The Voyage of Discovery, led by Lewis and Clark in 1803, took three years to travel to the West Coast and back. There was a desire to shorten the time for continental travel and mail delivery; the stage coach was the logical choice, but the logistics were almost overwhelming. There would need to be blacksmiths, harness makers, drivers and conductors, and many way stations. Horse feed was an overwhelming problem; horses need a minimum thirty pounds of forage a day to maintain their health. When hundreds or thousands of horses are using the same limited pasture, the natural graze begins to disappear. Yet the relentless stream of coaches continued to arrive at way stations, looking for fresh well-fed horses and possibly a hot meal.
The carriages were called overlands because they could travel over rough country without roads, but break downs were common and often a coach would wait for days for parts to come in from some distant city.
Coaches started from both the West and the East on the same days twice a week, there could be a crowd at one of the way stations; since coaches were expected to run on time, the vagaries of many conditions such as weather, river crossings, horses, and equipment failure, often had the coaches running late, rather than early. The trip was supposed to take 24 days, but it was not unusual to be several days late if there were problems.
The Butterfield Overland Stage Company, from their employee manual:
Stage line entrepreneur John Butterfield produced this record book for distribution to his conductors and station agents along the Butterfield Overland Mail trail. Butterfield received the contract to carry the mail after Congress authorized Postmaster General Aaron Brown to find a way to move mail overland to California on a regular basis. Brown was told to select a route that would ensure that the mail was carried from end to end in 25 days or less. A Kentuckian by birth, Brown selected a route that ran approximately 2,800 miles through the southern portion of the nation. The eastern terminus of the route began in Tipton, Missouri, and Memphis, Tennessee, with the lines converging at Ft. Smith, Arkansas.
Butterfield received this lucrative contract of $600,000 per year (in) 1857 and was given a year to get ready. He poured $1 million into setting up the route. His company rounded up over 200 coaches, almost 2000 horses and mules, and 1200 employees, from superintendents, drivers and conductors to harness makers and blacksmiths, to service the line. Employees were sent out along the route, building 200 stations and helping build bridges or ensure roads were passable.
According to the company’s schedule, westbound stages would leave Tipton and Memphis every Monday and Thursday at 8am, the same days and time that eastbound stages were scheduled to leave San Francisco. Butterfield’s Overland Mail Company began service on September 16, 1858. The first westbound stage arrived in San Francisco 23 days and 23 hours later. The schedule was very specific. The westbound stage was scheduled to leave Tucson, Arizona, for instance, every Tuesday and Friday at 1:30pm, arriving at Ft. Yuma, California three days later at 3am. But even as Butterfield encouraged his employees to “conform as nearly as possible to the schedule,” he acknowledged that “the length of the route, the state of the roads and streams, will, of necessity, cause variations during certain seasons of the year.”
Armed conductors rode alongside drivers on the stages and were in charge of the mail and passengers. Each conductor carried a record book such as this. The book included information on the company, a map of the Butterfield mail route, a time schedule, special instructions to all employees, and pages for keeping notes.
After crossing the Arkansas River we entered the Southern area of the Indian Nation, it is owned by the Choctaw Tribe. They seemed to be wealthy, but lived in log huts. Their wealth consisted of Negro slaves and cattle. They branded their cattle and let them wander loose with no attention paid to the agricultural possibilities of this fertile land. The slaves were treated well and allowed to come and go as they please. They seemed to be treated much better by the Choctaw than their White counterparts.
All the natives are provided rifles by the government and there is some speculation as to how many of these weapons are turned upon White settlers in the neighboring areas.
The mixed race of European and Indian seemed to be the strongest and the most-wealthy of all the natives we encountered, but their ferocity against the White race makes us leery of dealing with them as we travel toward California.
The Butterfield Line, 2,795 miles long, could be completed in 24 days if everything was perfect. The coaches ran round the clock except for brief rest periods, fresh horses, and the opportunity to buy a hot meal. A meal cost approximately $1.00. The meals were part of a way keeper’s business and income. The passengers were expected to sleep during the stage ride.
There were shorter stage lines before Butterfield; however, Butterfield had the vision to put together the enormous company and was willing to pay attention to the necessary details to keep the operation running smoothly.
With the threat of Civil War in 1861, the transcontinental stage line moved north, to run through the future states of Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. Once again it was necessary to invest in the infrastructure to run the stages over the sparsely populated northern route.
Ben Holladay provided the leadership for the transcontinental stage line that saw the stage line extend its routes in the mid-1860’s to include the steamboat landings Kansas, Nebraska, and Oregon, from a hub in Salt Lake City, to serve outposts like Butte, Montana and the Dalles, Oregon.
Indian attacks in 1864 and 1865 caused the company heavy losses and prevented the stages from running during intermittent periods. In November 1866, Holladay sold out to Wells Fargo, and concentrated on acquiring and building railroad lines in Oregon.
The transcontinental rail was completed in 1869, in Promontory, Utah. Thus transcontinental travel by stage was over, but the stage continued to be a viable mode of travel to remote towns and villages until World War I. The smaller stage lines were run with varying success, until the bus made stage coach travel impractical.
The phrase ‘stage’ referred to any stage, sleigh, or wagon used to transport passengers. The Concord model became the standard of the industry. Manufactured by hand in Concord, New Hampshire by Abbot, Downing and Company
The first Concord in California arrived by clipper ship via Cape Horn and began service out of San Francisco on 25 June 1850.
The Concord was the icon for coaches and was known for its smooth ride because the coach was suspended on two suspension components of six or eight layered leather belts called thoroughbraces. Mark Twain referred to the Concord with its leather suspension a “cradle on wheels.” The design allowed the occupants to stay dry while they “floated” across streams in flood. There were no windows because the flex within the body would break the glass. The window opening were covered with roll-up leather that either let in fresh air and sunlight or kept out dust and cold air.
Like today’s cars, not all coaches were considered to be luxury models. The “mud” or “celerity” wagons were much lighter than the one ton weight of the Concord and without suspension. These cheaper coaches were used on shorter lines with light traffic, where the profit margin was much less.
A Concord could carry nine passengers inside and as many as six on top. The seats directly behind the driver in the coach were the most expensive, followed by the seats facing the driver, there were drop-down seats, commonly called jump seats on the doors, riding on top was the cheapest fare. The top seats were uncomfortable after several days, and these seats could always throw the passenger from the roof because of rough roads and the vulnerability of the exposed passengers.
Attacks by desperadoes and natives were rare, but the natural hazards of the trip and the ride itself were far more dangerous. The violence of robberies has been exaggerated; in reality, it was far more common for passengers to drink themselves into a drunken stupor out of boredom.
Mark Twain wrote a more accurate portrayal of stage travel in “Roughing It” in 1872. In his book he described how a large shipment of mail, normally carried in a leather boot on the front or back, would be unceremoniously pushed in on the floor of the coach, allowing the passengers to position their feet and legs to the altered floor plan. The stage might carry a load of produce besides the 25 pounds of baggage allowance for each passenger. A trip on the stage was anything but romantic and luxurious.
This story is a novel, without the romantic ideas of dreamers. It is accurate in the sense of being realistic about human nature and of imperfect personalities in conflict with difficult conditions and exhaustion.
One of the longest and most dangerous routes for the Overland Stage, during 1858, was the run between Tipton, Missouri or Memphis, Tennessee and San Francisco. A stage started from San Francisco and the Eastern terminals twice a week. It was the best source of travel at the time for those for whom the trip was imperative.
There were infrequent way stations, fresh teams would hopefully be available and the passengers could have a warm meal as well as a few minutes sleep on the floor. It was a rough way to travel, but it was fairly fast, the trip could be completed in a few weeks, and although the passengers were expected to sleep in the coach during the trip, it was considered the ultimate in luxurious travel.
This is the story of people from two stages people who stopped at Comanche Station for an evening in 1860.
The Comanche Way Station
Bert, the Black way station keeper is feeding the horses in corrals. His dog Barber lets out a warning yip and Bert looks to the west, he talks to his dog as if they are in a normal conversation, “Barber they’re coming, alright. We are likely to have two or three coaches stop tonight, all of them looking for fresh horses, a bit of grub, and the comforts of an outhouse. I reckon we better tell Magpie to get some bacon, beans, and biscuits on the cook stove. Once they get some food in their bellies, the surly attitudes will change, won’t they boy. Those fancy people still like basic grub, despite their aristocratic airs. Come on boy, let’s tell Magpie we can expect the starving aristocrats in 10 minutes.”
Bert said to Barber as they started walking, “Barber, better wake up Pecos, we goin to need some help, here directly.”
Barber finds Pecos asleep in a hay stack and barks in the man’s face until he starts talking, “I’m awake Barber, I’m awake damn it.”
Pecos was dirty and disoriented from the whiskey he had mooched from one of the previous passengers. It didn’t take much whiskey for him to be reduced to walking on all fours, but he had a nice personality and was a willing worker when he was sober.
Bert yelled out to Pecos “there’s a stage coming in, look sharp, and if’n you don’t stay sober, I’ll trade you to the next war party passing through.”
Pecos shook his head to get his bearings, and answered Bert, “Aw, you know there ain’t a bottle for two hundred miles.” The idea of being traded to hostiles was a sobering thought for Pecos. He knew Bert had lived among the Kiowas after he had run off from a plantation. Bert was considered Big Medicine to the Indians and that fact alone caused people to be a little bit afraid of Bert.
Bert sics Barber onto Pecos and tells him to get him up.
The dog grabs hold of one a trouser leg of Pecos and pulls him out of the haystack.
Pecos mumbles something about needing a drink and Bert loses his patience. With menace in his voice, Bert says, “you can sniff out a bottle of hooch faster than a bird dog can find a pork chop on a kitchen floor, but if you get drunk, I will give you to the Comancheros, and they will put you in the stew pot.”
Pecos is laying in the dirt, and Barber is still growling and pulling on the trousers.
“Call off your damn dog, I’m sober, call your dog,” Pecos is now lying in the dirt and is scared of the big mixed breed dog Bert acquired as a pup from Indians on a trade.
Bert whistles and Barber runs to Bert, and Bert walks into the way station to tell Magpie, his Kiowa wife, about the arrival of the stage.
Bert smiles when he hears Pecos mumbling, “damn dog gets meaner every day.”
Bert greets Magpie in a sweet and polite manner, “Magpie, there’s a stage coming in, better rustle up some vittles, they gonna be hungry.”
Magpie listened to the request in silence with no emotion, like many Indian women of the plains who are sold and bartered for in trade as young maidens, she accepted her lot in life with solemnity and dignity, but showed no joy in life.
The Stage Arrives
Bert finishes a cup of coffee when he hears the stage pull into the yard and steps out the door. “Are you’ins the 715?” he asked as a greeting to the driver.
Murph the driver wrapped the heavy weight of the rein around the brake handle, “Naw, we are the 716, the 715 broke a wheel back in the Coldstream slew. They won’t be going anywhere til some one shows up with a new wheel. We told several east bound stages, so somebody will be out there with a new wheel in a few days.”
Bert rubbed his beard, and replied as they started to unhitch the horses, “I better get some fresh cooked grub out to those people on the 715. There are three stages late, and at least one, stuck in the foothills. Well, look here, another orphan stage is coming in.”
Bert walked back in to the station to tell Magpie, “Another stage is gonna be here in ten minutes, my little prairie chicken, better keep cooking. It’s gonna get lively around here pretty soon.”
Bert depended on Magpie, she was a good helper and partner, but he never knew whether she was happy or sad, she hardly ever spoke, but they had a very active life on the straw mattress at night; at least, Bert knew she enjoyed that part of their marriage. It was a marriage without ceremony, but Bert considered it a marriage. He bought her for five horses, a Hawken rifle with a rusted-out barrel and three pouches of twist tobacco from her father when she was fourteen. They had been together for ten years. Bert was happy and he hoped Magpie was happy. She hardly ever spoke, so it was hard to know for sure, but at least he had yet to wake up with his throat cut. He knew that could happen with Indian women if they didn’t like you. It was also a type of quick divorce settlement for Indian women who felt mistreated.
A few minutes later, the stage pulls into the yard.
“Are youins the 715?” Bert asks the driver as the coach doors open and the passengers start to climb down.
Murph the driver says to Bert, “We are the 716, here a little early.”
Bert is talking to no one when he says, “Now, I’ve got several stages running late and God knows how many are broke down.”
Pecos helps Juan the conductor unhitch a team. Juan drives the team to the corral to be turned out, after he strips the harness and places it on racks if front of the tack shed. Each coach has four to six head of horses, so the tack shed is huge to accommodate all the harness for multiple coaches.
The first passenger off the stage looks like a businessman in his forties. He immediately turns to help a young beautiful woman. A middle-aged farmer and his wife are the next ones to step off the stage, followed by a wiry Frenchman who seems anxious to talk to anyone who will listen.
Barber barks as the west bound stage pulls into the yard, and the process is repeated again.
Bert has a good business, but the logistics are nearly impossible. He is supposed to keep fresh teams by letting them rest for a day before sending them back out; he might have 60 horses in the twenty acre fenced pasture. There wasn’t a blade of grass left, so he depended on the weekly hay wagon coming out from Fort Smith. He complained to the company that he needed more hay and they told him there were stations every sixty miles with the same problem.
He couldn’t turn the horses out to graze or the Indians would have them all. He had a wrangler; actually, he was a buckaroo from Southern California, named Valdez. He spoke Spanish and English equally well, had a Spanish name, blue eyes, and blonde hair, and was as wild as any White man Bert had ever known.
Valdez spent most of his time catching wild horses and breaking them to drive, so Bert could sell them to the company as replacement horses.
Bert filled a washtub next to the well with water and announced to his guests, “If’n you need to clean up, there’s plenty of water.”
A middle-aged couple follows the officers, and an Irish priest is the last passenger to unload.
The young beautiful lady from the first stage is the first one to walk up to the washtub. Captain Seville walks up beside the young woman to say, “In the deserts of Africa, the Middle East, China, and America, I have never seen a desert flower of such beauty.”
Nadine, the young woman, was overwhelmed and at a loss for words. She simply said, “Oh my” with a strategic glance of flashing green eyes and a demure shy expression as she looked away.
“Allow me to introduce myself, Captain Esteben Seville of his majesty’s Light Horse. Born in Buenos Aries, Argentina, raised as a British subject. This is my cousin Lieutenant Sean Montcrief. We are on a sabbatical to tour the American West and plan to catch a British Man of War in San Francisco to rejoin our unit in India.”
The young lady overcame her shy demeanor, “Nadine, Nadine Beatrice, formerly of Memphis. Pleased to make your acquaintances, my the two of you look so dashing and handsome in those uniforms. I feel so much safer under your supervision and protection.”
Nadine knew how to use her long eyelashes and endearing smile to render the unsuspecting male helpless. Bert raised his eyebrows and twisted his head to look off into the distance. He was a skeptic and understood how a charming female can disarm the strongest men with feminine charms.
“I am captivated by your beauty and yield to your irresistible forces, please let know if I can be of further assistance,” the Captain said, with all the gallantry a handsome cavalry officer can muster.
“Actually, if you could sponge the back of neck, kind sir,” Nadine lifted her bountiful raven tresses and turned her back to the Captain.
The symbolism was obvious to this group of strangers, they were in shocked silence as the captain moved closer with the towel.
The captain felt a slight tremble in his hand, a tremble he had never felt facing savage horsemen, as he looked at the light wisps of dark hair on the delicate white neck of the maiden and was smitten. He moistened the towel and touched the neck with a sensuality he had never known.
Everyone was watching the drama as if they were reading an illicit romance novel.
Nadine unbuttons the top two buttons of her dress and after the Captain washes her neck for a full minute, she bends over to splash water unto her face and the few inches of flesh just below her neck. She turns to face the Captain while still holding her hair on top of her head with one hand and smiles as she says, “You may dry now, my captain.”
The Captain turns the towel around and dries her face, neck, and the small v shaped expanse exposed beneath her neck with the dry end of the towel.
Nadine looked into the Captain’s eyes and dropped her hair slowly with a dramatic flourish, “Oh thank you , kind sir, that feels so refreshing.”
Angus McNab, a huge man weighing nearly three hundred pounds and well over six feet tall, walks over to grab Nadine’s arm and walks her toward the station door.
Nadine protests, “Angus, stop you are hurting me; stop, you don’t own me. Let me go.” Nadine is struggling with Angus as he marches relentlessly toward the station door.
Captain Esteban uses his commanding military voice, “Unhand the lady, sir. There is no reason to be a brute.”
Angus looks back at the Captain, “Bugger off, you Banty Rooster, I bought her ticket and that dress she’s wearing; I reckon she’s mine. Now, mind your own damn business.”
Angus and Nadine begin to struggle violently and the sleeve of Nadine’s dress is ripped.
The Captain walks forward and places his arm between the two to stop the confrontation.
Angus throws a huge right hand that hits the captain with a glancing blow that strikes him on the chest and neck. The captain steps back in anger, he draws his saber and places the tip in the soft flesh beneath the jaw of Angus. The sharp steel nudges Angus’s head several inches higher and he releases Nadine.
Angus tries to regain some control and his dignity, he says, “I don’t have a sword.”
“Lieutenant, hand him your saber” Captain Estebn says to his cousin without taking his eves off Angus.
The Lieutenant places his saber in the hand of Angus and steps back without turning his back on Angus.
The Captain steps back three paces. He points the tip of his saber into the eyes of Angus and says, “En Guard.”
Angus keeps his sword pointing toward the ground, and the priest walks over to the Captain. With an Irish accent, the priest begs the Captain, “Have pity my son, you are a professional soldier. He is hardly a worthy adversary.”
The Captain is enraged and has no intention of listening to reason, with menace in his voice, he snaps at the priest, “Stand back papist or I’ll run you through to warm my blade.”
Angus says meekly, “I don’t know how to use a sword.”
The captain replies, “An apology, to me and the lady, is in order.”
Angus growls back, “Never. You can go straight to Hell.”
The captain advices Angus, “Then I suggest you learn to use a saber with due haste.”
Angus throws the saber to the ground, with a show of defiance, he tries to reverse the tide, “I’ll not fight with a sword like a barbarian, but I know how to use a gun.
Maurice the Frenchman walks up to the small group, “Gentlemen, gentlemen, allow me to introduce myself, Maurice Pepin of Umberti Arms Company. We manufacture the finest dueling pistols in the world, and I have a pair with me today. If this situation must be settled with a duel, please do me the honor of using my pistols to settle your dispute. Thus you will demonstrate their effectiveness and high degree of accuracy.”
While the Frenchman continues to explain the marvels of his dueling pistols, the Mormon leaves his wife to whisper into the ear of Nadine, “In a few minutes, you may need a new husband, in the Mormon Church, men are advised to take on wives who have fallen on misfortune. Trust that I will take you on as a new wife so that you will not be left alone on the prairie. You could join my household and be safe and secure till the end of time.”
Nadine looked at him and expressed her gratitude at the man’s thoughtful offer, “What a kind and heartfelt offer sir, I shall consider it an option.”
Maurice feels complimented that the captain has accepted the offer of his pistols and beams with pride, “With Pleasure. These are 54 caliber cap and ball, the twelve inch barrel will guarantee a well placed shot if the walnut stock is held steady. There, the pistols are loaded and primed. Choose your weapons, gentlemen. I assure you, these are the most accurate dueling pistols in the world today.”
The captain walks over and chooses a pistol and while admiring the craftsmanship says to Maurice, “Mr. Pepin, you seem to be familiar with dueling, would you serve as the referee.”
Maurice answered with excitement in his voice, “Indeed, with pleasure Captain, I assume the Lieutenant is your second. Sir,” he looked toward Angus, “do you have a second?”
Angus answered with defiance, “No, I won’t need help to kill this English swine.”
Maurice ignored the ungentlemanly reply, and said, “Gentlemen, as the referee, I am required to ask if an apology is offered to resolve this altercation.”
Angus answered quickly, “There is none offered.”
Maurice turned to the captain, “Sir, do you wish to proceed?”
The captain answered, “Proceed, with due haste.”
Maurice laid out the basic procedure for the duel, “Gentlemen, we should move away from the station and the livestock.”
The small group walked about thirty strides away from the station to decrease the chances of bystanders or horses being hit with a wayward ball. The people at the way station were watching the drama with fascination, but another hundred yards away, a group of Apache warriors were watching with even more fascination.
Maurice continued with his instructions after the group walked to the designated area, “Gentlemen, stand back to back. You will each take ten paces as I count them, after ten paces you may turn and fire. An apology may be offered before the first shot is fired, but after the first shot is fired, it is mandatory that it be answered with a second shot. The shots will be exchanged until there is satisfaction on the field of honor. May we proceed?”
The captain answered quickly, “Indeed.”
Angus answered with menace, “Let’s get on with it.”
Maurice began counting, “One, Two,… Nine, Ten.”
Angus turns with surprising speed when he hears the number Ten, and fires. The bullet strikes the captain’s face as he is turning around. It carries away a portion of his left cheek and cheekbone. The captain staggers backward under the tremendous force of impact. He is bleeding profusely, but he takes two steps forward to his former position and slowly takes deliberate and careful aim.
Angus drops his pistol to the ground and blubbers out an apology with a quaking voice, “I apologize, I am so sorry.” He starts to walk away.
The captain yells out, “Stand there, damn you, I will take my shot.”
The captain is having problem drawing a bead on Angus because of the pain from his wound, he opens his eyes wide as if he needs to see Angus more clearly, and breathes deeply as he repositions the pistol in his hand.
Angus cries out in desperation, “Please, don’t shoot, I don’t want to die.” He drops to his knees and is blubbering, “I barely know the woman. I met her in Memphis, and she asked me to take her to San Francisco. I bought her that pretty dress. I’ve never had a pretty woman. I don’t want to die over a woman I barely know.”
A shot rings out and Angus crumples over holding his belly. He screams in agony as blood and green fluid flow from his abdomen.
Nadine lets loose with muffled shrieks as she rushes over to Angus, “I’m sorry Angus. Please forgive me, I didn’t think it would go this far.” She kneels by his side, and then stands up to wrinkle her face with disgust. “Good God, you’ve been shot through the bowels, it smells ghastly, this is disgusting. I can’t stand the stench.” She stands up to leave Angus alone in his humiliation and despair, as he prepares to die in agony.
Bert walks up to the lieutenant, who is tending to the captain’s wound. With a matter of fact expression, Bert says to the two of them, “He could live all night, gut shot like that, one of you will need to finish the job, and then you need to dig a grave deep enough, so I don’t have the grizzlies and cougars coming down to dig him up for dinner. Your stage will be ready to leave in thirty or forty minutes, I suggest you get busy. My wife, Magpie will tend to that nasty wound. She’s Kiowa and won’t be impressed with any of your aristocratic flirtations. She’s damn good with a knife, just a word to the wise, in case you are still feeling frisky.
There’s shovels and picks in the tack shed. You can dig the grave right here, ain’t no one gonna care in a few days, no how.”
The priest performed Last Rites over Angus, and as Bert walked away, he told the captain, “Let the Indian woman tend to your wound, she seems knowledgeable on earthly healing sciences. I will help your Lieutenant dig the grave.”
The captain walked over to the way station and Magpie had a chair waiting for him on the porch. She cleaned the wound and applied salve with a first class bandage over the wound. When she was finished, she looked the captain directly in the eye and asked, “Was it worth it?” She patted his hand with a surprising light touch, and said, “You rest a while.”
Bert walked up and offered the captain a small glass of whiskey and started a conversation, Magpie says you are going to be sore and maybe the wound will infect, you can stay here a few days and rest up, until the wound has started healing. You won’t find a better doctor than Magpie, between here and Sacramento, but it is up to you.”
The captain replied, “Thanks for the offer and the whiskey, my cousin and I will stay for a few days and pay for the services.”
“Sure thing captain, we have guests all the time, but it would be nice if you could advise us on defensive tactics in the event of attack by hostiles,” Bert said hoping to gain the most from the relationship.
“Bert, in the event of an attack by hostiles, your defensive position is hopeless,” the captain said with a degree of seriousness, “but let me think about the possibilities.”
The captain watched as Maurice collected his deadly pistols and reloaded one of them. He paused to ask the lieutenant a question and the lieutenant nodded his yes. Maurice walked over to Angus and put the loaded pistol against the man’s chest and pulled the trigger. The captain heard the death rattle of Angus, and that was the last noise Angus would ever make, he was dead.
Just before dark, a cowboy rode into the yard with twenty head of horses. Bert opened the corral gate and told barber to get the horses in the corral. Bert said to Buck the young cowboy, you got to have them broke to ground drive and nail shoes on them before you’ll get paid. I’ll probably need three of them by morning.”
Buck answered back, “I’ve got a pretty good handle on them. I just need to nail some shoes on and they’re ready to go.”
“Better get some grub, while it’s still hot and then start in on shoeing this mob,” Bert said to Buck.
“What happened to the guy out front, did Magpie’s cooking disagree with him?” Asked Buck.
“Hell no, we had an old fashioned duel, just like in New Orleans, the ol’boy they are getting ready to plant, he lost, but the winner doesn’t look in real good shape either.”
“Looks like they just put the loser out of his misery. It’s just as well, he’d be making the horses nervous with all that moaning and bellyaching. They’ll be hard enough to shoe anyway, without a dying man making them loco,” Buck said.
The grave digging crew walked into the station to eat and left Angus next to his six-foot deep grave.
During dinner, Nadine is admiring the young cowboy. He has long auburn/blonde hair and bright blue eyes that send out sparkles when he laughs or smiles. She is smitten with this wild eyed young cowboy.
The captain has dinner with Maurice and the lieutenant. Bert walks over and says to the sullen crowd, “I’m glad you got rid of the problem, the passengers were not able to enjoy the meal with him groaning so loud.”
The priest walks up and asks if he can sit with the rest of the gravediggers. Maurice pulls out a bottle of whiskey and said, “This will help us wash down the taste of death and religion.”
Even the priest laughs as Captain Esteban toasts, “to fickle women and foolish men.”
After dinner and a bottle of whiskey, the burial party walks close to the grave and no one really wants to push Angus into the grave because of the stench. They elect to push him in the grave with rails from the corral, while standing as far away as possible. After unceremoniously dumping Angus into his grave, they begin filling in the grave and darkness shrouds their work. Bert walks up to ask if any of them have seen his helper, Pecos. Everyone admits they haven’t seen his helper, and Bert walks away.
The priest becomes worried and asks everyone to quit shoveling for a few minutes. He drops into the grave, just in case the lad fell drunk into the hole while they were eating dinner.
He is in the hole for several minutes when they hear him yell, “Sweet Mother of Jesus, the lad is under Angus, passed out drunk. We nearly buried him alive.”
Everyone was concerned now, since Angus weighed three hundred pounds and was four foot down in a narrow hole and stretched out on top of a drunk.
Maurice asked how they can get him out of there, but answered his own question by saying they would need to pull Angus out with a horse and then pull out Pecos and push Angus back in the grave. No one could come up with a better idea, so Maurice left to find Bert.
Bert listened to the story and breathed a sigh of disbelief. He drove over a big bay gelding and the priest dropped back down into the grave to secure Angus’s ankles to the single tree. The horse was nervous and didn’t like the way the job was shaping up. He pulled a few steps until the corpse came up out of the ground, he turned around to see what his load was and took off like a racehorse with Angus in hot pursuit.
Bert turned to the men, “I thought he was the most reliable one I had, I hope we can find him tomorrow morning. I can’t believe what just happened. Maybe you guys can fill in the grave a little bit in case anyone asks. We just might find the body in the morning.
The Comanches watched the proceedings in disbelief and let the horse run a few miles before catching him and cutting him free from his ghastly burden. They were happy to obtain such a big strong horse, but there was a corral full of horses down below and they wanted all of them.
Bert said, “Pecos is much smaller, we can probably pull him out of there without a horse. I’d hate to see him behind another galloping horse, headed for tall timber. Especially after almost being buried alive.”
They pulled Pecos out of the hole and he smelled worse than before after laying under Angus for a few minutes. They pulled him close to the well and rinsed him down with several buckets of cold water. He woke up but was incapable of moving, so he just laid back in the mud and let them throw the buckets of water on him.
Bert laughed and said he was probably good for another year after a good washing like that. The gravediggers sat on the porch and drank the rest of the whiskey. Bert walked inside the way station to keep a lid on things.
The priest asked Captain Esteban if he wanted for him to hear his confession, “I gave comfort to Angus in his final moments. Do you want me to hear your confessions.”
The captain replied, “Father, we aren’t Catholics, and truthfully, we are poor Protestants.”
“Perhaps we should just talk as friends. I have another bottle of whiskey if you promise to be courteous to a papist,” the priest said.
“Don’t be too hard on me this evening, I am a different man than I was earlier today,” the captain said while reflecting on the day’s proceedings, “but I’d love to know if an Irish priest has Irish whiskey in his pack.”
“Aye my son, it’s a rare Irish man who doesn’t appreciate a drink of whiskey. God gave the Irish whiskey so they couldn’t rule the world,” the priest said with due seriousness, “I happen to have the smoothest Irish whiskey on this side of the Atlantic.”
“Yes father, if it’s okay with you, maybe you and I, who have both stood in an innocent man’s grave today, just maybe you can tell me a way to make sense of this tragedy, that was almost much worse,” the Captain said with solemnity.
The priest and the captain walked over to the open grave and sat down to share the whiskey and talk of life’s mysteries.
At the grave, the priest said, “It will be a hard day to put behind you my son.”
“Yes, Angus faced his weaknesses and now he is gone. Only, I am left, with a piece of my face shot away, and wondering how I could let a beautiful woman, who is a few compass points off center, lead me around like I had a ring in my nose. It’s hard when the dust settles and you face stark reality,” the captain admitted to the priest.
The priest said, “The Lord put such flowers on the earth to test men, but more importantly, so that they might learn from their mistakes to become better men in the eyes of the Lord.”
The captain looked at the priest and said, “Thank goodness for an Irish priest, who likes his whiskey; otherwise, there would be no way to see any positive benefit in this dreadful disaster.”
The two men didn’t notice a solitary man who rode up with a packhorse and a spare saddle horse. He walked into the station without incident. Nadine was sitting on Buck’s lap while they shared a bottle of whiskey.
The man walked over, grabbed Nadine by the arm and said, “It’s time to go home, let’s go.”
Nadine stood up and looked down at the floor, but Buck stood up with a Bowie knife in his hand. The stranger pulled out a Navy Colt, put the barrel against Buck’s chest and pulled the trigger. Buck fell to the floor holding his blood soaked linen shirt away from his body with a look of shock on his face. A few seconds later, he died.
Bert walked in and saw his wrangler dead on the floor with a hole drilled through the center of his chest. The stranger looked at Bert and asked if he was the law.
“There’s no law in this country mister, but this man was a friend of mine, and he’s leaving a widow and two small children,” Bert wasn’t sure about the children, but Buck was always leaving a woman somewhere.
The big man pulled out two twenty dollar gold coins. “This should cover the cost of a grave and buy supplies for the widow over the winter. We have children of our own at home. Nadine is touched in the head, she runs off every six to nine months and it doesn’t take her long to take up with some damn fool. I find her and often I end up killing the dumb bastard who thinks he is in love. If I didn’t need her at home, I’d let her go on, but I need her to help with the farm and the kids,” the stranger told Bert.
The man herded Nadine out the door and on to a horse. Twenty minutes later they were ambushed and scalped, by the Apaches watching from the hillside.
The Comanches watched as Bert pulled Buck by the arms toward the gravesite. He insisted he do this chore alone. Once he was outside the station he began to talk to Buck, “I know you don’t mind sharing a grave with someone. You know eternity is considered a long time and you two will probably be good friends over time. He’s not there right now, but with any luck we will find him in the morning and you two can get to know each other right away. I know you don’t have a wife and kids, or at least any kids you ever mentioned, but you can bet if any of them show up here, I will help them out with a grubstake or a job. Oh, about those vouchers for the horses, I will make them payable to me, incase you ever have any heirs show up at a later date. If you have any problems with the plans, let me know now, or else I’ll figure this is the way you wanted the deal to go down. Well, here we are at your new home. These kind fellas will bury you a little bit and depending on whether we find your partner, we will finish the job tomorrow night.
Bert asked if they had room for one more in the grave.
Sean answered up, a little too deep into his cups, “Hell yes we do, there’s all kinds of room in this grave just throw him in there.”
Buck landed with a thump and was in a sitting position. A fact that wasn’t noticed until the next morning when the Mormon’s wife screamed because she thought she thought he might still be alive. The Apaches continued to watch and were mystified by the proceedings.
We are often led astray by attractive promises, often they prove to be nothing more than empty shells. It is far better to sit back and observe the folly of others, before making a foolish move or judgement we will regret later.