Somewhere in Nevada
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by Frank Shortt
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A young cowman rode slowly down a draw out in the wastelands of Nevada. He had called this home
for the past few years. He slumped as one who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. He had left his little homestead just
yesterday. As he rode his mind returned to a sunny day in Sundown only a few years back. It seemed so long ago.
A young girl, barely seventeen, rode wildly upon a white stallion through the streets of the booming mining town of Sundown, Nevada.
She seemed to have no place in particular to go, just a sudden burst of youthful energy that had to be expelled.
“Hey, what’s the hurry?” Bill Evans enquired after she had almost run him down.
“Outta my way
stranger,” the girl insisted as he held firmly to her bridle.
She was not the most beautiful
girl he had ever seen, but in this lonely mining town any person of the opposite sex was a welcome sight. She had sunburned blond
hair, unusually piercing brown eyes and what seemed to be a ready pout. She was tall and well proportioned. Bill did not notice the
wild, staring look in the girls eyes. Such is youth.
Bill had arrived just a day or so ago. His
only belongings were a worn out nag, a blanket roll and dreams of striking it rich, well, rich enough to start a small spread with
a few cattle. Silver had been discovered in Sundown and men were arriving daily to try their hand at mining.
Sundown was in eastern Nevada almost into Utah. Bill dreamed of returning to the badlands of Nevada where he had accidentally run
across a small oasis with a nice little gushing spring, just enough water to support a small family and what few cattle he could obtain
honestly. He was from a family that had never asked for much in life. They only wanted to make a good living without having to work
“You shouldn’t go around running folks down, Bill informed her. By the way, who are
“Who wants to know?” she retorted.
flabbergasted, being a little shy around the ladies, especially young ones.
“Why, my name is
Bill Evans, it came out before he could even think. I’m looking for a job in these diggings and I guess I’ll take about anything.”
The girl seemed to acquiesce as she heard his simple earnest request. She had not counted on
him being a gentleman. Most of the men in this town were hard, unkempt and uncouth.
was a tall, gangly young man of about twenty-three years. He was not real handsome. His eyes were greenish-blue, his hair the color
of a red fox, and his freckles stood out like bumps on a pickle.
This is how it seemed
to Anna Wilding, daughter of the mine foreman of the largest mine upon Piney Ridge. She was allowed to run wild through the streets
of Sundown because not many men would dare defy her father. She had most of the men eating out of her hand.
“If you wouldn’t mind letting go of my bridle I’d be more than willing to talk to you.”
didn’t even realize that he kept a tight hold on the bridle and his other hand was clenched ready for a fight.
“Uh, sorry miss, Bill finally fumbled out”, I guess I forgot what I was doing. Do you have any idea where a man might get work around
these parts? I can do most anything,” he hastily qualified, as she could see he was not very old.
“Well, you might go to the foreman upon Piney Ridge” she informed him, not revealing who the foreman was. I’ve heard talk that there’s
some hiring going on up there.”
“Thank you, ma’m, I’ll surely ride up there in the morning and
may I say who sent me?”
“No, just tell him some lady sent you,” she replied not wishing
to reveal her identity just yet.
Bright and early next morning Bill rode up the steep hillside
to the Piney Ridge diggings. His heart sang at the possibility of obtaining a job. His first stop was at a tin shack with a sign that
read, Office. The men inside informed him that the foreman was out in shaft #2 directing the blasting of the face of the mine.
This was John Wilding’s job, as foreman, to direct the day to day operations of the diggings. Bill again ramped up his courage to
be able to talk to the most important man besides the owner of the claim. The men inside the shack sneered as one so young and inexperienced
attempted to get a job when some of them had failed.
As Bill approached shaft #2, he was
told by a grizzled old miner that if he wanted to live he’d better crawl down off his nag and find some cover. Bill wasted no time
in riding behind some tall rock outcroppings. Suddenly, there was a blast that seemed to rock the whole of Piney Ridge. Bill thought,
Boy, anything that isn’t fastened down is bound to be shook down the hillside.
He turned to the
old miner and thanked him profusely. “What is your handle, old timer?” Bill inquired. “Name’s Hoag Prior, and who wants to know?”
Hoag was a grizzled veteran miner. His seamy face exuded friendship and Bill took to him right
off. Hoag was loyal to the brand.
“My name is Bill Evans, Bill replied quickly, I just arrived
here lookin’ for work.”
“Well, we shore have plenty, and it looks as though It’ll start pretty
soon. That last blast pretty near tore out everything we been workin’ on the past few days.”
Bill noticed that the drift mouth had caved in and he also noticed that the old miner had a look of panic in his steel blue eyes.
“We’d better get to diggin’, the old miner screeched. John Wilding was supposed to have moved
over to the other side of the shaft when the blast went off, it looks as though he is shut in by the fall-in.”
Bill commenced to follow the old timer’s lead, even though he had not been officially hired. The cave-in took the better part of the
morning to dislodge and when they finally entered the opening, they found that John Wilding and another man, possibly the dynamiter,
were lying unconscious and face down just off the main shaft. Bill and the old timer drug them out to the air and began to wash their
faces with cold water in order to revive them. How they had survived the blast was a miracle. Bill showed great leadership and stamina
for one so young in age.
“Wha, What happened” John inquired as he gained consciousness.
He was a tall, sturdy individual of Cornish stock. His graying hair stood out on all sides from the ordeal he had just endured. At
first appearance Bill doubted his job prospects.
“You were trapped inside the adjoining shaft
and was knocked unconscious by the blast the old timer informed him. If it hadn’t been for this young feller happening along and helped
me to get you out in a hurry, you’d a been a goner sure.”
The dynamiter was finally aroused and
began looking sheepishly around as he realized what had happened. Mr. Wilding had only hired the man, Shep Thomas, the day before
and had taken his word that he knew how to handle explosives. The truth being known, he was not a dynamiter at all and had never worked
in a mine except for reading magazines on the subject. His weasel like features told that he would do anything to obtain a job.
Needless to say John Wilding was furious. He ordered the man to leave the diggings immediately and not even stop to get any pay. Shep
Thomas sneaked away crestfallen and defeated.
“And who might you be, young man, and what brought
you up here so early this morning?” John inquired.
I’m Bill Evans and a young lady told me yesterday
that you might be doing some hiring here”, so here I am”, was Bill’s reply to the foreman.
it looks like you already have a job, young man, so help old Hoag here clean up the area and see me as soon as you are finished”.
“I’ve got to go see old Doc Jones about this ringing in my ears”.
In truth, the shock of the
blast had damaged John’s ear drums and he had the ringing for quite a while afterward.
to be a willing and able worker. He was taught by John Wilding himself the art of blasting the rock face to produce the most ore.
He was a quick learner and never refused an assignment no matter how hard it seemed to appear. Outside of small cave-ins, there was
never another as severe as the one in which John Wilding was injured. In fact, He became a favorite of the foreman and was later invited
up to his home to meet his family. Bill, being a little shy, was finally convinced to go one evening to see the Wilding family.
As Bill arrived, who should greet him at the front door, but the girl who had directed him to the mine in the first place.
“Wy, what’re you doing here?” Bill stammered.
“I live here” Anna replied flippantly, “My father
is the foreman of the mine.”
Woe is me, Bill thought as he was directed into the living room
where he was greeted by Mrs. Wilding and Anna’s younger sister, Jenny. There was one older brother, Bob, who was away at college in
“And how are you, young man? Mrs. Wilding inquired.
“I’m doing pretty well.” Bill weakly replied.
“You’re looking very healthy, so the mining business
must be agreeing with you, won’t you come on in and join us at the Supper table?”
Bill was perfectly
willing to do this drooling as he saw a turkey with all the trimmings. He was completely weary of his own cooking and living in a
Afterward, Bill was welcome at the Wilding home anytime. He and Anna became very friendly
, insomuch that when Anna turned eighteen, he asked for her hand in marriage.
I know that I am
not the richest man in the diggings but I will do everything I can to make a good living for Anna and myself. Bill thought afterward.
Secretly, he had saved every penny he could rake and scrape and had a sizeable nest egg to show
for it. He had moved up in the company and had proved to them that he was capable of most any task. He yearned for the day that he
could go back to the oasis and begin building his little spread. He had rented a small acreage just outside Sundown where he kept
a few head of cattle and a few extra horses with accoutrements as he had plans to leave just as soon as he was able to make the break.
Every time any disgruntled miner left the diggings, he was able to trade for a cow here, a horse there until he had acquired several
head of livestock. He and Anna had discussed this many times as they had courted and finally married. Such are the dreams of the young.
A year passed, and as summer approached Bill and Anna decided to leave the town of Sundown for
good. Mrs. Wilding was terribly disappointed as was John Wilding. Remembering how that they too had left Missouri and all that was
good, they relented.
Mrs. Wilding remembered the terrible loneliness as a young bride. Her inner
strengths had sustained her.
John had been a very ambitious man, had studied mining, gained a
degree in engineering and had followed all the new strikes of ore from Colorado all the way to California, finally ending up in Sundown.
There had been lean years, fat ones and mostly just making a living. This strike in Sundown had been the best years of their lives.
Mrs. Wilding had warned Anna of the loneliness!! She had given Anna her own Bride’s Bible to
read and gain consolation in the future. Loneliness is a terrible, ghostly apparition that can completely encompass an individual.
Mrs. Wilding had also noticed that Anna, when left alone for any length of time became totally unreasonable with a tendency toward
harming herself. She had also noticed the far-away look in Anna’s eyes and had there been a psychologist in the mining community,
he would have diagnosed Anna as having a mild case of depression. Mrs. Wilding did not confide this to Bill for fear it would reduce
Anna’s chances for happiness and would also hurt the young man deeply.
Bill had been buying tin
roofing, cutting poles and shaping them into a cabin, and storing them for a year or two.
poles are now seasoned enough to be used for a cabin without any shrinkage. I can use the clay alongside the spring to daub the cracks.
I found some batting to be used for insulation,” He explained to Anna.
He already knew the harshness
of the prairie winters.
He had obtained a couple of large Conestogas for the purpose of transporting
the building materials to his oasis. Everything being set, they left Sundown in early summer on a Sunday, just as the sun began blazing
in the east.
Anna divined that somehow she was not making the right decision, but she had committed,
and she was not one to go back on her word, besides that, she was stubborn like her father. The young feel somehow that they are indestructible.
This was one time she would show her independence to the utmost.
Loneliness somehow enshrouded
her being as they started the long trek to Bill’s oasis. She had tucked her little Bible inside her coat. Her mother had told her
to read it if she began to feel lonely. The old hound dog, that Bill had bought for Anna, lazed softly by the wagon wheels. The two
drovers that Bill had hired to herd the animals to their new homestead were small consolation to her, as they were too busy to notice
As Bill headed west, he began veering slowly northwest toward his oasis. The horses had
been handpicked for endurance and stamina. He had chosen six of the best to pull the two loaded wagons. He knew, that before their
destination was reached, all their mettle would be tested.
Anna leaned into his chest and wept as they lost sight of Sundown. Her
thoughts were on her Mother and Father who had given her freedom to be whatever she chose to be, within reason. She also missed her
younger sister although they fought at times and over the silliest things.
“Well, Anna old girl,
it won’t be long until we will have our own homestead”, We’re gonna build the best little spread this side of Reno. You’ll have your
own garden and I’ll plant you some roses outside the front door, and you can decorate the cabin however you like. Soon as the young’uns
come, you’ll be so busy you won’t have time to think of going home.” This was said in a somewhat selfish tone.
“Isn’t it great that we can be on our own? It won’t be too many days until I’ll have you ALL TO MYSELF. Boy, it will sure be fun,
won’t it?” This was asked with a certain amount of uncertainty as Anna sat quietly contemplating all his words.
Outside of a couple of broken wheels and a windstorm that almost blew the tarps off the wagons, they reached the oasis after several
days of hard travel. It was much further than Bill had remembered.
The trip had been very difficult
for Anna as she was not used to sitting for long spells at a time. Sometimes she would alight and walk. This seemed to relieve some
of her anxieties and made the time go a little faster. Her heart was heavy as she first noticed the lone tree by the spring! It looked
as though it struggled greatly to survive and also was dying of loneliness.
When the two drovers
left, Anna sent a letter by them to her mom saying how great the place was. She did not dare complain or admit that her mom had been
right, revealing her independent nature once more.
Bill built corrals and shelters for the animals
as he had learned to do on his father’s farm. They shared a tent during their honeymoon period.
The next thing was to erect the cabin. Anna worked manlike as they hefted the already notched poles one atop the other. Bill had planned
the erection down to the last detail. There were windows facing both east and west to allow the sun to be of use for light and heat.
The roof was made of hand hewn pine boards with sod from around the spring to insulate them. As the sun baked the clods, they became
as hard as bricks so that there was no fear of them sliding off in a storm. The last thing Bill did, just before autumn set in, was
to hang the door. For this he used heavy oak slabs so that the door would withstand any marauding animal or, perhaps any human menace
that might happen along.
“Now we’re ready for the winter winds and snows”, Bill mused, I’m sure
this cabin will withstand anything that chooses to come against it!”
For sure the cabin was built
very snugly and was fortified to withstand any of the natural elements. The walls were at least seven inches thick with batting and
a layer of clay on the inside to insulate them against the harsh Nevada winds. The windows were fortified with shutters that could
be closed in case of a storm or any marauder. The roof was built to withstand the winter rain and snow and the sod would withstand
any fire that should come along. Bill felt very secure.
Anna on the other hand, terribly missed
her family in Sundown. They had not been able to lock out the one thing that could penetrate even the thickest walls… loneliness!
As winter set in, Bill gathered all the animals along with their young and put them into the
corrals. He had fortified the shelters to withstand the cold and snow. The stronger animals would be able to survive the harshest
winter as Bill had used forethought to bring along a load of hay. In spring, he figured he could plant enough hay and grain in the
lower pasture to tide them over the next winter. The spring was running full even though they had encountered a very hot summer. By
irrigating the land below he could grow almost anything, providing the water didn’t recede.
passed without mishap. Bill and Anna seemed to get along well even being tucked away in the small cabin. As long as Bill was around,
Anna was seemingly very happy. He had noticed that when he had ridden farther during the summer and fall, Anna had displayed a sad
pout when he returned in the late evening. He attributed this to her missing her parents and deduced that she would get over it in
time. He had not counted on the thing that was surely creeping up on the little cabin. Anna held all her feelings inside and allowed
them to gnaw at her vitals. She did not share her feelings with Bill as she feared she would anger or dismay him. Her independent
pride also played a great part in her feelings.
A few years passed and Bill began staying away
longer and more often. He was too engrossed in his own affairs to notice that Anna grew gaunt, her cheeks, once full, began to be
hollow. Her eyes began sinking further and further into their sockets. She lost weight, had no appetite and was unable to sleep for
very long intervals. When she did sleep, her dreams tormented her. She would see her mother running across the prairie with her arms
outstretched. Her sister would call her from afar. Her father’s voice resounded off the ceiling and walls. Loneliness crept in before
she or Bill even noticed it. Like a little fog it penetrated the cabin walls, going to the very soul of the young bride. During the
day, her thoughts haunted her. She became a prisoner of her own mind. She knew she was going mad as the loneliness comprised her whole
As for Bill, he thought it strange that the lone tree never bloomed. Must need
a mate, he surmised. Maybe one of these days I’ll ride far enough to find another tree to plant alongside this one.
He finally shared his thoughts with Anna. “Well, what do you think”, he asked.
“Do whatever pleases
you, if a tree makes you happy, plant one.”
Why Bill did not notice her condition was an enigma.
He did not notice her sunken cheeks. He did not see the dark holes that had become her eyes. He did not see that she had lost so much
weight. He only thought of his oasis and how he could enhance his fortunes. He never mentioned children.
All this time Anna’s bible lay on the mantle, unopened, unread, covered with dust. Her mind, tormented with loneliness, completely
enveloped her. Had she only had the fortitude to seek a diversion to her deeper thoughts, loneliness would not have overcome her.
Bill left on a Wednesday for a hunting trip to the upper ranges. He figured he could kill a couple
of deer and maybe an antelope for the winter meat. He took along a small wagon that he had built the summer before for hauling hay.
“This will be perfect for hauling any game that I can find,” he surmised.
He kissed Anna passionately as though he would not see her for some time.
“Keep up the place
while I’m gone, he instructed, maybe we can take a trip to Reno before winter sets in.” He had told her this many times since coming
to the oasis. He had not counted on the fact that his oasis had become Anna’s prison cell.
Sunday, as Bill returned, he noticed that all the corral and shed doors were open. He saw the chickens out by the spring, digging
for worms, instead of being in the chicken pen safe from coyotes. The old hound that he had brought from Sundown for Anna’s protection
while he made hunting forays, lay in a pool of blood by the front door. She had killed the old hound because she did not know how
long Bill would be gone and did not wish it to starve to death as she already had plans of her own.
Bill feared what he would find inside the cabin! He tied the horses to the hitching rail, walked sheepishly up to the open cabin door
and cautiously peered inside.
“Anna, are you ok?”
Anna’s lifeless body swung slowly in the breeze, she had found the illusive peace she sought
so passionately. An old sheet across the still uncovered rafters had become her hangman’s rope.
The tree that never bloomed had haunted her. Long nights staying alone had tormented her. Desolation had encroached upon her as a
Any consolation that Bill could have given her would have been too late. Her note explained
I have tried in many ways to tell you of my misery. I have not truly been happy all the time we have been here. I could have left
many times as you left on hunting trips, but did not want to disappoint you. It is sad that our attempt at producing a child was to
no avail. It is hard for men to understand how a woman really feels. He has all his chores to occupy his mind, she on the other hand,
has only the walls, the chickens and the old hound to talk to while you were gone. Although you promised me many times to take me
to Reno to be with others of my sex, it never happened. I am doing the only thing that my tormented mind can think to do at this time.
Please forgive me and try to understand! Your loving wife, Anna. He buried her out by the lone, fruitless tree.
Oh Anna, what have I done? I didn’t realize I had let things deteriorate to this point! What is left in life for me?
These thoughts haunted Bill as he rode for the lowlands with one purpose in mind. He was heading for the quicksand that would become
his sepulcher. As he sank into the depths, his last thoughts were, “What was I thinking? Where did I go wrong?” His old beat up Stetson
floated momentarily and was suddenly sucked into the cavern created as Bill atop his steed sank out of sight.
There is a legend in those parts that says, strange lights appear at night in the area where the cabin once stood. The lone tree withered
after Anna’s death and became a gray, lifeless sentinel. Anna’s bible lay on the mantle, unopened, unread and only a dead letter until
all Bill’s hard work became as dust.