I walked through the gates of the old Territorial Prison of Wyoming. I had heard stories that my three times great grandfather had served part of a twenty year sentence here, then died less then a year after getting out. I had come with my history class from the Casper Area High School, we had spent most of the semester learning about the state's history and yet my teacher, Mrs. Stevens, never once mentioned the two most- well I should say the most successful gang of outlaws in the west, lead by the two most successful outlaws in the west.
For the most part the museum was a self guided tour but there were 'tour guides' dressed in historically accurate 1890's prison guard uniforms to help you find where a particular cell (the North and South cellblocks were the only two and most of the cells were closed to the public) block or a specific cell is. As soon as Mrs. Stevens had broke us into groups of three we were set loose. I started to lag behind and then I just waited for my group to disappear. I started my search for the cells of my 3x great grandfather, Hannibal Heyes and his cousin, Jedediah 'Kid' Curry.
"Can I help you?" One of the 'guides' asked.
"Yeah, I'm looking for the cells of Heyes and Curry, it's for a report that I'm writing in English class."
"Some people seem to think that they haunt this place, I know that Kid Curry does, but it don't make sense that Heyes would,"
"No, he's here, I've seen him, and he happens to be my granddad on my mother's side."
"There's no documentation that Heyes was ever married,"
"I have proof," from my pocket I produced an old, battered pocket watch, the face was worn with age, from the face cover I took an old, faded photograph of my great, great, great grand parents. "Here, that's Heyes and his wife, Sarah, their eldest son, Joshua, their daughter, Clara, and the Kid. Mom told me that this was taken before their amnesty was revoked, back in 1891, if I did the math right."
"Well, here's the Kid's cell, no flash photography, please."
I read the plaque that was affixed to the bars of the cell. What I read shocked me.
"Mom never told me he died in prison," a tear came to my eye. "No wonder Heyes died a year after getting out."
"From what the records say, he nearly took his own life here, some of the old log books say that he quit eating, read less, and slept more."
"To know someone as long as that and to go through as much as they did, then to lose the only person you ever were truly yourself with; I can fully understand."
The guide led me to the other cell block; it was on the other side of the prison.
"Generally, I'm not allowed to do this, but being's he was your granddaddy I'll let you into the cell and let you alone for a while."
I walked in and sat on the cot. The mattress was thin and lumpy. Knowing Heyes, he probably complained about it not being a feather bed, I thought. Then I saw a scene play out in my head.
'"Heyes, get up, ya have a visitor." A guard barked.
A lady with coal black hair and sky-blue eyes walked in to the cell, she was wearing a dark blue dress trimmed in cream colored lace.
"Sarah, what on God's green earth are ya doin' here?"
"They're letting you out Heyes; as the warden gently put it, 'the man's gone off his rocker, we don't want another prisoner to go mad, that's Folsom's job, not ours'," there was a pause. "It's for your own good, Heyes."
"I've been here for eight, long years, Sarah, they ain't gonna let me go this easily."
"Heyes, there was nothing you could have done; I know for a fact he died trying to break up that fight."
The remark seemed to have made Heyes lighten up a bit.
"Alright, let's go home, Sarah." '
The tour guide had stepped away, probably to help some other person. I started to pace the floor of my- I mean, Heyes' cell, my mind mulling over what I had just seen. It didn't make any sense, why would Kid Curry try and break up a fight, then it clicked, the information on the bars of his cell said that he had become good friends with a twenty-seven year old that had attempted to rob the Cheyenne Mint. Mom always told me that I had Heyes' knack for thinking things out.
The cell suddenly became cold, as if someone had turned on an air conditioning unit. Sitting in an old, rickety looking chair sat the solid apparition of a dark haired man reading what looked like a dime novel.
"You've grown, granddaughter."
"Uh-huh," I tried to act natural. "I… uh… thanks for showing me that scene."
"'Tweren't any trouble,"
"I'm sorry about your partner, to live through so much and then to-"
"But you had amnesty for ten years; it doesn't make sense to take it revoke it after that long."
"I know," he got up and sat down next to me. "But remember, we didn't have a lot of friends in the governor's office or in Washington for that matter." Heyes disappeared.
I exited the cell and relocked it. The guide was at the other end of the hall.
"Here's your key," I said. "Is there a cemetery here, by any chance?"
I followed the guide to a field behind the prison. There were a few head stones and many weathered wooden crosses. Soon I found myself standing in front of a grey limestone head stone. It read:
JEDEDIAH "KID" CURRY
BORN- JUNE 10, 1856
DIED- OCTOBER 20, 1899
AGED- 43 YEARS
Below this an epitaph was inscribed:
"FREEDOM LIES WITHIN THE HEART
AND SOUL. ONLY TRUE HAPPYNESS
CAN BE FOUND IN FREEDOM."
In font of the stone lay an old leather bag. Inside were small gifts, mostly comprised of silver dollars. My gift to the Kid was an old letter that Sarah had written to him after his untimely death.
I left Laramie with a better understanding of the lives of my grandfather and my distant cousin. In some ways my life wasn't all that different from theirs.
"Clara, how was your trip to the prison?"
"I… uh broke off from the class to find out about Heyes and Curry's fate after they arrived there."
"They never teach you the truth in history class, do they?"
"Mom, how did Grandpa Heyes die?"
"Some in the family think he mighta drank himself to death and others think he hung himself; look into it Clare, somethin's bound to come up."
"Mom, I don't think it was any of the things you said, I think it was broken heartedness that done him in, think about it, they only had each other to rely on, 'till Heyes married Sarah. They were practically brothers,"
I saw mom considering what I had just said; perhaps I just solved a family mystery.
The next day at school we had to take a test on what we learned at the prison, it was an essay really. Of course I wrote about what I learned about my distant relatives. I failed the essay, needless to say.
"Did you even pay attention on the tour?" Mrs. Stevens asked.
"Yeah, but I got separated from my group and ended up on the other side of the prison and then in the cemetery." I answered.
"And so instead of trying to find your way back you look at the lives of two prisoner s that aren't worth learning about,"
"I beg to differ, Mrs. Stevens, how did Grandpa put it over a hundred years ago, 'filling the spaces with words,' I think he said."
"You watch too much '70s television,"
"The TV show was based on their lives, ya know,"
"Alright, if you can prove your relation to Heyes and Curry, then I'll raise your grade on the essay to a seventy percent."
"That's a good deal?"
"Best I can do,"
I got on the bus and sat next to my friend Jenna Dalton.
"Hey what's got you down?" She asked
"I… uh… failed that test,"
"How? You're like an expert on the history of the state and Native American history as well."
"I got separated from our group and well-"
"Oh, well I'll come over tonight and we'll talk about it then, I know you don't want every one to know about who you're related to."
We got off the bus. It was Friday and my only homework load was to find proof of my relation to Hannibal Heyes; this was going to be fun. I went to the bookshelf and pulled off some of the old journals off. I started with the book on the family history, taken down by Heyes' daughter, Clara. Perfect, I thought, Clara started a family tree in the back and each generation in turn has been added. Now I can worry about finding out about how Heyes died.
A knock came at my door followed by, "Clare, it's me." I opened the door to let Jenna in.
"You look satisfied; did you find what you were looking for?"
"Yeah, know what this is?"
"It's a book, I know that much."
"This is the family history, Heyes' daughter started this when she was nine can you believe it, and the family tree goes back to Sarah's grand parents, who as it turns out were a French fur trader and a Native American woman."
"Wow, so that leaves what?"
"Finding out how Heyes actually died."
"Should I go to the library and look at the old copies of state records?"
"Yes, but we might want to check the internet first, we can't just bludgeon into this we have to try a little 'finesse'."
"Did Kid Curry really say that?"
"Jenn, that's like asking if Heyes ever used nitro to blow a Pierce and Hamilton '78in Denver."
The next day we went to the library. I was on a mission to find out what really happened to my grandfather and come hell or high water I was.
"Clare, it's 2010, this happened a hundred and ten years ago, we haven't found anything, so why don't we just let it go."
"Listen, Jenn, Heyes died in 1900 and the whole family agrees that he either hung himself or drank himself to death, I want to find out how he really died."
"You sure you're not related to Sherlock Holmes?"
"Fictional character, Jenn,"
"Have you checked all of the diaries in your house, maybe there's a clue in one of them."
"I've checked several times, I even checked the school's history text book, at the end of the chapter it said, 'Then at the age of forty-six Hannibal Heyes unexpectedly dies, leaving his family next to nothing.'"
Jenna disappeared behind a bookshelf. On the other side of the table I'm sitting at a chair slides out and someone sits down.
"Pryin' a bit ain't ya?"
"Sheesh, stop doing that,"
"Stop doing what, Clara?"
"Popping up in unexpected places,"
"Where have I ever done that?"
"I hear you need to prove to your teacher that you're related to me,"
"Yeah, hey maybe you could pop in during history class and turn on your easy charm-"
"I'm a ghost, Clara, I can't really do that anymore; and just call me Heyes, don't bother to wrestle with the formalities of calling me your grandfather."
Jenna came around the corner with an arm load of books. Upon seeing Heyes she dropped them on to the table with a loud bang.
"Clare, are you-"
"Yes, Jenn, you're not crazy, go say hi."
"Hi, uh… Mr. Heyes,"
"Okay, now that we're acquainted, let's get down to solving this, Heyes how did you die?"
"Girls, I'd love to tell you that I lived out my days after…, but I didn't. There around June of 1900 I was playin' poker at a saloon and well some dude started to accuse me of cheatin' and I got shot."
"I… wow, I never thought that you would get done in that way, it's a definite improvement from what the family said."
Heyes got up and turned to leave, "Ya know you two ain't the only ones who asked me that,"
"Well," Mrs. Stevens said, "I see you found substantial proof that you are related to Hannibal Heyes."
"Yep, that book in your hand was written by Clara, Heyes' daughter when she was nine then revised to the copy in your hand in 1900."
"I guess I have no choice but to give you that seventy- five on your essay."
After my teacher added the points to my essay I walked out of the room, in the hallway I ran into Heyes.
"Did your teacher keep her end of the deal?"
"Yeah and then some, I got five extra points on my essay."
"Good, is there a saloon in town?"
"No, but there's a soda bar down the street, I hang out there after school on Fridays."
"What about poker?"
"No, none of that either, unless if you count playing rummy at lunch as a game of poker." Heyes had disappeared before I finished.
I met up with Jenna in the school library and then we both walked down to the buses.
"So, how'd it go?"
"I passed, but now I have to give a presentation on my family history to the class,"
"And we only have till Friday to get the presentation together?"
"Nah, I'm just joking about that."
"Clare, I bet Heyes is rolling over in his grave right now."