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Butchery of the Mountain Man
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Office of the President of the University of Colorado—September 1923
"I have taken your proposal to the Board of Regents," Dr. Norlin said. "And, I might add, I did so with my own, heartiest recommendation that it be approved."
"And?" Professor Armbruster said.
Dr. Norlin smiled, then slid the papers he was holding across the desk. "The approval was unanimous. You will be given the time, the resources, and an intern to help you with your project. What are you going to call it?"
"I'm going to call it Vanguards of Western Expansion."
"And it is our understanding that you plan to publish it?" Dr. Norlin asked.
"Yes, Runestone Press has agreed to publish it. In my proposal, I offered thirty percent of the royalties to the university. They were okay with that?"
"Well, they do have a counterproposal," Dr. Norlin replied. "They thought that because you would be researching and writing this book on university time, as well as using university assets, that a fifty-fifty split would be more appropriate."
Professor Armbruster stuck his hand across the desk. "Agreed," he said.
Dr. Norlin chuckled. "You had actually planned that all along, hadn't you?"
"Yes. I figured if I offered thirty percent ... but agreed to giving up half, that the Board of Regents would feel a sense of accomplishment."
"I'll never say a word," Dr. Norlin replied with a smile. "What is your first step?"
"My first step is to invite Kirby Jensen to come to the university for interviews, and hope that he agrees."
"Do you think that he will?"
"I don't know. I certainly hope so. If he doesn't, this project is dead before it even gets off the ground."
"Well, I wish you the best of luck in getting him to come," Dr. Norlin said. "I really do believe in your project. I think it would not only be good for the university, I think it would also be a good resource for historians who are studying the western expansion for many years to come."
Smoke was sitting in a swing on his front porch, peeling an apple, and throwing the peels to his dog. In front of the house was a Model T Ford, which Smoke had modified. Behind the front seat and extending to beyond the rear axle was a truck bed, about the size of the bed of a buckboard. He called it his motorized buckboard, but some of the younger cowboys on his ranch called it a pickup truck.
Painted on the door of the truck, in arched letters, were the words SUGARLOAF RANCH. Beneath the arch was a picture of a horse's head, the markings on its face resembling the number seven. Under the horse's head was the name KIRBY "SMOKE" JENSEN.
Smoke was seventy-three years old, and still fast enough on the draw, and accurate enough with his shooting that he was often called upon to give demonstrations of his skills. The speed with which he could still extract his pistol and fire continued to amaze people.
He saw a cloud of dust billowing up from the road, and because this road ended right here, on Sugarloaf, he knew that whoever it was, was coming to the house. And, from the speed at which the vehicle was traveling, he also knew who it was, even before he could actually see the car.
"You know what I think, Dog?" he asked.
Dog cocked his head at an angle to study Smoke's face.
"It's not what I think, it's what I know. That's Sally, coming up the road like a scalded-ass cat. I think she only knows two speeds: stop and fast."
He watched until the car, a light blue Duesenberg phaeton, emerged from the cloud of dust. Thankfully she slowed down before she got too close, so that the dust dissipated before it rolled up onto the porch. Smoke stood, and rested his hand on one of the support posts for the porch roof as he watched her get out of the car.
"Indians after you, are they?" he teased.
"The way you were barreling up the road there, I thought a pack of wild Indians might be chasing you."
"Oh, pooh. Automobiles are made to drive fast."
"Of course, why didn't I think of that?" Smoke replied with a chuckle. "You got 'nything you need carried in?" Smoke asked.
"Two bags of groceries in the backseat," Sally said, opening the door to get one bag. Smoke came out to carry the second.
"I picked up the mail down at the mailbox," Sally said. "You got a letter from the University of Colorado."
"Maybe they want me to come play on their football team," Smoke teased.
Not until the groceries were put away did Smoke read the letter.
Mr. Kirby Jensen Sugarloaf Ranch Big Rock, Colorado
Dear Mr. Jensen:
I am a professor of history at the University of Colorado, and I am currently doing research on some of the pioneers of the early days of our state. I wonder if I could persuade you to come to Boulder to be interviewed. I am particularly interested in direct information regarding two of our more colorful characters: a man named "Preacher" and another named John Jackson. I believe you knew both of them.
The University would be happy to offset any expenses you might incur in responding to this request.
Yours Truly, Jacob Armbruster, Ph.D.
Smoke showed the letter to Sally.
"What do you think?" he asked. "Should I go?"
"Yes, of course you should go. How often have I heard you comment about something you've read about our past, that you know is wrong? This would give you the opportunity to make certain that the facts are correct."
"Yes, I guess you're right. Okay, I'll take the truck in to ..."
"You most certainly will not take the truck," Sally said resolutely. "Didn't the Rocky Mountain News recently declare you to be one of Colorado's leading citizens? How would it look if you drove onto campus in that ugly old truck. We will take the car."
"We will take the car?"
"Yes, I'm going with you," Sally said with a smile. "I would dearly love to do some shopping in Boulder."
"I'd better tell Pearlie we're going to be gone for a few days, so he can keep an eye on things."
"I'll get us packed."
Boulder, Colorado—October 1923
Smoke and Sally checked into a hotel the night before he was to meet with Professor Armbruster. There were several college students in the lobby, the boys were wearing raccoon coats, and the girls had on cloche hats and dresses with short skirts. Some of the young girls were smoking, their cigarettes held in long cigarette holders.
Someone said something, and there was a loud burst of laughter. The hotel clerk apologized.
"These young people today," the clerk said. "They seem to have no respect or regard for ladies and gentlemen of riper age, like yourself. But you and Mrs. Jensen will be on the top floor, so you won't be able to hear them."
"Ehh? What did you say, sonny?" Smoke asked, cupping his right ear and leaning forward.
"Smoke, stop that!" Sally scolded. But she couldn't help but laugh at his antics.
"Smoke?" the hotel clerk said. "You are Smoke Jensen?"
"Oh, sir, what an honor it is to have you at our hotel. If there is anything you need, please, just let me know. The telephone in your room will connect you directly with the front desk."
The clerk banged on the little bell with the palm of his hand. "Front!" he called, and a moment later a young man wearing the uniform of a bellhop arrived.
"Take Mr. and Mrs. Smoke Jensen to Room 406, please," he said. "Oh, and, sir, there is a radio in your room so that you may enjoy the broadcasts."
The bellhop escorted them to their room, carrying their luggage, and received a generous tip. Sally waited until he left before she turned to Smoke.
"That was awful, what you did to that poor clerk, pretending you couldn't hear." Her chastisement was ameliorated, however, by a broad smile.
"Don't you think he expected something like that? I mean, after all, we are of riper years," Smoke said.
"Oh, hush," Sally said, laughing. She turned on the radio, then began singing along with the song.
Smoke walked over to the window and looked out over the bright lights of the city. On the street below cars were moving steadily, forming a long streak of white lights in one direction and red lights in the other. Behind him, a little box was playing music, broadcast from some remote place. They had come here from Big Rock by automobile, traveling fast enough to cover in one hour a distance that took a full day when he first arrived in Colorado.
Tomorrow he was going to discuss Preacher and John Jackson. What in the world would they think if they could be here, right now, standing beside him looking through this same window?
"How on God's earth can anyone stand all this noise and congestion? Who could live here more than a day?"
"What?" Sally asked.
Smoke chuckled. "I didn't realize I had said that aloud. I was just thinking about what Preacher would say if he were here to see and hear all this."
"Well, darling, you did say it aloud. And if you didn't know it, maybe you are of riper years," Sally teased.
"Hah. You're not that far behind me, woman," Smoke said. "Get your jacket. Let's go find us a nice restaurant somewhere."
"Oh, that sounds lovely."
"Think they might have raccoon on the menu?"
Campus of the University of Colorado
The next morning, Smoke parked the Duesenberg in front of the Old Main building on the campus. There was a young man waiting in front of the building, and when he saw the light blue phaeton glide to a stop, he smiled and hurried over to the car.
"Are you Mr. Jensen, sir?"
"I am," Smoke said.
The young man smiled. "I am Wes Pollard. Professor Armbruster asked me to watch for you so I could walk you to his office."
Smoke returned the smile. "Well, you did a good job," he said.
"I've read a lot of books about you," the young man said.
"About ninety percent of them are fanciful," Smoke said.
"But if only ten percent of them are true, you have still led a phenomenal life."
Smoke followed the young man up the concrete steps to the redbrick building. Inside the building, the hardwood floors smelled of oil and wax, and he walked by a glass case housing athletic trophies. At the end of the hall, the last door on the right had a frosted glass door. The sign on the frosted glass read: DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY.
The young man opened door, stepped aside to let Smoke enter first, then came in behind him.
"Mrs. Peabody, this is Smoke Jensen," the young man said, proudly.
"Did you say 'Smoke'?"
"Kirby Jensen," Smoke said.
"Oh, yes, Mr. Jensen," Mrs. Peabody said. "Professor Armbruster is expecting you. Just a moment."
Mrs. Peabody knocked lightly on the door, then went in, shutting the door behind her. A moment later the door opened again and a tall, baldheaded man came out. Smiling broadly, he extended his hand.
"Mr. Jensen," he said. "What an honor it is, sir, to meet you. Please, come in."
Smoke followed him into the room, where the professor led him not to his desk but to a seating area that had a leather sofa, and two leather chairs facing a low table. On the table Smoke saw a basket of bear signs, and a pot of coffee sitting on an electric hot plate.
"I have read of your penchant for bear signs," Professor Armbruster said. "I know these won't be as good as the ones your wife makes ... after all, her bear signs are famous throughout the West. And the coffee, percolated on an electric hot plate, isn't quite like making it over an open flame. But maybe it will suffice, under the circumstances."
Smoke smiled. "I'm sure it will."
Smoke picked up one of the pastries and took a bite.
"As I stated in the letter I sent you, I am currently doing a study on some of the old mountain men of the Rockies. A man called Preacher, for example. I think you knew him."
"Yes, I knew him very well," Smoke said. "I was already sixteen when I saw him first, but I figure you could say that he partly raised me."
"Despite all the research I've done, I have never been able to ascertain his real name," Professor Armbruster said. "Some sources say it was Pierre, some say it was Clyde, but most reports say it was Art. It is the last name that I've had the most trouble with. Bode? Barnes? Garneau?"
"Preacher was pretty guarded about his name, that's for sure," Smoke said. "I think that's because he ran away from a slave owner, and until the day he died, he was worried about that."
"He ran away from a slave owner? See here, was Preacher black? None of my research has indicated that."
"No. But in those days, if a slave owner claimed you had a touch of the brush, and in that same claim said that he owned you, it was hard to prove otherwise if you were no more than a fourteen-year-old boy and had no kin anywhere about to vouch for you. That's what happened to Preacher."
"I never knew that."
"Bet you never knew that Preacher was in love once, either, did you? Her name was Jenny, and she was a slave. She was mostly Creole, but her grandma was black, and that was all that was needed then. He said she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen."
"Why didn't he marry her?"
"She got killed. Preacher killed the ones who killed her."
"I imagine he would."
"Gregory," Smoke said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Gregory. That was Preacher's last name. Or at least that was the name he used. But to be honest about it, he once confided to me that he had just taken that name. I never did learn his birth name, and I figure I knew him better than any other human being ever knew him. He seldom even shared his taken name with anyone. Art Gregory. I don't see any reason why the name has to be kept secret any longer. With Preacher dead, there's nothing anyone can do to him now."
Professor Armbruster chuckled. "No, I suppose not."
"Mind if I have another one?" Smoke asked, reaching toward the plate of glazed pastries.
"No, of course not," Professor Armbruster replied. "Speaking of names, let's consider John Jackson. He is often referred to, and I'm sure you know this, as Liver-Eating Jackson. Though the concept of him eating the livers of the Indians he killed has never been verified."
"Would you like me to verify it?" Smoke asked, as he bit into his second bear sign.
"You mean, you can verify it?" Professor Armbruster asked in surprise.
"Don't tell my wife, but these bear claws are very nearly as good as hers."
"You have actually seen John Jackson eat a liver. That's what you are telling me."
"The Crow had a belief that they couldn't get into the Happy Hunting Grounds if they didn't have the liver with them." Smoke licked some of the frosting off the end of his finger.
Professor Armbruster chuckled and shook his head. "You will forgive me, Mr. Jensen, but how can you sit there calmly eating a bear claw while talking about having watched John Jackson eat a liver."
"You are the one who brought it up, Professor. And there have been many times in my life when I've been in a position to where I had to eat things that would gag a maggot on the gut wagon."
Professor Armbruster looked a little pale. "Yes, I ... can imagine so," he said.
"Now, Professor, what is it that you want with me?" Smoke asked, wiping his hands and fingers with a damp cloth that was on the table.
"I want you to come to the recording room with me. I intend to make a voice recording of our discussion. That is, if you don't mind."
Smoke smiled. "Well, I've been speaking into telephones for a lot of years now, but I've never spoken into a recording machine. How long after I speak into it will it be before it is developed and I can hear my voice played back?"
"Oh, it isn't like photograph film," the professor said with a laugh. "We can have an instantaneous playback if you wish."
"I guess I would sort of like to hear my voice played back to me."
"Then come with me, if you would, please."
Smoke followed Professor Armbruster out of his office, down the hall, and into another room in the building. The walls of this room were lined with thick padding.
"This room is soundproofed, so that no outside sound will interfere. That way, the machine will only record our voices, and nothing else."
Excerpted from Butchery of the Mountain Man by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2013 J. A. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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