Miners Gotta Eat

“Me and Joe didn’ come alla way out here jus’ to cook for no white men,” Frank Edwards grumbled as he slammed dirty dishes into the hotel sink. “You’d think we was still slaves in Kentucky.”

“You be only eighteen,” Louis the cook said. He positioned a pan of potatoes on the wooden table and picked up the pealing knife. “And what’s Joe, twenty three? You all have plenty o’ time.”

Joe Williams came in the door with an armload of firewood. “I here tell there’s a gold claim for sale in Humbug Gulch,” he told Frank as he dumped the wood into the bin next to the stove. “They askin’ seventy-five dollars.”

Frank’s hands stopped moving in the dishwater. “You reckon we got enough?”

Louis looked up from his potatoes. “You two listen to me and you listen good,” he said sharply. “You go to minin’ and you’re gonna lose every penny you have. Miners gotta eat, even when they so broke they sellin’ their claims. Stick to feedin’ ’em and you’ll do better in th’ long run.”

Frank and Joe looked at each other and shrugged. “We don’t got enough anyway,” Joe said. He jerked his head sideways, toward Louis. “An’ the old man has a point.”

“You better watch who you callin’ an old man,” Louis said gruffly. “And that wood box ain’t full enough yet, neither. Not by a long shot.”

Copyright © 2016 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Brotherly Love, 5 of 5: Resolution

Pauli had never seen his father Steven weep. He had been grief-stricken but tearless when Pauli’s mother died. It had been expected and there was relief that her pain was over.

Now, the twenty-year-old sat at the old wooden table in the tiny log cabin and felt the older man’s hands tremble in his. “My brother is dead,” his father muttered. He nodded at the piece of paper on the table between them. “Herman is dead.”

Pauli released his father’s hand and reached for the paper. It was a will, in English, signed and witnessed. He squinted in the poor light. It left the house and three Elizabethtown District mining claims to Steven, then to Pauli and his sister after Steven’s death. At the bottom of the paper were two sentences, scrawled in German. “I understand,” they said. “She was a good woman.”

Pauli’s father covered his face and wept.

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Brotherly Love, Part 4 of 5 – Consequences

“Here’s the sugar and the coffee,” Pauli said as he entered the tiny log cabin.

His mother was sitting by the fire nursing the baby. “Danke,” she said, smiling at him. The English he spoke so easily was still difficult for her, even after eight years in New Mexico Territory.

“Mr. Pearson asked me how my Uncle Herman was getting along,” Pauli said. “Does he mean old Herman the miner?”

His mother gave him a puzzled frown and he repeated his question in German. The door behind him opened as he spoke.

His father came in with an armful of firewood and boy and woman looked up at him.

“He is my brother,” his father said stiffly. “He don’t talk to us.”

“Why, Papa?”

His parents exchanged glances.

“He don’t, is all,” his father said. He turned to the woman. “Is this enough firewood for the dinner?”

opyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

BROTHERLY LOVE – 3 of 5, The Marriage

 

Herman waited anxiously for his bride and his brother to arrive in Elizabethtown from Denver. After two weeks went by, he began to worry. Was Gertrude sick? Had an accident befallen Peter on his way to collect her?

Then a letter arrived. The messenger delivered it while Herman was drinking at the bar in Herburger’s Saloon. He tore it open and began to read, then groped blindly for a chair. He read it again. The men around him fell silent as Herman’s face grew more ashen.

“Your bride take sick?” Gordy the bartender asked. “Or Pete?”

Herman passed his hand over his face, then looked around.

“He married her,” he said. “They’re coming back now.”

Someone started to laugh, then stopped abruptly.

Herman got up and walked to the door. Then he turned. “I’ll be in my new house,” he said. “Tell Peter and Gertrude they can—have the cabin.”

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

BROTHERLY LOVE, 2 of 5: The Errand

When Peter entered the small log cabin he shared with his brother in Elizabethtown, Herman was washing dishes. “I got a message,” Herman said abruptly. “Gertrude, she is in Denver.”

“That’s good!” Peter said heartily.

Herman shook his head anxiously. “I am not ready,” he said. “The house, it is not finished, and this cabin is not fit for a woman.”

Peter shrugged. “She will make it right, the way she wants it.”

Herman shook his head. “It should be right for her,” he insisted. “I am not ready.”

Peter turned away.

“Will you go for her while I make it ready?” Herman asked.

Peter paused, staring at the wall of roughly caulked logs. “I suppose that would be possible,” he said slowly. He turned to face his brother. “I can start in two days.”

Herman smiled in relief. “Thank you!” he said gratefully. “I thank you!”

Peter nodded unhappily.

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

BROTHERLY LOVE, 1 of 5: The Proposal

Herman bent carefully over the precious paper. “Dear Gertrude,” he wrote in German. “Pete and me are in Elizabethtown, New Mexico Territory. We are cutting timbers for the miners and making good money. I have enough for land and a house. The grass is good and summers are pleasant. I am sending the money for your passage. Please come soon.”

The young woman in the tiny Austrian village who received this letter considered it thoughtfully. She wasn’t sure she loved this man. His brother was more pleasant to talk to. But marrying him meant she could leave poverty behind.

Gertrude began her preparations, then wrote her own letter. “Dear Herman,” it said. “I begin my journey in twelve days. My uncle says to go to Denver, then send for you to collect me. I will write again when I arrive.”

Herman’s heart sang with joy when he read these words.

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Beaver Tale – 4 of 4

“I ain’t gonna place a trap for that beaver, son.” Old Pete and the boy were resetting a garden fence post. Andrew held it steady as Old Pete shoveled dirt into the hole.

“Alma said you need a new hat.”

The old man chuckled. “Hat’s good fer another season or two.”

“But what then?”

“Somethin’ll turn up.”

“You said beaver tail was tasty.”

Old Pete leaned on his shovel. “Funny thing ’bout that. Only really tasted good when there was plenty to trap an’ the peltries were sellin’ high.” He began tamping down the dirt around the post with his foot. “You think this’ll be strong enough t’keep those elk out?”

“I hope so. Mama got pretty mad at them last spring. She was out here with the shot gun, but Papa said all she did was scare ’em. They’ll be back when they’re hungry enough.”

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson