LETTER TO AN OLD FRIEND (R)
31 October 1876
It has been a long time my friend. So long that I had considered the possibility that you had succumbed to the elements—whether natural or human—on the trail west. Are you up by Peshastin or Swauk Creek? I heard about the gold they found there—some years back. Perhaps gold wasn’t the type of adventure you had been searching for, but I’d still be interested in hearing about it. I have yet to make it to Oregon or the Washington Territory, but I hear you have settled there.
I asked around for your whereabouts in years past, without success. Then a week or so ago, I came across this brownish, wet leather-stained letter crumpled up on the bottom of my saddlebag. I referred to it with much curiosity because I didn’t remember it being there. I unrolled it and read it that night by the fire, and there was your story, written in the neatest Euro-cursive that I knew only you could produce. (You’re such a damn good writer. Did I ever tell you that? You ought to teach it at one of those universities).
Anyhow, the letter re-explained to me how you had changed your name back to your birthright, and I tell you, the memories of you and I and the good ole days struck me like a mule’s hoof in the head. I had an immediate urge to visit with my old friend. I started asking around that very same afternoon—visited with the local stage coach driver one day, shared a whiskey with the Pony Express fellow the next, and played poker with the railroad supervisor on the following, and whew, by the end of the week and after lots of shots of whiskey, I had found someone that had heard of a Mr. Beeley living up in the Northwest section, Washington Territory. I just knew it was you, especially after they mentioned the young lady that you spent time with, dear Sarah.
Blessed be America and its big ears.
I hope all is well for you, and dear Sarah, and whatever blessings and agendas you two might have brought forth to this world. I know your aspirations to be as keen as a deep breath taken within a snow-covered forest, and I can only imagine what great and peaceful things are running through your mind right now.
My story as of late, besides sitting by the fire in my library working on notes for future novellas into the night, and boring myself on most occasions, was getting back on the trail. I miss it, you know, the trail. The dust, the call of the coyote, the butter-fried beans over an open fire, burnt coffee, a cold creek water face wash in the early morning, the dark brown spots of buffalo herds in the distance, rattlesnakes, all of it. Just every damn bit of it.
I feel almost ashamed, but even some times, I recollect our days on the battlefield with some strange admiration. I think to myself: Am I crazy?
So, I finally found a reason to get back out there. I took a furlough and headed west soon after I heard about Custer. I had just visited with the Colonel in May at the fort when he had received his orders to lead the 7th Calvary on the campaign. I recall sitting in my office in the days after hearing the news. I could still picture him in my mind sitting in the stool across from me. I couldn’t get it out of my head. (I am going to miss him.) That’s when I decided to go.
I got ready by rubbing some of that fancy oil on my colt .45. I took two shots at the cistern out back. At least I could hit that (I would have to fix that hole upon my return). I definitely knew practice would be required along the trail. But to assure my safety, I also brought my Henry repeater, because I knew I could still polish a door handle at seventy-five yards with it.
My intent was to go see for myself the Little Bighorn where it happened, but I never did make it all the way. I reached Deadwood—I am sure you have heard about that place and all the happenings there as of recent. I arrived in mid August, just missing the burial of Wild Bill by a mere 13 days. I was over a hundred miles out when word of Wild Bill’s killin spread like a prairie wildfire down the trail. I hadn’t seen Hickok since Abilene (not long after our central Texas days), but remember him as a good man, fair anyways.
I did run into Martha (Calamity)—you remember her. She was completely drowned in her depression over the loss, and by quite a load of whiskey, too. We shared a drink to ole Wild Bill and one to her inebriation, arm and arm (I was holding her up), while I consoled her. It was a moment to remember and share at heart, even if it was with Martha. Unfortunately, either she took it wrong or thought someone owed it to her as condolence, and the next thing I knew, she was fetching for my broom stick and wanting to hang it in her closet - if you know what I mean, right there in the damn alley, just outside the No. 10 Saloon. I held myself (my clothes) together and turned to rush inside the saloon, but not before she batted me over the head with her empty bottle. Lucky it was empty, and more of a damn-you-I’m-mad-but-don’t-hate-you hit. She obviously doesn’t take no too lightly, but fortunately, she got over it quickly after screaming a few gol-dammits and rock-suckers at me. Then she followed me inside the No. 10 and showed me where it happened.
There were still some blood stains visible, and I took my hat off in respect to the dead. It had been mostly cleaned up. We had another drink, and then stumbled up the hill to the graveyard to see where he lay. I guess the fellow who did it, Jack McCall, was still alive and locked up somewhere. I was surprised-that he was still alive. You’d a thought someone would’ve strung him up or shot him down almost immediately.
Anyhow, I also ran into Charlie Utter on the trip, his brother, and a few other acquaintances. Visited some claims closer to the gulch, but they looked pretty worked over. I didn’t figure on staying around that long anyhow—would be the cause of nothing but trouble for me. It’s hard to not fall back into bad habits. I don’t mind an all-night poker game now and again, but thinking of Tabitha back at the fort, taking care of the kids, I forced myself to take at least two cold dips in the creek to settle myself down after getting teased by more than one soiled dove in the evenings. If I would’ve whiskey-ed it up a little too much, I surely would have lost my composure. Then it wouldn’t of paid to even go back home.
But home I am, again. I picked up where I left off, sitting in my wooden chair, daily, in a dusty office on the edge of the fort where I am the quartermaster. I create reports, send off orders by courier and receive in any new equipment on the coaches every third day or so. We haven’t been out as a company in over two years and the office is quite a bore to me. I often wish we would pack the wagons and set off again. I hear rumor that a small constituent may be called upon to go south and settle social conflicts leftover from the war. What could they possibly still be fighting over? Will they never get over it? North or South, black, white or red, can’t we all just get along!
My days of service are numbered, I suppose. As you probably have observed the same, my eyes have blurred from a bit too much trail dust, my rear end a little coarse and cranky from years in the saddle. I pull my hat down low and take advantage of using the ‘sun in my eyes’ as an excuse to snooze. There are still those bursts, though—mostly in day dreams when I have too much time on my hands. I have thought about heading back to Abilene one last time, maybe Austin, maybe San Antonio. But then I think, better yet, why not make a trip to the Swauk Creek or the Yakima Valley. My back is still young enough to pan for riches, one last time. And to visit my old dear friend, Mr. Beeley. Let me know if you are still around.
Your Good Friend,
Fort Snelling, Minnesota
Letter to an Old Friend
This is an actual letter sent to a dear friend of mine; only the names have been changed.