Eatin' Crow, and The Best Man In Garotte
by Frank Harris
THE BEST MAN IN GAROTTE.
EATIN' CROW, AND THE BEST MAN IN GAROTTE.
By Frank Harris
The evening on which Charley Muirhead made his first appearance at
Doolan's was a memorable one; the camp was in wonderful spirits.
Whitman was said to have struck it rich. Garotte, therefore, might yet
become popular in the larger world, and its evil reputation be removed.
Besides, what Whitman had done any one might do, for by common consent
he was a derned fool. Good-humour accordingly reigned at Doolan's,
and the saloon was filled with an excited, hopeful crowd. Bill Bent,
however, was anything but pleased; he generally was in a bad temper,
and this evening, as Crocker remarked carelessly, he was more ornery
than ever. The rest seemed to pay no attention to the lanky, dark man
with the narrow head, round, black eyes, and rasping voice. But Bent
would croak: Whitman's struck nothin'; thar ain't no gold in Garotte;
it's all work and no dust. In this strain he went on, offending local
sentiment and making every one uncomfortable.
Muirhead's first appearance created a certain sensation. He was a
fine upstanding fellow of six feet or over, well made, and
good-looking. But Garotte had too much experience of life to be won by
a stranger's handsome looks. Muirhead's fair moustache and large blue
eyes counted for little there. Crocker and others, masters in the art
of judging men, noticed that his eyes were unsteady, and his manner,
though genial, seemed hasty. Reggitt summed up their opinion in the
phrase, looks as if he'd bite off more'n he could chaw. Unconscious
of the criticism, Muirhead talked, offered drinks, and made himself
At length in answer to Bent's continued grumbling, Muirhead said
pleasantly: 'Tain't so bad as that in Garotte, is it? This bar don't
look like poverty, and if I set up drinks for the crowd, it's because
I'm glad to be in this camp.
P'r'aps you found the last place you was in jes' a leetle too warm,
eh? was Bent's retort.
Muirhead's face flushed, and for a second he stood as if he had been
struck. Then, while the crowd moved aside, he sprang towards Bent,
exclaiming, Take that backright off! Take it back!
What? asked Bent coolly, as if surprised; at the same time,
however, retreating a pace or two, he slipped his right hand behind
Instantly Muirhead threw himself upon him, rushed him with what
seemed demoniac strength to the open door and flung him away out on his
back into the muddy ditch that served as a street. For a moment there
was a hush of expectation, then Bent was seen to gather himself up
painfully and move out of the square of light into the darkness. But
Muirhead did not wait for this; hastily, with hot face and hands still
working with excitement, he returned to the bar with:
That's how I act. No one can jump me. No one, by God! and he
glared round the room defiantly. Reggitt, Harrison, and some of the
others looked at him as if on the point of retorting, but the
cheerfulness was general, and Bent's grumbling before a stranger had
irritated them almost as much as his unexpected cowardice. Muirhead's
challenge was not taken up, therefore, though Harrison did remark, half
That may be so. You jump them, I guess.
Well, boys, let's have the drink, Charley Muirhead went on, his
manner suddenly changing to that of friendly greeting, just as if he
had not heard Harrison's words.
The men moved up to the bar and drank, and before the liquor was
consumed, Charley's geniality, acting on the universal good-humour,
seemed to have done away with the discontent which his violence and
Bent's cowardice had created. This was the greater tribute to his
personal charm, as the refugees of Garotte usually hung together, and
were inclined to resent promptly any insult offered to one of their
number by a stranger. But in the present case harmony seemed to be
completely reestablished, and it would have taken a keener observer
than Muirhead to have understood his own position and the general
opinion. It was felt that the stranger had bluffed for all he was
worth, and that Garotte had come out at the little end of the horn.
A day or two later Charley Muirhead, walking about the camp, came
upon Dave Crocker's claim, and offered to buy half of it and work as a
partner, but the other would not sell; the claim was worth nothin';
not good enough for two, anyhow; and there the matter would have
ended, had not the young man proposed to work for a spell just to keep
his hand in. By noon Crocker was won; nobody could resist Charley's
hard work and laughing high spirits. Shortly afterwards the older man
proposed to knock off; a day's work, he reckoned, had been done, and
evidently considering it impossible to accept a stranger's labour
without acknowledgment, he pressed Charley to come up to his shanty and
eat The simple meal was soon despatched, and Crocker, feeling the
obvious deficiencies of his larder, produced a bottle of Bourbon, and
the two began to drink. Glass succeeded glass, and at length Crocker's
reserve seemed to thaw; his manner became almost easy, and he spoke
I guess you're strong, he remarked. You threw Bent out of the
saloon the other night like as if he was nothin'; strength's good, but
'tain't everythin'. I mean, he added, in answer to the other's
questioning look, Samson wouldn't have a show with a man quick on the
draw who meant bizness. Bent didn't pan out worth a cent, and the boys
didn't like him, butthem things don't happen often. So in his own
way he tried to warn the man to whom he had taken a liking.
Charley felt that a warning was intended, for he replied decisively:
It don't matter. I guess he wanted to jump me, and I won't be jumped,
not if Samson wanted to, and all the revolvers in Garotte were on me.
Wall, Crocker went on quietly, but with a certain curiosity in his
eyes, that's all right, but I reckon you were mistaken. Bent didn't
want to rush ye; 'twas only his cussed way, and he'd had mighty bad
luck. You might hev waited to see if he meant anythin', mightn't ye?
And he looked his listener in the face as he spoke.
That's it, Charley replied, after a long pause, that's just it. I
couldn't wait, d'ye see! and then continued hurriedly, as if driven to
relieve himself by a full confession: Maybe you don't sabe.
It's plain enough, though I'd have to begin far back to make you
understand. But I don't mind if you want to hear. I was raised in the
East, in Rhode Island, and I guess I was liked by everybody. I never
had trouble with any one, and I was a sort of favourite.... I fell in
love with a girl, and as I hadn't much money, I came West to make some,
as quick as I knew how. The first place I struck was Laramieyou don't
know it? 'Twas a hard place; cowboys, liquor saloons, cursin' and
swearin', poker and shootin' nearly every night At the beginning I
seemed to get along all right, and I liked the boys, and thought they
liked me. One night a little Irishman was rough on me; first of all I
didn't notice, thought he meant nothin', and then, all at once, I saw
he meant itand more.
Well, I got a kind of scareI don't know whyand I took what he
said and did nothin'. Next day the boys sort of held off from me,
didn't talk; thought me no account, I guess, and that little Irishman
just rode me round the place with spurs on. I never kicked once. I
thought I'd get the moneyI had done well with the stock I had
boughtand go back East and marry, and no one would be any the wiser.
But the Irishman kept right on, and first one and then another of the
boys went for me, and I took it all. I just, and here his voice rose,
and his manner became feverishly excited, I just ate crow right along
for monthsand tried to look as if 'twas quail.
One day I got a letter from home. She wanted me to hurry up and
come back. She thought a lot of me, I could see; more than ever,
because I had got alongI had written and told her my best news. And
then, what had been hard grew impossible right off. I made up my mind
to sell the stock and strike for new diggings. I couldn't stand it any
longernot after her letter. I sold out and cleared.... I ought to hev
stayed in Laramie, p'r'aps, and gone for the Irishman, but I just
couldn't. Every one there was against me.
I guess you oughter hev stayed.... Besides, if you had wiped up the
floor with that Irishman the boys would hev let up on you.
P'r'aps so, Charley resumed, but I was sick of the whole crowd. I
sold off, and lit out. When I got on the new stage-coach, fifty miles
from Laramie, and didn't know the driver or any one, I made up my mind
to start fresh. Then and there I resolved that I had eaten all the crow
I was going to eat; the others should eat crow now, and if there was
any jumpin' to be done, I'd do it, whatever it cost. And so I went for
Bent right off. I didn't want to wait. 'Here's more crow,' I thought,
'but I won't eat it; he shall, if I die for it,' and I just threw him
I see, said Crocker, with a certain sympathy in his voice, but
you oughter hev waited. You oughter make up to wait from this on,
Charley. 'Tain't hard. You don't need to take anythin' and set under
it. I'm not advisin' that, but it's stronger to wait before you go fer
any one. The boys, he added significantly, don't like a man to
bounce, and what they don't like is pretty hard to do.
Damn the boys, exclaimed Charley vehemently, they're all alike
out here. I can't act different. If I waited, I might wait too
longtoo long, d'you sabe? I just can't trust myself, he added
in a subdued tone.
No, replied Crocker meditatively. No, p'r'aps not. But see here,
Charley, I kinder like you, and so I tell you, no one can bounce the
crowd here in Garotte. They're the worst crowd you ever struck in your
life. Garotte's known for hard cases. Why, he went on earnestly, as if
he had suddenly become conscious of the fact, the other night Reggitt
and a lot came mighty near goin' fer youand Harrison, Harrison took
up what you said. You didn't notice, I guess; and p'r'aps 'twas well
you didn't; but you hadn't much to spare. You won by the odd card.
No one can bounce this camp. They've come from everywhere, and can
only jes' get a livin' hereno more. And when luck's bad they'reand
he paused as if no adjective were strong enough. If a man was steel,
and the best and quickest on the draw ever seen, I guess they'd bury
him if he played your way.
Then they may bury me, retorted Charley bitterly, but I've eaten
my share of crow. I ain't goin' to eat any more. Can't go East now with
the taste of it in my mouth. I'd rather they buried me.
And they did bury himabout a fortnight after. July, 1892.
THE BEST MAN IN GAROTTE.
Lawyer Rablay had come from nobody knew where. He was a small man,
almost as round as a billiard ball. His body was round, his head was
round; his blue eyes and even his mouth and chin were round; his nose
was a perky snub; he was florid and prematurely balda picture of
good-humour. And yet he was a power in Garotte. When he came to the
camp, a row was the only form of recreation known to the miners. A
fuss took men out of themselves, and was accordingly hailed as an
amusement; besides, it afforded a subject of conversation. But after
Lawyer Rablay's arrival fights became comparatively infrequent.
Would-be students of human nature declared at first that his flow of
spirits was merely animal, and that his wit was thin; but even these
envious ones had to admit later that his wit told, and that his
good-humour was catching.
Crocker and Harrison had nearly got to loggerheads one night for no
reason apparently, save that each had a high reputation for courage,
and neither could find a worthier antagonist. In the nick of time
Rablay appeared; he seemed to understand the situation at a glance, and
See here, boys. I'll settle this. They're disputin'I know they
are. Want to decide with bullets whether 'Frisco or Denver's the finest
city. 'Frisco's bigger and older, says Crocker; Harrison maintains
Denver's better laid out. Crocker replies in his quiet way that 'Frisco
ain't dead yet Good temper being now re-established, Rablay went on:
I'll decide this matter right off. Crocker and Harrison shall set up
drinks for the crowd till we're all laid out. And I'll tell a story,
and he began a tale which cannot be retold here, but which delighted
the boys as much by its salaciousness as by its vivacity.
Lawyer Rablay was to Garotte what novels, theatres, churches,
concerts are to more favoured cities; in fact, for some six months, he
and his stories constituted the chief humanizing influence in the camp.
Deputations were often despatched from Doolan's to bring Rablay to the
bar. The miners got up cases in order to give him work. More than
once both parties in a dispute, real or imaginary, engaged him, despite
his protestations, as attorney, and afterwards the boys insisted that,
being advocate for both sides, he was well fitted to decide the issue
as judge. He had not been a month in Garotte before he was christened
Judge, and every question, whether of claim-boundaries, the suitability
of a nickname, or the value of dust, was submitted for his decision.
It cannot be asserted that his enviable position was due either to
perfect impartiality or to infallible wisdom. But every one knew that
his judgments would be informed by shrewd sense and good-humour, and
would be followed by a story, and woe betide the disputant whose
perversity deferred that pleasure. So Garotte became a sort of
theocracy, with Judge Rablay as ruler. And yet he was, perhaps, the
only man in the community whose courage had never been tested or even
One afternoon a man came to Garotte, who had a widespread
reputation. His name was Bill Hitchcock. A marvellous shot, a
first-rate poker-player, a good riderthese virtues were outweighed by
his desperate temper. Though not more than five-and-twenty years of age
his courage and ferocity had made him a marked man. He was said to have
killed half-a-dozen men; and it was known that he had generally
provoked his victims. No one could imagine why he had come to Garotte,
but he had not been half an hour in the place before he was recognized.
It was difficult to forget him, once seen. He was tall and
broad-shouldered; his face long, with well-cut features; a brown
moustache drooped negligently over his mouth; his heavy eyelids were
usually half-closed, but when in moments of excitement they were
suddenly updrawn, one was startled by a naked hardness of grey-green
Hitchcock spent the whole afternoon in Doolan's, scarcely speaking a
word. As night drew down, the throng of miners increased. Luck had been
bad for weeks; the camp was in a state of savage ill-humour. Not a few
came to the saloon that night intending to show, if an opportunity
offered, that neither Hitchcock nor any one else on earth could scare
them. As minute after minute passed the tension increased. Yet
Hitchcock stood in the midst of them, drinking and smoking in silence,
Presently the Judge came in with a smile on his round face and shot
off a merry remark. But the quip didn't take as it should have done. He
was received with quiet nods and not with smiles and loud greetings as
usual. Nothing daunted, he made his way to the bar, and, standing next
to Hitchcock, called for a drink.
Come, Doolan, a Bourbon; our only monarch!
Beyond a smile from Doolan the remark elicited no applause.
Astonished, the Judge looked about him; never in his experience had the
camp been in that temper. But still he had conquered too often to doubt
his powers now. Again and again he tried to break the spellin vain.
As a last resort he resolved to use his infallible receipt against
Boys! I've just come in to tell you one little story; then I'll
have to go.
From force of habit the crowd drew towards him, and faces relaxed.
Cheered by this he picked up his glass from the bar and turned towards
his audience. Unluckily, as he moved, his right arm brushed against
Hitchcock, who was looking at him with half-opened eyes. The next
moment Hitchcock had picked up his glass and dashed it in the Judge's
face. Startled, confounded by the unexpected suddenness of the attack,
Rablay backed two or three paces, and, blinded by the rush of blood
from his forehead, drew out his handkerchief. No one stirred. It was
part of the unwritten law in Garotte to let every man in such
circumstances play his game as he pleased. For a moment or two the
Judge mopped his face, and then he started towards his assailant with
his round face puckered up and out-thrust hands. He had scarcely moved,
however, when Hitchcock levelled a long Navy Colt against his breast:
Git back, you
The Judge stopped. He was unarmed but not cowed. All of a sudden
those wary, long eyes of Hitchcock took in the fact that a score of
revolvers covered him.
With lazy deliberation Dave Crocker moved out of the throng towards
the combatants, and standing between them, with his revolver pointing
to the ground, said sympathetically:
Jedge, we're sorry you've been jumped, here in Garotte. Now, what
would you like?
A fair fight, replied Rablay, beginning again to use his
Wall, Crocker went on, after a pause for thought. A square
fight's good but hard to get. This man, and his head made a motion
towards Hitchcock as he spoke, is one of the best shots there is, and
I reckon you're not as good at shootin' as atother things. Again he
paused to think, and then continued with the same deliberate air of
careful reflection, We all cotton to you, Jedge; you know that.
Suppose you pick a man who kin shoot, and leave it to him. That'd be
fair, an' you kin jes' choose any of us, or one after the other. We're
No, replied the Judge, taking away the handkerchief, and showing a
jagged, red line on his forehead. No! he struck me. I don't
want any one to help me, or take my place.
That's right, said Crocker, approvingly; that's right, Jedge, we
all like that, but 'tain't square, and this camp means to hev it
square. You bet! And, in the difficult circumstances, he looked round
for the approval which was manifest on every one of the serious faces.
Again he began: I guess, Jedge, you'd better take my plan, 'twould be
surer. No! Wall, suppose I take two six-shooters, one loaded, the other
empty, and put them under a capote on the table in the next
room. You could both go in and draw for weapons; that'd be square, I
reckon? and he waited for the Judge's reply.
Yes, replied Rablay, that'd be fair. I agree to that.
Hell! exclaimed Hitchcock, I don't. If he wants to fight, I'm
here; but I ain't goin' to take a hand in no sich derned gamewith the
cards stocked agen me.
Ain't you? retorted Crocker, facing him, and beginning slowly. I
reckon you'll play any game we say. See! any damned game
we like. D'ye understand?
As no response was forthcoming to this defiance, he went into the
other room to arrange the preliminaries of the duel. A few moments
passed in silence, and then he came back through the lane of men to the
Jedge, he began, the six-shooters are there, all ready. Would you
like to hev first draw, or throw for it with him? contemptuously
indicating Hitchcock with a movement of his head as he concluded.
Let us throw, replied Rablay, quietly.
In silence the three dice and the box were placed by Doolan on the
bar. In response to Crocker's gesture the Judge took up the box and
rolled out two fives and a threethirteen. Every one felt that he had
lost the draw, but his face did not change any more than that of his
adversary. In silence Hitchcock replaced the dice in the box and threw
a three, a four, and a twonine; he put down the box emphatically.
Wall, Crocker decided impassively, I guess that gives you the
draw, Jedge; we throw fer high in Garottesometimes, he went on,
turning as if to explain to Hitchcock, but with insult in his voice,
and then, After you, Jedge!
Rablay passed through the crowd into the next room. There, on a
table, was a small heap covered with a cloak. Silently the men pressed
round, leaving Crocker between the two adversaries in the full light of
the swinging lamp.
Now, Jedge, said Crocker, with a motion towards the table.
No! returned the Judge, with white, fixed face, he won; let him
draw first. I only want a square deal.
A low hum of surprise went round the room. Garotte was more than
satisfied with its champion. Crocker looked at Hitchcock, and said:
It's your draw, then. The words were careless, but the tone and
face spoke clearly enough.
A quick glance round the room and Hitchcock saw that he was trapped.
These men would show him no mercy. At once the wild beast in him
appeared. He stepped to the table, put his hand under the cloak, drew
out a revolver, dropped it, pointing towards Rablay's face, and pulled
the trigger. A sharp click. That revolver, at any rate, was unloaded.
Quick as thought Crocker stepped between Hitchcock and the table. Then
It's your turn now, Jedge!
As he spoke a sound, half of relief and half of content came from
the throats of the onlookers. The Judge did not move. He had not
quivered when the revolver was levelled within a foot of his head; he
did not appear to have seen it. With set eyes and pale face, and the
jagged wound on his forehead whence the blood still trickled, he had
waited, and now he did not seem to hear. Again Crocker spoke:
Come, Jedge, it's your turn.
The sharp, loud words seemed to break the spell which had paralyzed
the man. He moved to the table, and slowly drew the revolver from under
the cloak. His hesitation was too much for the crowd.
Throw it through him, Jedge! Now's your chance. Wade in, Jedge!
The desperate ferocity of the curt phrases seemed to move him. He
raised the revolver. Then came in tones of triumph:
I'll bet high on the Jedge!
He dropped the revolver on the floor, and fled from the room.
The first feeling of the crowd of men was utter astonishment, but in
a moment or two this gave place to half-contemptuous sympathy. What
expression this sentiment would have found it is impossible to say, for
just then Bill Hitchcock observed with a sneer:
As he's run, I may as well walk; and he stepped towards the
Instantly Crocker threw himself in front of him with his face on
Walkwill ye? he burst out, the long-repressed rage flaming
upwalk! when you've jumped the best man in Garottewalk! No, by
God, you'll crawl, d'ye hear? crawlright out of this camp, right
now! and he dropped his revolver on Hitchcock's breast.
Then came a wild chorus of shouts.
That's right! That's the talk! Crawl, will ye! Down on yer hands
and knees. Crawl, damn ye! Crawl! and a score of revolvers covered the
For a moment he stood defiant, looking his assailants in the eyes.
His face seemed to have grown thinner, and his moustache twitched with
the snarling movement of a brute at bay. Then he was tripped up and
thrown forwards amid a storm of, Crawl, damn yenaw. And so
Hitchcock crawled, on hands and knees out of Doonan's.
Lawyer Rabley, too, was never afterwards seen in Garrotte. Men said
his nerves had give out.