Irish Works For The Cause
From: The Flying U's Last Stand
Big Medicine with Weary and Chip to bear him company, rode up to the
shack nearest his own, which had been hastily built by a raw-boned Dane
who might be called truly Americanized. Big Medicine did not waste time
in superfluities or in making threats of what he meant to do. He called
the Dane to the door--claim-jumpers were keeping close to their cabins,
these days--and told him that he was on another man's land, and asked
him if he meant to move.
"Sure I don't intend to move!" retorted the Dane with praiseworthy
promptness. "I'm going to hold 'er down solid."
"Yuh hear what says, boys." Big Medicine turned to his companions "He
ain't going to git off'n my land, he says. Weary, yuh better go tell the
bunch I need'em."
Weary immediately departed. He was not gone so very long, and when he
returned the Happy Family was with him, even to Patsy who drove the
wagon with all the ease of a veteran of many roundups. The Dane tried
bluster, but that did not seem to work. Nothing seemed to work, except
the Happy Family.
There in broad daylight, with no more words than were needful, they
moved the Dane, and his shack. When they began to raise the building he
was so unwise as to flourish a gun, and thereby made it perfectly right
and lawful that Big Medicine should take the gun away from him and march
him ahead of his own forty-five.
They took the shack directly past one of the trespassing signs, and Big
Medicine stopped accommodatingly while the Dane was permitted to
read the sign three times aloud. That the Dane did not seem truly
appreciative of the privilege was no fault of Big Medicine's, surely.
They went on, skidding the little building sledlike over the uneven
prairie. They took it down into Antelope Coulee and left it there, right
side up and with not even a pane of glass broken in the window.
"There, darn yuh, live there awhile!" Andy gritted to when the timbers
were withdrawn from beneath the cabin and they were ready to leave. "You
can't say we damaged your property--this time. Come back, and there's no
telling what we're liable to do."
Since Big Medicine kept his gun, the Dane could do nothing but swear
while he watched them ride up the hill and out of sight.
They made straight for the next interloper, remarking frequently that it
was much simpler and easier to do their moving in daylight. There they
had an audience, for Florence Grace rode furiously up just as they were
getting under way. The Happy Family spoke very nicely to Florence Grace,
and when she spoke very sharply to them they were discreetly hard of
hearing and became absorbed in their work.
Several settlers came before that shack was moved, but they only stood
around and talked among themselves, and were careful not to get in the
way or to hinder, and to lower their voices so that the Happy Family
need not hear unless they chose to listen.
So they slid that shack into the coulee, righted it carefully and left
it there--where it would be exceedingly difficult to get it out, by the
way; since it is much easier to drag a building down hill than up, and
the steeper the hill and the higher, the greater the difference.
They loaded the timbers into the wagon and methodically on to the next
shack, their audience increased to a couple of dozen perturbed settlers.
The owner of this particular shack, feeling the strength of numbers
behind him, was disposed to argue the point.
"Oh, you'll sweat for this!" he shouted impotently when the Happy Family
was placing the timbers.
"Ah, git outa the way!" said Andy, coming toward him with a crowbar.
"We're sweating now, if that makes yuh feel any better."
The man got out of the way, and went and stood with the group of
onlookers, and talked vaguely of having the law on them--whatever he
meant by that.
By the time they had placed the third shack in the bottom of the coulee,
the sun was setting. They dragged the timbers up the steep bluff with
their ropes and their saddle-horses, loaded them on to the wagon and
threw the crowbars and rolling timbers in, and turned to look curiously
and unashamed at their audience. Andy, still tacitly their leader, rode
a few steps forward.
"That'll be all today," he announced politely. "Except that load of
lumber back here on the bench where it don't belong--we aim to haul that
over the line. Seeing your considerable interest in our affairs, I'll
just say that we filed on our claims according to law, and we're living
on 'em according to law. Till somebody proves in court that we're not,
there don't any shack, or any stock, stay on our side the line any
longer than it takes to get them off. There's the signs, folks--read 'em
and take 'em to heart. You can go home now. The show's over."
He lifted his hat to the women--and there were several now--and went
away to join his fellows, who had ridden on slowly till he might
overtake them. He found Happy Jack grumbling and predicting evil, as
it was his nature to do, but he merely straightened his aching back and
laughed at the prophecies.
"As I told you before, there's more than one way to kill a cat," he
asserted tritely but never the less impressively. "Nobody can say
we wasn't mild; and nobody can say we hadn't a right to get those
chickencoops off our land. If you ask me, Florence Grace will have to
go some now if she gets the best of the deal. She overlooked a bet.
We haven't been served with any contest notices yet, and so we ain't
obliged to take their say-so. Who's going to stand guard tonight? We've
got to stand our regular shifts, if we want to keep ahead of the game.
I'm willing to be It. I'd like to make sure they don't slip any stock
across before daylight."
"Say, it's lucky we've got a bunch of boneheads like them to handle,"
Pink observed thankfully. "Would a bunch of natives have stood around
like that with their hands in their pockets and let us get away with the
moving job? Not so you could notice!"
"What we'd better do," cut in the Native Son without any misleading
drawl, "is try and rustle enough money to build that fence."
"That's right," assented Cal. "Maybe the Old Man--"
"We don't go to the Old Man for so much as a bacon rind!" cried the
Native Son impatiently. "Get it into your systems, boys, that we've
got to ride away around the Flying U. We ought to be able to build that
fence, all right, without help from anybody. Till we do we've got to
hang and rattle, and keep that nester stock from getting past us. I'll
stand guard till midnight."
A little more talk, and some bickering with Slim and Happy Jack, the two
chronic kickers, served to knock together a fair working organization.
Weary and Andy Green were informally chosen joint leaders, because
Weary could be depended upon to furnish the mental ballast for Andy's
imagination. Patsy was told that he would have to cook for the outfit,
since he was too fat to ride. They suggested that he begin at, once, by
knocking together some sort of supper. Moving houses, they declared, was
work. They frankly hoped that they would not have to move many more--and
they were very positive that they would not be compelled to move the
same shack twice, at any rate.
"Say, we'll have quite a collection of shacks down in Antelope Coulee if
we keep on," Jack Bates reminded them. "Wonder where they'll get water?"
"Where's the rest of them going to get water?" Cal Emmett challenged the
crowd. "There's that spring the four women up here pack water from--but
that goes dry in August. And there's the creek--that goes dry too.
On the dead, I feel sorry for the women--and so does Irish," he added
Irish made an uncivil retort and swung suddenly away from the group.
"I'm going to ride into town, boys," he announced curtly. "I'll be back
in the morning and go on day-herd."
"Maybe you will and maybe you won't," Weary amended somewhat
impatiently. "This is certainly a poor time for Irish to break out," he
added, watching his double go galloping toward the town road.
"I betche he comes back full and tries to clean out all them nesters,"
Happy Jack predicted. For once no one tried to combat his pessimism--for
that was exactly what every one of them believed would happen.
"He's stayed sober a long while--for him," sighed Weary, who never could
quite shake off a sense of responsibility for the moral defections of
his kinsman. "Maybe I better go along and ride herd on him." Still, he
did not go, and Irish presently merged into the dusky distance.
As is often the case with a family's black sheep, his intentions were
the best, even though they might have been considered unorthodox. While
the Happy Family took it for granted that he was gone because an old
thirst awoke within him, Irish was thinking only of the welfare of
the outfit. He did not tell them, because he was the sort who does not
prattle of his intentions, one way or the other. If he did what he meant
to do there would be time enough to explain; if he failed there was
nothing to be said.
Irish had thought a good deal about the building of that fence, and
about the problem of paying for enough wire and posts to run the fence
straight through from Meeker's south line to the north line of the
Flying U. He had figured the price of posts and the price of wire and
had come somewhere near the approximate cost of the undertaking. He was
not at all sure that the Happy Family had faced the actual figures on
that proposition. They had remarked vaguely that it was going to cost
some money. They had made casual remarks about being broke personally
and, so far as they knew, permanently.
Irish was hot-headed and impulsive to a degree. He was given to
occasional tumultuous sprees, during which he was to be handled with
extreme care--or, better still, left entirely alone until the spell was
over. He looked almost exactly like Weary, and yet he was almost his
opposite in disposition. Weary was optimistic, peace-loving, steady as
the sun above him except for a little surface-bubbling of fun that
kept him sunny through storm and calm. You could walk all over
Weary--figuratively speaking--before he would show resentment. You could
not step very close to Irish without running the risk of consequences.
That he should, under all that, have a streak of calculating,
hard-headed business sense, did not occur to them.
They rode on, discussing the present situation and how best to meet it;
the contingencies of the future, and how best to circumvent the active
antagonism of Florence Grace Hallman and the colony for which she stood
sponsor. They did not dream that Irish was giving his whole mind to
solving the problem of raising money to build that fence, but that is
exactly what he was doing.
Some of you at least are going to object to his method. Some of
you--those of you who live west of the big river--are going to
understand his point of view, and you will recognize his method as
being perfectly logical, simple, and altogether natural to a man of his
temperament and manner of life. It is for you that I am going to relate
his experiences. Sheltered readers, readers who have never faced life in
the raw, readers who sit down on Sunday mornings with a mind purged of
worldly thoughts and commit to memory a "golden text" which they forget
before another Sunday morning, should skip the rest of this chapter for
the good of their morals. The rest is for you men who have kicked up
alkali dust and afterwards washed out the memory in town; who have gone
broke between starlight and sun; who know the ways of punchers the West
over, and can at least sympathize with Irish in what he meant to do that
Irish had been easing down a corner of the last shack, with his back
turned toward three men who stood looking on with the detached interest
which proved they did not own this particular shack. One was H. J.
Owens--I don't think you have met the others. Irish had not. He had
overheard this scrap of conversation while he worked:
"Going to town tonight?"
"Guess so--I sure ain't going to hang out on this prairie any more than
I have to. You going?"
"Ye-es--I think I will. I hear there's been some pretty swift games
going, the last night or two. A fellow in that last bunch Florence
rounded up made quite a clean up last night."
"That so, let's go on in. This claim-holding gets my goat anyway. I
don't see where--"
That was all Irish heard, but that was enough.
Had he turned in time to catch the wink that one speaker gave to the
other, and the sardonic grin that answered the lowered eyelid, he would
have had the scrap of conversation properly focused in his mind, and
would not have swallowed the bait as greedily as he did. But we all make
mistakes. Irish made the mistake of underestimating the cunning of his
So here he was, kicking up the dust on the town trail just as those
three intended that he should do. But that he rode alone instead of in
the midst of his fellows was not what the three had intended; and that
he rode with the interest of his friends foremost in his mind was also
an unforeseen element in the scheme.
Irish did not see H. J. Owens anywhere in town--nor did he see either of
the two men who had stood behind him. But there was a poker game running
in Rusty Brown's back room, and Irish immediately sat in without further
investigation. Bert Rogers was standing behind one of the players, and
gave Irish a nod and a wink which may have had many meanings. Irish
interpreted it as encouragement to sail in and clean up the bunch.
There was money enough in sight to build that fence when he sat down.
Irish pulled his hat farther over his eyebrows, rolled and lighted a
cigarette while he waited for that particular jackpot to be taken, and
covertly sized up the players.
Every one of them was strange to him. But then, the town was full of
strangers since Florence Grace and her Syndicate began to reap a harvest
off the open country, so Irish merely studied the faces casually, as a
matter of habit They were nesters, of course--real or prospective. They
seemed to have plenty of money--and it was eminently fitting that the
Happy Family's fence should be built with nester money.
Irish had in his pockets exactly eighteen dollars and fifty-cents. He
bought eighteen dollars' worth of chips and began to play. Privately he
preferred stud poker to draw, but he was not going to propose a change;
he felt perfectly qualified to beat any three pilgrims that ever came
Four hands he played and lost four dollars. He drank a glass of beer
then, made himself another cigarette and settled down to business,
feeling that he had but just begun. After the fifth hand he looked
up and caught again the eye of Bert Rogers. Bert pulled his eyebrows
together in a warning look, and Irish thought better of staying that
hand. He did not look at Bert after that, but he did watch the other
players more closely.
After awhile Bert wandered away, his interest dulling when he saw
that Irish was holding his own and a little better. Irish played on,
conservative to such a degree that in two hours he had not won more than
fifteen dollars. The Happy Family would have been surprised to see him
lay down kings and refuse to draw to them which he did once, with a
gesture of disgust that flipped them face up so that all could see.
He turned them over immediately, but the three had seen that this tall
stranger, who had all the earmarks of a cowpuncher, would not draw to
kings but must have something better before he would stay.
So they played until the crowd thinned; until Irish, by betting safely
and sticking to a caution that must have cost him a good deal in the way
of self-restraint, had sixty dollars' worth of chips piled in front of
Some men, playing for a definite purpose, would have quit at that. Irish
did not quit, however. He wanted a certain sum from these nesters. He
had come to town expecting to win a certain sum from them. He
intended to play until he got it or went broke. He was not using any
trickery--and he had stopped one man in the middle of a deal, with a
certain look in his eye remarking that he'd rather have the top card
than the bottom one, so that he was satisfied they were not trying to
There came a deal when Irish looked at his cards, sent a slanting look
at the others and laid down his five cards with a long breath. He raised
the ante four blue ones and rolled and lit a cigarette while the three
had drawn what cards they thought they needed. The man at Irish's
left had drawn only one card. Now he hesitated and then bet with some
assurance. Irish smoked imperturbably while the other two came in, and
then he raised the bet three stacks of blues. His neighbor raised him
one stack, and the next man hesitated and then laid down his cards. The
third man meditated for a minute and raised the bet ten dollars. Irish
blew forth a leisurely smoke wreath and with a sweep of his hand sent in
all his chips.
There was a silent minute, wherein Irish smoked and drummed absently
upon the table with his fingers that were free. His neighbor frowned,
grunted and threw down his hand. The third man did the same. Irish made
another sweep of his hand and raked the table clean of chips.
"That'll do for tonight," he remarked dryly. "I don't like to be a hog."
Had that ended the incident, sensitive readers might still read and
think well of Irish. But one of the players was not quite sober, and he
was a poor loser and a pugnacious individual anyway, with a square
face and a thick neck that went straight up to the top of his head. His
underlip pushed out, and when Irish turned away, to cash in his chips,
this pugnacious one reached over and took a look at the cards Irish had
It certainly was as rotten a hand as a man could hold. Suits all mixed,
and not a face card or a pair in the lot. The pugnacious player had
held a king high straight, and he had stayed until Irish sent in all his
chips. He gave a bellow and jumped up and hit Irish a glancing blow back
of the ear. Let us not go into details. You know Irish--or you should
know him by this time. A man who will get away with a bluff like
that should be left alone or brained in the beginning of the
fight--especially when he can look down on the hair of a six-foot man,
and has muscles hardened by outdoor living. When the dust settled, two
chairs were broken and some glasses swept off the bar by heaving bodies,
and two of the three players had forgotten their troubles. The third was
trying to find the knob on the back door, and could not because of the
buzzing in his head and the blood in his eyes. Irish had welts and two
broken knuckles and a clear conscience, and he was so mad he almost
wound up by thrashing Rusty, who had stayed behind the bar and taken
no hand in the fight. Rusty complained because of the damage to his
property, and Irish, being the only one present in a condition to
listen, took the complaint as a personal insult.
He counted his money to make sure he had it all, evened the edges of the
package of bank notes and thrust the package into his pocket. If Rusty
had kept his face closed about those few glasses and those chairs, he
would have left a "bill" on the bar to pay for them, even though he did
need every cent of that money. He told Rusty this, and he accused him of
standing in with the nesters and turning down the men who had helped him
make money' all these years.
"Why, darn your soul, I've spent money enough over this bar to buy out
the whole damn joint, and you know it!" he cried indignantly. "If you
think you've got to collect damages, take it outa these blinkety-blink
pilgrims you think so much of. Speak to 'em pleasant, though, or you're
liable to lose the price of a beer, maybe! They'll never bring you the
money we've brought you, you--"
"They won't because you've likely killed 'em both," Rusty retorted
angrily. "You want to remember you can't come into town and rip things
up the back the way you used to, and nobody say a word. You better
drift, before that feller that went out comes back with an officer. You
"Officer be damned!" retorted Irish, unawed.
He went out while Rusty was deciding to order him out, and started for
the stable. Halfway there he ducked into the shadow of the blacksmith
shop and watched two men go up the street to Rusty's place, walking
quickly. He went on then, got his horse hurriedly without waiting to
cinch the saddle, led him behind the blacksmith shop where he would
not be likely to be found, and tied him there to the wreck of a freight
Then he went across lots to where Fred Wilson, manager of the general
store, slept in a two-room shack belonging to the hotel. The door was
locked--Fred being a small man with little trust in Providence or in
his overt physical prowess--and so he rapped cautiously upon the window
until Fred awoke and wanted to know who in thunder was there.
Irish told his name, and presently went inside. "I'm pulling outa town,
Fred," he explained, "and I don't know when I'll be in again. So I want
you to take an order for some posts and bob wire and steeples. I--"
"Why didn't you come to the store?" Fred very naturally demanded,
peevish at being wakened at three o'clock in the morning. "I saw you in
town when I closed up."
"I was busy. Crawl back into bed and cover up, while I give you the
order. I'll want a receipt for the money, too--I'm paying in advance,
so you won't have any excuse for holding up the order. Got any thing to
Fred found part of an order pad and a pencil, and crept shivering into
his bed. The offer to pay in advance had silenced his grumbling, as
Irish expected it would. So Irish gave the order--thirteen hundred cedar
posts, I remember--I don't know just how much wire, but all he would
"Holy Macintosh! Is this for YOU?" Fred wanted to know as he wrote it
"Some of it. We're fencing our claims. If I don't come after the stuff
myself, let any of the boys have it that shows up. And get it here as
quick as you can--what you ain't got on hand--"
Fred was scratching his jaw meditatively with the pencil, and staring
at the order. "I can just about fill that order outa stock on hand," he
told Irish. "When all this land rush started I laid in a big supply of
posts and wire. First thing they'd want, after they got their shacks up.
How you making it, out there?"
"Fine," said Irish cheerfully, feeling his broken knuckles. "How much is
all that going to cost? You oughta make us a rate on it, seeing it's a
cash sale, and big."
"I will." Fred tore out a sheet and did some mysterious figuring,
afterwards crumpling the paper into a little wad and hipping it behind
the bed. "This has got to be on the quiet, Irish. I can't sell wire and
posts to those eastern marks at this rate, you know. This is just for
you boys--and the profit for us is trimmed right down to a whisper." He
named the sum total with the air of one who confers a great favor.
Irish grinned and reached into his pocket. "You musta knocked your
profit down to fifty percent.," he fleered. "But it's a go with me." He
peeled off the whole roll, just about. He had two twenties left in
his hand when he stopped. He was very methodical that night. He took a
receipt for the money before he left and he looked at it with glistening
eyes before he folded it with the money. "Don't sell any posts and wire
till our order's filled, Fred," he warned. "We'll begin hauling right
away, and we'll want it all."
He let himself out into the cool starlight, walked in the shadows to
where he had left his horse, mounted and rode whistling away down the
lane which ended where the hills began.
Next: Just One Thing After Another
Previous: Shacks Live Stock And Pilgrims Promptly And Painfully Removed