The Mountain Man

Published September 6, 2016

carson city


Excerpted from “Counting Coup: The Odyssey of Captain Tom Adams.”

© 2013, Bob Stockton. All rights reserved.

Mulligan’s Carson City Saloon and Casino was in full swing that Thursday evening when Jeb Ford pushed open the doors and walked inside. The poker and roulette tables were filled with all manner of miners, woodsmen, sharpers and townsfolk hoping to win a few dollars or more at the gaming tables. The customers were two deep at the bar. The smell of stale sweat permeated the casino. A heavy tobacco smoke haze enveloped the entire front of the large building. John Mulligan’s hostesses were busily working the tables, some as dealers or croupiers, others busily cadging overpriced drinks from the miners who had come to town for a little excitement. Those men that wished a short time with a hostess were taken upstairs to one of the rooms that were available for that purpose.

Jeb Ford walked wearily through the casino to the rear of the building and sat down at a table. He was interested only in a meal and perhaps a whiskey or two. The old mountain man had come down to try his hand at prospecting when his squaw had died four months previously and he had little success to show for the effort. ‘Another month of this,’ he thought, ‘and then if it don’t pan out I’ll see about scouting for the Army garrison up at Fort Hall.’

Ford was fifty-four years old and was among the most respected scout and guides in the west. He had scouted, trapped and fought hostile Indians for more than thirty-five years alongside the legendary scouts Kit Carson and Jim Bridger and had the regard of all who knew him. He was a large and powerful man, virtually fearless and in possession of a sense of honor and dignity that one rarely saw in the west. Neither a bully nor a braggart, Ford was a quiet man who would go out of his way to avoid a quarrel but should one be unavoidable woe betide the man or men who provoked him.

The old scout had been seated at his table for a few minutes when John Mulligan came over to greet him:

“Evenin’ Jeb. How’s it going at your stake these days? Sloughed any ore lately?”

“A considerable amount of mud and rock is ’bout the sum total of it, John. Haven’t seen anything in weeks.”

Mulligan sat down at Ford’s table and motioned to one of the hostesses to bring a bottle and two glasses.

“Well, let me help you take some of the creak from those bones. Let’s have a whiskey or two before you eat. My bottle.”

“Mighty generous of you John. Don t mind if I do.”

The bottle arrived and Mulligan poured two shots of his personal reserve Bourbon into each glass.

“Good health, Jeb. Put that behind your necktie.”

“Good health, John. My that goes down smooth.”

Mulligan smiled.

“Yep. Have it shipped in from Tennessee for my own personal use. No whiskey drummer ever sold anything as smooth as this.”

“No argument there, John. Don t believe I ever had any such before.”

Mulligan poured two more doubles into the glasses and the men drained the shots in one neat throw.

“What’ll it be tonight, Jeb? The usual stew or something else?”

Ford thought for a moment and then answered.

“John. I think tonight I’ll have one of those steaks and some boiled potatoes and wash it down with a beer or two.”

Mulligan motioned to one of the hostesses nearby, who promptly came over to the table.

“The cow’s hind side it is. Emma, Jeb here is having steak and spuds tonight. And a schooner of beer to wash it down please.”

Emma nodded and smiled shyly at the mountain man.

“Evening, Mr. Ford. I’ll get this right in. You like it rare, don’cha?”

Ford smiled at the pretty, plumpish young woman.

“Believe I do, Emma thank you.”

Emma giggled, turned for the kitchen and left with Ford’s food order.

“You know Jeb I do believe that Emma has an eye for you. She’s a good girl, you know. Not like the whores that work here. Emma just comes to work and waits on the customers and then goes to her room. Sturdy and hard working. You could do a damn site worse than have Emma warmin’ your bed.”

Ford gave a short laugh in that dismissive way he affected whenever the subject of finding a replacement for his squaw came up.

“John, I ain’t slept in a bed not more ‘n ten times in the last thirty years. And whenever I did I had the back miseries for a week after. Just a bedroll and a place to throw it ll be all I’m needin’.”

Ford continued.

“No sir, I reckon that I ain’t fancied a white woman in years. If I do decide to marry agin…which I ain’t, it’ll be an Arapaho squaw who can live the life of the mountains. I have little time or regard for the niceties of civilized living.”

Mulligan was about to respond when the sound of a commotion came from the bar. Two men were arguing, one quite loudly, the other responding in a calm and level voice.

“Better see what this is all about. Excuse me Jeb, be back shortly.”

Mulligan got up from the table, walked over to the end of the bar, retrieved a bung starter from a shelf on the bar back and walked over to the two men having the argument.

“Henry Cherry! Might have known. Didn’t I bar you out of here last week?”

Cherry turned and stared at John Mulligan. His face was beet red and his eyes were bulging.

“You stay outta this, John Mulligan or you ll get some of what I’m fixin’ to give this snot-nosed baby faced bastard here.”

Mulligan didn’t say a word in response, but swiftly made a half turn to his right, wheeled and delivered a bone crushing blow with the mallet to Cherry’s left knee.

Cherry dropped to one knee like he was shot, howling in pain.

“My knee! You busted my knee, you Mick son-of-a-bitch. I’ll kill you.”

As Cherry reached clumsily for his revolver Mulligan bent slightly at the waist and delivered another blow with the mallet, this time to Cherry’s skull.

Cherry’s eyes rolled up into his head and he collapsed on the floor. The sickening crack of mallet on bone had done its work. Cherry was out cold, possibly suffering a fractured skull.

Mulligan turned to the man with whom Cherry was arguing:

“Well, Tom Adams! Having a bit of employee-management difficulties here?”

Adams nodded in the affirmative.

“And it has apparently been settled I would say. You haven t killed the man, have you?”

“Wasn’t for not trying, Tom. I run a friendly place here, a place where hard working men can come and relax and have a good time. I will not tolerate any disruption or unpleasantness in my establishment. You cannot argue or dialogue with men like Cherry. You can only remove them as quickly and forcefully as possible and disabuse them of any thought of retaliation. Which reminds me.”

Mulligan kneeled over Cherry s prostrate form and spread Cherry’s right hand out on the wooden floor. Raising the mallet above his head Mulligan brought it down, delivering a shattering blow to Cherry’s gun hand.

Cherry, in a near coma, moaned.

“If Mr. Cherry decides to settle the score in the future he’ll have to do it left handed.”

Mulligan turned to his two bartenders on duty.

“Pick up Mr. Cherry and remove him from the premises. And if either of you allow someone in here that is barred again you’ll answer to me.”

The two barkeeps came out from behind the bar, picked up Cherry’s inert body and unceremoniously dumped him outside on the walkway.

“Come into the restaurant, Tom. There’s someone I’d like you to meet. Charlene, bring another whiskey glass to Jeb’s table in the back.”

Tom Adams and the saloon keeper walked back to the table where Jeb Ford was seated and sat down.

Ford was the first to speak, extending his rough hand to Adams.

“Don’t believe we’ve met, sir. I’m Jeb Ford.”

Adams shook hands with the mountain man. His own hand was engulfed by Ford’s huge calloused paw.

“Tom Adams. I’m the Wells Fargo express agent here. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Howdy, Tom. I see you were involved in a dust up with Henry Cherry out there at the bar. Cherry’s a bad one. Can’t hold his liquor, gets meaner than a rattlesnake with the piles when he’s drunk. He’ll shoot you in the back soon as look at you.”

“I’ve only been here a short while,” Adams replied, “but I’m damn well familiar with Mr. Cherry’s behavior.