Mary Finds New Sentinel and Friend: A Galvanized Yankee Short Story
Mary Hutchins was a young woman of many admirable qualities, one of which was the ability to make the most of what could be a bad situation. When she had decided to surprise her man, Jacob Brown, by coming to Confederate Gulch along with the supply wagons and his teamster friends it hadn't occurred to her that a mining town could be a very male oriented place. Few if any women would be there to share things with.
Basically the town was just a camp where former confederate soldiers had gathered after they were paroled from a prisoner of war camp. They were allowed amnesty by the Union government providing they went to the frontier and away from the Civil War activities. By a stroke of dumb luck they gathered at this place and found a vein of gold, not a large one, but gold never the less. They were a rough crew and were trouble makers even before they were captured.
When Jacob got there, he was appalled at the bad whiskey and lack of supplies in general. He promised to import better stuff if he took over the building used as a saloon. So Jacob had his friends ship in supplies to sell and one of the teamsters brought a moonshine still.
Jacob was a former soldier and to him work was patrolling and fighting—and doing whatever was necessary. It was Mary who had run the cafe at the stagecoach station in Kansas, so she took charge of cleaning and fixing up the old building as to serve as a store, bar, trading post or whatever. Jacob gladly went along with her judgment.
All in all, Jacob’s judgment of what the miner's needed was right on the mark. The bar was doing well. With some direction from Jacob, the one road through town improved and the gulch was starting to become a livable place. That is trade got better, but then dropped off.
“What do you reckon the problem is,” Mary asked Jacob.
“”Don't know, but I'll go ask around and see what I can find out.“
The story was pretty much the same with everyone he talked to. The ore was playing out The miners were starting to leave and look for richer pastures. It was good while it lasted, but it was time to move on.
A Walk In The Woods
The only meat they could have or serve to customers was what they either hunted themselves or traded for with other residents who did a bit of hunting themselves. So Jacob went off to find a deer or elk. With Jacob away, and it being off hours for the trading post, Mary decided to take a walk and see what it looked like outside the settlement. It had been a long trip getting to Confederate Gulch followed by the hard work of setting up the store She never got much chance to look around.
In lieu of a bonnet she tied a bright blue and white scarf over her long blond hair. There was a Bowie knife on the shelf which she put in a sheath and attached it to a belt on he skirt. In case she should see some game she put a small Colt pistol in a skirt pocket. She wrapped a sandwich and a few other things to eat when she got hungry.
The street was still wet and muddy so she headed to the back of the building where the hill was still grassy and a bit steep. She looked at the building and smiled in satisfaction that Jacob had done a handy job of chinking between the logs with grass and mud. If they are still there for the winter they can keep it cozy warm, she thought.
Looking upward at the mountain she noted a path of sorts winding up the hill. Ï s'pose that's where somebody fetched timber down to build those huts,” she thought. ”Guess I'll explore the trail.”
She walked up the trail for about an hour, when she came to an open area and decided it would be a good place to eat her lunch and take a rest. She spotted a flat surfaced rock that would serve as a place to sit and spread out her food. She was hungry after the long uphill walk. When she looked around she spotted some berries and picked a few to go with her lunch. She sat on the rock and stretched her arms and legs. Then she took off her scarf and lay it on the log like a tablecloth. She felt more relaxed and started to eat. She liked the work that her and Jacob were doing but she felt she did need a break and to get away from the store occasionally. She liked men but there are times when she felt overwhelmed by only male company She had no real regrets, the stage station didn't have women around much either. Just occasional travelers.
Looking around, she felt somewhat calmed by by the late summer feel of the air. The flowers and other plants were in their last stages of blooming before giving in to the late season. She looked up the hill and saw what appeared to be a stone structure of some sort. She wrapped up the rest of her lunch and got up to investigate. She unsheathed the Bowie knife to use it for cutting through the brush and weeds until we got to a clearing. Then she recognized the structure as a fireplace with a stone chimney. It must have been well made as it outlasted the house it was meant to warm. It must have been a cabin belonging to a hunter or trapper long ago. Ï wonder what signs we will leave of our ever being here?” she thought. “The residents of Confederate Gulch will be forgotten as soon as they leave. Me and Jacob too.
Mary turned and saw a young woman dressed in buckskin, with colorful beads and long black hair combed down her back.
“Hello,” Mary replied.
“Do you live around here?” Mary felt the question was inane, but she had to say something.
“This was our home,” the woman said. My father was French and a trapper.”
“And your mother?“
“She was Indian, Crow I think.“
“Don't you know?”
“She never really said. “
“Where are they now? What happened to your house?“
“My father left on a trapping trip to set up his traps and never returned.. We thought he must have had an accident and died. My mother died in the fire.”
“The fire that burned down your house?“
“Yes. Maybe a spark from this fireplace started it. I don't know. I was sleeping. I didn't know where mother was but I got out a window just before the whole house went up in flames. I keep coming back here. I don't really know why.”
Mary understood. She wanted to be friends with this young woman. Mary too had her tragic losses.
“My name is Mary,” Mary said. “What's your name?”
“Daddy called me Jeanette''
Mary knew that Jeanette would be a friend to them both her and Jacob.
© 2015 Don A. Hoglund
More by this Author
This is a fictional western short story told by an anonymous narrator about the publisher of the town newspaper. It starts with a local business being vandalized and she investigates.
Two immigrants from Sweden go to Duluth, Minnesota in 1894. One to work, another to find easy money.Are they friends or enemies. Not even they know that for sure.
African Americans have been conspicuously absent from histories of the west. They are not much represented in fiction either. Many people think they ere not there, but they were.