How I won the West


Dear Ma:

†I made it out West, though things didnít exactly happen as I first planned when leaving you in Philadelphia.

Things changed on train to St. Louis when I mistakenly pulled the brake cord and the conductor put me in the caboose† to keep 47 angry and injured passengers from lynching me.

The sudden stop also shook loose the connecting pins to some of the car so that on the first hill later, some cars kept up with the locomotive; most didnít.

For some reason, the conductor gave me my money back in St. Louis for the rest of the trip west and told me I would need to find alternative transportation.

I saw the conductor make a sign of the cross as he left and heard him mumble something about the Lord helping those poor savages.

While I know I promised you to keep my money for when I got west, I got a real good deal on a pony -- though I never knew a pony could kick so hard as this one did or be so stubborn.

A few miles along the road to Topeka that pony stopped cold and wouldnít move even when I shoved him from behind. I got so frustrated I yanked out País Civil War revolver and started to shoot.

Well, me being the marksman you know I am, my cursing did more to move that pony than my bullets did. I hit two trees, one bush, a rock a fence post and a passing strangerís horse -- which fell dead.

Being out in the wilderness and all, the stranger presumed the worst and took to cover behind his dead horse.

I saw sunlight glint off his revolver so took cover behind my pony.

The stranger might have killed me, but was soon convinced my shooting came completely as an accident. He decided he needed my help to make a withdrawal from the bank of a nearby town.

When we got to town, the stranger took the rest of my money and my pony to the stable where he hoped he could trade the mule for two real horses.

I checked in at the local hotel and waiting the hotel bar while the maids got our rooms ready.

Now I know why the Indians call whiskey fire water.

I assure you, Ma, very little of it got passed my lips once I tasted it.

A few men at the bar objected to my spitting out on them.

One wanted me to go out into the street and settle the issue like a man.

Another one couldnít wait and started shooting right then and there.

Of course, I shot back, hitting a chair, two tables, the bar mirror and a lantern -- which fell and started the fire.

By the time we reached the street, the other men forgot all about trying to shoot me and yelled for people to get water to keep the fire from spreading to the other buildings. Before it was over, the bar, hotel, general store, claims office and a few other buildings were smoldering ruins.

When my friend, Clem, got back with the horses, he thanked me for sparing the bank, and told me to hold the horses while he went inside.

Apparently, he had the same problem in the bank that I had in the bar because he cam out shooting. He dumped the bag of money on his horse and told me to ride like hell.

God knows I tried.

I rode as well as a shot, and while Clem tried to help me up after my horse threw me and bolted, his horse went after the first horse, and we found ourselves on foot.

Clem managed to save the bag of money, but no food or sleeping gear, so that when we took to the hills, I was hungry and cold.

Clem had also spared a bottle of whiskey he quickly drank, and told me not to worry about how close we were to an Indian camp.

But I was so hungry and their cooking smelled so good, I decided to go ask the Indians for food.

Clem giggled and told me to go-ahead.

Thatís how I wound up tied up in one of the tee pees.

I hoped Clem would sober up soon and come collect me. I even thought I smelled his stinky cigar once or twice, though when the flap of the tee pee opened all I saw were irritated Indians trying to figure out what to do with me.

When Clem came, he was not alone.

A beautiful Indian girl apparently led him to me, claiming she had fallen in love with me and didnít want to see me scalped.

Clem told me to shut my mouth as he tried to cut me loose. I moved. He cut the wrong rope. The tee pee came out on our heads.

God only knows how we got out of there without getting shot.

On the trail, I could not keep my gaze off the girl. So I stumbled often.

Clem claimed the rock slide I caused would slow down those Indians perusing us.

We arrived as a cattle station near a pass to Utah just as the clerk was closing it down and getting aboard a train west.

He claimed a band out outlaws had robbed a bank at Junction City, killed the population then burned down the town -- and from the way the Indians were behaving the gang was likely headed in this direction.

I tried to tell the clerk Clem hasnít hurt anybody at the bank, just scared them a little, but Clem clamped his hand over my mouth and dragged me and the Indian girl onto the train.

Ma, I swear, I had nothing to do with the train crash that stranded us near the mountains of Nevada.

I wonít go into how we discovered gold, except to say that Clem vowed never to trust me with dynamite again.

Weíre so rich heís decided to go back to Junction City to pay back the money he stole and to repair all the damage caused by the fire.

Heís not worried about anyone jumping our claim while heís away because people are afraid of me.

I canít imagine why.

Anyway, when he gets back we intend to sell the claim and move onto the coast, maybe settle in San Francisco. Iím figuring on marrying the Indian girl.

I told him now that Iím rich Iíd like to come back to Philadelphia to see you.

Clem said he absolutely wonít let me take a train. So Iím thinking maybe of coming back by sea.

Anyway, allís well out here. Hope to see you soon.


Your son,




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