Ernest Thompson Seton.

The preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country online

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than this."

Hartigan drew up to inquire the direction to a certain cabin and when he
learned the way he rode on.

"Looks to me like he would have made a cowboy, if they had ketched him

"Do you see that horse? Ain't there some blood there?"

"Yes, there is," said Long Bill, "and it strikes me it is worth
following up. Let's have another look."

The group sauntered to where the Preacher was making a call and one of
them began:

"Say, mister, that's quite a horse you've got there; want to sell him?"


"Looks like a speeder."

"Yes, there's nothing in Cedar Mountain to touch him."

"Say, mister," said cattleman Kyle, "if he's a winner, here's your
chance to roll up a wad."

Hartigan stared and waited. The cult of the horse is very ancient, but
its ways are ever modern.

"You say he's a great speeder; will you try him against Kyle's horse?"
said Long Bill.

Jim looked a rebuff and shook his head.

"Oh, just a friendly race," the man went on; "Kyle thinks he has the
best American horse in town." And as various members of the party looked
more critically at Blazing Star and felt his limbs they became more

When Jim had joined the Church, horse-racing was one of the deadly sins
he had abjured. So while he refused to enter a race, he was easily
persuaded to ride his horse against Kyle's for a friendly mile. Whether
begun as a race or not, it was in deadly earnest after the first fifty
yards and it proved just what they needed to know: that Kyle's horse,
which had been a good second best with the Indian, was a poor second in
the race with Blazing Star. With this essential information, Kyle asked
if he could hire Hartigan's horse for a brush with the Indian.

Hartigan went through a most painful struggle with his conscience. But
clearly "this was not a regular race." It was "just a sort of speed test
with an Indian pony like the one he had had with Kyle." He was not going
to ride in it. He would only rent his horse for wages. "Sure, every one
hires out his horse when he has a good one." So Blazing Star was hired
out to Kyle, and a new though unimportant race was arranged, for a
stake, otherwise the Indian would not have taken the trouble to ride.
The Red-men's black eyes looked keenly on as he measured the new horse.
Then the unexpected happened. Blazing Star was not accustomed to the new
jockey, the gentle ways that had fostered his speed were lacking. The
rider's idea was whip and spur and go from the start. The horse got
"rattled" and the Indian pony won. The defeat stirred Hartigan to a rage
such as he had not experienced in months. The unrest of his conscience
over the affair, coupled with his contempt and fury at the bad
horsemanship of the rider, set loose from his tongue a lurid torrent
blended of Links, Scripture, and Black Hills.

"Here, you jelly-backed cowpuncher, let me show you how to ride. Will
you ride again?" he shouted to the Indian, as the latter put the roll of
bills in his tobacco pouch.

The Indian shook his head.

"I will put that up twenty-five dollars to nothing," and Hartigan held
up the twenty-five dollars he had received as hire for his horse. Again
the Indian shook his head. "I'll give you that if you'll ride." Jim held
up a ten, "and double it if you win."

With a gesture, the Indian consented, received the bill, and put it with
the rest. They rode to the starting post, were unceremoniously started,
and Hartigan showed how much a man could do for a horse. In spite of his
rider's great weight that splendid beast responded to every word, and
when on the home run Hartigan used the quirt, Blazing Star seemed to
know it was merely a signal, not an insulting urge, and let himself go.
The Indian pony, too, was doing his utmost, but Blazing Star swept past
his opponent and led at the finish by more than a length; the race was
won; and Hartigan wakened up as a man out of a dream to face the awful
fact that he, a minister of the gospel, had not only ridden in a horse
race, but had gambled on the same.


Pat Bylow's Spree

At the time of the incidents at Fort Ryan, Belle was away on a visit to
Deadwood. Otherwise, Hartigan would surely have consulted her and
profited by her calmer judgment in the matter of the race. As it was,
his torturing sense of moral iniquity led him to preach a sermon in
which he poured forth all the intensity of his nature. Quietly to drop
the subject was not his way; he knew that every one was talking about
it, so nothing would do but a public denunciation of himself, and all
that followed the race track.

The text he chose was: "My wounds stink, and are corrupt, because of my
foolishness" (Psalms XXXVIII:5). Jim's thought was that once the sinner
is saved, all his sins become peculiarly and especially repugnant to
him. They acquire nothing less than a stench in his nostrils, and
henceforth are as repellent as once they were attractive, no matter what
they may be; and he enumerated drunkenness, swearing, gambling, and
horse-racing. At mention of the last a smile spread over the faces of
the congregation. He noted it at once, and said:

"Yes, I know what you are thinking. You are wondering how I came to ride
my horse in a race at Fort Ryan. Well, it was the devil laid a snare for
me, and I fell in. But this I will say: I promise you I will never do
the like again, and if each of you will stand up now and give me the
same promise about your own particular besetting sin, then I'll feel
that we have made a great gain, and I will be glad I rode that race
after all."

In this land of the horse no one was long inclined to take the matter
seriously. A nature so buoyant as his could not long be downcast, and
Hartigan's sense of sin for his part in the race was soon put behind
him. Then happened an incident that gave him a chance to score a

In a remote part of the valley some five miles back of Cedar Mountain
was Bylow's Corner, a group of three or four houses near the road, the
log cabins of homesteaders. These men had, indeed, few pleasures in
life. Their highest notion of joy was a spree; and every month or two
they would import a keg of liquor, generally of a quality unfit for
human consumption. The word had been passed around that Pat Bylow had
got a keg of the "real stuff," and the rest of the Corner assembled on a
certain Saturday night for an orgy, which it was expected would last
about two days. Word of it reached Hartigan, too, and he decided that
here was a glorious opportunity to save bodies and souls at once.
Without consulting any one he mounted Blazing Star, and in half an hour
was at the Corner. Tying his horse to a tree, he went to the house that
was the known meeting place. There were lights in the window and
boisterous noises issuing forth. At the door he stopped and listened;
rough voices were grumbling; there was an occasional curse, a laugh,
then a woman speaking shrilly; a minute's silence, during which the
sweet song of a night bird was heard in the dark bushes by the stream,
whereupon a hoarse, brutalized voice shouted:

"Oh, hurry up and start that bung, you act like a schoolgirl."

The Preacher knocked. There was no answer. He knocked again and much
louder. There was a moment's silence. Then a heavy voice:

"Who's there?"

"It's me," was the unhelpful reply.

A man moved to the door again demanding:

"Who's there?"

"It's a friend who wants to join you."

There was some discussion, then the door was cautiously opened. The man
inside got a glimpse of the tall form of the Preacher, let off a savage
snarl and oath, and attempted to slam the door. But he was not quick
enough; the Preacher got his foot in and pushed irresistibly. There were
curses from within and others came to help. But the Preacher was too
much for them; the door went back with a clatter and he stood in the
middle of the room. The rude log cabin held five men, three women, and a
table on which was a small keg of whiskey and some glasses. The keg had
not yet been opened, and the glasses were empty.

"What do you want here?" growled the biggest of the men, advancing

"Sure, I am here to spill that accursed stuff on the ground and hold a
prayer meeting in the hopes of saving your souls," was the answer.

"Get to h - l out of this and mind your own business," he said, fingering
an ugly knife he had snatched from the table.

Hartigan did not move. As the big brute edged in, not at all quickly,
for the fight was scarcely yet on, Hartigan landed a swift football drop
kick under the hand that held the knife. The weapon was dashed up to the
ceiling and stuck shivering in the logs, while its owner stumbled and
fell with a growl of pain, one hand hanging helpless. Two other men
rushed to the attack. They had no weapons, and the Preacher man[oe]uvred
to take them singly. With two chops and an undercut he laid them on
their backs, and the remaining men refrained from declaring war.

"Sure now," said the Preacher, as he looked calmly around, "I regret to
have the meeting open so unrestful, when it was my intention to start it
with a prayer, followed by a hymn with all of you joining in. But you
seemed to want it this way and, of course, I had to humour you. Now I
will begin by pouring out a drink offering on the altar of God."

He stepped toward the keg. It was unopened. He raised it in his hands
and dashed it down on the floor. It bounded up unhurt. Realizing his
purpose for the first time, the men gave vent to savage oaths backed by
an assertion of property rights. Then, seeing that he was undeterred,
they set upon him with a rush.

Jim, it must be confessed, found a new joy in that new attack. It gave
him a chance to work off his superabundant energy. The confined space of
the cabin was in his favour. He blocked all attempts to encompass him,
while his mighty arms did terrific execution, and when the finish came
it showed the would-be revellers lying around in various positions
eloquent of defeat.

"Sure, it's mighty sorry I am, but I have to tend to my job."

Going to the fireplace, and picking up one of the bricks used to support
the logs, he smashed in the head of the keg and spilled the odorous
contents on the floor. The final splash he threw toward the fire,
expecting to see it blaze into a blue flame, but it acted as water and
the room was filled with an evil stench. The Preacher knew what it
meant; his contemptuous "Humph!" expressed it all.

"Where are you going?" he demanded, as the tallest of the ruffians moved
to the door.

"You mind your own business. I am going home," was the answer.

"Come back and join us, we're going to have a prayer meeting," and Jim
stepped over to the door.

"Now get down on your knees, all of ye," and he himself kneeled. The
little man and two of the women followed his example.

"Get down on your knees!" the Preacher thundered to those standing. The
big fellow had got a stick of firewood for a weapon and, despite his
crippled right hand, was disposed to fight.

"Oh, ho! shillelah play," chuckled Hartigan, "that's an ould, ould game
with me."

He rose and picked up a leg of the table broken off during the struggle.
It was not a heavy club, but it was in skilful hands. There is one move
of the shillelah that the best experts have trouble to parry, that is
the direct thrust. The slash right and the slash left, the overhead or
the undercut have a simple answer; but the end-on straight thrust is
baffling. Jim knew this of old, and a moment later the big woodsman was
on the floor with a bloody nose, a sense of shock, and a disposition to

"Now come, every one of ye, and join in our prayer meeting. Come on," he
beckoned to the other two, "or it will be me duty to knock sense into

And so he gathered that graceless group around him. Kneeling in their
midst, he prayed for help to make them see that he wanted to be their
friend, that he was acting for their interests, that he knew as well as
they did the hankering for drink.

"O Lord, you know. And I know that anyway that stuff was not whiskey at
all, at all; that it would not burn in the fire, and I'll bet it would
freeze if it were put out of doors"; and having contributed these expert
remarks, he closed with, "Amen."

"And now we will sing a hymn," and he led them in "Come to Jesus." But
it was not a success, so he fell back on the praying, which was his
specialty, and more than once his congregation joined in with an "amen."
Sulky Big Pat had to be threatened again, for he was of fighting stock;
but the prayer meeting closed without further hostilities and the orgy
had been made physically impossible. As he rose, Hartigan said in his
inimitable way:

"Now, friends, I want to apologize to you all for seeming uncivil, but
there are times when a man has to be a little abrupt, and if I have hurt
your feelings or annoyed you in any way I am very sorry for it, because
I'd rather be friends. Let's shake hands before I leave, and I will be
glad to see any of you in church."

Then a strange thing happened. The little man had shaken hands
effusively, the big one sulkily, but there was one there who took the
Preacher's hand warmly and in a husky voice said:

"Mr. Hartigan, I want you to know you have made me think different. I am
coming to church. I know you are right." Then turning to a woman by his
side: "This is my wife - she feels as I do."

"Thank you for coming to-night," said the woman. "You _will_ pray for
us, won't you? We will try; only it is terribly hard, once you have
taken on the habit."

"Sure, it's myself that knows it," said Hartigan. "I've been through it
all, I tell you."

There was a brotherly warmth in the Preacher's handclasp and in his
words as he turned to go out in the calm and beautiful blue night. The
Black Hills' coyotes howled and Blazing Star whinnied a mild
remonstrance at the long desertion. The Preacher mounted and as he swung
lightly down the wagon trail, he had a sense of joy, of triumph, of
uplift that had seldom been his. Here for the first time he had put his
great physical strength to the service of the new life. It was a
consecration, so to speak, of his bodily powers. And overtopping this
was another happiness, which, he was just beginning to realize,
completely filled his thoughts these days: the prospect of crowning each
day's adventures by telling them all to Belle.


The New Insurance Agents

Woman's suffrage was a disturbing question in the West of the '80's and
it had not by any means passed Cedar Mountain by. There was more than
one fiery dispute among the "perchers" of Shives's shop, where Jim was
very fond of dropping in. Indeed the smithy was the public forum of the

Hartigan had very strong views, of the oldest and most conservative
type, on the sphere of woman - notwithstanding the fact that his mother
had been the capable leader of men. He did not say much about this; but
he assumed that the absence of his father was the sole cause of his
mother's dominance. He was fond of quoting St. Paul: "Let your women
keep silence in the churches ... it is a shame for women to speak in the
church" (I Cor. XIV:34-35), and from this he argued that silence was
woman's only duty in all public matters of administration, because it
accorded with her limitations.

Shives, being twice as old, was much less certain. He could cite
Cleopatra, Catherine of Russia, Catherine de' Medici, and other familiar
names to prove the woman's power; to which Hartigan replied:

"And a fine moral lot they were! Was ever power put to more devilish

This was a jibe and not an answer. But it caused a laugh, and that
always counts in debate. Then, with singular blindness to the fact that
he himself was at the time being guided by a certain young woman, Jim
issued his challenge:

"If you can show me a couple that started fair and square together on
equal footing and didn't end with the man as head and leader in
everything to do with fighting the battle of life, I'll give in - I'm

Two mornings later, Dr. Carson was standing outside his office door,
when he heard a quick stride on the boardwalk and the gay voice of the
Preacher singing "Roy's Wife of Aldivallock."

"The top of the morning to ye, Doc," was his cheery greeting; and the
doctor answered:

"Say, Jim, come here. I've got a good one for you. This is a brand-new
one." They walked down the boardwalk to the place where most of the
offices were and there read on a newly placed signboard the legend:

"John and Hannah Higginbotham, Insurance Agents."

"How is that?" said Carson, as he lit a cigar.

"Well, I'll be - surprised," was the answer.

As Jim looked in astonishment the door was opened and a dapper little
man with a fuzzy red beard appeared.

"Good morning, gentlemen, good morning!" he said, in a perfectly good
Yankee twang. "Can I do anything for you to-day in my line? Step in,
gentlemen; I'm John Higginbotham." They entered and, behind the desk,
sighted a stout woman of medium size, middle age, and moderately good

"Hannah, these are two of our fellow townsfolk, calling. Excuse me,
gentlemen, I didn't get your names." He was enlightened and prattled on:
"Oh, Reverend Hartigan and Dr. Carson. Good! Healing for the body and
healing for the soul, and my healing is for the estate - happy trinity,
isn't it? Sit down, gentlemen."

"Can we do anything for you in our line?" said the buxom lady behind the
desk, in a strong, deep voice; and now Jim noticed for the first time
her square jaw and her keen eye that brightened as she spoke.

"Not at present, thank you," said Jim. "We are merely making a
neighbourly call."

"The fact is," said Dr. Carson, "the thing that stopped us this morning
was your new signboard."

"There! There! I told you so; I told you it was good business," said the
little man. "The first thing in commerce is to have a good article and
the next is to win the attention of the public. I felt sure it was a
good move."

"You've got the attention of the whole town at one stroke," said Carson.
"If you have the wares to follow it up - - "

"Wares! My company is The Merchants' Mutual. It is the - - "

Realizing that he had injudiciously turned on a hydrant, Carson said

"Oh, yes, yes; of course; I should have known. Why, every one knows that
The Merchants' Mutual is one of _the_ companies. How did you come in, by
rail or by the trail?"

At this point, Hannah rose and, passing out of the door, gave a
momentary glimpse of a kitchen stove with pots and kettles boiling.

John smiled blandly, raised a flat hand with an oratorical gesture:

"Ah, that is an important question, and bears directly on the signboard.
You see, we came from Bootlebury, Massachusetts. Hannah's father was
quite a man in that town, and I worked my way up till I had a little
insurance office of my own and married Hannah. Well" (he didn't say
"well" and he didn't say "wall," but there isn't any in-between way to
spell it aright), "if I'd got all the insurance business in Bootlebury,
it would not have been horses and cushions, but I didn't get half of it,
and Hannah says, 'John, I think we'd getter go out West,' for, somehow,
she didn't want to stay in a place where folks said she'd had a 'come

"We'd had about ten years of it, and I had just about come to her way of
thinking when her dad died and left her quite well fixed. An' Hannah she
had quite an eye to biz; she worked at my office desk as much as she did
at the cook stove; an' now she says to me, 'Here is where we get out.'

"Every one was talking about the Black Hills then, and that was why we
headed this way. Well, we figured out that the railway fares from St.
Louis 'round to Sidney and north to the Hills were so much higher than
the steamboat fare from St. Louis to Pierre, that we could save enough
to buy a team of ponies and a buckboard at Pierre, and then cross the
Plains with the settlers going in and be ahead by the value of the team,
which would be needed in our country business anyhow."

"Time didn't count?" interrupted Carson.

"Not much; and we wanted to see the country."

"By George! I wish I'd been with ye," said Jim. "If only it had been a
saddle trip it would have been perfect."

"Perfect!" exclaimed the little man; "I wish you could have seen us. The
farther we went up that endless river of mud the worse it seemed; and
when we landed at Pierre it did seem the last of all creation.

"I didn't have much heart to buy the ponies, but Hannah kept with me and
never once seemed to feel discouraged. But when we crossed the river
with our outfit and really set out on the blank, bleak plains, I tell
ye, we felt heart-sick, sore, and lonesome - at least, I did."

At this moment Hannah came in from the kitchen and took the lead in

"Has John been giving you an outline of our policy in the matter of
lapsing premiums and residuary annuities?"

"Now, Hannah," replied John, "I think that is a little too much like
business for friendly callers."

"Business is always in order in the office," was Hannah's retort.

"I understand," said John, "that the Methodists are very strong in Cedar

"Well, we think so," answered Hartigan.

"Good," said Higginbotham. "I have always felt that it was wisest to
associate myself with the church that was spiritually strongest. I am
not in sympathy with narrow views." He did not mention the fact that in
Bootlebury he had associated himself with the Unitarians for the same

A loud sizzling in the next room caused Hannah to spring up heavily and
return to the kitchen.

Jim was more interested in their venturesome trip across the Plains than
in reasons for doctrinal affiliation, and he steered the conversation by

"How did you come out on the Plains trip?"

And John bubbled on with a mixture of fun, pathos, and frank admiration
for his wife that appealed strongly to both hearers. His gift of
language was copious without being varied or clever, but his homely
phrases carried the thought.

"I'll not forget the morning of our journey. It was raining by the
bucketfuls. 'Well,' says I, 'for a semi-arid country this is going
some'; and I felt so homesick and sore, I said, 'Hannah, let's not go
any farther'; and Hannah she just looked at me and said, 'See here,
John, I've come out so far to go to the Black Hills and I'm going.'
Then, when the weather let up a little, we started out; and, after a
couple of hours we stuck in a muddy creek and were all day getting
across. Next day a couple more gullies just as bad, and the rain came
down till ever hole in the prairie was a pond; and I tell you I wished
I'd bought a boat instead of the buckboard. And the mosquitoes, oh, my!
Well, we floundered around about three days and got all our stuff wet
and half spoiled. Then we found we'd missed the way and had to flounder
three days back again. I tell you, I felt pretty much discouraged. Then
we saw something a-coming. It turned out to be a settler going back. He
said there was nothing but pond holes and bogs, the mosquitoes were
awful, the boom was bust, and the Sioux on the war path. I felt pretty
sick. That was a finisher; and when that man says, 'You better come back
with us,' I was for going. But Hannah, she just boiled up and she says,
'John Higginbotham, if you want to go back with that bunch of
chicken-hearts, you can go. I'm going to the Black Hills, if I have to
go alone.' I tried to make her see it my way, but she got into the
buckboard, gathered up the reins, and headed for the West. I had to get
in behind as best I could. We didn't talk much. We weren't on speaking
terms that day; and, at night, as we sat eating supper, it started to
raining worse'n ever, and I says, 'I wish we'd gone back.'

"'I don't,' she snapped, an' we never spoke till the morning.

"Then she called me to breakfast. I tell you, I never saw such a change.
The sun was up and the sky was clear. In a little while, we were out of
the sloughs and had no mosquitoes. Then we got a bad shake. A band of
horsemen came riding right at us. But they turned out to be U. S.
cavalrymen. They put us right on the road, and told us the Indian scare
was just fool talk, and had nothing back of it. After that, all went
fine and in two days we were in the Hills.

"I tell you, I felt different as we stood there at our last campfire,
and I says, 'Hannah, you're a wonder. You are the best of the outfit. It
was your money we started on. It was your grit kept me going on when I
was for quitting, and you are in every deal I make. You bet I'll let the

Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 7 of 24)