Shadow of the Past

First Impressions:    One of the best of season four. We finally get to meet an actual member of Jess' family when his big sister comes to town.

The Story:    Slim is all dressed up in his Sunday-go-to meetin’ clothes. The whole family is out to see him off on the stage. He’s going to the company meeting in Cheyenne and will be gone for several days. As Slim is climbing on board, Jess and Mose are bantering back and forth. We find out that Jess has been deputized while Mort is out of town. As he’s leaving Mose remembers that he has a letter for Jess. He says a woman in town gave it to him. He hands it to Jess as Slim irritably tells them to stop gossiping so they can go.

After the stage pulls out, Jess opens the letter and reads it, his face revealing the shock of what it contains. Daisy asks him whom it’s from. After a moment, Jess stutters out that it’s from his sister, Francie. Daisy says, “But Jess you told me….”

“I know, Daisy, but it’s her handwriting.” He says she’s waiting for him in town. “Daisy, Francie’s been dead for four years.”

Jess goes into town looking for Francie. He stops at the stage office and asks Fred if he knows where the woman who gave the letter to Mose is. Fred says she’s still around and she’s causing all kinds of trouble. She wants her husband, Ben McKittrick buried in the Laramie cemetary.

Down the street, Jess sees where some of the townsfolk are gathered around a wagon with a woman in black sitting in the driver’s seat. The men are saying that this could ruin them having a notorious gunman buried there. They want her to go somewhere else. She’s waiting for Jess and says she’ll wait until he gets there. Jess comes up and first sees his sister as she turns around to face him. As the townspeople keep on jabbering, Jess and Francie have a moment. He is stunned to see her and says, “I-I thought you were dead.” She says she’s sorry, but she didn’t know where he was until a few days ago. Jess tells the towns people who she is, and then they go into the sheriff’s office to talk.

Francie wants to know why Jess thought she was dead. He said he got a letter from a friend in Galveston who saw her name in the paper listed among the dead in a Diptheria epidemic. He wrote to the sheriff several times and found out the dead were buried in the bay. He couldn't even go visit her grave. She said she was sick, but her husband Ben got her out. He says she could’ve let him know. She says she couldn’t find him, he’d been galavanting all over since he was sixteen years old and he never was one for writing. She saw his picture in a paper on a stagecoach. She and her husband, Ben were leaving Leavenworth and changed their plans to come to Laramie.
Francie's husband served 3 years and she waited for him until he got out. She tells Jess that the story is he got sick and died in Cheyenne, but then she tearfully tells Jess that Ben isn’t dead. He’s hurt, he was shot, but he’s alive. He’s in a cabin outside of town. The only way she could get some men off his trail is to make them think he was dead. Ben wants to lay down his gun, but these men won’t let him. Jess wants to help. If Ben squared things, he has as much right to live happy as anyone.

Mister Elbee, the undertaker, comes in and tells Jess and Francie that they were all wrong and they would be happy to be of service to Jess and his sister, and her husband. They were wrong to refuse her. Jess thanks him and Mister Elbee leaves. Jess says, “Say they do bury the coffin. What’s to stop the men from digging it up?”

Looking out the window, Francie sees the three men that have been after them. Jess goes out and confronts them. They’re bounty hunters and they demand to claim the body for the bounty. Jess says the poster that they show him is old and McKittrick’s wife brought him in, not them. They claim they shot him in a shootout in Red Rock, and they are entitled to the bounty. Francie says the poster is old and Ben went to Leavenworth on that charge. He’d already served his time. Jess tells them they can confirm it by telegraph.

Frank Keefer tells them that their brother, Tony was killed by McKittrick. They say they want to see the remains to set their minds at ease that the man that killed their brother is dead. Jess says that to view the remains, they have to have the next of kin’s permission. Francie says no. That’s good enough for Jess and he sends them on their way. The three are not satisfied, and they want to know what Jess and Francie are hiding. They decide to hang around.
Throughout the day; the three loiter in the street looking menacing. Jess tells them he and Mrs. McKittrick are going out of town to bury her husband. The Keefers want to ride along and help them out. Jess draws on them, rather unjustifiably, I’m afraid, and shoots a gun out of the hands of one of them He arrests them and puts them in jail for “suspicion”, that’s pretty much it, just suspicion. He says maybe they murdered McKittrick. He’ll telegraph the sheriff in Red Rock to check. Jess can be pretty menacing himself and they trot along to jail.
Inside, the Keefers want to know when they’ll be let out. Jess stalls and tells them when the telegraph operator gets back so he can send a telegram to Red Rock.

Outside of town, Jess and Francie are burning the coffin. Jess asks about Ben. She says he doesn’t complain much, but the bullet went all the way through his side. They hear a horse coming and hide. It’s Ben come looking for Francie. He’s weak and they help him down off his horse. Francie introduces her husband to her brother. Ben’s wound is bleeding again. They decide to take him to the ranch after he refuses to go to the doctor. Jess tells Ben the Keefers showed up and want to see his body. Ben wants to get Francie away and deal with it himself, but Jess tells him its okay they’re in jail.

At the ranch, Ben has been put to bed and Daisy and Francie tend to him. Jess goes back to town and sends the doctor out to the ranch the next morning.
Ed, the owner of the livery stable, tells Jess that two telegrams came for him. McKittrick isn’t wanted for anything and the fight with the Keefers in Red Rock was a fair one and the Keefers aren’t wanted. Jess says, “Yeah, four against one. Remind me never to go Red Rock.”

Jess thanks Ed and goes into the sheriffs office. He reads the telegraphs and then goes to let the Keefers out. He tells them to load their guns on the way out of town. The Keefers say they don’t have any hard feelings. They want to know where he buried McKittrick. Jess says he doesn’t figure it’s any of their business where his deceased relatives are buried.

The Keefers are surprised but now understand why Jess has taken such an interest. They won’t believe he's dead until they see his body and they won’t be leaving town until they see it.

Back at the ranch, Ben is feeling better and he’s worried about Jess. The Keefers are dangerous and he’s afraid if they find out where he is they’ll come out to the ranch and maybe hurt Mike or Daisy.
In town, a lot of vandalism has been going on all over town. Mr. Jones shows Jess his storage room where all his grain has been saturated with kerosene. The livery has had some saddles and gear stolen. The Keefers are innocently lounging around town, watching the goings on.
In the saloon, the three Keefers are talking about Jess. They’ll “bee-sting” him into making a move. They tell the bartender they plan on staying. The bartender tries to convince them to go to another saloon because they’re really putting a crimp in his business. He figures there’s trouble coming soon and no one wants to be around when it happens. They say the only shot that’s been fired is by that deputy.

The bartender empties his cash register and leaves the bar to them. They’re delighted that they’ve got the town intimidated. They figure the town will be paying them to leave and they also figure that Jess is close to the edge and it won’t take much more to push him over.

Mr. Elbee comes to see Jess at the sheriff’s office. He has red paint all over him. Someone painted his hearse red. The other business owners are all there too. They all know who’s responsible for all that’s been going on. Jess wants to know if any of them can identify the Keefers. None of them can, but they all think the Keefers are responsible for all the vandalism. Jess tells them if they can get a witness to make a positive identification, he’ll lock them up. They don’t want to force Jess into anything, but the town is scared. Business is bad, the women won’t let the kids out to play. Why doesn’t he just let them see what they want to so they’ll go? Jess is troubled, but says nothing. He takes a rifle and they all head out to the saloon.

Jess goes into the saloon, but the Keefers are gone and they’ve vandalized the saloon. They leave a note: “Gone to stretch our legs. Tell the deputy we’ll be back. The Keefers.”

That night, Jess is patrolling the town and rattling doorknobs. He hears a noise in an alley and goes to investigate. In a dark storage room, he’s attacked by three men. He can’t see them, but he puts up a good fight before they get the best of him and he goes down. They take some money out of Jess’ pocket and say “Well we oughta get a little action before too long.”

The next morning, Mose is looking for Jess at the sheriff’s office when Jess comes hobbling across the street looking a little the worse for wear. Mose guesses it was the Keefers that got him, but all Jess will say is that he fell down. Mose knows better, but Jess ain’t talkin’. Jess asks Mose to not say anything about him “falling down”, He gets enough kidding as it is about having two left feet. Mose leaves to take the stage out, and Jess goes in and cleans up, and gets a new rifle and loads it.

Jess then takes off down the street with fire in his eye, townspeople getting out of his way and following. In the saloon, the business leaders are waiting for him. They tell him that the Keefers are gone, but they said they’d be back around noon. They left a message that Jess could leave the information they want with them and they’ll get it and leave. The business men say there’s three of them and they’ll stand up with Jess if he wants. Jess says he can’t let them do that. It’s his personal fight. They are on his side anyway. This town owes him too much for everyone to go hide when he’s got trouble. Jess thanks them, hearing that makes him feel about nine feet tall. He tells them to stay out of it, it’s not their problem. He takes off his badge and puts it on the bar, it’s not the laws problem either. He turns and leaves.

Back at the ranch, Mose tells Daisy, Francie and Ben that Jess was beat up and that the Keefers have been causing all sorts of trouble in town. He asks for Slim but he’s not back yet. Ben puts on his gun and says he’s going to help Jess. He couldn’t live with himself or Francie if something happened to Jess on account of him. Francie insists on driving him.

In town, a wind storm has come up and the streets are deserted. Jess is sitting in a rocker on the porch of the saloon with a rifle, waiting for the Keefers who are due back at noon, They’re down the street and have seen Jess and they see that he’s the only one in sight. They try to sneak up on him. Jess sees a wagon pull up at the end of the street. Ben gets down and starts walking toward him. The Keefers see him too. One of them starts shooting just as Jess shouts a warning. Ben is shot, but still between him and Jess, they’re able to take care of the Keefers.

Francie is still at the end of the street with the wagon. Ben has a bullet in his leg, but he’ll be okay. The tag has Jess loading up the wagon for Ben and Francie. He suggests they settle around here, but they have their hearts set on the west coast. Jess tells Ben that the town says they’d put up a headstone and Ben could change his name and just stay. Ben is grateful, but he wants to be who he is, if trouble comes he’ll meet it on its own terms. He thinks Jess would do the same thing. They really are somewhat alike.

Francie hugs and kisses Daisy and Slim goodbye and then she and Jess say their goodbyes. Jess gives her a big hug. He’s really sorry she’s leaving and gets a little choked up. Jess and Ben shake hands and Ben and Francie drive off to start their new life as Jess sadly watches them go.

Annie's Favorite Moments:   The tracking shot of Jess striding down the main street of town heading for the saloon is classic. The whole sequence leading up to that is fabulous. I also love the solitary Jess sitting in the rocker, with the wind kicking up and the town deserted. Very classy, very High Noonish.

See Our Favorite Moments  for some moments from this episode.

Jenny's Favorite Moments:   Everything! I love Mose joking around with our crew at the beginning of the episode. A nice warm start. Then when Jess meets Francie, what a magic moment. I love how she reaches her hand down and he softly takes it, then turns to face the townspeople. Beautiful! Then he proceeds to find out Francie's trouble, and he steps up to take care of her. I really like how much Ben reminds me of Jess. A strong man whose had his problems, but faces up to them. Even though he's hurt, he follows Francie because he's worried about her. (Wouldn't Jess do the same if he were in the same circumstances, I think so!). But like Annie, the showdown is the showstopper. Wonderful build-up of Jess loading that gun and then stalking through town to the bar. Mr. Elbee is just adorable when he offers to help as long as Jess takes him up on it before his knees buckle. Then that superb rocking sequence preceding the action. I loved it!

Notes of Interest:   This episode introduces Jess' sister Francie for the second time. The first time she is mentioned is in Fugitive Road where she was actually his younger sister and she had already died. Hmmm, I suppose it's possible he had two sisters named Francie.

Jacqueline Scott tells us that RF was afraid her wispy hair would catch on fire in the coffin-burning scene. She said he was very sure that she stood far enough away.    

The Owie Factor:   Poor Jess takes a beating from the Keefer brothers, but it takes all three of them to bring him down!

Annie's rating:Five stars. I have always loved this one. It's one of the few that I remember from twenty years ago. It made a big impression, and it still does.

Jenny's rating:Five stars. No doubt! This is a fantastic episode. Francie is a great big sister, Jess a wonderfully protective 'little' brother, Ben is a great husband to Francie, nice strong character (a lot like our Jess), the townspeople are supportive. Just wonderful!

The cast:
  • Jacqueline Scott as Francie McKittrick
  • Jim Davis as Ben McKittrick

  • The Fortune Hunter



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