Western Short Story
In the coming morning Bartlett “Bart” Beauvais knew his oxen Reynard and Briscoe would stand as a pair like mountains on their own, their golden hides tossing early sun every which way toward noon, the shadows cast by their gigantic forms flattening on the earth as huge as continental maps fully laid out. Hungers of all kinds were being satisfied, was the way he made himself think.
But now, on his late watch, he searched for the new manner of signal, a totally new kind of signal. The whole story had come to him on the sly; that Kurgeth Kate and two of the girls from “upstairs in the Lake Paradise Saloon” had skipped town; out on their own in the hills, the mountains, the odd trails. A strange place for three ladies from Ambler’s Grove, the lone, three-building town near Lake Paradise, a quick-start settlement not yet two years old.
“Skinned” Turcotte, once scalped by a lone brave and able to talk about it, which of course was his favorite pastime, had slipped to Beauvais’ side in town that day and said, “I’ve a tidbit for you, Bart. A good one. I owe you from way back. Them three girls are in the hills, but don’t walk in on them without warnin'. They’re dead shots, each of them. I’ve seen ‘em shoot the wings off’n birds, the ears of’n a baby bunny when Kate says she was just provin’ a point to me. I know she told me ‘cause she wanted me to tell you ‘cause you was always good to her. She called you the best gent around. I hope I got some ‘owesie’ with you.” He tipped his old hat from a scarred and a scary-looking scalp. “She’s dead-set gettin' her first shot at the Big German, Louie Blusten, behind all the pain and misery and wantin’ everythin’ in sight.”
Skinned proceeded to tell him the details of the warning, the social invite that might follow. It certainly perked Beauvais’ interest.
It had been said by many that Bartlett “Bart” Beauvais, farmer, ploughman, squatter, team driver, iron master, earth custodian, always kept a close eye on his pair of oxen. The man, it had been said a hundred times and more, made few friends, but kept those he made.
But he swore to his last days that he loved the golden pair Reynard and Briscoe best not only for their enormous strength, but for their endless on-ahead determination at huge and sometimes imponderable tasks. The stolid pair had taken him west over the toughest terrain and through some close disasters. He could not recount the number of times they had surmounted a hill to get him into a good defensive position and out of danger. You can’t say too much about friends like that.
Always moving someplace, he’d come out of Virginia and Maryland and admired the local strains of wood in those northeastern forests and all the useful applications they ended up in. With glee and deep satisfaction he had seen formidable oak used to form the ribs and keels of the huge sailing ships that plied the Atlantic, being no finer testament to northeast hardwoods, and also observed the different kinds of pines that shipbuilders used for masts of ships and ships’ decking. In fact, as Beauvais moved west he carried and dutifully employed his precious portable mill to cut and hew all the usable trees en route for house and barn building on hire. His keen specialty was making the canvas-covered prairie schooners, those wagons that “constantly moved the east onto the west,” all as commissioned along the way. Excitement, it was easy to see, came to him on every day at his passion, at his craft.
His few close friends would often close down talk of him by saying, “I swear the man can see the whole west explode in the back of his head.” They knew it was his excitement of the American ideal and the American dream. Such movements move with such men, are carried on in a relentless manner. And always waking up the land that they pass through.
Of course, in time, he’d want to see Kurgeth Kate. Blonde, Nordic, part Swede and part Finn, she was about the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. “We’re naturals together,” she’d offered more than once, her eyes gone over to a tint of pale green he’d never seen before. “And those eyes of yours, he offered in several replies, “Are as good as venison and Irish taters done in the fire.” Privately, he agreed, those green eyes of hers, he’d swear on any book, glowed in the dark so he’d always know where she was.
He was, of course, an alert man. With visions coming as part of his make-up, Bart Beauvais knew history flourished around him, that he was in the middle of the mix where history was concerned, that no matter how small that new part appeared, it exerted impact. “Three girls leaving town, on their own, alert me, make me stick my chest out with pride at their making a new stand on their own, in a place of their own choosing.”
Continually, as Beauvais moved, as he talked with old timers encountered on the trail, and the drovers and freighters and land planters and ordinary hustlers met each day, he gathered what information he could on trees and what was happening in the territory. Trees, the near-science study he made of what he could accumulate, astounded him the way they generated new life by root, limb and leaf and air-borne seed spread, all which was added to his listing of trees and their best uses as firewood and building lumber and as special-adaptation wood. Capturing his attention, were the hundreds of trees that found their first grasp on the sides of sheer mountains, life starting on the sheer edge of life. On cliff edges, brief crevices, niches avoided for centuries, sepulchers of new growth.
His notes, because of his intense interest, grew prodigiously. When he arrived in Colorado and considered all the lumber lore he had gathered at the seaside on top of all he had absorbed about the various species like blue spruce, black walnut, black cherry, oak, gum, maple, soft yellow pine, yellow poplar, bristlecone pine, Douglas fir, lodge-pole pine, narrow-leaf cottonwood, aspen, birch, poplar, pinion pine, ponderosa pine, he considered himself a most highly educated man, a specialist without a degree that would ordinarily be made of one of the trees he loved.
Beauvais carried, on his trip west, a small, portable sawmill that could be run off water power or ox power. He’d worked in two such mills in West Virginia and knew about wood and the quality of trees; he knew the best grains, the tricky knots, which wood bent best, had the best ply, and was the best firewood.
In Ambler’s Grove, not five miles from a variety of a healthy stand of foothill trees, Beauvais knew that the aspen and poplar and birch and cottonwood provided leaf food for deer, elk, and buffalo and the tall sight of them pointed native people to streams, which meant sources for water and game fish, animals, shade, and lodge poles. His talents took him to heat and bend and cure iron to many uses, make wagon wheels centered by hubs and bound by iron. Too, he could fish with the best of men in all kinds of waters. It was a revelation too to new friends that the man was adept with a heavy needle on leather. All would agree that Bart Beauvais was born for the west.
And now he knew what signal to watch for in the night, in the foothills of the mountains above Ambler’s Grove and the lake that had been built just above and beyond the town by construction of a dam. A dam that might, with implosion, go down river in a night.
Such was it when he came into Ambler’s Grove, Colorado, August 7, 1872. not five miles from a variety of a healthy stand of foothill trees. He was 27 years old, unmarried, wore blond locks in a free-fall on the back of his neck, exerted energy sitting at a saloon table or leaning at the bar where his eyes, just as on the trail, never sat still on one subject but made use of their sly and circumspect mobility.
Nobody knew he was a dead shot with a rifle and pistol. Up under his seat on the wagon drawn by his oxen pair, Beauvais carried a Winchester 1873 Carbine Caliber. He’d won it on a bet with his oxen team. On his belt he carried a Colt, rarely out of the holster. He thought he might remember the last time he pulled it free, but it would have been with honor and would take some time to bring back the first circumstance.
And it was Skinned who gathered a new bit of news, slipped close to Beauvais in the saloon, and whispered, “There’s a line camp on the far edge of Lyman’s G-Bar-4, at the end where the creek withers away onto the prairie. I’d never sleep in a place like that ‘cause some of the routers like to use them. Anyways, I was sleepin’ in a pile of hay real comfortable when they woke me, and it was the Big German, Louie Blusten, the one with that loud voice who was talking about blowin’ up the dam next Tuesday, floodin’ out the town, come larrupin’ in in the middle of the night when everybody was gone high-tailin’ and claimin’ the whole place.”
“Hell, Skinned, there’s only three places in town; the saloon, the store and the rooming house, which ain’t claimin’ much.”
“He talks like the whole place, the whole town all the way to the creek, would be his once the upper lake runs its way down past it all. That’s enough, ain’t it, to make somethin’ of it?”
Beauvais was thinking already. “When’s he planning it, Skinned? Did he say a definite day, time?
“Come Tuesday night, after midnight sometime, they’ll blow the dam up. I heard him say they’d be at the line camp and be out of sight for a whole day, so that means Monday they leave town some time and go into hidin’.”
“Time enough for us to get some things done. If we try to stop them at the dam, some will be killed. So we do up a surprise for them.”
He leaned over to Skinned and said six names. “Tell them on the sly to meet me here with their wagons and teams on Monday, east of town. Tell ‘em to load up with rolling logs, half dozen 30 foot beams, and lots of planks, lots of ‘em.”
The force gathered as instructed, all the supplies on hand, the men ready, the wagons ready.
The saloon was the first to be moved, after it was jacked up, beamed and aimed for the planks lined with roller logs. The new target resting place was less than 100 yards away, but up a slight incline. All the loose equipment inside the saloon was pulled out and placed on the now-empty wagons and all the wagons gone ahead to be emptied for multi-trips. The same would be done for the other two buildings.
In three and a half hours, with the oxen Reynard and Briscoe exerting much of the initial pull, helped by a good dozen mules, the Lake Paradise Saloon was settled on a new surface and Ambler’s Grove was newly constituted in the territory, thieves be damned. The store and the rooming house, already emptied of much loose property, followed in succession, with exultation and hilarity filling the air with each success.
Men worked doggedly to reload each building and utilize every wagon as soon as it was unloaded, with Bart Beauvais constantly on the prod to get men to work harder, faster, to stay ahead of the bandits who wanted to steal a town … and to soon send a message to a blonde about in the foothills.
Even in his haste to get things done, Beauvais made notes on the qualities of the roller logs, the long beams, the travel planks on which the three enormous loads were moved in the night. His education was still on-going.
Before the dawn flash on Tuesday, the move done, the buildings in their new places, Ambler’s Grove was fully re-constituted, certified, enforced with new law, the bomb or bombs went off at the dam site, and hundreds of tons of water rushed out over what had been Ambler’s Grove, hiding all the original signs of the Lake Paradise Saloon, the rooming house and the general store.
When Louie Blusten and his gang rode into town, expecting to claim the ruins of what might have Ambler’s Grove, they were surprised to see the new lake sitting where the town used to be … and higher on a lift of land, sitting in the sun, and sitting on dry ground, the Paradise Lake Saloon, the A/G General Store and Hillary’s Rooming House, all of course were surrounded by a small army of deputies lead by the newly sworn-in sheriff, Bart Beauvais.
When Blusten’s hat was ripped off his head by one carefully-aimed shot, he and his gang turned tail and were never seen again.
It was on the very night, up in the foothills, a series of lights occasionally was shone into the darkness by Kurgeth Kate, and answered, in distinct anticipation, by Bart Beauvais whose oxen were temporarily housed in a lean-to that was to become the livery in Ambler’s Grove.