The Kind of Guy He Was

 The Kind of Guy He Was  
The old cowboy rode along at a slow walk, he’d owned cars and trucks for more than 20 years, maybe time passed him by, he didn’t care, it was 1952 and he remembered  a time before automobiles , a slower, gentler time and then the wars, two big ones, changed everything.  Something in the wind moved him back to 1952 again. He tipped his nose toward the sky and sniffed. It was wood smoke. A half hour back, before the wind freshened, he thought he smelled smoke but passed it off,  thinking if old people could start seeing things and hearing things maybe he started smelling things that were not there. But now he was sure, it was smoke.
But that couldn’t be, not in December, matter of fact it’s the 24th, Christmas Eve. Good memories started to fill his head but he pushed them away as quickly as they had come on. Christmas was just another day in December, nothing special, at least to him, not anymore.
People didn’t camp this high up in December, hunting season was long past and the only house, except for his five miles away, was the old Godfrey place. It was maybe three quarters of a mile over the ridge to the north. The smell of burning wood was coming with the north wind, but that place had been vacant for what, 20 years, at least 15?
Clark Banks pulled up to think, but only for a moment, he had to know, that was the kind of guy he was. The sun was setting, it would be late, long past dark, when he got home, but he tapped his heels in his gray gelding and loped north picking his way though flat rocks and yucca.
He always liked the old Godfrey place, isolated, but picture perfect, like a bank calendar picture. The place set in a natural mountain park surrounded by junipers and berry bushes. Years ago when he and Bette last visited the Godfrey’s they were old and frail and the place had been falling apart. Couldn’t be much of anything left now.
Another minute and Clark Banks reached the crest of the hill overlooking the long deserted place. Only three times in his 65 years had something left him speechless, the day he got married, when their only child was born and now as he looked down on the old Godfrey place.
It was spectacular, the Junipers were sparkling with thousands of multi-colored lights. The cabin he remembered in complete disrepair was larger, much larger, than he remembered. It was old but perfect, looked sound, complete with light showing through the windows and the smoke he’d smelled was wind angling north from the chimney in great black and white puffs. There was a large barn that hadn’t been there 20 years ago along with half a dozen out buildings and four large corrals.
Banks had not taken a drink of alcohol for years, right now he needed a drink, but he settled for a thorough rubbing of his eyes and another look at the scene below, a scene that did not change. He let the gray pick his way down the steep hillside, he had to see, he had to know, that’s just the kind of guy he was.
 A thought crossed his mind as he neared the twinkling cabin, what if this place is full of outlaws, escaped convicts or crazy people. This could be his last minute on earth, then he smiled at the lights twinkling as dollar sized snowflakes started to fall. If this is his last minute to live it would not be too bad. He warmed as the snowflakes splattered his face, chuckled to himself, and then laughed aloud, “don’t think bad people decorate for Christmas,” he said to no one or to the snowflakes and cold.
The old cowboy tied his horse to the rail in front of the cabin, stepped on the porch and the door opened as if he were expected. A white bearded gentlemen in a red vest smiled and motioned him in. Banks felt rather young looking at the old fellow, thinking, “This guy has me by at least 20 years.”
“Can I get you something to warm ya up, Tea, Arbuckles’, whis”
“You have Arbuckles, real Arbuckles, haven’t tasted that since before I went off to France in the first war, love some.”
Banks watched the old man take a one pound bag of Arbuckles Ariosa Blend from the cabinet and make coffee on the massive wood stove in the kitchen part of the cabin. It was good, better than anything the old cowboy had tasted in years, but how did he do it, Arbuckles’ hadn’t made coffee, let alone Ariosa Blend for years.
The two men sat and talked for hours, talking about everything and chatting about nothing, like two old friends they talked into the dark of night.
When the old cowboy woke up he could not remember falling asleep. Now he was stretched out on the couch, his boots beside him on the floor. He was toasty warm as he rolled back the red and green feather comforter and turned to get up. He was all alone. He thought the old man must be outside. Slipping on his boots he walked out on the porch, half a foot of snow covered everything in sight, his horse was gone, but he knew it was in the barn. He also knew he was all alone, he could feel things, just the kind of guy he was.
Banks went back into the house, he was hungry and he wanted to taste that Arbuckles one more time. A skillet of bacon sat on the stove, beside a pot of mush and a fresh pot of coffee, and of course it would be Arbuckles, he thought. Funny but he was sure there was nothing on the stove when he stepped outside, must have failing vision along with everything else in his old age. Then he felt it, or didn’t feel it, he had no aches and pains, the ones that had been with him since his army days. The coffee was good but he wasn’t sure it had magical healing powers.
It was time to go home, he wished he could say goodbye to the old timer, thought he might ride back up here in the spring. But now it was time to leave, he had things to do, and he felt different, happy and healthy. Walking to the barn it seemed almost warm, Banks felt like he had stumbled upon the fountain of youth.
Tracks near the barn stopped him, some kind of sleigh tracks, but the animals pulling it were not horses, smaller like deer tracks, but larger, really big deer.  He saddled the gelding and rode out of the barn right into the bright sunlight of his own place. How it happened he did not know, but he was home.
Was it a dream, did he have a stroke and die, was he in heaven now? Nope, he was pretty sure his place would not do for heaven. Didn’t matter, he had things to get done.
Clark Banks rode to town in a gallop; it was early, old man Tatum would open the store for him, especially after he told him he intended to buy a present for every kid in town.
He wasn’t sure why he had so much Christmas spirit, maybe it was just the kind of guy he was.



Great Day to Hold up a Stage Coach

Ed Trafton was a pretty good stage robber he may have held up more coaches than any other western outlaw. And he did it all the same day.

On a hot July day in 1914 Tafton and his hidden, and not at all active, partner Charles Erpenbach robbed 15 stages in one day. All 15 were stopped near Shoshone Point on the way to Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park. Seemed like as soon as he robbed one and sent it on its way another one was coming around the corner.

Tafton’s one day take was nearly a thousand in cash and over $100 in Jewelry. Oh—and five years in Leavenworth.

Note-The first autos came into the park the next year and by the next, 1916, stages coaches were gone from the park.

Ride Proud Rebel & Rebel Spurs

I consider myself to be a prolific reader (100+ books a year) and once in a while I run across something accidentally that is really terrific. The two novels in the title kept me very interested and eager to turn pages, I wish this was a trilogy, I need to know more. The first is set in the Civil War with the protagonist a scout for the Confederacy. The second is set in early Arizona immediately after the war.

Andre Norton (1912-2005) wrote the two novels but she (Born Mary Alice Norton) only dabbled in historical fiction, most of her writing efforts, and she published over 100 books, were science fiction and fantasy for young adult and children readers. And she was really good at it as evidenced by the dozens of awards she won in her more than 70 year writing career. Her novel, The Beast Master, became a classic to sci-fi readers and movie goers.

Ms. Norton, who published more than 30 books after the age of 80, also wrote under name of Andrew North and Allen Weston. Wish she would have published a few more westerns.

NOTE-I came across the first novel in a two dollar Kindle download of a 25  western megapack and found the second for free download. Both are worth the reading and each is only around 200 pages, (estimate).


Comanche, The Only Survivor

 A childhood interest in the west: cowboys, Indians, mountain men and explorers lead to a lifelong job as a history teacher (now retired). I remember well my first lesson in the Indian wars, Custer and the famous last stand, what else?

That day we learned everyone died in the fight on the Greasy Grass river (Little Big Horn), everyone. None of us questioned this fact. But what about the Indians, why didn’t we ask? Not sure, but years later I still remember being taught that the Calvary horse Comanche was the only survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Maybe we didn’t really study the Indian wars in the west, we were just told about them. Told about them by a teacher not so many generations removed from the plains battles and maybe still just a little bit prejudiced.   

My question since I became a teacher of western history has always been why had Custer not followed General Terry’s orders, instead following his own wrong instincts? He should have known of the great camp of Cheyenne and Sioux, must have known. Some historians speculate he knew but expected the warriors to fight and retreat to fight another day, (a common practice among plains tribes). But this day they outnumbered Custer and the 265 members of his 7th by such a huge margin that they stood their ground and in less than two hours the battle was one for the history books.

 Hundreds, or maybe thousands of Indians survived and much of what we know of the actual battle comes from their stories. Much has also been made of Benteen and Reno and the rest of the 7th that day, but that will be for another time.

I hope that today’s teachers are doing a better job of presenting both sides of the western Indian wars today than they did in the past. That is if today’s schools have enough time to squeeze in some history as they fight battles over, No Child Left Behind and the multitude of  new government mandates to teach better and for students to learn better than they have in the past. But that will also be left for another time.

Weekend in the Black Hills

 Spent a nice weekend in the Black Hills, sorry to see fires burning there much like the ones we have here in Wyoming. Love the night lighting of the faces at Mount Rushmore, very patriotic, something every American could enjoy. (We have been there for the lighting before and will do it again)

We took along our seven year old grandson; he really enjoyed the trip, his favorite places, Reptile Gardens, Bear Country and Flintstone Village.

Found some neat and inexpensive museums and a lot of western entertainment throughout the hills.

Western entertainment abounds throughout the hills, from cookouts to trail rides and don’t forget Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried side by side in Deadwood. But you might have to circle wide around the one armed bandits in Deadwood.

Incompetence and Politicians –Governor Moonlight

Colonel Thomas Moonlight was likely the worst commander in the history of Fort Laramie and may well have been responsible for the escalation of the Indian wars in Wyoming and the west.

Black Foot and Two Face (Oglala Chiefs) brought in a white woman, Lucinda Eubanks, who Big Foot had purchased from the Cheyenne who’d kidnapped her on the Little Blue River* in southeast Nebraska, several months earlier. She was in bad shape after being badly abused (by her captors before Big Foot and Two Face) and Moonlight who seemed to make decisions based on emotion and bad judgment  ordered the Sioux Chiefs hanged with trace chains by the neck. The two died a slow agonizing death and were left hanging, as an example, for months. The Sioux retaliated in kind.

And just what terrible punishment did Moonlight face for this torture and killing without due process or a trial of any kind?  He bounced around in the army for a few more years then went into politics in Kansas and was later appointed Governor of Wyoming Territory by President Cleveland (January 5, 1887). Governor Moonlight took the oath of office January 24, 1887 served until April 9, 1889, staying in government service as U.S. Minister to Bolivia for President Cleveland from 1893 to 1897.
*I grew up on the Little Blue River in southeast Nebraska but never heard this story untill I moved to Wyoming-not too far from Fort Laramie. Most of our knowledge of local history was centered around Wild Bill and the Rock Creek Station shoot-out.

Wyoming Statehood

On this day (July 10) in 1890 Wyoming became a state # 44.

 Ten Wyoming facts

1.   Wyoming has the lowest population of all 50 United States.

2. Wyoming Cowboy’s—War Memorial Stadium at over 7,000 feet is the highest Division One Football Stadium in America (Go Pokes)

3. Wyoming was the first state to give women the right to vote.

4. Yellowstone is the first official National Park (1872)

5. Devils Tower was designated as the first National Monument (1906)

6. The majority of Yellowstone Park lies within the boundaries of Wyoming.

7.  Guernsey State Park in Platte County has some of the best examples of CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the United States

8.  The continental divide splits and goes around the desert on all sides leaving the basin without normal drainage.

9. The Wind River actually changes its name in the middle of the stream becoming the Big Horn River at a site at the north end of the Wind River Canyon

10.         Deer have been in my garden at least 4 times this summer—that is why people still hunt in Wyoming. They seem to love tomatoes and strawberries best

The Treaty of Fort Laramie

The famous Great Council of 1851 (Treaty of Fort Laramie) is well recorded in History books, especially Wyoming History. But by 1890 when Wyoming became a state the famous treaty location was actually in Nebraska. Fort Laramie (Wyoming) itself only covers a few acres and at the time of the Great Council camps of both whites and Indians were spread out for miles. Grass was eaten down to nothing pushing all involved farther and farther from the actual fort as the government waited on gifts from the east to arrive.

This treaty was supposed to solve the problem of Indian wars against the white men on the plains but many historians point to this as the beginning of the Plains Indians wars of the west. The council that tried to keep Indians away from the trails by giving payments to the tribes for the game they lost after being relocated away from the North Platte River. Although all tribes were invited it was the Sioux, Arapaho and Cheyenne that were closest to the trails and most dangerous to travelers, these tribes were among the first and longest lasting of the Plains Indians trying to stop expansion into their territory.

The United States government made only one payment thus breaking the treaty that they had pushed so hard for. The treaty would be redone in 1868, but it to would also fail and wars on the plains would continue until 1890 and Wounded Knee.

Not Buffalo but 5 nice Bucks in the Backyard

Deer everywhere. Ate some strawberries (plants not the berries) and the tops of some of my tomato plants. Love life in a small town, deer and citizens share equally of garden produce, streets, sidewalks and parks.

Been away a long time-much too long for me and I hope for my followers. Since I last posted I have retired and moved to a nice little town on the Oregon Trail just east of Laramie Peak. No, I didn’t go crazy, I just retired, (still live in Wyoming, will never leave). Retiring was a tough decision, but a decision almost everyone will make some day. Not sure what a typical retirement will look like yet, hope to rev up my blogs again, write a bunch and travel. This month we have had grandkids most every day- but school will start again and September will tell what our real retirement will be. I am sure it will be both good and bad, I feel bad that I will no longer spend my days with a classroom full of high school students, but am happy to not have to read any more papers, post any more grades, or attend any more in-service.