Laramie fic, Season 3
Summary: Daisy Cooper writes in her diary, revealing her surprising new experiences as she heads west and finds what she least expected but truly needed.
Thanks to Hired Hand for the beta.
June 2, 1873 Philadelphia
Today I embark upon a grand and glorious adventure. I am finally pursuing the dream my dear departed husband Oscar and I shared, our plan to open our very own store in the great American West. It is a business Oscar purchased in what we were told is the most delightful and prosperous town in all of the Wyoming Territory, Sherman.
Not that I have seen this town, mind you, nor did Oscar, either, but Mr. Harrison Reynolds Barnstable, the very helpful gentleman who sold the store to my husband, told us all about this bustling new community. It is a fine, thriving place filled with hardy pioneer families who are building new lives for themselves on bountiful farms and prosperous ranches in this veritable western paradise. The people there are much in need of reliable business establishments to provide them with essential goods and will welcome us to the community with open hearts, he assured Oscar. It is not a big town, he explained, certainly nowhere near as fine nor as grand as Philadelphia, it is the West after all, but someday it very well could become such an illustrious city. Mr. Barnstable assured us we would be happy there, and, even without dear Oscar by my side, I am confident it will be so.
This is a day we so longed for, Oscar and I, and now at long last it has arrived - the start of the westward journey. I am only saddened that my dear husband is not here to share this momentous day with me. He dreamed so often of this, even more than I, of becoming a merchant, the owner of his own business, and how we would run the store together, becoming part of this new community and sharing a grand future and happy, prosperous lives. He invested all of our life savings into this venture which was to provide for both of us in these, our later years, years that I now, sadly, face alone.
So I undertake this great adventure for his sake as well as my own. I have been warned that it will be an arduous journey. Indeed, some have told me it is too much for a woman of my years, and alone, but I simply refuse to accept such a negative view. I shall not falter. This is the new life Oscar wanted for us, and I cannot, and I will not, disappoint him. I do it for him as much as for myself.
And yes, I must confess to one part excitement, even exhilaration, tempered by one part terror, at what lies before me. But Oscar, bless his soul, always said that I was strong and resilient, and so I shall be. In Sherman, Wyoming.
June 3 Aboard the train, traveling toward the setting sun
I have traveled by train many times before, but never have I spent so many hours moving so quickly! Nor have I ever seen so many trees, hills and farm fields, all rushing past so swiftly that I can hardly catch a glimpse of them. The car clatters and rumbles, swaying as we speed across the countryside at an exhilarating pace, like a ship racing through the night on the teeth of the wind.
June 6 St. Louis
I have taken a very nice room here, in a small hotel run by a kind and genteel widow. Oh, how good it feels to rest somewhere that is not moving! No churning wheels, no swaying cars, no scenery rushing by! My bath was delightful!
But I have only a very brief stopover here, before my journey resumes.
I depart westward from St. Louis today, leaving behind all that I am familiar with, putting behind me the last of the civilized cities as I venture forward into the great unknown of the West. I am filled with excitement- every mile I travel is a mile closer to my new business, my new home and my new future, fulfilling the dream Oscar and I shared.
Oh Oscar, I feel your presence here with me. How you would have loved every moment of this trip!
Today from the train window I saw the most incredible sight- a massive herd of bison, the great shaggy beasts covering the land like a brown blanket. The train stopped to let them pass in front of us, thousands upon thousands of them, like a marching army of wild creatures, continuously on the move to destinations unknown. I had read of these animals, of course, but I did not believe they would be so very large and dark, and that there could be so many of them in the whole world.
It was a truly wondrous thing to see!
I met my first true westerners today as well. Several young men boarded the train, loud and boisterous cowboys, as they are called, wearing boots with jingling spurs and guns on leather belts strapped around their waists. On their heads were large wide-brimmed hats they called Stetsons. Though their language was rough, they were polite and friendly, and I quite enjoyed listening to their lively talk.
June 11 Nebraska
It is unbelievable how the plains go on and on, mile after mile, so much endless empty space without a single human habitation. No farms, no homes, no trees, no people as far as the eye can see. Along the railroad tracks, there are small rough towns adorned with exotic names and consisting of nothing more than a few crude unpainted buildings. Some of them are no more than tent cities with unpaved streets. I have been warned not to leave the train at these stops, as many of them are rough and dangerous places, unfit for a lady.
June 12 Denver
My train trip has ended at last. I have again secured lodgings, this time in a small rooming house, and it makes me recall with great fondness my humble yet lovely accommodations in St. Louis. One could hardly call Denver a city by any standard, it so obviously leaves very much to be desired in the way of culture and social convention, but I am told it is the largest town between St. Louis and San Francisco.
I am quite weary, and a day of rest is so very welcome, even if my lodgings are not of the kind I am accustomed to. I could not even secure a proper bath!
But I am not discouraged. My new home is so very close now. With great excitement I look forward to reaching it at last, in just a few more days. To be truthful, however, I must admit that along with the excitement I am also experiencing some small trepidation over what I shall find. But, I will succeed in this new venture. I cannot fail Oscar, God rest his soul; I must fulfill our dream to the best of my abilities.
I have left behind all that was my old life - my family, my friends, even the grave of my beloved husband - to embrace this new adventure.
Tomorrow I shall rest, and then travel north on the Overland Stage line to Cheyenne, my first stop in Wyoming, and from there to Sherman. I have been warned that travel by stagecoach will be rough and dusty, but I do not care. My new home, my new life, awaits, and I am so very eager to arrive there.
It is only the end of my first day aboard the stagecoach, and already I feel as if every bone in my body has been disconnected from its adjacent neighbor, and I fear my teeth will be rattled completely out of my head. I must be ten pounds heavier from all the dust that has seeped into my clothing, my hair, my gloves, my purse, the very pores of my skin. And yet, my sense of excitement has not dimmed one bit. There is a grand beauty to this land, a majesty in its snow-topped mountains (the like of which I have never seen!), in its pure air, and its glorious open sky.
I cannot wait to arrive in Sherman!
I am ready for my journey to be complete, to settle down and begin life anew. I pray that I will find the store fully stocked and ready for business when I arrive. Mostly, I cannot wait to have a proper bath and clean clothes.
The driver has informed me that we have now crossed into the territory of Wyoming. It does not appear to be much different than the Colorado territory.
Apparently, there was some type of celebration in Cheyenne tonight. I was awakened by the sound of gunfire, an unpleasant reminder of the days of the late war which I had hoped were long forgotten. First, I feared an Indian attack or some other calamity, but the night clerk reassured me that such noise is not uncommon. Apparently, this is how the local young men, the cowboys, celebrate, noisily.
I certainly hope life in Sherman will be of a much quieter sort.
With all the commotion, I barely slept a wink, though part of my restlessness could surely have been attributed to my excitement. I have learned that tomorrow the coach will arrive at the Sherman Relay Station. Sherman must indeed be a very large town, to have its own stage stop.
I have not had time to record my thoughts for the past several days as the most amazing things have been happening far too rapidly. There is so much I should write down and remember, yet I can hardly find the words to tell of all that has occurred.
I do not know how to begin to describe what has taken place. My life has been turned totally topsy turvy, around and around, as if I had been caught in a whirlpool and thrown out the other side to land on safe, but unexpected, ground.
It is usually best to start at the beginning, so there I shall begin. It all started on the stage west from Cheyenne, and my arrival, with great anticipation, and yes, I will admit, a small feeling of apprehension, at the Sherman Relay Station.
What terrible, terrible news awaited me there! To my great dismay, I learned that the relay station is not part of a town, but simply a ranch, standing alone out in the wilds.
There is no town named Sherman, Wyoming, and there is no store!
Oscar was swindled out of all our savings!
I am devastated.
I do not have a business to run, no means to make my livelihood, no home to call my own. Indeed, I have nothing but the few items I had squeezed into my trunks, and my funds are on the verge of depletion.
Upon learning this horrific news, as any lady might upon discovering such a dreadful injustice, I suffered an attack of the vapors, and fainted.
Now, I could not place any blame upon the head of the tall and handsome young gentleman who gave me the awful news. Though baffled by my questions, he was so very kind to me, even allowing me to rest in his home until I could recover my wits.
Most fortunately, there was a doctor traveling on the stage, and he assisted me until I was able to regain my sensibilities, which really, I only needed to rest for a bit to recover from the horrific shock of this devastating news.
The residents of the ranch, and the other stage passengers, were very solicitous of me. Mr. Slim Sherman, the young gentleman who owns the ranch; his hired hand, Mr. Jess Harper; and a young boy of about eight years that they have taken in, Mike Williams, all aided me in a most considerate and gentlemanly manner.
And then, before I had the opportunity to regain any semblance of equilibrium, I became embroiled in the most incredible adventure! I discovered that the doctor was in fact not a physician at all, but another charlatan, like Mr. Harrison Reynolds Barnstable who sold Oscar the "store" in the "town" of Sherman. (I fear the west is infested with such con men! And outlaws as well!) Doctor Watkins was in fact a bandit, an infamous outlaw named Sam Willett, carrying illegally obtained "loot" in his medical bag, more money than I had ever before seen in my entire life. Through this clever subterfuge, posing as a medical man, he was attempting to elude justice for his crimes!
There was also a shooting, right in the ranch yard, involving Mr. Harper and a reprehensible character known as a bounty hunter. Mr. Harper is what is known as a "fast gun," and he was fortunately not injured in this gun duel (a practice which I have come to understand is entirely too frequent out here on the frontier). Regardless of this bounty hunter's motives (he did not seem such a deplorable person to me, but then, I have much to learn about western mores), I was able to call upon my long-unused nursing skills to help save his life.
In the midst of all of this commotion of shootings and outlaws, who should arrive but the local law enforcement officer, the esteemed sheriff of the nearby town of Laramie, Mr. Mort Cory, and with him, the local judge as well! The magistrate was there to assess the suitability of the ranch as a home for young Mr. Williams, whom I learned was an orphan recently taken in by Mr. Sherman and Mr. Harper. It is all very complicated, but in the end, it all came to a most proper and suitable conclusion. The outlaw was apprehended, a large sum of money returned to its rightful owners, the wounded man recovered, and the young boy has been allowed to stay on at the ranch, because Mr. Sherman and Mr. Harper were able to secure a proper housekeeper to look after him - me!
One could not invent such a story nor create a work of fiction that would rival these amazing happenings, all occurring in one single day here.
I must confess, this is not at all the genteel merchant's life dear Oscar had pictured for us, but, oh, I think life in Wyoming will be filled with adventure!
So, I will not be a storekeeper, but rather a housekeeper to one adorable yet impatient young boy, and two devilishly handsome young men who definitely need a woman's touch and a ladies' calming influence around their rustic home.
I cannot wait to write to Caroline and Wilhelmina back in Philadelphia, to tell them all about my grand adventure here in the West! They will not believe it is true, but I swear upon my Bible, all of this has happened to me.
I think it will be difficult to find the time to write regularly in my diary. My days are full to overflowing, but I must take time today to better describe my first impressions of my new home, and its inhabitants. It is an unusual collection of people, a family of its own making, and yet, I sense, a very happy and strongly bonded group, despite the hardships of life on the frontier. And already, I must confess, I find myself feeling blessed to be a small part of this remarkable family.
The young men here could not care more for one another if they were truly born brothers.
Slim Sherman is the owner of the ranch, which was the home of his parents, now deceased. (I am sure that he has a proper first name, but he insists that I call him by this nickname and so I shall. Life in the West, as I am learning, is astonishingly informal.) He is a gentleman, not in the foppish ways of a Philadelphia gentleman, but in the steadfast and honorable manner in which he lives his life, and in his fair and even treatment of the many people he encounters each day. He has many responsibilities for a man of such tender years. He takes charge of the ranch, the relay station and all of its business, working very hard to make it a success. He is a serious young man, a lover of books, and a veteran of our late war, having been an officer who served under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman (who is no relation, Slim informed me). Slim treats everyone with kindness and respect, and he is well regarded in the community, having the esteem in turn of many; indeed, the sheriff calls him friend. In just these few days I have learned that he has a very strong regard for the law, for doing what is right, and for living by a strong moral code.
Slim speaks with great affection of his late mother- her good influence is evident in his manner and demeanor, and his father most assuredly taught him the traits of honesty and hard work. He is tall and handsome and of an accommodating and compassionate nature, friend to all.
Young Mike has taken to calling me Aunt Daisy, which is very sweet. He is a good boy, though, like all boys, high spirited and prone to being willful, especially since he so tragically lost his parents to an Indian attack just a few short months ago. He is sorely in need of a motherly hand, and a mother's kind affections, though Slim and his hired hand Jess Harper regard him in all ways as if he were their younger brother.
And then there is Jess Harper, a young man of many contradictions. I have not yet learned so much of his story, only gleaning small bits and pieces that hint of a difficult life, of losing his parents at a far too young age. I do know that he fought on the side of the South in the late war of the rebellion, but I find no blame in that. I have learned that he has been working here at the ranch for the past two years and before that, he traveled the West, alone, making his living through his considerable skills with a gun. His past is unsavory in some respects, but he has, he assures me (as does Slim), settled down here, into a new life and a fresh start.
He is ever polite to me, gentlemanly in the easy way of the West, but quick to anger, more fiery than the steady Slim. He has a ready wit that often has a sharp edge, but he is quick to laugh and joke, and teases Mike, and yes, me, with a sweet, boyish affection that I find delightful. But I sense an underlying darkness there, and an unfulfilled need for the affections of family and the peace and comfort of a home. There is an aura of danger about Jess, and yet, I feel ever so safe and protected in his presence. I must confess, sometimes he is a rogue, and more boyish than young Mike, but a more charming young man I have never met.
The three of them act so much like real brothers, it is difficult to imagine they are only friends, and friends of relatively recent acquaintance, especially the boy.
The ranch house is plain, unpainted (I shall soon see that omission is remedied!), devoid of womanly comforts, and certainly lacking the refinements that are expected in an eastern home. The main room, I suppose one could call it the parlor, though it bears little resemblance to anything with such a title in the city, has a hearth, a leather couch, several chairs, and Slim's desk where he keeps the ranch and stage station books and accounts. There's a dining area to the rear of this large room, next to the kitchen, and doors into the bedrooms. My small room is at the back of the house, with just a bed and a dresser and one small closet for my trunks, and several shelves that are totally inadequate for storing all of my hats.
My friends, I fear, would be aghast to know I now live in such an unrefined, indeed primitive, setting, doing the work of cook and maid, laundress and nurse. It is hard work for a woman of my years, and I find that I am exhausted by day's end, but it is a good exhaustion, born of things accomplished. I feel needed and appreciated here, something I have not felt since my dear husband departed this good Earth, and truly, for a long time even before that.
This is a good place, and these are good people. Bless you, Oscar, for all unknowing you sent me to where I am needed. And there is no grander purpose in life than that, to be needed.
I must write briefly of my days here at the ranch, as life is so unlike the previous existence I have led. I find that I am quickly settling into the routine of the days, though it is obvious that I have so very much to learn.
My day begins early, when I rise with the sun to cook breakfast. Slim and Jess require their coffee early, and strong, especially Jess, who is not by nature an early riser, though his temper improves greatly after his first cup of coffee. The boys, all three of them, have hearty appetites, fitting as their days are filled with many hours of hard work.
Slim and Jess are often gone at mid-day, working out on the range, so that meal is commonly only Mike and myself, when he is not in school.
The house is very quiet during the day, and I find I miss the exuberance of the young men and the liveliness they bring to this humble home. But it does give me time for the many chores I must complete: the washing, the cooking, and the cleaning. (The West is a dusty place – I sweep constantly yet it seems that the moment I have finished, more appears!) I have planted a large garden, as good, fresh produce is not easily obtained here.
For the evening meal we all gather together, which is something Slim insists upon, and the dinner table is lively with conversation: Mike asking a young boy's many questions while Slim and Jess recount their day, often with tall tales of their exploits that delight Mike, making him, and me, laugh.
One thing I have learned is that life here on the frontier demands that I adapt to its ways. Rough men often pass through, and I have already gotten used to the sight of pistols carried routinely by my young men - not Mike of course- but Slim and Jess don their gunbelts every morning as casually as a Philadelphia gentleman dons his hat.
Slim and Jess are armed at most all times they are outdoors, sometimes even indoors, despite my best efforts to have them do otherwise. Such weapons, sadly, are needed, for much as I love it here, I have quickly learned that this is a wild and dangerous land.
Slim and Jess have even insisted that I must learn to fire a weapon, providing me with a shotgun. They have assured me that it is only to scare away would-be trouble, and I shall not need to use it against a human being, but I think they are only trying to shelter me with such statements. I have taken seriously their lessons on how to load, aim and fire the weapon. And while it is more than a bit frightening, I also find that it makes me feel strong. Imagine that, me, a proper Philadelphia lady, shooting a gun! My friends would think I have lost my mind! And Oscar, dear Oscar, would be incredulous!
June 21, 1874
I cannot believe that one year ago today I arrived here at the Sherman Ranch. It has been the most remarkable year of my life, filled with so much adventure, and yes, joy. I can hardly remember calling anywhere else home; I can hardly remember what life was like before these three young men filled my days, and my heart.
I have cooked, cleaned, washed, sewn, gardened, baked, mended, taught, and all too often nursed their wounds. I even drive a horse and buggy to town or to the neighbors, though most often, one of the men goes with me.
I am daily astonished at what I have found here on the frontier. I arrived alone and all but penniless but today, I am rich beyond measure. No, there was no town of Sherman and no store there, no business for me to run, but instead I have found something much more precious, something not all the money in Philadelphia could have bought for me.
I have a home, honest work to fill my days, three young men as my family, and I know that I am where I truly should be.
Despite all of the hopes and dreams that were in my heart as I traveled west, I could never have imagined how wonderful "Sherman, Wyoming" would turn out to be.
I feel like I should celebrate this day as if it were my birthday, because indeed, it was a day of rebirth; the start of a whole new, adventurous, and meaningful life.
xxx The End xxx