The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume V, Number 3, Pages 24-29
This is the fourteenth in a series of legendary recollections of the Northwest written by Lynn A. Hull, who was a lumberjack for many years. The stories, written in the form of letters to his son, take place in the 1920's and 1930's.
Remember me telling about the four mile trail up the river to the moonshiner's that Silent Bill used to travel in getting his daily quota of liquor? Well, this trail has now become a well-beaten thoroughfare. This moonshiner has three daughters, who are fast growing into womanhood, and he is no exception to any of the fathers I've known when it comes to guarding his girls from the temptations that are put in their way.
He has said: "These girls will never leave my fireside unless I so desire. The man who lures or entices them away will git his damn fool head blowed off." And he meant every word.
He doesn't have to worry about his girls and me having anything to do with each other. Long ago I eyed them over, and each fell way short of any of my desires in a woman. The oldest is around twenty years, I think, and moves and looks as though she is forty. She is also around six feet tall and quite angular. So I took a look at the second - about eighteen years old, not too bad in looks or weight. However, after hearing her talk just once, one fact stood out very plain. She doesn't have all her marbles. The youngest well, she is only thirteen years old and has a long way to go to even look or shape up as a woman. All three are wrong for me, and all three are very safe in my presence. But there was someone who cared - and someone from our camp. About the middle of summer we all learned about a romance that had blossomed right under our noses without anyone being wiser.
Along in August one of the rigging crew asked if he could borrow the company's small boat with its outboard motor. He wanted to run down the river to meet some friends who were vacationing there and doing a little fishing. Not seeing any harm I agreed to the loan but he was to have the boat back before sundown. That was fine with him. So I opened the tool room and he carried off the motor. I watched him go down to the boat and then I forgot him for awhile.
But a few hours later I saw him again. He was standing down by the boat dock with his hand shading his eyes and looking up the river. I looked up there too but didn't see anything. Later on I looked at him out of the window. All at once he started jerking on the starter and got the motor going. Still he stayed by the float, looking up the river. I looked up there again and here came a female down that trail on a dead run. She got in that boat and away it went down the river with a roar, but not before I had a good look, and recognized her as Lily, the second girl of that moonshiner's.
Then I heard a rifle fire and looked up the river. There was "Pappy" and his six sons all lined up on the bank firing their rifles. I thought to myself, "Well, isn't that sweet of that bunch to send their girl off with a seven gun salute. She is evidently getting married. That was evident too in that brief look I had of her. What a wonderful celebration."
Then, and only then, did I notice that they weren't firing their guns up in the air but right straight at our company boat. By George, it's one thing firing at people, but trying to wreck company property, that was different. I nearly tore down the door getting out to speak my mind to those dirty, lousy backwoods tramps. But as the boat went around the bend out of sight, they shouldered their rifles without even a neighborly, "Howdy" and went back up the trail towards their home.
About 4 months later, when in town on business, I met Lily on the street. She had a baby in her arms. "Well, Lily, how's married life?"
"Fine and how's yours? I'm single again, I'm not married. Why don't you go and get Kate?" (the oldest and ugliest).
"Let's forget it Lily, I don't want to get married."
"That's funny, ain't you even got a little hankerin?"
"Nope, and no more talk about it. What is your baby?"
"Nope, guess again." "Girl?"
"Aw, somebody tole yah."
Well, I bid her so long and went on my way, wondering now who said who was halfwitted. Even I, who I thought was half smart, couldn't even guess the sex of a child without going through all sexes. Well, I don't know now what I'm saying or trying to tell. By George, I'm going back to camp - no females to confuse me there.
We are wintering in town again. We had company for a few days and who do you suppose it was: The two oldest sons of the moonshiner came to visit their sister - Lily, who was married and the mother of a child, and Kate, who we were stuck with as a housekeeper. Naturally they decided to stay with us. Well, these two fine young men had been in town before, but never at night as their pappy had them back home before sundown the other three times he brought them in.
It's hard to believe that only thirty miles and a strict parent could keep young men who are in their twenties so ignorant of world events and so afraid of being around a lot of people. It was quite a task to convince them that no one would attempt to slit their throats or bump them on the head and that everyone they met wasn't just waiting to rob them of all their money. (I found out later. Pappy gave each $20.00 to spend.) Both carried their "Hawg legs" (a .45 Colt) in the waist band of their overalls and it took some real fancy talking to get them to disarm.
I pointed out how we had armed men patrolling the streets and if they were carrying their guns without a star, they would end up in the pokey and lose their money. So they reluctantly handed them over to me but said, "Don't you dare unload airy gun, we might need 'em afore long," and the two sisters, the two brothers and the baby started for Front Street to see the sights. It was quite late in the afternoon when that gang came back to the house all talking at once, all very excited and the baby crying. As they went into the kitchen I heard Kate: "You boys tidy up and I'll find something fer you to eat, if these city slickers who work me to a frazzle haven't et everything."
As chairs were scraping and dishes rattling and one of the boys telling sister Lily, "Shet thet brat up," I went to see if I could help out in any way. I wasn't needed and I didn't have a place to sit down to eat either as those sisters and brothers were sprawled all over the table and our Virginia ham was fading away fast with all the eggs we had in the house. Before I even opened my mouth Kate spoke: "Get outta the kitchen, it's jest us slaves who eat in here - you an yer big shot pardners ain't got any right shoving yer nose in here. You'll eat in the dinin' room." I got out but heard her, "You 'al gotta stand up fer yer rights in this here house or that runt would run all over you."
So I got Windy Jack and Silent Bill and we ate our dinner down at the Greek's Greasy Spoon. We stayed away from the house to a late hour as we knew that the four of them would like to visit without any of us around and anyway, it would be quiet and safer for us after Sister Lily took the two brothers over to her house for the night.
Well, we opened the door and went to our rooms to get our sleep - but it wasn't to be. Sister Lily and her offspring had taken over my room. Sister Kate was in hers - one big lout in Windy Jack's and his brother in Silent Bill's. Well, as we were kind hearted and generous hosts and wouldn't think of being so rude as to demand our rooms, we slept on the front parlor floor.
We awoke very early, stiff and sore and made our way to the kitchen just in time to see the last biscuit, the last egg, and the last of our big ham disappear forever. By George, while I was looking that darn Kate poured the last of the coffee for her brothers.
By dern I was getting mad but out the door all four of them went, and so did we - back to the Greasy Spoon and we stayed away all day, too. Early that night we went home. We got into our beds just at sundown so we would be sure to have a place to lay our heads that night. Let those hillbillies sleep on the floor, and that was too good for them. I must of dozed off awhile as it was midnight and I heard the front door open and here they came.
"Brother, did you ever see so many lights."
"Brother, how many colors did you count?
"Brother, I was awatchin' that feller tryin' to short us on that likker."
"Brother, it would take a powerful lot of that likker to feel it. “
"Brother, you'all would never feel it." "Lilly shet thet kids trap."
"C'mere Sister Kate, hep me with this cote."
"Brother, did you ever see people in such a hurry to get nowhere. ~
"Brother, these city slickers even got their wimmen trotting on those high heeled shoes."
"Brother, everybody trots here in town, guess they cain't walk."
"Brother, did you see that purty blond with that short skirt?"
"Brother, now you hesh up."
And that went on and on until from Kate, "Well, brothers, you take the same beds you had last night - those old goats are still a whooping it up."
They all headed for bed, and suddenly the house exploded with shouts. The brothers discovered us in "their" beds and thought we were thiefs. A loud noise came from Windy Jack's room and voices, another noise in Silent Bill's. Then I heard no more as I was busy too. Lily came in, dropped her baby on the bed, and as I turned she grabbed it up and started screaming. Meanwhile one brother (who had picked up his "Hawg legs" in the parlor as he came in) shouted "Here's one thief here." The other screamed "I got one too, shoot him. A couple of shots tore through the house and as I headed for the window, the stampede run over me. Windy Jack and a shooting brother, Silent Bill and a shooting brother, but after they knocked me down and stepped on me, I caught up and passed everybody before we got to Front Street with a knife-wielding Lily after me and a meat-eleaving Kate, both after blood. They stopped after awhile, and we went down to the company warehouse to spend the night. Our housekeeper's company left the next day for home and by their actions I know now they knew darn well who those "burglars~ were. I have had enough of Brothers and Sisters for a long, long time.
Silent Bill Gets Lost
We had a very trying experience the last few days. Silent Bill disappeared soon after the moonshiner's kids shot up our house.
The first to know of Silent Bill's disappearance was Windy Jack who had become our house-keeper. He needed wood for the kitchen stove. Getting in the wood had been Silent Bill's chore and Windy Jack, liking to give orders, called out, "wood, By Grannies, Bill, can't you keep this box full?" In a few moments I heard him again, "Bill, bring me some wood." Pretty soon Windy Jack went back to Silent Bill's room, opened the door and I heard him say, "Dad rat it, Bill, get up and bring in some wood." Then, "Come on Bill, get out of there, it's neigh onto noon." Then for a few minutes all was silence. Finally Windy Jack said, "Boss, Bill ain't here, and he ain't been home all night."
"How do you know?"
"Well, his bed is still made up like it was yesterday, he never stayed away before even if he had a few too many."
By George, he was right; Silent Bill always came home to roost, sometimes staggering, taking up the whole street, sometimes by the help of his drinking friends, but he always came home. I remembered now that the night before the last words I heard from him as he went out the door were "I need lots of drinks."
My God, he might be in the bay, drowned - he might have crawled into some vacant building and died there all alone while we slept here in comfort. He might, well a million other "might haves" raced through my mind and all could of been the right one.
I was getting a little worried and concerned over Silent Bill, but Windy Jack was far and away more concerned than I could ever be. He put on his hat and coat and left to search for Silent Bill. "You stay here and if anyone finds his body," he said, "you send word to me." Hours went by. Late in the afternoon a wild-eyed Windy Jack came home. He looked terrible; the strain and the fact he hadn't eaten were showing in his walk. He hardly talked.
He just dropped upon a chair, leaned his head down on the table and began to talk to Silent Bill - all about how sorry he was to have been so sharp with him - how if given another chance he would treat him as a brother, etc. As a neighborhood boy was passing I called him over and for fifty cents he took a note to the mill owner asking him to come immediately. In a short time the owner was there and I told him the circumstances. Windy Jack just sat there shaking his head and saying nothing. The owner, who I had figured would organize a search immediately, did just that - he searched for a jug and found one in the wood box.
I now had lost not one man but three: Windy Jack, pooped and in a daze; the owner, drinking and thinking, and Silent Bill. After a few drinks the owner began to talk: "It will take a lot of men to put on a house-to-house search. First off we have to tell the police (he takes another big drink). They won't do much, so then we'll get the Governor, and he'll call out the militia (another slug of whisky), and they will hunt and hunt and the newspapers will be full of the big doings and they won't find him (another shot of whisky). Then the sheriff will send to Georgia for some bloodhounds, and they won't be able to track him as the scent will be too old (he has another big jolt out of the jug). They will leave for home, but then they will send the bill for these bloodhounds to my house, and my wife will get it (a long pull on the jug), and I'll get billy Hell for even getting into this hunt. So I'm going to sit here and a have a few drinks and wait for Bill to come home."
To heck with those two, I got myself ready and left on a one man search for Silent Bill. I looked here and there, in every place that you could buy moonshine, but no one had seen Silent Bill. I looked in vacant buildings, under buildings and in vacant lots, but finally I had to go home, empty handed, and very low in spirits.
Nearing the house I heard happy voices where there should of been whispering and mourning. "Well," to myself, "Windy Jack has fallen from the wagon and those two are drunk." But I opened the door and saw not two happy, drunken men, but three. There big as life and with a jug in his hand sat Silent Bill. By George, I blew up and they knew I was mad too. Windy Jack, who was talking again, did the honors for the others by saying, "Boss, we got the funniest joke you ever heard. You'll just die of laughing when you hear this."
By George, it had better be good - I was a long, long way from laughing and awful close to seeing that someone dies. How close no one will ever know. I said, "Go on, let's see you make me laugh."
Well, Boss, Bill got a leetle too much for once and didn't feel like seeing anybody until a little while ago, when he came in and asked for a drink. At first I thought his ghost was here, but when he took that drink I knew that was Bill in the flesh as no ghost ever could drink that much at one time. Well Boss, here's the funny part of the whole situation. Old Bill was a laying on the floor between the bed and the wall all the time we were looking for him. Isn't that the damndest thing you ever heard?"
I agreed whole heartedly - the damndest thing - but damned if I saw anything funny about the whole day and from now on damn anyone who doesn't look behind a bed.