A revised Will Starr short Story and some unsolicited advice
Jonas Woodward was in desperate trouble and he knew it. Like his brother before him, he had come to Alaska for the gold, but now he was trying to survive by trapping. The twelve fine pelts on his trap line would fetch good money in town and life was looking up as he made his rounds.
He knew that the early spring thaw may have made the ice treacherous, but the recent hard freeze gave him confidence so he was stunned when the surface of the small creek suddenly gave way under his weight and he was in it up to his shoulders, gasping in shock. He was less than four miles from his cabin, but he would never make it in the cold. A fire was imperative if he was to survive and so was decent shelter.
Quickly, he stripped off his pack and pulled out his axe. Shivering violently, he glanced around and spotted what he was looking for almost instantly. Three small, dead trees stood in a clearing. Unlike fallen logs on the wet ground, the standing wood would be dry and ready to burn. He went to work with the axe.
The waterproof container had done its job. He pulled out his flint, steel, and dry char cloth tinder. Clearing an area, he began to build his fire under some low limbs, making sure that there was no snow overhead. Gathering dry grasses and twigs, he placed them close to his precious char-cloth.
The third stroke of his flint and steel cast a heavy shower of sparks onto the small wad of char-cloth, causing it to smolder. He blew gently until a small flame appeared, and then fed it with the dry grass and twigs. Soon he had a small fire underway, so he added larger sticks and finally, a teepee of large pieces. His fire was built, and the warmth felt good, but he was still in great peril. He stripped off his heavy coat, and hung it in the low branches. He followed that with his soaked bedroll, spare pants, shirt, socks, and long johns.
His wool shirt and pants still retained some of his body heat even when wet, but he needed to get out of his wet boots, so he cut enough pine boughs to make a bed. Then he took off his wet boots and placed them close to the fire.
Digging his tin cup out of his pack, he filled it with clean snow, and placed it close to the fire. As it melted, he filled it with more snow. When it was full and steaming, he added some coffee grounds from his pack, and then drank the hot liquid. Instantly, he felt warmer and a little better.
He added more wood to the fire and was gratified to see the clothing and bedding hanging from the overhead branches beginning to emit the first fine tendrils of steam. He might make it after all.
Pulling his tarp from the pack, he quickly cut some poles and stakes. Soon, he had a small tent constructed over the pine boughs, open toward his fire and closed at the far end. He crawled in and was quickly warmer, once out of the slight afternoon breeze and in the stillness of the tent. He added more wood, and checked his gear. All seemed to be in order, including his rifle and sidearm. To the west, he could see gathering clouds, and they probably meant more snow.
Jonas made another cup of hot water, and then added several sticks of jerky he had crushed, making a sort of soup. It tasted good, and served to keep his belly warm. In the west, the sky was darkening, so he gathered the rest of the wood. It was more than enough to last the night, snow or no snow.
Two hours after dark, he crawled out of his tent and checked the articles drying in the branches. All were dry except his pants and heavy coat, so he put the rest in the tent. He had propped his pack near the fire and it too was almost dry. He stood, and was adding more fuel to the fire when he spotted the wolf.
He was huge and his image was shimmering through the rising heat of the fire. He stood calmly and eyed Jonas silently. Jonas glanced quickly around but saw no other wolves. The big male was alone. Jonas pulled his rifle out of the tent and jacked a shell into the chamber. The wolf backed into the shadows, only the glow from his eyes still visible. He obviously knew about man and his rifle.
He put his rifle back in the tent and the wolf came back into the fire’s circle of light, regarding Jonas silently. The first flakes of snow fell, so he retrieved his pants and coat from the branches. He was finally starting to feel warm again. He looked for the wolf, but he had disappeared. .
He woke several times to feed the fire, and sometimes the wolf was there and sometimes he was not. At last, Jonas drifted off into a deep, exhausted sleep.
He awoke to a fire burned down to coals and just enough flames to illuminate. He rolled over and rose to his knees, where he froze in shock. He was eye to eye with the largest wolf he had ever seen. The wolf was between Jonas and the fire, so all he could see was his massive silhouette. Jonas’ guns were in the tent with him, but he remained motionless. For a long time, neither man nor wolf moved and then Jonas saw something that should not have been there…a metallic gleam at the wolf’s throat. It was the metal buckle of a collar.
“Well I’ll be double damned!”
At the sound of the man’s voice, the big wolf let out a low, whining growl. He stepped closer and Jonas felt a warm, wet sensation across his cheek. He had just been licked.
Jonas hesitated, and then slowly lifted his hand to the wolf’s back, stroking it gently. In response, the wolf arched his neck and pointed his nose to the sky, grumbling his permission. Jonas scratched the wolf behind his ears, and he whined in pleasure.
Jonas rose slowly and added wood to his fire. As the flames leaped up, the wolf watched unconcerned from where he lay in front of the tent. He was not afraid of fire. The snow was now coming down hard, and Jonas retreated to his tent, reaching out and patting the wolf on the head. In the hushed silence, he drifted off to sleep with the giant wolf standing guard just a foot away.
The morning dawned late, and bitterly cold. The snow had stopped, but the sky remained gray and dismal. The wolf was nowhere to be seen, so Jonas packed up and donned his heavy coat and boots. He was about to douse his fire when he saw a large gray shadow streak across the valley below, and up the hill. It was the wolf, and he had a large snowshoe rabbit in his jaws. He had been hunting.
He dropped the rabbit at Jonas’ feet, and backed off. Jonas hesitated. Taking a wolf’s kill was usually not a wise move, but that seemed to be the idea. Finally, he bent and picked up the rabbit. The wolf growled but made no move. Jonas skinned and gutted the kill and tossed the offal to the wolf, who grabbed it, took it off beneath some trees and began to eat. Jonas fed the fire, and roasted the rabbit on a branch, keeping an eye on the wolf.
When it was cooked, Jonas ate most of the rabbit, under the watchful eye of the wolf. When he had eaten his fill, he tossed the remains to the wolf who gulped it down in two bites, bones and all.
He shouldered his pack, and regarded his companion.
“I don’t know who you are or how you came to trust a human but you’re welcome to tag along or go your own way. It’s up to you boy.”
The wolf regarded him silently, so he moved off. After a thousand yards, he looked back, but the wolf had disappeared.
He was just a mile from his cabin when he became aware that he was no longer alone. The wolf trailed alternately either right behind him or at his side. He was apparently the established leader of the pack and the huge wolf was his follower. He could see his cabin in the valley below.
Jonas learned swiftly that a wolf has little in common with a dog. When they reached the cabin, he left the door open, and although the wolf stood on the threshold curiously peering in and around, no amount of coaxing would bring him inside the confines of the building. He also refused to use the simple lean-to Jonas added to the side of the smokehouse. He apparently preferred the unfettered freedom of the outdoors.
He also learned that the wolf preferred to hunt his own meat. It was only after unsuccessful hunts that he would accept meat and fish from Jonas, and then only after the correct ritual had played out. The wolf would turn his nose up at offered food, scorning the notion of a handout. He would however, steal it if Jonas left it on the porch and went back into the cabin. Wolves take great pride in their thievery skills, and this wolf was an expert.
Jonas once forgot about the steal he had set up, and walked out the door just as the wolf was taking a chunk of frozen salmon. The wolf dropped the fish instantly and slinked off sheepishly, his tail between his legs. Jonas said nothing and went back inside. Ten minutes later, the wolf stole the fish again and took to the woods to have his dinner.
Naming the wolf was easy. As boys, Jonas and his brother Jacob had a big, goofy, lovable hound that they named ‘Galoot’. It fit the big wolf perfectly, and he seemed to like the name. His head perked up and his big tongue lolled out of his grinning mouth the first time Jonas used his new name. Soon, he came whenever Jonas called out “Galoot!” but of course, only if he wanted to. Wolves have their dignity.
Galoot was an enigma. He absolutely refused to allow a leash and stayed well away from Jonas if he had anything in his hand that could be used as one. Once, Jonas hid it in his pocket until Galoot drew near, but when he tried to tie it to Galoot’s collar, he was rewarded with snapping jaws and exposed fangs, so he let it drop. He had been warned.
But Galoot also refused to allow Jonas to remove his collar so Jonas gave that up too. Galoot viewed Jonas as the pack leader but he was still a wolf, and he still had his wolfish ways so Jonas grew to accept and respect them. They had established an understanding.
Galoot often disappeared for days at a time and at first, Jonas thought the big wolf had gone back to the wild. But then, when he came out for wood one morning he was greeted with a happy wolfish grin, big front paws on his shoulders, and a quick, slobbering kiss. He stopped worrying about Galoot’s wandering ways.
“Hello the cabin.”
Jonas groaned inwardly. “What the hell does he want this time?”
It was French Bob, a greasy ne’er-do-well who made a living cheating, stealing, and dog fighting. He was also a coward who had initially avoided Jonas and seemed terrified by him. Later, he warmed up a little, but still seemed wary. He was a typical bully who enjoyed having the upper hand but backed down quickly when someone took his measure and confronted him.
French Bob took a seat and glanced around the cabin carefully as Jonas poured them both some coffee.
“Take them there pelts off your hands, Jonas. Save you a trip to town.”
“What’s your offer Bob?”
French Bob looked thoughtfully up at the ceiling, and his thick lips moved silently as he calculated. Then he made his offer.
“Those are prime goods, Bob, and I can get three times that in town.”
French Bob had a whiny, wheedling voice that always irritated Jonas. “Well now, see here, Jonas, the market is down some and I’m taking a risk even offering that. But I’m always willing to help a friend.”
“So am I, Bob, and I would not want you to take such a risk, so I’ll just take them to town myself.”
French Bob saw an easy profit slipping away, so he upped his offer, but to no avail. Jonas simply refused to sell to the grifter. Suddenly, French Bob’s eyes widened as he glanced over Jonas’ shoulder and out the cabin window.
“Damn! There’s a big wolf right outside the cabin. Grab your rifle!”
“Pull in your horns, Bob. That’s Galoot, and he’s sort of tame.”
French Bob cocked his big, shaggy head at Jonas and peered quizzically at him. “A tame wolf, huh? Ain’t never heard of no tame wolf!”
They stepped outside, where Galoot eyed French Bob warily. Finally, Jonas stepped away from Bob, and Galoot slowly came to his side. Jonas scratched him behind the ears, and he growled his consent, still watching Bob.
French bob scratched his unshaven jaw. “What’ll you have for him? He‘d kill any dog in the ring. I‘ll buy him. “
“He’s not mine to sell. He belongs to the wild. Besides, I don‘t favor dog fights. “
Bob stepped closer and reached out to pet Galoot, who snarled menacingly.
“I wouldn’t do that Bob. I don’t know what he’ll do.”
“Oh hell, if you can pet him, I can too.” He put his hand closer and Galoot bared his fangs in warning. Then his head shot forward, and he nipped French Bob’s hand.
“Damn you! You done that a-purpose” He glared at Jonas accusingly. “You sicced that wolf on me. I know you did!”
French bob walked to his horse, which had been rolling his eyes at the wolf, and skittering around nervously. He mounted and pulled his Winchester out of its scabbard. He looked around, but Galoot had disappeared.
“Won’t do you no good to hide him out, Jonas. I’ll find him quick enough, and when I do, his pelt’ll hang on my wall!”
Jonas saw the gray streak coming up behind French Bob, and watched as the big wolf jumped on the poor horse’s rump and closed his jaws on Bob’s right hand. The rifle spun high in the air and the startled horse almost jumped out of its shoes, leaving poor Bob somersaulting off its back where he was kicked soundly in the head by the horse’s left hoof.
When French Bob regained consciousness, Jonas was standing over him, the horse’s reins in his hand.
“Galoot doesn’t much like rifles, Bob, and he doesn’t like you. I have to go to town tomorrow, so I’ll leave your rifle with Otis Renfro at his store. You’d best mount up and have that hand looked at by the doc over at the fort. It looks like you could lose it.”
That night, Galoot dined on a stolen moose steak, as Jonas ate his own steak. Both remembered a thoroughly dispirited French Bob headed for the fort to have his hand repaired, and both smiled at the thought.
Jonas Woodward was a Texan, through and through. His grandfather was killed in a brief skirmish with Santa Anna, two days before the siege began on the Alamo. His father and five brothers ranched near Sonora, as did Jonas and his twin brother Jacob in turn.
Their father and three of their uncles participated in the California gold rush, and had been successful. When they returned to Texas, they bought up additional land and expanded the ranch by three times. They regaled the young boys with stories of mining and riches, so it was not surprising that much later, an excited twenty year old Jacob wanted to try his luck in Alaska. He left with the blessings of his father and uncles. Jonas remained behind. It was their first separation as brothers.
Three years later, the family received news from his partner that Jacob had been killed in an avalanche. In the same envelope was a bank draft for five thousand dollars payable to his brother Jonas, as Jacob’s share of the diggings. Jonas invested most of it in cattle, and kept enough to pay his way north.
Six months later, Jonas arrived in Alaska, but no one knew the locations of the diggings or the whereabouts of Jacob's partner, known only as Iowa Dave, which was a common way to identify a miner. In fact, Jacob was called “Texas Jake”, a moniker that he found humorous and had mentioned in one of his early letters. That Jake had been killed was common knowledge, but death was easy to come by during the rush, so it was talked about for a few days and then forgotten.
Gradually, Jonas gave up on finding his brother’s gravesite, and he began prospecting the many streams. He found color here and there, but not enough to feed himself, so he turned to trapping and the occasional poker game. He was an excellent odds player, winning steadily but fairly and sometimes even taught lesser players a few secrets, making him well liked. In fact, he won his tight little cabin from a man who wished to return to the warmth of Georgia and was looking for an excuse. Jonas gave him one.
Jonas was up before dawn the day after the French Bob incident and was gratified that Galoot was off on one of his hunts. He had worried that the huge wolf would insist on following him to town, where he would be in great danger. Most folks feared wolves, and since Galoot would not surrender to a leash, he would be seen as a wild threat and possibly shot down. Jacob packed his pelts and set off for town.
The store was warm, and smelled of smoked meats and salmon. The stove was cherry red in spots, and several loafers sat at a nearby table playing poker. Tillie Renfro was behind the counter and near the cash box, as usual, while Otis, her husband examined Jonas’ furs with open admiration.
“These are prime, Jonas, and will fetch a good price in the states.” He made a good offer, and Jonas accepted. He placed his purchases on the counter, and Tillie began totaling. Outside in the street, voices were being raised, so a curious Otis went to the window.
“Tillie! Come look at this! It’s the biggest damn wolf you ever saw, coming right down Main Street, big as you please!”
“Otis Renfro, you stop that swearing! How many times do I have to remind you that I am a lady and…Damn! That is a big wolf. And there’s that damn fool, Billy Wiggins with a rifle. He’s apt to shoot one of us instead of that wolf.”
The front door slammed open, and Jonas Woodward ran into the street, both arms in the air. “Put your gun down! He’s tame…mostly. He’s mine, so don’t shoot him.”
Billy Wiggins hesitated, lowering his rifle a little. “Is that the wolf what bit French Bob? Word is, he lost three fingers on his right hand. Nothin’ left but his trigger finger and his thumb.”
Galoot ran over to Jonas, his tail wagging and his wolf grin showing his teeth. He growled as Jonas scratched his ears, and then he looked across the street at Billy Wiggins’ rifle, and growled again.
“He bit Bob because Bob was trying to shoot him. This wolf does not like rifles.” Jonas pulled back his coat, exposing his Colt revolver. “Neither do I when they’re pointed in my direction.”
Billy Wiggins paled and lowered his rifle. Jonas had interrupted a holdup in Otis Renfro’s store, and the speed with which he got that Colt into action was still talked about. After that, he was often referred to as the Texas gunman, and Billy was afraid of him. He spun on his heel and disappeared behind the building.
Otis Renfro stepped into the street, and spoke to Jonas. “You’d best take that wolf out of here. If you leave him on the street, some fool will shoot him for sure. I’ve been wanting to take a little ride, so I’ll bring your goods out in the morning.”
Jonas smiled. “You’re a damn liar, Otis, but I’ll take you up on that. Galoot here means no harm if left alone, but folks don’t know that so I’ll take him on home.”
Otis’ word was good, and he was out early the next morning. Spring was well on the way, and the temperature had warmed into the twenties, so they sat on the front porch drinking coffee. Galoot was off again, and the sky was blue and clear, with a warm sun
“You didn’t have to do this Otis, but you got me out of a tight scrape, and I’m grateful.”
“You think a holdup was not a tight scrape? Tillie and I might have been killed had it not been for you.”
“Oh I don’t know about that, Otis. He may not have been man enough to get between Tillie and that cash box!”
Both men were laughing when the hollow boom of Sharps fifty echoed through the trees.
“Someone probably shot a moose,” remarked Otis, and Jonas nodded, but he had a sickening feeling that was not it.
A few minutes later, they heard the pounding of hooves, and French Bob rode up to the porch, dragging a gray bundle by a rope. He stared at Jonas with a triumphant smile on his face. He threw the rope on the ground, holding his Sharps fifty in his heavily bandaged right hand, consisting only of a thumb and an index finger.
“Told you I’d get that wolf.”
Jonas came to his feet and for the second time in two days, he pulled back his heavy coat to reveal his big Colt revolver. French Bob smirked.
“Hell, boy, this fifty will blow a hole in you big enough to throw a saddle through, so don’t get no big notions. I heard about you bein’ fast and all, but this rifle is already in my hand, loaded and cocked.”
“But it isn’t pointed at me.”
“I can fix that!” French Bob swung the big rifle.
A Bull Durham tobacco pouch comes with a handy drawstring and a tag at the end, so it's easy to pull out of a man’s shirt pocket. One moment the tag was there on French Bob’s chest, and the next moment, it had disappeared, replaced by a large hole. Then the second button on his shirt met the same fate, and Bob’s mouth dropped open in astonishment. He tried to say something, but his eyes rolled up in his head and he fell out of the saddle. His horse ran off, dragging him a few feet before his boot fell out of the stirrup.
“Well, it was self defense, sure enough, Jonas. I saw it all and I’ll testify to that."
But Otis' words fell on deaf ears as Jonas stared at the still gray bundle. The soft fur moved slightly with the morning breeze, but the wolf was obviously dead. The big bullet had hit the head, and most of the muzzle had been shot away. Jonas wiped at his eyes.
They loaded French Bob in Otis’ wagon, and tied his horse on the back. Otis clapped Jonas awkwardly on the shoulder and muttered his regrets before turning the wagon back to town. Jonas took another long look at the dead wolf and walked to the shed to retrieve a shovel, bitter tears stinging his eyes.
Galoot liked to take his stolen food to a clearing where he could watch the valley floor below, so a heartbroken Jonas went to that spot and dug a suitable grave. Then he found an old but clean blanket to wrap the body and cover what was left of the destroyed face. He walked to the body and bent down to remove the collar.
It was gone.
He stood back and wondered why French Bob would remove Galoot’s collar. Pure meanness? Then he noticed something that utterly stunned him. How the hell did he ever miss that?
The wolf was a female.
Bewildered, he stood and drew a deep breath as full realization came to him. This wolf was not Galoot. French Bob had killed the wrong animal.
He placed the blanket out on the grass and gently lifted the dead wolf onto it. He had never seen her before, but that meant little. Their perfect coloration was like a ghostly shadow in the piney woods, seen only in glimpses. Not spotting a wolf was easy. Her range probably included his cabin. He heard a slight noise and looked up.
Galoot was standing on the far side of the grave, staring at him with his head low and menacing. Both accusation and confusion were in his eyes. It was a decisive moment for man and wolf.
Jonas stood and pointed at the cabin, softly calling the big wolf. At first Galoot did not move, but then gave in to the leader of the pack and followed obediently. Jonas picked up the shovel and strode quickly to the spot where French Bob had fallen.
He had covered the pool of French Bob’s blood with a shovelful of dirt. Using the shovel, he swept the dirt to one side and kneeled, pointing to the blood. Galoot sniffed it and his nose wrinkled up in a snarl at the hated man who had that odor. Jonas let him smell it and then rose. He walked back to the dead wolf, and pointed to her neck where French Bob had placed the rope he used to drag her, leaving his scent. Galoot sniffed that, and Jonas sat back to let him work it out for himself.
Galoot sniffed the dead female for some time, whining now and then. Then he trotted back to the cabin and sniffed around again, returning to the pool of French Bob’s blood several times, snarling each time. Finally he returned, bumping into Bob in a gesture of forgiveness, before going off to lie down beside the dead wolf.
Jonas returned to the cabin and made a new pot of coffee. He took it to the porch, and watched Galoot, who was standing sentry over the dead female. Perhaps she was the reason for his frequent disappearances. Or perhaps she was a pack member. The afternoon wore on.
At last, near dusk, Jonas rose and walked to the clearing. He slowly went to his knees, and gently petted the dead female. Galoot sniffed his hands, and softly snarled his consent. Then Jonas picked up the corners of the blanket and folded them over the body. He tied the bundle up with French Bob’s rope, and then gently lowered it into the grave. Galoot whined now and then, but made no move to stop him.
After the last shovel of dirt was on the grave, Jonas put down the shovel, and stood over the mound.
“I don’t know how wolves go about it when a friend dies, Galoot, but back in Texas, we say words and sing a song. Since neither one of us has a Bible handy, I’ll just sing the song.”
Jonas was a decent tenor, and he broke into a nice rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’. Galoot watched in fascination and near the end, joined in with a few baritone howls of his own. Jonas returned to the cabin to make supper but Galoot stayed near the gravesite.
Around ten that night, Jonas put down his book and put a piece of moose liver on the porch for Galoot to steal. Then he got into his blankets and nodded off. An hour later, he heard a strange rustling at the door, so he picked up his Colt, lit a lantern and opened it. Galoot came in with the chunk of liver in his mouth and flopped down in front of the fireplace. He looked up at a stunned Jonas and rolled his upper lip back in a small smile. It was his first time in the cabin.
A few minutes later, Jonas walked to the door and shut it. Galoot immediately came to his feet and whimpered.
“You want it open old boy? Is that it?”
He opened the door, and Galoot was visibly relieved, so Jonas went out and picked up two large rocks to place on either side of the door, keeping it from swinging too far either way. There was plenty of room for Galoot to come and go. He went back to bed.
Jonas woke sometime later and Galoot was gone. He went to the window and looked to the clearing. Galoot was silhouetted by the moon, standing over the grave. Suddenly he craned his neck to the sky and howled his sorrow. Jonas went back to his blankets and sometime later, he heard Galoot come in and fall heavily to his place in front of the fireplace. A few minutes later the wolf was snoring softly, and so was Jonas.
The morning dawned cold, gray, and bleak. A late winter storm had left several inches of new snow, and more was coming down in the form of large, silent flakes. On days like this, Jonas made the best of it by reading and now Galoot sprawled at his feet, sleeping contentedly in front of the fire and soaking up the heat.
Two days later, the weather cleared and Jonas set out to check his trap line with Galoot trailing behind. He collected several prime pelts and was ready to return when he noticed Galoot acting strangely. The wolf was standing on the brow of a nearby hill, looking back at Jonas and whining. He came partway back down the hill and whined again. Then he went back up and turned around, staring at Jonas. Jonas shrugged and followed the wolf.
Galoot led him into an area of steep cliffs and boulders, and it was an area he had avoided due to its barren nature. After two miles, he was ready to turn around when Galoot disappeared up a narrow, frozen creek. Sighing, Jonas followed.
Galoot halted in a place where the canyon widened, and Jonas immediately spotted an area where there was evidence of placer mining. At the base of a cliff was a tiny cabin, neatly put together but without a resident. Jonas made a mental note to return in the spring to either try his luck or meet the owner if he should come back.
Galoot wandered around, sniffing out the story of whoever had been there and at last, seemingly satisfied, he was ready to return to the cabin.
That night, for the first time, Galoot took a chunk of salmon directly out of Jonas’ hand. He ate it in front of the fireplace. On a hunch, Jonas came to him with a rope leash and gently tied it to his collar. Then he tugged on it and Galoot followed him. They walked to the grave of the unknown wolf and back, where Jonas removed the leash. Galoot growled quietly, and then licked his hand. Man and wolf had reached a new understanding.
When summer finally comes to the Alaskan wild, everyone prepares for the brief but highly productive season. Jonas and Galoot made three trips into town, this time with Galoot on a leash. The wary residents still gave him a wide berth, but no one belabored the point. The news of the battle with French Bob had gone around the gossip groups and Jonas Woodward was seen through new and cautious eyes. He already had a reputation as a gunman, but any man who could beat a cocked and ready rifle was to be treated with cautious respect and everyone did.
Except Big Louie Weaver.
Louie, who ran a dog fighting arena on the edge of town, was known as a low-life and an undesirable. The town folks shunned him and had no more to do with him than was absolutely necessary.
Galoot was sunning himself on the boardwalk in front of Renfro’s General Store when Big Louie led a monstrous dog down the muddy street, and stopped in front of the store.
“Jonas Wood'rd! Come out and face a real fighting dog!”
The dog was a large, mixed breed with powerful jaws and a nasty disposition that big Louie had beaten into him since he was a puppy. He had fought and killed numerous dogs and he was now snarling viciously at the reclining wolf. Galoot lazily opened one eye and then closed it, stretching contentedly in the warm sun. His obvious disdain infuriated both Louie and his fighting dog.
Jonas came out the door and eyed the situation.
“You’d best take that young pup back home Louie before he gets hurt. I don‘t cotton to fighting dogs, so just leave Galoot be. Galoot could kill that mutt in one snap if he took a notion to do so.”
Big Louie bent down and unsnapped the leash. “We’re about to find out.”
Jonas walked over and spoke quietly to Galoot while the onlookers strained to hear, but it was in whispers. Galoot looked up at Jonas and grinned his wolfish grin, his tongue lolling out as usual. Then he rose to his full height and walked to the edge of the boardwalk, all the while eyeing the big dog.
What happened next was something folks talked about for months. The immense wolf looked down on the hapless dog, and his hackles rose, making him look even larger. His lips rolled back, and his nose wrinkled, exposing huge and deadly looking fangs, which he began snapping rapidly and loudly. His neck lowered until his head was just inches off the ground and his eyes fixed on his prey. He began to slowly slink forward off the boardwalk and into the street, planting each foot carefully, all the while snarling viciously. The saliva dripped from his jaws in anticipation, and his slanted eyes narrowed even more.
The now thoroughly frightened dog took two involuntary steps backwards, whined for a second, and then turned tail. He ran for the alley with Big Louie close behind and swearing. Galoot watched for a moment, and then returned to his sunning spot on the boardwalk.
Somebody snickered and then someone laughed out loud. Soon the street was roaring with laughter and Big Louis hung his head in shame as he chased his retreating dog. The next day he left town and an elderly woman took in his abandoned and frightened fighter. Treated at last with love and kindness, he never attacked another dog.
A week later, Otis Renfro rode out to Jonas’ cabin to tell him an inquest would be held to determine the facts concerning the death of French Bob. Jonas agreed to show up and he did so on the second trip into town.
The miner’s inquest lasted for half an hour. French Bob had a bad reputation as a lazy freeloader, a cheat, and a thief, so there was little sympathy for his death. When Otis Renfro testified that French Bob had his rifle in hand, loaded, and cocked, yet still failed to beat Jonas, the room was hushed. Then it broke out in loud applause and that was the end of the inquest.
With the trapping season over and early summer underway, Jonas decided to try his luck at Galoot’s hidden creek. He dug out his panning gear, pack frame, and bedroll, although it was an easy one day journey. He had learned to be prepared for Alaskan weather changes. He and Galoot headed out the next morning.
The snow and ice were gone, and the spring flooding was over as they made their way up the canyon, with its steep granite walls. They had to ford the creek several times, and the water was frigid. Several times, Jonas spotted huge trout, so he was glad he thought to pack his fishing gear. Once they spotted a bear, but they gave it a wide berth. Galoot wanted to plunge ahead, but Jonas made him follow. A wolf was considered fair game in the Alaskan wild.
It was almost noon before they came around a bend, and spotted a tall, thin man, panning quietly in the stream near the spot Galoot had led Jonas to in the early spring. The door to the small cabin was open, and a chair was on the porch. Jonas slipped a leash on Galoot, who was whining eagerly. They approached the miner, making no effort to be quiet because Jonas did not want to startle him. He failed miserably.
They were writing twenty feet before the miner finally heard them over the burbling waters of the creek and he came suddenly to his feet, his face ashen. He stumbled back and against a boulder, where he stared first at Jonas and then at Galoot, his mouth silently working and his eyes wide.
The miner blinked at Jonas’ greeting, and he was visibly trying to compose himself.
It was Jonas’ turn to drop his jaw in wonder.
“I had a twin brother named Jacob. We looked alike. Did you know him?”
The miner blinked again as he absorbed the information. He glanced down at the wolf.
“Is that Galoot? That looks like Galoot!”
Galoot whined and pulled against the leash. The miner reached out and petted his head cautiously, and Galoot growled in pleasure.
“How did you know Galoot’s name?” Jacob stared at the miner, who stared back at him. Finally, he stepped forward and offered his hand to Jonas, who took it.
“Name’s Iowa Dave. Me and your brother Jacob worked this here claim for three years, before he was kilt. He lies right over there.” He pointed to a knoll above the cabin. “I dug him out of the snow after the spring melt. It was an avalanche what kilt him. He was the best partner I ever had.” He waved a hand at Jonas. "You give me quite a start! I thought I was seein' a ghost!"
“How did you know Galoot’s name? I named him myself.”
“So did your brother. Said you boys had you a hound by that name, so he named that wolf cub ‘Galoot’.” He spat in the creek. “Me and Jacob found us a nice placer behind the boulders up there, so we dug us a hole. We figured we needed help, so Jacob hired a feller to help build a sluice box.”
He paused and waved a hand at the porch. “Let’s go set a spell.”
Iowa Dave fetched a second chair out of the cabin, and poured coffee for both.
“Jacob spotted a she-wolf rooting through the garbage one day. She obviously had a litter, so he took to leaving meat scraps on a stump for her. But when that feller who was building the sluice saw her, he picked up his rifle and kilt her. That made Jacob awful mad, so he fired the feller.”
“Jacob looked for days to find her litter but she hid them too good. He never found it, but about a week later he come up on a cub, starved and weak. He brought him home and fed him. He raised him gentle like but let him run like a wolf, knowing someday he would go back to the wild. Galoot loved Jacob and tolerated me some but he never took up with nobody else…‘cept you, of course.”
He pulled out his pipe and filled it. He pointed to a cliff with the pipe stem. “We was shut down for the winter two years later, and Jacob was at the base of that there cliff picking up some firewood when somebody with a big rifle fired into the big snowdrift hanging over the edge, and down she come. Jacob was buried under thirty feet of snow. I had to wait until spring to find him. I figured it was that no account feller he fired what shot into that drift.”
Jonas walked over to the knoll, where he found a rounded piece of granite that must have weighed five hundred pounds. Laboriously carved into it was the following inscription:
“Jacob Woodward, merderd Febarary, 1892. Best pardner a man could iver want.”
Later, Jonas thanked Iowa Dave for sending the five thousand dollar bank draft, and Dave nodded. “Jacob said you were to get his half should anything happen to him, so’s you are still half owner. I have another ten thousand for you in gold and if you’re willing, we should be able to get the rest out before winter.”
“Still, nobody knew about that, so you are an honest man.”
“Most folks are honest, given a chance. My word is good.”
Jonas smiled. “Then you’d make a great Texan! A man's word is the most valuable thing he has in Texas. Just say the word and you’ll have a spot on our ranch, if you’d like.”
Iowa Dave glanced at him, and puffed his pipe thoughtfully.
“My old bones are plumb tired of the cold up here and Iowa ain’t much warmer, so’s I might just do that, come fall. I‘d like to have me a warm place where I can sit of an evening and watch my chickens.”
The placer petered out, and by fall, they had taken out another thirty thousand apiece in gold. Iowa Dave left for Texas with a letter of introduction from Jonas. The small cabin was little more than good shelter, so it was stocked with firewood and simply abandoned, where it might save a life someday.
Jonas worried about what was to become of Galoot, but the big wolf solved the problem by himself. His disappearances became steadily lengthier, and then one day, he appeared in the clearing where the dead wolf was buried, with another female. For a long moment, man and wolves stared at each other, and then Galoot trotted over to Jonas, bumping into him in a show of affection. Then he went up on his back legs and placed his front paws on Jonas’ shoulders, licking his face. On impulse, Jonas unfastened the collar, and Galoot finally let him remove it. Jonas gave Galoot one final scratch behind the ears and Galoot trotted back to the waiting female. Both faded into the woods and disappeared, perhaps forever.
Jonas deeded his cabin to a protesting Otis Renfro, but he was firm. “You know you love to go out there Otis, and you'll need a place to get away.” Otis glanced at Tillie guarding the cash box, and nodded, a smile playing on his lips. Both men chuckled, and Otis shook Jonas’ hand in thanks.
Jonas boarded the San Francisco bound steamer, and stood by the rail as it glided past the timber covered hills. He turned the wolf's collar over in his hands, and once again read the initials 'JW" burned on the inside. Then somebody pointed to the top of a hill, where a lone wolf stood, silently watching them go by. Jonas could not be sure, but thought it looked somewhat like Galoot. Then a long howl echoed down the bay and Jonas waved, but the wolf was gone.
Two months later and back on the ranch, Jonas visited Iowa Dave, who had a new house built on a wooded hillside with a henhouse full of hens and a few roosters. They were sharing a drink, and talking about Alaska when Jonas wondered out loud whatever happened to the man Jacob fired, and who probably killed Jacob for revenge. Iowa Dave took the pipe from his mouth.
“French Bob? I heered somebody finally shot and kilt the bastard. You would not have liked him.”
Many of you have already read this story (or at least parts of it) because it was originally published three years ago in five parts, which brings me to my unsolicited advice:
Never publish a story in chapters!
(Of course this does not include complete short stories that use the same characters in serial form, like mckbirdbks' excellent "Carriage Driver" series.)
Readers don't like to be left hanging, they don't like to have to look for the rest of your story, and they don't like to have to search for a previous part to remind them where they were!
I know that from my page view numbers, which usually decreased with each new chapter. So finish your story and then publish it all in one read. Be kind to your readers.
(And as Jackie Lynnley just pointed out, many readers see a chapter story and don't bother to even start reading it because many such offerings never seem to end!)
More by this Author
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A small town in early Wyoming is plagued by a petty thief, but all is not as it seems.