A next installment of the fictional narrative of Recollections of a Western Deputy (1871 -1897).
Notes from the Diary Entry of
Monday October 23, 1882 -
The Tornado at Prairie Flats And How Adopting A Wild Goose Spurred My Wife Into Being A Town Hero While In A Fit Of Jealous Rage
Sunday October 15, 1882 was almost a hot day, about 80 degrees and constantly raining on and off with rain and thunder and lightning clouds from the southwest like the weather couldn't make up its mind whether to flood the ground, or just to make slosh and slip out of the mud. Then that night a cold dry wind blew almost directly south on the new weather vane the Sheriff put atop the jail on Wednesday, October 11th. Not only did it spin in the direction of the wind, but the Sheriff had made it a two sided strip iron mechanical thing out of wood, it was painted and cut into a lumberjack sawing a fallen tree. And every time the wind blew, that dang thing up thar' would be sawin' away on his wood. When the wind wasn't blowin' it was full stopped. But when the really wind blew hard, that dang thing up thar' would be sawing hundreds of times a minute like some kind of maniac in a would lumberjack compete. Folks young and old just loved to stop and look at that weather vane, and by Thursday and Friday they started a clutterin' up the streets, sometimes for what seemed to be hours.
There they was, watching that thing up thar' a shootin' the breeze, sometimes right in the middle of the street a shootin' the breeze with gossipin' like statues with fingers pointed up in the air and movin' only their lips, as if someone was supposed to come and bronze them and make them into the town monument. A town surveyor was hired by the mayor, and declared Main Street was was 84 feet wide of dirt from horse rail to horse rail, and for me to stop usin' the word "rod" every time I mentioned 10 feet of something, and just to say "feet". He also was one to say that a "butt" was a journey's end, and that he got that from reading Shakespeare plays and the like. Well to me, 84 feet is 42 people spread across the Main Street rail to rail, and all having one "butt."
Between havin' to go to trial as a witness in 16 different cases in 2 days and each time testifyin' bein' told to git on down to the Sheriff's Office and wait to be called again Thursday and Friday of last week, I can't tell you how much of a nuisance it was to have to sit thar' in the Sheriff's office a watchin' them, and then goin' out to tell them to stand to one side to let folks pass or to git along. Especially Friday : 3 pots of coffee and 8 trips to the outhouse later, I was almost too tired to do my evenin' chores, and find out from the wife all that she heard from her busy-body mother and two sisters was a happenin' round the town that day while I was stuck down at the office or at another rush-rush trial.
Round about 4 in the morning on Monday October 16, we had us a sound like there was a train yard south of town, travelin' from East to West, even though no tracks were laid yet, just the gradin' done for the new train tracks they said was a comin' maybe in 2 or 3 weeks, maybe next spring if we early wintered. The house shook, and it was if the very air was sucked right out of the house through the open windows. I snapped to my feet as if I was back in the war and we was a bein' over run again, and scenes from the past played out as real as it was happenin' in the present. And for whatever reason, I remembered the first time I scouted, and had to train my replacement even as I took my first assignment, showing him how the hoof print was less than a half hour old, as the edges were still sharp and the light wind we was havin' hadn't smoothed over the edges yet. And with that, and the Mrs. callin' my name slightly above the noise, I snapped back to the present.
As I stood thar' and scanned about, the house for just a moment was swaggering like we was on a boat deck in the water and then suddenly stopped. The the noise was still so loud a deaf mute could hear it, as if it passed directly south of town and stopped, and then after about 20 seconds it was kept movin' west about the speed of a fast horse. Outside was pitch black, and inside the whale oil lamp we kept lit to keep an eye on the new baby was burning dimly. Our new child Charlotte was wide awake and was a cryin'. Since everyone was up, we all went down to the kitchen, the meetin' place for all family and company, and had us an hour early breakfast before setting about our day.
Round about 6:40 in the mornin', a rider (said to be bleedin' from the right side of the head above the ear) came by horse from Prairie Flats, a town smaller than ours of about 350 folk about 6 miles to the West.
The town "alarm and gatherin' bell" was rung 3 times, stopped, rung 3 times, stopped, and then rung 3 times again. After a minute, that was repeated. Then once more. In about 5 minutes, every man in Militia or Posse in town was all there armed and in a lump. Marshall Jackson and Judge Hollister together took turns informin' the town that the Tornado that skirted our town had "flattened Prairie Flats flatter than a flapjack". "More than 200 folk" was trapped under wreckages and callin' for help. And what's more, a 27 long wagon train stopped there for the night, and had about 50 grown men and women and twice that many children among them that were also among the casualties. Because I was good at getting things done efficiently and others to do the same at my instructin' them, I was volunteered by the Judge and the Marshall to organize any resources the town had, and to head a 64 man Posse and Militia with equipment to save and treat the quick, and to put off buryin' any dead unless absolutely necessary. Doc Phillip MacDonald, his wife and four virgin old maid daughters, all skilled in the late war in tending thousands of battle casualties, and the two town veterinarians would also accompany my group. Other groups would be organized with food and supplies to feed us and tend to our collective needs later in the day and in following days under Marshall Jackson, who would remain in town at present.
In about 10 minutes I sent a detail of 36 riders with axes, extra rope, shovels and instructions on ahead; and in just a little over 40 minutes I was able to lead a 16 wagon detail loaded with equipment and supplies (including lots of blanket, medical and food provisions) out to Prairie Flats with two riders sent on ahead to join the other 36 and let them know organized help was a comin', and other townsfolk with their women would also be a comin' to help. In all, over 280 of our townsfolk came out to help before the mid-afternoon, and close to 400 of our townsfolk had spent at least 6 hours or more helping the folks there in Prairie Flats by the morning of the 3rd day.
Flatter than a flapjack didn't half even describe what we found at much of Prairie Flats. Most of it looked like something worse than a piled up train that fell onto a collapsed bridge in a dry gully. It took us over a day and a night, even with all the extra help and workin' by torch-light to git everyone out of the rubble in which the often 16 and 20 feet long one foot diameter and larger logs of these cabins were thrown about like match-sticks and so tangled together worse than any river log jam ever was, it was hard to think they was ever organized into buildings and walls at all.
Once everybody was saved, and tended to for a little over a day and a night, that following day about all but 40 of my fellow townsfolk were sent home or limited on what time we wanted them to spend, as we tended and fed the wounded until most of them were well enough to tend themselves. Provisions were donated by the silver miners who bought them as a kind of way of saying they believed in grub-staking them. And work parties were scheduled by me and the leaders of Prairie Flats to be for no more than 2 days (at their insistin') in the following week where more than 120 men from my town would come out and help them on designated alternate days to build homes and shelter before the freezing winds of the north finally bring the full winter frost upon us. The soil in Prairie Flats was as still yet soft and rich and deep enough for sod huts, and about 40 were planned to be built quickly, taken from fallow and unplowed fields, each with walls 5 feet thick to shield from the cold, and after that, the log homes would be built again.
In all, after the first 3 days we found there was 14 dead, and 3 maimed for life (one with blindness), and 97 other folk there at Prairie Flats suffering broken bones and like injuries. 286 folk in all were rescued out of the disaster, and it was a day that they dedicated to became an anniversary of remembrance. In fact, so many got born again through the Pastor and his wife and the 4 MacDonald daughters, that the first building that the folks at Prairie Flats pledged themselves to build was a town church large enough to fit everyone in it all at once, and attend one service together. I don't rightly know why, but for some reason or ta other, I could only imagine for a building that big out in these here parts, it would have to be like a huge barn that they could also use for both services and maybe have a doctor's stall where mothers could have babies, so when the kid grew up, and left a door open on a cold day, and was asked, "Was you ever born in a barn?" The kid could zing back, "Why yes! I was!"
Enter Clarissa And Unforeseen Trouble
While I was at Prairie Flats, I don't know if I adopted this wild mother goose, or if she adopted me. I named her Clarissa, and from the very first hour I was there in Prairie Flats she was always a huggin' and a wantin' to be petted and hugged, and when I lay down she would always sleep next to or on top of me, and always seemed to be a kissin' me. She had 4 little ones, and they was cute little critters. But her beau, I didn't like. The first time I lay down, I found geese had teeth as that stupid gander bit my nose and held on like a grip of a bulldog. So I jumped up and grabbed him by the neck and whirled him about like a ball on a rope, threw him up in the air, shot him, and then gave his sorry fat carcass to a hungry family. Well, somehow the story got home to my wife all twisted about, and the way she heard it, was that Clarissa [never mind she was a goose] was a young mother with 4 kids a always a huggin' and a kissin' me for no reason, even goin' to bed and sleepin' with me. Her husband [never mind he was a gander] got jealous, so I shot him and made her a widow, and it in no way changed Clarissa's affection toward me, and she continued to go to bed with me at night a hugin' and a kissin' me on the cheek and in the ear. Friend, that mountain of manure that some dang female gossip spread before my wife was so high, you could have built a train tunnel through it and ran that train for 20 minutes before you came out the other side. But that Clarissa was a hot breathed hussy of a woman throwing herself at me and me happily acceptin' it was how the wife heard it.
Come Saturday, I brought Clarissa and her family home, and told the Mrs. we was a keeping it as a pet because they chase away and eat the snakes. That makes them good pets for the kids. For the first time in my life, I couldn't read her face. It was blank with a stare, as if there was no emotion. As she turned away and closed the side porch door (which was also our kitchen door) shut, I had no idea how angry she was, and I went around the back of the house to do some chores out of view of the Mrs.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, down at the jail Harry McGuire had beat almost senseless the two other deputies Sheriff Bond had hired last Spring. And for whatever reason, maybe because I arrested him, maybe coincidence, recently sentenced to die for murder, Harry McGuire (38 years old, 6 foot 2 inches and 280 pounds of him) at about the same time spryly rounded the front of the house, and with a .44 revolver he had taken off of one of the two deputies he beat near senseless at the jail, he barged in the kitchen where my wife was already at the door, standing on a stool with an iron skillet, intending full well to let ME have it. Not seein' who he was, McGuire came stormin' in, and the wife thinking he was me, swung like she was a trying to hit a big rug off the clothes line, and laid him out flat, dead on the spot.
That night, even though the whole town made her into a heroine, and with Judge Hollister's blessings the Sheriff even made her an honorary deputy Sheriff and gave a pair of new 6 guns to shoot me with if she ever got in the mood, she had a long talk with the Pastor and his wife in the parlor (which is sacred to having immediate family only in our home as all others are trespassin'), and she got born-again. She became more gentle, more easy to talk to, more lovin' in everything as if we was a courtin' all over again. Yes sir, she was a lot more kind and polite. She stopped being so suspicious, and realized that no matter what, I wasn't EVER goin' to be cheatin' on her . Hell, I had proof positive of the consequences, with the open blessings of the Sheriff to take care of business. After seein' what she could do with an iron skillet and now the Sheriff himself armed her with man-sized six-shooters and he thinks I'm even goin' to think to cheat on her, let alone even try? Unh unhh. No sir! I ain't crazy.
-- Deputy B. (June 12, 1898)