The Hiding of
Black Bill by O Henry
A lank, strong, red-faced man with a Wellington beak and small,
fiery eyes tempered by flaxen lashes, sat on the station platform at
Los Pinos swinging his legs to and fro. At his side sat another man,
fat, melancholy, and seedy, who seemed to be his friend. They had the
appearance of men to whom life had appeared as a reversible coat—
seamy on both sides.
"Ain't seen you in about four years, Ham," said the seedy man.
"Which way you been travelling?"
"Texas," said the red-faced man. "It was too cold in Alaska for
me. And I found it warm in Texas. I'll tell you about one hot spell I
went through there.
"One morning I steps off the International at a water-tank and lets
it go on without me. 'Twas a ranch country, and fuller of
spite-houses than New York City. Only out there they build 'em twenty
miles away so you can't smell what they've got for dinner, instead of
running 'em up two inches from their neighbors' windows.
"There wasn't any roads in sight, so I footed it 'cross country.
The grass was shoe-top deep, and the mesquite timber looked just like
a peach orchard. It was so much like a gentleman's private estate
that every minute you expected a kennelful of bulldogs to run out and
bite you. But I must have walked twenty miles before I came in sight
of a ranch-house. It was a little one, about as big as an elevated-
"There was a little man in a white shirt and brown overalls and a
pink handkerchief around his neck rolling cigarettes under a tree in
front of the door.
"'Greetings,' says I. 'Any refreshment, welcome, emoluments, or
even work for a comparative stranger?'
"'Oh, come in,' says he, in a refined tone. 'Sit down on that
stool, please. I didn't hear your horse coming.'
"'He isn't near enough yet,' says I. 'I walked. I don't want to
be a burden, but I wonder if you have three or four gallons of water
"'You do look pretty dusty,' says he; 'but our bathing
"'It's a drink I want,' says I. 'Never mind the dust that's on the
"He gets me a dipper of water out of a red jar hanging up, and then
"'Do you want work?'
"'For a time,' says I. 'This is a rather quiet section of the
country, isn't it?'
"'It is,' says he. 'Sometimes—so I have been told—one sees no
human being pass for weeks at a time. I've been here only a month. I
bought the ranch from an old settler who wanted to move farther west.'
"'It suits me,' says I. 'Quiet and retirement are good for a man
sometimes. And I need a job. I can tend bar, salt mines, lecture,
float stock, do a little middle-weight slugging, and play the piano.'
"'Can you herd sheep ?' asks the little ranch-man.
"'Do you mean have I heard sheep?' says I.
"'Can you herd 'em—take charge of a flock of 'em ?' says he.
"'Oh,' says I, 'now I understand. You mean chase 'em around and
bark at 'em like collie dogs. Well, I might,' says I. 'I've never
exactly done any sheep-herding, but I've often seen 'em from car
windows masticating daisies, and they don't look dangerous.'
"'I'm short a herder,' says the ranchman. 'You never can depend on
the Mexicans. I've only got two flocks. You may take out my bunch of
muttons—there are only eight hundred of 'em—in the morning, if you
like. The pay is twelve dollars a month and your rations furnished.
You camp in a tent on the prairie with your sheep. You do your own
cooking, but wood and water are brought to your camp. It's an easy
"'I'm on,' says I. 'I'll take the job even if I have to garland my
brow and hold on to a crook and wear a loose-effect and play on a pipe
like the shepherds do in pictures.'
"So the next morning the little ranchman helps me drive the flock
of muttons from the corral to about two miles out and let 'em graze on
a little hillside on the prairie. He gives me a lot of instructions
about not letting bunches of them stray off from the herd, and driving
'em down to a water-hole to drink at noon.
"'I'll bring out your tent and camping outfit and rations in the
buckboard before night,' says he.
"'Fine,' says I. 'And don't forget the rations. Nor the camping
outfit. And be sure to bring the tent. Your name's Zollicoffer,
"'My name,' says he, 'is Henry Ogden.'
"'All right, Mr. Ogden,' says I. 'Mine is Mr. Percival Saint
"I herded sheep for five days on the Rancho Chiquito; and then the
wool entered my soul. That getting next to Nature certainly got next
to me. I was lonesomer than Crusoe's goat. I've seen a lot of
persons more entertaining as companions than those sheep were. I'd
drive 'em to the corral and pen 'em every evening, and then cook my
corn-bread and mutton and coffee, and lie down in a tent the size of a
table-cloth, and listen to the coyotes and whippoorwills singing
around the camp.
"The fifth evening, after I had corralled my costly but uncongenial
muttons, I walked over to the ranch-house and stepped in the door.
"'Mr. Ogden,' says I, 'you and me have got to get sociable. Sheep
are all very well to dot the landscape and furnish eight-dollar cotton
suitings for man, but for table-talk and fireside companions they rank
along with five-o'clock teazers. If you've got a deck of cards, or a
parcheesi outfit, or a game of authors, get 'em out, and let's get on
a mental basis. I've got to do something in an intellectual line, if
it's only to knock somebody's brains out.'
"This Henry Ogden was a peculiar kind of ranchman. He wore finger-
rings and a big gold watch and careful neckties. And his face was
calm, and his nose-spectacles was kept very shiny. I saw once, in
Muscogee, an outlaw hung for murdering six men, who was a dead ringer
for him. But I knew a preacher in Arkansas that you would have taken
to be his brother. I didn't care much for him either way; what I
wanted was some fellowship and communion with holy saints or lost
sinners—anything sheepless would do.
"'Well, Saint Clair,' says he, laying down the book he was reading,
'I guess it must be pretty lonesome for you at first. And I don't
deny that it's monotonous for me. Are you sure you corralled your
sheep so they won't stray out ?
"'They're shut up as tight as the jury of a millionaire murderer,'
says I. 'And I'll be back with them long before they'll need their
"So Ogden digs up a deck of cards, and we play casino. After five
days and nights of my sheep-camp it was like a toot on Broadway. When
I caught big casino I felt as excited as if I had made a million in
Trinity. And when H. O. loosened up a little and told the story
about the lady in the Pullman car I laughed for five minutes.
"That showed what a comparative thing life is. A man may see so
much that he'd be bored to turn his head to look at a $3,000,000 fire
or Joe Weber or the Adriatic Sea. But let him herd sheep for a spell,
and you'll see him splitting his ribs laughing at 'Curfew Shall Not
Ring To-night,' or really enjoying himself playing cards with ladies.
"By-and-by Ogden gets out a decanter of Bourbon, and then there is
a total eclipse of sheep.
"'Do you remember reading in the papers, about a month ago,' says
he, 'about a train hold-up on the M. K. T.? The express agent was
shot through the shoulder, and about $15,000 in currency taken. And
it's said that only one man did the job.'
"'Seems to me I do,' says I. 'But such things happen so often they
don't linger long in the human Texas mind. Did they overtake,
overhaul, seize, or lay hands upon the despoiler?'
"'He escaped,' says Ogden. 'And I was just reading in a paper
to-day that the officers have tracked him down into this part of the
country. It seems the bills the robber got were all the first issue of
currency to the Second National Bank of Espinosa City. And so they've
followed the trail where they've been spent, and it leads this way.'
"Ogden pours out some more Bourbon, and shoves me the bottle.
"'I imagine,' says I, after ingurgitating another modicum of the
royal boose, 'that it wouldn't be at all a disingenuous idea for a
train robber to run down into this part of the country to hide for a
spell. A sheep-ranch, now,' says I, would be the finest kind of a
place. Who'd ever expect to find such a desperate character among
these song- birds and muttons and wild flowers? And, by the way,'
says I, kind of looking H. Ogden over, 'was there any description
mentioned of this single-handed terror? Was his lineaments or height
and thickness or teeth fillings or style of habiliments set forth in
"'Why, no,' says Ogden; 'they say nobody got a good sight of him
because he wore a mask. But they know it was a train-robber called
Black Bill, because he always works alone and because he dropped a
handkerchief in the express-car that had his name on it.'
"'All right,' says I. 'I approve of Black Bill's retreat to the
sheep-ranges. I guess they won't find him.'
"'There's one thousand dollars reward for his capture,' says Ogden.
"'I don't need that kind of money,' says I, looking Mr. Sheepman
straight in the eye. 'The twelve dollars a month you pay me is
enough. I need a rest, and I can save up until I get enough to pay my
fare to Texarkana, where my widowed mother lives. If Black Bill,' I
goes on, looking significantly at Ogden, was to have come down this
way—say, a month ago—and bought a little sheep-ranch and—'
"'Stop,' says Ogden, getting out of his chair and looking pretty
vicious. 'Do you mean to insinuate—'
"'Nothing,' says I; 'no insinuations. I'm stating a hypodermical
case. I say, if Black Bill had come down here and bought a sheep-
ranch and hired me to Little-Boy-Blue 'em and treated me square and
friendly, as you've done, he'd never have anything to fear from me. A
man is a man, regardless of any complications he may have with sheep
or railroad trains. Now you know where I stand.'
"Ogden looks black as camp-coffee for nine seconds, and then he
"'You'll do, Saint Clair,' says he. 'If I was Black Bill I
wouldn't be afraid to trust you. Let's have a game or two of seven-up
to- night. That is, if you don't mind playing with a train-robber.'
"'I've told you,' says I, 'my oral sentiments, and there's no
strings to 'em.'
"While I was shuffling after the first hand, I asks Ogden, as if
the idea was a kind of a casualty, where he was from.
"'Oh,' says he, 'from the Mississippi Valley.'
"'That's a nice little place,' says I. 'I've often stopped over
there. But didn't you find the sheets a little damp and the food
poor? Now, I hail,' says I, 'from the Pacific Slope. Ever put up
"'Too draughty,' says Ogden. 'But if you've ever in the Middle
West just mention my name, and you'll get foot-warmers and dripped
"'Well,' says I, 'I wasn't exactly fishing for your private
telephone number and the middle name of your aunt that carried off the
Cumberland Presbyterian minister. It don't matter. I just want you
to know you are safe in the hands of your shepherd. Now, don't play
hearts on spades, and don't get nervous.'
"'Still harping,' says Ogden, laughing again. 'Don't you suppose
that if I was Black Bill and thought you suspected me, I'd put a
Winchester bullet into you and stop my nervousness, if I had any?'
"'Not any,' says I. 'A man who's got the nerve to hold up a train
single-handed wouldn't do a trick like that. I've knocked about
enough to know that them are the kind of men who put a value on a
friend. Not that I can claim being a friend of yours, Mr. Ogden,'
says I, 'being only your sheep-herder; but under more expeditious
circumstances we might have been.'
"'Forget the sheep temporarily, I beg,' says Ogden, 'and cut for
"About four days afterward, while my muttons was nooning on the
water- hole and I deep in the interstices of making a pot of coffee,
up rides softly on the grass a mysterious person in the garb of the
being he wished to represent. He was dressed somewhere between a
Kansas City detective, Buffalo Bill, and the town dog-catcher of Baton
Rouge. His chin and eye wasn't molded on fighting lines, so I knew he
was only a scout.
"'Herdin' sheep?' he asks me.
"'Well,' says I, 'to a man of your evident gumptional endowments, I
wouldn't have the nerve to state that I am engaged in decorating old
bronzes or oiling bicycle sprockets.'
"'You don't talk or look like a sheep-herder to me,' says he.
"'But you talk like what you look like to me,' says I.
"And then he asks me who I was working for, and I shows him Rancho
Chiquito, two miles away, in the shadow of a low hill, and he tells me
he's a deputy sheriff.
"'There's a train-robber called Black Bill supposed to be somewhere
in these parts,' says the scout. 'He's been traced as far as San
Antonio, and maybe farther. Have you seen or heard of any strangers
around here during the past month?'
"'I have not,' says I, 'except a report of one over at the Mexican
quarters of Loomis' ranch, on the Frio.'
"'What do you know about him?' asks the deputy.
"'He's three days old,' says I.
"'What kind of a looking man is the man you work for ?' he asks.
'Does old George Ramey own this place yet? He's run sheep here for
the last ten years, but never had no success.'
"'The old man has sold out and gone West,' I tells him. 'Another
sheep-fancier bought him out about a month ago.'
"'What kind of a looking man is he ?' asks the deputy again.
"'Oh,' says I, ' a big, fat kind of a Dutchman with long whiskers
and blue specs. I don't think he knows a sheep from a
ground-squirrel. I guess old George soaked him pretty well on the
deal,' says I.
"After indulging himself in a lot more non-communicative
information and two-thirds of my dinner, the deputy rides away.
"That night I mentions the matter to Ogden. "'They're drawing the
tendrils of the octopus around Black Bill,' says I. And then I told
him about the deputy sheriff, and how I'd described him to the deputy,
and what the deputy said about the matter.
"'Oh, well,' says Ogden, 'let's don't borrow any of Black Bill's
troubles. We've a few of our own. Get the Bourbon out of the
cupboard and we'll drink to his health—unless,' says he, with his
little cackling laugh, 'you're prejudiced against train-robbers.'
"'I'll drink,' says I, 'to any man who's a friend to a friend. And
I believe that Black Bill,' I goes on, 'would be that. So here's to
Black Bill, and may he have good luck.'
"And both of us drank.
"About two weeks later comes shearing-time. The sheep had to be
driven up to the ranch, and a lot of frowzy-headed Mexicans would snip
the fur off of them with back-action scissors. So the afternoon
before the barbers were to come I hustled my underdone muttons over
the hill, across the dell, down by the winding brook, and up to the
ranch-house, where I penned 'em in a corral and bade 'em my nightly
"I went from there to the ranch-house. I find H. Ogden, Esquire,
lying asleep on his little cot bed. I guess he had been overcome by
anti-insomnia or diswakefulness or some of the diseases peculiar to
the sheep business. His mouth and vest were open, and he breathed
like a second-hand bicycle pump. I looked at him and gave vent to
just a few musings. 'Imperial Caesar,' says I, 'asleep in such a way,
might shut his mouth and keep the wind away.'
A man asleep is certainly a sight to make angels weep. What good
is all his brain, muscle, backing, nerve, influence, and family
connections? He's at the mercy of his enemies, and more so of his
friends. And he's about as beautiful as a cab-horse leaning against
the Metropolitan Opera House at 12.30 A.M. dreaming of the plains of
Arabia. Now, a woman asleep you regard as different. No matter how
she looks, you know it's better for all hands for her to be that way.
"Well, I took a drink of Bourbon and one for Ogden, and started in
to be comfortable while he was taking his nap. He had some books on
his table on indigenous subjects, such as Japan and drainage and
physical culture—and some tobacco, which seemed more to the point.
"After I'd smoked a few, and listened to the sartorial breathing of
H. O., I happened to look out the window toward the shearing-pens,
where there was a kind of a road coming up from a kind of a road
across a kind of a creek farther away.
"I saw five men riding up to the house. All of 'em carried guns
across their saddles, and among 'em was the deputy that had talked to
me at my camp.
"They rode up careful, in open formation, with their guns ready. I
set apart with my eye the one I opinionated to be the boss muck-raker
of this law-and-order cavalry.
"'Good-evening, gents,' says I. 'Won't you 'light, and tie your
"The boss rides up close, and swings his gun over till the opening
in it seems to cover my whole front elevation.
"'Don't you move your hands none,' says he, 'till you and me
indulge in a adequate amount of necessary conversation.'
"'I will not,' says I. 'I am no deaf-mute, and therefore will not
have to disobey your injunctions in replying.'
"'We are on the lookout,' says he, 'for Black Bill, the man that
held up the Katy for $15,000 in May. We are searching the ranches and
everybody on 'em. What is your name, and what do you do on this
"'Captain,' says I, 'Percival Saint Clair is my occupation, and my
name is sheep-herder. I've got my flock of veals—no, muttons—penned
here to-night. The shearers are coming to-morrow to give them a hair-
cut—with baa-a-rum, I suppose.'
"'Where's the boss of this ranch?' the captain of the gang asks me.
"'Wait just a minute, cap'n,' says I. 'Wasn't there a kind of a
reward offered for the capture of this desperate character you have
referred to in your preamble?'
"'There's a thousand dollars reward offered,' says the captain,
'but it's for his capture and conviction. There don't seem to be no
provision made for an informer.'
"'It looks like it might rain in a day or so,' says I, in a tired
way, looking up at the cerulean blue sky.
"'If you know anything about the locality, disposition, or
secretiveness of this here Black Bill,' says he, in a severe dialect,
'you are amiable to the law in not reporting it.'
"'I heard a fence-rider say,' says I, in a desultory kind of voice,
'that a Mexican told a cowboy named Jake over at Pidgin's store on the
Nueces that he heard that Black Bill had been seen in Matamoras by a
sheepman's cousin two weeks ago.'
"'Tell you what I'll do, Tight Mouth,' says the captain, after
looking me over for bargains. 'If you put us on so we can scoop Black
Bill, I'll pay you a hundred dollars out of my own—out of our
own—pockets. That's liberal,' says he. 'You ain't entitled to
anything. Now, what do you say?'
"'Cash down now?' I asks.
"The captain has a sort of discussion with his helpmates, and they
all produce the contents of their pockets for analysis. Out of the
general results they figured up $102.30 in cash and $31 worth of plug
"'Come nearer, capitan meeo,' says I, 'and listen.' He so did.
"'I am mighty poor and low down in the world,' says I. 'I am
working for twelve dollars a month trying to keep a lot of animals
together whose only thought seems to be to get asunder. Although,'
says I, 'I regard myself as some better than the State of South
Dakota, it's a come-down to a man who has heretofore regarded sheep
only in the form of chops. I'm pretty far reduced in the world on
account of foiled ambitions and rum and a kind of cocktail they make
along the P. R. R. all the way from Scranton to Cincinnati—dry gin,
French vermouth, one squeeze of a lime, and a good dash of orange
bitters. If you're ever up that way, don't fail to let one try you.
And, again,' says I, 'I have never yet went back on a friend. I've
stayed by 'em when they had plenty, and when adversity's overtaken me
I've never forsook 'em.
"'But,' I goes on, 'this is not exactly the case of a friend.
Twelve dollars a month is only bowing-acquaintance money. And I do
not consider brown beans and corn-bread the food of friendship. I am
a poor man,' says I, 'and I have a widowed mother in Texarkana. You
will find Black Bill,' says I, 'lying asleep in this house on a cot in
the room to your right. He's the man you want, as I know from his
words and conversation. He was in a way a friend,' I explains, 'and
if I was the man I once was the entire product of the mines of Gondola
would not have tempted me to betray him. But,' says I, 'every week
half of the beans was wormy, and not nigh enough wood in camp.
"'Better go in careful, gentlemen,' says I. 'He seems impatient at
times, and when you think of his late professional pursuits one would
look for abrupt actions if he was come upon sudden.'
"So the whole posse unmounts and ties their horses, and unlimbers
their ammunition and equipments, and tiptoes into the house. And I
follows, like Delilah when she set the Philip Stein on to Samson.
"The leader of the posse shakes Ogden and wakes him up. And then
he jumps up, and two more of the reward-hunters grab him. Ogden was
mighty tough with all his slimness, and he gives 'em as neat a single-
footed tussle against odds as I ever see.
"'What does this mean?' he says, after they had him down.
"'You're scooped in, Mr. Black Bill,' says the captain. 'That's
"'It's an outrage,' says H. Ogden, madder yet.
"'It was,' says the peace-and-good-will man. 'The Katy wasn't
bothering you, and there's a law against monkeying with express
"And he sits on H. Ogden's stomach and goes through his pockets
symptomatically and careful.
"'I'll make you perspire for this,' says Ogden, perspiring some
himself. 'I can prove who I am.'
"'So can I,' says the captain, as he draws from H. Ogden's inside
coat-pocket a handful of new bills of the Second National Bank of
Espinosa City. 'Your regular engraved Tuesdays-and-Fridays visiting-
card wouldn't have a louder voice in proclaiming your indemnity than
this here currency. You can get up now and prepare to go with us and
expatriate your sins.
"H. Ogden gets up and fixes his necktie. He says no more after
they have taken the money off of him.
"'A well-greased idea,' says the sheriff captain, admiring, 'to
slip off down here and buy a little sheep-ranch where the hand of man
is seldom heard. It was the slickest hide-out I ever see,' says the
"So one of the men goes to the shearing-pen and hunts up the other
herder, a Mexican they call John Sallies, and he saddles Ogden's
horse, and the sheriffs all ride tip close around him with their guns
in hand, ready to take their prisoner to town.
"Before starting, Ogden puts the ranch in John Sallies' hands and
gives him orders about the shearing and where to graze the sheep, just
as if he intended to be back in a few days. And a couple of hours
afterward one Percival Saint Clair, an ex-sheep-herder of the Rancho
Chiquito, might have been seen, with a hundred and nine dollars—wages
and blood-money—in his pocket, riding south on another horse
belonging to said ranch."
The red-faced man paused and listened. The whistle of a coming
freight-train sounded far away among the low hills.
The fat, seedy man at his side sniffed, and shook his frowzy head
slowly and disparagingly.
"What is it, Snipy?" asked the other. "Got the blues again?"
"No, I ain't" said the seedy one, sniffing again. "But I don't
like your talk. You and me have been friends, off and on, for fifteen
year; and I never yet knew or heard of you giving anybody up to the
law—not no one. And here was a man whose saleratus you had et and at
whose table you had played games of cards—if casino can be so called.
And yet you inform him to the law and take money for it. It never was
like you, I say."
"This H. Ogden," resumed the red-faced man, "through a lawyer,
proved himself free by alibis and other legal terminalities, as I so
heard afterward. He never suffered no harm. He did me favors, and I
hated to hand him over."
"How about the bills they found in his pocket?" asked the seedy
"I put 'em there," said the red-faced man, "while he was asleep,
when I saw the posse riding up. I was Black Bill. Look out, Snipy,
here she comes! We'll board her on the bumpers when she takes water
at the tank."