The notorious Doc Middleton and his gang reportedly used Horse Thief Canyon to hide their stolen stock. They claimed the rustlers boarded up both ends of the canyon, north and south, so the ponies taken from Spotted Tail and Chief Red Cloud were kept out of sight until buyers rode in from neighboring states.
Some who romanticized Doc gave him a renowned Robin Hood-like reputation. Often, ranchers and poor settlers alike protected him and his gang from authorities.
I considered Doc a romantic figure as well. My thoughts soared backward with the wind. I fancied myself as a young girl of the long-ago prairie, and enter Horse Thief Canyon…
Dressed in a long dress of calico and high-top shoes, my bonnet bounced askew with my braids, I crossed into the world of Doc Middleton and his band of rustlers.
Thundering hooves echoed through the cliffs of sand. I grabbed roots, slipped, and knock gritty granules down the side wall in my hurry to escape for cover up the bank. I took shelter behind a wide cottonwood trunk, shaking in my high-tops.
I gathered my skirts and I tucked the fabric between my knees, just as the first horse rounded the curve beneath me. Sunlight glistened on the open-mouthed grin of the leader.
Gold Tooth Jack!
I drew an easy breath.
He would do me no harm. According to folklore, if he saw me, he’d offer me candy.
Too cowardly to step out, I bided my time until the gang passed by. My heart pounded a rhythm with the rumbling echo of hooves long after they had driven the stolen ponies out of sight.
With the excitement over, I retraced my steps and left the canyon.
I returned to my early 1960s bare feet and shorts, and wondered if meadowlarks ever called Doc Middleton and his gang to adventure.