Wild West Podcast

A Miner's Christmas Carol

December 16, 2022 Michael King/Brad Smalley
Wild West Podcast
A Miner's Christmas Carol
Wild West Podcast +
Exclusive access to premium content!
Starting at $3/month Subscribe
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In 1858 there was a little camp about ten miles from Pinoche, and the winter months had tiptoed in as if dancing to a timid harp, as if it takes time for those colder months to gain the certainty that their time has arrived. In this camp occupied by three hundred miners, every one of whom might have packed his prospecting implements and left for more inviting fields any time before sunset. But, instead, when the day was over, these men did not rest from their labors, like the honest New England agriculturist, but sang, danced, gambled, and shot each other as the mood seized them. 

Christmas eve was fast approaching, and a feeling of unease came with it. Yet the miners in town wanted to make Christmas Eve special, to take time to see souls and their level of wellness or need. They planned to rest in a quiet moment to observe the spiritual rather than the hard labor of the mines allowing the world's business to put friendship first rather than in the dark moments of the mines. Wild West Podcast proudly presents “A Miner's Christmas Carol” by Sameul Davis, edited by Mike King & narrated by Brad Smalley. 

Support the show

Return of the Great Hunters
Cattle Drives Website
Legends of Dodge City Website
Order Books

Speaker 1:

In 1858, there was a little camp about 10 miles from Pinochet, and the winter months had tipped own in, as if dancing to a timid harp, as if it takes time for those colder months to gain the certainty that their time has arrived. In this camp, occupied by 300 miners, every one of whom might have packed his prospecting implements and left for more inviting fields any time before sunset, but instead, when the day was over, these men did not rest from their labors like the honest New England agriculturalist, but sang, danced, gambled and shot each other as the mood seized them. Christmas Eve was fast approaching and a feeling of unease came with it. Yet the miners in town wanted to make Christmas Eve special, to take time to see souls in their level of wellness or need. They planned to rest at a quiet moment to observe the spiritual rather than the hard labor of the mines, allowing the world's business to put friendship first rather than in the dark moments of the mines. Wild West Podcast proudly presents A Minor's Christmas Carol by Samuel Davis, edited by Mike King, narrated by Brad Smalley. One evening, beneath the evening, howl amid the branches that groan, in an ever-whitening night, the reports spread along the main street that three men had been killed at Silver Reef and that the bodies were coming into town. Some of the miners went outside to witness a lumbering old wagon laboring up the hill, drawn by a couple of horses well worn out with their pull. The cart contained a good-sized box, and no sooner did its outlines become visible through the glimmer of a stray light here and there than it began to affect the idlers. To the townspeople, death consistently enforces respect, and even though no one had caught sight of the remains, the crowd gradually became subdued. Finally, the cart was overtaken by curious people when the horses reached a standstill. The driver, however, was not in the least impressed with the sincerity of his undertaking. All of them there asked one. The teamster responded having examined Guess so Then filled his pipe and lit it. As he continued, wish the bones and load had gone over the rise, a man who had been looking on stepped up to the driver at once. I don't know whom you have in that box, but if they happen to be any friends of mine, I'll lay you alongside. We can mightily soon see, said the teamster coolly. Just burst the lid off, and if they happen to be the men you want, I'm here. The two men scrutinized each other for a moment and the crowd gathered anticipating trouble. I believe the dead men are entitled to good treatment, and when you talk about hoping to see corpses go over to bank, all I have to say is that it'll be better for you if the late grieved ain't my friends. Well, open the box. I don't take back what I've said, and if my own language don't suit your ways of thinking, I can stand it With these words. The teamster began to pry up the lid. He got a board off and then pulled out some old rags. A strip of something dark like rosewood presented itself, the eastern coffin by thunder, said several, and the crowd looked quite astonished. Some more boards flew up and the man shifted his weapon a little, ready to defend his friend's memory. However, the calm manner of the teamster had so irritated him that he had made up his mind to pull his gun. He would be ready to shoot at first sight of the dead, even if the deceased was his worst and oldest enemy. Presently, the whole of the box cover was off. The teamster, clearing away the package, revealed to the astonished group the top of something which puzzled all alike. Boys, said he. This is a piano. A general shout of laughter went up and the man who had been so anxious to enforce respect for the dead muttered something about feeling dry. The keeper of the nearest bar was several ounces better off by the time the boys had given the joke all the attention it called for. Had a dozen dead men been in the box, their presence in the camp could not have occasioned half the excitement that the arrival of that lovely piano caused. By the following day it was known that this instrument was to grace a hurdy-gurdy saloon owned by Tom Grosken, the leading gambler of the place. It took nearly a week to get this wonder on its legs, and the owner was the proudest individual in the state. The piano rose gradually from a recumbent to an upright position amid a confusion of tongues, after the manner of the Tower of Babel. Of course, everybody knew just how such an instrument should be put up. One knew where the off hind leg should go, and another was posted on the front piece. Scores of men came to this place every day to assist. I'll put the bones in good order If you want the wires tuned up. I'm the boy. I've gotten music defeated for a month. Another brought a pair of blankets for a cover and all took the liveliest interest in it. So it was at last in condition for business. It's been showing its teeth all week. We'd like to have it spit something. Alas, no man could be found who could play the instrument. Grosken began to realize that he had a losing speculation on his hands. He had a fiddler and a Mexican who thrummed a guitar. A pianist would have made his orchestra complete. One day a three-card moddy player told a friend confidently that he could knock any amount of music out of the piano if he only had it alone for a few hours to get his hands in the report spread about the camp. But on being questioned he vowed that he did not know a note of music. It was noted, however a suspicious circumstance that he often hung about the instrument and looked upon it longingly, like a hungry man gloating over a beefsteak in a restaurant window. There was no doubt that this man had music in his soul, perhaps in his fingers, but did not dare to make a trial of his strength after the rules of harmony had suffered so many years of neglect. So the fiddler kept on with his jigs and the slick Mexican pawed his discordant guitar, but no man had the nerve to touch that piano. There were doubtless scores of men in the camp who would have given ten ounces of gold dust just to have been half an hour alone with it. But every man's nerve shrank from the jeers which the crowd would shower upon him should his first attempt prove a failure. It was generally understood that the hand which first essayed to draw music from the keys must not slouch its work. It was Christmas Eve and Gosskin, according to his custom, had decorated his gambling hall with sprigs of mountain cedar and a shrub whose crimson berries did not seem a bad imitation of English holly. The piano was covered with evergreens and all that wanted to fill the cup of Gosskin's contentment completely was a man to play that piano. Christmas night, ten no-piano pounder, he said. This is a nice country for a Christian to live in. Getting a piece of paper he scrawled the words $20 reward to a competent piano player. This he struck up on the music rack and, through the inscription, glared at the frequenters of the room. Until midnight it failed to draw any musician from his shill. So the merry-making went on. The hilarity grew a-place. Men danced and sang to the squeaky fiddle and worn-out guitar music, as the jolly crowd within tried to drown the storm's howling. Then, suddenly they became aware of the presence of a white-haired man crouching near the fireplace. His garments, such as they left, were wet with melting snow and he had a half-starved, half-crazed expression. He held his thin, trembling hands toward the fire and the light of the blazing wood made him almost transparent. He looked about him once in a while as if in search of something, and his presence cast such a chill over the place that gradually the sound of the revelry was hushed and it seemed that this wave of the storm had brought in with it all the gloom and coldness of the warring elements. Goskin, mixing a cup of hot eggnog, advanced and remarked cheerfully here, stranger, brace up, this is the real stuff. The man drained the cup, smacked his lips and seemed more at home. Then prospecting, eh out in the mountains, caught in the storm, lively night, this pretty bad, said the man Must feel pretty dry. The man looked at his steaming clothes and laughed, as if Goskin's remark was a touch of sarcasm. How long out, four days Hungry. The man rose up and walked over to the lunch counter, fell to work upon some roast bear, devouring it like any wild animal would have done, as meat, drink and warmth permeated the stranger. He seemed to expand and lighten up. His features lost their pallor and he grew increasingly content with the idea that he was not in the grave. As he underwent these changes, the people around him got merrier and happier and threw off the temporary feeling of depression that he had laid upon them. You always have the place decorated like this. He finally asked Goskin, this is Christmas Eve, was the reply. The stranger was startled December 24th. Sure enough, that's the way I put it up, pardon. When I was in England I always kept Christmas, but I had forgotten that this was the night. I've been wandering about in the mountains until I've lost track of the church's feasts. Only his eyes fell upon the piano. Where's the player, he asked. Never had any, said Goskin, blushing in the expression I used to play when I was young. Goskin almost fainted at the admission Stranger, do tackle it and give us a tune. Nary, a man in this camp ever had the nerve to wrestle with that music box? His pulse beat faster for he feared that the man would refuse. I'll do the best I can, he said there was no stool, but, seizing a candle box, he drew it up and seated himself before the instrument. A hush to come over the room only required a few seconds. That old coon is going to give that thing a rattle. The sight of a man at the piano was something so unusual that even the farrow dealer, who was about to take in a fifty dollar bet on the tray, paused and did not reach for the money. Men stopped drinking with glasses at their lips. The conversation appeared to have been struck with a sort of paralysis and the cards were no longer shuffled. The old man brushed back his long white locks, looked up at the ceiling, half closed his eyes and an amistic sort of reverie passed his fingers over the keys. He touched but a single note. Yet the sound thrilled the room. It was the key to his improvisation. The music laid its spell upon every ear and heart. As he wove his chords together, he felt his way along the keys like a man treading on certain paths. But he gained confidence as he progressed and bent to his work like a master. The instrument was not an exact tune, but the years of his audience, through long disuse, did not detect anything radically wrong. On the contrary, they heard a succession of grand chords, a suggestion of paradise melodies here and there, and it was enough See him counter with his left, said an old, rough enraptured. He calls the turn every time. On the upper end of the board responded a man with a stack of chips in his hand. The player wandered off into the old ballads they had heard at home, all the sad and melancholy and touching songs that came up like dreams of childhood. This unknown player drew from the keys, his hand kneaded their hearts like dough and squeezed out the tears as from a wet sponge. As the strains flowed one upon the other, they saw their homes of the long ago reared again. They were playing once more while the apple blossoms sang through the soft air to join the violence on the green turf of the old New England states. They saw the glories of the Wisconsin maples and the haze of the Indian summer blending their hues together. They recalled the heather of the Scottish Hills, the white cliffs of Britain and heard the sullen roar of the sea as it beat upon their memories vaguely. Then came all the old Christmas carols, such as they had sung in church thirty years before, the subtle music that brings up the glimmer of wax tapers, the solemn shrines, the evergreen holly mistletoe and surplaced choirs. Then the remorseless performer planted his final stab in every heart with home, sweet home. When the players ceased, the crowd slunk away from him. There was no more revelry and settlement left in his audience. Each man wanted to sneak off to his cabin and write the old folks a letter. The day was breaking as the last man left the place and the player, laying his head down on the piano, fell asleep. I say part said Goskin, don't you want a little rest? I feel tired. The old man said Perhaps you'll let me rest here for the matter of a day or so. He walked behind the bar where some old blankets were lying and stretched himself upon them. I feel pretty sick. I guess I won't last long. I've got a brother down in the ravine. His name's Driscoll. He don't know I'm here. Can you get him before morning? I'd like to see his face once before I die. Goskin started at the mention of the name. He knew Driscoll well. He, your brother. I'll have him here in half an hour. As he dashed out into the storm, the musician pressed his hand to his side and groaned. Goskin heard the word hurry and sped down the ravine to Driscoll's cabin. It was quite light in the room when the two men returned. Driscoll was pale as death. My God, I hope he's alive. I wronged him when we lived in England twenty years ago. They saw the old man and drawn the blankets over his face. The two stood a moment, awed by the thought that he might be dead. Goskin lifted the blanket and pulled it down, astonished. There was no one there. Gone, cried Driscoll, wildly. Gone, echoed Goskin pulling out his cash drawer. Ten thousand dollars in the sack, and the Lord knows how much loose change was in the drawer. The next day the boys got out, followed a horse's tracks through the snow and lost them. In the trail leading around toward Pinochet there was a man missing from camp. It was the three-card muddy man who used to deny point blank that he could play the scale it came to pass like a snowstorm comes to echo the icy soul, though. One day they found a wig of white hair and called to mind when the stranger had pushed those locks back, when he looked toward the ceiling for inspiration on that night of December 24th 1861. And to all our listeners, remember that Christmas is the day that holds all time together, and For Christmas is a traditional time, traditions that recall Precious memories down the years. The sameness of them all May. We wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. Oh, oh you.

Miner's Christmas Carol and Mysterious Piano
A Brother's Desperate Plea for Reunion