It was about August when I first seen signs of things changin’ in Judas Gulch. About that time was the first appearance of our very own Gospel Shark, Luther Brown. This man was like a travelin’ salesman of the One True Gospel, makin’ his way up an’ down the Consumniss and Mowkalummee, the American an’ the Towollomee, makin an ass of himself, but bringin’ the word of the one true god to us tough customers.
Some of us, of course, were a bit partial to some good Sundy talk, but most of us perferred our Sundys to git stuff done was no other time fer in the week, like laundry, er settin’ up the grub fer the week ahead, er, if they wuz like Jamjob, runnin' off a few jugs. Ain’t no way you could git a quorum of mens from any compnee to go hear no gospel shark, but this particklar one set hisself up outside Ollarud’s on Main Street, and I guess weren’t no way nobody in town could avoid havin’ to face that as they went in ta git thar uszhul pizen.
I was amongst these, that day, who was pleasantly strolling the street, on my way to the Peter Eye, when I sees the crowd gathered around this particklar gospel shark an his wagon. He’s got har like Henry Clay— that is, sideboard and all haywire, an’ he’s wearin' good cloth cut well and straight like drainpipes, an’ hes got hisself a fancy tie, and coat, and durn if it weren’t near ninety nine degrees thar in the hot sun, an’ this man ain’t even fit to shake a wet dog end at.
Anyway. He begins his leckcher I suppose it were on Sodom and Gummora. How vishusly evil men like Ollarud is, to lay sech temptations before fools such as us, and we sech fools as to fall fer the bait, ever time. I culda said a few words to him about how good it was we had a Ollarud at all har in Judas Gulch. But I set back and lissened.
Itinerant preachers were a dime a dozen in the rollicking and roustabout shantytowns of the Gold Country. Having heard there was gold to be had, and knowing that along with gold, comes greed, the scourge of all devout men’s minds and hearts, the preachers came West in order to find more sheep to bring to the fold. Whether or not there would be much incentive to listen, actually, the preachers took no heed. Because, those with souls to save are never well concerned with whether heed is truly paid, the more important thing is the preaching itself—that these ears might hear and know of the threat of damnation, that was the first point.
Many varieties there were, and most comprised of the Protestant variety, and within that, many varieties themselves. Perhaps the strangest of these were the Mormon variation.
Not content with having taken a large portion of Eastern Nevada as their Goshen, a number of Mormon missionaries joined the fervent rush West to claim the souls of the gold-minded. And also, earn a bit of gold along the way themselves, for the Lord doth help who help themselves. Helping themselves to the Lord’s bounty was indeed the prime goal of most whites breaking the land and peoples of the West. The pure prairie lands rich with grasses and deep top soils generations nourished by the trains of buffalo and tilled by the numerous prairie dog ground squirrels, would eventually be cordoned off, filled with sheep, cattle corn and wheat, and the great seas of tall grass bisected by the iron horse. Men like Stanford and Morgan would make their fortunes skimming from the top of the heap. The railroads would change everything, though in Pat’s day, this was all only the beginning. But never you mind that. In Pat’s time it was a battle for the heathen’s soul and the battle for the lustful, god forsaking miner’s souls, that drew men like Luther Brown.
On the side of the Gospel Shark’s wagon was painted a holy cross and thar were a notion cupboard beneath the buckboard he offin pulled out to make a point, or perhaps, maybe he’d take a pull off one o’ them bottles. Then he’d have the curij ta git up an’ prattle.
“You men of Judas Gulch,” he began, “You who are long for the home and safety of the pure love of the Holy Ghost! Hear me, you lost sheep of the mighty nation of God! I Luther Brown have come to heal your sore sorry souls and give you a home in the Rock! Yes, for He who is the light and life of the world has given unto me the key to the kingdom, and I call all who wish to come aboard, give up your wicked ways!”
The sound of this man railing away thar in the center of Main Street was such a notion and novelty thet soon he had everone what was around if not on the street then lookin’ out thar windows ta him. And he held up his Bible in his right hand as he took a nip off whatever thet pizen wuz in his notional rostrum and proceeded to set us all straight as to our wicked sins.
“You have been far from the goodwife of the Savior, you have nestled in the breast of wicked licentiousness and cruel ignorance of the gentle beating, bleating heart of the Lamb of God. For Jesus knows your hearts dear miners! He knows how you lust to be rich and make of thyselves an oasis upon the earth— the Earth that the Devil rules, not God! Yes, this wicked Earth which is not thy true home, it but a dream in your mind’s eye to confuse you. God has made a paradise but you and all those around you partake of misery and greed! You chop the land to pieces looking for smaller and even smaller pieces of land— your pathetic little specks of gold! How many of you know how small and seemingly worthless your soul truly is to the Great Deceiver, the one who tells you those lies in your dreams, and gives you all those dreams of wanton lust and lording over your fellow men? How many of you ever ask yourselves “Why am I here an’ why am I doing this?”
A voice sparked up, and et were Jamjob’s.
“I’m here to make a pile and move along! Eff you hed eny sense you would gitcher self gone too, Gospel Shark!”
And Jamjob punctoowated his words with a shot of his cap and ball, someplace off toward the forst and river.
Thet did not dissuade Luther Brown none, however.
“I hear your voice, lost in the wilderness! You wish only to have enough gold that you should not lack for anything. But how long does your gold ever last, truly? Your gold is spent on the first trip to the big city, or the first trip to the whorehouse, or the wiskyman’s barroom, or the gambler’s table! You never think of those who might have wished you “stay here with us, at home, dear loves, we your daughters, wives, and mothers! You have forsaken us and our ways for the outlaw mercenary lives of freebooters” Admit it! You have given the good graciousness of your mothers and wives for the hard, lustful, murderous road of sin!”
“Works fer me!” yelled Jamjob.
“I tell you your soul is in mortal danger,” went on Luther Brown, looking down at Jamjob with a spittle of contempt dripping from his chin hairs.
“Your souls are in mortal danger for you fly from the Comforter to the arms of the Tempter! Of course, he would have you! He would give you the easy way out, yes, he would give you ten sacks full of it, if he could but keep a lease upon it! And where will you be then lost sheep? You will be torn to shreds by his minions, that wait for you with pincers of hot iron, coals of white sulphur, to rip you seamways from your fundament to your wicked mouths, filling the interim with the ever-burning brimstones of hell, for you hear not what I say, you hear not your kind and gentle Savior’s message, and you hear only the wicked voices of your guilty consciences...”
“What’s in it fer us?” Jamjob agin.
“What’s in it for you? Why my poor soul, the very gates of Paradise and forgiveness, the rest and merciful comforts of those forsaken souls you left behind in Boston, your wives, mothers, and daughters! Civilization indeed, you scoundrels, you forsakers of the good!”
“Seems like we were gittin along OK without you ‘til you showed up, Luther Brown!”
Jamjob had gathered a small group of other men who were in apparent total agreement.
“Do you wish a blanket of tar and feathers, then, Luther Brown? For I have a posse here that can oblige ye!”
Luther Brown took a look at the gathering crowd, and weighed his odds. He climed down from the buckboard, stowed away his patent medicine, laid his Bible sadly to rest beside his hat, and stirred his horses. The sight of the buckboard drivin’ off down the main street gave Jamjob and the others a real reason ta cheer. Then we all went inta Ollaruds temple of sin and celebrated our victry.
Now MacDavish come by my cabin one Sundy night ta tell me a very strange story he had about Luther Brown. This wood have been about a week er two after he first showed up, an’ Jamjob an’ his crowd runned him off. Well, MacDavish shore had a story for me.
Et seems thet jes that mornin’ he had picked up his sack o’ dust and set off ta visit Millie, you know, Ollarud’s purty little waiter girl? Well Millicent is an entrepid nurial woman, fer shore, an’ MacDavish has been quite in the habit of makin’ her compnee on Sundys the best he can.
An’ this day, you see, he trucked himself all duded up down t’ Ollaruds, had himself a Fire Eye with Soda at the bar, and then went up ta Milie’s room ta see her since she wern’t noplace in the bar as uszhul.
And he went up ta Millie's door an’ knocketed, but thar warn’t no ansir. And he pressed his ear aginst the door and shore enuf he heard thar were some ackshun going on in thar, the kind you don’t tell yer mama about. He felt rather impinged upon and so took it to himself ta knock.
Thar wuz no ansir so he pounded some. Then thar wuz a big noise like some discommodious persons was wakin up to the fack thar wuz someone, in fack, at the door, and he heard Millie complainin’ in her wheezy voice, “Whose thar!?”
“Why it’s me, Jim MacDavish, Millie! I come to take yer compnee as uszhul fae the aftairnoon.”
“Not now Jim, I’se busy!”
“Yep, I betchoo you ez,” he ansirs.
Then the door bust open and dang if he did not see old Luther Brown, a gatherin’ up his duds, and hastily rushing up his spenders and them garterbelts on his socksa’ flappin’ and holdin’ his shoes in his hands, old Luther Brown come bustin outta thar and heads off down the hallways.
“Heh! Eyenchoo thet Gospel Shark, thet new man?”
“I reckon he’s shore a new man alright” says Millicent. “I guess I gots me the scars ta prove it too.”
“Why, what did he do ter ye, Millie?”
“What did he do? What, my didn’t he try ta do! Thet man is sick! So unnatcherl. I cannot repeat it, James.”
She wuz speckin’ her face with a hankerchif and sose we ought not say much about thet. One kin only imajin the hopped up thangs thet Gospel Sharks have lurkin’ in there hard prudenchul harts. But she calmed down, and once he had her up on her feet, MacDavish take her down to th’ bar an’ buys her her own Fire Eye and Soda.
“Much obliged, dear James. You are a true gennulman.”
MacDavish an’ Millie set thar at the bar an’ drank about four of them apiece, and then he squires her back ta her room where I spoze she gives him the real personul bizness agin. But now the word is out about old Luther Brown.
Some of the boys what wuz thar with Jamjob thet first day sez, we orter organize in a posse agin, an’ go find old Luther Brown an’ show him whut is whut fer. Nobody degrades our Milicent Vermouth, now, ya hear?
But MacDavish sez he would not hear none of this cuz thet Gospel Shark’s soul is now tainted meat an’ thar aint no tainted meat a man like thet kin ever ketch agin, outta the goodness of God, once he hez fallen thus lowly.
I greed with him and he set hisself own at my farplace an’ we cooked areselves a good batch of taters an’ cabbij an’ I slopped it over with some good chicken gravy, and MacDavish broke out his own wisky flask so we drank a few shots to Millie’s health as well.
Now I gots to tell ye about how things came to crackers an’ crums with the Compnee.I spoze ets partly me an’ Transom to blame, but eff that’s true then it ain't no less Suthrun and Jamjob’s fault too. Come to the idear of Californee becoming a genyoowine state. Should Californee be a Free Soyl state, or Slavery state? Well I reckon I guess you know already how them two boys was feelin’ like votin’ on this, but the real choice weren’t up to them, it were in the State govermint and DeeCee. You had old Henry Clay back thar making the big Pacification out of things, makin’ one half a’ Misery one way, Half a’ Kansas an’ Nebraska the nex, yew had Arkansaw ‘bout to jump heat with them old boys about catchin’ all the slaves they could, you had the Dread Scott decision, war these runaway slaves was had to be sent back inta chains.
Thar was a man a bit like our town’s ol’ Gospel Shark, but more refined, Uneeversultarian minister name of Thomas Starr King. He wuz the voice of human kindness personified, he was. I wuz up in Hangtown one time afore the Statehood came about. I readed some magnificent splenderous pamphlet Mr. King wrote all about the Slavery was a human crime an’ about how wicked this were, keepin’ men fer no wages to work like them was animules.
Suthrun and Jamjob was of a differnt pinion.
“Hell, them are animules,” Suthrun reckoned. “All of them darkies- you call em- Niggers, Chinks, Injuns, Chillymen, Kanakas— ever body was ever born was not a good standing upright white man is by God a son of Cain, and has been curset worse than Adam, to work the fields like a jackass.”
“I seen jackasses do better than some Chinamens,”sez Jamjob.
Jamjob flecked a gob of spit out with his toothpick, and scratched at some slows under the rolled up sleeve of his flannels.
This particular conversation was also overheared by Nicletto. Nicletto, bein' Eyetalian, and bein’ one of the quiet men around the Long Tom most days anyhow, he wanted to know if he were considered a white man, too, or somethin’ Else. I guess half a summer sweatin’ and sunburned under the hot Judas Gulch sun had turned him a fair shade of olive awl.
Jamjob sat back and took a few sniffs, steppin’ round Nicletto like a dog tryin’ t’ figger a sage hen’s nest, and he laughs, an’ says “Well, I reckon you can be an honorary white man, Nicletto, but you smell shore like a garlic patch, an’ your baird needs a decent shave. Hawhaw!”
Nicletto he did not take none too good to that.
“Honorary white man? Transome, MacDavish, Maclokenahee, you hears this? Honorary white man, he-a calls me! Why a son of a son of a son of Rome, eff I hain’ta no white man, you’re a sack o’ shit!”
And no sooner were it said, than Nicletto has Jamjob by the ear and JamJob is doin his durndest to try an’ reach fer his own pistol, like to put a ball right in Nicletto’s head, but MacDavish come up from behind and trips and flips him over, Nicletto he runs back to his cabin like to maybe git his own gun, er somethin, and Suthrun starts abackin off.
“Now I mean to say this, Mister Suthrun,” goes on MacDavish. “You hold to the idear that a person of colored skin is somehow an animule, do you?”
“I does,” says Suthrun.
“I says you gives the animules a bad name yourself! Why if blood ain’t red an’ brains ain’t grey ever man is the same beneath that skin! God gave us all skin to match our ‘vironments. Injun had Merica, and Merica, was made far th’ red man. Black man wuz made far Aferca, an’ yellow Man was made far Canton! Each of us is leven’ on stolen ground! Stolen!”
“Now jessaminit,” says Suthrun, who can see Nicletto now coming fast back from his cabin, only he ain’t got no gun, but he do have his minin’ pick, and he looks purty steamed up.
“Jessaminit. I did not steal this ground I work on! I boughts it, jes’ like you done, an’ all of us hear, from Mr. Fremont an’ Mr. Sutter. This whole area up an down the San Wockeen done been bought an’ paid fer from the Spanish. An’ Merica won it all from ‘em anyhow en the furst place. So don’t tell me...”
“Mister Suthrun, I urge you to be calm. Here comes Mister Nicletto, and I suggest you make some peace with him. Our enterprise is more important than our differences of mind as to free state or slave state. It’s one great sate, it’s great, an’ we will all be free, goddamnit!
Jamjob had gone for his Fugitive Justice jug, and was slobbering from a large gulp, presumably he had recourse there because if it came to a fight with Nicletto, his courage mght be fiercer summoned.
Then Nicletto returns.
“Well what is it to be’s then, my friends-a? Does Mester Suthrun and Mester Jamjob wish-a to have tooth a-picked? I shall oblige...”
It must have been the will of a angel or somethin’ just then cause right then, it was, Jamjob his eyes rolled up inna his haid, and he flip on the ground like a grillin sardine, an’ his arms an’ legs is flailin an’ kickin, an’ he’s yellin, “they’re here! they’re here!”
“Who’s here?” says the five of us, now we are lookin down on him and he is wild eyed, crazy, tremblin’ and shiverin’.
“The valkeerees! Odin, Thor, Loki, Balderdash, Roncillus, Regulus, woe!”
We all looked at each other. We new fer sartin wut it wuz. Jamjob had the jimjams!
“Somebody take that there jug awee fa’ him. He ain’t no good far a fight. Ye gae, Suthrun, ye come back tomarra.” said MacDavish. It semed for the moment, leadership of our company were now up to him. Ets times lak thet I swear I loves havin’ a Scotsman fightin’ on my side.
Meanwhiles, Jamjob’s jimjams had not really petered out yet. He still stared, slack jawed, lak a pitcher I seen one time of the old King a Babylon, Nebbookednezzer. Wild and haunted, he starred up at somethin beyond a bility o’ any of us to comprehend, but it were clear he were in fear and trembling.
Eff I did not believe in angels I might say he were not only jimjamming but he were a ver’table prisner of these outworldly riders in his magination.
But then he came to. He snapped. It were almost like he were a balloon thet popped an’ come trailin' back down t’ earth. Soon Jamjob were semi-normal, and me, Suthrun, Transom and MacDavish, we all picked him up by the all fours an’ carried him back to Suthrun’s cabin.
MacDavish capped off the still, and the jug of Justice was laid back to rest beneath the cupboard, and we left Suthrun thar settin on his own bed, washin’ Jamjob’s head with a cold wet rag.
“Ferocious ones, eh, Jammy?”
“Boy, you should have been there.”
“I was, Jammy, I was. and you know what I thinks?”
“I thinks you need to leave Missus Likkers alone for a while.”
Jamjob, fer once, contented hisself to the voice of a better man’s reason, nodded his head, and they both set there lying in their stew, as the rest of us all got finished cleanin’ the sluice for the night, and took the pans down to MacDavish’s place to dry out the color. It jes were one of them days!