Night Moves

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They are always with me. At times, they appear out of the ethereal mist and at other times they speak directly to my mind. I wish they would leave me to myself, but that they will not do. No, first I must do their bidding.

   They come at night and stay until the black sky fades to gray. When the stars leave the sky and the clouds to the east turn pink, I am allowed to rest. But I ask you, what respite can a murderer have? At their behest, I have killed again this night. And I will continue to kill until they go back from whence they came.

   I remember the first time they came to me. It was a little over a year ago and since then I have killed twenty-nine people. Please do not think me insane. I assure you these beings are real and are not immanent. At first, I too thought myself demented when they stood before me telling me they came to save the human race, and to accomplish their mission certain people must die. They explained that the demise of the race was not imminent, but if action was not taken, and taken soon, it would be too late to set things on a course to ensure the continuance of mankind. 

   You are probably wondering, if you do not think me crazed, why they cannot do their own dirty work. And it is a good question, one I have asked. They, of course, are not of our time and space. They appear, when they appear, as diaphanous specters, they cannot manipulate physical matter. Thus I have become their instrument here on earth. Where or when they are from I do not know. And why, out of all the billions on this planet I was chosen, I know not. But it has been a long night and I must sleep. I will continue this at a later date, and continue it I shall, for I want there to be a record of my actions and the reasons for them.

   I am back. It has been two days since my last entry, and tonight they had me kill again. That makes thirty people, thirty innocent people—men, women and children, I have dispatched from this world. Yes, I am sorry to say that they have had me kill children. However, I was told that after tonight there would be no more need of my services, the human race was safe for the foreseeable future.

   I refer to my tormentors as they or them because I do not know what they call themselves. Their form is vaguely human, two arms, two legs, and a head of sorts atop a torso, but their gossamer appearance precludes calling them human.

   Tonight’s victim was a man in Moscow. I was directed to him and given his name. I then set about their business. I was told that his son, yet unborn, would one day invent something that would cause the death of billions. Being told the basis for this particular death was a departure from the norm; I had never been given rhyme nor reason for any of the others. The man’s name and the names of the other twenty-nine, with where and when they died, are in the addendum attached to this missive.  I remember every one of my quarry.

   I guess I should have mentioned this earlier, but my victims were scattered around the world. I do not know how they did it, but one minute I was in my room behind a locked door and the next minute I was standing in a foreign locale with the name of that night’s victim swirling through my brain. Then into my mind came the place I could find him or her in the city, town or hamlet.

   Now, the thirty-first person will die. They, at last, have left me to myself. I am now free to end this the only way it can be ended, with my death. I’ve been saving and hiding my medication for quite a while now, there is enough to kill me three times over. May God have mercy on my soul.

   I affix my hand to this document this 30th day of June in the year of our Lord 2011.

                                                                                                 Signed,

                                                                                                Francis Fitzgerald

 

When Dr. Allen had finished reading the above, he turned to Dr. Harris and said, “Interesting, but why have you brought it to me? We both know that the man was a certified, delusional schizophrenic. How long have we had him here at our institution?”

Dr. Harris hesitantly answered, “He’s been here at Oakwood twelve years sir.”

“Well there you have it. It’s too bad he took his own life, it doesn’t help our reputation any, but these things happen.”

“Yes sir. However, there is something I think you ought to know.”

“Yes?”

“I’ve taken the liberty of investigating a few of the names on Fitzgerald’s list. It’s taken me three weeks, but I’ve verified eleven of the deaths and their time and place. They all correspond with what Fitzgerald has written.”

Dr. Allen straightened in his seat, glanced at the papers in his hand, and then looking Dr. Harris in the eye, very forcibly said, “Preposterous! If there is any correlation, he read of the deaths in the newspaper or heard of them on the television.”

“Excuse me sir, but Fitzgerald had no access to newspapers. He was denied them because they would agitate him to no end. And the only television he had access to was in the day room where the set is perpetually tuned to a movie channel.”

“That still does not give credence to this fairytale,” said Dr. Allen waving the Fitzgerald papers at Dr. Harris.

“No sir, it does not. However, there is one thing I think I should make you aware of. My sister is married to a Russian physicist, speaks fluent Russian and lives in Moscow. I called her about the last name on Fitzgerald’s list. She made a few calls for me and it turns out that Fitzgerald was dead before the body of the man he mentions was discovered. And just one more thing sir, the man’s wallet was found in Fitzgerald’s room. I have it if you’d like to see it.”

Turning a color red that is not in the spectrum, Dr. Allen shouted, “NO! I DO NOT WANT TO SEE THE DAMN WALLET!” And then handing the Fitzgerald papers to Dr. Harris, he said with ice in his voice, “Burn these, burn them now. And if you value your position here at Oakwood you will never speak of this matter again, to anyone. Do I make myself clear?”

Dr. Harris accepted the papers, and with a meek, “Yes sir,” walked out of the room. When he was in the hall, and by himself, he let out with a, “I’ll be goddamned, the old bastard is afraid.”

But Dr. Harris did not burn the papers. He placed them, with the wallet in his desk drawer and then locked it. He had some thinking to do. And as he started on his rounds, a quote of Shakespeare’s kept repeating itself in his head. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, then are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

The Denéé

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The People: 

It was my second-and–a-half-year of being on the road when I met Jimmy of The Denéé. I had left home at seventeen by coning my mother into allowing me to “attempt” to hitchhike to California. I told her no one was going to pick me up anyway, and after an hour or so I would be back home; so please just let me get it out of my system. I did not make it home that day; within minutes of sticking my thumb out, I got a ride. I knew I wanted to get to California, but had no idea which roads to take, so I just went anywhere the ride was going as long as it was in a generally western direction. This was before the Interstate system was up and running. As a light breeze carries a leaf upon on a current of air, I allowed myself to be taken wherever the cars that picked me up happen to go. I ended up in Peoria Illinois on Route 66. Yes, I did travel that fabled highway on my very first foray into the world. Gallop New Mexico, Flagstaff Arizona, San Bernardino; I got hip to that kindly tip and I got my kicks on Route 66.

That was more than two years ago. This day I was standing on the side of US highway 90 in the State of Arizona, heading east. My thumb in the prerequisite position awaiting the chariot that would get me that much closer to home, yes, I was going home. Of course I had kept in touch with the family, but at nineteen I was a bit weary of going hungry, sleeping on the side the road; and when tired of hitchhiking, being thrown out of box cars in freight yards by the “bulls.” Little did I know that the next ride I got would delay my homecoming by another two years.

It was late in the day, about two hours before the sun went down, which in the summer, in the desert, meant the time was about 8:00 pm. Just then, an old blue, broken down pickup truck stops with three men and a woman in the cab, they were squeezed in like the proverbial  sardines of old. The guy hanging out the passenger side window yells, “Jump in,” meaning of course the bed of the truck. At that age I was good at following orders, so I comply with the command and hop over the tailgate; before I can get settled, the truck takes off, spurring rocks and pebbles in its wake.

I ensconce myself up against the cab facing backwards. As I get settled, I noticed the bed of the truck in which I’m riding is littered with half pint bottles of O’Neil’s Irish Whiskey, there must have been a hundred or a hundred and fifty little bottles lying on the floor of that truck.Well, I think to myself, I see some Irish did make it this far west. My people hadn’t made it west of the Charles River in Boston. As a mick, it did my Irish heart good to know I was riding with some Irish cowboys. Boy was I wrong!

After about fifteen minutes the truck made a left off the paved road and I peeked around the cab to see where we were going. It seems we were going nowhere; they had pulled off onto an unpaved road, no, it was more like a wide trail. My friend, who originally told me to get in the truck, leans his smiling face out the window and says, “It’s getting late, want a place to stay the night?”

Now ordinarily hitching at night is no big deal, but as I looked at the deserted road we had just exited, coupled with the fact that it gets mighty cold in the desert at night, I meekly said, “Yes thank you.” With that, the driver hit the accelerator and off we went. This “road,” not being paved, was a bit hard on the old backbone, so I had to retrieve my sleeping bag and use it as a cushion between my rear end and the floor of truck.

Still facing backwards with my back against the cab, I had a vey nice view of where we’ve been, though I had no idea of where we were going. After I had settled down, and gotten more or less used to the jostling about, I heard a ringing sound, no it was more like the sound of chimes that were very far away. “What the hell is that,” I thought. It took a few seconds for me to realize the sound was coming from the floor of the truck; it was all those whiskey bottles. The fact that they were touching one another, and vibrating was causing them to make music! The tintinnabulation was in perfect harmony, which would build to a crescendo before settling down to the soft chimes I had first heard. Those empty whiskey bottles did indeed make the ringing sounds of many small bells. I’m loathe to use the word mystical; however, there is no other word that comes to mind to describe the music those whiskey bottles played for me as I was bounced around in the back of that pickup truck. And that was not the only mystical experience in store for me that evening.

After what seemed a very long time we exited the trail onto a smoother road, though still unpaved. In a few minutes the truck screeched to a stop. The person who had done all the talking got out and told me that this was it, and I might as well get out too. No sooner had I hit the ground then the truck lurched forward and the guy standing on the street with me had to jump back from being sideswiped. “Damn drunken Indians,” he shouted as the truck disappeared in a cloud of dust of its own making.  It was then that I noticed the man standing in front of me was a full-blooded American Indian, or as is the custom of today, a Native American. He was slight of build, not much older then me, and had the most infectious smile I have ever seen on another human being.

After a half hearted attempt at dusting himself off, he looked at me, smiled and said, “Hi my name’s Jimmy.” And then he asked me my name. After I told him, he inquired if I had ever been on an Indian Reservation before. When I told him I had not, he said, “Welcome to Fort Apache Indian Reservation USGS Cedar Creek Quad, Arizona.” He then added to himself, and more as an after thought than anything else, “Quite a mouthful for a two million acre dump.”

He told me they always come in the back way because, “The Tribal Police are such a pain in the butt, always messin’ with people just because they can.”

When I heard the words, “Indian Reservation,” I looked around and saw no teepees, no hogans and no wigwams. The only structures I did see were squat, little adobe buildings that were about six feet high. Jimmy pointed to the one in front of which we were standing and said, “Home Sweet Home.” He then told me to get my gear, and suggested we get out of the street before some drunken Indian ran us down. He walked over and held the door open for me, telling me to leave my gear outside for now. As we entered, we both had to duck our heads so as not to strike them on the lintel of the door.

The first thing I noticed upon entering Jimmy’s home was an old lady who seemed to be preparing a meal. She looked up and said, “How dah.”

“That’s my grandmother,” Jimmy said. He then added, “She welcomes you to come in.” He explained as we were getting settled that his grandmother spoke no English. The only piece of furniture in the room was a low table in the shape of a rectangle about eight feet long and four feet wide. It sat about two feet off the floor, and situated around the table were mats, which were positioned on the floor, three to a side and one at each end of the table. Each mat was two feet long and two feet wide. The only other thing in the room that could conceivably be called furniture was the counter where Jimmy’s grandmother was working. It looked like it was built into the wall, supported by two legs, one at each end. Oh yeah, there was an old fashion wood stove in the far corner, but I did not consider that furniture.  Jimmy pointed to a mat and said, “Sit, dinner will be ready shortly.”

I sat on one side of the table and Jimmy sat opposite me. I thanked him for his hospitality and asked him to thank his grandmother for hers. He asked me where I was going and where I was coming from. I didn’t go into details, I just told him I was traveling from California to Miami, which was my home. When I said Miami, he did a double take.

He said, “Why that’s just down the road,” and added, “You could have walked there.” He was right there is a Miami Arizona only a few miles from the Reservation. I apologized for being inaccurate or incomplete with my words and told him it was Miami Florida, which was my home.

When I said that his smile, which seemed to be continually on his face, broadened even more as he said, “Hot damn that’s right there are two Miami’s.” I had to inform him that there were at least three that I knew of, the third being in Ohio. Jimmy got a big kick out of that. He had me talking about myself for about half an hour before I wised up and said, “Jimmy, you’re a great host, you got me yappin’ about myself when it’s I who should be asking you the questions. You know, you’re the first real Indian I’ve ever met.”

And with a twinkle in his eye Jimmy asked, “Really how many fake Indians have you met?”

“Okay, okay, you know what I mean, tell me of your culture, your ways, your Medicine,” I responded.

At the word Medicine the smile faded a bit, he looked pensive for a moment before saying, “Are you interested in our culture, in our Medicine?”

“Damn right I am,” was my retort. I wanted to learn as much as possible from all the people I met on my travels. I considered the road my college and the people I met my professors.

“Well”, he said, “the first thing you’ve got know is never trust an Indian when he is speaking in his native tongue.” I asked him what he meant. He then told me how when the film companies come looking for extras to play Indians in Westerns the young men are always selected to play any speaking roles that may be in the script for Indians. He explained to me that a few years back one of his brothers had two lines of dialogue in a movie. He said the way it works is that the assistant director is in charge of the “Indians,” and he will invariably tell those with speaking parts to, “Speak Indian when I wave my arms.” When asked by the actor/Indian what he should say, the AD will tell him, “Say anything, it doesn’t matter, no one is going to know what you’re saying anyway.”  So, in what has become kind of a custom, the actor/Indian will insult the white man to his face. They always use the dirtiest words of their language. His brother looked the general straight in the eye as he told him, “Your mother is a whore, I have slept with her many times as your father looked on.” Jimmy went on to say that whenever a Western is playing at the Central Heights drive in, he and his friends pile into their pickups and go to the movies. And when an Indian speaks Na-Déné, the language of the Apache, they all laugh uproariously, great fun!

I told Jimmy that was an interesting tidbit, but wasn’t what I had in mind. He just smiled and told me he would fill me in during dinner, which was good timing because just then his grandmother put down a plate of rice and beans before each of us, and a plate of corn tortillas between us.

As we ate, Jimmy, slowly at first, began to tell me not of the Apache, but of his life. Both his parents were dead, they had died from liver disease, “Which is a fancy word for alcoholism,” he added. He had two brothers, both trying their hardest to follow in their parents footsteps. He, on the other hand had sworn never to touch the stuff, not only because of what it had done to his parents, but because of what it had done to the Indian Nation as a whole. He told me that in some tribes the rate of alcoholism was over 80%!

He had gone to college on a scholarship, but had dropped out during the second year. “They don’t teach you to think in those schools. They fill your mind with information and have you regurgitate it back to them in the form of ‘tests’. The information never stays with you, so what’s the point. If they only had a course in deductive reasoning, I might have stayed.”

Jimmy went on to say, “Take History for example. When studying the War in the Pacific we were given only the American point-of view. I believe the correct way to tell of history, especially recent history, is to give the perspective of one side for the first half of the course. Then for the remainder of the course, give the other side’s version of events. Even bring in those who lived through that period in history to tell their side of the story or better yet, the participants. Then let the students make up their own minds about history, no tests needed. I mean why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. What did they have to fear from the Americans? They didn’t do it on a lark, I’m sure some hubris was involved; but we were basically told they did it because they were evil.”

About now, Jimmy was getting up a good head of steam as he continued, “And what was the real reason for employing atom bombs on a people already defeated? Once again, we’re given only the American perspective. It would have been productive to hear the history of World War II from the Japanese point-of-view. Oh, and speaking of the Pacific Theater of World War II and Indians, did you know that in the first months of the war the American code was continually broken by the Japanese?”

I told Jimmy, that no, I hadn’t known that. “Well, I’ll tell you how they fixed the problem,” said he. “They got Navajo Indians to speak their language, that’s what they did. The Signal Corp got every Navajo it could lay its hands on assigned to it, and deployed them throughout the Pacific. That was the end of any code problems for the rest of the war.” Thus having said what he wanted to say, Jimmy leaned back and smiled at me with that beautiful smile of his.

After being disillusioned with college, he had decided to learn the Medicine of his people. He told me of his teacher, The Wise One. He had been taught many things by The Wise One, and he would have brought me to his home as soon as we arrived if he had not gotten ill and taken to the White-Man’s hospital. He told me he had not been here when The Wise One was taken away. However, he had heard that he did not want to go, but was forcibly removed from his home. Jimmy then told me that he had subsequently gone to the hospital twice to bring him home, and both times was ejected from the hospital without being allowed to see him. The second time the police were called and he was told that if he returned, he would be arrested. I told Jimmy that I was sorry his teacher had been taken to the hospital; I also did not trust hospitals to get you out alive. One hundred thousand people die in hospitals every year in this country from illnesses that are iatrogenic in origin. The Wise One did indeed seem wise. Jimmy just sat across the table from me and nodded, his mind was somewhere else at that moment. He told me there wasn’t much else he could tell about the Apache, except that was not how they referred to themselves; Apache was a name given to them by the Zuni, it means “enemy.” They call themselves The Denéé (pronounced Dee-nay), which means The People. He said sometimes it’s spelled Diné, but pronounced the same. He went on to tell me that the people of his Nation where also know as Western Apache and that about 6,000 members of The Denéé were living on the reservation at that time (1969).

By now we had finished eating and I picked up my plate to carry it over to the counter, it’s what I always did at home, and Jimmy had made me feel so much at home I guess I forgot myself for a moment. When he saw my intent, he asked me to sit down please, he appreciated what I had in mind, but his grandmother would not understand. It was her work to feed the men, and if a man intruded into her routine that meant he was not pleased with the job she was doing. Therefore, I sat back down and asked Jimmy to tell me more of his people and their ways. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Why do you want to know these things?” I told him that I had always had an interest in how the other half lived, but this was more than that; from the moment I alighted from the pickup truck and found myself on an Indian Reservation there was an urge, no a passion, to find out as much as possible of The Denéé. Then it became crystal clear, it was not general information I hungered for, but information concerning the religion of the Denéé. I told Jimmy what I had just realized. He said nothing, he just stared at me for what seemed an eternity. He finally roused himself from his thoughts and said, “Our coming together this day may not have been an accident. I was about to leave you for the night because I have plans But now I think I’ll ask you to join me. I will tell you of the history of our people, and of our religion; and if you wish, you may join me in the ceremony I had planned for tonight.”

I was humbled by what Jimmy had just said, and could only muster a meek, “Thank you.”

After a few moments of idle chit chat, Jimmy said, “It’s time to go, follow me.” We stood and I followed him to the door, but stopped suddenly; I had forgotten to thank his grandmother for dinner. I turned to thank her, but she wasn’t there. I mean she was there when we stood, and now she was nowhere to be seen. Jimmy asked what the hold up was, and I told him that I wanted to thank his grandmother for dinner. He just said, “Come, she knows what’s in your heart.”We walked out of his house, if that is what it is called; that is the one question I forgot to ask that night. However, I would receive the answers to all my other questions before that night was over.

I walked with Jimmy about three hundred yards until we could see a small hill, or hillock, a short distance in front of us. It stood no more than fifteen feet above the floor of the desert on which we walked. On the pinnacle of this hill stood the figure of a woman, and as we neared the rise, I could make out a tripod with something hanging from it. We reached the hill and climbed to the top. Once there, I could see that it was a young girl no more than sixteen and not a woman. She was stirring something in a small black kettle with a diameter at the lip of about six inches. It looked like a miniature version of the kettles in which you see witches depicted while stirring their brew. The kettle was suspended from the middle of the tripod, and hung over a small fire. It was getting dark; the sun had just gone below the horizon so I couldn’t make out what was in the kettle.

There were no introductions, Jimmy simply nodded to the girl and sat down at the edge of the rise with his back to her. Once seated, he motioned for me to sit beside him. We were facing west, and as I mentioned, the sun was below the horizon; but, from one end of the horizon to the other, the sky was a brilliant orange and pink color. The clouds were dark gray and had bright orange linings. The rays of the sun shone upwards from below the horizon, broken in places by the clouds. It was the inverse of the pictures you see depicting God as rays of the sun shining through clouds, but instead of the rays being white, these rays were yellow-orange.  After a few moments of watching the beautiful display of color granted us, Jimmy turned to me and said, “That is Life Giver.” I thought he meant the sun. He went on to explain that yes, the sun does give us life, but he was referring to what I would call God. Life Giver is represented by the sun in their culture. He then said, “I will now tell you of our creation myth.”

He then spoke these words:

Is daze naadleeshé, or Changing Woman, lived alone, and was one day inspired to walk up a hill and build a gowa. She then laid in the gowa with her feet facing east, as the Sun came up His rays shone between her legs, and one of His rays went into her. After that, she became pregnant and had a son, Nayé Nazghane, Slayer of Monsters. Later she was impregnated by Water Old Man and gave birth to Tubaadeschine, Born of Water Old Man. Jimmy told me that next to Life Giver, Changing Woman is the deity most honored and respected.” He said all The Denéé were Is dean naadleeshé be chaghaashé, Children Of Changing Woman.

When he had finished neither of us said a word. I was there to learn, and he would speak when he was ready. By now, the stars had started to come out, so I laid back starring up into the darkening sky as Jimmy renewed  speaking. He told of how The Wise One had told him of the great Medicine Man, Geronimo, and how when Geronimo was in prison he had dictated a history of The Denéé to a white man. The Wise One told Jimmy if one day he wanted to be a great maker of Medicine, he should memorize the words of Geronimo. Jimmy told me he had done what The Wise One had suggested. And now he would tell me of his people in the words of the great Medicine Man Geronimo. I closed my eyes and listened.

Geronimo:

In the beginning, the world was covered with darkness. There was no sun, no day. The perpetual night had no moon or stars.

There were, however, all manner of beasts and birds. Among the beasts were many hideous, nameless monsters, as well as dragons, lions, tigers, wolves, foxes, beavers, rabbits, squirrels, rats, mice, and all manner of creeping things such as lizards and serpents. Mankind could not prosper under such conditions, for the beasts and serpents destroyed all human offspring.

All creatures had the power of speech and were gifted with reason.

There were two tribes of creatures: the birds or the feathered tribe and the beasts. The former were organized wider, their chief, the eagle.

These tribes often held councils, and the birds wanted light admitted. This the beasts repeatedly refused to do. Finally, the birds made war against the beasts.

The beasts were armed with clubs, but the eagle had taught his tribe to use bows and arrows. The serpents were so wise that they could not all be killed. One took refuge in a perpendicular cliff of a mountain in Arizona, and his eyes may be see in that rock to this day. The bears, when killed, would each be changed into several other bears, so that the more bears the feathered tribe killed, the more there were. The dragon could not be killed, either, for he was covered with four coats of horny scales, and the arrows would not penetrate these. One of the most hideous, vile monsters was proof against arrows, so the eagle flew high up in the air with a round, white stone, and let it fall on this monster’s head, killing him instantly. This was such a good service that the stone was called sacred. They fought for many days, but at last, the birds won the victory.

After this war was over, although some evil beasts remained, the birds were able to control the councils, and light was admitted, then mankind could live and prosper. The eagle was chief in this good fight: therefore, his feathers were worn by man as emblems of wisdom, justice, and power.

Among the few human beings that were yet alive was a woman who had been blessed with many children, but these had always been destroyed by the beasts. If by any means she succeeded in eluding the others, the dragon, who was very wise and very evil, would come himself and eat her babes.

After many years, a son of the rainstorm was born to her and she dug for him a deep cave. The entrance to this cave she closed and over the spot built a campfire. This concealed the babe’s hiding place and kept him warm. Every day she would remove the fire and descend into the cave, where the child’s bed was, to nurse him; then she would return and rebuild the campfire.

Frequently the dragon would come and question her, but she would say, I have no more children; you have eaten all of them.

When the child was larger, he would not always stay in the cave, for he sometimes wanted to run and play. Once the dragon saw his tracks. Now this perplexed and enraged the old dragon, for he could not find the hiding place of the boy; but he said that he would destroy the mother if she did not reveal the child’s hiding place. The poor mother was very much troubled; she could not give up her child, but she knew the power and cunning of the dragon, therefore she lived in constant fear.

Soon after this, the boy said that he wished to go hunting. The mother would not give her consent. She told him of the dragon, the wolves, and serpents; but he said, tomorrow I go.

At the boy’s request, his uncle, who was the only man then living, made a little bow and some arrows for him, and the two went hunting the next day. They trailed the deer far up the mountain and finally the boy killed a buck. His uncle showed him how to dress the deer and broil the meat. They broiled two hindquarters, one for the child, and one for his uncle. When the meat was done, they placed it on some bushes to cool. Just then the huge form of the dragon appeared. The child was not afraid, but his uncle was so dumb with fright that he did not speak or move.

The dragon took the boy’s parcel of meat and went aside with it. He placed the meat on another bush and seated himself beside it. Then he said, This is the child I have been seeking. Boy, you are nice and fat, so when I have eaten this venison I shall eat you. The boy said, No, you shall not eat me, and you shall not eat that meat. So he walked over to where the dragon sat and took the meat back to his own seat. The dragon said, I like your courage, but you are foolish; what do you think you could do? Well, said the boy, I can do enough to protect myself, as you may find out. Then the dragon took the meat again, and then the boy retook it. Four times in all the dragon took the meat, and after the fourth time the boy replaced the meat he said, Dragon, will you fight me? The dragon said, Yes, in whatever way you like. The boy said, I will stand one hundred paces distant from you and you may have four shots at me with your bow and arrows, provided that you will then exchange places with me and give me four shots. Good, said the dragon. Stand up.

Then the dragon took his bow, which was made of a large pine tree. He took four arrows from his quiver; they were made of young pine tree saplings, and each arrow was twenty feet in length. He took deliberate aim, but just as the arrow left the bow the boy made a peculiar sound and leaped into the air. Immediately the arrow was shivered into a thousand splinters, and the boy was seen standing on the top of a bright rainbow over the spot where the dragon’s aim had been directed. Soon the rainbow was gone and the boy was standing on the ground again. Four times this was repeated, then the boy said, Dragon, stand here: it is my time to shoot. The dragon said, All right, your little arrows cannot pierce my first coat of horn, and I have three other coats, shoot away. The boy shot an arrow, striking the dragon just over the heart, and one coat of the great horny scales fell to the ground. The next shot another coat, and then another, and the dragon’s heart was exposed. Then the dragon trembled, but could not move. Before the fourth arrow was shot the boy said, Uncle, you are dumb with fear; you have not moved; come here or the dragon will fall on you. His uncle ran toward him. Then he sped the fourth arrow with true aim, and it pierced the dragon’s heart. With a tremendous roar the dragon rolled down the mountainside, down four precipices into a canyon below.

Immediately storm clouds swept the mountains, lightning flashed, thunder rolled, and the rain poured. When the rainstorm had passed, far down in the canyon below, they could see fragments of the huge body of the dragon lying among the rocks, and the bones of this dragon may still be found there.

This boy’s name was Ndéén. Usen taught him how to prepare herbs for medicine, how to hunt, and how to fight. He was the first chief of the Indians and wore the eagle’s feathers as the sign of justice, wisdom, and power. To him and to his people, as they were created, Usen gave homes in the land of the West. They were The Denéé.

I, Geronimo, was born in Nodoyohn Canyon, Arizona, June 1829.

   In that country which lies around the head waters of the Gila River, I was reared. This range was our fatherland; among these mountains our wigwams were hidden; the scattered valleys contained our fields; the boundless prairies, stretching away on every side, were our pastures; the rocky caverns were our burying places.

I was fourth in a family of eight children, four boys and four girls. Of that family, only myself, my brother, Porico, and my sister, Nahdaste , are yet alive. We are held as prisoners of war in this Military Reservation.

As a babe I rolled on the dirt floor of my father’s tepee, hung in my tsoch at my mother’s back, or suspended from the bough of a tree. I was warmed by the sun, rocked by the winds, and sheltered by the trees as other Indian babes.

When a child, my mother taught me the legends of our people; taught me of the sun and sky, the moon and stars, the clouds and storms. She also taught me to kneel and pray to Usen for strength, health, wisdom, and protection. We never prayed against any person, but if we had aught against any individual we ourselves took vengeance. We were taught that Usen does not care for the petty quarrels of men.

My father had often told me of the brave deeds of our warriors, of the pleasures of the chase, and the glories of the warpath.

With my brothers and sisters I played about my father’s home. Sometimes we played at hide-and-seek among the rocks and pines; sometimes we loitered in the shade of the cottonwood trees or sought the shudock while our parents worked in the field. Sometimes we played that we were warriors. We would practice stealing upon some object that represented an enemy, and in our childish imitation often perform the feats of war. Sometimes we would hide away from our mother to see if she could find us, and often when thus concealed, go to sleep and perhaps remain hidden for many hours.

When we were old enough to be of real service, we went to the field with our parents: not to play, but to toil. When the crops were to be planted we broke the ground with wooden hoes. We planted the corn in straight rows, the beans among the corn, and the melons and pumpkins in irregular order over the field. We cultivated these crops as there was need.

Our field usually contained about two acres of ground. The fields were never fenced. It was common for many families to cultivate land in the same valley and share the burden of protecting the growing crops from destruction by the ponies of the tribe, or by deer and other wild animals.

Melons were gathered as they were consumed. In the autumn pumpkins and beans were gathered and placed in bags or baskets; ears of corn were tied together by the husks, and then the harvest was carried on the backs of ponies up to our homes. Here the corn was shelled, and all the harvest stored away in caves or other secluded places to be used in winter.

We never fed corn to our ponies, but if we kept them up in the wintertime we gave them fodder to eat. We had no cattle or other domestic animals except our dogs and ponies.

We did not cultivate tobacco, but found it growing wild. This we cut and cured in autumn, but if the supply ran out, the leaves from the stalks left standing served our purpose. All Indians   smoked, men and women. No boy was allowed to smoke until he had hunted alone and killed large game, wolves and bears. Unmarried women were not prohibited from smoking, but were considered immodest if they did so. Nearly all matrons smoked.

Besides grinding the corn for bread, we sometimes crushed it and soaked it, and after it had fermented, made from this juice a tiswin, which had the power of intoxication, and was very highly prized by the Indians. This work was done by the squaws and children. When berries or nuts were to be gathered the small children and the squaws would go in parties to hunt them, and sometimes stay all day. When they went any great distance from camp they took ponies to carry the baskets.

I frequently went with these parties, and upon one of these excursions a woman named Chokole got lost from the party and was riding her pony through a thicket in search of her friends. Her little dog was following as she slowly made her way through the thick underbrush and pine trees. All at once a grizzly bear rose in her path and attacked the pony. She jumped off, and her pony escaped, but the bear attacked her, so she fought him the best she could with her knife. Her little dog, by snapping at the bear’s heels and distracting his attention from the woman, enabled her for some time to keep pretty well out of his reach. Finally the grizzly struck her over the head, tearing off almost her whole scalp. She fell, but did not lose consciousness, and while prostrate struck him four good licks with her knife, and he retreated. After he had gone she replaced her torn scalp and bound it up as best she could, then she turned deathly sick and had to lie down. That night her pony came into camp with his load of nuts and berries, but no rider. The Indians hunted for her, but did not find her until the second day. They carried her home, and under the treatment of their Medicine Men all her wounds were healed.

The Indians knew what herbs to use for Medicine, how to prepare them, and how to give the Medicine. This they had been taught by Usen in the beginning, and each succeeding generation had men who were skilled in the art of healing.

In gathering the herbs, in preparing them, and in administering the Medicine, as much faith was held in prayer as in the actual effect of the Medicine. Usually about eight persons worked together in make Medicine, and there were forms of prayer and incantations to attend each stage of the process. Four attended to the incantations, and four to the preparation of the herbs.

Some of the Indians were skilled in cutting out bullets, arrowheads, and other missiles with which warriors were wounded. I myself have done much of this, using a common dirk or butcher knife.

Small children wore very little clothing in winter and none in the summer. Women usually wore a primitive skirt, which consisted of a piece of cotton cloth fastened about the waist, and extending to the knees. Men wore breechcloths and moccasins. In winter they had shirts and legging in addition.

Frequently when the tribe was in camp a number of boys and girls, by agreement, would steal away and meet at a place several miles distant, where they could play all day free from tasks. They were never punished for these frolics; but if their hiding places were discovered they were ridiculed.

To celebrate each noted event, a feast and dance would be given. Perhaps only our own people, perhaps neighboring tribes would be invited. These festivities usually lasted for about four days. By day we feasted, by night under the direction of some chief we danced. The music for our dance was singing led by the warriors, and accompanied by beating the esadadedné. No words were sung only the tones. When the feasting and dancing were over we would have horse races, foot races, wrestling, jumping, and all sorts of games.

Among these games the most noted was the tribal game of Kah. It is played as follows: Four moccasins are placed about four feet apart in holes in the ground, dug in a row on one side of the camp, and on the opposite side a similar parallel row. At night a campfire is started between these two rows of moccasins, and the players are arranged on sides, one or any number on each side. The score is kept by a bundle of sticks, from which each side takes a stick for every point won. First one side takes the bone, puts up blankets between the four moccasins and the fire so that the opposing team cannot observe their movements, and then begin to sing the legends of creation. The side having the bone represents the feathered tribe, the opposite side represents the beasts. The players representing the birds do all the singing, and while singing hide the bone in one of the moccasins, then the blankets are thrown down. They continue to sing, but as soon as the blankets are thrown down, the chosen player from the opposing team, armed with a war club, comes to their side of the campfire and with his club strikes the moccasin in which he thinks the bone is hidden. If he strikes the right moccasin, his side gets the bone, and in turn represents the birds, while the opposing team must keep quiet and guess in turn. There are only four plays; three that lose and one that wins. When all the sticks are gone from the bundle the side having the largest number of sticks is counted winner.

This game is seldom played except as a gambling game, but for the purpose it is the most popular game known to the tribe. Usually the game lasts four or five hours. It is never played in daytime.

After the games are all finished the visitors say, We are satisfied, and the camp is broken up. I was always glad when the dances and feasts were announced. So were all the other young people.

Our life also had a religious side. We had no churches, no religious organizations, no Sabbath day, no holidays, and yet we worshiped. Sometimes the whole tribe would assemble to sing and pray; sometimes a smaller number, perhaps only two or three. The songs had a few words, but were not formal. The singer would occasionally put in such words as he wished instead of the usual tone sound. Sometimes we prayed in silence; sometimes each one prayed aloud; sometimes an aged person prayed for all of us. At other times one would rise and speak to us of our duties to each other and to Usen. Our services were short.

When disease or pestilence abounded we were assembled and questioned by our leaders to ascertain what evil we had done, and how Usen could be satisfied. Sometimes sacrifice was deemed necessary. Sometimes the offending one was punished.

If any one off the Denéé had allowed his aged parents to suffer for food or shelter, if he had neglected or abused the sick, if he had profaned our religion, or had been unfaithful, he might be banished from the tribe.

The Denéé had no prisons as white men have. Instead of sending their criminals into prison they sent them out of their tribe. These faithless, cruel, lazy, or cowardly members of the tribe were excluded in such a manner that they could not join any other tribe. Neither could they have any protection from our unwritten tribal laws. Frequently these outlaw Indians banded together and committed depredations which were charged against the regular tribe. However, the life of an outlaw Indian was a hard lot, and their bands never became very large; besides, these bands frequently provoked the wrath of the tribe and secured their own destruction.

When I was about eight or ten years old I began to follow the chase, and to me this was never work.

Out on the prairies, which ran up to our mountain homes, wandered herds of deer, antelope, elk, and buffalo, to be slaughtered when we needed them.

Usually we hunted buffalo on horseback, killing them with arrows and spears. Their skins were used to make tepees and bedding; their flesh, to eat.

It required more skill to hunt the deer than any other animal. We never tried to approach a deer except against the wind. Frequently we would spend hours in stealing upon grazing deer. If they were in the open we would crawl long distances on the ground, keeping a weed or brush before us, so that our approach would not be noticed. Often we could kill several out of one herd before the others would run away. Their flesh was dried and packed in vessels, and would keep in this condition for many months. The hide of the deer soaked in water and ashes and the hair removed, and then the process of tanning continued until the buckskin was soft and pliable. Perhaps no other animal was more valuable to us than the deer.

In the forests and along the streams were many wild turkeys. These we would drive to the plains, then slowly ride up toward them until they were almost tired out. When they began to drop and hide we would ride in upon them and, by swinging from the side of our horses, catch them. If one started to fly we would ride swiftly under him and kill him with a short stick, or hunting club. In this way we could usually get as many wild turkeys as we could carry home on a horse.

There were many rabbits in our range, and we also hunted them on horseback. Our horses were trained to follow the rabbit at full speed, and as they approached them we would swing from one side of the horse and strike the rabbit with our hunting club. If he was too far away we would throw the stick and kill him. This was great sport when we were boys, but as warriors we seldom hunted small game.

There were many fish in the streams, but as we did not eat them, we did not try to catch or kill them. Small boys sometimes threw stones at them or shot at them for practice with their bows and arrows. Usen did not intend snakes, frogs, or fishes to be eaten. I have never eaten of them.

There were many eagles in the mountains. These we hunted for their feathers. It required great skill to steal upon an eagle, for besides having sharp eyes, he is wise and never stops at any place where he does not have a good view of the surrounding country.

I have killed many bears with a spear, but was never injured in a fight with one. I have killed several mountain lions with arrows, and one with a spear. Both bears and mountain lions are good for food and valuable for their skin. When we killed them we carried them home on our horses. We often made quivers for our arrows from the skin of the mountain lion. These were very pretty and very durable.

During my minority we had never seen a missionary or a priest. We had never seen a white man. Thus quietly lived the Bedonkohe.

In the summer of 1858, being at peace with the Mexican towns as well as with all the neighboring Indian tribes, we went south into Old Mexico to trade. Our whole tribe went through Sonora toward Casa Grande, our destination, but just before reaching that place we stopped at another Mexican town called by the Indians Kaskiyeh. Here we stayed for several days, camping outside the city. Every day we would go into town to trade, leaving our camp under the protection of a small guard so that our arms, supplies, and women and children would not be disturbed during our absence.

Late one afternoon when returning from town we were met by a few women and children who told us that Mexican troops from some other town had attacked our camp, killed all the warriors of the guard, captured all our ponies, secured our arms, destroyed our supplies, and killed many of our women and children. Quickly we separated, concealing ourselves as best we could until nightfall, when we assembled at our appointed place of rendezvous, a thicket by the river. Silently we stole in one by one: sentinels were placed, and, when all were counted, I found that my aged mother, my young wife, and my three small children were among the slain. There were no lights in camp, so without being noticed I silently turned away and stood by the river. How long I stood there I do not know, but when I saw the warriors arranging for a council I took my place.

That night I did not give my vote for or against any measure; but it was decided that as there were only eighty warriors left, and as we were without arms or supplies, and were furthermore surrounded by the Mexicans far inside their own territory, we could not hope to fight successfully. So our chief, Mangus-Colorado, gave the order to start at once in perfect silence for our homes in Arizona, leaving the dead upon the field.

I stood until all had passed, hardly knowing what I would do. I had no weapon, nor did I hardly wish to fight, neither did I contemplate recovering the bodies of my loved ones, for that was forbidden. I did not pray, nor did I resolve to do anything in particular, for I had no purpose left. I finally followed the tribe silently, keeping just within hearing distance of the soft noise of the feet of the retreating Denéé.

The next morning some of the Indians killed a small amount of game and we halted long enough for the tribe to cook and eat, when the march was resumed. I had killed no game, and did not eat. During the first march as well as while we were camped at this place I spoke to no one and no one spoke to me, there was nothing to say.

For two days and three nights we were on forced marches, stopping only for meals, then we made a camp near the Mexican border, where we rested two days. Here I took some food and talked with the other Indians who had lost in the massacre, but none had lost as I had, for I had lost all.

Within a few days we arrived at our own settlement. There were the decorations that Alope had made, and there were the playthings of our little ones. I burned them all, even our tepee. I also burned my mother’s tepee and destroyed all her property.

I was never again contented in our quiet home. True, I could visit my father’s grave, but I had vowed vengeance upon the Mexican troopers who had wronged me, and whenever I came near his grave, or saw anything to remind me of former happy days my heart would ache for revenge upon Mexico.

As soon as we had again collected some arms and supplies Mangus-Colorado, our chief, called a council and found that all our warriors were willing to take the warpath against Mexico. I was appointed to solicit the aid of other tribes in this war.

When I went to the Chokonen, Cochise, their chief, called a council at early dawn. Silently the warriors assembled at an open place in a mountain dell and took their seats on the ground, arranged in rows according to their ranks. Silently they sat smoking. At a signal from the chief I arose and presented my cause as follows:

“Kinsman, you have heard what the Mexicans have recently done without cause. You are my relatives, uncles, cousins, brothers. We are men the same as the Mexicans are, we can do to them what they have done to us. Let us go forward and trail them, I will lead you to their city; we will attack them in their homes. I will fight in the front of the battle. I only ask you to follow me to avenge this wrong done by these Mexicans, will you come? It is well, you will all come.

Remember the rule in war, men may return or they may be killed. If any of these young men are killed I want no blame from their kinsmen, for they themselves have chosen to go. If I am killed no one need mourn for me. My people have all been killed in that country, and I, too, will die if need be.”

I returned to my own settlement, reported this success to my chieftain, and immediately departed to the southward into the land of the Nedni. Their chief, Whoa, heard me without comment, but he immediately issued orders for a council, and when all were ready gave a sign that I might speak. I addressed them as I had addressed the Chokonen tribe, and they also promised to help us.

It was in the summer of 1859, almost a year from the date of the massacre of Kaskiyeh, that these three tribes were assembled on the Mexican border to go upon the warpath. Their faces were painted, the war bands fastened upon their brows their long scalp-locks ready for the hand and knife of the warrior who would overcome them. Their families had been hidden away in a mountain rendezvous near the Mexican border. With these families a guard was posted, and a number of places of rendezvous designated in case the camp should be disturbed.

When all were ready the chieftains gave command to go forward. None of us were mounted and each warrior wore moccasins and also a cloth wrapped about his loins. This cloth could be spread over him when he slept, and when on the march would be ample protection as clothing. In battle, if the fight was hard, we did not wish much clothing. Each warrior carried three days’ rations, but as we often killed game while on the march, we seldom were without food.

We traveled in three divisions: the Bedonheko led by Mangus-Colorado, the Chokonen by Cochise, and the Nedni by Whoa; however, there was no regular order inside the separate tribes. We usually marched about fourteen hours per day, making three stops for meals, and traveling forty to forty-five miles a day.

I acted as guide into Mexico, and we followed the river courses and mountain ranges because we could better thereby keep our movements concealed. We entered Sonora and went southward past Quitaro, Nacozari, and many smaller settlements.

When we were almost at Arispe we camped, and eight men rode out from the city to parley with us. These we captured, killed, and scalped. This was to draw the troops from the city, and the next day they came. The skirmishing lasted all day without a general engagement, but just at night we captured their supply train, so we had plenty of provisions and some more guns.

That night we posted sentinels and did not move our camp, but rested quietly all night, for we expected heavy work the next day. Early the next morning the warriors were assembled to pray, not for help, but that they might have health and avoid ambush or deceptions by the enemy.

As we had anticipated, about ten o’clock in the morning the whole Mexican force came out. There were two companies of cavalry and two of infantry. I recognized the cavalry as the soldiers who had killed my people at Kaskiyeh. This I told to the chieftains, and they said that I might direct the battle.

I was no chief and never had been, but because I had been more deeply wronged than others, this honor was conferred upon me, and I resolved to prove worthy of the trust. I arranged the Indians in a hollow circle near the river, and the Mexicans drew their infantry up in two lines, with the cavalry in reserve. We were in the timber, and they advanced until within about four hundred yards, when they halted and opened fire. Soon I led a charge against them, at the same time sending some braves to attack the rear. In all the battle I thought of my murdered mother, wife, and babies; of my father’s grave and my vow of vengeance, and I fought with fury. Many fell by my hand, and constantly I led the advance. Many braves were killed The battle lasted about two hours.

At the last four Indians were alone in the center of the field, myself and three other warriors. Our arrows were all gone, our spears broken off in the bodies of dead enemies. We had only our hands and knives with which to fight, but all who had stood against us were dead. Then two armed soldiers came upon us from another part of the field. They shot down two of our men and we, the remaining two, fled toward our own warriors. My companion was struck down by a saber, but I reached our warriors, seized a spear, and turned. The one who pursued me missed his aim and fell by my spear. With his saber I met the trooper who had killed my companion and we grappled and fell. I killed him with my knife and quickly rose over his body, brandishing his saber, seeking for other troopers to kill. There were none. But the Denéé had seen. Over the bloody field, covered with the bodies of Mexicans, rang the fierce Denéé war-whoop.

Still covered with the blood of my enemies, still holding my conquering weapon, still hot with the joy of battle, victory, and vengeance, I was surrounded by the Denéé braves and made war chief of all the Denéé. Then I gave orders for scalping the slain.

I could not call back my loved ones, I could not bring back the dead Denéé, but I could rejoice in this revenge. The Denéé had avenged the massacre of Kaskiyeh.

Life Giver:

It seemed like many minutes from the time Jimmy stopped talking until I realized there was no more to come. Actually, it was probably only a few seconds. But, he was silent; it was as if he had run out of words. Once I did realize the story of Geronimo was finished, I was hesitant to open my eyes; I did not want to break the spell. Though eventually I did open my eyes and looked right into the face of God!

It was the stars! While Jimmy was talking, the sun had traveled to the other side of the world and the stars had come out. Never had I seen anything like it. For three hundred and sixty degrees the stars touched the horizon. There was no light to impede their brilliance, no buildings to block my view of that wondrous sight. There was just as much starlight as there was black sky. I felt as though I could reach out and touch them, they seemed that close. I could see how Ptolemy believed the earth was encapsulated within crystalline spheres. In the dry desert air the stars did indeed look as though they were made of fine, delicate crystal. I saw The Great Bear, and Polaris, the only star that does not move. Orion seemed as though he could lower his arm and smite me with his club. I was in the mist of searching for other constellations when Jimmy broke my reverie.   He said, “It’s time.”

As I sat up, the young girl handed me a wooden bowl, Jimmy was already holding one exactly like it. We each held our bowls with two hands in front of us, about chest high. I was told by Jimmy that the potion would help me go within, to commune with the Old Ones. “It is my hope to speak with Life Giver at times like these, but it has not happened yet. The Wise One tells me to be patient that he has only spoken to Life Giver once, though he has spoken with Changing Woman many times.” I said nothing. Jimmy reached his bowl towards me as in a toast. I did the same and then we drank whatever concoction was in those bowls.

Jimmy told me that we would not speak again until morning. He would continue facing west, and that I should face north. I walked ninety degrees around the rise to Jimmy’s right, sat down and awaited what was to come. It was starting to get a little cool, and I thought it would have been nice if had the forethought to bring a jacket. In an effort to keep warm I brought my knees up to my chest, folded my arms about them and rested my chin on my knees. I looked around to see what the girl was up to, but she, like the grandmother, was gone. I had nothing else to do but settle in and wait for the Old Ones.

Time started to stretch out, a second felt like a minute; Einstein was right. After awhile I noticed I wasn’t cold any longer. I unfolded myself and lay back to look at the stars. As I said, time was playing tricks on me. I don’t know how long it was after I lay back that I heard the voice. At first I thought it was Jimmy, but when I looked in his direction he was staring off into the western sky oblivious of me and his surroundings. As I was looking towards Jimmy I heard it again. It was in my head, and the voice was calling to me, but not by name.

Aloud I said, “Are you calling me?”

The voice responded: “There is no need to use your vocal cords, think and I will hear you. For some reason this all seemed perfectly natural, as though I spoke with disembodied entities every day.

My first or I guess if you want to be technical, my second question was, “Who are you?”

I swear this is what I heard, “I have many names, and have had many other names in the past. I am known to your friend Jimmy as Life Giver, I am known to you and your culture as God. Some refer to me as Jehovah, and I am called Allah and Krishna by others.”

I don’t know why, but for some reason it did not seem strange that I was having a conversation with God.

The next thing I said, or thought, or whatever, was, “If you are who you say you are, why do you speak with me when Jimmy has desperately and earnestly been trying to speak with you for years?” I heard this reply: “I have been with Jimmy all those years, and more, waiting for him to notice me. I am with my children, all my children, always. I am never not with you.”

 

NOTE: In an effort to cut down on the prose, I offer a transcript of my conversation with the entity, which I have come to believe was indeed who It claimed to be, Life Giver. Before you make up your mind read the transcript in its entirety then decide.

 

ME: It just doesn’t seem fair that I’m here speaking with you when it should be Jimmy instead.

LG: Jimmy and I do speak all the time, but not in this way.

ME: Have you come to teach me some great truth?

LG: You have nothing to learn, none of my children have anything to learn. You only have to remember.

Me: Remember? Remember what?

LG: Who you are, and where you come from.

ME: Now I’m getting confused, didn’t You create us?

LG: Yes, and no.

ME: What?

LG: Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

ME: Yes, please.

LG: Before this universe in which you inhabit existed, before time existed, I was. It is known as The First State. Within me were the powers of creativity and I knew of their existence, but the way to produce them were unknown to me. I existed in a State of Being, but without a means to find expression for my Being.

You were within my dreams, and while still within my dreams, I gave you consciousness. I felt pressure from you, the conscious, but still probable selves who found yourselves in a God’s dream. To release you would give you actuality, but it would also mean losing a portion of my own consciousness. With love and longing, I let go that portion of myself and you were free. We exploded in a flash of creation, and I lost a portion of myself.

I love all that I have created down to the least. I celebrate the dearness and uniqueness of each consciousness. I am triumphant and joyful at each development of each individual. I revel and take joy in the slightest creative act of each of you. You, my children are the expression of my Being. You are all portions of me. I am the living spirit that pervades each living thing. Everything has an inner spirit, everything has a consciousness. You are not a part from me, You are apart of me.

ME: So, you’re really God?

LG: We are God. Some refer to me as All That Is, which is more descriptive of the truth. There is only ONE, we are both a part of that ONE. This planet’s first religion was The Law of One. In a time long forgotten, man knew from whence he came. That is what I mean when I said you have only to remember.

ME: So, why can I experience you and Jimmy can’t.

LG: As I have stated, Jimmy, you, and all of humanity experience me every day.

ME: What I mean is why am I talking to you tonight, and Jimmy is not?

LG: How do you know he is not speaking with me now as you are?

ME: Well, I guess I don’t. I reckon God can carry on more than one conversation at a time.

LG: You reckon?

ME: I didn’t know God had a sense of humor.

LG: I have what you have, you have what I have; we are ONE.

ME: I guess I was pretty lucky when Jimmy picked me up this afternoon or else I wouldn’t be here speaking with God.

LG: It was no accident that Jimmy offered you a ride and a place to sleep. Jimmy and I arranged it while he slept last night. We spoke in his dreams, though he has consciously forgotten our talk, he has remembered it subconsciously.

ME: Then why am I here?

LG: Do you mean why are you here tonight, or why are you here on the planet Earth?

ME: Both, I guess.

LG: You, and everyone else, are here because you want to be here. You personally are here tonight because I have a message for you, and this was the only way to make sure you hear it.

ME: Before you give me the message may I ask one more question?

LG: You may ask as many as you wish.

ME: What is the meaning of life?

LG: The meaning of life, the reason you, and all our brethren on this planet, and on all the other planets, in other star systems, is to choose. Making choices is the reason for life. The choices you make are the way I express myself. When a life is completed, the experiences you bring back to me are a gift. A gift from a loving child who has volunteered to endure the hardships of the physical plane in order that its parent may BE.

ME: What if we make the wrong choices?

LG: You cannot make a wrong choice. Whatever you choose will eventually lead to evolution, and over time evolution creates balance as part of the nature of existence.

ME: Even if we make a choice, based on hate that’s okay?

LG: Remember this: Ultimately, there is only Love. All so called negative emotions, hate, anger, jealousy, just to a mention a few, stem from fear. The only way to combat fear is Love. Love is always stronger than fear.

ME: WOW!

LG: WOW, indeed.

ME: You said you had a message for me?

LG: Yes, you are planning on going home. You, of course, may do anything of your choosing. However, you came to the Earth to teach. Some of those you have agreed to teach will miss their lessons if you go home now.

ME: I thought you said we have nothing to learn, we only have to remember.

LG: The lessons help you to remember. As a song will bring back memories of the time you first heard it. The lessons you, and all teachers, teach help those involved to remember.

ME: I’m just a kid, how can I teach anyone anything?

LG: First of all, you are as old as I am, we existed before time began. Secondly, you teach by example. Some will learn from you after seeing you for only a moment, other will have learned their lessons after many months with you. As you in turn will learn your lessons from others you will encounter.

ME: You say I have a choice?

LG: Of course you do.

ME: Okay, as long as it’s my choice, I don’t like to be pressured, even by God. When will I know when it’s time to go home?

LG: I will tell you.

ME: Sounds like a plan.

LG: Yes it does. It is almost daybreak. It would be better if you left without seeing Jimmy. You have places to go, and he has things to do. I promise you will see him again soon.

ME: Well … good-bye.

LG: I am always with you.

I got my carcass up, looked over at my friend Jimmy and mentally said good-bye. I walked the few hundred yards to his house, picked up my gear, which was still outside his door, and walked into a new day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheriff John Stone

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Sheriff John Stone

 

We were nine days hunting the killer and now we had him. He was right above us on Ghost Butte, hiding in a crevasse or behind a boulder. And there was no way down the other side, it being a shear cliff. Along the way we’ve lost men, but you can’t let a murderer get away with his foul deed no matter what the cost.

After nine days in the saddle, we were ready, more than ready, for the action to play out. However, we would have to wait until the morrow. Night had fallen and it would soon be full dark. To go up after him now would be just plum loco. It would be the death of the last three men, of the seven, that started out at the beginning. I am one of the three, my name ain’t important, but the other two are Sheriff John Stone and Mr. Wendell Morton, the affianced of the murdered woman.

When we had to stop our advance, Sheriff Stone told me and Mr. Morton to make camp, but not to build a fire. He said that we would dine on jerked rabbit. There could be no coffee anyway, we had run out days ago.

After I had me a few bites of rabbit, the sheriff told me to take the first watch and that he would relieve me in a few hours. He added, “If he gits pass you, I’ll shoot you like a dog,” then he smiled, but there was no smile in them words. I was tuckered out alright, but being so close to the end of the ordeal keyed me up. There was no way on God’s green earth that I was going to fall asleep; at least not until Sheriff John Stone relieved me.

I left Sheriff Stone and Mr. Morton talking around a non-existent camp fire and took myself off to a vantage where a jackrabbit couldn’t get pass me, let alone a man. By now my eyes were adjusted to the night, so I settled in and looked up at the rim of the ridge, which was dark against the star filled sky, and I thought of the man we run to ground up there. He must be as tired as we were, and I didn’t reckon he had much to eat during the last nine days. We took time to provision before taking out after him, but he hightailed it out of town without stopping for nothing.

My thoughts then turned to Sheriff John Stone. I thought on how we would have given up the chase long ago if not for him. He led us and he kept us going, even saving all our lives at one point. It’d been a hard ride, but John Stone kept us together.

Looking at the stars along the ridge line, I thought of the day I first met John. Of course, he wasn’t sheriff then. In fact I thought he was just another saddle bum passing through town.

I was sitting on a cracker barrel inside Marv Jenkins’ store and I happened to be looking out the window when I saw a stranger ambling down our main thoroughfare, it’s our only thoroughfare, but that’s another story. He sat tall in the saddle and had a hard look on his face. His eyes were slits, his mouth tight, framed by a drooping moustache, his hat pulled down low over his eyes. He looked neither left nor right, and he was riding a large sorrel that I later learned was named Babe.

Having had my fill of cracker barrels and old man Jenkins for one day, I walked outside and stood under the ramada watching the stranger as he pulled up in front of O’Casey’s saloon and tethered his horse to the hichin’ post. “Sounds like a right good idea.” thought I, “I could go for a little somethin’ ‘bout now.” Sittin’ on cracker barrels can sure work up a powerful thirst in a man’s throat. So I did my own ambling across the street and on into O’Casey’s.

Now, our town ain’t no cow town. I mean I’ve been to Abilene and seen them liquor palaces they got up there. O’Casey’s was no palace, just a small place, but with room enough for a man to do his drinking. When I pushed through the slatted swinging doors, I saw to my left a couple of cowpokes sittin’ by theirselves off in the corner. To my right, three gents stood at the faro table trying to best Pete Gleason, the faro dealer. And straight ahead of me, leaning on the bar, was the stranger. It being the middle of the afternoon, business was slow; we were the only patrons present.

Going to the bar, I situated myself a respectful four feet from the stranger. O’Casey knew my poison and laid it on the bar before I could get my foot on the rail. I’m not a sippin’ kind of man, I downed what was in my glass, nodded to O’Casey, and watched him poor me another. When he was finished, and just about to walk away, I said, “Might as well leave the bottle, it’ll save you coming back.” O’Casey, whose first name is Mac, took a pencil from behind his ear and made a mark on the bottle to denote the current level of liquid. He then, without a word, went back to his seat at the end of the bar to contemplate the foibles of men, especially men who drank liquor.

Out of the corner of my eye, I was able to assess the stranger from up close. He was tall, I’m six foot and he topped me by a few inches. His hair was sun burnt and hung almost to his shoulders, which were broad. He still had the hard look on his face, but the face, and the lines in it, bespoke grit. He had steel-gray eyes. He could have been forty or he could have been fifty, there was no tellin’. He wore a buckskin shirt with fringe at the seams and brown corduroy pants. Attached to his boots were silver spurs. I could tell they were silver because they were almost black with tarnish. Looking at him you knew he’d been on the trail a fair while.

When I finished my second shot, I turned to the stranger and asked, “Just ride into town?”

Without looking at me, he reached into a pocket of his pants, pulled out a plug of tobacco and bit off a healthy chaw. As he was working it in his mouth he said, “You know damn well I just rode in. You were watching me from in front of the store across the way.”

At that, I had to laugh. “You’ve got me there stranger. I’m just a busy body that ain’t got no more sense then a dog chasing his own tail. But, I’d be mighty proud for you’d let me buy you a drink.”

He didn’t say anything for a minute, then he let fly with a stream of juice out of the side of his mouth, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t hit the spittoon dead center. “Reckon I’d be please to drink with you mister, been on the trail too long, kind of makes a man forgit his manners. My name’s Stone, John Stone, proud to meet ya.” And then he held out his big mitt of a hand and we shook.

So we stood there drinkin’ and jawin’ for another five drinks. Along ‘bout then the bottle was getting low, and I had learned of John Stone as much as he wanted me to know. He hailed from up Montana way and had been a captain in the military until he was thrown out for killing a man. The finding was self-defense, but John told me there wasn’t no trial because the man’s father did not want the reason for his son’s demise to come out. The man he killed was the son of local muckety muck and the son had molested a girl of a tender age. When John heard about it, he sought the man out and put a bullet in his head.

Where it would do the most good,” as he strongly phrase it.

As I was reaching for the bottle to pour our sixth and final drink, a ruckus broke out over at the faro table. When we turned to see what all the commotion was about, we saw one of the men holding a revolver on Pete Gleason. And then he spoke, “You’ve been cheating me. I’ve lost my poke to your double dealin’ and now I want it back!”

Pete just shrugged and started to count out some gold coins, after all it wasn’t his money. He’d give the man his money back and let O’Casey worry about it. But I reckon he wasn’t counting fast enough to suit the man holding the gun. The shot, when it came, made all those within the room jump, all that is except John Stone.

Pete fell to the floor and the other two men at the table dove for cover. I didn’t see how the cowpokes or Mac handled things, but I did see John Stone take action.

Before Pete hit the floor, John had his .44 out of its leather, and from his hip put a bullet into the gunman’s heart. Of course, it entered from the back, but no one complained, least of all the dead man bleeding into the sawdust on the floor, clutching two twenty dollar gold pieces.

When the smoked cleared, John asked me if I intended to finish the bottle and if so could he have another drink. “Killing always works up a thirst in me,” he muttered as I drained the bottle into our two glasses.

Just as we were hefting our glasses for our last drink, the swing doors burst open and a crowd of people spilled into the room and they formed a circle around Pete and the unknown gunman, by the way Pete was also dead.

I was pretty complaisant about having two dead bodies in the vicinity, but I reckoned it was the rotgut I’d been swilling more than nerves of steal. And John was as unperturbed as me; however, in his case I don’t think booze played into it.

Before long there were so many people in the place that when the mayor showed up, high hat and all, he could barely get in. “Here, here, make room!” he shouted as he pushed through the crowd. He finally reached the inner circle and looked down at the meat upon the floor that had until recently been men.

“Well O’Casey, what is this all about?” asked the mayor in his official tone of voice.

Mac answered: “Jim, it happened so fast I missed most of it” (Jim Lowery, he’s our mayor). Pointing to my new friend John, he added, “But that big fella over there dropped this here gent,” nudging the cause of all the trouble with the toe of his boot.

Mayor Jim Lowery, mustering as much dignity as possible climbed upon a nearby chair and holding both arms high into the air, told all those assembled if they had not been present when the shootings occurred they would have to leave the premises. A soft groan escaped from the crowd, but slowly they started to shuffle out through the swing doors.

When we were back down to the original inhabitants, the mayor came over and stood next to me, and yet again in his official manner said, “Howdy Teddy, you want to introduce me to your friend?” (Earlier I told you my name didn’t matter, but just for the record it’s Teddy Beal. My Christian name is Theodore, but everyone calls me Teddy.)

I sure did not want our drinking to be disturbed, but I reckoned there was no getting round it. “Mayor, I’d like you to meet John Stone.” And remaining formal, formal as only half a bottle of whiskey can make you, I continued. “Mr. Stone may I present the mayor of our fair town, Jim Lowery.”

Jim stuck out his hand in John’s direction and there it stayed. John kept his gaze straight ahead with a far look in his eyes. You’d think he didn’t hear my introduction. It was a funny sight, little Jim Lowery, in his top hat standing next to a man a foot taller than he, and with his arm extended trying to grasp thin air. Then it got funnier, John turned his head toward Jim and let loose with a stream of tobacco juice that hit the toe of Lowery’s right boot. “You also the sheriff or somethin’?” deigned John Stone.

“No, I’m the mayor, we ain’t got a sheriff. He was killed last month by a couple of boarder ruffians. However, I am the duly elected representative of this town; hence I’m the law until such time as we hire us a new sheriff.” That seemed to get John’s attention. He looked Jim over, but said nothing.

Being in good cheer because of my afternoon imbibing, and because we were getting nowhere fast, I told Jim the whole of what happened. When I was finished, he said it sounded like justifiable homicide to him and he’d send the undertaker over to remove the bodies.

Thanking me for my help and nodding to John, he started for the door. When he was half way, he was stopped by these words: “You got need of a sheriff and I got need of a job, whatcha say?”

Stopping in mid step, Jim pivoted and returned to the bar.

“What was your name again? asked our mayor.

“It’s Stone, John Stone.”

“You wanted by the law anywhere?”

At that query, John looked down at Jim’s boots as though he had a powerful urge to disengage himself of some more tobacco juice. But Jim quickly added, “Not that it matters, but it’s best to know these things up front.”

“No, I ain’t wanted nowhere,” was John retort. He let the juice find its mark in the spittoon.

The upshot was that Jim told me to bring John over to his office and he’d swear him in and give him the details of his recompense.

Well, that’s how John Stone became Sheriff John Stone and why I found myself sitting on a rock, at night, with dead men on the trail behind us. I’m John’s only friend in town and when he asked me to join his posse, I couldn’t refuse. Though many a time during past last nine days I wish I had.

It didn’t seem like no time at all before John was standing next to me asking if I’d heard or seen anything. When I answered in the negative, he told me to go get some sleep, that he would handle things for the rest of the night. He told me that Mr. Morton was tuckered out and he couldn’t count on him to stay awake. “Alright John, but if it had been my woman, I wouldn’t sleep until the son-of-a-bitch was dead.” Bidding John a good night, I walked back to our non existent camp fire where I laid out my bed roll and positioned myself upon a not too rocky stretch of ground.

Even though I was tuckered out, at least as tuckered out as Mr. Morton, I found it hard to fall asleep. The stars were bright and there were many shooting stars that night, but the stars did not keep me awake. I just could not stop thinking. My mind was going round and round. First it was about meeting John, then I was thinking on how to avenge the death of one woman, four men had to die. Maybe even more men would die before this thing was through.

As I lay there thinking, I thought it funny that I was the first person to see John ride in. And I was the first person in our town to see the murderer ride in. Though to look at him you wouldn’t think he was capable of such a heinous crime.

It had been about four months since John was made sheriff. Once again I found myself at Jenkins’ store; however, this time I was sitting on an empty wooden crate outside the store (I like variety; I was getting tired of sitting on cracker barrels) when I saw a solitary rider coming toward me. Unlike John Stone, he had a smile on his face and rode right up to me. “Howdy, can you direct me the livery stable?”

He was riding a bay (I never did find out its name) and was wearing a duster, so I don’t know how he was dressed. He was about thirty-years old. His hair was the color of corn and his eyes the color of the sky. He was thin and kind of soft looking. But, by the way he’s conducted himself over the last nine days; I know he’s anything but soft.

“Down the street, to your left, you can’t miss it. There a big, blue and white sign outside. You’ll see it” was my answer.

“Thanks mister” was all he said before moving on.

Two hours later he was galloping out of town with bullets whizzing past his head.

I was still sittin’ on my crate trying to work up enough get-up-and-go to walk across the street to O’Casey’s for a little mid afternoon libation. But before I could make a move, shots rang out down the street. So I stood to see what all the commotion was about, and here comes the man that had just rode in a short while before, hell-bent for leather.

After he passed me, I looked in the direction he had come from, and there standing in the middle of the street was Mr. Morton with a gun in his hand and waving his arms all about. It looked like he was yelling something, but he was too far away for me to hear what it was. Then people started coming out of the stores and businesses along the street and crowded round him.

Not wanting to miss out on the excitement, I started in that direction, but I was met half way by Sheriff John Stone. He informed me that Julie June had been killed, and according to Mr. Morton it was the man who just left town that did the dastardly deed. He told me he was getting up a posse to pursue the villain. He added that he didn’t need a posse to pursue one man, but because of the way most of the men in town felt about Julie June, if he didn’t take some of them along with him they’d form their own posse. I was to stay with Mr. Morton until we left. Above all else I was to keep him from her body. She had been savagely beaten and he did not want him to see her in such a condition. He told me he had already set men to the task of removing her to the undertaker’s. He then said we would leave within the hour, as soon as he had rounded up some men and a few provisions. Then he started for his office, but after two paces he stopped and turned, “I didn’t ask, but I’d like you to come along, I might need you out there.” Without waiting for a reply, he set off again.

When I reached Mr. Morton he was surrounded by town folk, all who were talking at once. I pushed my way to his side and told the people to disperse, and if any of the men wanted to join the posse to go and see the sheriff.

Reluctantly at first, but then with more speed, the people started to walk away. I took hold of Mr. Morton’s arm and steered him toward O’Casey’s. It wasn’t so much that I wanted a drink; it was because I knew he needed a drink right about then. As I said earlier, Mr. Morton and the murdered girl were to be married.

Before I go further I think I ought to acquaint you with Miss Julie and Mr. Morton.

Mr. Morton came to our town first, about three, four years back. He bought old man Edwards’ ranch outside of town. Sam Edwards had no kin to leave it to and he told me he wanted to enjoy the fruits of his labors before he died. Sam had beat that ranch of his out of the wilderness; and fighting Indians all the way. He was nearin’ sixty about then. He said he was going to get a good price for his land and stock and after that the only cow he wanted to see was on a plate at Delmonico’s in New York. His plan was to go to New York and set up camp in one of them fine hotels you always hear tell about and only come out to eat at Delmonico’s or to see them pretty little actress ladies in one of them shows.

So Mr. Morton came from the east and took over the Edwards’ ranch. He was in his late forties, if I had to figure his age, and he always dressed like a dude. He had close cut black hair, and was a little shorter than me; if I had to say, I’d say he was 5’9’’, 5’10. To me the look on his face always seemed like he’s just bitten into a lemon or somethin’. Like most people from the east he was kind of standoffish at first. He never came into town, well maybe two, three time a year; he would always send his help in for supplies and what not. That is until one day he was in town and it being near dinner time he went into Abigail Murphy’s eatery. That is where he first laid eyes on Miss Julie June Watts. After that he came into town almost every day.

Julie June stepped off a stage eight months ago during one of its stops to pick up freight. The stage was heading west, Julie, according to legend because she never spoke of it herself, was headed for California. For some unbeknown reason she took to our one-horse town. She asked the driver to please retrieve her bags, and she was standing outside the stage depot as the west bound departed, minus one passenger.

Julie June was a comely woman. I’d say she was about twenty-five, had long raven-colored hair that she wore lose. It fell down her back, and when she moved the shine in her hair would slowly ripple back and forth like a wave of wind over a wheat field. Her eyes were large and the color of a cactus, that color green.

She secured lodging at Mrs. Butterfield’s rooming house and employment at Abigail’s. And after she was working at the restaurant for a while something funny happened. Abigail’s business doubled. Men were coming in for a second meal only an hour after finishing one. The cow punchers from the ranches somehow found time to come in for at least two, three meals during the week. And on Sundays there was a line of them waiting to get in. All of them with their hair slicked back and smellin’ of some kind of ode de cologne.

I reckon the cowhands and the older and married men didn’t put up much competition against a rich man like Mr. Morton because it wasn’t long before he announced their betrothal. After that, business dropped off a little at Abigail’s, but not much. The women folk of the town were pleased as punch at the news. They had been talking among themselves and decided that Julie June was either going to have to get married or they were going to run her out of town. Her engagement saved them the trouble. So even though the men took it hard, the women flocked around her, congratulated her and offered their services to plan for the wedding.

There’s only one thing though. I’m a confirmed bachelor and don’t know much about the fairer sex. But I do know that when a woman is given an engagement ring with a diamond in it that could choke a horse; she shows it off at the drop of a hat, even if she’s got to drop the hat herself. But Julie June, though she wore the ring, never mentioned it or showed it to anyone unless asked to. I think I was the only one in town to find that a might queer, but I kept my thoughts to myself.

While we was drinking and waiting for Sheriff John, Mr. Morton told me what had happened.

He said he had come to town to see Julie June and set a firm date for their wedding. When he did not see her in Abigail’s, he inquired as to her whereabouts. One of the other women that worked there told him she had seen her go out the back towards the barn that stood behind the restaurant. Thinking she was collecting eggs for the next day’s breakfast, he went looking for her. But instead of finding his love alone, she was lying on the ground with a man kneeling over her. That’s when he saw that she was bloodied and that the man was removing her engagement ring. The shock of what he was seeing froze him in his tracks momentarily, but then his wits returned and he yelled at the man to unhand her. Then the man jumped to his feet and took off running. He, Mr. Morton, drew his gun and fired, but missed. He then took off after him, shooting at the man until his gun was empty. That’s one more queer thing, why didn’t he stop to check on Julie June instead of chasing off after the man?

He finished his tale with, “We’ve got to get him and kill him like the dog he is.” I assured him that was exactly what we were going to do. Then I raised the bottle to pour us another shot when I was halted in my task by Sheriff John Stone. “That’s enough, go and git your gear, we’re leavin,” he said to me. Then to Mr. Morton, “I assume you’ll want to come along, so I had your horse brought up, she’s outside.”

The next thing I knew we were seven riding out after one. John told me because it was the middle of the day there weren’t many good men around, pickings were slim. They were store clerks and such, not much good for what we were setting out to do. But he did say that he found a few good men and told the rest to go home or back to their jobs. Besides John and me and Mr. Morton there was Ian McGregor, Billy Simms, Len Dawson and Dick Jones.

Ian McGregor was an immigrant from the old country, Scotland I think. He spoke with a deep accent; I could never understand half of what he said. And his hair was the color of a fiery sunset, which was always covered with an English bowler. He was a big man, not tall, but well muscled. He rode a black mare by the name Sweetheart and he owned the ranch next to Mr. Morton’s.

Billy Simms was a youth of twenty years and he worked for Mr. McGregor year round. He was skinny and tall, so skinny and tall that some of the men at O’Casey’s called him Slim. He was along because Mr. McGregor ordered him to come along. He was one of the few young rakes in the county that was not smitten by Julie June, and he had no use for Mr. Morton. He rode a black and white paint named Belle.

Len Dawson and Dick Jones were both bachelors and partners in a spread north of town. They were waiting for the east bound stage when all the hullabaloo broke out; they were going east to buy breeding stock. Dawson was a man of fifty with gray hair and a pleasant personality. His partner was the exact opposite. He was as bald as a billiard ball except for some brown fringe. He was about forty and had a disposition like a rattlesnake with a toothache. They both rode borrowed horses. Dawson was on a pinto named Brandy, and Jones was on a gray dun named Tex. I reckon they came along because both of them had pined for Julie June before Mr. Morton entered the picture.

We made almost twenty miles that first day before we had to stop because of darkness. John said we’d make camp for the night and catch up with him on the morrow. The only thing is it didn’t quite pan out that way.

The next day we had trouble picking up the trail, but after a few miles we got it again and it led right to the mountains. As we were coming around a dog-leg in the trail, it curved round an out cropping of rock about twelve feet high, a shot rang out and the next thing I knowed Mr. McGregor was laying on the ground dead. He had a bullet right through the middle of his forehead. All of us except John dove for cover, he stayed on Babe and drew his Spencer and sighted on a place up and to the left. I think he was waiting for another shot so he could see the puff of smoke from whence it came. And to get a bead on the culprit he was making a target of himself, but a following shot never came.

When we thought it safe to come out of our cover, Billy Simms went to the body of Mr. McGregor and cradled his head in his arms; the rest of us stood back and waited. Finally, John, who was still astride Babe said, “I’m sorry son but we’ve got to move on. You weren’t all that fired up about coming in the first place. If you want, you can bring him back to town and no one will think anything more of it.”

Billy, who might have been crying, I don’t know I was too far away, looked up at Sheriff John and said, “No thank you, he’s beyond my help now. He treated me like a son. In fact he’s the only man that ever did treat me decent. I’ll be going on with you. I’ve got me a man to kill. We’ll stop by and pick him up on the way back.”

John nodded his agreement and told Billy to bring McGregor’s horse along. “No use leaving her here to git picked up by some saddle tramp.” So after we laid McGregor behind some rocks so he couldn’t be seen from the trail (we thought we’d be back in a few hours) we took after Julie June and McGregor’s murderer.

We didn’t catch up to him right off like we thought we would. That day, our second on his trail, we followed his tracks, but they were not in a straight line like they should have been. He was crisscrossing north and south like he was drunk or somethin’. Finally at about noon Sheriff John figured out what was going on. He picked up some Indian signs. Then we saw where his tracks crossed theirs. We knew they were Indians, probably Sioux, because the horse prints were shoeless. He was staying out of their way alright. It looked like he spied them and then circled around behind to make his way.

Following those crisscrossing tracks took most of that day. Then about two hours before sundown we ran into the trouble the murderer was trying to avoid. We ran right into the Indians; they were Sioux with a few Cheyenne running with them. They spotted us from a bluff and came a whoopin’ and a hollerin’ down on us before we knew what was happening. Luckily we had passed an outcrop about a mile back and John yelled for us to make for it pronto. None of us had to be told twice. We all got there in one piece, but they had us pinned down. We had the high ground, there were plenty of boulders for cover and there was no way they could get behind us because the outcrop was backed by a shear rock face.

We fought them off until dark then things simmered down some. We could see their campfires about a mile away, but that didn’t matter. We knew they would have scouts nearby, so they’d be no making a run for it under cover of darkness.

John set the watch and then told the rest of us to get something to eat and some sleep. He said we were going to need our wits about us if we wanted to see our homes again. He also said it would be alright to start a fire if we wanted. “Hell, they know were where we are.”

My watch wasn’t for a few hours yet and seeing as how I couldn’t sleep, I went over to talk to John who was sitting on a rock off by his self.

“Mind some company John?”

“I reckon not.”

“So what are we going to do? We don’t have much food or water. We can’t make a stand here for long.”

“I don’t aim to. I did me some Injun fighting when I was in the army, picked me up a few words of Injun. Tomorrow at gray light, I’m a gonna run up a white flag and parley with them. See what we can work out.”

And that’s where it stood. He stopped talking after that. And I knew him good enough by then not to obtrude into the man’s thinking. I then took myself off for a fitful sleep until it was my turn for the watch.

When the purple clouds in the east turned pink around the edges, and the last of the stars were gone, John stood in the middle of our makeshift camp and said, “You Billy, git me McGregor’s horse. I won’t be needing the saddle, but keep the bit in her mouth.”

At first it looked as though Billy was going say something, but then he thought better of it and went about the task given him. While he was at it, John told the rest of us that he was going out to talk to the Indians and if things worked out then we’d be on our way. If not then we’d be on our own and we’d meet up on the other side of life; in death. He said if he didn’t make it back the only thing he was sorry to take to his grave was the fact we didn’t get that no account murderer of Julie June.

Walking up with the horse and hearing the last part of John’s talk, Billy piped in with, “And Mr. McGregor.” We all turned to him with quizzical looks upon our faces, all that is except John. Billy explained, “It’s too bad we won’t get a chance at Julie June and Mr. McGregor’s killer.” Without a word, John took the reins from Billy and mounted Babe. He nodded at me and then favored me with a thin smile before riding out to the Indian camp.

About an hour later John returned bringing Sweetheart with him. No one said a word, we were waiting for him to tell us what transpired out there, but all he said was, “Is there any coffee, I don’t care if it’s cold.”

We hadn’t started a fire because we were looking at eternity if John failed at whatever his plan was. He didn’t think it was necessary to inform us as to what it was, but it was pretty obvious he was trying to buy our lives with McGregor’s horse. With Indians, horses are a family’s wealth. And it was clear that they wanted more than one horse for our lives or that they’d just take all the horses once we were dead.  I told John that I would start a fire and heat him some of the coffee from the night before. And as I walked away I heard the others start in on him with their questions, with Mr. Morton being the most vocal of the bunch. He wanted to know why, if the Indians refused the offer it took John so long in returning.

I’ve had a little truck with Indians and you just don’t go to them and say, “Here’s a horse, I want to trade it for my life.” No, first you gotta smoke their sacred pipe. Then you break bread with them. Well, maybe not bread, but probably dried buffalo meat. And when the chief feels like moving things along, then you can start dickering for your life.

Our camp was pretty quiet as John had his coffee. I reckoned we all thought we were headed for the last round up. Mr. Morton was off by his self writing out his last will and testament. I reckon when you’re rich that seems important when you’re facing the end. Dawson and Jones sat by the fire drinking coffee and speaking quietly between theirselves. Billy was posted to lookout, so he sat staring towards the Indian camp, I don’t know what was going through his mind. Me?  I’ve got to admit I was a bit scared, but when I saw the calm look on John’s face, I felt a little better. You couldn’t find a better man to die with than Sheriff John Stone.

Then Billy yelled out, “They’re a comin’!”

We got in position; John and Mr. Morton were the only ones with rifles. Mr. Morton had a Henry repeater; the rest of us just had our six guns, so we would have to wait until the Indians were pretty damn close so we wouldn’t waste our cartridges.

They charged right at us, and there must have been fifty braves yellin’ their fool heads off as they came. I don’t know what was worse, the bullets and arrows flying by me or the infernal racket them Indians put up. I heard Dawson cry out, “They’ve killed my partner!”

He jumped up and started for Jones, that’s when an arrow entered his right side, but before he could fall he was spun round by a bullet cutting into his left. He would bleed to death by the time the fight was over. “Maybe him and Jones are the lucky ones,” I thought as I crouched behind a fair size rock and fired away. We’ve all heard the stories of what Indians do to their captives. That’s why they say save the last bullet for yourself.

Just when I thought I’d breathed my last, the fight was over, at least for a spell. We dropped a fair number of them before they broke off and retreated. I counted six dead, or at least not moving, lying on the plain before us.

It was just as I finished my count that some Indians left their camp coming toward us, but there were only four of ‘em. They were riding slow and all four horses had pony drags attached. They were coming out to pick up their dead.

I heard Mr. Morton curse under his breath, and then I saw him raise his Henry and sight the closest Indian. But, before he could shoot Sheriff John grabbed the barrel and pointed it skyward saying, “No.”

When he released the gun he added, “I’ll be tellin’ you when to fight and when shoot unarmed men that ain’t fightin’. ‘Sides, them Indians mourn their dead same as we do.” Then he smiled, not to Mr. Morton, but to his self and softly said “Damn!” Without another word, he mounted Babe and rode off toward the Indians. When Sheriff John was out of ear shot, Mr. Morton said, “Well of all the nerve!” But I noticed he said nothing while John was standing next to him.

We all bunched up to see what John was up to. He rode right pass the Indians putting their dead on the drags. He was riding slow and his Spencer was in its sheath, so the Indians paid him no never mind. Then we lost sight of him as he entered their camp.

Mr. Morton said to no one in particular, “That’s the last we’re ever going to see of Sheriff John Stone.” I quickly turned in his direction and with contempt dripping from my words said, “Don’t you count on it Mr. Morton.” But to tell the truth I wasn’t so sure we hadn’t seen the last of John.

Things seemed peaceful enough at the moment, and because there was nothing to do but wait; either for John to return or for another onslaught from the Indians, I started up the fire and made some fresh coffee. Not that I particularly wanted any, it was just that the waiting was wearing me down. Then after what seemed a lifetime, Billy shouted, “Here he comes!” And sure enough, there was John astride that big black mare riding slowly in our direction. They either let him go to die with us or he was bringing us some news that was sorely needed.

John rode up, but did not dismount. Looking at me, he said for me to bring the horses of the dead men, all three of ‘em. Then he sat there listening to Billy and Mr. Morton pepper him with questions, but said nothing.

When I returned, he held out his hands for the reins, turned Babe and rode out. Then we saw three Indians ride out from their camp. They met half way. John handed the reins to the one I figured was the chief and they spoke a few words. He then turned and spurred Babe back to where we were waiting.

Of course we all had questions for him, but he cut us off and told us to mount up, we were leaving. Our relief at escaping death overtook our curiosity and we did as we were told. Only Billy thought to ask about Dawson and Jones, “Ain’t we goin’ bury ‘em?”

John said that even though he believed the Indians to be honorable, at least their chiefs, there were some young bucks, some hotheads, yelling to finish us off. It’s best we put some miles between us and them while we can. Then he added, “Leave ‘em, wolves and buzzards gotta eat too.” No one argued with him, we got on our horses, put our tails between our legs and rode, leaving Dawson and Jones partners in death as they had been in life.

It was as we were riding to pick up the killer’s trail that John told me what had transpired.

When John grabbed Mr. Morton’s rifle and told him that Indians mourn their dead just like white men, an idea came to him. It was kind of a bluff, but he figured it was they only play we had. He knew we had killed at least six of their braves, and unless the Indians were crazy they wouldn’t’ throw away any more lives if they didn’t have to. So he figure a way for the chiefs to save face with the offer of more horses. There was also a bluff involved.

He told them we had plenty of ammunition and food and water. That we could hold out for a long time, and with the cover we had many braves would die. So the chiefs accepted the three horses in exchange for our lives.

Then John informed me about something I hadn’t thought about, the reason why they attacked us.

It seems a few years back at a place called Whitestone Hill the whites attacked a sleeping Sioux camp before dawn, killing men, women and children as they ran for cover. Then a year later whites did the same thing to the Cheyenne at Sand Creek in Colorado Territory. John said that he didn’t blame the Indians for wanting to kill us. He added, “Sometimes us whites can be down right sons of bitches.”

 

We knew the killer’s track because his horse’s right front shoe was marked, but it still took us two days to pick up the his trail. And by that time Mr. Morton was flagin’. It was obvious he wanted to go back, but he was shamed to come right out and say so. Instead he’d say things like, “He’s probably half way to California by now, well never catch him.” Or, “If we’re going to continue to track him, maybe I should go back for more supplies.”

“If” we’re going to continue? John and Billy were hell-bent on catching the murderer. John told Mr. Morton not to worry about food. He’s a crack shot and we had meat every night, mostly rabbit. John didn’t want to take the time to kill bigger game like a buffalo, what with dressing it and so forth, and we couldn’t carry much anyway. And me? I wanted to do whatever John wanted to do. I was there because he asked me. If John wanted to go on, I’d go on. If he wanted to go back, I’d go back. I just thought it odd that Mr. Morton was waning in his desire to catch the man who had killed his woman. John had a code about things like that, so I knew he’s trail him to the ends of the earth. And Billy, he had his own score to settle because of Mr. McGregor.

The final tragedy took place the day before we caught up with the killer at Ghost Butte. We come to a river, it’s called Seedkeedee by the Pawnee, but us whites call it the Green River. Well anyway, it being spring and the flood season, the river was raging. I asked John if he knew of a place where we could ford. He took his time in answering, “I don’t reckon so. We’ll cross here. It should be alright, it’s your horse that has to fight the water, just hang on and you’ll make it to the far bank.”

That’s when Mr. Morton spoke up, “I don’t know. It looks pretty dangerous, perhaps we should look for a place to cross down river.” John said nothing, he just let a stream of tobacco juice fly in Mr. Morton’s direction, looked him in the eye like he was daring him to say anything else stupid. Then he took Babe down the embankment and plunged into the torrent, the rest of us followed, including Mr. Morton.

Billy was the last to enter the river. We, or I should say our horses, were having a tough time of it. All our attention was on the far bank, we were willing our mounts onward, so no one saw Billy go in. John was the first to reach dry land and I saw him turn toward us who were still fighting our way over. Then he stood in his saddle and looked down river, before taking off at a gallop in that direction. It was perplexing, but I had other things to worry about. It wasn’t until I was out of the water and turned my attention to the others that I saw what spooked John. Billy and his horse Belle were nowhere to be seen. I figured John had seen them get swept away and took out after them.

I waited for Mr. Morton and when he was safely on the bank I told him about Billy. He didn’t say anything. To me he looked like he didn’t care one way or the other. So, not knowing what else to do I told him we should wait for Sheriff John right where we were at. He just shrugged and said, “I’ve about had it with your Sheriff John.”

To which I replied, “Why don’t you tell him yourself, here he comes now.” And there he was coming our way leading Belle, but Billy was not on her.

John rode up to us and said, “I saw the boy go in and then his horse and him got swept away. I trailed ‘em to where the horse got out and then went a bit further on. That’s where I saw him, drowned, hung up on a rock in mid stream. Ain’t nothin’ we can do for him now, so let’s git a move on” And with those words, leading Belle, he turned and headed west.

We had a good trail to follow, and the next day we tracked him up the butte. It beats me why he went up there, he could have easily gone around it and then, as long as he stayed ahead of us, we would have had to track him all the way to California.

 

I must have fallen asleep. Sheriff John is standing over me, he saying it’s time. I’m still kind of asleep and I’m wondering, “Time for what?”

John repeats himself. “It time to play this out.”

That’s right, we’re a posse, or what’s left of one, and we’ve tracked the killer to this butte. As the fog of sleep slowly dissipates, it all comes back to me, Julie June, the deaths of the others, the Indians, and running out of food and coffee. I sure am hankerin’ for some coffee. I reckon I was moving a little too slow for John, he nudged me with his boot and told me to get up. I threw my blanket off and slowly got to my feet. John, in the meanwhile, was poking Mr. Morton with the barrel end of his Spencer, telling him to get a move on.

When John was convinced we both were awake enough to understand his orders he said, “I’m givin’ him one chance to surrender. If he takes it then that’s it. If he doesn’t, then I want you, Teddy, on my right, and you Morton on my left flank. I’ll take point and go up after him. If he gits me then it’ll be up to you two.”

Mr. Morton didn’t seem to like that plan, he told John that we should kill the murderer without hesitation. John responded in his usual way. A jet of tobacco juice landed next to Mr. Morton’s right boot.

John then took a few steps forward and yelled, “You up there, can you hear me?”

After a momentary pause, an answer, “I hear you just fine.”

‘Alright, you’ve got one chance and then we’re comin’ up after ya. Do you want to surrender peaceful like or do you want to die up there? It makes no difference to me.”

I didn’t expect to hear an answer right away. I figured he’ll have to think it over. Either way he’s a dead man. But he fooled me, and in a clear, strong voice we heard, “I’ve been thinking all night. I shouldn’t have run in the first place and killing that man on the trail was an accident. I want to explain things. I’m coming down.

“Just make sure your hands are empty and out were we can see ‘em,” was John’s comeback.

We waited about two minutes and then we saw him coming down with both hands reaching for some sky. Then a shot rang out and a bullet ricocheted off a rock next to the killer. John and me both turned to see Mr. Morton sighting for another shot. John moved fast and slammed the stock of his Spencer into Mr. Morton’s stomach, which bent him over and he fell to the ground.  Turning to me John said, “Take his guns.” Then to Mr. Morton, “If I wasn’t wearing this here badge I wouldn’t have offered safe conduct, but I did, he has my word. I know you feel strongly about what was done to your intended. But I’m running things here and if you do anything like that again, I’ll put a bullet in ya.”

Then we looked to the killer, he didn’t even flinch when the bullet passed him. He just kept on walking and now he was standing in front of John and me. Mr. Morton was still on the ground hugging his stomach.

The killer asked John if was alright to put his hands down, and John told him to do so. Then the killer, looking at John, probably cause he was wearin’ the badge, said, “My name is Mike Killeen, I hail from Roanoke Virginia. I came to your town to see my girl, she sent me a letter asking me to come. It’s kind of a long story, but right now I want to know why that man over there started shooting at me. Killeen was pointing at Mr. Morton.

John spit out some juice and said, “He shot at you because you killed his girl.”

“I killed no one, all I know is that Julie June is dead and when I walked into the barn that man was kneeling over her taking a ring off her finger. Then when he saw me he ran, but a minute later he was back firing at me.” Of course he was again pointing to Mr. Morton.

When he said “Julie June” John and I looked at each other. How did he know her name?

While John and I were thinking things over, Mr. Morton got to his feet and hollered, “Don’t listen to a thing that murdering son-of-a-bitch says,” which had the opposite effect that I think Mr. Morton intended. Now for sure we wanted to hear what Killeen had to say.

John looked to me and said, “If he says one more thing put a bullet into his leg.” Then he turned to Killeen, “Alright, let’s hear your story.”

“Well, I was in the war, but before I left, Julie June and I planned on getting married as soon as General Lee whipped the Blue Bellies. But as you know things didn’t work out that way. The war dragged on and things started to fall apart for the Confederacy. It was during the battle of Chancellorsville in early May of ’63 that I was wounded, but somehow the report had me down as dead. And because I had listed Julie June as my next of kin, she was informed of my death. Then because of the state things were in, we couldn’t send or receive any mail. Now, I didn’t know I was listed as dead, if I had I would have got word to her somehow.

“So, after more than a year of mourning, she thought it best to start someplace new. There were too many memories of me and our life we were going to lead in Roanoke, so she headed for California. I know all this because her mother told me when I returned after Appomattox.

“Anyway, Julie June’s mother wrote her that I was back and that the death notice had been a mistake. Then, through her mother, I received a letter form her telling me that she made a horrible mistake and had become engaged to an older man. She said she did not love him, that she was only looking for security. She, in the letter, asked me to come to her, and then together we could start a new life in California away from the ravages of the war.”

Pointing at me, he continued, “That man over there saw me ride into your town, and we spoke a few words. I asked for the livery stable because Julie June wrote that her place of employment was next door. When I went in the restaurant, she was busy, but she told me that she was going to meet the man in fifteen minutes and give him back his ring. She asked me to meet her out back, in the barn, in half an hour. The rest you know. As I’ve said, that man (pointing to Mr. Morton) took a ring from her and then started shooting at me.”

John is quiet now. He’s rubbing the stubble on his chin in a thoughtful way, and then he said to Killeen, ‘You got that letter she sent you?”

“Yes, it’s here in my vest pocket.”

‘You better let me see it,” said John.

As Killeen reached into his pocket to retrieve the letter, Mr. Morton took a lunge at his six shooter that I was holding in my hand. It was no trouble side stepping him. John, hearing the commotion, walked over and backhanded him, which put him on his backside. Without saying anything, John walked back to Killeen and accepted the letter from his outstretched hand. Killeen and I just stood there as John read the letter; Mr. Morton stayed on the ground rubbing his face where John’s hand made contact.

John read the letter, and when he finished he folded it and handed it back to Killeen. “Alright, I got just one question for ya. If you’re so innocent why ya shoot McGregor, the man on the trail?”

Killeen, not looking happy, sorrowfully answered, “My horse was played out, I’ve been shot at, my girl was beaten to death, and I just wasn’t thinking right. My intention was to scare you. I shot past you, but just as I squeezed the trigger, the man came around the dog-leg. I never wanted to kill nobody.”

I was standing, keeping one eye on Mr. Morton and one eye on Killeen. I didn’t know what to make of it, but it seemed John did.

He said to Killeen, “You say you saw Morton removing the ring from the woman’s hand. He says you were seen taking it. I want both of you to empty your pockets … now.”

Killeen started to comply, but Mr. Morton jumped to his feet and screamed, “Are you going to believe this … this … murderer over me?”

John said nothing at first. Then he removed his six shooter from its holster and pointed it at Mr. Morton, saying, “If your pockets ain’t empty by the time I spit, you’re a dead man.

Needless to say, Mr. Morton started to go through his pockets, but he was slow at it. John then told me to collect the things Killeen took from his pockets while he watched Morton.

I had to put down the Henry and the six shooter to take the contents of Killeen’s pockets; that was my big mistake, that and drawing John’s attention away from Mr. Morton by asking him what he wanted me to do with the things Killeen was handing me.

John turned to answer and that’s when Mr. Morton made his dive for his six shooter. It was over before I knew it happened. He got a bullet into Killeen, then John slapped leather; his gun bucked and coughed lead.

Almost before Mr. Morton hit the ground with a hole in his chest, John was over him and going through his pockets. He then stood, holding Julie June’s engagement ring. He showed it to me and then put it in his pocket.

I was kneeling besides Killeen who was still alive. John came over and knelt down on one knee. He said simply, “You shouldn’t have run, if you hadn’t, five men would be alive now, eleven if you count the Indians; though one of the men, Morton, wouldn’t be alive for long.”

Killeen, who was shot bad, smiled at Sheriff John Stone, “I’m sorry I killed your man, but I’m glad that son-of-a-bitch killed me. As I was running from you I slowly realized I don’t want to live without Julie June.” Then he died.

Morton was still alive, lying on the ground crying out for help. After closing Killeen’s eyes, John went to Morton, and standing over him told him he was going to die and asked if there was anything he’d like to get off his soul.

With difficulty, Morton exclaimed as to how he was an important man with the largest ranch in the county, we couldn’t let him die. John said nothing, just stared at him. Finally Morton said, “I didn’t mean to kill her. I just lost my head when she said she wanted to break off our engagement to marry another man. Another man she loved more than me. I would have been the laughing stock of the town. You understand don’t you?”

John shook his head and let a stream of juice fly. Not at Morton, but in the opposite direction. Then he slowly walked away. I stayed, standing over Morton, looking down at him until he died. I thought even a man as evil as him shouldn’t have to die alone.

We collected the horses; we found Killeen’s tied to some brush not far away. Then we rode down the butte, me and Sheriff John Stone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Against the Wind

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I had been running against the wind most of my life. My mother died in childbirth and my father was shot and killed when he accidently bumped into a drunk in the Alhambra Bar on New Year’s Day 1886. I was ten years old at the time, and having no siblings or other relatives, that left me on my own. For the next ten years I cadged a living any way I could. Mostly sweeping out salons and cleaning spittoons. I fed myself from the free lunch tables and slept in back rooms. Finally I got a job that paid me in cash and gave me a small room of my own to live in.  At twenty years of age I was working as the night bell hop at the Hayden in San Francisco. But I was still running against the wind. My name is George Pratt, and this is my story.

The night was 16 August 1896. It was a cool night, the fog had rolled in off the bay, and I was holding down the fort for the night clerk. He was a laudanum user, so he was in the office catching his forty winks. That is how I came to be behind the desk when a man I had never seen before came through the front door. He was a big man, about six feet, four inches tall with broad shoulders. His hair was the color of corn, his eyes sky blue, and he was carrying a small valise.

Walking directly to the desk he said, “Evening sonny, I’d like a room.”

I thought it odd that he addressed me as sonny because he seemed only a few years older than me. Later I learned that he was thirty-two, but in his bearing and in his manner he was many years my senior.

“I’m sorry sir; I’m only the bell boy. If you will excuse me, I’ll go fetch the desk clerk.”

“Don’t bother. Here, take my grip, I’ll do the formalities later. Right now, I’m looking for a little action. Can you recommend a place where a man can get a decent drink and find a half-way-honest game of poker?”

Reaching out to take his bag I answered, “If you’re looking for a gentleman’s game of poker then I can’t help you. I’m familiar only with the Barbary Coast. I’ve worked in every saloon down there. If you like, I can recommend one or two where you won’t get shanghaied and you won’t go blind from the liquor, but as far as the games go, you’ll have to determine for yourself if they’re honest or not. Some are, some aren’t.”

When I finished speaking, he smiled and said, “I’m Samuel McCord. My friends call me Sam.”

I told him my name. “I’m George, George Pratt.”

“Well George Pratt, seeing as how I’m new in town and you know your way around, why not accompany me. You’ll be my guide.”

To me he didn’t look like he needed a guide. Sam looked like he could take care of himself. However, I only said, “I’m sorry sir, but I’m working and I can’t leave the premises.”

He looked thoughtful for a moment then said. “I’m going north to Alaska Territory. My ship leaves in three days and I don’t intend to sleep until I’m out to sea. I only wanted a room to freshen up in between bouts of drinkin’ and gamblin’. And because I only have three days, I don’t want to waste any time going to the wrong bucket of blood. What do they pay you for sittin’ around all night?”

Normally, if someone asked me a question like that, I’d tell him that it was none of his concern what I was paid. But for some reason, and why I don’t know, I answered him. “I’m paid two dollars a week with room and board and any tips I may garner.”

Looking around the small lobby he said, “Don’t reckon you make a fortune in tips working nights.” And then he flicked something in my direction. I caught it in midair. It was a twenty dollar gold piece!

Then he said, “I don’t think I’ll need to freshen up after all. Hell, it’s only three days and I’ve got a long time on the ship to rest up. Hand me back my bag George, and if you’re coming let’s go. If not, tell me how to find this Barbary Coast.”

I was dumbstruck to say the least. If I left, I’d lose the best job I’ve ever had. But there was something about Sam McCord that made me want to be around him. And that was a feeling I hadn’t had since my father died. I said, “Give me a minute to get out of this uniform and I’d be honored to show you some of the better buckets of blood on the Coast.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that wind I’d been running against most of my life slackened at that moment.

Sam wasn’t interested in the whores of the Coast. At one point when I was in my cups, I pointed to a particularly attractive whore and asked him if he might be interested. He looked over at her, then to me. He had a funny look on his face. At the time we were standing at the bar of the Alhambra, it was our second day of non-stop drinking and he was taking a break from a game. Well, Sam had this faraway look and said nothing for a few moments. Then he straightened and looked me dead in the eyes. ‘Yes George, a man has his needs. If you want her I’ll buy her for you, but for me, no. My flower is planted in the ground.” There was a sad countenance about him when he said that. I didn’t know what he meant, but I knew enough not to say anymore except to decline his kind offer. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that his wife had died in childbirth a few years back; the baby was stillborn.

For three days we made the rounds. Sam drank and played poker. I drank and watched him play poker. At noon of the third day, we were sitting at a table in The Bella Union on Pacific Street. “You’ve been good luck for me,” said Sam as he counted his winnings, “I’m glad you came along.”

I had stopped drinking hours earlier and was relatively sober, but I was awfully tired. Yawning, I told him it had been my pleasure. It was then that he shoved a stack of bills and some gold coins across the table toward me saying, “Here’s your ten percent.”

I must have looked surprised because that is exactly how I felt. When I made no move to pick up the money he said, “Go ahead, take it. You’ve earned it. You watched my back for three days, and you’ve been a good drinkin’ partner. There’s a thousand dollars there; it’ll be a good grub stake for you. I know I cost you your job at the hotel, not to mention a roof over your head.”

Hesitantly, I reached for the money. It was more money than I had ever envisioned possessing in my entire life. Hell, it was more money than I had even seen in my entire life. I didn’t count it. I folded the paper and put it in my shirt pocket, and the coins went into my pants’ pockets. Then I looked at Sam and simply said, “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it George. But may I ask you what you plan to do now?”

“First of all, I’m getting me a room at the best hotel in town, and I plan on sleeping for three days.”

Sam laughed at that and then grew quiet. It was obvious that he was thinking something over in his mind. Finally he said, “A thousand dollars is a lot of money, but it won’t last long staying in fancy hotels. Why don’t you come to Alaska with me? You’ve got enough for your passage and to outfit. You’ll need some warm clothes, but that’s all. It’s a new country up there. A place where a man can make his fortune if he’s the right kind of man, and I think you are.” During the course of our carousing, I had told him about being on my own and making my own way since I was ten.

Then he continued, “I’m catching The City of Pueblo at the tide. She stops at Seattle where I’m outfitting and then onto Victoria where I’m taking the Queen to Juneau. I’m going looking for gold. There’s been a few small strikes over the years, and I figure where’s there’s smoke there’s gotta be fire. Even if I don’t strike it rich it’ll be an adventure of a lifetime. So what do you say, are you in or out?”

I didn’t hesitate. “I’m in!”

“Good. Go pack some clothes and meet me at the wharf in an hour.”

Three hours later we were passing through the Golden Gate and headed north, north to Alaska. And for the first time in my life the wind was at my back.

We slept for the first twelve hours in a shared cabin. After that we enjoyed the sea, the salt air and the view of the California and Oregon coasts as we made our way north. In Seattle, we bought the things we would need for prospecting; shovels, pick axes, a stove, a tent. Things of that sort. Sam said they would be a tenth of the cost of what we would have to pay in Alaska. We also bought some warm clothes, but Sam wanted to wait until Alaska to buy the furs and such we’d need to survive the winter. “They’ll have what we need up there. And it will be a better quality than anything we can get down here,” said Sam.

Two days later we transferred to the Queen and three days after that we were standing on a dock in Juneau. “Well, what now?” I asked Sam.

“We get the lay of the land,” he answered. “And the best way to do that is in some saloon. Let’s go and see what the ‘old ladies’ have to say.” By old ladies, Sam meant the men who hung in saloons and gossiped their day away.

We found a place to store our things and made our way down the street. The first place we came to was a place called The Moose. It had a fine rack of antlers nailed above the entrance.

We went inside, ambled to the bar and named our poison. With drinks in hand and our feet upon the brass rail, we surveyed the room. Off to the right was a faro table with a gent with garters on his sleeves dealing to the few men who stood around the table.  To our left was a table with six men sitting at it. It looked like they were playing poker. And at the bar besides Sam and me were three men studying what was in their glasses before them, not saying a word.

Then Sam looked at me and hoisted his glass saying, “To gold!”

That got two of our companion’s attention. They turned to us at the word “gold,” but then went back to contemplating the liquid in their glasses. The third man paid us no mind. Sam winked at me and downed his whiskey. I followed suit.

After the barkeep refilled our glasses, Sam told him to leave the bottle and flicked a ten dollar gold piece onto the bar, saying, “Keep the change.”

“Yes sir. You need anything you just let me know.” He then picked up the coin and retreated from whence he came.

After we finished our second drink, Sam turned to the man closest to him and said, “My partner and I just got into town and we’d be honored if you’d let us buy you a drink.” The man smiled and told Sam that that was right neighborly of him. Then Sam extended the offer to the other two men at the bar. The one who showed no interest at the word gold said nothing. He placed a coin on the bar and left without looking in our direction. The other man accepted Sam’s offer of libation and said, “Don’t pay no never mind to Charley, he just ain’t sociable.”

The man that said that was named Ed Mulroney. The other man’s named was Jess Tapper. And by the time the bottle was half gone we were all fast friends. By then we had moved to a table and they were telling us tall tales of the north. They had both been in Alaska many years and had travel throughout the territory. They too had come seeking their fortunes, but somewhere along the way the dream had faded. Now they were happy to cadge a few free drinks in The Moose.

Eventually Sam steered the conversation onto the topic we were interested in. “George and me came up here to see if we could find a little gold. Any advice you gents could give us would be mighty appreciated.”

Mulroney held his empty glass and looked from it to the bottle a few times before Sam caught on. “Help yourself Ed and pour one for Jess.”

After the niceties were attended to, Mulroney looked to Tapper and shook his head. Then he said, “You boys seem like nice folk. The best advice me and Jess here can give you is to go back from where you came. This here is a hard country and winter will be here soon. You chekekos (new comers) don’t know what you’ll be up against. Ain’t that right Jess?”

“If you say so Ed, but I think we outta let them make their own mistakes like we did. Who knows, maybe they’ll get lucky.”

After a moment, Mulroney smiled and said, I think you’re right Jess.” Then to Sam and me he said, “What do you want to know?”

Sam asked where they would go if they were seeking gold. “To the Bank of San Francisco,” answered Mulroney. Then he said he was just funnin’. “Well,” he dawdled, “there was a strike back in ’78 by a man named Holt. And then in ’85 someone hit pay dirt on the Stewart River, and in ’93 a couple of half breeds made out pretty good up by Circle City. But the gold played out fast. There ain’t none in that neck of the woods no more.” Sam and I looked to one another, and then Sam asked where these places were.

“They’re up the Yukon River. But I’m a tellin’ ya there ain’t no more gold.”

Sam emptied the bottle into our glasses and we drank the last of the whiskey. Then he said, “If a man was dumb or crazy enough to go traipsing into that land how would he get there? Both men shook their heads, and Jess Tapper said, “Go to Skagway from there anyone can point you in the right direction.” Sam laid a ten-dollar gold piece on the table and told Tapper and Mulroney to get another bottle on us. We then we left The Moose.

When we were outside, I asked Sam if we were going to Skagway. “Hell George, I got me a feeling. There’s gold up there; maybe not where the strikes were, but above. Gold is heavy and it flows downward. It has to start from somewhere, and you and me partner are going to find that somewhere!”

The next two days went by fast. I followed Sam around and tried to stay out of his way as he completed our outfit. Then we found a man with a small steam driven boat that could hardly accommodate us and our outfit, but he got us the eighty-six miles to Skagway in under twenty-four hours.

Skagway was a revelation to me. Never had I envisioned a town so lawless and corrupt. The unofficial mayor was one Soapy Smith. I liked him immediately, but Sam told me he wasn’t to be trusted. He had a feeling. Sam was always having a feeling about one thing or another. And you know what? He was usually right. He told me that a con man’s stock in trade was making you like him so he could get close enough to you to steal the gold fillings out of your teeth. And then you’d thank him for doing so. It goes without saying that we gave Soapy Smith a wide berth.

We found out that the strikes we had heard about took place about four or five hundred miles to the north of Skagway along the Yukon River (Yukon is Chilkoot Indian talk for Great River). Then we were told that we’d have to get to Lake Bennett thirty-fives miles to the north through White Pass, and once there build ourselves a boat to make the five hundred mile journey into the Yukon Territory. When we heard that, Sam said, “Reckon we’ll need us a whipsaw.” So we went out and bought us one. Of course, the whipsaw was to fell trees and plank them for our boat.

By now our outfit was substantial and we hadn’t even bought the flour and bacon and such that we’d need to get us through a Yukon winter. I told Sam that we could each carry a hundred pounds or so. But how were we going to get the five or six hundred pounds of our outfit to Lake Bennett.

“Simple,” said Sam, “We’ll carry as much as we can to the lake and then cache it and come back for another load. It shouldn’t take us more than three, four trips.”

“Four trips!” I said. “At seventy miles roundtrip for each!”

“So,” said Sam “where do you have to be that you can’t spend the time?”

“Well Sam, I don’t have to be anywhere. But winter’s comin’ on and I was just wondering if we’ll have the time before the river freezes.”

“This is the way I figure it George. We’ve got a week left in August and then maybe two months before the river freezes. So if we get moving then we can get to where we want to be by the time the first snows hits.”

Sam was a force to be reckoned with, so I shrugged and told him that he was in charge and that I was just following along behind. That stopped him in his tracks. He turned to me, put a hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye. “George, you’re my partner. You may be a little wet behind the ears, but I wouldn’t have partnered with you in the first place if I didn’t know I could count on you in a pinch. We’ve got us a long winter ahead and if we make it through will depend on us relying and trusting in one another. Just remember we’re equal partners for good or bad. You may be following my lead now, but before this is all over, you’ll pull my bacon out of the fire more than once. Now come with me, we’ve got to buy us a couple of guns if we want fresh meat this winter.” As I said, he was a force to be reckoned with.

Later that day, after we had bought us two rifles and enough ammunition to start a small war, the flour, bacon and beans, and some dried fruit to ward off scurvy that we would need, we were sitting in our hotel room tying up our outfit into manageable lots that could be carried on our backs when Sam said, “It’s gonna be a long hike tomorrow, so I think we should go downstairs for a drink or two. Anyway, we’re gonna need a couple of bottles to get us through the winter.”

A couple of bottles to get us through the winter. The way Sam drank, a couple of bottles wouldn’t get us through the first day!

We were billeted in Soapy Smith’s place, a saloon with a few rooms over it. It was called The Dead Horse Saloon. We went downstairs and took up our usual stance, feet on the rail, elbows on the bar. We were both in a contemplative mood and thinking about tomorrow’s trek, so there wasn’t much talk between us. Instead, I looked around the room until my gaze fell upon a familiar sight. Over in the corner, behind the bar, was a boy cleaning spittoons. His back was to me and he looked as I must have looked except he wore a rag on his head. Seeing as how I was on my third shot, I thought I’d go over and discuss the finer points of cuspidor polishing.

Taking my glass with me, I walked down to that end of the bar and asked, “Need some help?” thinking I was being funny. Well, I got the shock of my life when he turned around because he wasn’t a he, he was a she! He, I mean she, was a girl! Wearing boy’s clothes and with her hair hidden by the dust rag it was hard to tell from the back, but when she turned to me, I saw the most beautiful girl in the world, at least to me. And that was in spite of the black smudge on her nose. She was my age, maybe a year or two younger. Then she looked up to me (she was down on her knees) and answered, “Yes, if you don’t mind I could use some help. I have a cotillion to go to.”

I didn’t know what to make of that and then she smiled, and then I fell in love.

I started to say something, but she cut me off. “Please, Mr. Smith will be angry if you distract me from my work.”

My thought at the moment was Damn Mr. Smith, but instead of giving voice to the thought I said, “Can we talk when you are finished. I used to do the same thing.”

Now that was a stupid thing to say. But I wanted to know this goddess of the spittoons. And if I could have thought of something more intelligent to say, I assure you I would have done so.

Once again she smiled and told me that it was not her habit to mix with Mr. Smith’s clientele.

“The hell with Mr. Smith!” I want to talk to you and I’m leaving for the Yukon tomorrow at first light. So tell me what time I can meet you and where.”

She smiled and said, “Such a forceful gentleman. How can a girl refuse such a gallant offer?” Then returning to her duties and with her back to me she said, “I’ll be out back in an hour eating my supper. If you happen by maybe I’ll deign to speak with you.” She laughed, and I fell in love all over again.

When I was back standing next to Sam, I realized that I had neglected to ask her name. But no matter, I was going to see her in an hour. Sam then said he was gonna play a little poker and that he would see me up in the room later. I thought of reminding him of the seventy mile walk we were going take the next day, but then thought better of it and held my tongue. I poured myself another shot (Sam always had the barkeep leave the bottle) and waited for an hour to drag by.

Somehow, the hour did pass and I took myself outside. I walked around to the back. There she was, sitting on a box with a plate on her lap and a fork in her hand. She had taken off the dust rag and her hair, now that I could see it, was long and dark. It was black as the ace of spades and her green eyes sparkled that much more because of it.

I walked up to her, and standing there I asked her name. “My name is Jenny Bligh, what do they call you?”

“I’m George Pratt and it is a pleasure to meet you.”

Then she said I made her nervous standing over her and for me to grab a box and sit down. Which I did. She didn’t have much time, but in the time she did have I learned her story and in some respects it was very similar to mine.

She had come to Alaska with her father about a year ago. Her mother had run off with a notions drummer a few years earlier and her father believed it was because of the hardscrabble life they led, he was a sharecropper. So he decided to seek his fortune in the new land that was Alaska. When they hit Skagway her father left her in the care of Soapy Smith thinking he was an honorable man; he didn’t want her to go through the hardship of spending a winter in the wild.

As soon as her father left for the Yukon, Soapy started making advances on her. When Jenny rebuffed him, he told her that if she wanted to eat and have a roof over her head she’d have to work for him. Then he gave her the most menial jobs he could think of hoping that she would come to him for succor. When I heard that I thought of going to the room and retrieving my new gun and confronting Mr. Soapy Smith. But I didn’t, I stayed to hear the rest of her story.

About six months ago a trapper came into town with word that he had found a man frozen to death a couple of hundred miles up the Yukon. He had fallen through the ice to his waist and had frozen solid before he could get out of the water. (At seventy below your spit freezes before it can hit the ground.) The trapper said he looked like a statue with his arms reaching out in an eternal effort to extricate himself from the ice.

He went through the man’s kit looking for things of value and came across a picture of Jenny. And one day in The Dead Horse while he was telling his story and showing the picture to his drinking companions Jenny walked in. He recognized her right away and that is how Jenny learned of her father’s fate. Well, she had no one, and no place to go, so she stayed working for Smith. She told me it was either that or become a lady of the night.

When she said that, I shouted, “No! Don’t even think that.” She then told me she had to go back to work and stood prepared to go inside.

I couldn’t let her go without saying something, something to give her hope and something to save her for me. It took all the courage I had in me, but I blurted out, “Jenny I love you and I’m going to be rich, no don’t say anything let me finish. I want to marry you and I promise you I’ll give you the life of a fine lady. But I’ll understand if you can’t wait, I’ve cleaned enough spittoons in my day to know what you’re going through. Tomorrow me and my partner head north and we’ll be back and forth for the next few days while we get our outfit to Lake Bennett, but after that I’ll be gone until the ice melts next spring. When it does I’ll come to you and take you far from this accursed town. Then I turned and left her standing there with her fork and plate in one hand and a smile upon her face.

The next day we set out for Lake Bennett with one hundred pound packs on our backs. I only got a mile before I had to stop and rest. Sam didn’t see me stop and kept walking and I was too tired and too winded to call out after him. He probably went fifty yards before he noticed I wasn’t with him anymore. Turning in my direction, he yelled, “I know it’s tough, but you’ll get used to it. Rest awhile and I’ll come back and give you a hand after I drop this pack up the trail a bit. Well, that was about the only thing in the world that could have gotten me to my feet. I was going to carry my own weight even if it killed me. After that, I noticed Sam slowed his stride so that I could keep up with him. Because of my slowness, we made only nine miles that day. However, after a good night’s rest, and a good breakfast of bacon and beans, I got my second wind and kept up with Sam most of the day. But still I had to stop numerous times to rest and every time I did so, Sam stopped with me. Once I apologized for slowing him down and he said, “Don’t be foolish. I told you we was in no hurry. We got time before the rivers ice up, and besides who says I don’t need the rest as much as anybody?” Then he added, “You’ll get the hang of it. I think by the time we’re haulin’ our third load, you’ll be waiting for me to catch up with you.”

When I heard “third load,” I groaned to myself, adjusted the pack straps (they were cutting into my shoulders), stood and said, “Let’s go. I can’t wait for that third load!” Around three o’clock that the afternoon I started to flag. At that point Sam said we should stop for the night because he reckoned White Pass was right up ahead and we should traverse it when we were fresh.

The next morning at the pass we had to walk over sharp rocks that tore our boots, and there were mud holes to be avoided if we didn’t want to be swallowed up whole. Then there was the place where the trail was only two feet wide with a five hundred foot drop-off if we weren’t careful.  And the whole way all I could do was think of Jenny Bligh.

It took us the better part of three days to get to the lake. By then the sun was going down and we weren’t about to go back over White Pass in the dark. We made camp and spent the night. We didn’t bother to put up the tent because we didn’t want to undo our outfit; we had it bundled to cache, so we laid out two blankets a tried to sleep. I said tried to because the damn mosquitoes would not leave us alone. When I was back in San Francisco I never thought of mosquitoes, but in Alaska, in the summer, that is all that occupies your mind. And the mosquitoes up there, like the land, are big.

Without the packs on our backs we made it back to Skagway in ten hours. And the first thing I did was search out Jenny. She wasn’t working in the saloon, but the barkeep told me she had a small room off the kitchen and told me how to find it.

I knocked on her door and when she opened it I wanted to rush to her and kiss her. However, I refrained from doing so. I was happy that she smiled when she saw me. I started to walk in, but she said, “It would not be proper for you to be in my room. Why don’t we go for a walk?” Which is what we did.

While I hiked the trail, I thought of all the things I would tell her when I got back to Skagway, but now my tongue was tied and I couldn’t utter a word. We walked in silence until Jenny said, “How was the trek? And what did you think of White Pass? I’ve overheard many stories about men and animals that died trying to cross it.”

“White Pass wasn’t so bad. What was bad were the damn mosquitoes. Oh, I’m sorry. I reckon I’m not proper company for such a fine lady like yourself. I never should have used that word to describe the mosquitoes.”

She gave me a queer look and then tilted her head back and laughed. “I’ve heard worse from my father, and I hear much worse every night in the saloon.”

That tore it! I took her by the hand and said, “Come with me.” We were on Broadway Street and I marched her up to a boarding house I’d noticed when we hit town. Right inside we went and I asked for the lady that ran the place. Shortly, an elderly woman emerged from upstairs and asked what we wanted.

Releasing Jenny’s hand I said, “This girl will be boarding with you until spring and I will pay her board in advance.”

The lady was stout and had a kind face. When I had finished speaking she looked from me to Jenny and then back to me and smiled. “You’re lucky I’ve got a room, but even if I didn’t I’d find a place for her. I know young love when I see it. Both Jenny and I blushed.

Then Jenny did something that astounded me. She looked at me and said, “I can take care of myself I don’t need a man to pay my way.”

I smiled at her and said, “Sure you can take care of yourself, but you’re going to be my wife and no future wife of mine is going to clean spittoons if I’ve got anything to say about it.”

The lady, who was named Mrs. Bellew, again smiled and said she’d show us the room. I thought it suitable for Jenny and paid eight months board which covered Jenny until May. By then I expected to be back in Skagway a rich man. On the way out I told Mrs. Bellew that Jenny would help out around the house so as to keep busy. And to her credit, Jenny said she’d be more than happy to pitch in.

On the way back to the Dead Horse, Jenny had a pensive look on her face and said not a word. It kind of made me uncomfortable, so I had to ask. “Is it because I didn’t propose properly? Or is it you don’t want to marry me?”

She suddenly stopped walking and turned to me.

“George, I am honored and humbled that you want me for your wife. And I can think of nothing finer. I promise you that I’ll make you a good wife, rich or poor. I know I can’t stop you from seeking your fortune, but I want you to know I’d love you if we both had to clean spittoons until out dotage.”

“Excuse me. Did you just say that you loved me?”

“Of course I did. You don’t think I’d marry a man I didn’t love.”

“Then why the pensive look?”

“Well, it’s just that I don’t know how Mr. Smith is going to take my leaving.”

It took a moment before I said, “Leave Mr. Smith to me. He won’t give you any trouble.” Then we continued on our way to the Dead Horse. When we reached her room, I told her to pack her things and go and get settled in at Mrs. Bellew’s and I’d meet her there presently.

I still had a few dollars in my poke, so I set out to buy myself a pistol. For what I had in mind a rifle wouldn’t do. Now, I have never handled a gun before, pistol or rifle. But I figured they couldn’t be that hard to operate. I’ve seen many a shooting on the Coast. Besides, if I did things right I wouldn’t have to pull the trigger and kill the sonavabitch.

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to leave the Dead Horse to find what I was after. Some old sourdough who didn’t have much luck at the roulette wheel was going from person to person trying to sell an old Colt .45. When he approached me, I asked him if it was loaded. In way of an answer, he spun the chambers and showed me that five of them contained bullets. The chamber under the hammer was kept empty for safety reasons. We concluded our business and he returned to the roulette table and I went in search of Mr. Soapy Smith.

I found Smith across the street at the Elkhorn Saloon and Dance Hall. He was speaking with two gentlemen and when I ask if I might speak with him alone about a business matter he smiled and winked at the men (I wasn’t supposed to see the wink) and said he’d speak with me outside.

When we stood on the boardwalk, I told him it was too public a place and suggested that the adjacent alley way would be better suited to discuss our business. And of course, he readily agreed. After all, to him I was a greenhorn sucker just ripe for the plucking.

As soon as we were in the alley, I whipped out the revolver and stuck it up under his chin. Then I said, “Miss Jenny Bligh has left your employ. If you see her walking down the street you cross to the other side, you say nothing to her. I’m leaving town for a while and when I come back if I hear that you’ve been within one hundred feet of her, I’ll kill you. Do you understand?”

He was a little man; he barely came up to my chin. He was shaking pretty bad about then, but when he didn’t answer me right away I shoved the barrel of the gun deeper into his flesh and said, “Maybe I’ll just kill you now, it’ll save me the trouble of having to do it later.”

Then he found his voice. “No! Please! If I see her coming I’ll run the other way. You won’t have no trouble from me.”

“I don’t mind trouble from you, but she better not have any trouble from you. And if she is even suffering from a cold or a hang-nail when I return, I’ll think it was your doing and I’ll kill you like the dog that you are. Got it?”

‘Yes sir.”

“Good. Now get out outta my sight while you’re still vertical.”

That, I hoped, took care of Mr. Soapy Smith. I then went to see Jenny and made sure that she was settled in. I told her that I had spoken to Smith and that he was amiable to her leaving his employ. I then told her I had to catch some shuteye, we were leaving in the morning for a return trip to Lake Bennett and that I would see her when Sam and I came back for our last load. Kissing her on her forehead I left her standing at the door of her new digs.

Sam and I got an early start the next morning and my pack was not so formidable this go round. I think the thought of Jenny helped. Sam noticed something in my manner and asked, “Where were you last night? You got in pretty late; I thought you’d be all tuckered out after the last three days.”

I wasn’t about to tell anyone about Jenny just yet. I wanted to keep her to myself for the time being. So I said, “I went out to buy me a pistol, thought we might need it.”

Sam rejoined, “Yeah, I see it sticking in your belt. But you were gone an awful long time just to buy a gun.” He then smiled and winked at me.

We made Lake Bennett in less than two days this time. After a short rest we headed back and made Skagway in under fifteen hours. We would have made it in less time but at White Pass we had to wait for daylight.

Sam wanted to grab our kits and start off right away, but I tried to entice him into staying over one night. Telling him we should get rip roarin’ drunk because it would be our last chance for quite a while. Of course, I only wanted to stay over to be with Jenny, but I felt I couldn’t tell Sam that.

Sam then surprised me by saying, “Why don’t I get rip roarin’ drunk and you go see Jenny.” How he knew, I’ll never know, but it taught me a valuable lesson. Never keep anything from your partner.

I ran to the bath house and paid my twenty-five cents for the use of some bath water that had only been used once. Then I went to see my Jenny. We had dinner at the Elkhorn and we talked of things to come. When I left her, I gave her all that was left in my poke, about ninety dollars, and told her I’d see her in the spring. Before I turned to go, she kissed me on the mouth and then ran upstairs to her room. That kiss kept me going through some mighty dark days; I can sure tell you that.

This time we made Lake Bennett in under twenty-four hours. We then proceeded to make our boat. A whip saw is also called a pit saw because when you’re planking lumber, a pit is dug and the log is rolled over it. One man is in the pit and one man stands on top. The saw cuts only one way, downward. The man in the pit pulls the saw to him and the man on top then pulls the saw back up. Also, the man in the pit gets sawdust in his eyes and mouth. So because of that, Sam and I alternated positions every half hour.

It took us a week to build the boat. She was twenty-two feet long and had a beam of ten feet. It looked more like a barge than a boat, but she was sturdy and would hold us and our outfit. When we finished filling the seams with pitch we boiled out of spruce gum Sam said, “She a fine vessel and she ought to have a name that befits her. What do you think George, would you like to proffer a name?”

“Jenny,” I said without hesitating.

“Sounds good to me George, Jenny it is. The good ship ‘Jenny.’ May God protect her, and us as well.” Then he took a piece of paper out of his shirt pocket and unfolded it onto the bottom of the boat.

“Come around here,” said Sam.

When I got to his side of the boat, I looked down and saw a hand drawn map. “Whatcha got there Sam?”

‘It’s a map of where we’re going. I had an old timer draw it for me last night while you were . . . um . . . busy. Now see here,” and he pointed to a spot on the map, “is where we’re at. When we leave the lake we’ll be on the Yukon River and it will take us northwest and get us above those previous strikes. This other line is the Klondike River, and this spot here where the two rivers meet is Dawson City. It’s a small burg. Maybe two hundred people, but it’s the closest civilization to where we’ll be, and it’s where we’ll have to go to file our claims when we hit pay dirt.”

After he pointed out the locale of Dawson City he went on, “See where the two X’s are along the river? Well, those are the two rapids we have to traverse. The old timer said if the first one didn’t kill us the second one was sure to do the job. The first rapids go through a place called Miles Canyon, and the second place is called White Horse Rapids.”

Seeing the quizzical look on my face he asked, “What’s the matter? The rapids got you worried?”

“No, it’s not that. I was just wondering if the old timer was  maybe pulling your leg when he told you about the rapids. Maybe they’re not so bad.”

Sam was thoughtful for a moment and then he said, “I don’t know how rough they’ll be, but I did ask him if anyone ever made it through, and he said sure, but more didn’t make it than did. So I figure if they can be ridden without being smashed up and drowned then we’re just the two fellas to do it. Now give me a hand turning this boat right side up and let’s get her loaded and get going.”

After we got her in the water, we loaded our outfit, and with me at the front, Sam pushed us out into the lake and climbed in. We had made two crude oars and now we used them to send us north to the Yukon River. Once on the Yukon, we flowed north at about six miles an hour and only used the oars to keep us in the middle of the river.

It was on the sixth day that we heard the rushing water. The sound was so fierce that we paddled to the north shore, left the boat tied to a tree and walked until we came to Miles Canyon.

I was astonished at the site before us. The river funneled into a narrow gorge. The precipitous walls went up to the sky and there was no shore upon which to land if things went wrong. The rapids themselves were the devil incarnate; no boat could make that passage.

“Sam,” said I, “I sure don’t look forward to packing our outfit the rest of the way, but I can’t see how we can get through there in one piece.”

Sam didn’t answer me right away. He stood there looking at the raging water like he was studying it, which made me nervous. Finally he turned to me and said, “Let’s make camp and give this some thought.”

“What’s there to think about? If we go into that canyon we’ll be smashed into one of those rock walls.”

“Just the same George, let’s make camp. I want to study on the situation.”

I shrugged my shoulders and started for the boat, but got only a few steps when I noticed Sam was still standing there as though mesmerized. Leaving him as he was, I went and fetched the boat, walking her to a place just before the river picked up speed.

I figured Sam was still entranced with the rapids, so I set up camp by myself. When I finished and Sam still didn’t show, I went looking for him. He wasn’t where I had left him, so I shouted his name. Then I realized I was being foolish. He couldn’t hear me over the water’s roar unless he was standing right next to me. So, shrugging once again, I went back to camp and built a fire. The coffee was just about ready when Sam walked up.

“Where you been partner? I couldn’t find you.”

“I went up to the rim of the canyon so I could get a good look-see at the whole shebang. And I’ll tell you something George; I think we can make it. That coffee smells good, how about a cup?”

After I poured the coffee, I asked Sam to explain himself.

“I was up above it, and I watched the flow of the river. Of course, we have to stay dead center, but I think we can do it if we use one of the oars as a rudder. We can attach it to the back and one of us will steer and the other one will be at the front to fend us off if we get too close to one of the walls.”

When he had finished speaking, I slowly shook my head and said, “Sam McCord, if you ain’t the livin’ end. But you’re my partner and I’ll be proud to go down those rapids with you, even though I don’t think we have a chance in hell of making it.” Sam smiled and told me we should eat something because if he was going to drown he wanted to do it on a full stomach.

Within two hours we had eaten and readied our rudder. Because Sam was bigger, he would steer. It would take a lot strength to hold the swing arm in the water. I would be at the front, ready and waiting if needed. We still had a few hours of daylight left, so we decided to go for broke before sanity reasserted itself and we scrapped the whole thing.

I walked the boat out until I was waist deep. Then saying a silent prayer, I pushed off and climbed on board. Sam was letting the current take us to mid-stream. I was shaking, because I was wet from the cold water or just plain scared, I know not. But tremble I did. And I felt that old wind I’d been running against all my life start a blowin., gale force once again; directly in front of me.

The speed of the water picked up and Sam steered us right for the middle of the funnel. As we neared it, the boat started rocking to and forth. Then we hit the mouth of the gorge and it got dark, the sun was too low to shed light over those high cliffs. So, in twilight, we entered Miles Canyon and sped to what I was sure was our death.

When we entered the gorge I was standing, but within seconds I found myself sitting on my backside, thrown there by the turbulence of the river. I tried standing, but could not gain purchase and stayed down on my knees, one hand holding the oar and the other gripping the side of the boat. I was holding on for dear life. Just then the boat dipped into the water and I thought we were going straight down, but then she rebounded and flew into the air. Of course, I was now thoroughly drenched. I hazarded a look back at Sam and he was standing, legs spread, working the swing arm for all he was worth. There was no use in trying to converse with him, the roar of the water precluded all conversation.

I turned back just in time to see the front of the boat falling into a valley of water, we, the front of the boat and I, went under, and if I hadn’t a firm grip, I’d been gone for sure. When she came back out of the water, she turned and we were heading sideways. In fear, I looked to Sam who was swinging the oar in a futile attempt to get us straightened out. Then we hit another valley with the resultant mayhem, and swung in a half circle. We were now heading at an alarming rate of speed for the south rock wall.

There was nothing Sam could do, and I knew we had breathed our last, but I wanted to go down fighting. Somehow I had managed to hold on to the oar through the tempest. I stood, feet apart, and watched that damn wall of rock rush right to me. At the last moment, when the boat was less than three feet from destruction, I extended the oar and pushed off from the wall. The oar cracked in half, but my effort was enough to get us caught in another current and it pulled us away from the rock and brought us to the middle of the torrent once again.

By now we were pointed in the right direction and I chanced a look back at Sam. He stood there soaking wet, and he had a big smile on his face. He waved to me and then started working the swing arm. Then we were in calm waters. Sam steered us to the bank, jumped off and pushed us into the shore, wedging the boat onto sand.

We looked like two drown rats, but drowned rats with big smiles on their faces, and alive! I started to get off the boat, but Sam said to wait a minute. He got back on and headed for his pack. As he undid the ties he said, “I don’t know about you partner, but I could sure use a drink after that experience.”

Shaking the water from my hair I replied, “You and me both Sam!”

So, two thoroughly wet prospectors sat on the floor of a boat that they had named “Jenny” and got absolutely inebriated. We finished off the bottle about sunset, and rather then make camp we got out our blankets. Though still damp, we covered ourselves in a futile attempt at protection from the mosquitoes and lay down on the floor of the boat. I don’t know about Sam, but I slept the sleep of the just.

We wanted to get White Horse behind us, so the next morning we didn’t take the time to fashion a new oar to replace the one lost the previous day. We realized we should have had the rudder from the beginning. It was easier to keep “Jenny” in the middle of the river with a rudder than paddling first on one side of the boat and then the other. And there would be no rock walls that needed fending off from at White Horse.

We made White Horse Rapids near the end of the second day and this time we decided to just keep going. We figured we’d either sleep on the bottom of the Yukon or in our tent that night. It’s called White Horse for a reason. The rapids also funnel like Miles Canyon, but there are no rock walls. Instead there are rocks on both sides that push the water to the center. And in that center, the water is agitated into a white froth. That is the white mane of the horse. And if we were to traverse White Horse Rapids we would have to ride his mane or be smashed against the rocks on either side.

We entered White Horse on an even keel. We both, Sam and me, were at the back holding on to the swing arm. It would take the two of us to keep her steered right. But right away things went wrong. Try as we might, we could not steer her where we wanted to go. Within seconds of hitting the mane, we were sideways and heading for the biggest boulder I think I ever did see. We bounced off of it with only a minor hole in the side. But it was alright, it was above the water line. By then Sam and I knew there would be no controlling her. We still held on to the swing arm, but only to keep from being pitched into the water. Then we were sucked into a swirling whirlpool between two groups of boulders. We circled it twice and somehow managed to steer out of it and back onto the mane on the third go round. And by the Grace of God we hit no more boulders. Next, before we knew it, we were out of the maelstrom and gently floating backwards up the Yukon. I turned to Sam and said, “You’re looking at a mighty lucky man. For a while there I thought I’d never see my Jenny again.”

“George, we’re both just plum lucky son of bitches. That White Horse aged me years. Now let’s try to get this tub turned around and make for shore. This ought to be our last night before we hit Dawson.” Sam wasn’t that far off. It was just before dark of the second day that we came to the bend in the river that showed us Dawson City.

We edged the boat onto the shore, made sure she was secure and then we retrieved a change of clothes out of our kits, we were wet up to our waists. Then we went up the incline and headed for town.

The first establishment we came to was the Red Dog Saloon, and without hesitation we went inside. Sam ordered a bottle of rye from the barkeep and then asked for the use of a room where we could change our clothes.

“The privy’s out back,” said the barkeep in a truculent manner.

Sam looked at the man with a strange countenance, and for a moment I thought we’d have some trouble. But Sam only smiled and said, “Thanks friend.” Then to me he said, ‘You go and get into some dry clothes. I want to sample this here rye first.”

When I returned, Sam had put a dent in the bottle and was in a more congenial frame of mind. I told him that the privy was his anytime he wanted it, but Sam was happy imbibing his rye and told me that standing next to the stove, which he was, had dried him out considerably.

“Well partner, the first leg of our adventure is over. Now all we’ve gotta do is fine that mountain of gold,” said Sam as he hoisted his glass. At that moment all I could think of was food, but because my poke was empty I didn’t say anything.

After my second shot, and feeling ashamed, I said to Sam, “My poke’s empty and I can’t pay my share, I should have said something before, but I wanted a drink as much as you.”

Sam looked at me with a queer look. Shook his head and then said, “George, you are my partner and I am your partner. That leagues us. I’ve still got my winnings from San Francisco plus the stake I started out with. After we hit the bonanza, if you feel so inclined, then we’ll settle up. Hell, just so we don’t have this conversation again take this.” He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. Separating them in half he flung down a stack and said, “Now, until we’re millionaires or until I see you in perdition, let’s never mention money again!”

I stood there flummoxed and didn’t move toward the bills. Sam, with an exasperated look, picked up the money and shoved it in my shirt pocket saying, “If I hear one more word from you, partner or no partner, I’ll …” He trailed off and smiled at me and said we should get something to eat, that as long as we were in civilization we might as well enjoy ourselves because it was going to be a long winter.

Two things took place at that moment. The first was that I knew if the time ever came, I would give my life for Sam McCord. The other was I turned to the barkeep and asked for two steaks with all the fixin’s.

“All we got are caribou steaks.”

A steak is a steak my good man.”

He nodded, and padded off to the kitchen.

Sam wasn’t in an eating mood. He sat at the table with me and with his steak before him, but the bottle held his attention, not the food. Looking about the room, he observed that the clientele was rather sparse. I hadn’t noticed, but he was right, the place was downright empty. The gaming tables were shut down and besides us, there were only three other patrons.

Said Sam: “It’s dark out now, you’d think some of the people in this one-horse town would be flocking in for the gay nightlife.”

Of course, he was being sarcastic, but still, where were the people?

Just then the door flew open and an old timer came in along with some cold air. To no one in particular he stated, “It’s gonna snow tonight, I can feel it in my bones. It’s getting mighty cold out there.” After his pronouncement he shuffled to the bar and ordered a whiskey.

The barkeep, while wiping a glass, gave him some words instead. “You know the boss said no more credit until your bill’s paid. Sorry White Water.”

Sam and I overheard the exchange and Sam winked at me before calling out, “Hey White Water, join us for a drink?”

At the mention of his name the man turned and squinted in our direction. “You speaking to me?” was his answer to Sam’s query.

“I sure am, if your name’s White Water, responded Sam.

The man came over to our table, stuck out his hand to Sam and said, “I don’t reckon I know you, but the name’s Buford Cage. I’m called White Water because I was the first white man to go through Miles Canyon and the White Horse. Least wise the first to make it in one piece.”

Sam shook his hand, and indicating me said, “My partner, George Pratt. And we’ve just come up the Yukon and did the rapids ourselves.”

We shook hands and White Water took a seat at our table after asking the barkeep for a glass.

We talked around things for a while until we came down to brass tacks. Sam started things off by asking White Water where he’d go looking for gold. White Water in turn threw back his head and let out with a prodigious laugh. Then when the laughing had subsided a bit he said, “I knew you boys were shave-tails and new in town, but ain’t you heard?”

“Heard what? I blurted out.

Looking aggrieved, White Water said, “The find on Rabbit Creek. That’s why the town is empty. All them fools are out chasing I don’t know what. Why, a month ago when George Cormack come in with a nugget as big as his thumb and filed a claim, this town was as hot as a whore house on nickel night.”

Of course, we wanted to know where Rabbit Creek was and duly asked.

While pouring himself a healthy shot, White Water said. “I’d let it slide gents. George Cormack is also known as “Lying George.” I put no stock in anything he says. But I cain’t say the same for the rest of the fools in this here town.”

Now, here is something I didn’t know at the time, but learned of later. On the 16th of August, the very day I met Sam McCord in San Francisco, three men, George Cormack, Skookum Jim Mason and Tagish Charlie were out salmon fishing and wandered down creek to a claim held by a man named Henderson. Henderson, not liking strangers, and especially Indian strangers, (Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie were Chilkoot Indians) told the interlopers that they were not welcomed and for them to vamoose. The three then went down a little ways on Rabbit Creek and set up camp. And while washing out a dinner pan, one of them (the history is a little cloudy as to who) found a thumb sized nugget. Thus, setting off the last, and some say the greatest, gold rush in history, the Klondike Gold Rush. However, the rush would not start for almost a year. It would take that long for word to get to the outside world. And here were Sam and me, at the right place at the right time. That old wind was now pushing me from behind!

So where was I? Oh yes. White Water was just telling us that there weren’t no gold in the Klondike. But Sam and I knew better. How we knew I can’t say, but we were there to find our fortunes; me for Jenny, Sam for his own reasons.

After pouring a shot into White Water’s glass, Sam drew the map from his pocket, and spreading it out on the table said, “Maybe you’re right, and there ain’t no gold, but why don’t you show us were Rabbit Creek is situated?”

White Water, taking a pull from his glass, said in turn, “So, you’re going to Rabbit Creek no matter what a geezer like me says?”

“No,” answered Sam, “we want to know where not to go.”

 

Smiling and looking down at the map, White Water said, “Your map ain’t much on detail, but Rabbit Creek is right about here.” His finger lay between the Yukon and Klondike Rivers.

Looking over to me, Sam said, “We’re goin’ north, north of that place, too many people to suit me. Is that alright with you partner?

My answer to his query: “Whatever you say partner.”

“I’ve been thinking,” interjected White Water, “there was this one geezer, oh about ten years back. Ed, Ed something was his name. Now let me think a minute. Collins! That’s it, Ed Collins! Well, he would come to town every spring with a bag full of nuggets. No dust for him, nuggets only. And the strange thing was that he never filed a claim. He said he just picked them up while crossing streams and creeks. Most folks didn’t believe him, and some tried to follow him when he headed out at the end of summer. But they got nowhere. Old Ed was a crafty one. He’d just wander north and south, east and west, until the last of the followers gave up and came back to Dawson. Then we wouldn’t see hide nor hair of him until spring. Then one spring he didn’t show at all. Never did find out what happened to him.”

At this point in his narrative, White Water halted to pour himself another shot. After making short work of it, he continued, “The reason I mention it is that we all thought his stompin’ grounds was up in the neck of the woods you gents are headin’. “Sam and I looked at each other, but we said nothing.

By now the bottle was down to its dregs, but there were still things to find out and questions to be asked. One of the things I wanted to know was how the hell we were going to get our outfit twenty or fifty miles out of Dawson. Were we going to have do it in stages like we did at Skagway?

White Water came through with an answer: “You can git some Indians to do your haulin’ for you. That’s what the ones without horses or mules did when they all skedaddled up to Rabbit Creek. The Indians charge by the pound and the mile. Each one can pack a hundred pounds like you and me can carry a whiskey bottle. Damndest thing I ever saw.”

Now there was only one question left to be asked, and Sam did the honors. “Tell me,” said Sam, “how did this town get built? I mean the liquor we’re drinking, that piano over there, they didn’t come down the Yukon and through the rapids.”

As always, White Water had a ready answer. “No they didn’t. They came up the Yukon.” Then he went on to explain that the Yukon empties into the sea. And every spring when the ice melts, a steamer comes up river, and then during the summer one or two others will call.

We thanked White Water for his information, left the Red Dog and headed for our boat. White Water had been right, it was snowing. On the way down, I asked Sam why he was interested in how Dawson got built. “Because we’re going to need a way to transport our gold once we find it. Gold’s heavy. Maybe we can get some Indians to haul it to Dawson, but getting it back to the states is another matter.” Of course, I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I was mighty pleased I had Big Sam McCord as my partner.

We figured if we were going to spend a winter in the Klondike where the temperature can go down to seventy below (that’s one hundred and two degrees below freezing!) that it wouldn’t hurt us none to spend the night on our boat. After all, it was only a brisk twenty-nine degrees when we left the Red Dog. So we slept huddled in our sleeping skins that night, the night of our first snow.

The next morning we got going before daylight and went looking for Indians to haul our outfit. After a few hours of asking around, we came across a Tutchone Indian by the name of Kaska Pete. He told us he could round up some of his relations and get us to where we wanted to go, but first of all he wanted to see our outfit.

When we got to the boat, he poked into our bundles and hefted a few. Finally he said, “Twenty cents a pound and twenty cents a mile for me. For the others, you pay them seventeen cents and three cents to me. We will need five more men. Do we leave from here?”

We told him we were taking the boat to where the Klondike and Yukon meet, but we didn’t know how long it would take to get there.

He informed us, “It will take you one sleep (day). We will be there this time on the morrow. How you pay, in gold or paper?”

Sam answered for the both of us, “Paper.”

Pete nodded his acceptance and departed.

Seeing as how we hadn’t eaten anything yet, and it was getting on to noon, we went back to town and had a big, fine meal and then set out to find our fortunes.

We floated northwest until just before dark. It was still cold, but it had not snowed again, and being played out, we slept on the boat rather than set up a camp.

The Indians were waiting for us the next day right at the bend in the Yukon where it meets the Klondike. Pete didn’t bother to introduce us to the other Indians. He told us that they did not speak our language. Instead, he barked out orders and the men got to work off-loading our gear. As they did so, Pete asked where we intended to go.

“Northwest of here,” said Sam.

“How far?” asked Pete.

“I don’t rightly know,” said Sam, “but I’ll know when we get there.”

Pete shrugged and hefted his pack. Sam, the Indians and I did likewise. With Sam leading the way, and me right behind, we set out.

For three days we traveled to the north and west. At night it was cold, it was now the middle of October, but the mosquitoes were no more, so the cold was welcomed. At mid-day of the third day we came to the base of a mountain and Sam said, “This is the place.”

I wanted to ask him why this particular locale, but we had to pay off the Indians and send them on their way. When they had departed I asked Sam, “Why here?” He didn’t answer me then, he said we had to set up camp, but later around the fire that night he opened up to me. He told me of his wife (whose name was Maria) and how she had died; that they had no children and how he was at loose ends. Then about a year after his wife died he had a dream.

“And you know how dreams are George. At first I didn’t pay it no mind. But I couldn’t get it out of my head and it bothered me. Then I had the same dream a second time. In the dream I went to San Francisco, met a man and then he and I went to Alaska and found a mountain of gold. The mountain in my dream was this one,” he said pointing to the mountain before us.

I had to ask him. “How’d you know to come to this place?”

“Something in my head said keep going northwest. I told you what you wanted to know, but now I think we ought to turn in. Tomorrow we start the search.”

I thought it was crazy to go through all we had gone through just because of a dream, but I was happy to be out of San Francisco, and I was happy to have met Sam McCord and become his partner. I fell asleep that night looking at the blue-green northern lighst dance across the sky.

There were three small creeks in the vicinity of where we were camped. And the next morning after a breakfast of beans and bacon, we went panning for gold. Now, panning is cold, wet work. Your legs hurt, your arms and shoulders ache, you neck throbs; but all that is forgotten when you see that yellow sand at the bottom of your pan.

Sam wanted to try all three creeks even though we were gathering dust with every pan-full of gravel. After a half hour at the first creek, Sam said, “Let’s try the next one.” I started to say something, but then decided to let it slide. In the next two hours we panned all three creeks. Then we stopped and went back to camp for something to eat, and as I was making the fire I asked Sam how much he reckoned we panned.

Hefting the bag of dust in his right hand he said, “Feels about ten ounces.”

With a big grin on my face, I shot back, “At sixteen dollars and ounce that’s one hundred sixty dollars! Not bad for a morning’s work.”

Sam didn’t respond to what I said. Instead he pulled out some dried fruit and handed me some saying, “Here, eat this. We got to remember to eat some everyday; some of this or a potato. We can’t come down with scurvy or we’re done for. (On the counsel of Pete we picked up fifty pounds of potatoes in Dawson.)

Once the fire was going and I had some bacon cooking, Sam finally told me what was on his mind. “Yes, the streams around here are filled with gold. But I didn’t come up here to squat in cold water all day for a few measly ounces. And once the streams freeze, what then? No George, we’re sitting under a mountain of gold. I only wanted to make sure we were in the right place. That’s why we panned this morning.” Then he poked at the fire with a stick he had in his hand and sat back on his heels.

I said nothing right off and I thought for a moment. It was going to be hard ignoring all that gold just sitting there waiting for us and our pans. But then I mentally shrugged and said to Sam. “All right partner, we’ll play it your way. But tell me, did your dream tell you where to start digging?”

Smiling, he told me no, the dream did not tell him where to start digging. Then he added, “We gotta do some of the work for ourselves. The dream got us here, now it’s up to us.”

As we ate, we made ours plans. We decided to build a small cabin before the snows hit. Even though we had a small wood stove, a flimsy tent would not afford us much protection in the depth of a Yukon winter. Once the cabin was finished we would start our prospecting in earnest. We would poke and prod the ground as deep as we could. If we found no gold near the surface, we’d build fires to thaw the ground and then go deeper. “Come spring partner, you and me are gonna be mighty rich men,” said Big Sam McCord. And you know, when he said it, I believed him.

Within a few days we had enough trees felled and stripped for the foundation of our cabin. But it was sure work to get them to the clearing we had made. We fashioned a couple of harnesses that fit around our shoulders and then hooked up to the tree we would drag it like horses. After the third pull I told Sam that I needed a break and he agreed that that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

He suggested I take it easy while he heated up some coffee and cooked us a little bacon. It was getting colder by the day. And while we worked we were able to keep warm enough, but when we stopped, the cold had a way of seeping into our bones. I was wondering how we were going to make it through the winter as I walked a little ways up the mountain. I wanted to keep moving so as to keep warm.

It was about a hundred feet above our camp when I saw the cave. Actually I had walked right by it without seeing it. It was only after I felt a draft on the back of my neck and turned around to see where it had come from that I saw it. The opening was about fifteen feet high and six feet wide. Then I thought it might not be a cave after all. It was probably only a fissure in the rock. But I decided to explore my find anyway. I figured I’d go in until I couldn’t proceed further or until it got too dark to see.

I was about thirty feet in when the passage widened to ten or twelve feet. The ceiling stayed at fifteen feet. At a hundred feet in it started to get dark and I was just about to turn around and start back out when something caught my eye. It looked like a light in the distance, but that couldn’t be true. Still, I’d be damned if it didn’t look like a light! Telling myself that as soon as I lost sight of the light or whatever it was, I would turn around and retrace my steps I kept going. Looking behind me I saw that the entrance was still visible, but not by much. A few more steps and I wouldn’t be able to see it. But I took those steps and they were the luckiest steps I’d ever taken.

It was a light, or to be more precise it was daylight I was seeing. What I had taken for a cave or a rock fissure was in actuality a natural tunnel through the mountain. As I got closer, I could see that it was about the same size as the opening I had gone through. The tunnel had narrowed back down to six feet wide.

Upon reaching the opening in the rock, I could not believe what I beheld. There before me was a small valley about two miles in length and half as wide. And there were pine trees clustered in the center.

After a moment’s hesitation, I exited the tunnel and walked into the bright sunlight. It seemed warmer somehow. Maybe because there was no wind blowing. I reckon the surrounding mountain, or mountains, cut off the wind. The little valley was perfectly enclosed, on all sides were rock walls shooting up into the sky. But that wasn’t most amazing thing; there was a log cabin off to my right. It was nestled up against a shear rock wall. It wasn’t big, about thirty feet long and maybe fifteen feet wide. There was a chimney protruding through the roof, but no smoke came from it. My first thought was that I had obtruded onto someone’s land and that I should retreat to whence I came. However, I was just to darn curious to turn and leave. So I walked towards the cabin.

When I reached it, I knocked upon the door and called out. “Howdy. Anyone to home?” After a few silent moments with no answer forthcoming to my query, I ventured to push open the door.

I shall describe what I saw when the sunlight illuminated that dark space (there were no windows). The far wall was all rock. In the center of the wall was another tunnel, but this one looked man made because it was square in shape. Directly in front of me was a rough hewed table and a single chair, also roughly hewed from pine. To my right was a log wall and nothing else. To my left was a bed up against the log wall and upon the bed was a lump of furs. Next to the bed was a portable wood stove like we had, but a little bigger. Thinking the owner would soon be back and not wanting to be caught trespassing, I left the cabin, closing the door behind me.

As I made my way back, I looked around for signs of human life and saw none. I thought it queer that whoever lived in the secret valley had not approached us during the three days we had been neighbors. It was obvious that he wasn’t in the valley, unless he was hiding behind a tree. So he had to have seen Sam and me when he exited the tunnel. Or at the very least heard us as we felled the trees. How strange. Then I thought he might just want to be left alone. You know, one of them hermit fellas.

When I got back to camp, Sam was in a high state of agitation. In a staccato burst he laid into me.  “Where in Sam Hill have you been? Didn’t you hear me calling you? I thought a grizzly got you. You shouldn’t go traipsing out in the woods alone without your gun.” Then, after taking a breath, he added, “The bacon’s burned, so you’ll have to eat it that way. I’m not cooking another batch!” I think Sam was worried about me.

When he had run down, I told him of my find. He immediately forgot about the burnt bacon. He started to pace back and forth with a worried look on his face. “Just who is this geezer,” Sam wanted to know. “Does he have a claim filed? Did he find our mother lode? Take me to him, show me the way. We’ve got to have this out now.”

I tried to tell him there was no one around, but he didn’t care. “We’ll wait for him,” was all he said. Then kicking dirt onto the fire, putting it out, he started off up the way I had just come from.

Sam is a big man and his stride matches his size. It was hard to keep up with him. He was walking so fast he walked right past the entrance to the tunnel, and I had to call to him to bring him back. When he got to me; I pointed to the entrance and said, “Here it is.”

“Lead the way George. I’ll slow down and follow you.” From then on, Sam was his old calm self.

We came out of the tunnel and made straight for the cabin. Once again I knocked and received no answer. Sam stepped past me and pushed open the door. Following him, we entered. Everything was as it had been an hour previously.

Sam went to the table where there were some papers held down by a lantern. I walked over to the bed to inspect the furs. Before I got there, Sam exclaimed, “You know who this geezer is?” He didn’t wait for my reply. “This cabin belongs to that geezer White Water told us about, that Ed Collins; his name is here on this paper.”

Sam wasn’t looking at me when he said that. He was looking at the paper in his hand. But he sure looked in my direction when I said, “And here is Mr. Collins himself.”

Sam walked over to where I was standing and together we looked down at a skeleton lying on the bed. He was dressed in skins and lay under a pile of fur. It was apparent that he died in winter. We both doffed our hats for a moment as a sign of respect for the dead. Then, replacing his hat Sam said, “Let’s see what we’ve got here.”

Sam read the paper as I moseyed over to the hole in the wall of rock. It was dark inside and I couldn’t see anything, so turning to Sam I asked if there was anything of import written on the paper.

“Just his last will and testament,” answered Sam.

Handing the paper to me he said, “Here, take a look at this.”

I can accurately report what I read that day because I kept the paper and it sits before me as I write these words. This is what it said:

My name is Edward Michael Collins, and being of somewhat sound mind I make this my last will and testament.

While chopping firewood a few days ago my axe slipped cut into my leg. Now I can smell the gangrene. The pain is not too bad, but I am going to die.

I have no kin to speak of. There is a niece somewhere in Kansas, but I can’t remember her given name. So to whoever finds what is left of me, and if you would be so kind as to bury my poor carcass, I bequeath my fortune, but before I tell you where to find it, a few words.

I am an educated man, or perhaps I should say I was an educated man, for I am now dead. I spent most of my life, the life the Good Lord granted me, in the pursuit of gold. At first I only wanted enough to get a start on life. I didn’t want to be a millionaire, just comfortable. Then I made my strike and after that there was never enough. Year after year I toiled in my mine. Every spring I went to Dawson for a rest. But when summer was fast approaching its end I always high-tailed it back here to mine more gold. Yes my friend, there is a sickness known as “Gold Fever.” I know only too well of its effects. I could have gone back to the states years ago and never would have had to work another day. But I stayed on and dug deeper into the mountain.

The mine is now yours, and as you probably already know it’s through the hole I made in the rock. Take what you can and leave the rest for the mountain. Go and live the good life the gold will afford you. Do not make the mistake I made.

Just two more things: I never did file a claim, for to do so would have brought hundreds into my little valley, and at the end, seeing the sun on the green pine needles was more valuable than all the gold in this land.

The other thing is that the girls at Miss Bradford’s House of Blue Lights have always been good to me. So if you would please bestow some of my gold upon them I would be most grateful.

Ed Collins

Yukon Territory

January (or maybe it’s February already) 1887 

I folded the paper a stuck in my pocket. Then I asked Sam, “What’s next?”

But Sam was too busy fiddling with the lantern to answer me. Speaking more to himself than to me he said, “There’s still some oil in here.” Then he pulled out a match and set fire to the wick. It took a minute or two to catch, but then he had a good light going. Turning to me he said, “Let’s see this gold mine and then we’ll bury Mr. Collins.

Together we moved toward the opening in the rock face. When we got to the entrance, I held back and let Sam go in first. After Sam had progressed far enough inside so that I could enter, I did so. And the sight I beheld is one I will never forget, even if I live to a hundred and ten years old.

Sam was holding the lantern up high, about even with his head. The light that it gave off wasn’t that bright, but I had to shield my eyes when I came up and stood next to him. The light from the lantern was reflecting off a vein of gold three feet high. Collins had mined along the vein to a distance of twenty feet. And the vein looked like it would go on forever. There was also a pile of the stuff piled up on the floor of the cave. The gold was just sitting there waiting for us!

“So what do you think of my dream now?” asked Sam.

I was too stunned to answer him. I stood there, mouth open, staring at that vein of gold.

After a few minutes, while both of us were deep within our own privates thoughts, we shook our heads as if to clear them and then left the mine. We then decided that we would bury Mr. Collins and then have a pow wow as what to do next.

After Mr. Collins was in his final resting place, Sam sat at the table and I sat on the bed and we figured our next move. What we figured was that we’d move our outfit up to the cabin and make it our domicile. We also figured that we couldn’t get the gold down to Dawson by ourselves, and even if we could we’d have to sit on it for the winter because no steamer could get through until spring. So it was determined that we would mine as much of the vein as we could until spring. As to getting the gold down to Dawson, well, we’d climb that fence we when got to it.

Then, looking a little embarrassed, Sam spoke: “I know I acted a little crazy earlier and I want you to know it wasn’t because I thought we’d lost the gold. It was because I thought my dream was wrong. I might as well tell you George, it’s not gold I’m after. At first I thought it was. Then I thought it might be just for the adventure of the search. But now I don’t know. I think I was driven up here for a purpose, and now I am sure it wasn’t to get rich. If nothing else intrudes, we’ll get the gold down to Dawson and then to the States and we’ll both be rich men. I’m happy for you . . . for you and Jenny. But for me, gold will not bring my Maria back.

For the next four months we chipped gold from the mountain. Occasionally we’d take a week off to go hunting for fresh meat. But by and large we were miners.

Little by little, the vein gave way to our efforts and the yellow metal lay in piles around the cave and the cabin. By the end of February we speculated we had almost half a ton of rock. Gold rock that is! We didn’t have just nuggets; some of the rock was fist size. Most of it was the size of hen’s eggs.

About then we were running out of fresh meat, so we thought we’d get us a large caribou or a moose; enough to last us till the thaw. We left our little, hidden valley and made our way east, away from the mountain. The going was slow; we had to tramp down the snow with our snowshoes more than once in order to advance a step. We saw no animal tracks in the snow, but kept on. To be honest, we were happy to be out in the open and away from the mine.

I don’t know what the temperature was, but when I spit I heard a crack as my spittle froze in mid air. Every once in awhile we’d have to hit our cheeks and nose repeatedly, even though they were covered, to get the circulation going; when we felt the pins-and-needles sting, we knew the blood was flowing once again.

We had planned on staying out a day or two if we had to, therefore we brought along the necessities. Building a fire was no problem. There was dried wood everywhere. We’d stretch a piece of canvas from a branch to the ground as a wind break. There we would make our fire and huddle throughout the night, and in the morning we would continue our hunt.

On the third day without any sign of game we turned to head back to the mountain. We had enough bacon and beans left. We had gone out more because of cabin fever than lack of food. But as long as we were out, we made a decision to return by a different route in the hopes we’d run across some tracks in the snow. We did run across some tracks an hour later. But they were not caribou or moose tracks. They were made by a solitary man. And there was blood, bright red blood, frozen blood, trailing next to them.

At that time of year there isn’t much sun. What little sunlight we had only lasted a few hours and it was just getting dark when we saw the figure of a man laying face down in the snow a hundred yards before us.

When we reached him we discovered that he was only a boy, an Indian boy. Sam turned him over and it looked like he had been scrapping with a bear, probably a grizzly. Part of his scalp was missing and he had claw marks down the right side of his face. And we saw a few black spots on his face and the tip of his nose that denoted dead flesh. Because dark was fast approaching, we made for some trees fifty or so yards to the south, with Sam carrying the boy.

After we got a fire started, Sam looked the boy over. He couldn’t have been more than ten or maybe twelve years old. In his clenched right hand Sam found the part of the scalp that had been ripped off.

“Well, will you look at this,” said Sam.

I did, shook my head and then said, “That shows some presence of mind. I mean to have half your head ripped off and still walk away with the missing pieces.”

“Sam said nothing. He was busy prying the boy’s fingers from the piece of scalp. Then as he held the scalp near the fire to thaw it out he said, “Cut me a strip of canvas about three inches wide and long enough to go round his head.”

I did what was asked of me and handed the strip to Sam. By then Sam had the torn piece of skin and hair back on the boy’s head. Then he tied the canvas strip around his head and under his chin to hold it in place.

“There, that ought to do it for now.”

“Do what for now?” I asked.

“If we can get him back to his people, and if he lives, the torn piece should mend. When I was a boy down in Texas, an hombre had part of his scalp torn off like this boy. He just picked it up, placed it back on his head and tied a bandanna around it. A few months later he was as good as new.”

Next, Sam said we’ve got to save what’s left of his face. It’s frozen and putting him next to the fire would be the worst thing we could do. No, first we had to thaw him then the warmth of the fire would keep him safe. So Sam did a brave thing. He lifted his outer fur and placed the boy’s head on his stomach. Then he lowered the fur and cuddled the boy.

We were pretty tuckered out and it didn’t look like the boy was going to regain conciseness, so we thought we’d get a little shuteye. However, we didn’t get much sleep that night. Sam was like a nervous mother hen, and he kept sending me out for more wood to keep the fire going. He wanted the boy to be as warm as possible. And all through the night the boy did not stir. Sam would remove his mittens every once in a while to feel the boy’s skin and make sure he was still alive. Then he’d say to me, “Still warm.”

An hour or so before the feeble sun was due to rise we finally fell asleep. I was dreaming of Jenny and spittoons when a foot nudged me awake. “Come on Sam, leave me be for a little while longer.” But it wasn’t Sam’s foot. After another nudge, this one not as gentle as the first, I opened my eyes.

What I saw made my blood run cold. Standing over me were six Indians. They had our guns and they didn’t look any too friendly. Sam was sitting up and looked over to me and said, “Good morning partner, I hope you slept well.” Then he smiled.

The Indians said nothing. One of them was kneeling down and bending over the boy. Two others came into our little camp carrying two pine poles. They then proceeded to tear our canvas and attach it to the two poles. Even in my half awake stupor, I discerned that they were making a stretcher to carry the boy.

When they were finished, and the boy was hefted, we were told to rise and get moving. Of course, they didn’t convey that thought in words. They did not speak our language, but they made their desires perfectly clear. Without our guns there wasn’t much we could do except go where they pointed. We trudged in a single line southeast for about four hours. Then we came over a slight rise and saw their camp. It was small, maybe thirty or so lodges and fifty or sixty people.

We were brought to a lodge in the middle of the camp and the boy was carried inside. Then we were told, in sign, to sit; which after a four hour trek we were more than happy to do.

After what seemed a long time, but was probably no more than a half an hour, a man emerged from the lodge and surprised both Sam and me by saying in perfect English, “I welcome you. My son is alive and it seems to be your doing. Will tell me what happened?”

I looked to Sam and he looked to me. Neither one of us knew what to say, but Sam spoke up. “All we know is that we found him yesterday. It looked like he had a run in with a bear. We couldn’t leave him there, so we carried him to our camp.”

The man then said, “I am most grateful. You also tied his scalp back on. Our medicine man says that he will live, but if you had not happened upon him, he would surely now be dead.” When he had finished, Sam looked a little uncomfortable and neither one of us said anything.

When he saw that we had nothing to say, the man resumed his talk.

“I am sorry; I seem to be a bad host. My name is Neekaii Laii, Two Dog in your tongue. I am the chief of this band. We are The People of the Caribou. You whites call us Gwich’in. I speak your tongue because of the missionaries. They taught it to me when I was young, but that was many winters ago. As I said, you saved my son’s life and anything I have is yours.”

“Well,” said Sam. I reckon we could use something to eat. And maybe eat it sitting next to a fire.

We were brought to one of the fires and given a stew of some sort by a beautiful Indian maiden. It tasted like caribou, but maybe I was imagining things seeing as how they were the People of the Caribou. When we had finished and declined more, Two Dog sat down next to us.

The girl who had served us collected the bowls and then sat down across the fire from us, eyes averted to the ground. Seeing Sam looking at her, Two Dog said to him, “That is my daughter. Here name is Oozrii’ Oonjit or Moon Woman. She is still a maiden, but she will build her fire this year.”

Sam wanted to know what he meant by “build her fire.” And old Two Dog ensued to tell him.

“When a maiden is ready for marriage she builds her fire to let the young men know that they may approach her. They bring gifts and try to woo her as you whites would say.”

Sam nodded and told Two Dog that that wasn’t such a bad way of doing things. When he said it, I saw a glint in his eye. But it was now dark and I was feeling the rigors of the day and asked Two Dog where we were going to sleep.

He answered: “In my lodge, of course. There is room enough. So that night, Sam and me slept on one side of the lodge and Two Dog and Moon Woman slept on the other. Two Dog’s son was with the medicine man in his lodge.

In the morning when I awoke I was alone. Hurrying to put on my outer fur and mittens, I rushed outside only to have my ears burn before I got two steps. Realizing that I had forgotten to put on my hat, I retreated to the lodge and did so. After making sure the ear flaps were down and securely tied, I tried again.

When I emerged for the second time, I saw Indians going about their business, but there was no sign of Sam or Two Dog. There was urgent business I had to attend to and knowing I couldn’t do it without the warmth of a fire nearby, I elected to do it by Two Dog’s. It was somewhat embarrassing, but I had to relieve myself. If I had gone out into the woods to do so, parts of me would have frozen and then broke off. However, no one paid me any mind and when I had finished, Sam was fast approaching.

“Good morning George. I’m glad to see you finally got up.”

I started to protest that he should have awakened me, but he ignored my half spoken retort and pushed on, “I’ve been to see the boy. He’s awake now and we got his story. By the way, his name is Dagaii Laii. That means White Dog.”

At that point I held up my hand and said, “Sam, I’d like to hear his story, but I’m kind of hungry. Let’s get us some food and sit by a nice warm fire and I’ll listen to what you’ve got to say.”

“Fair enough George. You sit here by the fire and I’ll go and ask Two Dog to send us some food. I’ll be right back.”

About five minutes later Moon Woman appeared and handed me a bowl of the same concoction we had the night before. In her hand she held a second bowl, but just stood there silent. A few moments later Sam came back and took the bowl from her hand. She smile at him and didn’t look at me, then she walked away. If I didn’t know any better I’d think there was something going on between those two.

As we slurped our stew Sam told me the story of White Dog.

“It seems,” said Sam, “that he got in his head that being the son of a chief he would have to prove himself at a much younger age than the other young boys. So without telling anyone, he set out to kill his first bear. He was gone a few hours when that snow storm hit. You remember; the one that delayed our hunting excursion? It hit about five days ago.”

I told him that indeed I did remember the storm of which he spoke. So he continued.

“Well, because of that the men his father sent out to bring him back couldn’t find his tracks. So as soon as the snow stopped blowing, little White Dog set out on his quest once again. And it wasn’t long before he came upon a cave that he felt sure would hold a hibernating bear, and he was right. The little scamp’s plan was to kill the bear while it slept.

So, armed with only a knife, he crept into the cave and when he saw his quarry, he leapt upon it with a vengeance. Now you understand these are my words. I got the story from his father. White Dog does not speak English. So where was I? Oh yes, when he landed on the bear it awoke and tried to shake off the little animal that was hanging onto its back. But White Dog said he was able to hold on until the bear stood on its hind legs. It was then that he fell off onto the floor of the cave. And that is about all she wrote. The bear took a swipe at the boy and pulled off half his scalp. He says at that point he felt no pain, but did feel sick when he saw his hair lying on the ground. He reached down and scooped up his scalp and high-tailed it out of there. He was trying to make his way back to his people when his strength gave out, and that’s where we come into the picture.

Now that I had heard the boy’s story and had a full stomach, I mentioned to Sam that perhaps we should retrieve our guns and head back to our own stompin’ grounds.

“What’s the rush? We can’t go anywhere for at least a month. And we got all the gold we’ll ever gonna need, so I thought we’d spend a day or two as Two Dog’s guests. How’s that sit with you partner?”

When I thought about it, I reckoned Sam was right. And to tell the truth I was glad to be out of that small cabin and not swinging a pick axe eight or nine hours a day. Accordingly, I told Sam we’d stay as long as he liked. That is until the thaw. I was itching to get back to Jenny and as soon as the snow would allow me passage, I was hell-bent on making Dawson, catching the first steamer to Juneau and then making my way to Skagway and to Jenny.

Sam and I went out with hunting parties during the next few weeks. Our rifles were superior to anything the Gwich’in had and we had no trouble bringing down caribou from a fair distance. When we weren’t hunting, I didn’t see much of Sam, but when I did see him he was walking with Moon Woman or they had their heads together as though in deep conversation. Finally I asked Sam how he was able to converse with her.

“She speaks a little English that she learned from her father. And she’s teaching me her language. Did you know their word for eat is a’àa and water is chuu?”

“That is all very interesting Sam, but how often do you think you’ll need to know that once we’re back in the States?”

That’s when Sam hit me, figuratively speaking, with a haymaker, smack right on the chin.

‘You might as well know now George, I’m staying. Moon Woman and I are going to be married.”

I just stared at him. There was nothing I could think of to say. Sam was old enough to know his own mind, and even if I thought he was making a mistake there was no way I could force him to leave. I knew from experience that once he made up his mind to something he wasn’t about to change it no matter how much you argued or cajoled.

Sam, taking my reticence for disapproval said, “It’s no use trying to talk me out of it George. My mind’s made up. We both found something more precious than gold. You found Jenny and I found Moon Woman.

That’s when I found my voice, stuck out my hand and said, “Congratulations!”

Taking my hand, he said, “Thank you George, thank you very much.”

And before I knew it, it was time to leave. The Gwich’in’s marriage ceremonies take place at a certain time of year, always in the spring, so Sam wasn’t hitched yet and he told me he wished I could be there. “I don’t know if they have the custom of a Best Man like we do, but if you were here you’d be my Best Man.”

I thanked him for the sentiment as I packed my kit. Then I asked him what he was going to do with his share of the gold. “Hell, that yellow rock ain’t gonna do me no good out here in the wilds. I’m giving my share to you.”

As I started to protest, he raised his hand to silence me. “First of all, there’s a whole mountain of the damn stuff if I ever have need of it. I might want a little now and then to trade for ammunition or something like that, and if I do, I’ll know where to get it. And I don’t think anyone’s gonna stumble upon the place, so the gold will be there when I need it.”

I guess he had a point, so I finished packing and stood. Putting out my hand, I said, “Well this looks like the end of the partnership.”

He slapped my hand away and laughed, saying, “How do you aim to get the gold to Dawson?’

Being a bit insulted about the hand slap, I hesitated in answering. Then he answered for me. “You were gonna hike to Dawson and scare up Kaska Pete and his kin and hike back to the mountain and have them haul the goods into town. Right?”

In reply, I shrugged my shoulders and said, “You got a better idea?”

“As a matter of fact I do.”

While I was pondering that, fifteen braves walked up. They were dressed and outfitted for travel. Then Sam sprang his surprise on me.

“Two Dog is sending twelve of these men to help you and your gold get to Dawson. The other three will help me bring back our outfit. Those two portable stoves and that fifty pounds of flour will do more good here than there. Oh, and by the way, would you mind leaving your rifle and pistol behind. Good guns like them are hard to come by out here. Or so says Two Dog.”

When I went to say good-bye to Two Dog I handed him my guns and thanked him for his hospitality. I also saw White Dog at the same time. He was coming along fine. He had three scars down his cheek where the bear’s claws made contact, but he seemed to be proud of them. And his scalp, believe it or not, was growing back all right.

Sam and I said good-bye at the cabin and I marched out of there at the tail end of a line of twelve Indians carrying a half of ton of gold.

Just one point about how Sam was always one step ahead of me. I had given no thought on how the gold was to be carried to Dawson. I don’t mean who was going to carry it, but how, and in what was it to be transported. Well, Sam gave it thought and came up with an answer. With Two Dog’s blessing he had some of the Indian woman sew up skins, with double stitching for strength, to carry the gold in.

I’m proud to say that I did not flag. I was carrying the food we needed for the seven day march and the Indians carried the gold, about eighty pounds each. I thought back eight months when I had to stop after a mile when Sam and me made our first foray to Lake Bennett. I’d muscled up a bit while swinging that pick axe all winter. We got to Dawson without incident and I thanked the Indians and they went on their way. The next steamer was due in about a week and I was happy I didn’t have to wait any longer.

After securing a room at the local boarding house, I went to the House of Blue Lights with my pockets filled with nuggets and asked for Mrs. Bradford. Subsequent to telling her my reason for being there, she told me that only one of the girls now employed by her was from Mr. Collins’ time. I told her that that was alright.

“I’m sure if these girls had been around in Mr. Collins’ time they would have been just as kind to him as the other girls. When I had distributed the gold to the four girls currently employed by Mrs. Bradford, I turned and handed an egg size rock to the dear lady herself saying, “Mr. Collins wanted you to have this particular nugget and sent along his thanks for all your kindnesses.” It was a lie, but one I think I’ll be forgiven for.

I passed a mirror on my way out and had to take a second look at the disheveled and bearded stranger that I beheld. Saying that I reckoned I could use a shave, Mrs. Bradford chimed in with, “A bath would do you no harm neither.”

The short of it is that she insisted I bathe there. She sent one of the girls out to buy a new shirt and pair of pants while I bathed. And afterwards, a very nice girl (her name was Anna) shaved me. Following the bath and shave, I felt like a new man.

I wasn’t the only geezer in from the north. There were sixteen others who had struck it rich up on Rabbit Creek, which they had renamed Bonanza Creek. They too were headed for the states where they could enjoy their new found wealth and live the life of gentlemen.

Nine days later I heard the blow of the steamer’s whistle as she came up the Yukon River. However, I still had a two day wait while she unloaded and loaded freight. I booked my passage; she was going straight to Seattle after stops in Juneau and Skagway. That fit my plans perfectly.

In Skagway, I jumped from the boat before she docked, almost falling in the water. I ran to Jenny’s boardinghouse and found her in the kitchen pealing potatoes. Without a word I swept her up in my arms and gave her the kiss I’d been holding for her all winter.

Not letting her get a word out, I took her by the hand and dragged her to the nearest shop where she could buy some clothes. We were leaving within the hour, the boat was only stopping long enough to disembark a few people and take on a few new passengers.

Jenny kept asking me questions, but I held my tongue. I wanted to show her the bags of gold stored in my stateroom, not tell her about them. We made the boat in plenty of time, even though at Jenny’s insistence we went back to the boarding house so she could say good-bye to Mrs. Bellew.

On the boat we had the captain marry us, and then for the next seven days we enjoyed a perfect honeymoon, even though we didn’t leave our cabin very much; just to take our meals and an occasional constitutional around the deck.

We landed in Seattle in July of ’97. Eleven months after Big Sam McCord walked into my life. Me and the other geezers who came down from Dawson caused quite a stir. After we had our gold weighed, all told, we had two tons, more or less. My stake was the largest by far. I walked out of the bank with a letter of credit made out in the amount of $265,248.00!

The whole town got gold fever when they heard our story (I told everyone my claim was just above Bonanza Creek, which was a lie). The mayor resigned and booked passage on the next ship headed north. And he wasn’t alone, the city sold out of shovels and pick axes before nightfall. And there wasn’t a berth on a boat heading north for love nor money. If you were lucky you could buy passage on the deck, but you’d have to bring your own food.

But all that foolishness did not affect Jenny and me. We were going south, south to a new life.

Well, now here it is … ten years later. Jenny and I have two fine children. George Jr. and Mary, George is eight and Mary is five. When I sold my gold to the bank in Seattle I kept out two fist sized rocks, and as I write these words, I am looking at the small, four inch high spittoon sitting upon our mantel. It is made of solid gold. Jenny and I both thought it a good idea. We wanted to remember where we came from, so as not to get swelled heads.

That is my story. I have finally found shelter from the wind.

George Pratt

San Francisco

17 April 1906