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Appearances Deceivin'
Denver Post, February 8, 1903

"Can't Always Tell," Says Old Bill Cotton

One Good Boy's Hard Luck Rode on a Stranger's Horse and Was Strung Up as a Horse Thief - Bull-Whacker Cotton Puzzled by the Automobiles

"First time I've been here for years and - say, I think I'll buy this; I like it."

William Cotton, pioneer, "bullwhacker," miner - "Old Bill" Cotton, as Jack Bell calls him, stood in the wind and the glinting, spraying snow and glanced up at the Brown hotel. "It's all right, this here hotel, and, though I ain't saw the Waldorf in New York, I reckon it don't skin this'n such a helluva lot, hey?" And Mr. Cotton took a second survey of the smooth, high-reaching, north facade of the solid and stately pile.

"Hafter be a little keerful crossin' these here streets though," he proceeded, as he stepped cautiously from the sidewalk and began to move toward Seventeenth street; "these here buggies without any horses to 'em 'll git right on top o' you before you know it. Look out! Here comes one of 'em now!" And he side-stepped, then backed and was on the sidewalk again when the big auto he had sighted half a block away, came snorting and whizzing and sloughing off the slush.

"They shore do beat the band!" exclaimed the man from Victor. "I don't get it into my head at all how they git up so much speed. Some of 'em, they tell me, run by electricity, but it's a mystery to me. And that feller in the cap that's runnin' the concern. It's funny how he turns them corners. Don't seem to make no to-do about it neither. Beats sleigh ridin', by gosh, 'cause it don't make no difference whether there's any snow or not."

Mr. Cotton paused in his speech but kept along beside his companion at long strides. "If I can make that deal go through and git rid of the Little Katy at a good figure," he added a little later, "I'll buy one o' them things shore's shootin and I'll jist tear up all them roads down in the district."

Wheeler Was a Good Boy

But now the conversation took one of those sudden and inexplicable turns and, all at once Mr. Cotton was in the midst of a singular reminiscence illustrating the unreliability of circumstantial evidence. "Wasn't any nicer boy anywhere than Billy Wheeler," said the old bull-whacker. "I knowed him at Evanston, up in Wyoming fifteen years or so ago - mother was a sick woman most all her life and Billy took keer of her and he done it right, too, though he wa'n't but 17 years old.

"But there wasn't much doin' about Evanston, so the boy took it into his head to go up to Deadwood and, as he didn't have the price for a stage ride, he struck out afoot. He poked along till he was pretty nigh played out and then it was his bad luck to be overtook by four fellers, each one leading a horse, and they told him to git up on one of 'em and ride."

"Bad luck you say?"

"Yes, that's what I said and so'll you say it in a minute. The fellers kep' a humpin' along at a pretty good hickory till just before they got into Rapid City, South Dakota, a bunch oft twenty men come upon 'em, throwed down on 'em with their six-shooters and took 'em all in. They was horse thieves, you see, and the fellers after 'em was stockmen they'd been a-stealin' from.

"And when they'd caught 'em, what did they do but string 'em ever last one up to a limb of a big cottonwood."

"The boy, too?"

"Yea, the boy, too. That was where his hard luck come in and it also shows that circumstantial evidence is dead wrong."

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