John Ross fought in that sprawling civil war that engulfed America in the 1860's and which spawned rootless men, trained killers who now roamed the West, some looking for work, some looking for rest, and many looking for someone to rob.
Ross became a marshal. He was good with a gun, maybe the best in the whole Territory. He proved his mettle the day Rafe Callahan, an ex-Quantrill raider, brought his band of outlaws into the little quiet town of Kilby, Arizona one morning to rob the bank. They were a casual bunch, all trained killers, ex-soldiers, unafraid of anyone, and supremely confident. Their arrogance allowed them to believe they could ride into town in broad daylight, rob the bank, and ride out without anyone capable of opposing them.
John Ross, with some help from certain townsmen, had stopped the outlaws. At his trial, Callahan vowed vengeance.
Ross falls in love with Molly, a local church-going woman, and Ross, wanting to keep her in his life, agreed to go to church. Ross quits his job as marshal and hangs up his guns. He also makes a promise to the woman he’s going to marry, and to God, that he’ll never kill another man, ever. He proposes to Molly and begins working on a small ranch he’d bought a year earlier.
Then, Rafe Callahan escaped from Yuma Prison.
When he’s warned that Callahan is loose and hunting him, he has to make a choice: break his vow to God and the woman he loves, or run. Everything in him screams to fight. All his life has been spent fighting, and if there is one thing John Ross is good at, it is fighting. His prowess with a gun was already legend in Arizona. But, he relents, determined to keep his vow. Ross heads off into the mountains, determined to hide out until Callahan is captured. But, deep down, he knows it is unlikely because Callahan, who is an expert tracker, will probably find him.
He also comes to realize that he simply cannot keep his promise, because to keep that promise is to die.
Even the woman he loves comes to realize that, acknowledging to herself that she is actually glad that the man she so deeply loves, is so very good at killing.
This story is one about a man who finds himself struggling with deeply held beliefs about God, about killing, and about promises made.
It’s a good read, with an ending unlike any story you’ve ever read.