“You don’t see no one every day with my degree a famosity, and
if it’s facts you are lookin for, then you should probally look somewhere else.”
—Archibald P. Ledbetter
In his constant search for both getting rich and being famous, Archie Ledbetter's travels take him to Virginia City, Nevada in the heart of the silver and gold boom. He doesn't find either in his first attempt, which is as a miner, and neither does he find it as a newspaper writer, an entertainer, in claim and land sales, as a fisherman, and an assortment of other "careers."
However, with the naive persistence he always shows, he does not give up, continuing from one job to the next, until finally deciding to go find Emily Prater, the girl who left him back in Iowa to go seek her own fortune in San Francisco.
After four a us makin our fortunes by turnin in Long Tom Haddix and France Wah Houlette for the rewards, and after Blackie Baldstrom stealin all a our money the next day, and after Hognose and Cockroach bein tole they could join up with Blackie’s gang, and after me and Jim Thomas said our good byes and see you laters, I set there by our fire while it burned out and contemplationed what might be the next bright idea to sprout from my brain, which a course didn’t take long at all.
My first thought, which it always is, except when I have others that pop up before it, was to go back home to Iowa, but since I tole them so long ago that I was leavin to go make my fortune and I was goin to return richer than all a them put together, and now I was broke, that didn’t peal to me. Goin back home and tellin them you made yourself a fortune three times, but it got took away from you by circumstances which couldn’t a been forsaw by no one, ain’t by no stretch the same as goin back home with the fortune trailin behind you in a big old coach bein towed by six black horses in gold harnesses, and if you done that, there would always be people who said you didn’t really done what you say you done, and that cloud a doubt would forever hang over you. So, like I done the times before when I was rich, I blank that off a the list, and set myself on to what’s next, which I don’t know yet what it is.
My second thought is to change my mind about doin the bounty huntin here in Montana, but I toss it out as soon as it comes to bein a thought, on account a even though it is how I made my last fortune, it has too much I don’t like, such as always bein in the way a people’s guns and tempers, and sooner or later, in front a one a their bullets or fists. The only thing I really liked about it is that brains counts for somethin, and since I got more than most, I stayed one quarter of a step in front a the bullets and fists, for the most part. There is just somethin inside a me that says to me that it wasn’t all skill and brains, and some a that was luck, and if I keep at it for much longer, the luck won’t show up when it needs to, and that will be that.
My third thought is that I should be content with the cowboyin stuff, knowin that all a the cows here is goin to be here forever, and that ridin them and doin all a that will be a stable job, which none a the other ideas is. And a course, you got to look at the men who got so rich off a cattle that the other rich people look at them and say, boy I wish I was rich, even though to most a us they already are. The biggest problem with gettin rich that way is that it takes longer than some ways— I heard some men takin five or ten years gettin their first million cows together— and a lot a work, which has never been my favorite activity.
My fourth thought is to go back to Wyoming or Nebraska or the Dakotas and find Woyer, and see how him and Little Doe has filled their quiver to the brim in the months since he left to go back for her. He’s probally out in the plains somewheres, runnin a store or something, speakin English to some people and French to others, and Injun to Injuns. He’s probally sellin off some a the potions he made for things like cuts and headaches and the trots, and skinnin off some buffalo hides to people who ain’t fit for that, and then goin back to his teepee every night and eatin up some food that Little Doe cooked up from the earth, and tellin stories to all a them, and all a them kinds a things. I’d go, but there ain’t a way for me to get rich there, and I never was too much favored havin deer brains or lizard hearts for supper anyways.
So, right now, them is the selections, and I don’t care for none a them, so I am in the same boat as when I started thinkin a few minutes ago, which is a boat that ain’t goin to float much longer without no decisions. Still, I can’t set here by the fire, which I just notice is out, and wait for nothin to come here to me. I think I will put all a the thinkin on hold for a few hours, and go back into Malta, and have another copy a the picture me and Jim had took, and send one to Percy back in Jadeville, just to let him know what I looked like the last time I was rich.
When I pull into Malta, the first person I see is the Sheriff, who right off wonders if I am bringin in another notorious criminal and pickin up the reward for such, but I tell him no, I’m not bringin in no criminals right now, but the day ain’t over, so he can go ahead and hold his breath for it if he wants to.
“Where’s the others?” he asts, referring to Hognose and Cockroach and Jim. “I figured I might see all of you last night, drinking up the reward money you got.”
“Well,” I says, “Jim Thomas has gone back to home so he can raise chickens and cows, and Hognose and Cockroach joined up with Blackie Baldstrom.”
I can see the shock on his face at that news about two more men joinin up with that gang. “I thought they were on the side of the law,” he observes.
It’s a long story about how they come to go from the Long Tom Haddix gang to bein the ones who brung him in for the reward to joinin up with Blackie Baldstrom, and I don’t got the time for all a it, so I says, “That’s a long story how that happened, Sheriff, but that’s where they is makin camp now, no matter how long or short the story is.”
“Tell me a short version,” he says.
“We was all settin around camp, mindin our own business, when Blackie and his gang come up on us in the middle a the night, and they had two men to each a us, and before any a us knowed it, we had two guns pointin to our face, and was lined up against a rock for what we was sure was goin to be our ends, and one by one, they took each a our bags a money. Cockroach and Hognose goes to beggin him to take them in, and he feels so sorry for us that he does, and then he gets to feelin generositive, so he don’t kill Jim Thomas and me if we promise we won’t come a lookin for him.”
“You lost all of that reward money?” he asts. “All ten thousand?”
“We didn’t lose it, Sheriff. Blackie Baldstrom and a dozen men stole it from us.”
“Sorry to hear that,” he says, but I can tell he ain’t sorry about the money bein stole as much as hearin that Blackie Baldstrom is now travelin with a dozen men.
After finally shuckin the Sheriff a all a his questions and judgments about how come we didn’t have no guards stayin up, and how come we didn’t put the money in the bank, and all a them kinds a things that’s easy to say lookin back than they is to do lookin front wards before whatever happened to cause you to have something happen to you that could a been prevented if you would a knowed ahead a time it was goin to happen but you didn’t, I walk down the street to the photography store and walk in. I order up a couple a copies a the picture a me and Jim, and he says it will take about a hour or two on account a he is busy.
Knowin that I am goin to be travelin somewhere in a few hours, and probally places which don’t have no hotels or restaurants I can stay in or eat in, some on account a I don’t got enough money, and some on account a I won’t be near one anyway, I decide to take myself up a good breakfast so I can start off to wherever I’m goin with a full stomach. I go to the hotel where we stayed a couple a nights before and order up a steak and a half dozen eggs, and a few pancakes and some potatoes fried up, and a course a pot a coffee. It don’t go all the way to fillin me up, but at least I don’t leave hungry, and I heard tole that there is silver and gold to be got real easy in Nevada. I didn’t let on that I heard it tole, so won’t they be surprised when they get there and I already got all a it.
I then come back outside again, and see the Sheriff makin his way towards me real fast. I try to find a place to dip into so he don’t stop me up with no more questions, but I can see he is comin for me and no one else, so I stay put.
“Houlette and Haddix escaped,” he says, and he don’t got to say no more before my stomach gets to feelin real bad about it. If there is anyone who wants to do some pickin on a bone, it is them two, and the bones they want to pick is mine.
Still, I try to act calm, and ask, “Is there another reward for them?”
“I wouldn’t worry about a reward,” he says. “I’d worry about my neck if I was you.” I know he is right about that, so I thank him for the news, and decide that Nevada is where I will go.
I then go back to the photography store, and he has the pictures ready for me. He says I should let them dry completely before stickin them in my pocket or something like that, but I don’t want to wait around his store that long, so I pay for them and walk out with them, one hangin from each hand. Before the door is closed, I turn around and go back in, havin decided on the spur a the moment that I would like to buy up those fur chaps he let me wear in the picture.
“Those are not for sale,” he says.
“What would they cost if they was for sale?” I asts.
“What if they was?”
“What if they was? I’m goin to keep astin until I get a answer, so you might as well put one out there.”
“Fifty dollars,” he finally says.
I still got most a the hundred that Blackie Baldstrom left both me and Jim Thomas, and even though I need some travelin money, I got to have them chaps. “Fine,” I says. I rips off fifty dollars from my bills, and walk over and take the chaps off a the wall, and put them on, all the time with him sayin they ain’t for sale, even though he took the money. When I put them on, I get him to admit they look mighty nice on me, and he can get hisself another pair, while I got to get headin out a town, so he lets me have them.
I stop at the edge a the board walk, lookin at all a the people who is lookin at that cowboy with them fur chaps on, and look right acrossed the street, and see the post office and telegraph station, and decide to send one a them pictures to Percy Larson right now.
In the post office, I borrow a piece a paper and a pencil, and I write Percy a note on how the picture come to be. I write,
This here is a picture a me and Jim Thomas, who you probally has never heard a, since he ain’t famous like me or nothin like that. It was took in Malta, Montana, which is in Montana, like the name says.
We got really rich here catchin up thiefs and outlaws, but they got the best a us in the end and stole all a the money we made catchin them, so I am not clear broke, but I ain’t rich either. So there it is.
I hope you and Annie is fillin your quiver like Little Doe is fillin Woyer’s. Maybe someday I will get a quiver to fill also.
I just got tole that two a the criminals and thiefs I catched has got away from the jail, which makes it not too safe a place for me here, since I catched them and got the reward, which is what got stole from me.
I have heard a some places where I might go, but I hasn’t made no decisions yet about nothin like that. When I do, if I think it might be a interest to you, I will tell you then. If I tell you what I might do, and then don’t, well, then, it was a waste a time and paper for both a us, wasn’t it?
Say hello to Annie, but you don’t got to tell no one else where I’m at.
I then wrap the picture up in the letter, and write on it Percy Larson, Jadeville, Iowa, and pay the man five cents to take it there, and start to say I will see you later, but since I am leavin, I won’t, so I don’t say it.
After that, I go to the livery to get Blondie, who is gettin herself fed up real good, and get her saddled up right quick. I then go back to the Sheriff’s office to ast him one more question.
“Which way is Nevada?” I asts.
He looks at me like I have ast him which way is Tim Bucked Two, so I repeat the question real slow so he can understand it.
“Southwest,” he says. “A long ways.”
“Can I miss it if I ain’t lookin?” I asts.
“Just keep asking along the way,” he suggests. Then he asts if I am goin there for the silver and gold, which a course I act like I never heard about, so I tell him why, no, I am goin there on account a I has got a sick relative there, and the bank is about to take away her home and her cow Flossie, so I am goin to make sure they don’t.
He says he hopes I get there on time, and then says thanks again for bringin in them two outlaws, and he is sorry his good for nothin deputy let them escape, but he will catch them again. I want to say you didn’t catch them the first time, Sheriff, but I don’t, because I don’t want him to start out disheartened by that.
Well, the roads from Malta don’t go southwest. They go either south or west, but not in between, and with the only easy way acrossed the Missouri River bein on the south route, and me figurin that Long Tom and France Wah will be there waitin for me so they can tie a rock to me and then toss me into the river, I take the west road, hopin to get the south part took care a later.