Posse

12:05 pm

18 Nov 1950

Cloudy, windy


The following is a true story, penned by Ruth Shields in 1950 and faithfully transcribed here by her granddaughter’s husband. We don’t know how it ends.

Chet and I were getting ready to do our regular Sat. A.M. shopping. About 10:45A.M. Mrs. Cottam called for advice as Ed was out at the time. She’d just received a message that 2 women were shot. One dead and the other dying at a hunter’s camp.

We headed downtown in May and stopped by the Phillips 66 station, which is the JP’s hangout. Just as we pulled up Ed came in with a game warden or deputy warden (a conclusion based on checking my book like one Chet has for checking deer hunters).

They talked several minutes. All I heard was the attendant saying they believed both women to have been shot by the same bullet. One got it through the heart. By gestures I gathered that the second one was hit in the right side or arm. They didn’t know if it were accidental or murder.

The 4 men then went in to phone. When they came out less than 5 minutes later Chet said “I might as well get in with you,” so Ed, game warden, and Chet left. He said to me “I’m going with them, can’t say when I’ll be back.”

I went on the P.O. Crowds gathered in the little knots all looking sort of stunned. Of those I passed most were silent. In the P.O. 3 men were talking about shipping cattle. By the general atmosphere something looked wrong but nothing could be gleaned by listening.

I came right home. After about 10 minutes Chet came dashing in after his “rough” jacket, 6 shooter, mittens, camera, shoulder holster and shells. I asked him “Bad huh!” He didn’t reply. Just looked sort of tense, pale and sort of like a bad fire call expression. He left saying “don’t know when I’ll be back, Ruthie.”

All the time sitting in the car at the Phillips 66. I said, just like in the movies. Gee, I’d sure like to go along. That’s one reason I hurried right home thinking maybe he’d take his own pickup and would drop by for equip. and I might get to go. That’s the hell of being a damn girl. Always exciting things for men to do and all we get is 2nd hand parts and anxious hours of waiting which is even worse than grim jobs as all you have is wild imagination to think about the worst possible things happening which usually never do.

My guess is it happened up Priest Canyon as they took off down the highway toward ABO. (Albuquerque — ed.)

Grandma Ruth passed away in August 2014. She left behind a small, windswept, single-story home in Ranchos Florida, Colorado, on the outskirts of Durango.

Objects tell a story. They pose questions as much as answer them. We lost Grandma Ruth in the blink of an eye, and the process of sorting her things is cathartic. Her family can have some of the conversations about her past that they never got to have. As the husband of her granddaughter, feel as if I am meeting for the first time a woman I knew only in old age, through holidays and hugs or handshakes.

I am documenting these objects in a series on an Instagram feed, under the hashtag #Grandmasbasement. A few of those photos are below. More of Ruth’s writing will be posted on Medium in the coming days.

Ruth Shields
Posse, page 1 of 3
May, the truck referenced in Posse.
Pocket knives, straight razors, nail polish (used to mark things, Ruth was not the type to paint her nails), and the notebook that contains Posse.

For more images, head over to Instagram and search #Grandmasbasement.