Nebraska Center for Writers

TRAIL TROUBLE
by RAINEY POLK

I HAD TRIED MY HAND at many a thang by time I settled myself out on the Nebraska prairie. I growed up in the South. Just where, it ain't safe to say. I planted cotton for a time, 'til cotton went down. I farmed turkeys, 'til I cudn hardly stand the sight of 'em. I trained a jumpin' mule for the carnival, 'til the dang thang up and died on me. I even tried my hand at riverboat gambling, but I never was much for cheatin' a feller. I been up and I been down in my life. I supped at the elbow of King Midas hisself, and I been pritner ruint to the price of yestiddy's biskit. But it wadn't 'til I turned my hand to adventurin' that I found my true callin'. People say I opened up the West. I say, "Tosh!" Warn't only me. Thar's a couple other fellers what helped.
This's back when I was a young spud, in the days when I first got the wild hair to be a wagon master. One day I saddled my paint and rode out 'long the Platte, jist to spy out the trail some, see iffen I could lead folks west without turnin' them all into buzzard's breakfast. I rode and I rode. I rode so far I lost track of time. The Plains stretched out like very perdition. The days hitched up each to each in one long train of misery. I was feelin' plenty sorry and low-down 'bout thangs, thinkin' I was happier livin' off twelve-cent cotton than ever I'd be in the adventurin' business, when suddenly, shots rang out.
I jumped off my paint and skootched us both down in a patch of prairie grass, thar being no better cover to be had. The shots were comin' from a few lonesome boulders up ahead, which was a mighty trick for somebody to find, that part of Nebraska being mostly flatter than the bottom of a clean skillet. Then, of course, the injun would 'a knowed the best bushwackin' spots for catchin' unwary travelers. Thet's what I 'member thinkin', anyway — how some dad-blamed idjit must 'a traded his Winchester to some savage, and now here I was payin' the price. I emptied my Colt in the direction of those boulders, but it warn't no good. That old redskin was out of range, and he knowed it. His bullets flew by me like angry bees, and I jist lay thar behind my horse gittin' madder'n a mean dog. So mad that, when I run out of ammonishun, I jist up and flung that Colt toward the rocks. One of them bees bit me then, jist drilled right into my shoulder and out t'other side, and I dropped like a sack o' soggy flour.
The red man fired a few more shots. When I didn't fire back, he must of figured me for dog meat, so he come out from behind the rocks and headed toward me, eager to finish the job.
By time he reached me, I was lyin' on my back, arms akimbo, the life jist oozin' out my shoulder wound. I's right 'bout one thang and wrong 'bout t'other. It was a Winchester, but it warn't no red man. No, come to find, he's white as old Mr. Moon. Folks talk and talk 'bout blood-thirsty injuns an' sech, but I'll tell you what — I never had one-tenth the trouble from them as what I had from the so-called fine, upstandin' Christian types. And that's the God's truth of it.
Feller was next to me now, wondrin' did he need to waste 'nother bullet on me, when I come up all sudden like with a little derringer and plugged him two times in the chest. It warn't enough to kill 'im, but it set 'im down some. I got to my feet, kicked the Winchester out his hand, and then — boy howdy — I commenced to lecturin' on him like thar was no tomorrow.
"See this purty thang?" I said, holdin' out the derringer whar he could see it. "It's a holdover from my gamblin' days. I kept it thinkin' I might need it sometime 'gainst a no-count like you."
That old boy just sat there in the dirt lookin' down at the two red holes in his dirty shirtfront. His pie hole was workin' but no words was comin' out.
Lord knows, I's so mad I'd a-kilt him, 'cept I's out of bullets. And it ain't respectable to shoot a man with his own gun.

from Trail Trouble by Rainey Polk
WD Peterson and Sons, Publishers, 1883

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