Frank Bird Linderman.

On a passing frontier; sketches from the Northwest online

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"TTIDDEN in most folks, if not in all,
* -* there is a sentiment for religion,
because all men are naturally religious,"
said the Major. "You don't believe it?
Well, they are, and the tendency has been a
curse as well as a blessing, for designing
prophets have led them over crooked trails.
And yet well, let me tell you of an old fel-
low I used to know.

"Uncle Billy we called him then, and
Uncle Billy will do now. He was an old
prospector and miner who came to Montana
in the early sixties. When I knew him he
was working a little gold lead in Madison
county the 'Camp-Robber,' he called it.
The vein was small, but the 'pay' was gold
and it was 'free' in the ore. So the old fel-
low worked it through an arastra, the crud-

[121 ]


est, and at the same time the surest way of
saving gold yet discovered, I reckon.

"Uncle Billy was a bachelor, of course,
and I used to visit him often. He was a
keen-minded old man and neat as a pin.
He had lived alone most of his life and was
somewhat of a crank because he had. Most
of them are, you know. But I surprised
my friend one Sunday morning.

"I was near to the camp when the great
beauty of the day halted me in the little
clearing near Uncle Billy's cabin. The sun
was rising over the big peak on the far side
of the gulch, and his rays, like messengers,
sped on down the rough mountain-side to
wake the flowers and crawling things and
warn them of his coming. A yellowhammer
drummed on the dead top of a pine away in
the wilds, where, high up in the golden light
that glinted on his bright wing-feathers, his
call woke the choirs in the thickets below.



And even as the bird-song grew in volume
I felt ever more keenly the silence of the great
open country.

"Uncle Billy, standing on a mossy mound
where the bluebells grew in clusters, was
watching the sun rise, and so absorbed was
he that for long I did not speak. Erect, with
arms folded, bare-headed, and silent, the
old man stood until the flood-light fell full
upon him; when he murmured 'Amen/

"I was startled, but he turned slowly, and
without showing the least surprise, said:
'Good mornin', friend. Ye're early. Sit
down and we'll have a smoke.'

"Without further speech he began cutting
tobacco for his pipe, which he filled and
lighted. Then as a wreath of the fragrant
mist floated past me he said:

"I had an Injin pardner once, an' after
he had gone his way all of a sudden it came
to me that he was right in a heap of things.


I used to watch that Injin because he was a
good man; and from him I learned some
queer things that seemed to fit into my own
life so I adopted 'em.

"'First of all I noticed that every beauty
spot in nature was a shrine to him. He
didn't tell me so, but I saw it and felt it.
Before a brilliant sunset or a noisy waterfall
he'd stand in silent admiration; an' I learned,
after a while, that in each case he offered up
his prayer to The Great Mystery. He had
but one prayer, an' he told me that one:
Let my children all grow old. That was all,
an' it was never varied. It made me
ashamed of myself an' my race. Once he
told me that the birds were little people,
an' after I'd learned to look an' listen, my-
self, I noticed that they had each just one
sure-enough song, an' some of 'em only a
single note. Then I thought of his only


" ' I could talk to you for an hour about
things I learned from that Injin. But he
was an unwilling teacher, because he seemed
to think that all live things believe an* think
just as he did. Once I asked him: "Who is
God ?" an' he replied: "The sun, the earth,
the flowers, the birds, the big trees, the peo-
ple, the fire, an' the water is God. Some-
times they speak to me, an' I'm glad in my
heart. Big trees speak the loudest to me.
Others hear other things best."

" ' He seemed surprised at my question
seemed to think I must be jokin' him. But
I'm mighty glad he answered as he did, for
it blazed a new trail for me. I feel better
toward my fellows an' I only pray for peace.
It took a long, long time, but now I know

"'"The redman dares an only prayer;

One perfume has the rose;
When mornin* dawns, the robin sings
The only song he knows.



The silent are the giant things
That make the temple grand

Amid a peace that nature meant
All men should understand."'"

[ 126]


" T THINK Major Reno was a coward,"

-* said Dick Mosby at the conclusion of
a discussion of the Custer fight on the Little
Big Horn.

"Maybe he was," said the Doctor. "But
a man cannot help it if he is born a coward.
Men are brave because nature made them to
be not afraid. It must be harder to be a
coward than to be a brave man, especially
among other brave men. And, of course,
there are degrees of bravery. Some men
are brave to rashness. General Custer was
brave. Some say he was rash in his

"What was the bravest deed you ever
witnessed, Doctor ? " asked Dick.

"I shall not have to search my memory,"

[ 127]


replied the Doctor. "I have never for-
gotten. It was on September 13, 1890.
Hugh Boyle had been killed by Head Chief
and Young Mule, Cheyennes. Trouble had
followed the killing, and the Indians had ad-
mitted their guilt. They had offered to give
up their ponies and all of their worldly goods
to square the account, but of course the
authorities would not listen. They de-
manded the surrender of Head Chief and
Young Mule. They were to be tried and
hanged if found guilty; and as the Indians
had freely admitted the killing their execu-
tion was a certainty, if they gave themselves

"The Cheyennes believe that when a man
dies his spirit leaves the body with the last
breath of life. They say that the rope of
the hangman does not permit the spirit to
escape; that neither breath nor spirit can
get past the rope. If the breath could pass,

[ 128]


they argue, the man would not die. But
as it cannot the soul must remain in the
body. This, of course, prevents a hanged
man from living in the Shadow Hills with
his people who have passed. The hangman's
rope has a deep terror for the red man be-
cause of this belief; and Head Chief and
Young Mule refused to be hanged.

"The whole tribe agreed with them. The
Cheyennes offered their all to save them.
They would beggar themselves rather than
have the spirits of the braves remain forever
in their dead bodies. Runners were sent to
offer every pony and every trinket to ap-
pease the demands of the white people.
The Indians did not want battle, they said,
but they would not consent to the hanging.
They could not understand that property
value would not pay for human life that had
been taken.

"Matters were in a bad way, and the

1 129]


agent had sent for soldiers. A troop of the
first cavalry had been sent to Lame Deer.
I was on my way there on the night of the
twelfth. A half-breed Cheyenne was with
me. His name was Pete. We were driv-
ing in a buckboard from Forsyth to the
agency, having started early in the after-

"Not far from Ashland we heard the war-
drums beating, and Pete pulled the team
down to a walk. 'By gar,' he said. 'Meb-
by she's mad now, dem Cheyenne. She's
dance it war now.'

"The camp was near the road. I decided
to go on. We drew near the fire and stopped
the team. In the firelight two warriors were
dancing to the beating drums and the voices
of singers.

" 'See what's going on, Pete,' I said, and
took the reins.

"The half-breed went to the camp. I
[ 130]


saw him enter the crowd about the dancers,
and then I lost sight of him. The dance
was wild. The Indians had all gathered;
and while I waited I saw two more braves
strip and commence to dance with the
others. The singing increased in volume.
The drums sounded louder, and the beating
was faster. I was beginning to be worried,
when I saw Pete coming. He was not alone.
The chief was with him, and he was in no
mood for chatting, either. He spoke to me
and then to Pete, who repeated his words in

"Young Mule and Head Chief were going
to die, he said. Word had been sent to
Lame Deer that they would come in when
morning came. They would not be hanged
but would fight the soldiers until they died.
I offered my hand to the chief but he re-
fused it, and we drove away.

"'She's mad, de chief/ said Pete. 'Don't
[131 1


like it for soldiers comin'. Better soldiers
ain't comin', mebby.'

"'Maybe/ I said. But I was mighty glad
they had come.

"We got to Lame Deer and found every-
one awake and making ready for the Chey-
ennes. Many believed that a battle be-
tween the soldiers and the tribe was inevita-
ble. I was somewhat afraid that it was,
myself, because of the dance and the par-
ticipation of others besides Head Chief and
Young Mule.

"But morning broke calm and beautiful
and quiet. At seven o'clock Indians began
to appear on the hilltops. Men, women,
and children decked out in Cheyenne finery
sat upon every point within sight of the
agency. The bugle sounded. The troop
of cavalry formed in line of battle. The
women and children of Lame Deer left the
place for the hills near by. The Indian police
[ 132 ]


came out and took their position with the
soldiers. The stage was set. The amphi-
theatre was filled. Overhead the blue sky
was without a cloud. And we waited. A
fuzzy little yellow dog came out of the agency
and trotted leisurely along in front of the
soldiers. A cavalry horse nipped him on the
back and he ran yelping down the road
toward Ashland.

"Then a war-whoop drowned the dog's
cries. I turned and saw two warriors come
dashing down the hill toward the soldiers
their beautiful war-bonnets trembling in
the wind. Superbly mounted and riding
like devils, they charged straight at the
cavalry. Bang ! A cavalry horse fell dead.
Then there was a volley of shots; and Young
Mule was down. His riderless horse whirled
and left him not sixty yards from the foe.

"At fifty yards Head Chief turned his
mount and rode along the line of cavalry-

[ 133 ]


men, firing at them as he went. A soldier
fell. A hundred bullets sought a mark in
the Cheyenne; but he rode out of range,
unharmed. Then again he turned his horse
and rode back back in the face of a troop
of cavalry and the Indian police back, I
tell you, singing his death-song and banging
away at the soldiers with his Henry rifle. A
hail of bullets greeted him as he came, but
he rode on singing and shooting to the very
end of the line, untouched ! With a yell of
defiance he wheeled to come again; and met
a dozen bullets. His horse, too, was killed.

"From off the hills where they had
watched, the Cheyennes came for their dead.
And chanting the tribal death-song to Head
Chief and Young Mule, now safe in the
Shadow Hills, they bore their bodies away.

"I believe a sneeze would have started a
fight then. I was glad when they had gone."


THE wind howled over the treeless
stretches and when the sun went down
snow-flurries pattered against the dirty panes
of glass in the windows of the Marks and
Brands saloon, sticking to the dingy corners
of the sash and curling in little swirls on the
boardwalk in front of the place. The small
sign of a doctor swung in the gale with un-
earthly creaks and groans from the corner
of a building near by, and lent lonesomeness
to the deserted thoroughfare that fronted the
right-of-way of the young Great Northern
Railway. Dim yellow patches of light told
the whereabouts of other places of business
along the town's only street, and down near
the river, dark and forbidding with its pile
of wagon-wreckage and worn-out horseshoes,


stood the Pioneer Blacksmith Shop. The
light from the windows of Joe's Place fell
full upon an open door of the shop and il-
luminated an array of cattle brands that had
been burned upon it as proof of the crafti-
ness of hand of Bill Hardesty, the black-
smith, who was dozing in a rickety chair in
the saloon next to his place of business.

A pot-bellied stove, stuffed with soft coal,
stood a little back of the centre of Joe's
Place, and just outside the ring of light cast
by a tin-shaded hanging lamp. Its puffy
sides, reddened in spots, glowed in the gloom
that was made deeper by the ring of light,
and seemed to strain themselves in an at-
tempt to give the comfort of heat to its
owner's patrons.

Grouped about a round table, several men
were intent in watching a game of stud-
poker, evincing every whit as much mystery
concerning the hole-card of the player near-

[ 136 ]


est them as the interested one himself. A
thin, blue, undulating cloud of tobacco smoke,
with one quivering end bending downward
in an effort to make connection with the
draught of the stove, hung above the heads
of the group, and almost hid a sign on the
wall that warned "If You Cant Pay, Dont

The town drunkard, ragged, red-eyed, and
obliging, leaned against the bar with one
shabby foot upon the rail before it, ready,
nay anxious, to applaud the witticisms of
Joe, the proprietor, or to fawn upon any who
might loosen to buy, and at intervals sur-
veyed himself in the fly-specked mirror
back of the bar. Now and then he read-
justed his hat, cocking it on the side of his
tousled head, only to disapprove of its effect
and change it to a new and different angle.

Joe, himself, fat to wheeziness, mopped
the bar of the moisture left by the last round



of drinks, and resting his dimpled elbows
upon it, turned his attention to the poker
game. A cuckoo-clock fluttered, a tiny door
flew open, a wooden bird appeared; ding
cuck oooo, sounded the bell and the bird
in the reek of the room. Joe glanced at the
wooden hands upon the wooden dial.
"Eight-thirty," he said. "Number One's
late, as usual." And the town drunkard
laughed heartily.

"Expectin' somebody, Joe?" asked Pete

"Nope just noticed she was more'n an
hour late, an' I wanted to get a paper ofF'n
her that's all."

"It's a long time between, Joe. Fetch
us somethin'," said Pete.

"What'll it be, boys ?" asked Joe, bending
a glance at the poker players.

"The same all 'round," said Pete. And
Joe served them with whiskey.


"Give the Mascot a drink, too, Joe," said
Pete, "an* have somethin' yerself."

Returning to the bar with the empty
glasses, Joe set the whiskey bottle upon it
for the town drunkard, who, filling a glass to
the brim, turned, and with shaky hand that
slopped the liquor, held it toward his bene-
factor a moment, then gulped its contents
with a grimace. "Boooh!" he said, with a
shake of his head . " Booohhh ! "

"He jest natcherly hates that stuff, Pete,"
said Joe, sarcastically, as he wiped the bottle
with his hand.

"Yep," said Pete, as he slyly peeked at
the very corner of his hole-card, "yep, he
shure does. He takes it for his wife's chil-
blains. Ante, Tom, an* pass the buck."

A whistle sounded above the shriek of the
gale. "There she comes, at last," said Joe.

"Gimme a drink an* I'll go git you a paper
ofFn her," said the town drunkard.
[ 139 ]


"Get the paper first an* then have yer
drink," said Joe, the child of experience, and
the blear-eyed Mascot of Joe's Place sprang
for the door. A gust of wind that made
the hanging lamp flicker and swing dizzily
screamed its defiance in the doorway, but
grabbing his hat, the Mascot pushed his
way into the night. The door shut with a
crash, and the baffled gale shook it in im-
potent protest. "God!" said Joe, "I'd
hate to be out in that. It's a blizzard, an 5
a good one." He crossed to the stove, and
taking the coal scuttle, emptied its contents
into the roaring flames. A jagged chunk
that refused to enter the stove's door car-
omed about between the nose of the scuttle
and the opening, then fell with a bang at
the feet of the slumbering blacksmith, and a
puff of black smoke shot from the overfed
fire straight into his face.

"What the hell are you tryin' to do to
[ 140 ]


me? Want to barbecue me?" he cried,
straightening himself in the chair. The
laugh of the group at the table amused him
and he turned, wiping the perspiration from
his forehead with a red bandana handker-
chief. "I'll buy," he said. "Joe, set 'em
up. By gum, I was dreamin', I guess."

"I guess you must have been, Bill. I
didn't go for to wake you, but "

The screech of the brakes of Number One
reached the room. The hiss of the steam
from the overdue train added zest to the
wind a moment, and then she was gone on
her way, with her headlight groping through
the blinding sheets of fine snow in the awful

"Three calls five," said Pete. "Ye're
shy one there, Tom." The chip was sup-
plied and then the door opened. A gust of
wind and a mist of snow preceded the Mas-
cot, and behind him, with a small hand-bag


in his gloved hand, was a stranger blinking
in the light, and breathing the stuffy air of
the place in gasps.

The town drunkard removed his hat and
tiptoeing over the squeaking floor, led the
way to the stove. "Better warm yourself,
stranger," he said. "Here's your paper,
Joe," and crossing to the bar he whispered
behind his shaky hand, "Preacher gimme
that drink."

The stranger removed his gloves, unbut-
toned his overcoat, and spread his thin hands
to the heat of the stove. "Rather a dis-
agreeable night, friends," he said, addressing
the group at the table. There was no accusa-
tion in the glance that he gave with his words,
although Pete was deftly gathering up the
cards when he answered :

"Shure as hell is, stranger. Lookin' fer
somebody, be you ? "

"Oh, no. No one in particular. I am


the new minister of the Episcopal Church at
Glasgow, and I want to hold services in your
little city to-morrow, if a way can be found.
Are there many members of our church here,
do you know ?"

Pete cleared his throat. "Well, there's
John Tempy. He's somethin' or other, but
darned if I know just what he is," he said,
anxious to oblige.

Joe, fearing that unnecessary profanity
might be indulged in, and not knowing that
the stranger had told his business in town,
hastened from behind the bar, wiping his
hands upon his apron. He drew a chair to
the stove. "Have a seat, pardner," he said,
polishing the chair's seat with the apron.
"Have a seat. He's a preacher, boys,"
and thus, having given due and timely warn-
ing, he returned to the bar, where he began
to busy himself with the bottles and glasses



The poker players were cashing their chips
and the Mascot, having sneaked his drink,
had taken his place at the side of his dis-
covery. Seeing that the game was about to
be discontinued, and guessing the cause, the
minister said: "Friends, I fear that I have
interrupted your evening's entertainment,
and let me say that while I am a minister of
the Gospel, I am neither a bigot nor a cad.
I know something of the ways of men, and
to do my work in life, I must be a man among
them, or fail. If you will tell me where I
can find a place to sleep, I will leave you, for
I am tired."

There was silence. Joe's cat, with bowed
back, rubbed against the minister's leg,
purring his welcome. Then Pete spoke.
"John Tempy's would be the place, but An-
nie's sick. They think mebby she's comin'
down with the smallpox, so you can't go
there, I reckon. You can bunk with me, if
ye're willin'."

[ H4 1


"Of course of course, I'm willing, and
grateful to you; but do not let me disturb
you here."

"I'll take him over," said the Mascot.
"I'll take him over to Pete's if you'll "

"All right all right," broke in Joe. "You
take him over." And buttoning his coat,
the minister followed the town drunkard to
Pete Jarvis's cabin, where, after building a
fire, the Mascot left him, and hurried to the
saloon for his reward.

"Had a notion to offer him a hot toddy,"
said Joe, as he set out the whiskey bottle for
the Mascot.

"Bet he wouldn't a-taken it," said Tom

"Bet you a hoss, he would uf," declared
Bill Hardesty, the blacksmith. "I like that
feller. He ain't no slouch nor four-flush."

"So do I like him," said Pete. "He
don't look very well, to me. Where in hell's
he goin' to preach at, do you reckon ?"
t 145]


"Don't know," said Joe. "He can't have
Tempy's store, 'cause Tempy's bound to
kick at havin' folks in there that way, an'
you can't blame him. I'd I'd say, do
you reckon he'd get sore if I offered him a
chance to preach in here ? "

"No," said Pete. "Not that feller. Be-
sides, it's the only place, unless he goes to the
Marks and Brands."

"Say, Pete," said Joe, "you tend bar a
spell. I'll slip over to the Marks and
Brands an' rib up a crowd for that old sport,
an' we'll offer him this saloon in the mornin'.
You can tell him, yerself, Pete, when you
bed down. Needn't say nothin' 'bout me
a-makin' this roundup, for there ain't more'n
a dozen or twenty men in town, noway. An'
there ain't no women folks outside of Tempy's
women an' the Mascot's wife. They can't
come, if they wanted to. "

Joe untied his apron, put on his coat and

1 146]


hat, and left the place. He battled his way
against the storm to the Marks and Brands
and entered. Under the glare of a sizzling
gasolene lamp, a dozen men were playing
cards, and several more were ranged about
the billiard table upon which a drunken
sheepherder lay asleep with several lighted
candles, stuck in empty beer bottles, about
him. His matted beard had had the atten-
tion of those about the table and was be-
decked with yellow ribbons, filched from
cigar packages, that had been tied in bows
by unaccustomed fingers.

"Hey, Joe, can you sing ? " called Kelly"the
Kid. "We got a dead one here."

"No, Kid, not a lick," said Joe. "Can I
see you a minute, Jake ? " and the proprietor
of the Marks and Brands retreated to a cor-
ner with his visitor.

"Jake," said Joe, "there's a preacher in

[ 1471


"The hell!"

"Yes, an' he's bedded down at Pete

"The hell!"

"Yep, an' he wants to hold services to
preach, you know, to-morrow, in this town;
so I'm goin' to offer him my saloon to talk
in if he'll take it."

"Know him?"

"Nope, but he's all right. Come in on
Number One, to-night. I'd like it if you
an' the boys would come over to my place
and hear that feller, a spell. Will you ?"

"Shore shore, Joe. 'Course, we'll come.
What time?"

"I don't know, but I'll find out an' tell

"All right, Joe, we'll come all of us,"
said Jake. "Have a little drink, Joe?"
and the two walked to the bar, where they
drank together.


"Come on the house," called Joe, "an*
have something on me." He laid a ten-dollar
bill on the bar. Excepting the card-players
and the sleeping sheepherder, everybody
came to the bar and Joe told them his er-
rand. "Jake an' me'd like it, bully, if you'd
all come an' hear him, boys. It won't hurt
you none, an' I do hate to see a man cold-
decked. I don't want him to find out that
I made this rustle, neither. It looks like
leadin' from a sneak, kinder, but it's the
only bet to get a crowd. Have another
drink on me, boys, an' come an' hear Mr.
Mr. well, I'm damned if I thought to ask
him his name, but come anyway. He's a
Tiscopal. Good-night, Jake. Good-night,
ail. Be sure an' come over," and Joe bolted
into the storm.

Reaching his own saloon, he did not put
on his apron, but relieving Pete, called
every one to the bar to regale themselves.
[ H9 1


"Now, boys, don't forget to be on hand to-
morrow, will you?" he said.

"We'll be Johnny-on-the-spot, Joe all of
us," declared Tom, as he drained his glass,
"an* now I got to go to bed, myself." He
left the saloon and one by one, a start having
been made, the patrons of Joe's Place went
to their beds.

Joe put out the hanging lamp, and took
the money from the cash-drawer the reg-
ular nightly warning to the town drunkard.

"Gimme a nightcap, Joe," whimpered the

"Not a drop," said Joe. "You've had
enough for to-night, an' you be on hand for
that preachin' to-morrow or I'll break your
damned neck!" He took a key from his
pocket and led the way to the door. "Good-

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Online LibraryFrank Bird LindermanOn a passing frontier; sketches from the Northwest → online text (page 5 of 8)