The Worth of a Bullet

She had killed her much loved, twenty year old grandson with a blast of a shotgun.

Kate Heller was a tough, no-nonsense older woman, partial to loose, long skirts, and men's flannel shirts. Her grey hair was short and basically on its own, and no makeup was wasted on her honest, plain face.

She was the proprietor of a stagecoach relay station, off in "a wee bit of western Kansas." Her grandson Andy provided increasingly grudging help with the chores, and the switching out of stage teams of horses. Kate had raised Andy since his parents died of typhoid fever twelve years earlier, and had treated him with a firm but loving hand. She had taught him right from wrong, and to openly pray to God before each meal, thanking and asking. As a young boy, sweet, baby-faced, snub-nosed Andy had been a delightful and joyous child.

Everything changed when Andy reached twenty. Like a collapsing house of cards, Andy's restlessness, and impatience to be "a man" led to a series of tragic events. He killed one man, stole his money, and almost killed the Marshal searching for him, shooting him three times in the back.

Kate bore the Marshal's stunning revelation of her grandson's actions in her usual stoic manner, and when she confronted Andy, determined that he turn himself in, he had refused. Her shotgun blast had kept him from escaping justice.

Marshal Dillon's testimony kept Kate from any prison time, and she was allowed to return to her empty home.

In time, Kate hired a sturdy, forty year old man to help her with chores and relay station duties. Clem was a quiet, gentle man who provided companionable silence as the older woman and he ate together, and sat by the fireplace at nights.

Marshal Dillon knew that Kate had received a life sentence of awakening each morning hearing the shotgun blast in her head, and seeing her once darling young boy's mangled body lying tangled on the ground. And every time she went out to the row of the graves of the four husbands she had outlived, she would see the fresh one of Andy beside them.

As Kate had often instructed Andy, "The only bullets worth using are to destroy a killer or to ease an animal's mortal pain."


( After the Credits story for Gunsmoke episode "Kate Heller", number one of season nine)