Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Family Legend Wounded But Still Breathing

Pam's dad, John Mauldin, kept this gun in his nightstand throughout the last decades of his life. It was for security against random evildoers, he said, although when Pam retrieved the weapon after he died she found the cylinder empty and no cartridges anywhere in the house.

She held onto it because of the exciting family folklore surrounding it. She understood that the revolver, a Smith and Wesson .44, was once carried by John's father, Homer Gene Mauldin Sr., when he was sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona.

The story I heard her tell more than once was that Sheriff Mauldin was wearing this sidearm when he got a panicky phone call from the next county informing him that Pretty Boy Floyd was at large in Arizona and heading his way. The sheriff hit the road in search of the notorious bank robber and cop killer, presumably intending to shoot him with his enormous pistol if he had to.

As luck would have it, he didn't. But if things had turned out differently, it now seems quite clear that he'd have done any necessary shooting with an entirely different weapon. The one now hanging handsomely box-framed on our wall wasn't ever his.

Going through an old carton of previously unexamined papers just a few weeks ago, Pam came across a torn and faded document in the form of an amateurish and probably jocular 100-year lease under which John took possession of the gun from his uncle El Roy Mauldin when the two of them were both living in San Antonio in the 1960s.

There certainly was law enforcement work in the pistol's pedigree. In the lease, El Roy affirms that he was a deputy sheriff in Beaumont when he acquired it.

But regardless of which Mauldin peace officer owned our pearl handled memento, it never posed any danger to Pretty Boy Floyd. The lease says El Roy bought it factory fresh from Smith and Wesson "in 1938 or 1939". Pretty Boy was shot dead by other lawmen in an apple orchard in Ohio in October of 1934.

As for the rest of the oral history, the part in which Homer Gene spent an edgy night in the desert hunting America's Public Enemy Number One, I've been unable to find any confirmation that the pudgy cheeked miscreant ever wandered as far west as Arizona.

On purpose, however, I did not look very hard.

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