Why do I say ‘Sacrifice?’
It is an equation.
Everyone has something they hold highest – something for which they will do anything. Aware or not, everyone has a hierarchy within him. For most, the pinnacle position is held by their lives. Thus the old hold-up equation Your money or your life.
Most would hand over the money. It is sacrifice of one thing for another. This is the reason that Wells Fargo employs men like Wyatt, like Morgan and like Bob Paul. They hold loyalty and pride higher than threatened
loss of life. They calculate equations second by second as shotgun barrels near or turn infinitesimally away; as fingers move from triggers or tense around them; as an eye looks aside or narrows to aim. Such men are weighing the moment when duty becomes folly and threat becomes probable death. No stage was ever successfully robbed with Wyatt riding shotgun, so that turning moment never arrived because he would, even at that point, have gambled on the faulty aim of any highwayman. But if he had died that way, it would have been a sacrifice of life for duty.
I had lost my life already. But there was something I still held highest. Even such as Bat Masterson and Fred Dodge, who essentially despised me, could see it as clearly as if I shouted it to everyone I met. To quote them both: Sterling loyalty to his friends was the single tenet of his perverted creed.
And perhaps it was at this that they were looking in hindsight: I sacrificed, in that tension-filled and dangerous time, the peace, safety and reputations of Wyatt and his brothers for the memory of Billy Leonard. My friend. It was not vengeance, but my holding above everything else my own honour - my duty to stand by Billy, even deceased, even desperate as he had been in life.
Causality is a complex web beyond our ken. The simple action of goading Ike and heaping proverbial burning coals upon his pathetic head over his betrayal of Billy cost me everything. Yet I could have done nothing else. Is that why Bat called me selfish? Because I had no regret? Though Morgan lost his life and we lost the infinitely precious wisdom, companionship and joie de vivre that was Morgan; though Virgil lost his arm; though Jim’s Hattie lost her sweetheart, even unworthy as he was; though Wyatt lost his good name and the solid surety of his feet set on the path of law; though I, even I who had who had so little, lost my friend, my latter family, my freedom and any lingering hopes I had of a sense of home. Did Bat call me that because I still kept my head erect; still averred I had done my best? Because I refused to lose that tiny grain of virtue by refraining from a single action; because I would not sacrifice that
but held it in balance against all else?Ultimately
, we cleansed the territory. And the murders and hold-ups, the rustling and thieving were over. And the fear that paralysed and brought low the genuinely honest ranchers was broken.
We killed and killed, and Morgan died, and what we lost was incalculable.
I still do not apologise. I still do not regret my actions. Even looking back at everything I wrought, I cannot see that, given what I knew at the time, I could have honestly done anything else. I do not regret. But I mourn.