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Galvanized Yankee Christmas :On Line Western Story
Except for the weather, everything was calm on the plains. We got the telegraph wires in working order, and the weather would most likely prevent any Indian attacks for a while. We were soldiers who patrolled the Plaines along the Overland stagecoach route to protect travelers, keep the telegraph lines fixed, and fight Indians when necessary and anything else that comes up. Since the weather was getting dangerous we were going back to the home station. We followed the telegraph lines to the home station of the Overland Stage. Maybe we could celebrate the holiday of Christmas, which was becoming popular now according to Harper’s magazine that the mail brought in a few days ago. Course it had been celebrated before but only by those who liked to drink and carouse—hardly the holy day that it should be, considering what it was meant to represent.
I was glad to see Mary Hutchins there. She's a very attractive blond woman that I had met a few months ago. She had gone out to Dodge City as a mail order bride. Her man was killed there and she eventually decided to stay around here for a while. She told me they gave her a job as cook at the station and she likes it pretty well. Seeing her again made the bad weather take second place. “Jacob,” She said. “I'm glad you are here. Ever since we met I worry about you out on those lonely patrols.”
“It's a soldiers life. This weather looks like a real blizzard. I'm glad we came off the patrol. With that wind over the plains it is really dangerous, what with drifting and all. The good side is we can stay at the station here for a bit
Mary brushed back that blonde hair of hers and a worried look showed in her brown eyes.”I hope we have enough supplies to feed everyone. It seems like we will have more people seeking shelter.”
I didn't think there would be too many folks wandering around in this weather, although there may be a few teamsters with wagons of goods. Of course that's the kind of supplies she was worried about. “ Reckon we will get by,” I told her. I didn't want to worry about things that might happen. “It’s not often I get to sit with a pretty woman. Let me enjoy it.”
“Alright,” she said. “How about helping me decorate the dining room. I think green and red are the suggested colors. There will be a dance tonight. I think it's better to have a party than to sit around and grumble.”
We started the decorating and I was going to ask her if I could escort her to the dance when a private came in with a message for me. “What is it, Jacob?”
“There's a bullwhacker stranded and they need help to get him into the station. One of driver got in to the station to get help. If I get back in time, can I take you to the dance tonight?”
“I'd like to go with you,” she said. “What's a bullwhacker?
“It’s another name for teamsters, they haul freight with oxen. I guess it's cheaper than horses. It’s a good thing because I think they have a better chance of getting through than horses would.”
Mary's smile made me feel good and I felt even better that she said she would wait for me to take her. At least we shouldn't have to worry about the Indians. Not with this storm. I met with the bullwhacker by the name of David, who had come in with a couple of oxen. They had one wagon and a team. The animals were in good shape he told me but the wagon was bogged down. Snow was drifting. The animals could most likely plow through it, but the wheels sink down and the wagon bottoms out. He said there were two other bullwhackers with the wagons. They would manage to build fires and survive for a while. Then I talked to the shop people on the station about making some skids in a hurry. Luckily they had just what I wanted left over from another project. It was a frame with one side covered with tin. I asked them to bend it in the front so it would slide over the snow. I also wanted it coated with wax. David had brought in two oxen and we decided the oxen could pull the skids back.
We followed the telegraph lines. Each of us had a rope tied around our waist. We took turns. First one of us would make it to the next. It’s easy to get lost in a storm. With blowing snow and drifts covering familiar landmarks it is hard to find your way. Where I come from there isn’t much cold or snow, but out here you learn fast or die. Having an ox with us helped to break a path, so that made it a little easier. When we got to the wagons we found the bullwhackers cooking over a fire. They had managed to shelter it between the wagons and let the animals rest around it.
After that it was easy, sort of. The trick was to get the wagons lifted and put the skids under them. I’m sure glad they had a good fire going because it made it easier for us to work after getting so cold. Wit some stout poles we found in the cargo we levered the wagons up, one at a time. We got the skids under them. Luckily it wasn’t a full load that they would haul with long haul shipping. I let the bullwhackers take off the wheels because they had experience with their own equipment. Then we lowered them onto the skids. Skies might have been better but you got to work with what you have. Anyhow with no wheels to bog down the wagons. Now it was like a toboggan or sled. As much as we could we tried to clear snow ahead of the oxen so they could move a bit easier.
“”What’s that noise?” I asked. It sounded like bells.
“One of our drivers thought of that. He found some bells in the wagon and thought the jingle sound would help us keep track of each other if one wagon gets out of sight of the other. If the bell stops then we know that they got stuck.
We got back to the station without any major incidents. After we got into the gate the bullwhacker we knew as Big Swede lit up his pipe-a meerschaum, if you believe it. As he brushed the snow off his mackinaw the coat had a very reddish brown to it. He told me it was deerskin that he had processed himself and added dyes to. Except where his beard was stained by tobacco it was getting pretty white. “By golly,” I said. “Now that I look at you, you’re a lot like those Christmas images in Harpers. If I didn’t know better I’d think you were that Santa Clause fella.”
The Swede just looked at me and said. “What makes you think I’m not?”
Whether the Swede was Santa Clause or not, he was the next best thing. He hefted a big bag over his shoulder and the other bullwhackers followed with more bags. It turned out that the lead wagon was full of stuff to give to people as presents. The other wagon had food and essential supplies for residents of the station. It was even welcomer for those stranded for possibly days in a storm.
Mary was thrilled with all the supplies that the teamsters brought. It was even better that there were supplies for a party. One of the teamsters was also a part time preacher, so there was a religious service for the occasion. By the time we got back the dance had been going for a couple of hours, but Mary had waited for me. We danced and later helped hand out gifts to everyone.
All in all, it was a most unusual holiday.
Copyright 2011 Don Hoglund
© 2011 Don A. Hoglund