The sheriff sat up there an' his face coulda been carved outta the same stone as them bluffs three miles up the valley. He was squintin' with suspicion out at some risin' dust way out on the trail, maybe two miles off. Y'see, there'd been some serious trouble in Gillian Gulch for the past three weeks. Serious trouble. An' I'd wager the sheriff had a lot on his mind.
First, Kid Cavanaugh and his gang had rode through and made the bank give up 'bout all it had, and that was all the people round here had, too. Bein' as it was the first such robbery in the county since Hawkeye McGee eight years back, it took us all by surprise.
Next, Poppy Keenan, daughter of the mayor, shows up after bein' missin' for months--an' she's knocked up. She won't talk, neither, won't say a word, and I mean not to no one, not even her pa. Shut up tight as a wineskin on Sunday. We're all hopin' bein' home with her pa'll eventually help her find her tongue. An' then whoever it was better watch out, 'cause quicker'n'a boot in the rump he's gonna wake up with a shotgun in his ear an' a Justice of the Peace in the doorway.
Then there was all those cattle foaming at the mouth, then the lightning bolt that hit a travelin' salesman between houses an' assigned him to a new territory altogether, and that same week we get flood rains for four days straight and when the sun comes back out, it don't shine on ol' Ned Targo's mill by the river, cause it ain't there no more, and Ned with it. That mill'd stood every kind'a weather, tornados, draught, two fires, and floods 'bout every year and never had no trouble. Guess this time the Almighty jus' had it in for Ned, an' we'll never know the why of it.
Finally, last Friday, when we thought things couldn't get no worse, Steel-Toe Casey sent some buckshot chasin' a beast back of his shed, an' he swore it was one of them tigers from Africa! Bright orange, he said. But it took off so fast he could barely see it, let alone get his rifle aimed proper. Since Casey's been off the juice for near to five years now, we was all inclined to believe him. Such a thing likewise might explain Franny Snead's missin' cats.
So that's when the sheriff started deputizin' trees. He started with the saplings that the O'Dougalls grow on the rise south of town. Tom and Ella -- nice folks. About seven nice straight lines of young trees up there, and then the older groves of apple n' pear trees behin' 'em. He went up there and pinned the gold star on all them trees so they looked like a buncha soldiers 'bout to march down the hill. He gave 'em a nice speech, too, 'bout how they was to do what he said, and uphold the law and all that, and how any one of 'em didn't think he could live up to bein' a deputy, he should speak up here and now. Well, 'course none of 'em spoke up--they're trees, for god's sake--and then the sheriff gave a really inspirin' speech about the importance of upholdin' the law in these lawless times. Why, even I stood up straighter and felt proud to be on the sheriff's side.
When he was done, he jus' turned an' rode back down toward town. Long the way he stopped two or three times and deputized a couple of poplars and an oak, and jus' before he got back to Main Street he pinned the star on a ficus, which I told him was more a bush than a tree, but he jus' ignored me and went right on. By sundown, we had about 184 deputies.
So there's that cloud of dust, no way of knowin' who it is comin' this way, and I don' know if the sheriff's plan, whatever it is, s'gonna help, though mebbe the next outlaw passin' through the area'll think twice 'bout robbin' a town folks're hearin' tell has 184 deputies. But what do I know? I'm just a bear.