The trial was fixed. The judge knew it. The rancher had the town buffaloed. The jury would deliver the verdict the rancher wanted.
The judge was concerned that the rancher’s rowdies would use the verdict for a lynching. The rancher didn’t want any more nesters around. The nester’s wife was a good-looking woman, and the judge worried that the rancher had ideas about her as well.
The rancher had cut the fence and run his herd over the nester’s crops. Finding it hard to feed his family, a wife and two kids, the nester had killed one of the rancher’s steers. The rancher had him up on rustling.
When the ranger passed through the town, the judge asked him to stay, though it meant a cold trail for the outlaw he was tracking. Nothing like a ranger on hand to prevent a lynching, and the judge made his point that forestalling a crime was better than chasing after a man who had already committed one.
The town’s reverend would have liked to have stood up for the nester, but he could not. The rancher was a big donor to the church, having supplied the resources to build it. The town store was dependent on the rancher’s business. The saloon didn’t want any trouble. But a couple of townspeople spoke up for the nester, asking how big a crime it was to kill a steer to feed a starving family.
The answer was that...