The Echevarrias can trace their land and their lineage to 1693. Their family owned and worked the land for two hundred years, defending it from Indians, from gringos who tried to take it from them, and from the recent waves of sickness. Their ranch has suffered in the past fifteen years, but Raoul Echevarria has sworn to hold onto that land with his dying breath, and pass it on to his children to hold and pass on to their children.
Nobody goes into the Mexican End without Raoul Echevarria's explicit approval. Anyone who goes there to raise hell will find their hell already prepared for them.
In 1821 a persecuted group of Protestants called the "Witnesses" found the Echevarria lands, and after some skirmishes settled nearby in what would be called Judgement. Their leader, Jebediah Walker, preached that the End Times were immanent, and that the steadfastly faithful would be taken up to Heaven before Satan took dominion of the rest of this sinful world. Theirs was a very strict faith: no games, no dancing, no alcohol, no "worldly" books, only a regimen of hard work and Bible reading.
Many current residents of Judgement were Witnesses, or came from Witness families. Today only two dozen strict Witnesses remain, although Jebediah's son Josiah ministers to a larger flock of intermittently religious townsfolk. He himself cleaves to Witness principles, and urges the larger community to follow him. He still maintains that the Day of Wrath is coming. And he might be right ...
A decade or so after the Witnesses, other farmers and homesteaders made their home in Judgement. Many didn't survive, and were buried atop Cemetary Hill. Others thrived, and tilled fertile lands.
Like the Echevarrias, these new settlers had to fight off Indian raids and sudden droughts. Still, they thrived, and built out much of Judgement's Main Street. With the arrival of the stagecoach, the people of Judgement traded their produce for modern conveniences like
When Hyram Morgan Dean discovered silver in the hills near Judgement in 1843, he brought another influx of settlers: miners and the inevitable gamblers, prostitutes, and hucksters. For two decades, the small town of Judgement became wildly prosperous ... and, as the fifty or so Witnesses put it, a den of iniquity.
The silver veins ran out, but Dean pressed on, thinking there were other metals in the mines. Instead, his workers became sick with a strange ailment, which the doctor at the time diagnosed variously as anemia and heat stroke. Dean called it laziness ... until workers began to die in droves. The discovery of an old Indian burial ground north of the mines convinced the survivors that the land was under an Indian curse, and from thence forth only fools and madmen would go down into the mines. The mines finally closed in 1862, two years into the Civil War.
The Civil War eventually reached even Judgement, in the form of recruiters for the war effort. As the miners grew sick, so did the cattle and crops, so many young men eagerly joined up to get out of Judgement and do something "important". One of them was a young Nathan Daniels.
After the war, Daniels came back with a new bride, and Doctor Jones set up shop. Hyram Dean invested in the war effort, and despite the South's defeat managed to increase his hoard. Others weren't so fortunate: a few came back with physical or mental scars, and most came back to settle under Cemetary Hill.
Over the next five years, crops continued to fail, cattle became sicklier and fewer, and families began to move out. In their stead, outlaws and drifters trickled in. Some found work with Jamison's gang, others tried to settle in. Many "made trouble", as defined by the Sheriff, and either left town or joined the population under Cemetary Hill.
This year, 1876, marked the passing of Hyram Morgan Dean, possibly the town's richest and most hated man. He leaves no heirs; the Judge annulled his one marriage on shaky grounds, and the woman and her child left soon after.
Esteban Echevarria, too, died, in a shootout with a drifter named Bill Campbell; that shootout also claimed the life of a bystander, 19-year-old Melody Whitfield, who was engaged to be married to Mark Hilliard. At Campbell's hanging, Morena Echevarria made a rare appearance in town to curse Campbell's name and smile in grim satisfaction as he strangled slowly in the noose.
In total, twenty people have died in the past eight months. The shooting stars this evening made a brief but welcome diversion for this struggling community ...
Father de la Cruz is the Catholic priest in the Mexican quarter of town. He's nearly as well respected as Raoul Echevarria among the Mexican population, and has cordial relations with most of the rest of Judgement (except for the Witnesses). He is supposed to be a very educated man.
Father de la Cruz and Doctor Jones frequently meet in town at the only saloon left open. Eavesdroppers can seldom make head or tail of the conversation, it's such high-falutin' stuff.
While Nathan Daniels and his family don't own the largest farm in the area, he's one of the most respected citizens in and around Judgement. Even though he's struggling himself, he's always ready to help out other folks, and some say he'd make a better Sheriff than Wheeler.
Raoul Echevarria's only son Esteban has been trouble since he was born. Supposedly heir to Raoul's estate, he spends more time in Judgement's saloons and one remaining brothel ... or the jail when he gets into fights. The elder Echevarria's money always gets Esteban out of trouble, but the Echevarria ranch isn't doing so well.
Morena Echevarria seldom strays outside of the Echevarria compound, except to attend Mass. Witnesses describe her as a Spanish beauty usually dressed in black, as if mourning. According to local gossip, she hates Anglos vehemently, and once pulled a knife on some drunken cowboys when they got too familiar.
Raoul Echevarria, a distinguished gray-haired Spaniard impeccably dressed in fine if slightly outdated clothes, runs the Echevarria Ranch. He's one of the richest men in town, and therefore well respected. He seldom comes to the Anglo area of town; the few who have met him describe him as well-spoken but iron-willed.
One of the only two representatives of the law, the Judge looks more like sixty than his actual forty-five years. Between the outlaws that plague his streets and the three-cornered fights between the Echevarrias, the Jamison syndicate, and the late Hyram Morgan Dean, Judge Harris is just worn out.
Gerald Jamison, once a card sharp and petty scam artist, took over the brothels and protection rackets of other gangs as they died or fled Justice like rats. He's one of the big fish in the small pond of Justice. He smiles constantly, and if you want to keep breathing you'll smile back and act really polite.
Doctor Jones came to Judgement shortly after the end of the Civil War. He's a round-faced, genial man in his fifties with a Boston accent; since he's the only doctor for miles, and does amazing work, nobody complains about having a Yankee in their midst. He's very close-mouthed about his past. Most people assume he came from a rich Eastern family and disgraced himself in some way, maybe got in trouble with the law. Otherwise, why would such an educated man be in a place like Judgement?
Bernard Sorenson looks very much like a mortician: solemn, almost always dressed in black or gray; only his ginger hair and perpetual sunburn breaks the cliche. Mostly he builds pine boxes, although he does embalm those who can pay.
The current leader of the Witnesses, Josiah Walker is as hard-headed and uncompromising as his forebears. Every conversation is a sermon; every deviation from his strict morality an abomination. Only the Witnesses really like him, although more religious folks attend his services from time to time.
Unlike the Judge, the Sheriff long ago learned the Golden Rule: he who has the gold makes the rules. He's tough on strangers and poor folks, but will happily ignore Esteban's drunken and frequently violent outbursts, or the Jamison gang's enterprises. He'd also cheerfully open his cells to any lynch mob that knocked on his door.
"Old Zeke" lives somewhere on the plains, and only goes into town for a bottle of whiskey ... but alas, never a bath. Nobody remembers his full name.
Zeke used to be a miner, back when the mines were still open. Unlike a lot of the miners, he never got physically sick, but popular opinion is that he's plumb crazy. They say he still works mine, looking for riches.PREV|TOP|NEXT