The Ox-Bow Incident: Novel Summary: Chapter Four
The leaders of the other three groups (Ma Grier, Bartlett and Winder) take their men off in different directions to surround the wanted men. Gerald, who is in his father's group, does not get out his gun. Tetley's men approach the fire and it becomes apparent that there are three asleep there. The first man, who is referred to as 'the Mex', is told to get up and he claims not to understand the order. The young man, Martin, looks scared and also does not understand what is happening. The third man is described as old. Gerald is ordered by Tetley to collect all of their guns. Martin asks what they are being held for, and they are then tied up.
Croft believes Tetley appears to thinks he can solve the question of their guilt simply by looking at the men. This power seems to please Tetley according to Croft. Ma Grier says how most of the boys have not seen a triple hanging and Martin continues to ask what it is that they are accused of.
The man described as 'the Mex' is then harassed with Farnley prodding him. Martin tells them his name and where he is from, but the men do not believe him. As Martin explains, he has only lived at Pike Hole for three days, so they would not know him. He also tells them that he bought Phil Baker's place, but he is informed that it was not his to sell. Martin then asks them to check his story, protesting his innocence, and pleads that he has a wife and two children. He also says that he has a right to a trial. Tetley replies that they are getting one.
Martin explains where he purchased his cattle and that he bought them from Drew. He wants them to get the proof of this or to take him in for trial. Farnley replies that this would be too slow and that it would be a waste of time. Tetley claims they were sent by Drew and implies Martin is lying, but Davies disagrees with Tetley and says this is untrue as Drew did not send them. Davies adds that he thinks this situation is a farce and that he believes Martin.
Unfortunately, Martin does not have a bill of sale as Drew said he would mail it to him. This draws suspicion as Moore believes that Drew does not usually sell cattle at this time. The others do not like the waiting, which is in contrast to Chapter Two when they were willing to do this. Tetley wants a confession, though. Gil becomes annoyed and says that if Tetley has any doubts he should take the men to the judge. Tetley claims that he does not want to rush, but it is obvious that he is taking sadistic pleasure in making the accused wait for their inevitable death; he is not taking his time for the purposes of justice.
Tetley implies that Gil is becoming cowardly and says that Martin is taking this punishment 'like a woman' when he stops speaking. Martin then cries. The old man (Alva Hardwick) who works for Martin is described as feeble-minded. It is revealed 'the Mex' is called Juan Martinez. Bartlett disputes this and argues that he is a gambler who is wanted for murder and his real name is Francisco Morez. Martin explains how he has known Hardwick for three years. Hardwick had been in the army and it is possible that something happened to him there.
Tetley says he will make a deal with these men. If they tell him who shot Kinkaid, the other two can wait (for justice). Martin replies that none of them have killed anyone. The men are then prepared for their hanging and are tied separately and led to the tree on Tetley's orders. Farnley says that 'the Mex is mine'. Martin asks to write a letter, but Mapes says they cannot wait all night. Tetley allows this, though, and says they will wait until daylight. Martin's hands are freed to write.
Once written, Davies shows the letter to Tetley, although Martin only asked him to keep the letter to give to his wife. Martin is angry at this betrayal, and then questions why he should have trusted this 'pack' anyway.
Juan tries to escape and is shot in the leg, and has Kinkaid's gun on him which he claims to have found. Juan removes the bullet from his leg, after Gerald tries but fails. His courage and Martin's pride over his letter have gained them sympathy with the men, but the possession of Kinkaid's gun is seen as 'a clincher' of their guilt with everyone but Davies (Sparks' reaction is not specified).
The men are asked to stand with Davies if they want to wait and turn this matter over to the courts. Only four others join him, including Sparks and Gerald, but this is not a majority. Martin calls Tetley a butcher and Mapes slaps him for making this comment. Juan makes his last confession to Amigo. The content of this confession appears to trouble Amigo, but it is never disclosed.
Tetley gives the men two minutes to pray. The three are lifted on to horses and are ordered to stand on them. Farnley puts the nooses around their necks. Ma Grier and Farnley cut their horses to leave the old man and Juan hanging, but Gerald fails to do this. Consequently, Martin is not killed outright. Tetley hits Gerald and orders Farnley to shoot Martin.
The lynching in this chapter is the climax to the novel. The realistic description of Martin's demise is particularly resonant and is noteworthy for how Clark has embraced the theme of the horrific implications of injustice and inhumanity. Martin's explanation of events, such as how he purchased the cattle, is not considered rationally. Instead, the pack tends to see only guilt in any claims he makes. The deaths are also of interest because they do not allow the reader to turn away from the monstrous possibilities attached to over-valued masculinity. This is typified in Tetley's characterization.
The father-son relationship, of Tetley and Gerald, is also central to this chapter as they represent polar opposites of expected masculine traits. Tetley is the personification of evil as he gains sadistic pleasure in being able to threaten other men with death. The criticism of Tetley is complicated by Gerald's desire to avoid sharing this value. Because Gerald falters when he is expected to cut the horse from under Martin, Martin suffers all the more. It as though the novel critiques both father and son in their relationship to their prescribed gender role: Tetley is a bully and Gerald is too weak. Ultimately, one may argue that the novel exposes the fragility of masculinity as neither of the men are able to escape thinking in stark categories. Whereas Tetley is the stereotypical masculine man, Gerald is in constant opposition.
The connections between this chapter and the previous ones are evident, of course, in the eventual lynching of the accused, but they are also apparent in the continuation of the theme of waiting. In this instance, the desire to wait is not associated with optimistic values such as justice or even indecision. With Tetley acting as the self-appointed judge, and the majority of the other men allowing him to do this, waiting for daylight has become a refined form of torture.