They Came to a Valley

Overview

They came from all walks of life and from different sections of the East. They were doctors, farmers, lawyers and carpenters, Missourians and Iowans, Republicans and Democrats, Unionists and Confederates, young and old. Their only bond was the fear of crossing a big, beautiful and hostile land to seek new beginnings in the restless West.

Spanning five momentous years, 1863 to 1868, They Came to a Valley is the story of the settlement and ...
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Overview

They came from all walks of life and from different sections of the East. They were doctors, farmers, lawyers and carpenters, Missourians and Iowans, Republicans and Democrats, Unionists and Confederates, young and old. Their only bond was the fear of crossing a big, beautiful and hostile land to seek new beginnings in the restless West.

Spanning five momentous years, 1863 to 1868, They Came to a Valley is the story of the settlement and development of the Idaho Territory, a huge geographical region savaged by hostile Indians, plagued by thieving roughnecks and exploited by scheming politicians and inept army officers. Bill Gulick tells the story of the rugged men and brave women who risked everything to carve a future from the wild mountains and deserts of the Pacific Northwest. Winner of the Cowboy Hall of Fame Western Heritage Award for Best Historical
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780839826835
  • Publisher: Cengage Gale
  • Publication date: 5/1/1981
  • Series: Western Fiction Ser.
  • Format: Library Binding

First Chapter

As he rode past the cannon at the far end of the Fort Laramie parade ground, Matt Miller noted that the corporal he had seen chained there earlier in the day was gone. A hell of way to punish a man for drinking, stealing, fighting, or whatever it was he'd done, the old guide mused. Tie him up like a sheep-chasing dog. Put him on public view on a Sunday where officers, enlisted men, wives, emigrants, Injuns, kids-all strolling around in their Sunday best-could see him in his shame. What kind of thoughts run through a soldier's head when he's chained up that way? Does he repent of his sins? Not likely. Does he vow not to do again whatever he's done to put himself in such a fix? Probably not. But it teaches him a lesson. Sure. It teaches him not to get caught next time. Light spilling through the windows and doorways of the laundry huts and teamster shacks showed Matt Miller the trail as he rode through the outlying settlement fringing the military post. To his nostrils came the smell of the lumber yard, of horses stabled nearby, of dust and soap and newly washed clothes. Nobody needed to punish him for his sins; his battered old body tended to that. Right now, in spite of the two belly-easing drinks he'd just had with the colonel, his furred tongue and aching back were telling him in no uncertain terms he'd had too much whisky and too little sleep last night. Sure, he'd been entitled to a spree after the monotonous dry weeks on the trail out from Council Bluffs. But he wasn't young no more. Repent, said his kidneys; that was gospel a man his age had to listen to. His horse's shod hoofs echoed hollowly on the worn planks of the bridge spanning Laramie River, then there came to him the clean, pungent, sage smell of the open plains and the acrid woodsmoke of valley campfires. Through the dark he could see the circled wagons of the Iowa train now, vague blobs in the night, the lowered tongue of one chained to a rear wheel of the next like dogs sniffing one another. A guard watching over the grazing livestock outside the circle was whiling away the slow-passing time with a song, singing it not fast and sprightly like it was meant to be sung, but slow, sad, and sweet, like a lover's lament:
Oh, he left his sweetheart crying
Where the red, red rose is dying;
And she'll linger there a yearning
While she waits for his returning . . .
Yes, he's gone to save his country
For Abe Lincoln and for liberty . . .
People were damn fools, Matt thought. They ran away from the war but they couldn't leave the war at home. They had to drag it along with them, like an iron ball on the end of a chain; they had to think about it, talk about it, argue about it, fight any man that disagreed with them at the drop of a meaningless slogan. It was always talk made the trouble. And ideas. And slogans. Nowadays you didn't get mad at a man and jump him because he personally had done you dirt, which was the only sensible way to behave; you just up and clobbered him because of what he said or professed to believe. Like last year. Matt brooded, when I guided that train of New Englanders out to California and they got in such a ruckus in the Mormon settlements near Salt Lake over the Saints having more than one wife. Why should that matter to them? And that wild-eyed Irishman I run into out in San Francisco who was such a rabid England-hater. If he was so set on fighting the English, why didn't he stay home? But, no, he comes over here and starts organizing a secret society which he says is going to kill all the Britishers and set Ireland free.

He's a red-hot freedom-lover, he claims, and brags long and loud about being an American citizen and a good Democrat. Yet he damns the North. He says the Yankees got no goddam business telling Southerners they can't own slaves. And he hates Injuns. Says a bounty ought to be placed on their scalps. Hates the Chinese, too. Says they ain't fit to live. Gets drunk one night and cries like a baby over the poor, oppressed people of Ireland, six thousand miles away, but God help the Injun, Chink, or nigger that crosses his path. Look here, I says, just to get a rise out of him, what's the difference 'tween a poor, oppressed Irishman in your country and a poor, oppressed Injun, Chink, or nigger in mine? How come you cry over one and spit on the other? Where's the logic to that?

Come at me with a whisky bottle, the bastard did. But I showed him that kind of argument didn't shine with me . . .

Unsaddling his horse, Matt turned it in with the rest of the guarded stock and carried his bridle, saddle, and blanket into the wagon enclosure. Daniel Lynn, the wagon captain, looked up at him as he dropped his gear nearby, smiled a knowing smile and said, "Get all your business done at the fort?" "Yeah."
"You look beat. Have a lumpy bed last night?"

Not troubling to answer, Matt hunkered on his heels, took the simmering coffeepot off the fire and helped himself. Lynn had the family Bible open on his knees; he made it a custom to read a few chapters to his youngsters each Sunday evening, as their mother used to do. Sally was mending socks, Henry repairing a bridle. Sally gave Matt a smile.
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