Frank Bird Linderman.

On a passing frontier; sketches from the Northwest online

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I'll trade even. I'm polishing and cleaning
that weapon from morning till night.'

"'Even!' Say! I changed guns and
scabbards so quick I got the new one on my
belt wrong side to. My brother put the
meat in a frying-pan, and I turned toward
the door.

"There was an old tomato can setting
about thirty yards from the cabin, and I
thought: Til just try my beauty.' I was
standing in the doorway when I pulled down
on the can.




"If it hadn't been for the top of the door-
jamb stopping that gun it would have rared
back far enough to split my scalp. Roar!
Say ! my ears were ringing like church bells
in town on Sunday and I'd never touched
the scenery, let alone the can.

"I looked at the gun. One side of the
shiny cylinder was all smoky. I tried to
cock the thing. It was stuck. Then I saw a
shaving of lead as thick as a slice of bacon
wedged in between the cylinder and the
barrel. They wouldn't track simply didn't
line up, and the bullets had to turn a corner
to get out. Every bullet that ever left
that gun would be a cripple, an' nothing else
would be in danger except the man that
pulled the trigger. I was stuck good and
plenty, but I didn't whisper. I poked the
fool thing into the scabbard and went back
to where my brother was frying the meat.
He was grinning. Maybe he was laughing
aloud, but I couldn't hear him not yet.



"We had dinner, but he didn't mention
the trade. Neither did I, but said 'antiose*
pretty quick, and drifted.

"In the Gap I saw a rider coming. It was
Bill Deaton. I got the sun to cutting
capers on that mother-of-pearl before I got
close up, and he says, 'Hello, Kid. God!
that's some barker ye got there. Let's see

"I handed it out.

"Say! She's fancy. Where'd you get

"I thought if my brother's yarn was strong
enough to hook me it might tangle Bill, so
I said: 'Oh, sent back to the States for it a
month ago.'

"'Pretty as a white-faced heifer,* he said,
as he balanced my gun in his hand. 'That
butt would make jewelry, wouldn't it, Kid
jewelry for a lady, by God.'

"Sure would,' I said, but didn't tell him
that 'twas all it was good for.


"'How'll ye trade, Kid?'

"'Oh, I don't know. What you got?'
I asked, and began to roll a cigarette. I
didn't have any meat to cut, so I made a
smoke to show I wasn't overly interested.

"'This,' he answered, handing out that
gun you were looking at. It was new then,
and as good as they made them.

"'Oh, if you're dead stuck on that gun of
mine,' I said, Til trade even up. I'm tired
of rubbing her up and polishing her.' That
was, as near as I could remember, what my
brother had said while he cut the meat.

"He snapped at the proposition as a trout
grabs a fly. I rode on, and I didn't ride slow
either. I was afraid Bill might change his
mind. I'd drifted down into a coulee when
I heard Bow ! Bill was trying his new gun.
I used my spurs, and that cayuse was just
touching the landscape in spots when I got
into camp.


"I didn't see Bill till the fall roundup.
He'd been in camp a week, but he had never
mentioned the trade. Neither had I. One
night around the fire my curiosity got the
upper hand and I asked: 'What did you ever
do with that gun I traded you, Bill ? J

"Just what you did, you crook,' he said,
as he tossed his cigarette into the fire 'jest
what you did; an' I'm hidin' out ever since.'

"'Ever shoot it?' I asked.

"'Once,' he said, 'jest once. She knocked
both me an' the pony down. That gun must
have come as a prize with bakin' sody."



r^WO horsemen met just over the Cana-
" dian line north of Cut bank, Mon-
tana, in May, 1886. One of them wore the
uniform of an officer in the Northwest
Mounted Police. The other was a plains-
man from this side.

'Til tell ye what I'll do, Cap. I'll cut
it up with ye. Leave the trail open, an*
every time I git through with a pack I'll
divide. I'll be on the square with ye, an*
all I ask is that ye leave that there trail
open; my trail, I mean. I'll take my
chances with the rest of the police in other
places. You can give me the word any
time, an* we'll quit. Then, agin, if any-
thing turns up that means trouble, jest give
me a hunch, an' I'll git understand?"


It was the plainsman speaking. His name
was Jim Dodds. He extended his hand to
the man in uniform. "Is it a go?" he

The officer looked warily about. "You
will never use my name ? No matter what
may happen?"

"Never! They kin skin me alive an* I'll
never squawk, Cap never. I'll call on ye
every time on my way out an* divide even
up. I ain't got no pardner. I'm dealin'
this game alone."

"Very good, then. There's my hand on
it," said the officer. Then they parted, rid-
ing in opposite directions.

Whiskey was being smuggled into the
Northwest Territory by men who had been
buffalo hunters or trappers on the Montana
plains, and the game, spiced by danger as
it was, beckoned the most reckless among



Jim Dodds had been a keen hunter. But
the buffalo herds had dwindled, and he was
quick to adopt this new and exciting way of
earning a livelihood. The country was wild
and unsettled. There were cow ranches,
but always long distances apart; and cow
men cared nothing for what was "none of
their business." So Jim crossed and re-
crossed the Canadian line five times without
meeting obstacles.

Each time he called to pay his respects
and to "report" to the officer on his way
back to Montana. But there are wheels
within wheels. Somebody had grown sus-
picious of Jim's comings and goings. The
innocent one communicated his surmises to
the officer, never suspecting that there was
an understanding between him and the
suspected Jim.

"Very good," he told the suspicious one,
"very good. I shall arrest him the next


time he calls or make him explain his


The winter had come and with it the bitter
cold of the northwest plains. But weather
did not deter Jim from plying his trade. He
set out for the Canadian line with a pack-
horse loaded down with kegs, well hidden
beneath blankets and pack mantle. He had
never been careless. On every trip he had
assured himself that there were no Mounted
Police at the point where he crossed the line.
There were none this time.

Once within Canada Jim felt reasonably
safe, for a pack-horse was not a suspicious
thing. So he journeyed along the ways of
other men, and meeting citizens or police
greeted them all alike with a pleasant
"howdy." He was happy, and his mood was
a pass along every road, for how could such
a jolly fellow be bent upon a crooked errand ?

When at last he had reached his ready


customer and had disposed of his goods he
began the return trip, going by way of the
post whereat his silent partner awaited him.
Jim was happy with the thought of the divi-
sion of spoils. "It'll shore surprise him this
time. That was some load, that one."
And he chuckled. He had sold the pack-
horse with the whiskey. It saved explana-
tions, and, besides, he could travel faster.

The snow was not more than three inches
deep over the frozen ground, but the ther-
mometer stood at twenty degrees below
zero when he rode into the post of the
Mounted Police. The officer, himself, was
standing in the door of his quarters as Jim
rode up. He had seen him coming. A half
dozen of his command had seen the horse-
man also, and were waiting for him.

"Hello, Cap," greeted Jim. "Some cold
to-day, ain't it?" He prepared to dis-
mount, but the officer said:


"Til have to arrest you, Jim."

The plainsman straightened in his saddle.
One look at the man and Jim knew that
something was wrong. It was the "hunch"
he had asked for in case of trouble.

Instantly his spurs were against the sides
of his horse, and the animal dashed away.

"Halt! Halt!" Bang!

Jim fell from his saddle. The officer had
shot him.

They carried him to a cot in the hospital
on the second floor of a log building, and
there they laid him down, conscious, but
badly wounded. The .45 calibre bullet had
gone through the cantle of his saddle and
then through his hip, carrying a bit of leather
with it. The shock of the bullet had brought
a numbness that was merciful, for the sur-
geon was twenty miles away. The room
began to sway dizzily, and then but he
shut his eyes tight and gritted his teeth.


There was no one in the room. He tried
to think.

What did they know ? What would they
do to him now? How could they have
found him out unless yes, his friend must
have weakened, must have given him up.
"If he has," he sighed, "it's Stony Moun-
tain for me." The thought made him open
his eyes.

The daylight was fading. The yellow sun-
light came through the wide window a
sliding window and fell upon the hewn log
wall. The fire in the stove at the far end
of the room crackled into life. Then a
horse whinnied outside under the wide win-
dow. Jim knew that whinny! He crept
from his cot and dragged himself to the cas-
ing. He raised himself painfully to look
out. Some one was talking in the room

"Well, we have him safe enough," a voice



said. "He will go to Stony Mountain if
he lives."

It was the voice of his friend, and hate
surged through him as he listened. He
shoved the window cautiously aside. A long,
peeled pole was leaning against the building.
He whistled, and a horse came around the
corner of the hospital. It was Bits, his own
wonderful horse.

Jim crawled through the window and slid
down the pole to the ground. Somehow
he managed to mount the horse. He had
no saddle nor bridle nor rope, but twisting
his fingers into Bits' mane, Jim Dodds rode
away up the St. Mary's River in the dead
of winter, wounded, as I have told you, and
on a naked horse.



THE stage stopped at a cow ranch far
from other human habitation. The
driver, after spending some time in pawing
over the contents of the front boot, threw an
apparently empty mail-sack to the ground
before the cabin. Then, gathering up the
reins, he expectorated violently, for he was
chewing tobacco.

"Wolftail ! pardner. Here's where you
git off," he called, leaning slightly from his
high perch on the Concord coach.

A young man got out. He carried a suit-
case, and his tan buttoned shoes and derby
hat fairly screamed "tenderfoot" to the
silence about him for the coach had gone
its way in a cloud of dust.

The sun was high and hot. The desert-



like plains had been baked until they had
cracked. The range was drying up. The
water-holes were empty now, and as far as
the stranger could see there was not a single
living thing in sight.

He knocked on the door. There was no
answer. Then he tried the knob, and the
door opened, for it was unlocked. The
coolness of the cabin invited him, and he
entered with an air of proprietorship.
"Whew !" he said, and setting down his suit-
case, he mopped his face with a linen hand-

It was cool in the cabin, for the thick dirt
roof was a warrant against the sun. A lone
bald-faced hornet, worn out and battered,
was crawling laboriously up a grimy window-
pane, only to fall back and begin the ascent

Besides the stranger, a cat had availed
herself of the cabin's shelter, and being



awakened, stretched herself listlessly, and
then, noting something disappointing about
the visitor, crawled away under the bunk
in the corner, where from the darkness she
gazed at the disturber, her eyes glistening
green displeasure.

"Kitty, kitty, kitty," called our friend,
invitingly. But the cat would have none of
him. So he looked about.

"Guns, guns, guns," he murmured as he
surveyed the rack upon which hung an as-
sortment of rifles. There was a colored like-
ness of Abraham Lincoln and another of
Washington at Monmouth. Besides, there
was a calendar, and a soap-box that had been
nailed to the cabin wall. These furnished
the decorations all of them. The owner's
brand had been liberally burned on the door;
but this had been done on the outside, so the
marks could hardly be included in the decora-
tions within.



The stranger finally sat down and lit a
cigarette. "I'll have something to say to
Mr. Man when he returns," he mused.
"Nice, isn't it ? Oh, very nice, indeed, but
he will find that I "

His musing was suddenly interrupted.
A cayuse had stopped at the open door, and
the roll of the bit in the horse's mouth was
an unfamiliar sound to our friend. He
watched a man dismount and stoop to pick
up the mail-sack, drawing it toward him,
while the cayuse backed away with a fright-
ened snort. "Strange," he thought, when
the horse, trailing his loose bridle-reins,
stopped as he felt their trifling weight.

The rider began to whistle absently as he
entered the cabin with the mail-sack. He
crossed the floor to the table near the window,
secured a key, and unlocked the sack. Then
he emptied its contents carelessly upon the
table. There were five letters and two



wrapped papers. One of the papers, bound-
ing about among the dishes there, upset the
sugar-bowl before it landed on the floor.
The man swore under his breath. Then
he scooped the sugar into a pile with his
hand and, holding the sugar-bowl near the
edge of the table, scraped the spilled sweet-
ness back into its rightful place. This done,
he stooped to recover the refractory paper
and saw the visitor.

"Howdy, stranger," he greeted.

"How are you, sir? Are you the post-

"Hell, no. I live down on the river.
Circle-dot's my iron. I was just lookin* to
see if there was anything fer me, but there
ain't." He gathered up the letters and pa-
pers, and crossing the room to the soap-box,
he laid them in it. Then he took up a dozen
or more letters that had been in the box and
ran them through, slowly, making sure of



every name upon the much-handled en-

Selecting three or four letters and a paper,
he tucked them into his pocket. "I see
there's mail for some of the SY outfit, an'
Fm ridin' that way so I'll take it along.
Say, what's in yer cigarette that makes it
stink that a-way ?"

"It's a Turkish cigarette, sir."

"Bet it is, all right. Smells like a mocca-
sin afire. Antiose"

He rode away. The young man got out a
notebook and in it made some entries. "Oh,
this will be spicy," he murmured, "and com-
ing in upon him unexpectedly, I'll learn
much." Then he selected another cigarette
from a golden case and lighted it.

The sun had settled well toward the hori-
zon when another rider came to the cabin.
He breezed in good-humoredly, sensing com-
pany, no doubt.



"Howdy," he said. "And who might
you be, stranger ? Hungry ?"

"Are you the postmaster?" asked the
young man severely, ignoring the polite


"Well, sir, I am a United States Inspector
of post-offices, and "

"The hell you be!"

"Yes, sir, and I shall have to report the
grossest carelessness on your part to the
department. Their "

"You will!"

The man stuffed the mail-sack into the
soap-box and wrenched the box from the wall.

"I'll jest make it worth yer while to add
to yer report, son. They ain't never heard
from me. Tell 'em I said to go to hell.
There's yer damn post-office ! Go git it !"

And he threw the box out of the door.



THERE are uncounted beauty spots in
Montana and among them the Little
Rocky Range is not the least. Rising sud-
denly from the level plain that was the cow-
man's paradise, the beautiful timbered moun-
tains stretch away for some twenty-five
miles, and then inhere are they? Gone.
Real mountains, too, with deep-cut canyons
and tinted cliffs; with snowy peaks in the
early fall and gold mines that are within
sight of old cow ranches, and even an Indian
reservation. In short, the old West is there,
all there or was. And there, too, nature
and circumstance have combined to prove
that contrast is the best teacher of apprecia-
tion; for in no other place are there greater
differences in mountains, meadows, or men.
In the Little Rockies are two towns,
[8f ]


Landusky and Zortman. Landusky, even
now, is seventy-five miles from a railroad.
In the earlier days it was not only a cow-
town but, because of the gold mines in the
Little Rockies, Landusky was also a mining-
camp. This combination of industries, es-
pecially because of the country's remoteness,
was a bid for the wild in life. The town was
named from Old Pike Landusky, an early
settler, and Pike was killed by Kid Curry,
the notorious outlaw who lived near by at
the time. The Kid killed Pike in the latter's
saloon, and "thereby hangs a tale" an-
other tale, altogether.

The old town was tough, but no tougher
than Jew Jake who lived in it and ran a
saloon. Jake was a cripple. He had been
shot in a fight in Great Falls. The bullet
smashed his knee, and from that time on
Jew Jake stumped about his place of business
using a Winchester rifle as a crutch.



Mrs. Jake frequented the place at times.
Her makeup was in perfect keeping with her
man's position in life, and her affections were
shared between Jake and her dog. The dog
was an undershot Boston terrier with a
cigarette voice and ears like tablespoons.
His tail was abbreviated and bent, with a
withering twist at the end, which was but
three inches from where it began to be a

Besides the Mrs. and the dog, there was a
horse that belonged to Jew Jake's band of
pets, and Jake loved the horse as much as
the Mrs. loved the terrier. Some were un-
kind enough to say that he thought more of
Monte than he did of Blanche, and Blanche
was the Mrs., at that. Anyhow, no one
ever stole Blanche, but one night a man stole
Monte; and Jew Jake went to war.

Monte was a strawberry roan, high-strung,
and a regular "town horse." He had been


stolen from the Flathead Indians, and Jake
had won him at the poker table from a cow-
puncher of well-known "rustling" proclivi-
ties. Jake had taught him tricks, and he
was as cunning as a faro-dealer. He was
the best "rope horse" in that section, and
his rider always got the money in a roping
and tying contest.

But Monte was gone. It was Mrs. Jake
who made the discovery and brought the
news to the saloon where Jake was dealing

Jew Jake laid his cards upon the table.
His eyes took on the light of murder as they
swept those about it. "I want that hoss
back," he said in a low voice. "The game's
out. Cash in."

He had caught no guilty glance among the
men there, but he would take steps to make
it hard for the thief to get away.

"Bill, go down to the agency and tell the


breeds and Injins to watch fer Monte. Tell
the Circle C outfit, too. An', Tom, let me
have yer hoss a spell. Dick, tend bar/'

Then he stumped out of the place and
mounted a pony, riding not toward the
plain, but up the gulch.

"He's playin' a hunch," said Pete Sharp.
"I don't savvy how any man expects to git
away with a hoss as well known in these
parts as Monte is."

For two hours Jew Jake followed the trail
that led back into the mountains. Then he
turned in an easterly direction, picking his
way over the rough country until he had
gained a high ridge that commanded a view
of some open places below. Here he got
down from his horse and, hopping on one foot
in order to keep his Winchester's muzzle out
of the dirt, he selected an advantageous spot
and lay down.

Below him was a cabin in a little grove of


fir trees, and near by it were two waste-
dumps. The dirt in the dumps had been
hoisted from two shallow shafts that had
been sunk on a wildcat vein by Tom Baker,
years before. At times the cabin had been
the hangout of shady characters, and Jew
Jake likely knew who occupied it now.

Not a soul was stirring. No smoke was
coming from the chimney; but the man on
the hilltop lay motionless waiting.

It was October, and the days were not long.
The sun had gone below the mountain-tops
when he heard a horse whinny down near
the cabin. Then two men came up the
trail. They were talking excitedly. He could
tell that from the gestures they made. They
stopped near the cabin door and continued
their argument. The light was fading rap-
idly when one of the men went into the
cabin. He reappeared immediately, leading
a horse. It was Monte. Jake knew him


even at that distance and in the dusk. He
fired. The man, not the one that led the
horse, but the other fellow, fell. Jake tried
to get another shot but couldn't. He hopped
to where he had left his saddle-horse, but
he was gone.

In a few minutes more it was dark, and
he was afoot. The horse might have been
gone for hours, but he had been so intent
in watching the cabin that he had not heard
him move. Not being able to see to shoot
in the darkness, he turned his Winchester
to its commoner use as a crutch and stumped
down the mountain. It was daylight when
he got back to Landusky.

At noon he went again to the scene of the
shooting, this time with several men. There
was not a sign of the horse. The men had
gone, of course, but there was blood on the
spot where Jake had said the man fell not
much, but enough to verify his story.


They searched the hills. Men rode over
every foot of ground within ten miles of the
place, and they were men who could trail
a horse, too. But not a track could they find.
They examined the dumps near the cabin and
peered into the shafts. One shaft had caved
and the caving had been recent. This was
all they found to pay for their trouble a
newly caved shaft on an abandoned mining

Jake offered a reward for Monte, and every
one was on the lookout for him. But five
days went by. Then a Frenchman came
into Jake's place in Landusky.

"I'm 'unt de deer, me," he said, "back hon
de 'ill. Pretty soon hl'm 'ear de magpie.
Plantee magpie, hl'm leesen 'ard. I'm say,
' Bar gar ! mus' be som-e-ting is dead, mebby.
hl'm goin' down dere,' an' me, hl'm findin'
in' dis wan piece 'orse 'ide. Wat you tink
dat, hey ?" The man produced a willow hoop
[ 88 1


inside of which he had sewn a patch of roan-
colored horsehide with the brand OM upon it.

It was Monte's brand. Jake was frantic.

But where was the horse ? " 'E's dead, dat
Monte 'orse. Somebody's keel it Monte.
Magpie is fightin' ovair dis wan piece ees
skeen," said the Frenchman as he poured
himself a drink. "No saree, dere is no 'orse
dere. Jist dees wan piece 'ide, de sam' lak
hl'm tellin' to you, me."

"I've got it, Jake !" cried the Mrs. "Mon-
te's in that old caved shaft !"

And he was. They'd got scared, you see,
and shot the horse. Then they had cut off
his brand, rolled him in, and blasted the
shaft to cover the carcass. They figured
that if the horse were ever found, no one
would be able to prove the property without
the brand.




E'LL sing The Cowboy," said Shorty.
"Now, all together, boys."

"I wash in a pool and wipe on a sack;
I carry my wardrobe all on my back;
For want of an oven I bake in a pot,
And sleep on the ground for want of a cot.

My ceiling's the sky, my floor is the grass,
My music's the lowing of herds as they pass;
My books are the brooks, my sermons the stones,
My parson's a wolf on his pulpit of bones."

"Whoa !" cried the leader. "Whoa !"
The singing ceased. A stranger had en-
tered. He was a bearded man. Slouching
up to the bar, he bought himself a drink.

"Well, if that ain't the lowest-down job
I ever see a white man do, I'm an Injin.
Thought shore he'd treat," said Shorty, in a
stage whisper. "Another verse, boys. Here
we go!"



"If my chin was hairy, I'd pass for the goat
That bore all the sins of ages remote;
But why they shun the puncher I can't under-

For each of the patriarchs owned a big brand.
Abraham emigrated in search of a range,
When water got scarce he wanted a change;
Old Isaac owned cattle in charge of Esau,
And Jacob punched cows for his brother-in-

" Bully ! " cried Shorty. " Bully ! Set 'em
up, barkeeper, set 'em up. Won't ye hev

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Online LibraryFrank Bird LindermanOn a passing frontier; sketches from the Northwest → online text (page 3 of 8)