again."

"Button's been with me for the last two years," he told Charley. He's uneducated and untrained, hard headed and stubborn as a mule but he's a good boy and works hard. I think he'll grow to be a good man, one day. He's the only thing closest to a son I'll ever have."

"If it hadn't been for you, Boss, he'd died in that place you found him in," Charley told him.

"Reckon so."

"Makes me understand him a whole lot more," Charley replied after digesting this new information.

"Yup," Boss spoke and nodded as the town seemed to rise above the hills as they approached it.

The End