I was in Miles City a second time that fall, and that time one of the boys with the outfit got sick, and I nursed him in a hotel room until he died in my arms. He was not a real cowboy. He had been a bookkeeper for the president of the company in St. Paul, and he came out to Montana for his health. He had t.b., bad. He had been at the ranch a few months when he got so sick the old man brought him in town and left him there, and he said to the rest of us: "One of you ought to stay with him." He looked right at me, and I said I would stay.
He only lived a week, but that week in that hotel room was the worst I ever went through. He kept having hemorrhages, blood all over everything, and I took newspapers and spread them on the bedclothes and on the floor. He did not want me to leave him for a minute. We were just two boys in a strange land, but the people at the hotel were as kind as could be. . . .
After I had been there with the kid a week, Mr. Fuller came down one night to see him and he told me: "You'd better go to bed." I hadn't been to bed all that time, only slept in a chair once in awhile, because he wouldn't sleep unless he could lay his head on my arm. So I went and laid down in another room. About midnight Mr. Fuller came for me and said: "You'd better come in now. He's asking for you." I guess he knew he was going. So I went back where he was, and he wanted to know if I would lay down beside him and let him rest his head on my shoulder. In a few minutes he mumbled something about Ethel, his sister I think, and then he was gone.
It put me right up in the air. I went down to the bar to get a drink. There was a captain there that I knew, from Fort Keogh. He was dressed in civilian clothes, with a hard hat on, and he took his hat off and his coat off and gave them to me and said: "You go for a walk and get some fresh air." So I went out, but I went to a honky-tonk the first damn thing -- trying to get it off my mind.
They shipped him out the next day to Boston.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Without a doubt, one of the best published reminiscences of nineteenth-century cowboy life in Montana is We Pointed Them North, by E.C. Abbott. Published shortly before Abbott's death in 1939, the book is a wonderful collection of evocative anecdotes and memories. A few of the stories are quite funny -- such as the tale of Abbott's encounter with a Miles City prostitute, that earned him the permanent nickname "Teddy Blue." Other stories are poignant, none more so than this heartbreaking 1883 memory of a young cowboy's death: