Frank Bird Linderman.

On a passing frontier; sketches from the Northwest online

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night, an' remember," he said, as the town
drunkard went out into the blizzard.

Joe locked the door, and scratching a
[ ISO]


match on his trousers, walked to the back
of the saloon, shielding the blaze of the match
with his hand. As the flame devoured the
last of the stem he dropped it, and opened a
door that let him into a shabby bedroom,
where he lighted a lamp, and tearing the
edges from a shirtbox, sat down on the bed.
He fumbled in his vest pockets a moment,
and then produced the stub of a pencil.
With this he printed upon the white card-
board :


Then he undressed and got into bed. The
blizzard searched the cracks in the building,
for it was but a shack, and Joe listened to
the storm for an hour before he slept.

Somebody was rattling the front door.
Joe opened his eyes. It was morning and
the bite of the cold made him shudder.


"Clink" went a bottle in the saloon; "pop"
sounded the boards in the building, and
again the door was shaken with a will.
"All right all right. In a minute !" called
Joe to the impatient ones, and hurried into
his clothes. With shoes unlaced and shirt
yet unbuttoned, he unlocked the front door
to admit Pete and the shivering Mascot.
"Take a drink, boys, an' build a fire," he
said, as he hurried back to complete his

"I told him, an' he's tickled to death,"
called Pete. "It's to be at ten-thirty."

"When you get that fire goin', Mascot,
you go over an' tell Jake that the preachin's
to be at ten-thirty, an' sweep out good an'
plenty, too," called Joe from his bedroom.
"Tell Jake I sent you. How cold is it, I
wonder. I heard the bottles an' things a-
poppin' in there, anyway. Is he up yet,


"You bet he's up. Me an' him's had
breakfast, too. He ain't no slouch, that
feller, even if he is a preacher."

The blizzard had spent itself, but in its
rage had left the world a stark, dead thing
all white and cold and still. The sun's light
was blinding and the keen in the morning
air stung Joe's face and stuck his eyelashes
as he trudged through the small snow-
drifts to the house of the Mascot, for break-
fast. "Good morning, Mrs. Harris," he said
as he stomped the snow from his feet and
covered his ears with his hands. "Bad
storm, wasn't it ? The coffee smells mighty
good this morning. I'm sorry you can't
come to the preachin'."

"Well, I'm comin', Joe, even if it is in a
saloon and even if I'm goin' to be the only
woman there. This town's bad enough,
God knows, without making it any worse in
His eyes by not goin' to to to church

[ 153]


when we have a chance," she said as she
placed Joe's breakfast on the table.

"I'm glad you're comin', Mrs. Harris.
It'll kinder hold the boys down, an' they
won't deal him no cards from the bottom.
Not that they would but they might.
These cakes is bully, Mrs. Harris. Every-
thing's fine an' tastes good."

"You always say that, Joe."

"Well, it's always so, then. An' say, a
man that owes me a bar bill, wants to pay
me in meat an' spuds. I can't never get
no real money out of him, noway. I told
him I'd take 'em an' I'm goin* to fetch 'em
over here, so's you can feed us with 'em
see ? It'll be doin' me an' the feller, both, a

Mrs. Harris cleared her throat. "Joe,"
she said, "there's been a lot of bills you col-
lected that way bad debts, you called 'em.
The worst of it is, you won't let it go on your



board, an' it makes me feel that me an'
Lem's livin' ofFn you."

"Well, you ain't," said Joe. "I'd starve
in this town, if it wasn't for this place here,
an' besides, I'd lose the bills I get in that
way, if I didn't have no place to slough the
truck. Don't you worry, Mrs. Harris, there's
plenty profit in it, for me. I got to be goin',
an' get ready for the big doin's," and fear-
ing that his bounty might call forth more
thanks, he left the house.

Mrs. Harris, a woman of fifty, turned from
the breakfast-table with the dishes in her
hands, and sighed, as she deposited them in
the kitchen. "If there ever was a good,
honest man, it's Joe Prentiss," she said.
Then she washed and put away the dishes
and tidied herself to attend the preaching.

Joe, back at the saloon, which had been
swept clean by Pete and the Mascot, went
to his room, and bringing out the cardboard,


set up his sign back of the bar. "That goes
as it looks," he said. "Have you told Jake
the time of the preachin', Mascot ?"

"Not yet. Gimme a drink an* I'll go


"Well, help yourself. It's the last ye'll
get till the sermon's done. Now, go an*
tell Jake, an* everybody you see. Tell 'em
tell 'em well, tell 'em, after it's all over
with, the drinks will be on me after the
preacher's gone."

An hour afterward men began to arrive.
They came singly and in pairs, and sheepishly
tried to make light of the affair, but read-
ing Joe's sign, and noting the serious look on
his face, they soon left off any attempt at
hilarity, and when Mrs. Harris entered, Pete
said: "I'll go an' git him, now, Joe."

"Take that dog out with you, Pete," said
Joe, and his voice was solemnly pitched.
"Have this chair, Mrs. Harris."
[ 156]


As the woman seated herself, instinctively
every hat in the place was removed, and a
stillness crept upon the company there.
The sunlight streamed in through the win-
dows and Tom Bodie rubbed the lighted
end of his cigar against his chair, to put it

"Good morning, friends," said the cheery
voice of the minister. His eyes glanced
about the room and fell upon the sign back
of the bar. Then his gaze sought the pro-
prietor, just a moment, but Joe's eyes were
riveted upon the floor. The stranger shook
hands with every one there, and spoke es-
pecially to Mrs. Harris, thanking her for her
presence. Then, for an hour he preached of
life, and the simple-heartedness of those be-
fore him inspired him to touch them deeply.
There was no sting, no chastisement, in his
words. They only felt the man's thanks for
their presence there. With his appeal for
I 1571


righteousness was coupled an acknowledg-
ment of their hospitality and their respect
for him, a stranger, preaching to men of
many creeds on a bitter winter morning.
"When we shall have known each other for a
little time, I feel sure that mutual good will
come to us, for I need your help and your
lessons to aid me. And perhaps I may help
you, not only as a minister, but as a friend,"
he said in closing.

Joe, hat in hand, began to tiptoe among
the men. The clink of silver drew the at-
tention of the minister, who was talking to
Mrs. Harris.

"Just one moment, please," he called.
Joe stopped in his tracks, his fat face red
to the ears.

"I appreciate your kindness, but let us
wait until we have established ourselves in
some organized effort in church work be-
fore we take up a collection. Then we shall


have a use a direct cause for the money.
Don't you think that would be the better

"I reckon it would, mebby," said Joe.
"You can come here any time you want to,

"Thank you, and all of you," said the
minister, as he walked outside with Mrs.

Joe took down the sign from behind the
bar, and tying his apron about his waist,
said: "Come on, everybody, an' have
somethin'. I am mighty glad you come."

"Boys," he said, after the drinking had
ceased, "that man said a whole lot to us that
is true. An' he didn't fork no high hoss,
neither. I hope he comes again."

"Me, too," said Pete.

"Now," continued Joe, "this town is
tough. The boys come in off'n the range,
shoot up the place, an' fight like hell. You

[ 159]


all know it an' I know it. We ain't decent
an' quiet like we ort to be. How many
women is they in this town ? Just four,
countin' a couple of kids. I ain't countin'
them that's over across the river; not but
what they're as good as the most of us, but
you can't count 'em along with the others,
hardly. No more'n you can count us along
with that preacher. I think we'd better
organize ourselves, an' elect somebody judge.
Call him a police judge, or any kind of a
judge; as long as we all back him up in what
he says, it don't make no difference what we
call him. Let him fine hell out of fighters.
Let's all be for law an' order in this town from
now on. I don't have to point out the times
when we needed 'em both mighty bad."

"The town ain't incorporated, Joe," said
a voice.

"I don't care if it ain't," said Joe. "We
are able to run it an' nobody's a-goin' to
f 160 1


kick if we copper all fight-bets. Let's ap-
point somebody judge right now while we're
all here to have a hand in it. Then when
anybody gets fighty an' wants to go to war,
we'll arrest him, an' the judge will fine him
good an' plenty. Enough to take the fight
out'n him."

"Where's the jail, Joe?" asked Pete.

"We can use the root-house," said Joe.
"But we won't want a jail if they find out
they're goin' to be fined for fighting. That's
our big trouble is the fights. Let's try it,

"All right," said Pete. "I nominate Bill
Hardesty for judge."

The blacksmith protested. "I don't know
nothin' 'bout law. I'm busy an* I won't
have nothin' to do with "

"All in favor, say I," called Joe. "The
I's have it. Judge Hardesty, have a drink
with your feller citizens."
[ 161 ]


That afternoon when Number Three
stopped at the station, two young men got
off the train, and crossing the street to Joe's
Place, stood for a moment, watching the de-
parting coaches, ere they entered.

"Can you tell us where Mr. McLeod's
ranch is ?" asked one of the young men of

"Sandy McLeod ?" asked Joe.

"Mr. Kenneth McLeod," said the young
man. "He's a sheepman."

"That's Sandy," said Joe. "Yes, he's
forty miles north of here. Used to be the
old Bar Four, cow ranch. I used to ride for
that iron, myself. You bet I know where
it is."

"Is he in town to-day ?"

"No," said Joe. "Have a little smile ?"

"We don't drink, thank you," said the
young man.

"Well, stay right with it," said Joe.
[ 162]


"Make yourselves to home here. Sandy'll
likely be in, if he's expectin' you."

"We are going to herd sheep for him,"
explained the young man, "my brother and
I. We are from Ohio. Mr. McLeod ex-
pects us." And Sandy came that evening,
and took the young herders away.

June had come with its soft leaves and
prairie flowers. The range, an endless roll-
ing stretch of tender green, fattened the great
herds of cattle and sheep, and with its gentle
breezes and bird song, proclaimed itself a
bountiful paradise.

The clang of the blacksmith's hammer
resounded through the town, and before the
shop where Bill Hardesty sweated, were
tied many horses awaiting their turn for new
shoes. A hobo, tramping his way through
the land, had been Ir^d temporarily as
helper, and so throughout the long days and
[ 163]


even into the night, the blacksmith labored;
not only for the pay in money, but to oblige.
A pair of bluebirds, ignoring the noise of
Bill's trade, had builded a nest in a box under
the eaves of the roof of the shop with much
fluttering and carolling.

The steel rails on the slightly graded right-
of-way reached hungrily toward the horizon
east and west, shimmering in the sun's heat,
dipping mysteriously into the phantom
waters of a mirage-lake; then out and on
again until they seemed to meet where the
sky came down to the grass-tops. Bending
over his anvil, a white-hot horseshoe in his
tongs, Bill's hammer descended once, and
then was hurled at Tempy's tomcat that was
creeping toward a bluebird upon the ground.
Stuffing the horseshoe back into the fire, he
went outside to recover his hammer, and
met Pete Jarvis. "Damn that cat," he said
as he rubbed the face of his hammer against


his leathern apron. "Say, Pete, what'll I
do with that fine-money? I got sixty dol-
lars now. I'll kill that cat of Tempy's,

Pete thought a moment, removed his hat
and scratched his head. "Bill," he said,
"you ought to have a liberry."

"Liberry ?" said Bill, still watching the cat.

"Yes," said Pete, " a law liberry. It would
look a heap more regular, Bill. Send away
an' get you some law books. Get you a

"I wouldn't have no idee where to send,
Pete. You take the darn money an* send
an* git them books for me, will you ? "

"Shure I'll do the best I can," and taking
the sixty dollars, Pete went over to Joe's
Place and bought a drink. That night he
spent the money with the unsuspecting judge
and the rest who happened in. It was a
glorious evening, and Joe wondered at Pete's


sudden affluence, but it was without his
province to ask questions; so the sixty dol-
lars went into his till.

The library came: donated codes by the
State of Montana, in the interest of law and
order. Pete took the two heavy volumes to
the blacksmith shop. "Here they be, Bill,"
he said.

"Say, you don't reckon I'll ever read 'em,
do you?" asked Bill, as he rubbed the soil
from his hands and began to turn the thin

"Hell, no, but it's the looks of 'em here,
Bill. When we fetch a man here an' he
sees them books, he'll dig up easier heaps
easier. Ain't they fine them books ? I'll
make you a box to keep 'em in, where they'll
show," and he did.

"Shore cost money, don't they ?" said Bill,
as he surveyed the books in the box on the
dingy wall. "Well, the disturbers bought
I 166 ]


'em. We didn't. It was their own money
that paid for them books as shore's the devil's
a pig."

It was not long until the fund, exhausted
by the purchase of the library, began to
sprout anew, however. Pete's readiness to
arrest, and Bill's anxiety to fine disturbers of
the peace, had nourished the new beginning
into something quite substantial, when, one
day, in haling a drunken cow-puncher be-
fore his honor in the blacksmith shop, the
self-appointed city marshal was roughly

After the cowboy had been relieved of ten
dollars and had gone his way swearing ven-
geance, Pete wiped the blood from his
bruised nose upon the back of his hand and
gazed at the stain through a rapidly closing
eye. "Jest look at me, Bill," he said.
"That feller was on the prod an' went to
war from the jump."



"Well, he paid, didn't he?" asked Bill, as
he laid the greenback in the box with the
fines and placed a toe-calk upon it.

"He didn't pay me," declared Pete. "I
don't know who I'm workin' for, an' right
here's where I find out. I ain't goin' to tie
into every drunk in this town single-handed,
no more, without knowin' whose iron I'm
ridin' for, Bill. It's too damn hard on the
eyes. Nobody works for nothin' not even
preachers, an' I won't, neither."

"I don't git no pay, do I ?" asked Bill.

"You get it all, don't you? An' your
job ain't liable to leave yer relations a-won-
derin' if you was buried decent, is it ? Hell,
man, let's divide. Let's cut it two ways.
I round 'em up an' you brand 'em. That's
only fair, ain't it?"

Bill's eyes opened wide. "Say," he said,
stepping close to Pete and looking into his
battered face, "is this our money this here

[ 168]


"'Course it is," said Pete. "We work for
it, don't we ? Who else is in on it, I'd like
to know ? What we earn is ours, ain't it ?
It would be a hell of a world if it wasn't,
wouldn't it?"

"I didn't know whose money it was, Pete.
If it's ours, I'll divide, of course. I'll cut
it with you." And he divided the fund on
the spot. "Let's go over to Joe's. I'm done
for to-day, anyhow."

"What's the matter with this town, Joe ?"
asked Jake, of the Marks and Brands saloon,
of the proprietor of Joe's Place, one day in
the fall. "If it wasn't for Pete Jarvis and
Bill Hardesty, an' a few of the regulars, we'd
starve. They don't seem to come into this
town any more I mean the cow-punchers
and the sheepherders. The town's dead,
awful dead."

"I've noticed it, too, but mebby business

[ 169]


will pick up now that the busy season's over
on the range and ranches. Tempy's kickin',
too, so I reckon it's an even break all around,"
said Joe. "But I've noticed it. Number
Two's wrecked. Hear about it?"


"Yes, she's in the ditch somewhere west
of here. Won't be no train till to-morrow."
The sound of singing came to them from Joe's
Place, and Jake bent an inquiring glance
upon the proprietor.

"Drummers," he said. "One of 'em sells
shoes an' the other shirts. They wanted to
get out on Number Two, but she's wrecked,
so now they're havin' a spree."

"Who's them two, there?" and Jake
nodded toward the two young men who had
arrived in the early spring and had gone to
work for McLeod.

"They been herdin' for Sandy. First
time they been in town since last spring.


Must be fairly fat now, but they don't
drink neither of 'em."

"Well, I got to be goin'. I hope things
pick up," said Jake, as he turned toward the
Marks and Brands.

Joe entered his own saloon, where " Bonnie
Annie Laurie" was being butchered by the
two travelling salesmen, with their arms
tight around the town drunkard. The two
young men, having visited the station, had
learned the fate of Number Two, and having
no other place in which to loaf, came to Joe's.

"Welcome, s-s-strangers. Wei come.
Have a dddrink," and the salesman wearing
a derby hat hurried to lead the young men
to the bar.

"No, thanks; we don't drink," said one of
the boys.

The salesman stopped, let go of the hand
he held, and swaying slightly, looked ear-
nestly at the speaker a moment.


"Tha sa goo wand don drink. I I
nev heard tha-wan f-fore. S s-new bran'
nnew. Ha-ha-ha don d-drink. I'm g-goin*
mem-member zat-wan. Come on and have
som-som-sing wiz sus, fr-friends tha don-don

"No, thank you."

"I in-inshist."


"Wan-na in-insult me an' my f-f-frens?
Hey, wa-na?"

"No, but we don't drink."

"I inshist. Barkeep, set 'em."


Wildly the fellow struck at the young
man, and in the twinkling of an eye, there
was a fight three against two; but the two
were sober. Chairs were broken, a window
crashed, and Joe was running from behind
the bar when Pete entered.

"What's a-goin' on here!" he yelled.
[ 172]


"Stop it!" and he struck right and left
with his fists. With Joe's help, the battle
was soon ended.

"Come on, all of you," said Pete. "You're
under arrest."

The prisoners, all talking at once, followed
Pete to the blacksmith shop, where Bill was
fighting a broncho and swearing at the top
of his voice. The interior of the shop was
hidden by a cloud of dust when Pete entered
with his prisoners. The broncho, at last
conquered, was breathing heavily, blowing
dust from the floor at every gasp, when,
hearing the babble of the visitors, the terri-
fied horse struggled fiercely, thrashing his
head against the dirt floor of the place.
"Whoah, damn you. Lay still!" and the
perspiring blacksmith turned to survey the
group of callers.

"Can't monkey with 'em now, Pete. I'm
busy. Got to git some shoes on that


ornery brute there. He's wilder'n a

grizzly's dream an' meaner'n a coyote.
Fetch 'em back by an' by. What's the

"Fightin', judge," said Pete.

"All of 'em?"

"Yes, the whole caboodle."

"If these two fellows had taken a drink
when we asked them to, there wouldn't
have been any row. They are the real dis-
turbers, judge," said the salesman with the
derby hat, suddenly sobered. "We were
having a good time, when these two butted
in and insulted us."

"That's the truth," said Pete. "Them
two's to blame for this, judge. I don't aim
to take no sides. They been herdin' sheep
for Sandy McLeod since last spring an' ain't
been to town once in that whole time. Not
since they come to the country."

The judge caught the suggestion in Pete's



words. "Whoah, damn you," he cried, as
he turned to tighten a rope that held the
broncho. Then facing the prisoners he
asked: "Did you refuse to drink when the
gentleman asked you to?"

"We don't drink," said both the young

"Well, you disturbed the peace of this
town that's all. I fine you twenty-five
dollars apiece."

"There's no law on earth that enforces a
man to drink against his will," declared one
of the young men, hotly. " I'll "

"Pay up or git locked up. I'm busy, an*
that's the law in this country. It's in that
there biggest book about the middle, some
place. You can read it fer yerself, if you
want to Whoah ! damn you, whoah !"

"Of course it's the law," declared the sales-
man. "I live in this State and I know,



"Pay up or I'll throw you in," said Pete,
and the fifty dollars were paid.

Night came, and then the day, which
brought the passenger-train headed East.
The young men and the travelling salesmen
got aboard without speaking, and Joe went
over to the Marks and Brands. "Jake,"
he said, "Pete an' Bill's goin' too strong.
It's hurtin' the town. Let's us get together
an' fire 'em."

[ 176


tamaracks were turning yellow
when Jim Turner and Sank Whet-
ford began cutting logs with which to build
their cabin on Indian Creek. The site
chosen for the cabin was a natural park
early to catch the sun's light in the morn-
ing, and blessed with his last rays ere he
bade good-by to the range at evening. The
dark firs and spruce trees retained their
usual hues, and in the golden sunlight of
Montana's fall, made a fitting background
for the brilliant orange of the tamarack
needles, so soon to fall and mark each deer-
trail a gilded way.

Jim and Sank were trappers, and had

spent their lives apart from other men. It

was during a spree in the early summer

that they had met and discovered deep

I 177]


friendship, and they had contrived to spend
much time together ever since. At Jake's
saloon, or at the store at the Crossing, they
had spent many hours planning to winter
together, and Indian Creek had been de-
cided upon, months before. Jim's camp had
been a mile up the stream from the store;
while Sank's tent had adorned the land-
scape a mile below it. One day Jim said:
"Sank, better move up to my camp. We
kin plan an' talk a heap better. I'd like
fer to have ye near me, anyhow."

"AH right, Jim," said Sank. "I'll ketch
up the bosses in the mornin' an' move up."
And he did.

He pitched his tent near that of Jim's,
and one fire served both. Each had his own
tent, and Jim cooked and ate his meals when
and as he pleased. So did Sank. The
friendship ripened with the passing of sum-
mer, and when the fall began to turn the


leaves yellow, and the ducks and the geese
were flying southward, Jim and Sank bought
their supply of grub, ammunition, and to-
bacco, and set out for Indian Creek.

The sound of their axes woke the sleeping
echoes in the wilderness, and log after log
of the dry, straight, and plentiful tama-
racks were dragged to the growing cabin,
until it was completed. Then Sank took
the horses back to the valley for the winter,
and while he was away, Jim put the finishing
touches to the interior of the cabin, building
a fireplace in a corner.

When, ten days later, Sank returned from
the valley, Jim led him to the fireplace, and
pointing with pride at the fire that was
snapping gayly there, said: "See her draw,
Sank. Green wood's jest duck soup fer it."

"She's shore some oF honey, Jim," said
Sank. "I brought up a little drop of liquor;
hev a little snort?"



"Shore I will. Here's to us, Sank," and
Jim took a long pull from the flask. "What
do ye think of them shelves, and our rifle-
rack, hey, pardner ? "

"Bully, Jim, bully. Guess I'll hev a
little smile, myself/' and Sank took his turn
at the flask. Then he set it upon one of the
new shelves. "Comfortable an' fine's frog's
hair, in here," he declared, and Jim's eyes
glistened at Sank's every approving glance.

"Good range where ye left the hosses,
Sank ? " asked the proud Jim.

"You bet, an' I pulled off them shoes that
was on that roan hoss of yours. Reckoned
you'd want 'em off," said Sank.

"Bully fer you. I was intendin' to ask

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Online LibraryFrank Bird LindermanOn a passing frontier; sketches from the Northwest → online text (page 6 of 8)