Heyes and Curry: The Early Years
Heyes threw the line into the water. He always loved fishing, but now that he was fishing for his family’s next meal, the pleasure he used to get from catching his own dinner was gone. Ten was too young to be responsible for feeding a family. True, he had volunteered for the job, but he was worried he wouldn’t succeed and then they might go hungry. That much pressure removed any enjoyment he would normally get from sitting at the creek waiting for a trout or carp to nibble at his bait. Besides without Jed at his side, there was no fun left. Fishing had become work.
“Heyes!” He heard a familiar voice climbing down the hill. He looked up to see his best friend Jed Curry running towards him. Jed had gone with his family to Philadelphia to visit his grandmother and had been gone over a month.
“So Heyes did you miss me?” Heyes smiled. Only Jed understood how much he hated the name Hannibal and was content with addressing him by his last name. Now only if he could convince his schoolteacher and his parents to do the same.
“Jed, you’re back. I thought you were supposed to return weeks ago. What kept you?”
Jed sat down next to his friend dangling his bare feet into the cool water. He knew his talking might scare away the fish but he had a story to tell and he knew he would burst if he kept it to himself.
“Actually I wasn’t ever supposed to return,” Jed told him. “I didn’t know it, of course, but my folks planned on leaving Katherine and me at my grandmothers and returning alone. They thought we children would be better off there, what with the war on and all. As a matter of fact, Katherine is still there. But thank goodness they let me come home.”
“How did you convince them?”
“Well, I sort of got kicked out of Philadelphia.”
“I robbed a bank.”
For once in his life, Hannibal Heyes was speechless.
When we arrived at the Philadelphia station, the huge buildings and rude nature of the people overwhelmed me. It was dirty and crowded and I hated it from the second we got off the train. I longed for the open air and countryside.
I didn’t remember my grandmother at all. She wasn’t as old as I expected her to be, but she was as ornery and stubborn as a woman twice her age would be. She lived in an enormous house with an iron fence surrounding it, and she had servants. There was a man who answered the door, a woman who did all the cooking and a maid. It was great not having to clean up after yourself. There was always fresh water in the basin and clean clothes in the wardrobe. And if you dumped your clothes on the floor, someone picked them up and washed them for you.
But there were drawbacks too. You were expected to bathe twice a week and change your clothes, even your underwear, everyday! I mean why should I change my drawers everyday. They weren’t dirty or anything. And the food was good but if you didn’t clean your plate you had to sit there until you did.
The worst part was we were supposed to be on vacation, but Katherine and I were expected to go to school. They had classes for different ages but I wasn’t allowed in the class with the other ten year olds, because they said I couldn’t read and write well enough. This, of course, surprised my father who has no idea how much of my homework you actually do for me, Heyes. Anyway, they put me in with the eight-year-olds. It was humiliating.
However, Katherine loved it. Since her class contained only six-year-olds, she didn’t have to contend with the older girls picking on her. And since she reads almost as good as I do, she fit right in.
Well, after about a week, I started nagging my folks about when we were going home. They made me leave my guns here, and I really missed them. I was allowed to have a toy gun but the only thing I could practice with them was my fast draw. So whenever I wasn’t in school, I practiced. I had Katherine time me. I got pretty fast. I was probably practicing three or four hours a day. But then my grandmother caught me and tried to take the guns.
“They’re just toys, Grandmother. My folks made me leave my real guns at home.”
“Well, you won’t be needing any guns here, real or otherwise,” she insisted. “This is a civilized state, and people do not walk around carrying guns.”
“Yeah but when I go home. . .”
“This is your home. Your parents and I discussed it and we decided it would be better if you and your sister lived here with me.”
“WHAT?” I ran downstairs to find Pa and begged him to tell me this was a lie. But he said that he and Ma were returning to Kansas next week while Katherine and I were staying in Philadelphia.
“I can’t stay here. I hate it here. I will die if you make me stay.” But no amount of talking would change their minds. My grandmother had them believing that we were growing up uncivilized in Kansas and we needed to be helped before it was too late. My ability to fast draw and shoot was more proof that Kansas was not a place to raise children, according to my grandmother. Pa seemed to agree. Ma didn’t but she was so afraid that the war was getting too close to Kansas and she wanted us to be safe.
They only way I was going to get to go home was to prove that it was already too late. That’s when I got the idea about robbing the bank.
Pa and taken me to the bank a few days earlier. He was opening an account. I didn’t know it then, but it was for Katherine and me, to provide us with spending money while we lived with Grandmother. I remember noticing how little protection there was. There was no guard. No one in the entire bank carried a gun. And the safe stayed open all day. I mean anyone could walk in with a gun, steal the money and leave, long before any lawman arrived.
Now being ten-years-old, I knew that even if I did get caught, they would never put me in jail. The worst they would do was to make me leave Philadelphia, which is what I wanted anyway.
So the next day I put my toy guns in my lunch bucket and walked with Katherine to school. After I dropped her off at her classroom, I left and walked to the bank. It was quite early, a little after nine, and the bank was empty of customers. I suppose I should have been nervous but with very little to lose, I wasn’t at all afraid. I walked up to one of the tellers and put my empty lunch bucket on the counter.
I pointed my gun at her and said, “Don’t be fooled by my age. I am a lot older than I look and I know how to use this gun. Put all the money you have in front of you in the bucket or I will shoot.”
I had purposely picked the only woman teller, because I knew the sight of a gun would frighten her. I also knew that even the men wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the toys I carried and the real things. It worked better than I planned. She didn’t say a word, but filled the bucket with money and handed it to me. I sort of felt bad in scaring her so, but I was on a mission and this couldn’t be helped. So I picked up the bucket and left. It wasn’t until I was out the bank door that I heard her scream. But by the time she stopped, I was halfway down the block.
Still running, I made it to the sheriff’s office in less than two minutes. I opened the lunch bucket and poured the money on his desk. Then I gave him the speech I had rehearsed.
“My name is Jed Curry, grandson of Isabel Curry, and I just robbed the First National bank. The guns I used are toys so, of course, no one got hurt. I did it to prove to my father that the bank wasn’t a safe place to leave his money.” I pointed to all the cash on his desk. “I think I proved my point.” I waited to see what he would do next.
For a minute the sheriff stood there with his mouth open staring at me and then the money and then me again. He made me repeat my story three times before he finally believed me. Eventually he thought to locked up the money and put me into a cell.
“Don’t worry kid,” he said. “I won’t keep you locked up for long. I just have to look into this.”
It got very exciting after that. First the bank people came in and identified me as the robber. Then a reporter came in and asked me to repeat my story for the newspaper. Finally my parents and grandmother came in. My mom was crying. My grandmother was furious, first at me for causing all this trouble, and then at the sheriff for locking me up. My father, however, found the whole thing very amusing, which made my grandmother even madder. After a couple of hours, I was released to the custody of my parents until the judge returned the next day.
They had fed me in jail, which was good, because I was sent to my room and told not to leave until I was sent for. That was kind of boring because the sheriff had kept my toy guns as evidence. But my room was right at the top of the stairs so I could hear the arguing. My grandmother’s voice was very loud.
“You see, I told you when you moved out west that it was no place to raise children. You have turned your son into an outlaw!”
“Now mother,” Pa told Grandmother, “he is not an outlaw. We all know why he did this.”
“He did this because he doesn’t want to live in Philadelphia. Well I’m afraid he is going to get his wish. I can’t possibly keep him here now. The Curry’s are very well known in this town. I don’t know how I am going to face my friends now and I certainly can’t invite society women to a home were a criminal lives.”
The best part was the newspapers. Later that day there was a special edition with the headline reading, Curry Kid Robs Bank. The next day the headline was changed to “Kid” Curry Robs Bank. After that everyone called me Kid Curry. Even the judge.
The judge was actually a pretty nice guy. He said that since I didn’t use real guns and since no one was actually harmed by my prank and since the owner of the bank didn’t want to press any charges against a child, I was free to go, provided that I leave Philadelphia and never return. So the next day my Ma, Pa and I left and Katherine stayed behind.
“So Heyes, what do you think?”
Heyes looked at his friend with a new respect. “Kid Curry, huh? I like it. It’s a good name for you.”
“Yeah me too. So that’s what happened to me this past month. Anything happened here?”
Just then a fish grabbed the bait. Heyes jerked the line out of the water and saw a two-pound trout dangling at the end. He removed it from the hook and placed it in the bucket next to the carp he had caught earlier. He looked up at his buddy.
“Yeah something happened here,” Heyes said thoughtfully. “I killed a man.”
I was walking home from school when I saw them. Hundreds and hundreds of rebel soldiers plowing there way across the vast prairie. They were heading west, toward our farm. I wanted to run ahead and warn my folks but they had cut me off. I would have to run past them to get home first and I knew I couldn’t make it. I decided to head towards your place. If I was lucky, I could borrow one of your horses and take the back road to my place before the soldiers ever arrived. I don’t know what I thought I could do once I got there, but it seemed urgent that I warn my folks.
When I got to your farm, I quickly saddle up Snow. I noticed your guns were in the barn chest. I had guessed your folks didn’t let you take them to Philadelphia. Knowing you wouldn’t mind, I strapped them on and took off.
I managed to get home before the soldiers arrived. I put Snow in the barn.
“If my Pa sees me walk in the house with guns strapped on, he’d tan my hide for sure,” I thought. He has no idea, Jed, I mean Kid, that you’ve been teaching me to shoot. You know how he feels about children and guns. So I hid them in the barn and went into the house.
There was a soldier, a captain, sitting at the table with my folks.
“Hannibal,” Ma said, “this is Captain Reynolds. He needs food for his men. I want you to help your father in the field pick some corn for his men.”
I was outraged. “Why should we help them? They’ll just eat up all our crops and leave us to starve.”
“Hannibal!” Pa said sternly. Ordinarily that would be enough to get me to drop my stubbornness but not this time.
“I’m sorry Pa, I just don’t think…”
“Listen son,” the captain began, “I think it is admirable that you want to protect your family, but that is exactly what we are trying to do. You have a good life here on your farm. We have good lives on our farms too. But sometimes there are people who want to tell you that the way you live your life is wrong. They want to come in and tell you how to run your farm. Do you think it is right for men from places as far away as Chicago and New York to tell your folks how to grow their crops and raise their children?”
“No,” I said truthfully.
“Neither do we. So we men left our homes, and our families to fight for the right to live our lives and run our farms and plantations the way we have run them for hundreds of years. And while we are willing to risk our lives for your rights, all we ask in return is for food to keep us alive. Is that asking too much?”
I didn’t like the idea, but I had to admit he was right. Deep down I knew he was right. So I set out to help Pa pick every fresh ear of corn we had, and all the fresh vegetables too. Ma was busy packing up jar after jar of jellies, jams, pickled fruit and stewed tomatoes. We knew that once we were done we’d have very little left to eat ourselves but more crops could grow soon and I volunteered to fish for our dinners until they did.
Everyone was out in the fields. Captain Reynolds and some of his men helped too. Just before sunset I excused myself. I had homework to do and Pa agreed I had helped enough and need to get my homework done.
I headed up to the house. I heard Ma crying out. I ran to the house and looked in the window. I saw a soldier holding Ma, trying to kiss her and tugging at her clothes. I knew I couldn’t get to Pa and get back before the soldier hurt her. I went to the barn and put on your guns that I had hidden. Running back to the house, I burst through the door, gun in hand and shouted for the man to leave Ma alone or I would shoot.
The man just looked at me and laughed. Ma tried to say something, but the man put his hand over her mouth.
“Get out of here squirt. This ain’t no place for babies.”
“You let go of my mother or I swear I’ll kill you.” I said and cocked the gun.
He pushed Ma down and came towards me. He was going for the gun, to take it away from me, I guess. I didn’t think; I just fired.
He crumbled to the ground. Blood poured out of the wound, and I knew the man had died instantly. The sound brought Pa, the captain and the rest of the men from the field running toward the house. By the time they got there I was on the ground holding Ma who was crying with both fright and pain. But Ma still had her senses. She grabbed the gun that I had left lying on the ground and told them that she shot the attacker. She said, I had come in wearing my father’s guns, which were kept in the barn, hoping to frighten the attacker. She grabbed the gun from my holster and shot him when he tried to hit me. It was an unlikely story, but no one questioned is validity. Everyone seemed to agree that it was self-defense. Even the captain apologized to my mother before he left.
Later that night, after all the soldiers left, Pa and I had a talk.
“You’ve been letting Jed’s teach you to shoot?”
“Even after I told you, that your were too young.”
“Yes sir. Sorry Pa.”
“No, I’m sorry. I should have listened to you. If you didn’t have those guns….” After that he told me he would buy me my own set of guns and I can practice shooting whenever I don’t have homework or chores to do.
Heyes looked up at his friend. He laughed a little. “Imagine us. Bank robbers and murderers.”
“Don’t get any of your crazy ideas Heyes. I intend to be a simple farmer when I grow up, just like my Pa.”
“Yeah, Kid,” said Heyes. “Me too.”
(Watch for more stories about Heyes and Curry – The Early Years by Jakki