At 6’2”, “big enough to eat hay”* and “straight as a rail and no bend on the edges”** Slim took over the management of the Sherman ranch and relay station when he returned home after the Civil War. He entered the war as a private, came out a second lieutenant, and won a medal. However, there are indications that the war was unsettling as he states that he had a wild time when he first got back from the war *** and Andy says that Slim does not talk much about it.****
He shares ownership of the ranch with his younger brother, Andy Sherman. Andy was only nine or ten when his mother died soon after Slim’s return. Thereafter Slim, more than twice as old as Andy, moved from the role of older brother to almost that of father. With Jonesy’s help, Slim does his best to raise the boy and keep a roof over his head.
Slim has a firm view of right and wrong and no trouble looking in the mirror every morning. The Sherman name means a lot in the area and Slim means to keep it untarnished. This is not to say that he strictly adheres to the letter of the law. He is more concerned with meting out justice and is willing to put himself between the just and unjust. While he generally does not go looking for a fight, he also does not run away from one. As Sheila Dawson told Slim, “You’re the kind that isn’t afraid of anything he oughta be.”***** Slim’s a straight shooter, albeit not a very fast one.
It is important to Slim that he live by both his actions and words. He is somewhat of an introvert and generally takes a moment to think out the situation and make a firm decision about his actions. This gets him a reputation of being stubborn, hard-headed and bullheaded which creates some interesting confrontations with those stepping over the line; especially Jess, who has his own ideas about right and wrong. While not a very good cook (Slim’s cooking is so bad that to get away from it, Jess would take “two baths a day and six on Sunday”****** ), Slim is somewhat successful at keeping the tea kettle (Jess) from boiling over and infusing him with doing things the right way.
Whit Malone regaled Andy and Jonesy with a colorful account of his adventures with Slim, “…from Illinois to Virginia when the 23rd was comin’ the women used to lock up their daughters.”**** Slim is a sucker for love and when he falls for a girl a role reversal between he and Jess occurs, with Jess becoming the one to advise Slim to think twice. Usually, Slim just plows forward anyway. Slim has a number of longer-term relationships with daughters of upper management of the Great Central Overland Mail and even more short encounters at and off the ranch. While he has no problems finding women who are interested in him, he has problems keeping them. As Jess puts it, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.”******* The ladies often end up going off to college, choosing a life of crime, going to jail, dying, returning to their husbands, in the arms of another man, or just going home. They don’t end up with Slim. Maybe it’s his cooking.
* “Death Wind”, 20, February 2, 1960, Laramie
** “The Wedding Party”, 109, January 29, 1963, Laramie
*** “Turn of the Wheel”, 90, April 3, 1962, Laramie
**** “The General Must Die”, 10, November 17, 1969, Laramie
***** “Widow in White”, 64, June 19, 1961, Laramie
****** “Bitter Glory”, 58, May 2, 1961, Laramie
******* “The Perfect Gift”, 78, January 2, 1962, Larramie
While there are a multitude of named horses (Flash, Jimmy, Rusty, Lady, Jessie, Giant, Robin, Clem, Mitch, Tumbleweed and Cyclone) on the Sherman ranch, Slim does not refer to his three preferred mounts by anything but “horse.” This may be in keeping with the absence of the use of Slim’s own birth name, although a reference to his perhaps being named for his father may have occurred when a newspaper man refers to Matt as “Sherman, Senior”*
The three mounts are all chestnut geldings. One has a star resembling an apostrophe and two have blazes. All appear to be 16 hands and more. Slim’s favorite sports an irregular blaze. This mount seems to be a bit of a handful and determined to be a front-runner.
* “Duel at Parkison Town”, 43 December 13, 1960, Laramie
Not long after the McKeever raiders killed all but two other members of his family, Jess Harper struck out on his own. He drifted from Texas to California, up the Lolo Trail and a lot of points in-between, joined up with the Confederate States Army, drove cattle, worked as a ranch hand, served as a dispatch rider for the Plains Cavalry, and was often found in the company of some shady characters doing something he shouldn’t. He arrives at the Sherman ranch “…right in off the high trail with a greased holster and trouble in both pockets.”*
Two months later Jess finds himself still at the ranch, putting down stakes. And they hold, despite repeated forays away from the ranch to assist shadows from his past. He either comes back of his own accord or Slim rescues him because “good ranch hands are hard to come by.”** But the real reason he comes back is because he has found the home that he looked for during those ten long years on the drift.
Andy and Jess pair up like two brothers from the start. Together they perpetuate pranks on Jonesy and like Andy, Jess gets the look of a boy caught with his hands in the cookie jar when Slim finds they are playing hooky from work.
Jess has a deserved reputation with a gun. Before arriving at the ranch, he spent hours shooting at a clay bank with a .45 sporting a filed down sear and flattened hammer. He is quite accurate, even when fanning while shooting. This is probably a good thing, as Jess has a hot and sudden temper and a tendency to make a decision on the spur of the moment.
While Jess’ nickname of “Galahad” by Matt Jessup*** may not be totally accurate, Jess and Slim do form a relationship that is reminiscent of the allegiance between a knight and his liege lord, to the point where Slim may have provided Jess with a certain level of ownership in the Sherman ranch. Jess does state that he is “part owner” of the ranch.****
In addition to his work on the Sherman ranch, Jess doubles as a wrangler, deputy, stagecoach driver and shotgun, agent for the U.S. government and a member of the Laramie Cavalry Reserve Unit. He is often called upon to serve as a tracker on a posse and when he is in trouble he knows how not to leave much of a trail. He plays poker and believes that those who play for money should learn all the tricks so you can spot them. Yes, Jess can deal off the bottom, but tends to reserve his slight of hand for the amusement of Andy and Mike. His is also willing to flip a coin – so long as he knows he will win.
The wanted posters put Jess at 5′ 11” and 175 pounds with blue eyes and dark hair.***** Jonesy says, “most of the girls in Laramie think he’s pretty handsome.” ****** While Jess eschews marriage and claims, “There’s only two things in the world I’m afraid of – that’s a decent woman and being left afoot,”******* and “I’m shy… sides I got a fast horse,”******** women do seem to find him attractive. However, they don’t seem to stay. Perhaps he isn’t married because as Daisy states, “Jess only means that he hasn’t found the right girl yet. In other words, the one that will have him.”*********
* “Killers’ Odds”, 57, April 25, 1961, Laramie
** “The Run to Tumavaca”, 9, November 10, 1959, Laramie
*** “Ride into Darkness”, 36, October 18, 1961, Laramie
****“Lost Allegiance”, 98, October 30, 1962, Laramie
*****”The Lawless Seven“, December 26. 1961. Laramie
******“The General Must Die”, 10, November 17, 1959, Laramie*******”
******* “The Perfect Gift”, 78, January 2, 1962, Laramie
******** “Edge of Evil”, 117, April 2, 1963, Laramie
********* “Among the Missing”, 93, September 25, 1962, Laramie
Jess rides onto the Sherman ranch on a well appointed, 15.2 hands bay quarter horse gelding with nicely balanced dark points, a star and a Texas brand about which Slim is rather curious.* His name, ‘Hoot’, is only spoken once.**
Like his owner, Hoot regards the Sherman ranch as “home” and has no problem finding his own way back to his feed bag.*** Makes one wonder how he and Jess ended up on the “backside of the moon.”**** Hoot mimics his owner’s temperament by not being fond of being crowded. Usually a good blow from his nostrils and a toss of his head** will alert the offender to back off and, as Jess would say, “Be gentle.”
Hoot is rather easy going and stands for mounting from either the right or left. However, his prey instinct does kick in when Jess drops down into the saddle from a second-story balcony, resulting in a quick, sideways feint.*****
Generally a dependable sort, Hoot floundered in the river on the way to Fort Defiance,****** riling the waters as he takes Jess under with him. It was touch and go for a few moments that seemed like an eternity before both broke the surface. Even though he appears lost, as is true of most of the exigencies, at the end he’s back with Jess in the saddle and headed home.
* “Stage Stop”, 1 September 15, 1959, Laramie
*** “Night of the Quiet Men”, 15 December 22, 1959, Laramie\
**** “Lost Allegiance”, 98 October 30, 1962, Laramie
***** “Duel at Alta Mesa, 23 February 23, 1960, Laramie*
****** “Men of Defiance”, 31 April 19, 1960, Laramie
Peach-fuzzed Andy Sherman exemplifies the statement “out of the mouth of babes.” Straddling the fence between childhood and manhood he is concerned about the sometimes dangerous situation at the ranch and yet resents being packed off to safety by the adults that surround and protect him in the same manner as surprised buffalo form a multi-layer of protection around their calves when the wolves are circling. “It’s tough for a boy to be told he ain’t a man yet,” Jess notes when Andy is sent to town for his own protection.* Andy is young enough to still be painfully honest in his outlook and old enough to call a spade a spade when confronted with conflicting ethics. Called to task when he lies to protect Jess,** he quickly cites Slim for the same offense when Slim protects Ed Caulder.***
Having seen more of the best and the worst of life, Slim hopes Andy will have time to enjoy his childhood. He tries to shield Andy from the rougher parts of life, such as bloody prize fights and courtrooms that would involve “…having him hear everything the accused has done and then having the judge sentence him to death.”**** Alternatively, Andy, soon to enter his teenage years, is trying to stretch his wings. As Jess cautions , “He’s growin’ up, Slim. He thinks he should have more of a say so. Maybe he should.” ***** Jess also states, “You must a kicked outta the traces a few years back yourself,” to which Slim responds, “ I tell you the truth, Jess. I’m kinda’ pleased he had the guts to break loose.”*****
Andy’s relationship with Jess grows into that of two brothers. Andy looks up to Jess, who has been out on his own, is fast with a gun, and is unencumbered by parental authority. Jess allows himself to experience a missed childhood through his relationship with Andy. As Slim notes, “It’s a wonderful thing being a boy. It’s a good time of life. Maybe even the best time.”****
Andy is never shown attending school and by twelve may have completed his educational opportunities in Laramie. From the very beginning, Slim states that he is bound and determined that Andy is “goin’ to amount to somethin’ whether he wants to or not.”****** The decision is therefore made to send Andy off to school in St. Louis, with Jonesy riding herd on him.
* “Circle of Fire”, (3) September 29, 1959, Laramie
** “Glory Road”, (2) September 22, 1959, Laramie
*** “General Delivery”, (8) November 3, 1959, Laramie
**** “The Iron Captain”, (7) October 27, 1959, Laramie
***** “Ride the Wild Wind”, (35) October 11, 1960, Laramie
****** “Stage Stop”, (1) September 15, 1959, Laramie
The most senior member at the Sherman ranch, Jonesy also serves as its lovable conscience. He has been with the Sherman family since Slim was a child. He is seldom short of a story, song, or folk saying that reminds the other three of their place. While this is sometimes irksome to Slim, “You’re so all fired sure of your pearls of wisdom,”* that is only because Jonesy is usually right.
Music is his true love. He plays both the mandolin and piano by ear. He is also a composer, being very proud of his own creation, “Marry Me in Laramie.”**
Riding is not something Jonesy enjoys. In fact, horses seem decidedly spooked by Jonesy and prefer to leave him afoot. That’s acceptable, as Jonesy has a bad sacroiliac. His role as foreman of the Sherman Ranch includes that of chief cook and bottle washer, despite the fact that the food prepared is barely passable. He is much better at cooking his own concoction of liniment, which is liberally applied to man and animal with the same vigor as his pearls of wisdom. He also does not drink, except generally for medicinal purposes, and is not very adept with a pistol. In fact, he is known to go out with a posse without a gun. A double-barreled shotgun is his best option when he feels he must protect his charges.
Jonesy’s main job is to ride herd on one Andy Sherman. To that end, he accompanies Andy when Andy goes to school in St. Louis.
* “Fugitive Road”, (4), October 6, 1959, Laramie
Mike Williams is quite literally one of the orphans of the storm as he arrives at the Sherman Ranch.* When relatives cannot be located he becomes Slim and Jess’ ward, thanks to the fortuitous arrival of Mrs. Daisy Cooper.** She quickly takes Mike and the two bachelors in hand as she turns the ranch house into a home.
Mike, quickly dubbed “Tiger,” is a typically energetic young lad. He enjoys fishing, excels at getting dirty, and has a fondness for the local domestic and wild animals. Baths should be confined to those that are a side benefit of swimming in the lake within hearing distance of the ranch house triangle. He would not want to miss “Aunt” Daisy’s wonderful meals, especially one of ham hocks, potato salad and pie. A good student, he still would rather pick up a fishing pole than go to Laramie to attend the Laramie District School.
Mike provides a fresh and honest outlook on life, relatively unencumbered by the experiences meted out to the adults who surround him. While physically resembling Slim, he shares Jess’ need for a stable family life and is concerned that something may happen to upset his newfound contentment. Even being locked in the cupboard when danger looms is a small price to pay for the home he has found. Especially since “Aunt” Daisy keeps the cookies there!
*“Dragon at the Door”, (65), September 23, 1961, Laramie
**“Ladies’ Day”, (66), October 3, 1961, Laramie
A recent widow from the east, Mrs. Cooper arrives at the Sherman Ranch with hopes of fulfilling her husband’s dream of opening a store in Sherman, in the Territory of Wyoming. Fortunately, no one in Laramie or at the ranch appears to know where the town called Sherman is located. Having spent nearly everything she had to get to Sherman (ranch) and being impressed with the goings on there, she accepts the men’s request that she become their housekeeper and Mike’s caretaker.
Mrs. Cooper comes well prepared for life at the ranch. She raised a son, who served under Major General George Henry Thomas and was lost at the Battle of Chickamauga. Mrs. Cooper shares a number of attributes with General Thomas. She quickly becomes the “Rock of Sherman Ranch.” Her slow and deliberate persuasion of the two bachelors to make improvements at the ranch causes Mort Cory to posit, “Ya’ know what’s the most powerful influence in the West?… A woman.”* Miss Daisy is very adept at channeling the men of the ranch in a way that avoids their feeling unduly “petticoat-bossed,”* although even Jess recognizes that Daisy “rules the roost”*** at the ranch.
Daisy is truly a “Renaissance” woman. She is well-educated, an ex-army nurse, school teacher, bookkeeper, armchair psychologist and culinary artist. She is someone who stands her ground with a determination that mirrors the Sherman code that right is might. She truly believes that one should, “Do unto others as you would they should do unto you.”* (KJV, Mathew 7:12) Her belief in women’s rights extends beyond the political arena to everyday life. She believes women have the right to speak their mind and exercises that belief.
Miss Daisy is also an object of affection. While Mose may not have been able to get her off his stagecoach fast enough when they first met, he quickly falls under her spell and is rather sweet on Miss Daisy, looking forward to seeing her on his stops at the Sherman Relay Station.
* “The Mountain Men”, (68 ), October 17, 1961, Laramie
** “The Fugitives”, (111), February 12, 1963, Laramie
*** “Broken Honor”, (118), April 9, 1963, Laramie
Sitting on the driver’s side of the hard seat of a stage coach has given Mose an opportunity to get to know a lot about the going’s-on from one end of the line to the other and also the people in the Laramie area. There’s a twinkle in his eye when he knows something he figures the other guy doesn’t. When holding the lines of a four-up, he’s speedier than a telegrapher in bringing the latest news, general gossip and a personal perspective on the events around him to his favorite stop, the Sherman Relay Station.
And why is it his favorite stop? Well, Mose is fond of chocolate cake… and the lady there that makes it.
When Sheriff Neeley mentions that Laramie has one of the fastest growing cemeteries in Wyoming* he might have been thinking about how quickly Laramie sheriffs come and go. Mort is one of around twenty sheriffs that take on the job in Laramie from the time Jess arrives.
Granted, while some are shot, others just disappear and a few do seem to retire as local ranchers. Mort seems to be the only sheriff to be able to hang onto the job. It’s not an easy thing to do. Added to his concerns are those two ranchers he keeps enlisting to fill in when his duties take him out of town. They just don’t seem to be able to keep out of trouble.
Mort and Jess share a number of traits. For example, Mort accuses Jess of being ornery and stubborn. Jess shoots back that Mort might have a trace of that himself. In fact, Mort may portend the footprints that Jess follows in the future, if Jess does not remember the size of Laramie’s Boot Hill.
Mort and Slim have known each other longer than have Mort and Jess.** They mirror each other in relation to respecting the law, although Sheriff Cory has to also keep to the letter of the law. Both Slim and Mort stand up to Jess when he steps sideways of it, just as they both believe he is a good friend to have on their side.
The job does seem to take a toll on Mort’s marriage. Mrs. Cory disapproves of his choice to remain as Laramie’s sheriff. *** He’s still married two years later when Slim is deputized and benefiting from the attention of three saloon girls who comment that Slim gets better food because “There’s one big difference between you and the sheriff. He’s married and you’re not.**** Less than a year later, Jess notes that Mort is putting on weight and he doesn’t know how Mort will get along when Mrs. Hartley and her husband, Mort’s nephew, leave Mort’s home to get their own place.***** At that time, Mrs. Cory does not appear to be at the house. Either Mort is no longer married, or she’s off visiting and about as good a cook as is Slim.
* “Stage Stop”, (1), September 15, 1959, Laramie
** “The Long Riders“, (37), October 25, 1960, Laramie
*** “Hour After Dawn”,(26), March 15, 1960, Laramie
**** “The Runt”, (85), February 20, 1962, Laramie
***** “Gun Duel”, (104), December 25, 1962, Laramie