The Prairie Rattler

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Trials and tribulations of a young family settling in western ND in early 20th century.

The year was 1904.  The three years in Nebraska has not been kind to Casey.  He had worked as a hand at several different ranches along the North Platte River.  Wells had gone dry  and ponds had dried up.  Ther wasn't enough water to cook or wash and certainly not enough for livestock. Ocasionally, after a day or two, the water would come back a little, but never enough.  Pastures dried up and most of the livestock had dies.

The one good thing was that Casey had met and married the daughter of one of the ranch owners he had worked for.  She was a young tough cowgirl named Mary.  She was good looking, charming and really knew how to ride a horse.

Casey and Mary lost their first child in childbirth.  When it happened, Casey was hundreds of miles from his home and from his family.  It was the loneliest time in his life and was very difficult for both of them. The feelings of loneliness and despair were overwhelming.  Their lasting memory was holding each other and crying all through the night.  It had made their bond very strong.  As Neitzke once said, that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  

Mary's dad's ranch could no longer support them, so they bought two horses and a wagon and headed up north to the wild unsettled territory in western North Dakota where there was land available for settlers.  Their entourage included the wagon and two horses, a milk cow, their dog Shep, Casey, Mary and their young son Nathan.

Upon arrival in Medora in western North Dakota, they applied for and received a homestead certificate for a quarter section of land north of Medora on the Little Missouri River not far from where Teddy Roosevelt had once ranched.  At one time, this had beeen a favorite summer hunting ground of the Oglala Sioux.  With their remaining money, they bought staples, wood and barbed wire and headed for theri new home.

It took two days for them to get from Medora to their new home.  They had been warned that it was difficult to get to, and it was.  It was spring and the beauty of the rugged badlands was just beginning to show.  On the second day, they crossed a steep saddleback known as Devil's Pass and they were within four miles of their new home.  

As they headed up from the pass a man suddenly appeared in front of them.  He raised a hand for them to stop and pointed a gun at Casey.  He ordered Casey to get down from the wagon.  He stared at Mary with a menacing grin.  He had a gap in his yellow stained teeth and his unkempt beard made him look even more menacing.

Casey sensed immediately what the man's intentions were with regard to Mary.  As he stepped down from the buckboard, he reached with his left hand and grabbed his Colt pistol from under the buckboard seat. The man made the mistake of focusing his intention on Mary who was shielding Nathan.  Casey shot the mand before just as his foot hit the ground.  The manfell to the ground and slowly bled to death.  As Mary consoled Nathan, Casey buried the manbeside the trail. He would report it to the Sheriff the next time he was in town.

The view from their new place on the Little Missouri River was something they had never seen before.  At the time the river was overflowing with large chunks of ice from the spring thaw.  They camped in the wagon.  The next day they walked around the entire property looking for the the best place to build their cabin.  They chose a rise behind some trees with a view of the river with a large butte behind them on high enough ground to avoid any flood.  

The first couple of months were spent building a temporary dugout home to protect them from the elements.  Casey fenced off about two acres for a garden to keep out the deer and the rabbits.  They planted primarily corn, squash and potatoes.  The family survived on their staples and the abundant wildlife such as venison, antelope, rabbit, turkey and grouse together with wild berries.

In early July, the family suffered a setback.  Lightning hit the ground near their cabin during a thunderstorm.  The dry underbrush and dead cottonwood trees caught on fire.  The fire spread down the draw toward the cabin and eventually burned their cabin.   Casey and Mary started over and in a couple of weeks rebuilt the cabin using the logs hewn from the trees that Casey had chopped down.

It was now late July and it was hot and humid.  The temperature was in the high nineties and the humidity was about that high.  Casey had spent the morning cutting down cedar trees and trimming them into posts.  He was young and strong and the work made him feel good.  He was fencing the east side of their property so they could freely graze their cow and horses.  Overhead an eagle soared.  Not far away, a fox zigzagged up the butte.  The wooded areas were teeming with mosquitos and gnats.   Casey shirt was soaked through with sweat.  

You could smell the sage and the cedar.  The Prairie cone flowers were in full bloom.  Birds were singing back and forth over the sounds of the insects.  

Around noon Mary and Nathan brought out some lunch.  Casey had finished setting a number of posts and was stretching the barbed wire using the claw on his hammer.  He took pride in building a tight fence.

Nathan was now nine months old and was crawling everywhere. Not even the tall grass could slow him down.  Casey and Mary laughed as he would stick his head through the grass and look at them and laugh.  Casey finished his lunch and he and Mary were holding hands and watching Nathan. Their big yellow dog Shep lay under the trees panting from the heat.  Ocassionally Shep would get up and find Nathan and then go back and lie down.

Suddenly it got very quiet.  Casey looked over his shoulder and saw a mountain lion about twenty feet away looking intently at him.  He jumped up and shouted as loud as he could but just then heard a rattling sound that made the hair on his neck stand up followed by a sickening thud.  Casey ran toward Nathan but it was too late.  The rattlesnake had struck Nathan in his chubby right thigh. Casey's boot heel smashed  the rattlesnake head into the ground and he ground his heel until the snake was dead.  He immediately cut off Nathan's pant leg and cut an X over each fang mark and tried to suck out the venom.   Mary scooped up Nathan and ran him to the wagon as Casey hitched up the horses.  It was 20 hours to the nearest doctor.  Shep jumped in and they headed for town.  

Two hours in to the trip Nathan died.

Casey and Mary never turned back to retrieve their possessions or livestock, they just continued on back to Ohio.


The End



Submitted: February 16, 2017

© Copyright 2020 M Maus. All rights reserved.

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