When he started his own farm his neighbors would call him friend. When admiring his fields they called him industrious. When he began speaking at church they called him charismatic. When he accepted the role of leader, they called him Shepherd.
The traditions of his people were simple so they referred to themselves as the Plain Folk. They had set up their community outside the reaches of the nearby town, but still they dealt with the local populace. When they went to Dodge City, the people there called them Amish.
When James Riley, a local rancher, wished to extend his reach, he needed water and land to do it, he called them obstacles. When Benjamin refused to sell the land his family and friends had worked; Riley called him a fool.
A week later when a group of hard men rode into the community. Their leader a scarred man, named Dixon, told them to leave. He had said it was their “last chance.”
Benjamin walked forward and said, We will not leave.”
Dixon and his men laughed, “You have a choice; you can leave or you can die.“
Benjamin looked him in the eyes, “we’re not leaving and we won’t fight you, so you may as well just go now.”
As Dixon’s men laughed behind him, “you mean to tell me, you wont fight me, even to protect all these women and children here?”
“The Lord protects us,” Benjamin said placing his hand over the Bible he kept in his jacket pocket. “We will not fight you.”
Dixon scratched the straggly beginnings of the facial hair dirtying his chin, “Mr. I can’t tell if your wise man or a coward.” Dixon’s hand moved fast and with four loud cracks, Benjamin fell backwards into the dirt. “Well, I guess he was a coward.”
They laughed has they drug his badly wounded still breathing body to the church and locked him inside. When they set it on fire, they called him a dead man. Benjamin’s last conscious memory was watching the iron church bell crash through the roof towards him.
* * *
He woke a week later, in Doc Millers office. The folks from Dodge had found him under the church bell. The falling bell had engulfed him in it’s open mouth, protecting him from the flames. He had three holes in his gut, two of the bullets had passed through and the third had been easy to find and remove. The fourth shot had pierced the bible he kept in his breast pocket, stopping the bullet that would have pierced his heart. Doc Miller called him lucky.
The people of Dodge had always been friendly to him. Patty from the general store brought him food, three meals every day. He was thankful though he wasn‘t very hungry. The widow Jones had brought him clothes, her husband had been a large man as well. The clothes fit, after a fashion, and being a banker, Mr. Jones tended to favor the colors that Benjamin’s order preferred.
Reverend Clemens came bearing dark tidings, it had taken nearly a week but he and several parishioners had gathered the bodies and buried the dead. Dixon and his men had murdered everyone. Each man, woman, and child now “sat with god,” he had said. It was a small comfort to Benjamin. Dixon’s men, no, Riley’s men had burned the town, trampled the crops, and run the livestock off.
There was a vigil held and most of Dodge turned out, even Riley. He expressed his disbelief at how such a tragedy could occur. He blamed Indians, not knowing that Benjamin had survived. Miss Janet, the school teacher, lit a candle for Benjamin‘s family, since he wasn’t well enough to go. Now people were calling Benjamin a survivor, widower, and tragic. Benjamin called himself alone.
Tom, the sheriff, came by the next day to apologize. Since the Ordnung was outside of town it wasn‘t in his jurisdiction. There was nothing he could do officially, he would see if he could get a Marshal to look into it. But they only came through once every few months, and no one was sure when they‘d be back.
* * *
When he was well enough Benjamin moved into the small, rarely used store room in the back of the church. Dusty and cobwebbed but with a little light from a window placed high up on the wall.
He spent most of his days sleeping in the back room of the church. With no farm to tend or a family to love he had lost his sense of purpose. Like molasses in a coffee cup, doubt filled his mind. He became thin and weak, but still hunger escaped him. Even though it was one of the symbols of his marriage, he had stopped keeping his beard neat and trimmed. He had even considered cutting it off, asking for the scissors and razor that sat on the otherwise empty nightstand.
The worst of it was his lack of Faith. He was no longer sure he believed in God. He sat in the chapel one night watching as each of the candle flames winked out of existence. After the last one went away he continued to sit there. He so wanted to join his family, to see them again, hear his sons laughter, his daughters singing, to feel the gentle caress of his wife’s fingers through his hair. He prayed for answers, for proof, for an explanation. Finally, he prayed to die.
He rose and stumbling through the darkness he found and lit one of the lanterns. Shortly after returning to his room in the back of the church, Doc Miller had shown up. Doc had found the bible Benjamin had abandoned on the nightstand at Doc’s place. “Pure chance, I happened to be passin by,” Doc had said in a neighborly manner, “I was on my way back to my home after deliverin Mrs. Levins boy. A good healthy child, eight pounds, strong lungs. I tell ya that child screamed loud enough to wake the…” Doc let the sentence fade to nothing. “Any how she wondered, if I thought it would be all right for her to name the boy Elisha, after your son. I told her, I’d ask, if’n I saw you. I just happened to notice the light in the window and figured I’d run your bible to you. Kill two birds with…” He let that sentence go as well.
Benjamin took his wounded bible, a gaping hole torn in the aged and cracked leather, and placed it on the nightstand in his room. “Thank you Doc, and if you see Mrs. Levine please tell her I’d be honored.”
* * *
He woke the next morning hearing Reverend Clemens giving his Sunday sermon. He was telling a long story about an old man and a flood, even though Benjamin had told it before he listened as if hearing it for the first time.
“An old man sits on the front porch of his house, built in a river valley. And a messenger comes to tell him there’s a flood coming.” Jack Riley had told him he‘d regret his decision. “The old man refuses to leave, knowing the Lord will protect him.” Benjamin refused, knowing the land was theirs and the Lord would help them. “A family comes by with a wagon and offers to take the old man to safety.” The Sheriff had offered to try and reach the Marshals to deal with the situation. “The old man refuses.” Benjamin said no. “The flood comes and the water rises to the roof of the man’s house, two men in a row boat come and offer him aid.” A gunslinger needing his horse shoed learned about their problem and offered to stay and help. “Again the old man waits for God to help him.” Benjamin knew that they would be fine. “The old man drowns and asks God why?” Benjamin’s people are murdered and their hard work destroyed.
“God tells them both, I sent you a messenger, a family in a wagon, and a row boat, what more was I to do?”
Benjamin sat there in his room for hours just staring at the small window leading into the chapel. “Was it was my fault?” he thought. He lifted the bible off the nightstand, and let his finger touch the bullet hole. He began to turn pages looking for where the bullet stopped. Finally he came to psalms and read 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul: He leads me in the path of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff comfort and protect me.
The word protect is where the bullet stopped. A small pip in the page right in the middle of the word. Benjamin touched the pip with his hand, not sure if it’s really there. After staring at it for a long time, he rose and walked into the now vacant church. Even though it’s empty, for the first time he didn’t feel alone.
Holding the wounded Bible in his hand he approached the crucifix. “I was their Shepherd, and I didn’t protect them. I am sorry for that. I think I know what you want me to do now, but I’m not certain. I won’t ask you for a sign, you’ve given me plenty. However, If I am wrong I will gladly accept your judgment when my time comes. Until then, please help me. Guide my hand and my heart. Help me protect those who can not or will not protect themselves. Give me the strength to do what needs to be done.” The next day Benjamin went to see Tom and told him what he needed and asked him for his help.
Benjamin Yoder has been called many things. The Plain folk call him shunned and outcast. Riding across the west in black clothes, on a Clydesdale named Johan most folks call him, Father or Reverend. His speed, his aim, and skill with twin onyx handled Colt’s got many to call him gunfighter. Mostly, because of the men he’s killed and the lives he saved, they just call him The Amish.