Oct 31, 2014

First Draft


In 1875, the Butterfield Overland Mail Coach took twenty-five days to carry mail from St. Louis to San Francisco. The two thousand eight hundred and twelve mile journey spanned six states and the Indian Territory.  The stage stopped at over one hundred and eighty stations to water and change horses or mules. In each town, the stage might pick up and dropped off passengers and mail. At the stations, passengers were fed something that passed as coffee and plates of beans and surplus bacon purchased from the army. Travelers going any distance learned to carry their own food and refreshments. 

The stage from Tipton arrived at the Division Center in Fort Smith late Thursday afternoon on September 2nd.   The Division Center consisted of a central house for the Superintendent, the Agent Station for passenger, stables, and corals. The Center was on the out skirts of town on Rogers Street just east of the intersection with Garrison street.  From the Center, you could see the Immaculate Conception Church which marked the eastern end of Garrison Avenue.

Rather than stop at the Station House, which was normal, two grooms came out of the stable, and led the horses to the Superintendents House. The driver, Kelly Averez, who locals called Whip Kelly and the Conductor, Amos Davies, carried the strongbox and bags of mail into the superintendent’s office as Neils Johnston, the shotgun stood at the ready. Kelly and Neils were proud of the fact they had never been robbed and they weren’t going to drop their guard in a town once as lawless as Fort Smith. While the money and mail were being transferred, the grooms took charge of the four horses.

Kenneth Waters the Division Superintendent, came out of his office and watched as the Assistant Station Agent helped the five passengers, three men and two ladies out of the Concord coach.  Waters was a man in his fifties. He wore a three-piece wool suit with the pant legs tucked into tall brown leather boots. While he watched, a third groom began removing the luggage and bags from the boot.

A fourth passenger, a hanger-on who paid half the fare to ride on top of the wagon with the whip and 
shotgun sat on the box and waited for the ladies to leave the coach. Behind him lay a Winchester rifle, saddlebags, and a carpetbag valise. He’d sold his saddle for a ticket to El Paso. The man was dressed in buckskin pants and handmade red shirt.  He was blue eyed, fair haired, tall, and broad in the shoulders and wore a wide brimmed, sweat stained white Calvary hat, issued to him before his discharge in Fort Leavenworth.

“Lady and gentlemen,” Superintendent Waters announced. “I am sorry to inform you, due to the unprecedented events scheduled to occur tomorrow, the stage for El Paso has been delayed until after noon. A cart from the Grand Hotel will take those passengers wanting a bath and a room for the night.  Naturally, there are other accommodations available, if the hotel does not meet your needs.”
The superintendent eyed the tall man on top of the coach. “Those looking for a drink might try the Golden Wheel or the Nugget on Rogers Street. The stage will leave here exactly at three p.m. The next coach is in three days.  If I can be of any service, while you are here in Fort Smith, please call on me, my name is Waters, Kenneth Waters.”

The man on top, climbed down and stood close to Waters. Both men eyed one another. Even in a suit, it was clear the older man was no one to cross. He was tall, straight, and hard. He was a man used to being obeyed.    

“Why is the stage delayed?” asked the passenger. His words were direct and carried no sign of challenge.

“Who are you?”

“Nathan Hilton. My brothers called me Jay. I have a ticket to El Paso. I didn’t hear why the coach is delayed.”

Waters looked carefully at the man. His face and neck were sunburned. Waters could smell the sweat on the man’s hand made shirt. A broad leather belt held up the man’s buckskin pants. Stuffed in the front of his belt was an Army Colt. The man was dangerous, but not a killer. His look was honest and direct. “The hangings, of course. The coach for El Paso is booked full, but people want to stay and see the hangings.”

“Who’s being hung?”

“We have a new Federal Judge, Judge Parker. He’s hanging six men at the same time tomorrow morning. One of them is Daniel Evans.”

“What’d he do?”

“Stole another man’s boots.”  The Superintendent took a moment to wipe one of his boots on the back of his pants. The back of his pant legs were covered in dried mud. 

“Pretty rough sentence for stealing clothes,” said Nathan.

“Well, he shot this boy, William Riley Seaboalt, Jr.  in the back of his head and stole his horse, saddle, and traveling money. But, it were the boots that convicted him. I was there.”
Waters look around the platform and spit tobacco on to the street. “The first trial ended when the jury couldn’t bring in a verdict. They said they couldn’t decide, so a mistrial declared and a second trial scheduled for May. That was when Judge Parker arrived. Word was Parker was going to clean up Fort Smith. I went to the second trail to see if the rumors were true.” Waters scratched his chin and opened the bottom button on his vest. He enjoyed telling this story.

“What happened on the second trail?”

“Evans claimed he rode with the boy, but left him alive and well. That was when the boy’s pa got up to testify. He said Evan’s was a liar and murder. He pointed at Evan’s boots and said they were the very boots he bought his son, at which point he lifted his pants to show he was wearing the same fancy boots. He reported that he had bought a pair at the same time for his son. What decided the jury was when the father explained after buying the boots a heel had come off and he had repaired the heel using three nails, three horseshoe nails. Sure enough, when Evans was asked to remove his boots the left boot heel had three nails. The jury brought in a guilty verdict and tomorrow Daniel Evans will meet his maker.”

“Reason enough to see him hang, I guess. What about the others?” asked Nathan.

“Murders and horse thieves. And, there are more waiting in jail.  This new judge of ours is determined to tame the town and bring law to the Indian Nation. In three months he has tried one hundred and eighty seven men and convicted twenty to be hung.”

“Is he hiring deputies?”

“It’s possible. But, as I understand it, right now he has over two hundred Marshalls and deputies working for him. The deputies mostly guard the men already in jail. The Marshalls go out and bring in the killers and criminals. They are men who are experienced at tracking, and good with a gun. Would you be such a man?”

“I grew up on a farm in Michigan. I served with the Michigan Fifth in the Calvary in the war.  I know my way around horses and I have my own pistols.” Hilton put his hand on the handle of the Army Colt.

“What was your rank?”

“I enlisted in Detroit in 1862. By the time we reached Washington, I was a Corporal. After the fighting at Gettysburg, Custer made me a Sergeant. When the Army released me in Kansas, I was a Staff Sergeant.” 

“I read where Custer is going up into the Dakota’s to kill Indians. Why aren’t you with him?”

“I had my fill of killing at Gettysburg, Morton's Ford, and Cold Harbor. The commander of the Michigan Fifth was a man named Alger. Alger was a true leader. A man who cared about his men. Captain Hastings was in charge of my company, Company M. I never met a braver man than Hastings, but at Gettysburg, Custer made us get off our horses and fight on foot while he led the fight from his horse. I can still see him waving his hat and yelling ‘come on Wolverines.’ He was brave, maybe braver than Hastings, but he was reckless too. Besides, I ain’t got nothing against the Indians. All the ones I’ve seen have been drunks.”

“Son, the Indians out here ain’t no drunk Kickapoos. They are Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, and Sioux.  They are hunters. The world’s greatest horsemen. The Indian Territories and beyond, that is their land and we took it from them. We stole their land, and now every week I have to replace horses stolen by the Apaches.  Sometimes I have to replace men too, killed by a Comanche wanting what is his. What we have done ain’t fair, but neither is stealing my horses and killing my passengers.” Waters spit another piece of his tobacco. 

“If you was a Sergeant, that means you know how to give orders and take orders. Ever rode Shotgun?”

“On a coach, like Neils?”

“Sure.  The Overland Company is always looking for men like you. Especially now on the route from El Paso to Tucson and Fort Yuma. Can you read?”

“Does the job require a man to read and write? Because, I can, though I am a bit out of practice.” He paused to consider saying more. “From the sounds of it, the job is more dangerous than being in the army.”

“It can be, but it pays better too. Right now, I need a man who is good with a gun who is willing to sit on top and ride shotgun. Most of the time it is just bumpy and dusty, but every once in a while, some Indian needs a horse, or some cowboy needs money and they attack the coach. That’s where the shotgun come in. He has to be a one man army.”

“What does it pay?”

“The company will provide you with a shotgun and buckshot, a room when the coach stays overnight in a town, along with grub at each station. All that and three dollars a day worked plus two cents for every mile without an incident. A driver makes more, so if you learn to drive a team, there a better job available.”

“What is that a month?”

“The stage to Fort Yuma takes twelve days and covers about thirteen hundred miles. In a month, you can go there and back and still have five days off. Your pay would be roughly one hundred dollars a month.”

“When can I start?”

“Well, there are two stages to El Paso in a week. Neils is scheduled to go to El Paso tomorrow and I have Hawk McKinsey riding shotgun on Monday. Where we need a man is between El Paso and Fort Yuma. That’s fewer miles a month, but still it would pay eighty dollars a month. Suppose I cash in your ticket to El Paso and let you ride on top for free. You can be our second shotgun between here and there. If Kelly likes what he sees, I’ll pay you regular wages for the trip. If you don’t work out, you get a free ride, and have the money for a ticket to California. Is it a deal.” The superintendent held out his hand.

“I have a new repeating rifle, and new Colt pistol, but I need cartridges. If you will buy me a box of cartridges, we have a deal.”

“Nathan, my name is Kenneth Waters. How about if the Company finds you a meal and a place to stay for the night. In the morning, after the hanging, we can meet at the Company store and get you supplied.”

“Sounds good to me, as long as that meal includes a steak and a whiskey.”

“I’ll make it two whiskeys; one for you and one for me.”

The two men shook hands.


Oct 30, 2014

Oct 29, 2014

Oct 28, 2014

Singing for his supper

Oct 27, 2014

Oct 26, 2014

Oct 24, 2014

Who watches the grapes?

Oct 23, 2014

Oct 22, 2014

Oct 21, 2014

Oct 20, 2014

Oct 19, 2014

Oct 18, 2014

Oct 15, 2014


Oct 6, 2014

Fall Colors
Grapes still on the vine!

Oct 5, 2014

A new short story by Roger Lubeck
Knife Lake BWCA Sunset
Reprinted from Redwood Writers 2014 Anthology: Water
Authored by Redwood Writers
Edited by Jeanne Miller
Available on Amazon

He poured hot coffee into the mug he’d taken from the student union the first week he was in college. It was one of his few keepsakes. The day-old coffee was bitter. He searched through a cardboard box of cooking supplies looking for creamer and sugar. The glowing hands on his dive watch pointed to six thirty-seven. The other merry hipsters were asleep or passed out. With luck, Joe or Will would be up by eight. The girls would sleep until nine or later. He hated the time he spent waiting for others.
Restless, he picked up a life vest and paddle, and walked to one of the overturned canoes. Someone at the university had painted SCSU and the number seven on the side of the boat. He loved being on the water. Yesterday Joe gave him his first sailing lesson. He had only recently learned how to canoe. As a kid, he spent his summers on Lake Erie. His family had a cottage and a rowboat. He enjoyed rowing and he had taken to canoeing almost immediately; however, he had never canoed alone. This morning he longed to be a part of the natural world, no classrooms or questioning students, just water lilies, beavers, and loons.
He decided he would canoe to the small cove across the lake. Yesterday he’d seen a pair of loons by the entrance. He threw the life vest in the canoe, put on his topsiders, and stepped into the dark water. Even along the sandy shore, the water was cold. Joe said it dropped into the sixties at night. How Joe knew these things no one could say, he just did.
He climbed into the canoe and placed the mug of coffee between his legs. The hot mug burned his thighs where his shorts ended. Grimacing, he moved the mug until it and he were safe. The life vest was too small to wear while paddling, so he tied it to the middle seat. Using the paddle, he pushed the aluminum boat off the sand and stroked out into the slate gray water.
Smoke or fog lined the empty shoreline at the southern end of the lake. Looking back, he saw the three green tents zipped shut, clothes drying on a line, and six logs circling the fire pit; a wisp of smoke spiraled up from the smaller cooking fire. Last night they had talked and drunk until two in the morning. It was only for a lack of flashlights they hadn’t gone sailing.
The lake was an hour north of Brainerd in northern Minnesota. His friends Charley and Mary owned the entire lake. They were faculty in his department. Each month, they lived on her income and purchased land with his paycheck. The land was in a trust that excluded development. Mary said they wanted their kids to have a wild place to camp and relax. Charley claimed the real owners were the flies and mosquitoes.
Yesterday he and five of his hippie friends from college had invaded the peaceful lake, carrying backpacks, pots and pans, canoes, and a sailboat down the deer path from the road to the lake. After spraying for mosquitoes, they dug a latrine. Joe even fashioned a toilet seat on a board that he placed on two logs over the hole. Next to the makeshift outhouse, they left a coffee can with a roll of toilet paper and spray bottle of Off. Joe’s instructions were to spray your whole body leaving a mist of bug spray in the air. Then you dropped your shorts and stepped into the mist. Good advice, but insufficient to combat the cloud of horseflies, black flies, and bird-sized mosquitoes that followed the hipsters everywhere they went. According to Will, mosquitoes in Minnesota hated spicy food. For dinner, they consumed massive quantities of tacos and tequila. Looking at the bites on his arms, he wasn’t sure Will was correct, and judging by his headache, he wasn’t convinced the cure was preferable to the bites.
The day was supposed to be hot and sunny. Instead, the sky was gray, the overcast clouds blending seamlessly into the cold dark lake. He dipped his bandana into the water, wet his lips, and splashed the icy wetness on his face and forehead. He tied the red bandana on his head like a pirate. Feeling better, he dug the paddle deep into the silver water. Across the lake, the water mirrored the shoreline reflecting the granite, birch, and ferns crowding the water’s edge.
A breeze off the eastern shore pushed the little boat. The front of the canoe lifted as he stoked. Right stroke, left stroke, glide, rudder, right stroke; the mechanics of canoeing was all about smooth motion and balance. Using the paddle, he kept the bow pointed to the entrance to the cove. The mouth to the cove was narrow, perhaps fifty feet across. Inside, the horseshoe cove was smaller than he expected, less than three hundred feet at the widest part. The shoreline was a dense line of trees interspersed with large walls of granite. Unlike their patch of sandy beach, stretching out from the trees was a carpet of brown and red turf and then lily pads.
He let the canoe drift, as he admired the natural beauty. The dark water was perfectly still. Only the buzz of insects and sound of songbirds filled the air. A male loon called out his plaintive yodel. La…ooon, he called. Was the loon calling to his mate? He didn’t know, but the sad call set the tone for everything he was feeling. He and his friends were changing. He missed the life he once had, a life filled with small adventures. The loon called again. He wants breakfast, he thought. He realized it was late and he wanted breakfast too.
He turned the boat and stoked for the opening to the cove. The wind had picked up and there were small waves entering the mouth. The front of the boat lifted as he neared the narrow entrance, pushed back by the wind and waves. Twice he tried to paddle out of the cove and each time the wind pushed the front of the boat back. He needed a person in the front for weight and power. Alone in the back of the canoe he was unable to paddle fast enough to overcome the wind and current entering the cove. He needed to shift his weight to the front and paddle from the bow of the boat, as the Indians did in movies.
Technically, the position of the seats determined the bow and stern in a canoe. The seat in the front allowed space for your legs. He knew he could move to the front seat or he could turn around, kneel behind the rear seat, and paddle. Deciding it would be easier to take the paddle and cross to the front, he stood and stepped across the middle seat. The next thing he knew, he was flying out of the boat, the paddle going one way his coffee cup and hat going another. He plunged into the cold dark water. Disoriented, he struggled for an instant to find the surface. Kicking hard, he broke the surface and started treading water. Remarkably, he still had on his topsiders. The boating shoes made it hard to swim. He knew they didn’t float, but they were expensive, so against reason, he kept them on. He stretched his leg down searching for the bottom. Nothing but cold water. Dog paddling, he swam to retrieve the paddle and then returned to the overturned canoe. Gone forever was his college coffee mug but the life vest floated next to the canoe, still tied to the seat.
The kid at canoe rental said it was easy to get back into an overturned canoe. Remembering the kid’s instructions, he kicked hard and lifted the canoe out of the water, turning it over as he pushed up. The canoe righted its self, but took in considerable water as it did. He spent several minutes rocking the boat back and forth before he tried to climb in. At first, the canoe simply took in more water, and then it flipped over again. He was back where he started, except he was cold and exhausted. Clinging to the side of the canoe, he thought for the first time that he might die. In a moment of panic, he called for help, his cries sounding every bit as hopeless as the loon. He untied the life vest and put it on.
He was fifty feet from the grasses and line of trees beyond. On shore, he thought, he could empty the boat of water and start out sitting in the front. Grabbing a rope Joe had tied to the bow, he tried pulling the boat and when that didn’t work, he pushed the canoe as he swam. Neither worked well and he was exhausting what little energy he had left. Relying on the vest, he floated beside the canoe. He was tired and cold. He needed to get out of the icy dark water.
In a moment of clarity, he remembered the kid saying a canoe would float even when filled with water. Turning the boat over again, he threw the paddle in the canoe, and this time pulled himself in even as the canoe filled with water. After a brief struggle, he was sitting in middle of the flooded boat. Taking up the paddle, he stoked the canoe towards the shore.
It’ll be alright, he thought. He paddled the boat past the lily pads and into the carpet of brown and red grass. Stroking hard, he tried to beach the boat on the grass. Instead, the grasses opened up and swallowed the little canoe. The grass was a dense floating carpet, unattached to solid ground. He pushed the boat deeper into the weave of weeds trying to reach the line of trees. Eventually canoe stuck on top of the thick carpet of vines. With his paddle, he pushed down through the red grass searching for the bottom. The paddle struck something solid less than three feet below. Holding onto the far side of the canoe, he put a leg over the side. He planned to walk the boat to shore. The next thing he knew he was in waist-deep water with his feet buried in a foot of muck. Lifting his right leg, his topsider got sucked into the mud.
Bog. He was still in trouble. The blanket of water covering the moss and peat stretched out in all directions. Shivering with cold and exhaustion, he had a moment of panic, he knew he needed to get back in the boat, before he made a fatal mistake. Turning the canoe over, he let as much water drain out as possible, then grabbing the far gunwale, he hoisted himself in, all two hundred pounds. In the process, he lost the other topsider to the quagmire, but he was in the bow of the boat with the paddle in hand. Leaving the life vest on, he pushed the canoe off the grass, and stroked towards the narrow opening to the cove.
He eventually made it out and into the larger lake. The wind had picked up and he had to contend with a light chop. From the front seat, he paddled for the next hour arriving at camp muddy and exhausted. Getting out of the canoe, he took a moment to savor the fact that he was alive. He used his bandana to wash the muck from his legs and body, the oily mire hard to remove.
“Want some soap, or just out for a swim?” Joe called from his tent.
“I went out in the canoe,” he answered.
“That’s adventurous.”
“You have no idea,” he said.

Behind him, the dark water was silent.           

Ready to go off road


Oct 4, 2014

Oct 3, 2014

Nette in the Shade

I want one of these. 

Oct 2, 2014

Oct 1, 2014