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FRANK




ERMAN




BANCROFT

LIBRARY

<

THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY
OF CALIFORNIA



On a Passing Frontier



On a Passing Frontier



Sketches from the Northwest



By

Frank B^Linderman,



New York

Charles Scribner's Sons
1920



COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS



Published May, 1920




BANCROFT
LIBRARY



I DEDICATE THESE STORIES
TO THE GOOD TOWN OF MALTA

<}~ AND TO THE CAMPS IN THE LITTLE ROCKIES

WHERE THE OLD WEST IS MAKING
ITS LAST STAND



1



P>



CONTENTS



PAGE



IN THE NAME OF FRIENDSHIP .... 3

WAS CHET SMALLEY HONEST? .... 12

THE MEDICINE KEG 24

THE THROW- A WAY DANCE 38

JAKE HOOVER'S PIG 50

A GUN TRADE 58

THE WHISKEY PEDDLER 66

i

THE POST-OFFICE AT WOLFTAIL ... 74

JEW JAKE'S MONTE 81

AT THE BAR 90

PAP'S PINTO 103

THE BULLET'S PROOF 115

THE INDIAN'S GOD 121

BRAVERY 127

WHAT FOLLOWED A SERMON . . . . 135

CRANKS 177

THE FLYING DUTCHMAN 195



O, dimming trails of other days,

Your lure, your glamour, and your ways

Will last while those who knew you live,

And, fading, to the past will give,

To guard and to forever hold,

A wealth of stories never told.

The winters pass and take their toll;

Where tramped the bear now crawls the mole,

And grasses, spurning steps so light,

Are blotting you from human sight.

The same winds blow, the seasons change,

But white men's ways are hard and strange;

We tread on ants, and lo! 'tis thus

Eternity will tread on us.



ON A PASSING FRONTIER



IN THE NAME OF FRIENDSHIP

IT was years ago and early on a cold morn-
ing in January. Bill Ropes was busy
behind the bar in the Silver Dollar polish-
ing whiskey-glasses with a linen cloth. At
intervals during the polishing he would
hold the glasses between his eyes and the
light of young day that came in over the
window-curtains at the front of the place.
Bill, wholly free from care, was humming
"The Cow Boy's Lament," when the door
was opened and Bud Tiley came in. The
visitor did not offer a greeting, but seated
himself in a far corner of the room and
bowed his head. His hands were thrust
deep into his trousers pockets, and at a
glance the accustomed eye of Bill recognized
the marks of a past and protracted spree.
The clock behind the bar struck eight. Its

tsi



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

tone was sepulchral. The man in the chair
stirred nervously.

"Mornin', Buddy," said Bill.

"Mornin'," growled Bud.

"Seems like a nice mornin', Buddy.
What's wrong ? What's botherin' ? "

"Lots. A plenty is botherin', an' I'm
plumb sick of the game, Bill. I'm goin' to
quit it. Jest goin' to natcherly lay 'em down.
Ye won't see me buckin' agin this brace-
game of life no more after to-day. I'm
goin' to blow the top of my head off. Been
thinkin' it over, an' I've made up my mind."
He had been staring at the floor as he spoke,
and concluding, he bent forward and picked
up a dime that some careless one had lost
the night before; then contemptuously
tossed the bit of silver in Bill's direction.
"Don't belong to me," he mumbled, "an'
I'll never need it."

"Goin' to kill yerself, Bud?" asked Bill,
[4]



IN THE NAME OF FRIENDSHIP

as he gave a glass a final, extra rub with the
cloth.

"Um-hu."

"When?"

"To-day."

"Well, I'll be damned. Have a drink,
Bud. Come on."

The melancholy man rose hesitatingly
from his chair and slouched up to the bar.
Bill set out the bottle and the glasses, and
Bud poured himself a liberal portion and
drank it with a grimace.

"Boo! boo-ff!"

"That's the best whiskey in this town,"
said Bill.

"Mebby, but it tastes like hell to me."

"That's funny. Say," and Bill leaned
across the bar, "I don't know whether
you've ever read the book they call the Bible
or not, but I have. I've read it from cover
to cover. It's as plain as a dog-town would

is]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

be on Rockefeller's lawn that if you kill yer-
self or anybody else, the game is out. There's
no harp fer you over there. You're out; see,
Bud ? out fer keeps. I hate to think of
that. It don't seem right, hardly. But I
can fix it. I won't see an old friend shut
out, Bud. Not me." He lowered his voice
and looked about cautiously. "I've killed
quite a few men in my life," he whispered.
"One more can't make no difference with
me. I wouldn't tell it, but you'll be dead
an' can't go peddlin' it on me, see ? I want
to help you, Bud, an' I'll tell you what I'll
do. I'll kill you, myself. I ain't stuck on
it, but I'll do anything I can fer a friend."

"Will ye, Bill?"

"Course. Have another little drink.
This one will taste better'n the other."

"Well, Buddy," said Bill as he raised his
glass, "here's hopin' the job turns out right
an' that you git a harp over there."
[6]



IN THE NAME OF FRIENDSHIP

They drank, and then Bill pulled out a
drawer in the back-bar. From it he took an
old Colt .45 six-shooter and laid the weapon
on the bar before Bud. "Ain't she a daisy ? "
he asked. "I used to pack that when I was
a cow-puncher. That's the old gal that I
got my men with, too. An' that's why I
keep her here where she's handy."

"Looks all right," murmured Bud. "I
don't care what ye use so long as it'll do the
job quick an' fer keeps."

Bill stuck the gun in his hip-pocket; and
his coat wrinkled badly where it fell over the
weapon. Then he put on his hat. "Come
on, Bud," he said, "if ye're determined to
die. I can't fool around on the job. 'Twon't
be long till the rush will be on, and I don't
want the place closed."

"Where ye goin'?"

"Well, ye don't think I'm goin' to mess
up my own place, do ye ? Come on."

[7]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

Bud fell in meekly behind Bill, who bent
his steps to the river. The Missouri was
frozen, and Bill tried the ice gingerly be-
fore he led the way across; then, gaining the
farther shore, entered a deserted cabin.

A half-breed had built it years before and
had gone his way. A hole had been cut
through the pole-roof to allow a stovepipe
to vent itself in the open air, and through
the hole the wind was sifting the dry snow
that clung to the roof about it.

"Here we are, Buddy. Nice an' quiet, an'
no visitors. But there ain't no great hurry
now we're here. Set down, Buddy, set
down."

Bill seated himself on an empty candle-
box under the hole in the roof. Bud settled
beside him. They had closed the rickety
door, and there were no windows. The day-
light that found its way through the stove-
pipe hole fell upon the pair like a benediction.
[8]



IN THE NAME OF FRIENDSHIP

"Bud," said Bill, "I've got to fix this job
up so it'll look like suicide. I can't afford
to have 'em houndin' me fer murder."

"Shore, shore, Bill. I know. Any way
suits me. Do it yer own way."

"Of course God A'mighty will know you
didn't have nothin' to do with it, Bud see ?"

"Um-hu."

"Well, let's have one more little drink."
And Bill drew a half-pint from his pocket.

Bud took a healthy pull at the flask and
passed it back to Bill, who also drank; but
not so greedily. Returning the flask to his
pocket, Bill produced the six-shooter and
laid it in his lap. "I'm gettin' chilly, ain't
you, Bud?"

"Um-hu."

"Well, I guess we might's well deal the
last card, unless ye've changed yer mind."

"I ain't."

"Git over there agin the wall then right



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

over there where the bark is peeled off that
log. The light is better there Turn a-round!
Ye don't suppose I want to look a man in the
eyes when I kill him, do ye ? Thought ye
had better sense."

Meekly Bud turned his face to the logs.
"Stretch out yer arms! That's it, but yer
left arm's a foot lower'n yer right. I'd hit
you in the guts. Raise it a little, so I can
plug yer heart. Higher! Higher yet!
There ! That's bully. Now, stand per-
fectly still, Bud. This light ain't none too
good. It won't take but a second. This
old gun tears awful. A cat could jump
through the hole it makes an' never touch
meat."

He cocked the six-shooter. Its sharp-
clicking lock filled the cabin with sound.
In a flash Bud wheeled.

"Don't shoot, ye damned fool ! I believe
ye would of killed me like a dog."

[10]



IN THE NAME OF FRIENDSHIP

Without a word, Bill led the way back
across the Missouri and to the saloon. As
they entered, Piano Joe fell in with them.
Bill nudged him with his elbow, and, sensing
that the saloon man had something of a
private nature to impart, Piano Joe followed
to the far end of the bar, where he heard the
story.

"Joe," said Bill, "you talk about callin' a
bluff. Never again for me. I thought I'd
have to kill that fool as sure as hell. It
looked as though he wasn't goin' to weaken.
Let's all have a drink."

Bud joined them, but after drinking whis-
pered :

"Joe, can I speak to ye a minute ?"

He led the way to the other end of the bar,
and using his hand to keep his voice from
reaching Bill, who eyed them suspiciously, he
whispered: "That man Ropes is a murderer
at heart, Joe. Remember that."



WAS CHET SMALLEY HONEST?

"OPEAKING of honesty," said an archi-
^ tect friend of mine, "I have found that
standards differ and that men are honest ac-
cording to their own ideas as to what con-
stitutes honesty. Perhaps no man has the
right to define honesty for another, but

well

"When I had finished school, I went to
Havre, and after spending some time in
measuring the town's prospects, I hung out
my sign. Then I waited. Weeks went by.
I was growing anxious for a commission of
some kind, great or small, for not only were
my funds running low, but I was becoming
stale.

"I was even thinking of moving to a larger,
older town one afternoon when a pony
stopped in front of my office. A man got

[ 12]



WAS CHET SMALLEY HONEST?

down and read my sign. Then he came in.
He was a cow-puncher. He had what I
have called since then 'the typical cow-face,'
and, even as a tenderfoot, I could see that
he was a top hand at the game.

"'Howdy,' he said.

"Very well, I thank you. How are you
to-day?'

"I'm fine. Are you the man that draws
pictures an' plans fer buildin's ? '

"'Yes, I am an architect. I can make
plans for any building you would want,' I
told him.

"'Well, I've rode up to see ye. Heared
ye was in town. It's this a-way. We're
a-goin' to build us a schoolhouse down to
Lindale, an' it's goin' to be a reg'lar tepee,
too. She's goin' to cost ten thousand dol-
lars.'

"He paused in order to allow the figures
to sink in. Then he said :

[13]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

"I'm chairman of the board an' what I
say goes. How would ye like the job of
buildin' that shack, son ?'

"'I would be delighted. I think I can
give you perfect satisfaction, too,' I told him.
'When do you let the contract ?'

"'Right away, but givin' satisfaction ain't
enough. What's in it fer me if I let ye go
ahead ? Satisfaction won't buy whiskey.'

"I thought he was joking, but when I
looked at him, I knew that he was in earnest.
I had a high regard for my profession.
Anger seized me, and I cried: 'Get out!
Get out of this office ! I am not that kind
of an architect. I don't want to talk to
you.'

"His eyes expressed surprise. 'Well, well,'
he said as he began to roll a cigarette. 'No
great harm done to ask ye, is there ? Don't
git yer tail over the dashboard, son.'

"He lighted his cigarette and went out.

t HI



WAS CHET SMALLEY HONEST?

I watched him mount his pony and ride
away.

"Not long afterward I heard that the
schoolhouse was going to be built in Lindale
just as he had told me. I learned, too, that
the cow-man's name was Chet Smalley
and that he was the chairman of the board
that had the contract to let. I got busy,
and through my own efforts and a little pull
I obtained on the side, I got the contract.

"I wasn't at all afraid of Smalley. I had
something on him, you see. If he had inter-
fered, I would have shown him up to the
other members of the board, but he was
pleasant to meet and did not offer an objec-
tion of any kind. He never mentioned his
visit to my office in Havre throughout my
entire stay in Lindale and I was there for
a long time.

"As the schoolhouse was nearing com-
pletion, a woman came to see me. She



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

wanted me to build a small cottage for her.
I found that I could use some material I had
on hand, and after a little figuring, I told her
that the house, as she had planned it, would
cost her fifteen hundred dollars.

"'All right/ she said, 'but I can pay you
only seven hundred dollars now. As soon
as my husband's estate is settled, though, I
will pay you the rest. If that is satisfactory,
you may go ahead.'

"I went to the bank. They said that the
woman's finances were all right. So I built
the cottage. It was finished almost as soon
as the school building. When I turned the
cottage over to the woman, we went to the
bank together. She drew seven hundred
dollars in cash. As the man counted it out,
I noticed that the currency had never been
in use before. It was fresh, crisp, and new.
The bills had never been folded and the
banker tucked them into a large manilla
f 16 1



WAS CHET SMALLEY HONEST?

envelope. I stuck it into my inside coat
pocket and took the train for Havre
within ten minutes after we had left the
bank.

"You see, I was engaged to be married,
and my future wife was expecting me there
that afternoon. We were to dine early at
a favorite restaurant and then go out for
the evening. She met me at the station,
and we went directly to the restaurant as we
had planned.

"I had drawn some plans for a little house,
and I spread them upon the table. My
fiancee and I became engrossed in a change
she had proposed. It was the kitchen, of
course. ... It generally is the kitchen.
. . . And I was making notes that would
enable me to alter things to suit her, when the
waiter who was serving our table bent over
me and whispered :

"There's a man out there that wants to

[17]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

see you. He seems in a big hurry. What
shall I tell him?'

"Til go out and see him/ I said; and I
went.

"It was Chet Smalley.
"What did you want?' I asked, feeling
that the man intended to insist upon a com-
mission on the work I had done.

" Wanted to see ye, private, fer a minute
if ye kin git away/

'"I can't leave/ I told him. 'I have a
lady with me. I shall be here an hour, at
least/

"'All right/ he replied. Til meet ye next
door in an hour. I got to see ye. Will ye
be there?'

"'Yes/ I said, and hated myself for not
turning him down then and there.

"He went out, and I went back to my
dinner. When we had finished eating, I
excused myself and went into the saloon
F 18 1



WAS CHET SMALLEY HONEST?

which was next door, and found my man
waiting patiently.

"'What is it you want ?' I demanded.

'"Well, ye see, I come up from Lindale to
lay in some supplies an* I went a little
stronger than I thought. I've run out of
money. Won't ye let me hev two hundred
dollars till I git straightened out ?'

"His voice carried an appeal that got me,
somehow. Two hundred dollars was a pile
of money to me then, and I knew that the
man wasn't honest; but I was young, and
'no' was hard to say. I had the seven hun-
dred dollars in my pocket. We had walked
back to a card-table. The place was not
well lighted, and I drew the envelope from
my pocket with a quick look over my shoul-
der. Smalley saw the new, crisp bills. He,
too, looked over his shoulder apprehensively
and said in a whisper: 'Say, son, they all
know me here. Give me a check, can't ye ?



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

It would be different if I was a plumb
stranger.'

"Then I knew what was troubling him.
I would carry it on.

"'No/ I said. 'I have no bank account.
I can't give you a check. These bills are
dry and look fine,' and I rubbed one with a
finger and showed him that no color came off.

"'I know/ he whispered. 'But they all
know me. Can't ye - '

"'No.'

Well, I'm game. Count 'em out.'
I did. He took the money and went
away. I didn't see him for two months.

"One day I went to Lindale for a settle-
ment and I saw Chet. 'When ye' re through
talkin'/ he said, 'I want to see ye a minute.
Come over to Lem's place.'

'"All right, I will be over in ten minutes.'
I was curious to learn what Chet would
say.

[20]



'"



"



WAS CHET SMALLEY HONEST?

"I found him waiting for me. He led
me back to a small card-room and shut the
door. 'Set down/ he said, and chuckled.

"I sat down, and he produced a roll of
tattered bills from his pocket and counted
me out two hundred dollars in real, old, and
tried money. As he shoved it across to me,
he said: 'I'm a liar if those dubs in Havre
didn't take that money you give me without
battin' an eye. I jest paid 'em, an' they
took it like it was all right.'

"I didn't tell him that it was all right.
Somehow, I couldn't spoil the joke; so I
took my two hundred dollars and went back
to Havre, squared up.

"My wife and I were married soon after.
I had built the little home, too. One night
my wife wakened me. 'There's somebody
on the porch,' she said.

"'Go to sleep,' I told her. ' There's no-
body on the porch. You've been dreaming/

[ 21 ]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

"'I have not/ she persisted. 'Get up
and see who it is/

"I got up. When I went into the living-
room, I pressed the button at the switch for
the porch light. I was close to the door.
Tut that light out/ some one said in a cau-
tious voice.

"I put it out, and opened the door.

"In walked the hardest looker I have ever
seen. He handed me a note. It read :

DEAR -

This old timer is in trubbel. His rope was too
long an hes bin workin over some brands, rustle
him a good hoss sos he kin git acrost the line. Do
it quick and oblije



"I put the fellow out and told him to shift
for himself. When I went upstairs, I told the
whole story to my wife. I was worried.

"'When morning comes, you take the first

[22]



WAS CHET SMALLEY HONEST?

train for Lindale and tell that man Smalley
that it wasn't counterfeit money, or he'll get
us both into jail for something,' she said."



[23]



THE MEDICINE KEG

a bitter cold night in January, 1879,
Joe Bent stood before the fireplace in
the trading-post on the old Whoop-up trail,
and listened to the whistling of the wind.
He was worried, and his eyes were fixed on
the cheerful blaze before him as though he
expected counsel from its light.

Three hours before sundown thirty lodges
of Blackfeet had trailed into the little valley
and camped three miles from the post. Joe
had watched them coming before a threaten-
ing storm. It was even then spitting snow,
and the wind was shifting about to the point
where the northern blizzards await its call.
The coming storm had caused the squaws to
hurry the laden ponies over the frozen

[24]



THE MEDICINE KEG



ground; and for a mile the trail had been
crowded with loose ponies, pack-animals, and
travois. Joe's practised eyes had formed an
estimate of the prime robes the packs might
contain. But he was worried.

The Indians had camped in a grove of
cottonwoods. Order had come out of the
hurrying mass of people and ponies, and now
thirty lodges sent their smoke away on the
bitter wind.

The day was nearly done when Joe turned
back to the post after watching the coming
of the Blackfeet. Although he and his
partner had obtained the good will of both
them and the Crees, he wished that they
had not come. For his partner, Pete Le-
beau, a Canadian Frenchman, had gone to
Fort Benton. They had not expected the
Indians until a month later, and so the trip
had been agreed to.

The post was small and there was no stock-

[25]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

ade to protect it from attack. When trad-
ing was going on in the little store, which
was much like others of its day, one or the
other of the partners sat back of a partition
of logs in which a narrow loophole had been
cut, with a double-barrelled, sawed-off shot-
gun loaded with buckshot. From this van-
tage-point the gunman could sweep the room
if trouble started, and at the same time pro-
tect the goods and the man behind the
counter.

Most of the stock of goods was piled neatly
along the walls back of the partition. Be-
sides the lawful articles of trade, the room
contained a barrel of whiskey which had been
raised up well toward the roof, and from
which a small pipe led down through the
puncheon floor.

On the store side of the partition, and in
plain sight of customers, a cut from a fir
log served as a resting-place for a half-gallon



THE MEDICINE KEG



keg, which was securely fastened to the
rustic pedestal. The pedestal itself was
made fast to the floor, and none but the
partners knew that the pipe from the barrel
in the back room turned after passing through
the floor and from the under side reached up
through the cut of wood that so innocently
supported the tiny keg; so that, syphon-like,
the barrel continually fed the keg as a foun-
tain fills a cup. The plan was clever. No
one suspected that there was more whiskey
in the post than was contained in the tiny
keg in plain sight on the store side of the
partition.

Joe was making ready for trading by mov-
ing more of the stock back of the partition
and was spreading some bright blankets for
display, when Red Wolf and two other In-
dians opened the door and came in.

Joe invited them to smoke. Then he
lighted a candle, for it was growing dark,

[27]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

and filled four quart bottles from the keg
in the room. These he presented to the
Indians with the request that the fourth
bottle be given to the chief and the contents
of the others divided among the men of the
camp. Then he gave them some tobacco
and bade them good-night.

As he closed and barred the door he be-
came troubled, especially over his giving
them the liquor, and more than ever did he
wish he were not alone. The storm had
grown violent, and the night promised to be
a hard one for those who were unprepared.
After a time, in the firelight, his misgivings
faded and he began to smile at the blazing
logs and to heed the battle of the elements
outside. Snow was sifting through a loop-
hole, and he crossed the room to stop the
opening with a rag. Then he returned to
the fire. Smilingly he drew forth a blazing
brand and lit his pipe.

[28]



THE MEDICINE KEG



An hour later he turned in and from his
bed watched the flickering shadows dance
about the whiskey-keg like drunken demons.
The logs in the walls cracked and popped as
the frost pierced them to the very heart;
and once when the wind was low, he heard
a gray wolf howl near the door. When the
fire had burned down, Joe pulled the blanket
tight about him and turned over to sleep.

In a painted skin lodge three miles away
Red Wolf sat near his fire. About him his
family slept peacefully, for the creaking of
the straining lodge-poles disturbed them not.
Snow, driven by the wind, rattled against
the great lodge like handfuls of shot against
a pine board, but the Indian did not hear,
for he was absorbed in other things. Before
him, in the firelight, were two camp kettles,
one empty and the other full of water. The
empty kettle was of the half-gallon variety.

[29]



ON A PASSING FRONTIER

Carefully Red Wolf filled a quart bottle
with the water and then poured its contents
into the small empty kettle, being extremely
careful not to spill a drop. Once more he
filled the bottle and again emptied it into the
half-gallon kettle, which was now almost full
so full that less than half a bottle of
water would have overflowed the vessel.
Then he, too, filled his pipe, and in a very
thoughtful mood, drew forth a blazing brand
from the lodge fire and lit the tobacco and
red-willow bark. Many times he had made
the experiment, and he was thinking now of
the little keg at the trading-post. Yes, two
bottles was all the keg should hold; and Red
Wolf had seen four quart bottles filled from
the keg in ten minutes. Unless he was mis-
taken, the one at the post was a "medicine
keg," a "magical keg/* and could never be
emptied. But when the morning came, he
would find out he would see. After his

[30]



THE MEDICINE KEG



pipe was finished, like the trader, Red Wolf
slept.

When Joe awoke the wind was still.
Down through the adobe chimney the day-
light fell upon the dead ashes in the great
fireplace, and the ventilators admitted addi-
tional proof that the night had passed. He
built a fire and while the blaze grew in
strength, unbarred and opened wide the
door. The snow was drifted about the post,
and not far from the door he saw the tracks


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