In Tombstone (A letter to Al Reimer) - by Jack Thiessen © 1998

Have you been to Tombstone, Arizona? That's where I had my last great fight. Somebody had gone crazy, then mad and then violent over there. What happened? A recent believer, it appears, was about to be baptized in the watering trough when he not only took off, but had become "wild" and highly dangerous in any case. First he drowned the bishop, then he shot right through the minister's Bible; next he transformed a deacon's neck into a corkscrew and then he knocked off the black lace caps of two Altkolonier women, a most sacrilegious act, (since this scene was close to Mexico, the home and the range of such people, it was all fully authentic).

Next this baptismal candidate assumed the posture and the gestures of one who is about to pollute a holy site by doing exactly what you think such a lost soul would do. It was then that I had had enough and I yelled, "Stop! this is going much too far, much too far."

One Aaron Redekopp, a seasoned conflict resolver, was too excited to do anything productive, but he handed me his 30-30 calibre. I jumped behind a mesquite tree some forty yards distance and waited until the demented blasphemer tried to sneak to the other side of the trough to start shooting from a sheltered vantage point. I pulled the trigger and up and in he cartwheeled, landing right in the holy waters with a splash. Now he started firing - from in the water - with his gun muzzle resting on the edge of the trough and pointing straight at my person. He was shooting as crazy people do, hard and fast until my protective cover, the mesquite tree, started smelling of barbeque. I patiently waited behind the tree until his six-shooter was empty, convinced that I was sheltered by a higher wing and purpose. When the time for action came, I gave my hat a little twist, wiped the sweat off my brow with my cuff, gave him a final warning before letting fly with a round. Then things in the watering trough became still, very still... and then red!

Within days, the Mennonite Altkolonier congregation up and moved away from Tombstone, while the local horses were watered at a different trough. The dead party - it was later determined that he had formerly answered to the name of KaKa Epp - was simply left in the water. No, they didn't even cover him up or bury him. And why not, you ask, knowing, as you and I do, that funerals are to Mennonites what sugar daddys are to ... you know whom, and oats are to horses.

Why not? I'll tell you why. This Kaka Epp, a bit of a fraud in the cloth it would appear in retrospect, had been caught with his pants down in Canada and had made a deal with the church authorities. They would keep the entire matter strictly under wraps and help him re-pant if he would go to Mexico and sweat mightily in the service of the Lord among the Altkolonier for three years.

This he did with great success; he had all the ingredients for undeclared war on sin: he was nasal-voiced, he told everyone what they wanted to hear, he had an amazing knack of seeking out those with influence and power and money and, above all, Kaka was the inventor of the short-cut. He could save you on the spot. Just go down on your knees for a nine-count and get up with a sealed, signed and delivered insurance policy for eternity. He had lived such fast decision himself and so he knew from experience. But now the Altkolonier wanted to reward Kaka for his success and proclaim him their Älteste and to that end credentials were needed. In writing. It was then that Kaka decided to get baptized, even if it meant a little roundabout via Tombstone. And it was there and then when Kaka's conscience, or what was left of it, came to announce itself and took over its man.

We know the rest and so does my weapon.

That very evening people saw carrion vultures hovering, then busying themselves by the site, and none of these emissaries had empty bills and beaks, so it was reported.

As for me? I was treated to a free steak, sixteen ounces and no bone, with a large baked Idaho potato, sour cream, chives and bacon bits. They repeat this gratis steak and potato offering to this day, every time I surface in Tombstone. As well as beer, or red wine ala maison, as much as I want. And everything at the Mennonite price: free. But I absolutely refuse to take advantage of such generosity because 1) I do not want to blow my excellent reputation in those parts and 2) and one never knows when another shoot-out might be called for. In such event, I want to be of steady aim when I glance down the barrel of a Thirty-Thirty to straighten out a baptismal candidate gone wild hard by the watering trough.

Just make this area your next destination on your travelling agenda... and don't be all that surprised if you should find a free steak and copious amounts of beer coming your way, gratis. At least if they find out, as they probably will, that you are a Mennonite in good standing. You will find out other things about me, but I don't want to reveal too much for otherwise people might think one brags, or even exaggerates. And this is not becoming a good Mennonite, as you know full well.

© 1998,2007 Jack Thiessen