My dearest sister,
You will not be surprised to know that I am writing this letter from within the Disputed Territories — while I treasure my time in Purity and found it much more satisfying than the constant press of conspiracy I found in Dodge City, I could not have chosen a more unsuitable profession to make my living. Being a bookseller in a frontier town must be like being a priest in Hell — the residents are not only largely unable to make use of your services, but have the most damnable pride in doing so. Listening to them, one would think that literacy was some sort of character flaw!
Despite its remoteness, Purity had its mysteries, which is part of why I was drawn to the place. Yet while I was combing through the few dusty places in town trying to piece together its past, the old newspaper building where I’d set up my bookshop, for instance, a posse of cowboys rode into town and settled the town’s accounts in a more direct fashion by simply storming the old mansion on the hill and dispatching some sort of monstrosity they found there. That directness seemed refreshing to me, accustomed as I was to dealing with scheming businessmen, and so I threw the few books that might be worth something to one inclined to pay hard cash for a sheepskin into my rucksack and rode out to ask if I might join them on their cattle drive.
Bill Sutter, the owner of the cows and leader of the expedition, seems a fine man. He’s stern but fair, and backs his men if he feels they’re in the right. His trail boss, Luke Canton, asked me directly if I was afraid of hard work — I’m proud to say that I looked him straight in the eyes and replied that hard work didn’t bother me, only busy-work. Canton seemed puzzled by my reply, but Sutter spoke up in saying that he’d never known a cattle drive to have anything but important, if dull, tasks that needed doing, and that I had little to fear.
For the most part, the cowboys on this drive are what you’d expect; ‘salt of the earth’ types who work hard, gripe about the cooking (though Javier Ortega’s bean dishes are far better than anything I managed for myself in the time I spent in Purity), and plan to waste all their money in Denver on booze and women once they’re paid off. A few seem different somehow, and I’ll mention them as I tell you about my adventures.
Being from the East, few of the cowboys expected me to have the skills to contribute much to the drive — my smooth, businessman hands hadn’t tasted what they call ‘real work’, as evidenced by their many calluses and twisted finger joints. Yet on the first few days, I rode and drove cattle like I’d been born to it, and by the end of the first few days the rank and file had accepted me as one of their own.
Shortly after leaving Purity, near the New Mexico town of Roswell, we saw a shooting star fall from the sky. Canton sent out the same posse who’d ridden into Purity to check it out, then later sent me to track them down and remind them that Sutter had asked us not to get into trouble. By the time I found them, though, there was trouble aplenty — a patrol of Confederate soldiers from a nearby fort lay dead, though every man and woman in the posse swore up and down that they’d merely been defending themselves. It didn’t stop one of the men — Cadmus McShane, about which I’ll have more to say later — from picking through the dead men’s belongings like a vulture and proudly bearing away a cavalry saber belonging to the man who must have been the leader of the patrol. An Indian woman, Clarissa, insisted on dragging all the bodies to the nearby river and sending them downstream, in the hopes of buying us time to leave the area before the patrol was missed. The shooting star proved to have been a man in some sort of contraption, and another of the party (whose name I can never remember) took possession of that device just before we dumped the poor fellow’s body in the river.
We rode back to the camp and settled back in for the night, only to be awakened just before dawn by Canton, who showed us a high plume of dust that could only be a much larger patrol of armed soldiers. As the column grew closer, we could see Sutter at the head of it, riding along side the man who must have been the garrison commander. They arrived, and Sutter gave the OK to the Confederates to search the camp, during which the cavalry saber was found. McShane expertly deflected blame from himself by inventing a mysterious tall man with a limp on the spot, and when no one contradicted his story, the Confederates had no choice but to let us go on our way. Sutter was disappointed that the events stopped him from selling some of his cattle to the fort or the town; we’d lost a few cowboys on the trail already and would lose more, making the herd a harder and harder thing to command, but he refused to rebuke us.
We turned north, and rather than take a toll pass through the ‘Blood of Christ’ mountains, we hazarded a different pass that led within a few days of the legendary Black Mesa. Sister, I hadn’t had such nightmares since the worst of our days dealing with the railroads, and on the third day I awoke with such anxiety within me that I was hoping for something to kick or shoot so that I might gain some release. I should be more careful what I wish for, because that night we were ambushed by Indians — Cherokee, according to Clarissa. The Indians were preceded by a swarm of bats who blanketed the campfire where the posse was resting — I’d chosen to rest near an outcropping of boulders nearby, as the evening was still warm. It seems that this cattle drive had been dogged by an old Indian shaman named Black Dog for some time, and it was here that the damnable McShane raced off into the night. Whether out of cowardice or out of some misguided pride that told him he had to face off against the shaman alone, McShane’s actions seemed to me reckless and foolish. The man has all seven of the deadly sins wrapped about him like a cloak, and I refuse to trust him with a nickel much less my life.
I hope, sister, that you do not take my words about women being on the cattle drive as inspiration to join one yourself. I know you do not fear hard work, but sometimes even more terrible tasks must be attended to. The Indians were sent to murder us and disperse our cattle, and so we defended ourselves. I took careful aim at one, pulled the trigger of my pistol, and sent him to his maker — I’d never before killed a man in cold blood and though I know it may not be the last time I’m called upon to do so before we reach Denver, I pray I never have to do so again. But even worse was that the man I killed was seemingly immediately replaced by another brave, who let loose a shot that smashed into my guts like God’s own fist. I fell, and I do not know how I survived. I awoke with our ‘weird science’ lady bent over me, doing something to the wound, and I panicked and crawled away. I may regret that, as I can feel the bullet inside of me, and sometimes even have the irrational fear that it may be crawling around, looking for a more vital spot in which to nest. Perhaps I’ll find a surgeon in Denver to remove it, once the drive is over.
That’s all I have time to write for now. Please send back news. Though I left our family in disgust for what they feel they need to do to survive, I find I enjoy reading much more now that I have so little time for it, and hearing from you always lifts my spirits. Take care, and may God watch over you.