No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Transcript of Interview with Hannibal Heyes, Oral History Project – University of Kansas, 1910
Hannibal Heyes sat in his armchair, crossed one leg over his knee, and took a deep sip of whiskey.
“So, Son, you say we were known as the ‘good bandits’ because we were so nice.” Mr. Heyes laughed. “We weren’t so nice; we were lucky. Now you’re right, we didn’t go around shooting folks or stealing from the passengers or bank patrons, but that wasn’t ‘cuz we were nice, it was ‘cuz it was good business. We had the support of the populace; that helped us a lot and kept the posses from getting over excited. I gotta tell ya, you don’t get nowhere being nice. Isn’t there a saying that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions? Well we may end up there, but it won’t be through good intentions.”
He leaned back and lit a cigar, taking several deep draughts before continuing, “I can remember once, when we were going for that amnesty, we tried doing a good deed – a man ended up dead because of it.”
He was silent, thinking back. “Yeah, the Kid was always rooting for the underdog. He figured maybe if we did a good deed, it would help us. Heck, it didn’t even help the person who was the object of the good deed.”
He took another sip of the whiskey in the glass next to him, and a drag on his cigar. He looked into the distance.
“There we were riding along, the Kid and me, when suddenly a shot rang out and this voice told us to dismount, one at a time, and to throw our guns away. Well we did, and finally we could see who was speaking – his name was Joe Sims. Turns out he was a former slave turned bounty hunter – professional.”
He shook his head and laughed ruefully. “Wasn’t one of our better days. Nothing we could say could convince him he had the wrong men. Anyway, he tied us up, and we all headed to Carbondale, but his horse spooked, and we got away.”
He sighed. “Sims gave chase and shot towards us at the same time another horse appeared. He shot the horse, just as some men appeared. Now, they took exception to an ex-slave shooting a horse and decided it was the same as a horse thief taking a horse.”
He stopped and looked at me. “It’s different now, but back then horses were everything – it was perfectly normal to hang a horse thief – no trial needed.”
He leaned back again, “Well, they had ol’ Sims all trussed up – ready to hang him. We saw this from the ridge where we had stopped to untie ourselves. The Kid decided we had to stop the lynching — do a good deed, he said. You can’t argue with the Kid when he gets that way. So we lay down a line of fire that scared them off, then we took off as quickly as we could, leaving Sims to free himself. We didn’t take off fast enough.”
He laughed, “That Sims was one determined bounty hunter – but he wasn’t a killer. He caught up with us, and we went through this again, and again. Seemed white men didn’t take kindly to him holding us captive.”
He grimaced, all trace of laughter gone. “Yeah, we got away a couple of times, but we also saved him from others who didn’t appreciate an ex-slave behaving like a man. Didn't matter. He was a bounty hunter – professional – and he was bound to turn us in.”
He stopped to take another sip of whiskey, now speaking only to himself, “Eventually we couldn’t save him. Rancher forced him to run then shot him in the back when he did.”
He sighed. “Nothing we could do. We buried him where he died. Couldn’t even turn in the rancher for murder – and don’t be confused, it was pure, cold-blooded murder – but we were still wanted back then, so nothing we could do.”
He stood up and headed out of the room, ending the interview. Before he closed the door behind him, Mr. Heyes turned back and spoke quietly, “Yeah – all our good deeds that day just resulted in our being held captive, and in the end Sims died. I gotta tell ya no good deed goes unpunished. Had Sims killed us and turned us in dead, he’d probably still be alive and twenty thousand dollars richer. We weren’t the good bandits, Son; we were just bandits.”
He walked out and closed the door.
Transcript of comments by Jedediah “Kid” Curry, University of Kansas, Oral History Project – 1910
Mr. Curry walked into the room, dominating it. “So, Son, what’s your name?” he asked, holding out his hand. “Call me Kid, most folks do.”
Having shaken my hand, he relaxed into the arm chair and pulled out a cigar, taking the time to light it before resuming.
“Well, Charles, not sure why you want to talk to us, but Heyes said I should. But I’m not going to do that until you let me see what Heyes said, so hand it over.” His eyes twinkled as he held out his hand, but there was a hint of steel behind the twinkle that indicated he meant what he said.
“So, Heyes claimed we didn’t rob the passengers and bank patrons ‘cuz it was good business, did he?” Mr. Curry laughed. “Yeah, Heyes just can’t stand it that anyone might think him soft. Sure it was good business not to hurt folks, but truth is, he wouldn’t’ve let anyone get hurt even if doin' so would have made more business sense. You gotta understand, the leader of a gang has to be tough – you won’t last long around those types if they think you’re soft. Me, I had the reputation with the gun, so I didn’t need to prove I was tough – but Heyes did. So, yeah we always said it was ‘cuz it was good for business, but really Heyes wouldn’t have done it even if doin’ so had been better business. He just would have found somethin’ else for us to do.”
“Look, once we had a chance at amnesty he was all for it. Said it gave us a chance we never had before. No, he kept me on the straight and narrow then, even when it wasn’t the easiest thing we ever done.” He leaned back blowing smoke rings. “It sure was a hard road, but he wanted it even more than I did, I think.”
He shook his head, “but that’s long ago and don’t much matter anymore.”
He stopped for a moment and looked back down at the transcript. “Joe Sims – haven’t thought about him in ages. It figures that still bothers Heyes – he’s a worrier, can’t ever let things go. Me, I deal with an issue and move on, but not Heyes. But he’s wrong about Joe Sims – I don’t regret helpin’ him, even if in the end we couldn’t save him and even if havin’ saved him would have meant we went to jail. Heyes don’t really either, he just won’t admit it, probably not even to himself. I don’t agree that no good deed goes unpunished; good deeds have their own rewards in the doin’ even if there are negative consequences.”
He paused and looked at me. “Heyes is right about one thing though, we weren’t the good bandits; we were just bandits. There ain’t no such thing as good bandits. We’re done. Good talkin’ to you, Son.”