Stagecoach to Hell and Back – Extended Epilogue

Woodland, California 1878

The land surrounding Woodland drew people in from all parts of the country to try their hand at farming. When the California Pacific Railroad laid tracks through town the spring and summer of ’76, many of the local Chinese immigrants helped connect the outlining villages south of Marysville to the metropolis of Sacramento. The small township of Dixon benefitted from the railroad system, further connecting Sacramento to Vallejo and Sally Laners’ humble efforts and determination to make a special place out of a staging post. She saw the potential in connecting several towns, first by stagecoach and later by the railroad.

Sally had very little to do once the railroad came to town. Population estimates grew to fifteen hundred people, including the outlining farms. Laners Inn had additional rooms as further construction happened throughout both sides of the train tracks.

The locals decided on a municipal corporation that created a town council and incorporated the city of Woodland. The telegraph line followed the train and the modern conveniences followed the rails.

“Mama, can I show Gladys and Mark the pond?” William asked. He ran at Sally along the new boardwalk that connected Laners Inn to the recent dry goods merchant. It was mid-August, and children had a lot of energy to use up before snow came to town.

At fourteen, William was almost as tall as Sally. He had acquired new friends his age as the settlers began moving into the community. Gladys had big brown eyes that drank in William at every turn. Sally saw it upon their first meeting. The girl was William’s age while her brother, Mark, was two years younger. He looked up to William like he could do no wrong.

“Yes, just be careful and make sure you are home for—” Sally didn’t finish the directions. William and the other children sped off toward the footpath leading up to the large pond north of the property.

Smiling, Sally wandering the newly made boardwalks following the rows of lumber buildings, feeling the surge of accomplishment at what started with a dream. The sound of carpenters hammering filled the air. A mason and his apprentice recently moved into the expanded inn. They began the stone foundation to what would eventually become the school during the week and house of worship on Sundays. Enterprising towns sought masonry skills after as blacksmiths and foundries. Woodland currently had two blacksmiths who had followed the railroad lines until they reached the tranquil townsite nestled in the pastoral countryside.

People on horseback still traveled the roadways, along with stagecoaches and some mail coaches. When three men rode under the tall gateposts Sally had put up years ago, she thought nothing of their presence. Like anyone new to the area, they stayed together, leading the horses through the wide meandering street on the west side of the railroad tracks.

Eventually, as Sally made her way across the street, going to the new telegraph office, the three men on horseback approached her. They needed baths and shaves, both luxuries easily found in Woodland.

“Evening, ma’am,” the center rider said. He touched the brim of his dusty hat. “You happen to know where I can find a man named Felix Allen?”

Hearing strangers ask for Sally’s common-law husband wasn’t unusual. Felix had a lot of contacts throughout Northern California. He was the unofficial mayor for Woodland. While Sally wanted involvement in helping decide the elected officials, she wasn’t interested in politics. But those three men gave Sally a sense of uneasiness. And the longer she looked up at the center man on horseback, the more Sally recognized him.

“I do know where to find him,” she said, keeping the pleasantries. “But sir, you look familiar to me. Have we met before?”

His companion shared glances between them as the lead stranger leaned over the saddle, looking down on Sally like she was something sweet put on a dinner plate. “I don’t know, ma’am,” he said. “I believe I sure would remember a filly like you. Maybe once I’m done talking to Felix Allen, I’ll come to find you, and we can talk about where you know me.”

It was in the eyes. Sally remembered his eyes. They were close together, and the long thin nose made him look hawkish. What was his name?

“You’re Mr. Tucker,” she said and gasped.

The realization made her regret saying the name aloud. The last time Sally saw the man, he was in the custody of Mr. Steve McCoy, the head contractor with California Pacific Railroad, two years ago. He was one of the highwaymen who had aided Raymond Kelly in the murder and attempted robbery of a stagecoach.

Tucker pulled his pistol and pointed it at Sally. His two men, one on either side of the former robber, drew their guns. They looked bewildered and shaken by the impending violence.

“Now, I don’t know who you are, lady. But you go throwing my name around, and you’re only looking for trouble,” Tucker said. “All I wanted was Felix Allen.”

“What are we doing, Eli?” the rider on Tucker’s left asked. “This ain’t good in the middle of the street.”

“She knows me, and this town’s got a telegraph, don’t it?” Tucker said. “How about you and Frost tear down those lines?”

Frost and the scared rider rode away from Tucker, pointing his pistol at Sally. She watched as the two men dismounted and rushed into the telegraph office.

“See, I don’t care if I kill just you or everyone here,” Tucker said. “All I wanted was Allen. You go and ruin it with—” When he stopped talking, Sally saw the realization on his face. The tight mouth and narrowed eyes showed recognition. “You’re that bitch. You kicked my leg after Allen shot me. I remember you now.”

He thumbed back the hammer on the blue steel pistol. Sally stared at the muzzle only a few feet from her. If Tucker wanted her dead, there was no stopping him.

“Now, we could get better acquainted later, but right now, you need to tell me where Allen is,” Tucker said. “I got a score to settle.”

Before Sally answered, she saw Frost and his friend exit the telegraph office. Through the window, she saw the merchant holding a handkerchief to his head. She saw the telegraph machine smoking in ruins.

Both men had their guns still drawn. They had several townsfolk watching them. Men and women hurried off the street, clearing the area in case someone started shooting. Violence was the one thing that seemed to follow people when they moved into new communities. Eventually, people thrust their struggles out in the open and tossed their burdens onto others to carry.

They took their horses’ reins and led the animals across the wide street to stand beside Tucker. He stared at Sally.

“Maybe I should give you a limp,” Tucker said. “You should know what it feels like for me every day.”

He aimed, but Sally intended to stand her ground. If the man shot her in the street, she knew it wouldn’t end well for him and his friends. But Sally didn’t want to give the man the satisfaction of seeing her cower in fear. But the gunshot spooked the horses and forced a sharp yelp from her. She flinched, pulling her arms tight to her chest. Dust and gunpowder smoke assaulted her nose. She saw where the bullet slammed into the ground inches from her left foot.

“Damn it, Tucker. What are you doing?” Frost said. “We were coming to fetch that Allen guy. I ain’t shooting my way out of this town.”

“Relax; you broke the telegraph, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, but,” Frost started. Something distracted him.

The sound of gunfire cracked from inside the large barn on the north side of town. As all three men turned to see a team of four horses raced from the shelter, Sally ran in the other direction. She ducked inside an open doorway. The dry goods merchant closed and locked the door behind her.

The four-horse team pulled a large custom Overland stagecoach from the shelter. No one drove the team. The animals raced toward the three men as Tucker pointed his pistol at the empty driver’s bench. Frost and his companion broke away from Tucker, leaving their horses to take cover.

The horses snorted and galloped as Tucker looked for a driver. He fired a shot at the carriage when it closed in on him. Frost and his companion’s horses ran off as the team bore down on them. Tucker’s horse, caught between the man’s attempts to turn it and its need to flee, spun in circles. He attempted to thumb back the hammer again.

Sally saw a figure climbed on the roof of the carriage from the boot. It ran across the top of the stagecoach and dove at Tucker. The weight of a grown man knocked him to the ground. Tucker’s gun flung from his hands as Felix took the man bodily off the horse’s back. The team continued running down the street as Tucker’s horse bolted. The man landed hard on his back, and Felix climbed off him.

Gunfire erupted from the corner of the telegraph building. Frost shot at Felix as he scrambled across the ground to grab Tucker’s pistol. Sally saw Frost’s companion point the gun at Felix, but before he got a shot off, a well-aimed rock struck his temple. The mason and his apprentice remained well hidden against the foundation wall. The man fell against the telegraph wall and slid down. Bewildered by his partner’s sudden unconsciousness, Frost whirled around, swinging the pistol.

Felix got to his feet and ran across the gravel toward Frost. Another heavy rock smashed the office window, and Frost pivoted, seeing the mason duck below the stone wall. He fired the pistol. The bullet ricocheted off the limestone bricks.

Frost turned back to Felix as he closed the distance between them. As Frost backpedaled in a panic as Felix bore down on him, Sally broke cover from the dry goods store. She didn’t want anything to happen to Felix. Before Frost got another shot off, Felix slammed against him, driving the man back through the already broken window of the telegraph office.

Sally ran up to the window where she last saw Felix disappear inside. He lay on the floor next to the unconscious Frost.

“What was that all about?” he asked.

Sally thrust her fists on her hips and stared at him. Felix got to his feet with the help of the telegraph operator, and Felix saw the fresh wound on the old man’s face.

“You need to get the doctor to look at that, Mr. Wilson,” he said.

“I’ll be fine. I once got held up by the Bummers Gang before the war started,” Wilson said, holding the handkerchief to his head again.

“We’ll get some help to fix this window.”

“We need a jailhouse around here if this kind of thing keeps happening,” Wilson said. He pointed the finger at Felix. “You need to wear a badge for all you did for people here.”

“Don’t you put any more ideas in my husband’s head, Mr. Wilson,” Sally said. “It’s bad enough he thinks it’s alright to jump off moving coaches.”

Sally helped Felix out the door. Around them, people began surrounding the troublemakers. The mason and his apprentice stood over the unconscious man. The mason had the man’s gun. He nodded at Sally and Felix.

Out in the street, Tucker eventually got to his feet. He swung his fists at anyone trying to get close to him. Sally saw the left foot had an unnatural turn in it as the man hobbled around, unable to get away. Someone handed Felix a pistol as he walked by them, much to Sally’s dismay.

William and the other children ran across the street from the trail leading to the pond, heading toward the gathering crowds.

“It’s a good thing William didn’t see you playing tumbler.”

Felix frowned at her but smirked. “Who was playing?” he asked. “I came when I heard the shooting.”

“Mr. Chang, can you lead those horses back to the stables now that my husband had his fun with them?” Sally asked.

“Yes, Mrs. Laners.” Chang climbed into the driver’s seat of the stagecoach and directed the horses back into the large barn.

“What did I miss?” William asked. “Who is that man?” He pointed at Tucker, still spitting angry and cussing at anyone daring to get near him.

William stood beside Sally. She grabbed his arm to make sure he remained out of the way while Felix walked up to Tucker and faced off with him. Tucker noticed his own pistol in Felix’s hand. Felix hadn’t pointed it at Tucker, but he had cocked the hammer all the way back. Sally knew if Tucker made a move Felix didn’t like, William might see a murder up close.

“You bastard, you did this to me,” Tucker shouted. On horseback, the man was like anyone else. On the ground, his twisted foot didn’t step flat. His boot had worn thin on the outside.

“How did I do that?” Felix asked. “I was in the warehouse when you started shooting.”

“He’s the man you shot in the leg,” Sally said, clarifying the confusion.

Felix didn’t say anything for a long time. He glanced at William and sighed. Sally knew if he wore a hat, Felix would remove it before stepping forward. “Mister, I know you’re angry with me for what happened. I know it won’t matter to you, but I didn’t mean to shoot your ankle.” He shrugged self-consciously. “It just sort of happened.”

“That don’t fix it.” Tucker limped closer to Felix. Sally braced against William, expecting the man to attack her husband. “The judge let me out of jail because I can’t stand up straight no more. You made me crippled.”

“You chose to follow someone who murdered an innocent man,” Felix said. Tucker got close enough for Felix to jam the index finger of his free hand into Tucker’s chest. The man staggered backward, off-balance. Felix stepped forward. Each time he shouted at Tucker, Felix jabbed him in the chest with his powerful finger. “You come here looking for trouble because you don’t know how to get out of your own way. How dare you come here? You shot at my wife. If I were less of a man, I’d shoot you dead in front of everyone.” Felix glanced over his shoulder. He saw the wide-eyed face of William standing with Sally. She knew by Felix’s demeanor he had no intentions of shedding any more blood.

“What do we do with them?” someone asked from the growing crowd. Sally saw many stern and angry faces among the people who ventured into the street. They had surrounded Tucker and his accomplices. They rounded up their horses and walked them back to the stables.

“They’re responsible for destroying the telegraph,” Wilson shouted from the office doorway. “They need to face the judge for that. It’s a crime against the government.”

“We need a sheriff in Woodland,” someone called from the crowd.

“I elect Felix Allen for sheriff!” It started with one man shouting and turned into a cacophony of like-minded individuals praising Felix and calling for his special election as sheriff.

Felix walked to Sally. Tucker had men surrounding him, some of them with axes and gardening equipment. No one intended to let him or the others leave Woodland.

“What do you think?” Felix asked. He smiled at Sally.

“Are you actually considering it’s a good idea to wear a badge in a town without elections?” Sally asked.

Felix winked at William. The boy smiled gleefully at the idea. He nodded at Felix. “You should do it.”

“No, do not encourage that,” Sally said. “I will not have my men siding against me.”

Felix leaned against Sally. He kissed her cheek and whispered in her ear. “I won’t do it anyway.”

“Somehow, I think you’d say that louder if you meant it,” she said.

“What do we do with them?” someone asked. “They can’t stay here.”

“Well, we need to ship them up to Marysville,” Felix said. He took the time to consider what to do with Tucker and the others. While he thought about it, Felix unloaded the pistol with the ejector pin. He put the bullets into his pocket and handed the empty gun to someone nearby. “I could take the northbound train up to Marysville. I’ll need a few volunteers to go with me.” Felix looked to the telegraph office. “Mr. Wilson, it would be a good idea if you came with me. You know the value of the telegraph.”

“When’s the next train due?” someone asked.

“It should be here by five this evening.”

“That gives us time to get chains on these men,” Felix said. He looked at William. “Do you want to take a ride with me on the train to Marysville?”

“Can I,” William asked, looking at Sally with excitement making him tremble.

“Well, I suppose it’s alright.” She looked at Felix. “You make sure he stays clear of them.”

“How about you come along and get out of Woodland for a while?” Felix asked, whispering in Sally’s ear. His lips brushed her earlobe, giving her chills.

“You’re incorrigible,” she said.

“We could stay a few days,” he said.

“I thought you needed to finish that custom coach for Mr. Henderson,” Sally said. “What happens when he finds out you used it to stop three men from shooting up Woodland? Didn’t Mr. Tucker put a bullet hole in the framework when he tried shooting at you?” The idea turned the exciting chills into fearful goosebumps. Sally didn’t want to think about losing her man. She didn’t want him entertaining the idea of wearing a badge either.

Felix grimaced. He looked at the warehouse. Inside, the rear of the overland stagecoach protruded from the open doors. “I forgot about that,” he said. “I can make repairs later.” He took Sally’s hand and led her away from the crowds.

They walked together, Sally holding Felix’s arm. Somehow, the dust and the glass crumbs in his hair and clothes didn’t bother him. Away from the others, Felix faced Sally.

“I would like you to come with me to Marysville,” he said. “We can get away, just the three of us. The Changs can take care of the inn. I see you wandering around here all day with nothing to do. You built a town up from the ground, and you don’t take any time for yourself.”

Sally smiled at Felix. She loved how much he cared about her. He looked out for her well-being, and he cared deeply for William. Felix would never disappoint or leave them.

“I think you’re right,” Sally said finally. She pressed her hands to her stomach and grinned at Felix. “But it will be the four of us going as a family. Not three of us.”

Felix’s face lit up like the moon on a clear night. He swept Sally into his embrace and held her tight. Somewhere south of Woodland, the train whistle shrieked, letting the people of Woodland know of the northbound train’s arrival.


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59 thoughts on “Stagecoach to Hell and Back – Extended Epilogue”

    1. It was enjoyable to read about strong women raising their sons on there own to be strong decent young men. To see the mothers instill values and manners. A good stories.

    2. Great reading am looking forward to your other books. Thank you for taking everyone back in time when things were simpler & people had an honest attitude about right & wrong.

    3. Enjoyed the story very much I also thought your description of how to qualify as a Stage Coach Driver very informative. It made you aware of how demanding and difficult and underrated this job was.

    4. absolutely fantastic story kept me guessing all. the way to the end. .awaiting for the next part of Felix and sallys life together at woodland, will Felix become the sheriff of not.

    5. I was pleasantly surprised about this book. The title of this book was strange. Then the more I read, the more I realized what the meaning of the title was. You were correct a
      “Stagecoach from Hell & Back.”
      Last night I couldn’t sleep while reading this book. I had to find out about Felix climbing up to rescue William, Sally climbing up not knowing where Felix was or her son William was rescued by Felix.
      It was way past 3:00AM some where I fell asleep with my phone in my hands.

    6. I really enjoyed your story with a happy ending. I have began reading your western books and became looking forward to your next book. I have a habit of finding an author that writes a great story…now I have found him.

      Thank you for a great read and I look forward to your next book.

    7. Always a roller coaster ride. Awesome twists and turns. Kind if story you do not want to put down. Absolutely loved it!!!

    8. This is without a doubt, one of the best western stories I have read for a long time. It was a very exciting adventure and the extended epilogue was very satisfying.

  1. Very good story .most enjoyable .I enjoy reading these books,it must have been a hard life living those times.

  2. Great story. It held my interest from the very beginning when Felix first looked into the barn and continued until he found out he was going to be a father. Also, the story kept the suspense of the missing Morris and the possibility that he would return and claim all. I enjoy reading your stories..

  3. It was refreshing to read about another man caring for a child not his. I was raised in an orphanage and enjoyed the connection.

  4. An awesome story that kept your interest all the way until the end of the epilogue. I enjoy your stories and keep looking for the next one.

  5. A whizz bang adventure. Couldn’t put it down. All the elements. Adventure, excitement, cliff hanger moments, romance and it leaves you with a smile on your face. Absolutely loved it.

  6. Little leery at first, however I now readily admit this was an exciting novel to read. Your talent is extraordinary and I commend you for penning a story that held my interest throughout its pages.

  7. I have read lots of stories but trust me, this was by far one of the most enjoyable well written Westerns I have had the pleasure of enjoying. The heroine cold cooking the “gentleman ” was priceless. So well written it was like a movie in print.

  8. Great story. Continuing on with some of your other books. In these times, reading westerns such is this is about the only way I can maintain a shred of sanity.

  9. You are a good writer, very plausible well written story. I hope you continue writing westerns. You have the gift of narratively crafting characters that your readers connect with and want to follow.

  10. Well written book. I felt like I was right there with the characters. There is a lot of enjoyment reading about the old west, and your descriptions of events, and the people, made this book one of the best I have read in a long time.

  11. I enjoyed reading this book the building of your characters. I was delighted with the morals,respect, determination,strength and general caring most of your story displayed. You had many a wayward lost soul as well. Much as we have now a days.
    Selfish, cruel,mean, weak willed just not the type to make you feel warm and fuzzy. I look forward to a sequel or 2 it is a great storyline. I have read some of your other books and look forward to future reading. Thank you Derek for sharing your stories.

  12. I can’t seem to put your books down once I begin reading them. This was an excellent storyline. I did enjoy it very much!

  13. That was an interesting story…Sally was a strong woman who was able to stand up to men, especially Tucker who was a bully……

    Thank you Mr Levine….

  14. Brilliant well written . Great story but it needs to continue. On a par with Louis lamoore. Can’t wait to read more.

      1. Another great read from you. I was left wondering if her husband would come back and claim it all. Pity you didn’t kill him off, they could have got married then and a happy ever after ending……..😊

  15. What a wonderful story. I loved the characters and how they worked together. Sally was quite the woman and I loved how she respected her Chinese friends, as we all know that they were reviled by most people. Great love story.

  16. I enjoyed the story very much. It kept my interest from start to finish. I hope there will be a sequel to this one letting us know how their future turns out. Will her 1st husband ever show up again or will she find out he has died. Great story.

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