by Roger White
The Great War is over. Well, Robert E. Lee and the other big Confederate Generals have surrendered. But the harsh feelings that brought on the war in the first place are still just as strong. They have changed to add bitterness to outrage, but they are just as strong. They are strong in both North and South, and deadly, there are mobs and violent labor strikes in the North, and mobs and lynchings in the South. And no man wants to pay attention to a woman's good ideas! They all say, "I just came home from fighting a war. I want you to be a good little girl who comforts me and stands at my side supporting me."
That's why I'm here, in the West, in Corinne Utah. I want to get away from all that bitterness back East. And, I keep coming up with neat ideas. I don't want to be standing behind someone, I want to be showing, not telling!
I've taken my first big step: I'm here as a school teacher. I got invited when I responded to a classified in my local newspaper. I want to help the world, and I don't want to do it around people that are constantly watching their neighbors and being judgmental in crazy ways. "Forty acres and a mule." pfft! where are the forty acres and the mule going to come from? It's just nuts, and the arguing about it is just nuts on both sides.
Well, now that I'm getting settled in Corinne I'm discovering I'm in a completely different world. Lots of it is good, and I'm happy I made the move, but I guess nutty thinking spreads far and wide and runs deep.
This place, Corinne, is here because they are building a railroad. Not just some local affair that runs to a nearby mine. This is a big one. It is starting in a mountain pass in the east where it connects to a line that is coming in from Wyoming and it is heading west, circling north of the Great Salt Lake, to a point where it connects with a line coming east from Elko, Nevada. It is going to be a part of a system that spans the continent. It will run from New York City on the Atlantic to San Francisco on the Pacific. Now that is a big dream! That is something I can be proud to be part of.
So I'm here teaching the children. And it's quite a mix of kids. Not surprising considering the mix of mothers and fathers that have brought them here. There are people here from all over the east, and lots from over the Atlantic, mostly from Ireland. There are also some here from the west, from California, and from over the Pacific, from China. Most speak some English, most, but with so many dialects coming from so many different places. Even with my best efforts to teach them "right" English, the school kids are developing their own pidgin English style. "Pidgin" that's a world that comes from Chinese.
The adults are here to build a railroad. I soon discovered they are also here, in this town, to be not Mormon. When I first started thinking about coming out that word "Mormon" was a strange term for me, just like Pidgin. But I quickly learned that lots of people knew what it meant and had lots of opinions on it. The opinions weren't as strong as on the local issues, like 40 acres and a mule, but they were just as opinionated. "Those are strange people, with a strange religion. They have lots of wives." I often heard -- people who said it was good or interesting were much fewer in number. I decided to go anyway. This railroad building business sounded real exciting. And here in Corinne I just get to hear about Mormons, I don't have to live with them.
Now that I'm here I am finding it exciting. The people here are real busy, and they are proud of what they are busy at. Not only are they proud, they are real relaxed about it. The town has about a thousand people, and fifteen saloons, and sixteen liquor stores. Whew! Yeah, these people like to party hearty, and I don't mind that. And they don't mind when the kids show up in the saloons and liquor stores to help with the business. Come evening many of my students become bar maids and bar boys. Come evening I head over to the local newspaper and help out there, and a couple of my older students are there with me. Yeah, this is an everyone-helps-out community.
I have found a guy. He's not just any guy but one running a saloon and thinking about running for mayor. He's got good business sense and he says he's saved some good money. All very nice in my eyes.
And, a guy has found me. He runs a wagon train that hauls stuff into Idaho. This means he's only around a few days a month, but when he is he's real sweet to me. The other guy says he has money, this guy shows me he does every time he's in town. And those eyes and hands. The eyes are deep set and deep blue, those hands feel like they could bend steel.
What's a girl to do? Do I pick one? Do I pick the other? Do I say "No, I'm a career woman!"? What's a girl to do?
The day dawned looking like trouble. It was almost November, so things were getting cold, but this day dawned warm, there was a steady south wind blowing and it was blowing in clouds from off the Great Salt Lake that was south of us. All this week birds had been migrating south, but with this strong wind blowing they took a break.
"Storm coming." advised my neighbor as I walked out for the school yard, "Take your rain clothes." I went back in and grabbed an umbrella. "No, not that, it'll be too windy." I got a rain coat instead and walked to the school with the south wind blowing my dress up in front of me.
All day in class the kids were extra bouncy and rowdy -- I'm guessing it was the weather. But it stayed just windy so they could let off all that extra energy outside during recesses -- I gave them two that day.
The restless kids were no surprise. The surprise was the band of twelve riders that road into town while the kids were on their second recess. They were scruffy-looking, even scruffier than the cowhands who came to town while their herds grazed nearby, and they clearly weren't in the cow business. They had pistols on their hips, rifles in their saddles, and something else on their minds.
They looked like trouble from the get-go. They rode in fast with lots of whooping and shouting. They were ready to have a good time, but it might not be so good for the town folk. So as they rode in I shouted across the playground, "KIDS... KIDS... RECESS IS OVER." It took like what seemed an eternity but I got all the kids back in the classroom in less than five minutes. Whatever was going to happen, I wanted the kids safe, and now they were. "Get out your drawing books." I said, and then I walked outside to see what this scruffy crew was up to.
As they road up to in front of the bank and the general store, the sheriff walked out in the street and confronted them. I was too far off to hear what was being said, but I could see the scruffy men look around after he started talking. I looked too. There were about twenty men in the windows of the buildings on both sides of the gang, and they were all armed with rifles.
Seeing this, the gang mellowed out real quickly. They stopped their shouting and whooping, put their guns away, got off their horses, and spread out into two and threes to go into the nearby saloons. When they were inside, the sheriff waved to the men in the windows and everyone went back to being busy with their usual work.
The next day dawned cold and rainy. The wind had switched to the north but was much gentler now. It was a quiet morning. Before I started class I talked to the sheriff. I was sensing I had a story here for our newspaper. He told me, "We got a telegraph message from Promontory that this crew was on the way. They had caused some trouble there, so we got prepared. They didn't cause any trouble, here... any extra trouble, that is, three of them are in the jail right now sleeping things off."
"Oh... and thank you for keeping the kids clear, Ma'am. That made our negotiating a lot easier." he tipped his hat to me, "Let me know if I can be of any assistance to you in the future." He walked off for the sheriff's office, and I walked back to the school, as I was thinking how to write up the newspaper article.
This is a good town to be part of.