Thursday, Aug. 1. Found ourselves this morning in the “Black Hills,” with “Laramie Peak,” looming up in large proportions. This peak is 60 miles from Fort Laramie, which we passed in the night. We took breakfast at “Horseshoe” station, forty miles from Fort Laramie, and 676 miles from St. Joseph. - Clemens
Beyond the fort there are two roads. The longer leads to the right, near the Platte River. It was formerly, and perhaps is still, a favorite with emigrants. We preferred the left, which, crossing the edges of the Black Hills, is rough and uneven, but is "some shorter," as the guide book says, than the other. The weather began to be unusually disagreeable with heat and raindrops from a heavy nimbus, that forced us to curtain up the rattling vehicle; perhaps, too, we were a little cross, contrasting the present with the past, - civilized society, a shady bungalow, and wonderfully good butter. At 4 PM, following the Platte Valley, after two hours' drive, we halted to change mules at Ward's Station, alias the "Central Star," where several whites were killed by the Sioux in 1855, among them M. Montalan, a Parisian.
Again we started for another twenty five miles at 4 PM. The road was rough, and the driver had a curious proclivity for losing the way. I have often found this to be the case after passing through a station. There was little to remark, except that the country was poor and bad, that there was clear water in a ravine to the right, and that we were very tired and surly. But as sorrow comes to an end as well as joy, so at 9:30 PM we drove in somewhat consoled to Horseshoe Station, - the old Fer a Cheval, - where one of the road agents, Mr. Slade, lived and where we anticipated superior comfort.
We were entiches by the aspect of the buildings, which were on an extensive scale - in fact, got up regardless of expense. An ominous silence, however, reigned around. At last, by hard knocking, we were admitted into a house with the Floridian style of veranda previously described, and by the pretensions of the room we at once divined our misfortune - we were threatened with a "lady." The "lady" will, alas! follow us to the Pacific: even in hymns we read,
- Now let the Prophet's heart rejoice, His noble lady's too.
Our mishap was really worse than we expected - we were exposed to two "ladies," and of these one was a Bloomer. It is only fair to state that it was the only hermaphrodite of the kind that ever met my eyes in the United States: the great founder of the order has long since subsided into her original obscurity, and her acolytes have relapsed into the weakness of petticoats. The Bloomer was an uncouth being, her hair, cut level with her eyes, depended with the graceful curl of a drake's tail around a flat Turanian countenance, whose only expression was sullen insolence. The body-dress, glazed brown calico, fitted her somewhat like a soldier's tunic, developing haunches which would be admired only in venison; and - curious inconsequence of woman's nature! - all this sacrifice of appearance upon the shrine of comfort did not prevent her wearing that kind of crinoline depicted by Mr Punch upon "our Mary Hanne." The pantalettes of glazed brown calico, like the vest, tunic, blouse, shirt, or whatever they may call it, were in peg-top style, admirably setting off a pair of thin-soled Frenchified patent-leather bottines, with elastic sides, which contained feet large, broad, and flat as a negro's in Unyamwezi. The dear creature had a husband: it was hardly safe to look at her, and as for sketching her, I avoided it, as men are bidden by the poet to avoid the way of Slick of Tennessee. The other "lady," though more decently attired, was like women in this wild part of the world generally - cold and disagreeable in manner, full of "proper pride," with a touch-me-not air, which reminded me of a certain
Miss Baxter Who refused a man before he axed her
Her husband was the renowned Slade:
- Of gougers fierce, the eyes that pierce, the fiercest gouger he.
His was a noted name for "deadly strife"; he had the reputation of having killed his three men; and a few days afterward the grave that concealed one of his murders was pointed out to me. This pleasant individual "for an evening party" wore the revolver and bowie-knife here, there, and everywhere. He had lately indeed had a strong hint not to forget his weapon. One M. Jules, a French trader, after a quarrel which took place at dinner, walked up to him and fired a pistol, wounding him in the breast. As he rose to run away Jules discharged a second, which took effect upon his back, and then without giving him time to arm, fetched a gun and favored him with a dose of slugs somewhat larger than revolver bullets. The fiery Frenchman had two narrow escapes from Lynch-lawyers: twice he was hung between wagons, and as often he was cut down. At last he disappeared in the farther West, and took to lodge and squaw. The avenger of blood threatens to follow him up, but as yet he has taken no steps.
It at once became evident that the station was conducted upon the principle of the Western hotel-keeper of the last generation, and of Continental Europe about AD 1500 - the innkeeper of "Anne of Geierstein" - that is to say, for his own convenience; the public there was the last thing thought of. One of our party who had ventured into the kitchen was fiercely ejected by the "ladies." In asking about dormitories we were informed that "lady travelers" were admitted into the house, but that the ruder sex must sleep where it could - or not sleep at all if it preferred. We found a barn outside; it was hardly fit for a decently brought-up pig; the floor was damp and knotty; there was not even a door to keep out the night breeze, now becoming raw, and several drunken fellows lay in different parts of it. Two were in one bunk, embracing maudlingly, and freely calling for drinks of water. Into this disreputable hole we were all thrust for the night: among us, it must be remembered, was a federal judge, who had officiated for years as minister at a European court. His position, poor man! procured him nothing but a broken-down pallet. It was his first trip to the Far West, and yet, so easily are Americans satisfied, and so accustomed are they to obey the ridiculous jack-in-office who claims to be one of the powers that be, he scarcely uttered a complaint. I for one grumbled myself to sleep. May gracious Heaven keep us safe from all "ladies" in future! - better a hundred times the squaw with her uncleanliness and civility. (p 91-95)