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- Western Literature
Galvanized Yankee and the Preacher's Kid Western Short Story
Well, money was running short since I no longer got Army pay. To get by awhile, I took a job riding shotgun for a teamster. I don’t think I’d go back to soldiering—but we did know where our money was coming from.
That is, except when we were captured by the Yankees. I guess the Confederacy still owed us our pay, if they knew where to find us. And if they had anything to pay us with. Once I was an inmate of the Rock Island prison camp about the only use I would have had for my pay would have been to bribe the guards. Come to think on it that could have been helpful for a while.
Rock Island might not have been the worst of the prison camps on both sides of the War Between the States, but I would sure hate to see a worse one. Maybe its location had something to do with it. Rock Island was in the middle of the Mississippi River in what the Yankees call Illinois. For a southerner, it is a cold, cold place in the wintertime. A place of cold wind off the river and a lot of snow. Besides the weather being cold, supplies were scarce. Blankets, if you had them, would likely get stolen.
That being the case, when President Lincoln got convinced that maybe the Union could convert some of us rebel prisoners into Yankees to fight Indians on the frontier. I was one of them. They called us Galvanized Yankees. That’s how I ended up on the frontier. I did patrol duty as a Union soldier to protect the stagecoaches and relay stations. Oh yeah, and the telegraph lines.
Anyway, the teamster I was working with had a contract to haul supplies to Dodge City.
When we got our supplies unloaded, I decided to go for a walk to get the kinks out of my muscles. My attention was distracted by a pretty woman and I bumped into a fella that was loading a wagon. His first reaction was to draw the revolver at this hip. I put a hand over his to keep the gun holstered.
I apologized about bumping into him and refrained from drawing my own gun. I didn’t want to make things worse. Besides, there was something familiar about him. He looked at me and blinked. “Was you at Rock Island?” he asked.
“You do look kind of familiar,” I said.
“Jacob, isn’t it?”
“Right, Jacob Brown.” I reached out a hand to shake. He ignored it.
“Good Bible name,” he said.
I never really knew him well, but I recall he was the son of a preacher and seemed involved in any religious activities at the camp. His name was John Martin. The rumor in camp was that his father changed the family name to Martin, after Martin Luther, when he came to the new country. I think he took to some of the worst attitudes of our southern states. Although John didn’t like the former slaves in the camp, he tried to minister to them. They, in turn, were suspicious of him. Folks can often sense an attitude, even when not spoken. Likewise, he would not join those of us who signed on with Lincoln’s army, even though part of the deal was that we would not be fighting against fellow southerners. He was devoted to the south and to his religious views. He would no sooner wear a blue uniform than he would condone what he thought of as false religion.
Mind you, I rather avoided the subject of religion around him because his views don’t match up with my own. But then, I ain’t an authority on the subject.
The teamster and I went on hauling loads of lumber and other goods to Dodge. The city was growing, getting wilder and richer. Dodge building was goin’ on for good or bad. Along with saloons and such, there were new houses, churches and schools starting to appear. As it got to be the place to drive cattle it was catering to the cowboys, which involved saloons, banks, dance halls, and all. Crime, guns, and drovers. It was wild, energetic, and strangely attractive. A boom town full of raw energy.
I guess the energy came from both good and bad. Some, I suppose from greed and ambition. Gunfighters, outlaws, gamblers showed and mingled with town people trying to raise families and make a living. It also attracted its share of reformers, preachers, and business people.
And where do people like Martin and I fit in? I guess I was like so many of the time, looking for an opportunity. I’d like to get rich as much as the next guy. I’m not sure what Martin was looking for. When we got there it seems Martin was making a reputation but not just for preaching. We were never really friends and I didn’t want to get involved in his life. Sometimes these things just happen. I sort of got into things when we got to Dodge.
Martin had taken a church a bit off of Main Street There was another church which was attended by some former slaves not far off. I stopped at Martin’s church out of curiosity. To be truthful, I’m not a faithful church goer. I went to Sunday School as a kid. I memorized the Bible verses and such. After that I went now and then. I didn’t really know much about what kind of decorum preachers were held to, but I was a bit surprised to see Martin still wearing a gun when he got up to preach.
Folks think that Westerners wear guns all the time. It ain’t so. Cowboys wear them on the trail. Some folks won’t bother taking them off when they get to town. Dodge being a bit unsettled might find more gun toting citizens than the average town, but still preachers don’t seem to have the need of the inclination for gun play. Or so I thought.
The Other Church
Shortly after the service started I heard music drifting in. It was loud and rhythmic music, the kind that makes you want to dance, but not white man’s music. Especially not the Rev Martin’s kind of music. And he made it plain that he did not approve. He made reference to heathen noises blaspheming the Sabbath. “ How dare they disturb the Sabbath and our holy gathering with such lewd sounds,” he declared. He then picked up his Bible and stepped down from the pulpit and marched down the aisle. The congregation followed him outside, although I ‘m not sure they knew why.
I followed along, wondering what he had in mind. It struck me as a most extraordinary thing to be doing for a church service. I mean, why not let the other people worship the way they wanted. I asked him that. He answered that they don’t how to worship the way God wants them to. Apparently, he thought it his job to teach them the right way. I wasn’t sure he knew it himself. I sure didn’t.
Next thing I know, he has his gun out and is about to raid the church. Now I don’t know much about proper church stuff but I knew that couldn’t be right. I wasn’t wearing a gun but I got up in front and faced him.
“Listen John. I didn’t argue with you back when you stuck with the South and wouldn’t join us as Galvanized Yankees. Who knows for sure what the right answer there was? But I do know for certain what is right in this situation and it ain’t your way. These people are worshiping their own way on their own property. You are the one committing a sacrilege by invading their worship with a firearm. Now, give me your gun and go back to your own church and you can preach in your own way. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind, but he gave me the gun and headed back to his own church.
A couple of days later, the teamster and I left to get more supplies. “Did you give the preacher his gun back?” the teamster asked.
“Damn. I knew I forgot something.”