I’m William Woolsey. Silky Sue, owner of the Salt Lick Saloon came to me with a proposition, I tried to be civil. I told her there were other men in town who’d be her freighter.
But she didn’t want miners and roustabouts whose only skill was busting rock. She wanted someone who’d carried goods across the Oregon trail without beating everything to sawdust. So I hitched two teams, and Cousin Rard and I crossed a river and a mountain to fetch what would be the valley’s most precious cargo.
We arrived early and camped for a day before the wagon from the La Grande Depot rolled in and transferred a solid-built crate. In the other wagon we loaded up a cookstove left sitting at the base of Smith Mountain.
There was great commotion when we halted the wagons back in Two Pan. It took two stout
men to pry the sides off the crate. Inside was a Sterling Company piano. It had come around the Horn and it was the only instrument besides a harmonica in the valley. Someone tried to plunk the keys, and the Professor cold-cocked him, yelling the stops had to be removed from the strings.
Miss Sue told me to go around to the back to get my payment. Now, I’m a solid married man and was a mite worried, but she met me at the rear door with a tiny pouch of gold dust. Then she asked if I’d load a slat-sided box in the oven and deliver it to Violet Spinrad.
Maybe she did it because Bricker Spinrad completed his evolution from no-account miner to worthless drunk in her saloon. Maybe it was because when the Professor tossed him through the doors, Bricker lay in the street until sober enough to wander back inside instead of going home.
I’ve never seen a woman hug a stove, but Violet Spinrad practically lay on the thing while Cousin Rard and I lugged it into the cabin. When I told her it was from Silky Sue, she got quiet. Her face changed into something cold. I thought she was going to tell me to take it back. But the kids, crowding around, found the slatted box full of sugar, salt, honey, and small sacks of hard candy. Six of ’em. One for each child. There was also a sewing needle pinned to a swath of velvet. I’d added a hind beef leg when I passed my homestead, but Violet wouldn’t accept such charity from neighbors if she knew, so I let her think it was from Silky Sue.
She wiped her eyes with her apron, looked at the kids, straightened her back and told me, “Bricker’s been doing work for the saloon. He must’ve taken his wages in drygoods.” We stared at each other daring the other to step over her story. The kids began rustling kindling and pots. As I drove my wagon away, I heard truth break her voice in a “Thank you.”
I took the long way back through Two Pan. Light streamed from the saloon. Decent folks stood, listening on the street, a respectable distance from the doors. Peaceful notes drifted into the night. “All is calm. All is bright.”
There would be Christmas in Two Pan.
A big Thanks to the fine women of the Stevens-Crawford House at the End of the Oregon Trail for sharing their Historical Home.
And while this isn’t from the 1890s. Let the Woman who’s seen her share of change help you through a Hard Candy Christmas. Check out the HAIR. (Starts quiet)