Guest column<br><br>How to tell a greenhorn what he wants to hear back in 1899<br>
Imagine an adventurous tenderfoot from New York City who has swallowed every word of those descriptions and considers himself well informed.
It’s the summer of 1899, the middle of the week, and he’s in Williams after a jolting stagecoach trip to and from the Grand Canyon. He’ll leave tomorrow on the Santa Fe train and is staying at the Old Plantation Hotel.
And he feels let down because he hasn’t seen masked outlaws, a lynching, Indians on the warpath, or riddled corpses.
There was the threat of rain four days ago when he arrived at the Williams depot and there were showers at the canyon while he slept in a tent with other sightseers. Now the weather’s clear, he decides to explore the town and strolls somewhat apprehensively down a dirt street.
He wears a linen cap suitable for golf and picnic outings where he comes from. The trouser legs of his light gray linen suit are stuffed into laced knee-high boots he purchased especially for his journey as protection from rattlesnakes and cactus.
A man driving a wagon filled with lumber waves hello to him. A woman carrying a basket of eggs says good afternoon and he tips his cap. He watches kids playing tag, the blacksmith shoeing a buckskin mare, someone painting a fence, and is surprised how clam everyone is. Not much matches what he’d expected except false-fronted buildings and saddled ponies tied to hitching rails.
Then he cautiously enters a small saloon through the swinging doors, sees three men playing cards at the back of the room, and introduces himself to a young cowboy wearing a Stetson hat and standing alone at the bar drinking beer.
“Howdy, glad to meet you,” the cowboy says and shakes hands. We’ll call him Patch, a good old Western name. “What brings you here?”
“To see the Grand Canyon.”
“Big one, ain’t it?”
“Unbelievable. Do people fall in often?” the New Yorker asks to make conversation.
“Only once,” says patch, smiling to show he’s being humorous.
The visitor laughs, orders a beer from the aproned bartender and buys Patch one. “Are things this quiet ordinarily?”
Patch knows from past experience he’s dealing with another sidesaddle greenhorn who’d put a milk bucket under a bull if you told him and wants to brag about surviving fiendish Arizona. This one seems disappointed and since hospitality is a civic duty Patch decides to be obliging.
“Should have been here last week,” Patch says, straight-faced and solemn but with mischief in his eyes and the joy of joshing strangers who couldn’t tell dung from honey. “Got so bad we was ready to send for the cavalry at Prescott. I counted two saloon killin’s, a post office robbery, a dance hall riot and a high-jacked freight train between noon and dark.”
“The devil you say!” the pilgrim exclaims, pleased as punch and convinced he’s hearing the gospel truth right out of the horse’s mouth because that’s what he wants to hear. “And the law couldn’t do anything to stop it?”
“Deputy sheriff had a fit when his wife went into labor. The justice of the peace run amuck and helped decorate a tree with his own grandpa for stealin’ pigs. A retired Texas Ranger passin’ through got so excited he ruptured himself and that was just the beginnin’.”
Warming to his task, patch describes poker game arguments turning into slaughter and a battle between ranchers and cattle rustlers, a hail of bullets, the sun blotted out b gun smoke, men so full of lead they had to be melted down.
Two beers later, he’s giving a bloodthirsty account of a bandit attack climaxed by the kidnapping of a prominent madam to hold for ransom, and he throws in a mountain lion after someone’s chickens.
“And all on the same day, you tell me?” his listener interrupts. “Incredible! Will it happen again soon?”
“We figure on an outbreak about once or twice a month. Think maybe it’s somethin’ in the water.”
That night before he goes to bed the intrepid traveler rehearses the tale he’ll tell about the wild men of Arizona when he returns to the bosom of his family a safe continent away.
Making sure his hotel door is locked and with one ear cocked for gunfire, he finally falls asleep to the peaceful sound of crickets chirping and coyotes yipping at the rising moon.
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