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A Journey Westward by Edgar Wilson Bill Nye

 

I once visited my old haunts in Colorado and Wyoming after about seven years of absence. I also went to Utah, where spring had come in the rich valley of the Jordan and the glossy blackbird, with wing of flame, scooted gaily from bough to bough, deftly declaring his affections right and left, and acquiring more wives than he could support, then clearing his record by claiming to have had a revelation which made it all right.

One could not shut his eyes to the fact that there was great real estate activity in the West that spring. It took the place of mining and stock, I judge, and everywhere you heard and saw men with their heads together plotting against the poor rich man. In Salt Lake I saw the sign, “Drugs and Real Estate.”

I presume it meant medicine and a small residence lot in the cemetery.

In early days in Denver, Henry C. Brown, then in the full flush and vigor of manhood, opened negotiations with the agent of the Atchison stage line for a ticket back to Atchison, as he was heart-broken and homesick. He owned a quarter-section of land, with a heavy growth of prairie dogs on it, and he had almost persuaded the agent to swap him a ticket for this sage brush conservatory, when the ticket seller backed gently out of the trade. Mr. Brown then sat him down on the sidewalk and cried bitterly.

I just tell this to show how easily some men weep. Atchison is at present so dead that a good cowboy, with an able mule, could tie his rope to its tail, and, putting his spurs to the mule, jerk loose the entire pelt at any time, while Brown's addition to Denver is worth anywhere from one and a half to two millions of dollars. When Mr. Brown weeps now it is because his food is too rich and gives him the gout. He sold prairie dogs enough to fence the land in so that it could not blow into Cherry Creek vale, and then he set to work earnestly to wait for the property to advance. Finding that he could not sell the property at any price, he, with great foresight, concluded to retain it. Some men, with no special ability in other directions, have the greatest genius for doing such things, while others, with superior talent in other ways, do not make money in this way.

A report once got around that I had made a misguess on some property. This is partly true, only it was my wife who speculated. She had never speculated much before, though she had tried other open air amusements. So she swapped a cottage and lots in Hudson, Wisconsin, for city lots in Minneapolis, employing a man named Flinton Pansley to work up the trade, look into the title, and do the square thing for her. He was a real good man, with heavenly aspirations and a true sorrow in his heart for the prevalence of sin. Still this sorrow did not break in on his business. Well, the business was done by correspondence and Mr. Pansley only charged a reasonable amount, she giving him her new carriage to remunerate him for his brain fag. What the other man paid him for disposing of the lots I do not know. I was away at the time, and having no insect powder with which to take his life I regretfully spared him to his Bible class.

[Illustration: Frogs build their nests there in the spring and rear their young, but people never go there (Page 45)]

I did send a man over the lots, however, when I returned. They were not really in the city of Minneapolis, that is, they were not near enough to worry anybody by the tumult of the town. In fact, they were in another county. You may think I am untruthful about this, but the lots are there, if you have any curiosity to see them. They are not where they were represented to be, however, and the machine shops and gas works and court-house are quite a long distance away.

You could cut some hay on these lots, but not enough to pay the interest on the mortgage. Frogs build their nests there in the spring and rear their young, but people never go there. Two years ago Senator Washburn killed a bear on one of these lots, but that is all they have ever produced, except a slight coldness on our part toward Mr. Pansley. He says he likes the carriage real well, and anything he can do for us in the future in dickering for city property will be done with an alacrity that would almost make one's head swim. I must add that I have permission to use this information, as the victim seems to think there is something kind of amusing about it. Some people think a thing funny which others can hardly get any amusement out of. What I wonder at is that Pansley did not ask for the team when he got the carriage.

Possibly he did not like the team.

I just learned recently that he and the Benders used to be very thick in an early day, but after awhile the Benders said they guessed they would have to be excused. Even the Benders had to draw the line somewhere.

Later I bought property in Salt Lake. Not a heavy venture, you understand. Just the box-office receipts for one evening. I saw it stated in the papers at $10,000. Anyway, I will let that go. That is near enough. When I see anything in the papers I ask no more questions. I do not think it is right. Patti and I have both made it a rule to put in at least one evening as an investment where we happen to be. We are almost sure to do well out of it, and we also get better notices in the papers.

Patti is not looking so well as she did when my father took me to see her in the prime of her life. Though getting quite plain, it costs as much to see her as ever it did. Her voice has a metallic, or rather bi-metallic, ring to it nowadays, and she misses it by not working in more topical songs and bright Italian gags.

I asked her about an old singer who used to be with her. She said: “He was remova to ze ocean, where he keepa ze lighthouse. He learn to himself how to manage ze lighthouse one seasong; then he try by himself to star.”

Now, if she would do some of those things on the stage it would pay her first rate.

When I was in Wyoming on that trip I met many old friends, all of whom shook me warmly by the hand as soon as they saw me. I visited the Capitol, and both houses adjourned for an hour out of respect to my memory. I will never again say anything mean of a member of the legislature. A speech of welcome was made by the gentleman from Crook county, Mr. Kellogg, the Demosthenes of the coming state. He made statements about me that day which in the paper read almost as good and truthful as an epitaph.

Going over the hill, at Crow Creek, whose perfumed waters kiss the livery stables and abattoirs at Camp Carlin, three slender Sarah Bernhardt coyotes came towards the train, looking wistfully at me as if to say: “Why, partner, how you have fleshed up!” Answering them from the platform of the car, I said: “Go East, young men, and flesh up with the country.” Honestly and seriously, I do think that if the coyote would change off and try the soft-shell crab diet for a while, he would pick right up.

When I got to Laramie City the welcome was so warm that it almost wiped out the memory of my shabby reception in New York harbor last summer, on my return from Europe, when even my band went back on me and got drunk at Coney Island on the very money I had given them to use in welcoming me home again.

Winter had been a little severe along the cattle ranges, and deceased cattle might be seen extending their swollen carcasses into the bright, crisp air as the train whirled one along at the rate of seven to eight miles per hour. The skinning of a frozen steer is a diverting and unusual proceeding. Col. Buffalo Bill, who served under Washington and killed buffalo and baby elephants at Valley Forge, according to an Italian paper, should put this feature into his show. Maybe he will when he reads this. The cow gentleman first selects a quick yet steady-going mule; then he looks for a dead steer. He does not have to look very far. He now fastens one end of the deceased to some permanent object. This is harder to find than the steer, however. He then attaches his rope to the hide of the remains, having cut it with his knife first. He next starts the mule off, and a mile or so away he discovers that the hide is entirely free from the cold and pulseless corps.

Sometimes a cowboy tries to skin a steer before the animal is entirely dead, and when the former gets back to the place from which he was kicked, he finds that he has a brand new set of whiskers with which to surprise his friends.

The Pacific roads have greatly improved in recent years, and though they do not dazzle one with their speed, they are much more comfortable to pass a few weeks on than they were when the eating-houses, or many of them, were in the hands of people who could not cook very well, but who made a great deal of money. Now you can eat in a good buffet-car, or a first-class dining-car, at your leisure, or you can stop off and get a good meal, or you can carry a few hens and eat hard-boiled eggs all over your neighbors.

I do not think people on the cars ought to keep hens. It disturbs the other passengers and is anything but agreeable to the hens. Close confinement is never good for a hen that is advanced in years, and the cigar smoke from the rear of the car hurts her voice, I think.

 
 
 

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