GIANTS OF GOLGOTHA
Men the size of haystacks half-killing each other for her favors-what chance had a soft-soapin’ preacher?
I WAS about 10 years old, and in the third reader when Beth McCurdy come to teach at Golgotha school. I’ll never forget that third reader. It was one of them old McGuffy kind, and had a story about some dwarfs that lived in a coal cellar. Now, I didn’t think much of them dwarfs—them being so little. I don’t reckon they amounted to much, because you’ve got to be mostly he-man to get anywhere in this world.
But to get back to Beth McCurdy. She wasn’t a timid thing, like they usually are in storybooks. She’d come from Deadwood, knew one end of a horse from the other, and was strong enough to knock the kids for a loop when they needed it, which was frequent.
You see, Dad run the store at Golgotha and believed in education. He always said a man ought to have something above the whiskers besides eyebrows and bone, and he thought a man who signed his name with an X was too lazy to live and worse than a heathen. Anyway, he drove all the way to Basin after Beth McCurdy, and that was no mean chore, the round trip being 130 slow miles.
And I’ll never forget how Beth looked the first time I seen her. Dad got in town with her just as Mom and me was setting down to supper. He brought Beth into the kitchen, and with the first squint I almost busted my hackamore.
She was sort of round and smooth and darkish, and I said to myself, “Sonofabuck, if Dad ain’t brung us an Indian
for a teacher!” When she got unwrapped I found out different. Brother, was she pretty! She had the blackest hair and the whitest teeth and her eyes was like a pair of big, black cbokecherries. I reckon she must have been about 20 years old.
As soon as word got around that a new teacher had hit town, Dad did a good business in hats and scarfs and fancy shirts. It seemed all the young fellows in the country went on a duding-up spree, and the hitch rack in front of the store was lined with saddle horses every evening.
The boys would set around and smoke and tell jokes and spit at flies, like they had nothing on their minds at all, but everyone knew why the other fellow was there. Only one or two of ’em ever had nerve enough to get farther than the store except on special occasions, like when there was a dance in the hall above the store, or when they put on a Sunday rodeo at the old roundup pens north of town. Anyhow, most of ’em lost heart and drifted away whan they found Uncle Long Lazard and Baker Boone was paying court to the teacher.
NAMES is funny things. Now, Uncle Long’s real name was Henry, but when he was a kid someone called him “Long Ton” on account of his size and the name stuck. But it was so long they finally shortened it to “Long,” if you get what I mean.
Uncle Long had a big, black
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beard, and he must have weighed nearly 300, and he was so tall he had to stoop for all the doors in town to keep from batting his head off. He was the town blacksmith, and mighty strong. He could lift the biggest horse in the world—one end at a time—and he could make curlicues out of horseshoes with his bare hands, and stand on his head with his arms folded. He was the most accomplished man in Golgotha, or in the whole country for that matter
Baker Boone was just as big as Uncle Long, and just as strong, but I wouldn’t admit that when I was a kid.
They was always in a contest of some kind—like lifting houses by putting their shoulders under the tops of the door frames, or throwing big rocks, or seeing which could drink the most without getting the weaves, and it seemed they always come out about even. Then they would shake hands and start all over. They got along pretty good ’til Beth McCurdy showed up.
You see, this here Boone was a sort of saddle bum. He rode the grub line most of the time, and lived in a little cabin on the Twenty Mile near where the C—Z home ranch now is. But when Beth arrived he began setting in Dad’s store a lot, so he could get a glimpse of her now and then. Uncle Long had the edge on Boone there because Beth boarded with us and Uncle Long, being Dad’s brother, could come to the house without any excuse.
Well, Beth didn’t encourage either one of them, and she had a twinkly way of looking at a fellow, so he couldn’t be certain if she was laughing at him or with him.
After a while Boone got kinda sore at Uncle Long because he was a privileged character and Boone wouldn’t speak half the time when they met. But Uncle Long didn’t mind. He was easygoing.
But with Beth it was different. It had her plenty worried. I noticed sometimes at school she didn’t seem to have her mind on her work, but being a kid I didn’t know what the trouble was until one night I heard her talking to Mom when she was drying the dishes.
“I didn’t come here looking for a man,” she said. “All I wanted was a job. But those two elephants seem determined to change my mind, either by finesse or force.”
I didn’t savvy what finesse was, but the force I could understand. Uncle Long and Baker Boone had plenty of that.
“Don’t take it too seriously, Beth,” Mom said. “Maybe they’ll kill one another off some day.” Mom sounded real hopeful.
It was plain to see that they’d tangle sooner or later, but things drifted along through the winter, and vacation time finally came without anything happening.
Beth stayed on at our place that summer, because she didn’t have any folks and it was a long way to Deadwood. Everything considered, staying in one place was the easiest thing a woman could do.
WELL, one day in July, I was snaring gophers on the hills above the schoolhouse when I saw a man ride into town leading a red horse. He stopped at the store and went in, and then after a while he come back out with Dad. They took his horses to our barn and then went on to the house. Thinking maybe it was another uncle who’d been living on Ten Sleep creek
in the Big Horns, I rolled up my snare string and ran for town.
When I got to the house, Dad had gone back to the store and this man was setting in the parlor with Beth McCurdy. I saw I was mistaken about him being my uncle. He was a stranger, dark as a Mexican, and smooth-shaved, and just as big as Uncle Long or Baker Boone. I stared at him for a minute, and I guess my mouth fell open far enough to have held a cue ball. I could hardly believe it!
Mom made me come in to meet him. I pulled back like a locoed horse, but
after a tussle she got me through the
“Bob,” she said, “this is the Reverend Lemuel Brown. He’s going to hold some meetings here at the schoolhouse.”
I ducked my head and tried to get back outside but Mom hung on to the neck of my shirt.
“Where have you been?” she asked, looking at my dusty pants.
She’d bawled me out more than once for what she called “choking gophers,” so I lied a little out of the first stuff that come to mind.
“I’ve been up on the hill—looking for Indians,” I said.
Mom got red in the face because she knew I wasn’t telling the truth, but Preacher Brown just grinned at me and winked.
“Good idea,” he said. “I’ve heard they’re getting restless on the reservation, you can’t tell what they’ll do.”
I got away from Mom and went back up on the hill, but I didn’t figure on snaring any more gophers. If Preacher Brown thought it was the thing to do, then, by cripses, I’d watch for Indians all the rest of the summer.
WELL, Preacher Brown began his meetings the next night. I’d never been to church, and I didn’t know what it would be like, but I soon found out. Brown had brought some songbooks with him, so they passed them around and everybody sang, while Beth McCurdy played on the little organ.
Brown read some stories out of the Bible and told some of his own. Then he began to preach, and when he got warmed up good he would beat with his fist on the table at the front of the platform. Brother, I never saw such energy and lung power! He preached hell-fire and damnation, and hit the table so hard it shook the schoolhouse and rattled dirt down from the roof. And he talked so loud you could hear him clear to the creek ford, a mile away. I couldn’t see no reason for yelling like that, but I was strong for Brown, so it was all right with me.
It must have been all right with the rest, too, because the crowds got bigger all the time. Most of the town people went, and riders I hadn’t seen since fall roundup the year before began drifting in to the meetings. Even old Duke Wellington, the town soak, went every night to see the sinners get sprung loose from whatever it was that made ’em lie and cheat and steal and believe in a easy heaven and a cool hell. Yes, and that Old Crow was good for rheumatism if it was rubbed on the inside.
I believed most everything Brown said, but when he was preaching one night about David and Goliath he told us that size didn’t count. If it did, he said, a cow could outrun a rabbit. Now, I couldn’t swallow that, not even from Brown, and I know Beth McCurdy couldn’t either. AU the men I knew that amounted to anything was all good-sized, including Dad. And as for Beth, well, the giants of Golgotha was sure causing her a lot of worry, and their size alone had chased away a lot of smaller men.
Uncle Long and Baker Boone would sit by the water bucket on the bench in the back of the room because the other seats was too small for their frames. After preaching, they’d both hang around, hoping for a chance to walk Beth home, but Brown soon took over that part of the show. Neither Uncle Long nor Boone liked the way things was going, and that was partly what caused the big fight.
THE second Sunday night, after the meeting, Beth had left with Brown. I was running down the hill when I come up behind Uncle Long and Boone and heard the beginning of their quarrel. I don’t know what Boone said first, but I heard Uncle Long say: “Brown’s all right for my money, bud.” He said it so sharp that Boone snorted like a hot stud and hauled up short.
By that time they’d reached the street. The moon was bright and I could see them pretty plain, tall and black like a couple of mountains and making big shadows on the ground, but them being so near the same size it was hard to tell which was which.
“Brown’s nothing but a bum,” Boone said, “and I bet he never done a day’s work in his life. Soft-soaping ladies ain’t no man’s job.”
“I ain’t never see you doing much of anything else,” Uncle Long said. “Maybe you better quit soft-soaping Beth McCurdy.”
That touched off the fireworks. Boone yelled: “I’ll talk to her when-
ever I damned please!”
“Not after tonight, you won’t,” Uncle Long said.
Then the two dark mountains come together. There was a noise like someone slamming a barn door and one of the mountains fell down.
“Come on, get up,” I heard Uncle Long say, kinda gritty like. “Your knees weak or something?”
That’s how I knew the mountain on the ground was Baker Boone.
Uncle Long pranced a circle around Boone, waiting for him to get stood on end again. I yelled “Fight!” and the other kids yelled “Fight!” and people ran into the street, and some of the riders just leaving town came loping back to see the excitement. Dad and Mom was in the crowd, and in a minute Preacher Brown and Beth showed up.
After he got the fuzz out of his brain, Boone scrambled to his feet and him and Uncle Long pitched into one another. They sure raised an aitch of a dust and sounded, with their heaving and snorting and pawing around, like a couple of bulls in a gravel pit. All of a sudden one of them was on the ground again and the other stood there, weaving around and breathing like a windbroke horse.
“Come on, get up,” he panted. “Your knees weak or something?”
It was Boone talking, so I figured the one on the ground must be Uncle Long. I didn’t think that could ever happen, but there he was, flat as a pancake. Then Uncle Long lunged at Boone’s legs, pulling him down, and they went roping around in the dust, rolling over and over.
I heard Beth McCurdy say: “Don’t you think you should stop them, Lemuel?”
“Heck, no,” Brown said. “One of ’em’s got to get licked, sooner or later.”
He talked kinda low and easy, and the thought hit me that maybe he was scared to get tangled up in the scrap. Somehow, I had an idea that Beth was thinking the same way, because she shut up and didn’t say no more.
Uncle Long and Boone finally shook apart and got up. They leaned over with their hands on their knees, gasping like a couple of grounded steelheads, and watching for a good opening. They kept edging closer and closer and after awhile they was battling away again at arm’s length.
Man alive, they hit hard!—so hard that the blows jarred the ground when they landed. Not even Uncle Long or Baker Boone could stand that kind of punishment forever, because I reckon any one of them licks would have paralyzed a steer. Their footwork slowed up and their arms hung down and they staggered around, hitting at thin air most of the time and falling over each other when they failed to connect.
At last Dad walked in and caught Uncle Long around the belly from behind. Uncle Long tried to hit him, probably thinking it was Boone grabbing him.
“Take it easy, Henry,” Dad said. “You’ll have to quit for a while.”
“Yeah,” Uncle Long mumbled, “Yeah, I guess so. I can’t see the sonofagun any more. But you tell him I’ll get him tomorrow.”
WELL, Dad opened the store and lit the lamp so the boys could patch Boone up, and Uncle Long went to our house. Mom had a piece of beefsteak left from Sunday dinner, and Dad put some of the raw meat on Uncle Long’s eyes. Then he gave him a drink of whisky and put him to bed.
I kept running back and forth between home and the store, comparing the damages and trying to get Uncle Long on the winning end. That wasn’t hard for me to do, but maybe I cheated a little.
Some of the riders put Boone on his horse and took him to his cabin on Twenty Mile. Boone also swore he’d get Uncle Long the next day, so the fight was just warming up good.
Of course, Beth McCurdy knew the fight had started over her, but Uncle Long didn’t say anything about it, and I wasn’t talking either. Preacher Brown wouldn’t make no comments, one way or the other, and I noticed that Beth kept watching him, like she remembered him not wanting to mix in the fight and maybe wondering about that some.
I got up early the next morning, and while I was dressing I heard Dad and Uncle Long arguing on the back porch. Dad was trying to talk him out of riding to Twenty Mile after Boone, but Uncle Long was as cross-grained as a tired steer and at last Dad gave in.
“But don’t take any guns,” he said. “Promise me you won’t.”
“I don’t need a gun for that knothead,” Uncle Long said. “All I want is to get my fist on him in the right place.”
Uncle Long looked plenty bad, all battered up like he was, but he could see all right in a sort of slit-eyed way, so after breakfast he saddled up and rode forth.
Beth McCurdy cried when he left, because I reckon she expected one of them to get killed before they finished their argument.
I wanted to go along and watch Boone get lambasted, but I knew there was no use asking, so I went back to
my Indian lookout and watched Uncle Long ride away over the hills.
I was getting fed up with watching for Indians, and I’d about decided to try my string on the gophers again when suddenly I heard a gunshot, kinda ropy and worn-out with distance. It had come from the north, so I jumped up and took a quick look in that direction.
Uncle Long was so far away I could hardly see him. His horse had wheeled and was coming back toward town at a run. At first I thought Uncle Long had fallen off, but I finally made out he was all bent over and giving his horse the
About then I noticed another rider on a grey horse come out of a coulee about a quarter behind Uncle Long and make off in the opposite direction. It didn’t take me but a second to figure out what had happened, because the grey horse was familiar. It belonged to Baker Boone.
Believe me, being keyed up with the fight and everything, I felt like I’d been stung by a bumblebee. I began making jumps for town, and squalling at every jump. When I run across the street, Dad and Preacher Brown was standing in front of the store.
“Murder!” I yelled. “Uncle Long’s been murdered!”
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Dad just laughed and tried to feel my head. “You’ve been sitting in the sun too much, kid,” he said. “You’ll go dippy if you don’t cut it out.”
“It’s true, Dad,” I said. “Baker Boone dry-gulched him out in the hills. Anyway, he tried to, and Uncle Long’s coming back to town. You’ll see!” About that time we could hear Uncle Long’s horse and in a minute he hit the end of the street, coming as hard as he could.
“Hey,” Dad said, “maybe the kid’s
“Could be,” Brown said, and they both squared around for a look.
UNCLE LONG hauled up in front of the store and climbed down, holding his left arm tight, and with a funny look on his face. He’d been shot, sure enough, for his shirt sleeve was all soaked with blood around the shoulder. “What happened?” Dad asked. “That’s a fine question,” Uncle Long yelled. “What does it look like happened? That Boone was waiting for me out along the trail, like I might have expected. You and your ‘Now, don’t take any guns, Henry.’ Boone brought his, you notice. Ed, you ain’t got as much sense as a baboon!”
“Maybe not,” Dad said. “Come on to the house and we’ll see about that
It was sure exciting, and Mom and Beth was fit to be tied. Well, Dad got Uncle Long’s shirt off and found that the bullet had only plowed through the fleshy part of his shoulder. Except for losing a little blood, he wasn’t hurt bad. When he saw how it was, he got mad again, and after he’d had a snort of liquor he was ready to start back for Twenty Mile.
“I’ll take my thirty-thirty this time,” he said, “and I’ll give Boone a dose of his own medicine.”
“I don’t think you’d better,” Brown said. “You stay here. I’ll go out and talk with the man.”
Well, Brown had a way of telling people what to do as if he expected it done, and Uncle Long listened to him.
Beth McCurdy looked at Brown kinda funny, like she was surprised, and I was sure then that she’d made up her mind that Brown didn’t have no stomach for a tussle, even if he was as big as a beef.
AFTER Brown left, Beth kinda simmered down, and Uncle Long cooled off, too, and went to have another drink to ease the pain in his shoulder, so he said.
I thought he was pretty much of a hero, being all shot up like that. I reckon Uncle Long thought so, too, for after a couple more drinks he began to show off. Dad couldn’t keep him still at all. He kept strutting around, and every little while his shoulder would get hurting again and he’d need another shot of painkiller. By 10 o’clock he looked less Ike a hero and more like a sponge returning to its natural state.
Dad and Mom was ashamed of him. But Beth was just plain disgusted, and mad, because I reckon she felt that she was being pushed around. When Uncle Long saw how they all felt about him, he got ugly and went and sat on the store porch and wouldn’t talk.
Time drug along kinda slow and Dad got restless, and it seemed like Mom was beginning to worry a little. By 2 o’clock things did look bad. Barring all accidents, Brown should have been back before then.
Some of the town people, including Mom and Beth, gathered at the store for a powwow, and there was a lot of talk about trouble on the Twenty Mile. Boone had already tried to kill Uncle Long and there was no ground to think
he’d be very chummy toward Preacher Brown, especially since Boone felt the way he did toward Beth McCurdy. He was in a killing mood and there was no telling what might have happened.
But while they was talking about it, Brown come riding into town, just poking along with his head hanging down, like he hated to come back at all. And I’ll never forget how awful sad he looked when he got off his horse there in that crowd. He had a couple big bruises on his face, one eye was almost shut, and his hands was all bunged up. He just stood there for a while and didn’t say anything.
Finally, Uncle Long said: “Well,
what’s the word. Where’s Boone—I thought you might bring him back with you.”
“I don’t know where he is,” Brown
Then Uncle Long got mean. “You don’t know,” he sneered. “I’m going out there and blow him apart!”
Right then, Preacher Brown moved over in front of Uncle Long and spit in the dust and looked Uncle Long right in the eye.
“Brother Long,” he said, “you’re not going anywhere unless you lick me first. After that you can go and shoot Boone if you want to—if you can find him. I got all messed up trying to keep you men from killing each other. I don’t want to do it all over again, but I will if it’s necessary.”
Uncle Long kinda backed up and said: “Well, now, I don’t know about that.”
And Brown said: “Well, I do.
Believe me, my brother, I do. I’ve done the best I could, and I intend to make it stick. Being a minister, I don’t like to mix into fights, but I went out there just as I said I would and talked with Boone. He got his gun, and I took that away from him. Then he wanted to argue, so we argued. After that, I poured cold water on him ’til he come to. Well, I persuaded him to move to a new range, and I know he’s gone because I helped him get started. Now, if everybody’s satisfied, we’ll just let the matter drop and go on from here like good friends.”
Well, sir, Brown stared around at everyone for a while and then he said: “Folks, I’m sorry I lost my temper like that, and I want you all to forgive me. You see, we big men have to sort of stick together and help one another out, because—well, because it’s no kid’s job.” He spit on the ground again and then looked at Uncle Long. “Brother Long,” he said, “my horse has throwed a front shoe. I’d appreciate it if you’d fix him up, when your arm gets better.”
And Uncle Long said: “Why, now, I’d be glad to, Parson.”
Later that night I heard Preacher Brown and Beth talking on the front porch in the dark, and Beth said to Brown, “You know, Lemuel, after you wouldn’t break up that fight last night, I wondered for a while if you were just a big windbag or a regular giant.”
“And what did you finally decide, my dear?” Brown asked.
Well, I couldn’t make out a darned word from there on. All I could hear was Beth McCurdy saying: “M-m-mm—M-M-M!” *
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