Dead Wood and Gold

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic

A young man goes west to escape a troubled home life and finds himself in a lawless mining town in The Dakota Territories

The Ravine

Dead Wood and Gold

By J.D. Anderson

 

 

“ALL WE HEAR IS RADIO-GAGA, RADIO-GOOGOO, RADIO-GAGA,”

Bobby cast a sleep deadened hand toward his clock radio in an effort to silence the cacophanistic tones of “Queen” as he dragged his mind grudgingly from the sleep world into wakefulness.

The book he had been reading as he fell asleep the night before, “Tales of the Black Hills,” fell from his bed to the floor with a thump. He had found the book at the public library the day after his parents told him that they were going to the Black Hills in South Dakota for their summer vacation. Bobby, as usual submerged his mind in the history of the region, so now his dreams were awash with stories of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Jack McCall and “The Dead Man’s Hand,” aces and eights.

It was the middle of June. School had ended at the end of May, and they would be starting their vacation on the first of July, so they would be in Rapid City on the Fourth of July. Bobby had fallen asleep the night before reading his book, learning all he could about the history of the Black Hills. He read that the native people considered the land to be sacred, and how, when gold was discovered, the rush of prospectors had caused a bone of contention to be formed, and that the Army was sent to quell it, with generally lopsided success. He also read about the wild goings on in gold towns like Lead and Deadwood.

Deadwood was particularly famous, or infamous, depending on the character that was being talked about. Bobby read about Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, Colorado Charlie Utter, and others that developed the personality of the town, but he also read about people like Jack McCall, and the underground Opium dens that trapped many of the Chinese immigrants that were drawn by the prospects of wealth that was as easy to attain as digging a garden.

Bobby walked to the end of his bed and took his pair of jeans out of the pile of clothes that was draped over the foot board of his bed. He looked on the floor around his feet for a pair of socks, and finding non, dropped to his hands and knees to extend his search under his bed. He saw a splash of red under a shirt that had made its way under the bed, he pulled at the splash of color and watched a sock emerge from the pile of shirt. He widened his scan and spotted a small green lump against the wall at the head of the bed. He crawled under the bed and grabbed the green lump and it too materialized into a sock.

“Red and green,” he said after extricating himself from under the bed. He looked at the socks. One in each hand, and shrugged his shoulders, “still a pair,” he convinced himself and sat on the bed as he pulled the socks on his feet. He took the shirt from the end of the bed, sniffed the armpits, shrugged and put it on.

He walked to his closet and opened the door. Sitting on the floor, just inside the doorway, he found his toy six shooter and holster. Leaning against the wall was his old Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. The gun had seen a lot of used over the three years that he had owned it, and it no longer shot BBs, but it still cocked, and the trigger still worked. Bobby picked up the pistol and looped the belt around his waist, then he took the BB gun from along the wall and walked to the door of his bedroom.

As he opened his door and stepped into the hallway, he heard his mother’s voice from down the hall from the bedroom she shared with Bobby’s father, “Brush your teeth,” she said, and Bobby looked at the bathroom door across the hallway and a few feet down from bobby’s door. “there are bagels and cream cheese on the kitchen counter, and milk in the fridge.”

Bobby walked down the hall to the bathroom door and opened it. He reached around the corner and turned on the light, then centered himself on the sink in the middle of the bathroom vanity. Finding the toothpaste sitting behind the cold water handle to the right of the faucet, he squeezed a dollop of paste on his brush, replaced the cap and returned the tube to its place behind the faucet. Waving the brush quickly under the running tap, he put the brush in his mouth and began moving it around vigorously, occasionally hitting a tooth, but for the most part, just managing to coat his tongue and the outside corners of his mouth with a thick, minty foam.

He gathered the sweet, minty foam to the center of his mouth, and with a short, forceful expulsion of air, propulsed the green, foamy liquid into the sink with all the precision of a blunderbuss loaded with rock salt. He waved his foam laden brush under the stream of water coming from the faucet and reached for the plastic drinking glass to the left of the sink and filled it with water. He took a mouth full of water and moved it back and for the in his mouth, then leaned his head over the sink and let the contents of his mouth pour out into the sink. He placed the glass in its place next to the sink and reached to his right for the hand towel hanging from the towel ring on the wall. Pulling the towel down, he wadded it into a ball and wiped it once or twice across his lips and threw the towel ball into the corner of the vanity, next to the wall, turned long enough to grab his BB gun and walked into the hallway, remembering to swipe the light switch on his way out so the light turned off.

As he ventured down the hallway, Bobby repositioned his BB gun in his hand from gripping it by the barrel, to holding it more toward the middle of the gun. As he approached the stairs, he lifted his hands just above his waist and allowed his feet to fall off the top step into a rolling, surfing stumble that served no other purpose than to sound like someone was falling down the stairs without actually falling down the stairs, the clattering of the pistol and holster as it slapped against his hip only added to the affect. He came to a stop at the bottom of the steps in a Ninja like stance, even though he had just descended the stairs in a way that caused movement in cemeteries in three adjoining counties.

He looked to his right, into the kitchen and saw a bag of bagels sitting on the kitchen counter, and an open block of cream cheese next to it. He walked closer to the bag and saw a butter knife propped against the cream cheese, holding the cheese coated blade off the counter.

He took one of the bagels from the bag and pulled it apart, then reached behind the bag and pulled the toaster closer to himself. He put a half of the bagel in each of the slice slots in the top of the toaster and pushed the plunger knob so both sides sank into the toaster. While he waited for his bagel to toast, he walked to the refrigerator and opened the door to get the milk. Sitting next to the plastic gallon container of milk was another box like container filled with large, fresh strawberries. Bobby’s hands immediately gravitated to the berries.

“No strawberries,” his mother’s voice reverberated from the nether regions of the house, “those are for supper.”

Bobby’s hands froze mere millimeters from the strawberries. He looked in the corners of the refrigerator, then around the kitchen, making a mental note to find and destroy the cameras that his mother had strategically placed around the house.

As he pulled the milk from the refrigerator shelf, he heard the plunger on the toaster release and pop his, now toasted, bagel into the air. He kicked the small stool, that was kept in the kitchen, closer to the counter, put the jug of milk on the counter, and reached for the cupboard door, as he climbed the steps of the stool. He opened the cupboard door and took out the purple, plastic drinking glass that he had long since clamed as his own. He placed the glass on the counter, next to the milk, and hopped from the stool to the floor. He poured his glass of milk, hamming the plastic cap back on the milk jug with sufficient force to make the remaining milk in the jug slosh around and up the inside walls of the container.

He reached for his bagel which was now cool enough so as not to scorch his fingers, but still warm enough to melt the cream cheese, that he applied with the butter knife, with liberal abandon. When he had finished with the cream cheese, though he could not explain how, he found that he had smears of cheese on both arms as far up as his elbows, and one rather large smear just under the collar of his T-shirt.

His mother came down the stairs and around the corner with a bath towel in her hand and headed toward the utility room. She glanced at Bobby holding his bagel, half in each hand, and turned her head back toward the utility room. She stopped in her tracks and stared ahead for a moment, digesting what she had just seen, then turned toward her beloved son, trying desperately to hide the smile that threatened to consume her face.

“You know, I’ve never thought of cream cheese as a skin moisturizer,” she said as she used the towel to wipe the smears of cream cheese from the tip of Bobby’s nose and under his right eye, “but I guess it could work,” she wiped another smear from his left ear, “did you leave any for the rest of us, or did you use it all to bathe in?”

“There’s still some left.” Said Bobby as he walked from the kitchen to the small dining room table. His mother looked at the counter and saw a misshapen lump on a tinfoil wrapper next to a square foot of counter top smeared heavily with cream cheese and two, bagel shaped bare spots in the middle. She set down the towel and produced a wet wash cloth from the sink to wipe the cream cheese from the side of the milk jug and put it back in the refrigerator.

She picked up the glass of milk and wiped cream cheese from the bottom of it, then reached for her coffee cup from the half wall between the kitchen and dining room and refreshed her tepid coffee from the ever full carafe that she kept in the coffee maker.

She brought the coffee cup and glass of milk to the table and sank into one of the chairs kitty corner from Bobby.

“So, what adventures to we have planned for today?” she said, looking at the holstered six-shooter on Bobby’s hip, “I saw your BB gun in the kitchen, so I assume you’re going out West. Any place in particular?”

“Going to work my claim on Annie creek.” Said Bobby as he worked on his bagel.

“What are you claiming?” asked his mother as she brought her cup to her lips for a sip of coffee.

“Its my gold claim, I’m a prospector.” Said Bobby, as though he had just stated the obvious.

“Oh,” said his mother, “How far is your claim from Sutter’s Mill?” she smiled broadly, proud of being able to dredge up a small artifact from her memory of high school history.

“I’m not in California, Mom,” he retorted, aghast at her lack of knowledge about historic geography. “I’m in the Dakota territory, near Deadwood, Custer said there’s gold there, so I aim to find it.”

“How much have you found so far?” his mother asked, leaning forward, and placing her chin on her left hand, as if devoting her full attention to every word he said.

“Not much,” he said as he examined his bagel for his next bite, “dust mostly. I have a small bag full and another half full, but that won’t last long, prices in town are really high.”

Bobby popped the last bite of bagel into his mouth, chewed vigorously for a few moments, swallowed, and drank the last of his milk to chase the bagel to his stomach.

“Well,” he said as he jumped off his chair and grabbed his glass, leaving a cream cheese smear where his glass used to be, “gotta be goin’, don’t want anyone jumpin’ my claim.”

He walked into the kitchen, placed his glass on the counter next to the sink, grabbed his BB gun from where he had left it and walked to the door.

“Thanks for the vittles, Ma’am,” he said, touching his forehead with the thumb and first two fingers of his right hand, as if he were tipping a hat, “they hit the spot right nicely.”

“Yer surely welcome, stranger,” Bobby’s mother said as she wiped the smear of cream cheese Bobby had left on the table, “can I expect to see you again some time?”

Bobby opened the wooden inner door and looked outside where the sun was shining on the front yard. “Its possible, Ma’am,” he said, and then turned his head to face her, “By the way, my name is Bob McAllister, Ma’am, but my friends call me Dakota Bob.”

He turned and swatted at the door knob on the screen outer door while throwing his hip into it, causing it to pop open. He took a few steps away from the house into the front yard before turning left and walking along the house and the hundred and fifty yards to the edge of the ravine.

 

 

Bob McAllister paused a moment before encouraging his horse to step over the rim of the small valley that had been carved out of the ground by countless years of water passing over it in the form of Annie creek.

He had been born in Western Indiana, in 1851, and was nine when his Pa had gone to fight for the Union in 1861. In 1863 he, his Ma, and two younger sisters received word that their Pa had been killed at Gettysburg. With Bob being so young, his Ma was forced to sell the farm and move to Wisconsin to live with her brother.

Her brother, and his wife, took every opportunity to let them know what a burden they were and how they should be more grateful toward their family for taking them in. the depression of losing her husband, and the constant brow beating from her brother, and his family, took a toll on Bob’s mother, and she died of Pneumonia in 1866.

Because most of the heaviest labor was put on Bob, by the age of sixteen he was stronger than most of the grown men in the area. This fact was over looked by Bob’s uncle and his family, and they continued to mistreat Bob and his sisters. One day his uncle began bad mouthing Bob’s father and mother in front of Bob who stood up and called his uncle a liar.

Feeling a need to put Bob in his place, his uncle grabbed a piece of fire wood and tried to use it as a club to beat Bob with. Bob raised his left hand to deflect the blow and then applied a haymaker with his fisted right hand. The punch had enough forced that Bob could feel the bone in his uncles jaw give way and break. He then watched his uncle fall unconscious to the floor.

The entire room became deathly silent, all eyes going from Bob to his uncle, laying unconscious on the floor. Bob’s aunt finally sprung into action and told her son to go get the Sheriff, then turned to Bob with a face contorted in fear and rage and pointing a thin, gnarled finger at Bob and screamed at him, “Now you’re going to get everything your ingratitude deserves! We’ve gone out of our way for you, and this is the thanks we get! I hope they put you in prison and let you rot!”

Bob’s sisters pulled Bob out of the house and to the barn. His youngest sister ran back into the house while the older pointed at one of the horses and directed Bob to saddle her. The younger sister ran back into the barn as Bob sat down in the saddle and handed Bob a sack and then a rifle.

“there’s some food and bullets in the sack.” She said, looking nervously out the barn door.

“You gotta run, Bob,” said his older sister, “and don’t look back. Don’t worry about us, we’ll be alright, just get away, go West, you can start over there.”

Bob reached down and squeezed each of his sisters’ hands, “I’ll find you again someday, I promise.”

“We’ll watch for you.” Said the younger sister, “but now you have to go!”

She swatted the rear end of the horse and it bolted through the barn door. He bounced around Wisconsin for a while, doing short term farm labor for extra money. The sheriff did catch up to him within the first couple of days, but he had noticed how Bob’s uncle had treated Bob’s mother, and then Bob and his sisters. He said Bob had given his uncle everything he deserved. Bob asked the sheriff to keep and eye on his sisters and try to keep them safe.

He wandered around, venturing into Minnesota, then to Kansas, doing off jobs, hiring himself out for seasonal labor to anyone that was willing to pay, but never staying in one place for more than a few months, never long enough to gain a reputation, whether good or bad.

Seven years went by, and he found himself in Yankton, in the Dakota Territory. He had heard of George Custer’s expedition into the Black Hills, and of his discovery of gold there. He had grown weary of traveling from town to camp, to settlement, and wanted to plant some roots, but he was not going to do that living as he was with his hand-to-mouth lifestyle. He decided to try his luck prospecting. If he left soon enough he would be able to have his pick of claims.

He ventured into the Black Hills from the South. He panned in a few places, and found some gold, but not enough to want to stay in that area. He wandered for a few months before he heard of a large strike further North. He headed in that direction and came upon a steep sided valley that was lined with numerous dead trees. Amongst the trees, and along a small creek were rows of tents, interspersed with some more permanent wood framed, canvas covered structures built by those who had failed, or had no interest in mining the river, and decided to mine the miners instead by setting up a business or providing a service that the miners would pay for.

The area along the river was thickly packed with other people’s claims so Bob decided to stay a couple of days and try to glean some information from other miners. He had enough gold from his placer mining to get something to eat and maybe a drink at a saloon. After a couple of days he heard of a couple of rivers to the North and West of town, which had been named, not surprisingly, Deadwood.

He decided to go in the direction of these rivers and found a secluded area with a few miners, but nowhere near the numbers of miners that he had seen in Deadwood. Her ran a few pans and found gold in three out of four. He decided to stake his claim and marked off three hundred feet along the stream that the other miners called “Annie’s Creek,” though none could say who “Annie” was or who had named the creek.

He had struck friendships with a few of the miners, and when asked where he was from, he just replied that he was from Yankton, which was the largest town in the Dakota Territory at the time. Because of this answer the miners began referring to him as “Dakota Bob” which suited Bob just fine as he wanted to put his experiences in Indiana behind him.

After a couple of weeks, Bob decided it was time to register his claim, so he saddled his horse and began the trip into Deadwood. He brought about a hundred and fifty dollars in gold dust with him to buy some supplies, eat a hot meal and maybe have a whiskey at one of the saloons that seemed to grow like weeds along the main street of the settlement.

Once in town, he went directly to the registrar’s office and filed his claim on Annie’s Creek, then went to one of the wood framed, canvas covered establishments that served food for a hot meal. He found one that he had patronized before, and though the prices were equal to other places, he found that this place was relatively clean and did not cater to other appetites that were prevalent in Deadwood at the time. For eight dollars he could enjoy a meal of steak and eggs with a cup of coffee without worrying about a gun fight erupting over a whiskey fueled poker game as gambling and hard drink were not allowed on the premises. He could enjoy this fare in privacy as the “working girls” were not allowed to ply their trade there either.

“Well,” said a gravely, cheerful voice from behind Bob, “if it ain’t Dakota Bob. How’s it goin’ on Annie’s Creek. Is she givin’ ya any color yet?”

Bob turned toward the source of the voice and smiled, recognizing Colorado Charlie Utter as he moved to straddle the bench seat next to Bob.

“Pulled an ounce or two out,” said bob as he shook Charlie’s hand. He turned back to his meal and took a sip of coffee. “how are you and your brother faring with your express service?” Bob asked, applying a knife to his steak.

“Oh, I can’t complain,” answered Charlie as he scanned the eating establishment. “Steve is on a run right now. Should be back in a few days.”

Charlie and Steve Utter had arrived in Deadwood about a month earlier trying to establish a route from Cheyenne to Deadwood and conduct an express service to move goods and people to and from the gold fields. On their first trip they had brought a good number of passengers with them, among them was a relative celebrity in the territories. James Butler Hickok, known by most people as “Wild Bill,” had come to Deadwood to capitalize on the gold rush, though not by the normal means of mining.

“Have you talked to Bill lately?” asked Bob as he continued eating.

“Funny you should mention Bill,” said Charlie, sitting back and then pointing out of the canvas covered door, “I just talked to him a couple of hours ago. He talked about going to saloon number ten today. I guess he had pretty good luck there the last few days, except for his run in with ‘broken nose’ McCall. Seems ‘broken nose’ was betting with money he didn’t have and got mad when Bill called him on it.”

“How did McCall react to bein’ called out?” asked Bob, knowing McCall had a temper.

“Oh, he was fit to be tied,” said Charlie, “but he got even madder when Wild Bill threw some money on the table and told crooked nose to use it to buy breakfast.”

“Did he take it?”

“Yea, he took it, but then Bill told him he shouldn’t play cards if he couldn’t cover his losses.”

Bob pushed his empty plate away and sat back in his chair, “true enough, but McCall doesn’t cotton to bein’ told what to do.” He leaned forward, and took a drink from his cup holding the last sips of his coffee, “Have you seen McCall since?”

“Can’t say that I have,” Charlie said as he watched Bob drain his cup and place enough money on the table to more than cover the bill.

The two of them walked to the door of the establishment and steppedout into the daylight.

“Maybe I’ll go down to the Number Ten and have a drink before I head back to Annie’ Creek,” said Bob as he gazed down the street, “Maybe I’ll say howdy to Wild Bill while I’m there.”

“I reckon I might go with ya, Bob.” Said Charlie, smiling at Bob. The men turned together and walked across the dusty street, stepped up onto the plank board walk that lined the main street. As they turned to walk toward the Number Ten Saloon, the men heard someone yell, and then heard a loud “Pop” that both men recognized as a gunshot. After a pause, they heard three more gun shots. Bob and Charlie simultaneously slapped leather and filled their hands with Peace Makers.

They saw a man catapult himself out of the Number Ten Saloon and run to one of the horses tied up in front of the saloon. He put a foot in the stirrup, but the owner of the horse must have loosened the saddle because when the running man tried to step into it the saddle came down on top of the man.

Bob and Charlie saw him try to regain his balance and look for a direction to run in. they waw him look down the street in their direction and turn to run toward them. More men poured out of the saloon.

“Stop him,” one of the men shouted, “he just shot Wild Bill!”

The running man turned around and fired another shot at the man that had shouted. He was no more than five feet away from Bob and Charlie. Bob thought quickly and turned his pistol around, so he held the barrel, then reared back and swung so the grip of the pistol connected solidly with the back of the pursued man’s head. The mans arms went limp and his knees turned to jelly as his head bobbled from the impact and he flopped, face first, on the pine side walk.

Charlie held his pistol on the man as Bob turned him over. Both men recognized him immediately as “Broken Nose” Jack McCall, the man that Wild Bill Hickok had embarrassed the night before. Another man run up to them, winded.

“Glad you caught him, he just killed Wild Bill Hickok!” said the man in between gasps for air.

Charlie looked at Bob with incredulity written boldly on his face. He looked back at the man, “There is no way “Broken Nose” Jack McCall could get the drop on Wild Bill Hickok.”

“He didn’t get the drop,” said the man, “Bill was shot from behind.”

“That can’t be,” said Bob, “Bill never lets anyone behind him. That’s why he always sits in the corner.”

“He wasn’t in the corner; he came to the game late and took the only open seat available. He had his back to the rest of the saloon and Jack here,” he motioned toward the man laying o the sidewalk between them, “walked up and shot Bill in the back of the head. He never saw it coming.”

“That’s just plain murder,” said Bob, looking at the various stores around them, “he deserves to swing. Where do we get a rope?”

“Now hold on, Bob,” said Charlie, “he may be a no account, but he has a right to a trial. Just like any other citizen. Like him or not, he’s still an American.”

“But so many people saw him do it,” said Bob, “he is obviously guilty.”

“No doubt,” said Charlie, “” he still has a right to a trial, ‘Due Process’ I think they call it.”

Two men arrived and proceeded to take McCall to the livery stable until a decision was made concerning how to proceed. Charlie Utter paid for a burial plot and grave marker. Since Bob had no real reason to be in town, so he decided to head back to his claim. On the way home he thought about his life, all the things he’d done, the places he’d seen, and how quickly a life could be snuffed out without a notice. He began thinking about his sisters and wondered how they were faring. He promised himself that he would compose a letter to them, and once he was established, make a trip back East to see them.

 

 

Bobby crested the top of the ravine and meandered back to the house. He opened the screen door and threw a half hearted hip into the wood door, took off his shoes, and sat down at the table. His mother came out of the utility room and stopped with a basket of folded clothes when she noticed him at the table.

“You’re back early,” said his mother,” what’s going on?”

“Nothing,” said Bobby, looking out of the window at the front yard, “just felt a need to be home.”


Submitted: November 12, 2021

© Copyright 2021 J.D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

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