A Christmas story on Mount Tweto
By J W Edwards
Dana McClure was pretty. Not only pretty but really darn pretty.
The year was 1876 and Christmas was just a few days away. While most of Mosquito Gulch Colorado was preparing for the festivities soon to come, Dana McClure, the prettiest prostitute in town was running for her life on a horse with a thrown shoe.
Things hadn’t worked out quite the way she planned. Her plan was simple. Get out of town with a load of cash before the Madam knew she had fled and start her life over somewhere else as a respectable lady. Free from the chains of being a kept saloon girl she was young enough to believe she still had a future and was hell bent on finding it.
Three years earlier at the age of 17, Dana had started her ‘employment’ at the Greenhorn Saloon in Mosquito Gulch after the stage she was on was robbed outside of Denver. Some might have considered her lucky, others not. While the other passengers gave up their belongings and their ghost, Dana was spared the quick death freely given to her fellow passengers. Instead, young Dana became the pleasurable object of the four galoots that held up the stage. When they had decided she had been played out, they left her to the elements.
Jasper Shroud found her. He had left the Bank of Denver the day before after depositing the previous week’s cash that the Greenhorn Saloon had bled from its customers. Whiskey, gambling and a whore house on the 2nd floor made Jasper a rich man. A very arrogant and spoiled rich man. Tossing her into his surrey as one would load a potato sack onto a wagon bed, Jasper grunted his pleasure and continued on his way back to town.
When Dana awoke, it was in a feather bed in a gaudy room consisting of silk wall coverings and velvet curtains. There she was being tenderly cared for by the Madame of the Greenhorn and a couple of its whores in the ‘Madams’ own room.
Jasper was not caring for her out of the kindness of his heart. In his mind, he had found her, could save her life and get a nice financial return on his ‘investment’ by whoring her out when she recovered. It was not an unusual situation. Many a woman who lost her man on the frontier soon found out neighbors and friends had only so much generosity and resources to help out. The lucky ones with male children remarried within a couple of weeks, the old and infirm soon passed on. Many younger ones became whores.
For the present, Dana accepted her fate as a whore with the same apparent resignation as many fine Lady’s of the day accepted their ‘duty’ to make sure her man was fed, clothes repaired and his manly desires well taken care of. Looks and love played little part in this arraignment. It was all about daily survival.
Religion played no part in a whore’s life. God had no role in their daily affairs as he paid attention only to the church going, for they belonged to him, not the whore. There was no hell after death. Hell was now; death was a release from hell. Hell wasn’t for Dana though, she had plans that didn’t include her death.
Each man that shared her bed paid the Madam his dollar before he went upstairs for his hour of lust. If the whore was gooder than good she might find a dime on the table after he had departed. If that dime was not turned over to the Madam, a good old fashioned beating by a burly staff member named Tommy, reminded her that under no circumstances was a whore deserving of more than the Madam provided her. Each night the girls rotated rooms. This prevented the squirreling away of a hidden cache in loose floorboards, bed frames and such. No whore ever took another whore into her confidence. A whore could never trust another whore to keep her mouth shut. This kept the power of the Madam absolute
On December 20th of ‘76, Dana made her move.
She was told the night before by Madam that Henry Jason Willard, the eastern rail road mogul of high wealth and high living was passing through Mosquito Gulch on his way to Denver and had requested Dana’s companionship for the entire night. Dana made her preparations. The room was cleaned and sage grass had been burnt in the pot belly stove to cover the smell of the many men that had passed through.
But it wasn’t those preparations that concerned Dana. During her stay at the Greenhorn Saloon she had befriended a young black named Rufus who while not being owned by the Madam and the Saloon, was in fact owned by the Madam and the Saloon. No one suspected the unusual friendship between Dana and Rufus. Not that they were improper with each other mind you, but a whore and a black in 1876 did not strike a friendship. Still they had stolen moments to talk and even more important, dream. Dana spoke of the day she would leave Mosquito Gulch and Rufus had vowed to help her.
A few of Rufus’s duties at the Greenhorn were to remake each bed after use, search for hidden coins left by grateful patrons and report to Madam any whores overheard plans of leaving or skimming cash. Running errands for the whores in town was also one of those duties. Rufus was in a perfect position to give Dana the help she needed that night.
Entering the Saloons bat wing doors wearing a black bowler derby and blue pin stripped suit Henry Jason Willard, announced his arrival. “Drinks are on me until I say!” Cow punchers, gamblers and whores alike all cheered. Upstairs, Dana made ready her plans.
A light knock grabbed her attention and a young blacks voice quietly whispered, “Good luck Ma’am.” Dana smiled to herself as she headed for the door.
Dana opened the door to find on the floor, a very expensive bottle of Tennessee whiskey, two clean crystal glasses and a bowl of fresh mountain ice resting on a silver server. Beside it lay a small leather pouch that Dana knew contained over 14 dollars in coin. Inside jingled her squirreled savings that had been being secretly held by Rufus. A folded paper note with the single simple word “Chestnut” on it. All was set and in order.
By 10pm, the esteemed Mr. Willard made his way upstairs after a single stimulating game of poker. He lost over Seventy dollars in that short time but showing how unimportant that amount was, he smiled and added another ten to the pot for good measure.
Dana answered the door and invited her Gentleman caller in.
“Oh my sweet dear, you are more than I ever hoped for. My man said you were very young and pleasing to the eye, but I never imagined this grunt town would ever produce a fine a whore as you.” Whether it was meant as a compliment or an unsavory remark Dana did not know, nor did she care.
In her best imitation of an awe struck fickle Lady, Dana responded, “I am pleased you find me desirable sir, I am yours for the taking but first let me pour you a glass of fine a whisky as can be found west of the Tennessee Mountains.” Holding up the glass she offered, “Ice?”
It was the ice. Laced with a horse sedative Mr. Willard was soon drugged. She had managed to get him partway onto the bed before his lights went out. Appearing as a child saying his nightly prayers, He knelt bedside snoring. Dana could not contain her hatred. She pulled down his drawers exposing his bare behind. With a sharp knife, she engraved her name, date and the name of the Saloon into his hide. He represented every man that had come into her room, except for one. That one, who told her his name was Ben Toker she believed was different. Against her better judgment, Dana had secretly loved him as much as he had openly loved her. Because he did so openly, Madam soon found out, Dana feared for her lovers life and to save him she ran him off. Shaking her head as if to clear her mind, she reminded herself she could not think of him now. Instead, she had to prepare for her departure from Mosquito Gulch and the Greenhorn Saloon.
With no moon out to help light her way, Dana climbed out of her window using the 15 foot fire escape rope. No luggage was taken as whores had no luggage. Tucked beside her breast lay the pouch containing now over 200 dollars, most in gold double eagles. These being a ‘gift’ from Mr. Willard that he would not be aware of until tomorrow…along with a carved ass that was going to be very difficult to explain to his very rich and jealous wife back east.
Making her way through the darkened alleyways she finally made it to the livery stable. It was now past 3 am but a slight knock on the big sliding carriage door brought a very wide awake Black liveryman to her
“Night Ma’am, be quiet now. My nephew Rufus done tol’ me you was comin’ an I need be ready when yo got here.”
“Unfolding the paper handed it to him and said to him, “Rufus gave me this, I am assuming it’s about a horse for me?”
“Yes’m, It means you done bought an’ got papers fo’ “Chestnut”, a fine strong horse Ma’am. Realizing Rufus had somehow paid for the horse and tack out of his own meager savings, Dana opened her top and being careful to not expose her breast, pulled forth the money pouch. Taking a hundred dollars out in double eagles, she handed the gold coins to the Rufus’s uncle. “Please, give these to Rufus, I owe him my life.”
“I will do dat Ma’am, he a good boy, shore is a good boy. Shore is a lot of money here Ma’am, you shore ‘bout dis?” Satisfied she had not made a mistake, he walked over to the tack room, there he removed a saddle, blanket and saddle bags. “In dem bags be some mens drawers and stuff he got fo’ you. Yo’ need to change into dem to fool anybody dat might see’s you leave here. I’ll burn yo dress and ladies stuff in da lit stove Ma’am so’s dey ain’t found.”
“Thank you, both you and Rufus are a Godsend.”
The old black turned to her and stopped short. Wrinkling his forehead as if thinking, he approached Dana. “ Rufus done pray fo’ you, you know dat? He tell me he do dat each an’ ery night. He do pray fo’ you Ma’am. He say God love you an’ da Lord tol’ him to do dis stuff he doin’ fo’ you. God say he protect yo’. He say you be Gods special child. Da Lord done tol’ him all a dat.”
Dana did not know what to say in return because she wasn’t sure she even believed in God anymore. Still, she held the old black mans words in her heart. She knew now why Rufus would risk his life for her.
Dressed and mounted as a man, she nodded and tipped her brimmed hat at the liveryman as she left quietly into the night. Once out of town she broke the chestnut mare into a gallop.
Figuring Dana had a good five hour head start, Rufus informed both Madam and Jasper Shroud that after multiple tries, that morning no one was answering his knocks at her door. Their repeated knocks brought no answer either. Trying the knob, Jasper found the lock was jammed. “Give me room, I’m gonna bust down the door” he told Madam and a few of the whores that had gathered. Shouldering the door pretty hard brought no result and afraid of harming himself he told the whore at the top of the stairs to get Tommy to break down the door.
It took Tommy only one kick and the door broke inward off its hinges. The small group stood staring wide eyed into the room at the scene before them. There, still kneeling at the bedside was the powerful Henry Jason Willard with his head still resting on the mattress before him. With his drawers pulled down, everyone starred at the dried bloody carvings etched into his backside.
Reacting to the scene as if gut punched, Jasper stumbled backwards out into the hall holding his head. “Oh my God, What did she do? What did that idiot whore do to him?”
Jasper knew the trouble he and the Greenhorn Saloon were in. There was no way Mr. Willard would let this pass without retribution on a major scale. “He’ll not only take it out on us but the entire town’s gonna’ pay for this. Let him lay a minute, I need to think this out before trying to rouse him”.
After a few seconds, the fog of shock drifted off and Jasper began giving orders.”Tommy, you and Madam saddle up some horses for us, we’re going to find the Whore Dana. Go hire that Indian tracker if she left town.” Walking into the room, he spied the empty whiskey glass. The bowl of ice had melted, leaving a white ring around the bowls edge.” Drugged, She had help, find out who besides the Negro Rufus had access to her room and to this whiskey tray.” Spotting the discarded wallet on the floor, Jasper opened it and found it empty. Stating the obvious Jasper spoke almost to himself, “She robbed him too. Dang, this is bad, real bad. Mr. Willard ain’t gonna’ blame her as much as me for havin’ a low down robbin’ whore on my payroll. It’s gonna be me that pays.”
After a thorough search of the room produced nothing more than what the eye could see, Jasper headed downstairs. “Press the Negro, beat the crap out of him till he admits all he knows. He had to know something, somebody does, find out!”
Meanwhile Dana was beginning to have her troubles mount. The chestnut mare had thrown a shoe on the trail and her gait was being affected. Having nothing on her to remove the opposite side shoe to equalize the horses gait, she had no choice but to continue on until the animal became lame. Reaching into her past, she revived the knowledge of western survival she had been brought up with. Coming to a fork in the trail, she decided to head up towards Mount Tweto, hoping once past the tree line the snow there would blanket the trail. Dana figured the snowy trail would cushion the shoeless hoof and prolong her ability to ride. Feeling confident again, she knew she could reach the town of Buckskin Joe in a few days if all went well. From there she could take the stage to a railway depot and from there to San Francisco. Just as she settled in for the ride, the snow started.
Lightly at first but as she gained altitude past the tree line, the wind became more aggressive. Blowing snow limited her sight but she knew also that it would cover her trail. Her only worry was that there had been no snow falling at the fork below the tree line.
“She went East up towards the tree line” the Indian grunted to Jasper. “With a missing shoe in this dirt, she knew her trail would be easy to follow if she stayed on that trail. Once she hit’s the tree line there’s a trail up there where she can go either to Leadville or up to Mount Tweto and over to the mining town of Buckskin Joe.”
Jasper thought about it and finally spoke to the small group of men tracking Dana. “Mr. Willard gave me just three days to find her and bring her back. If after three days I don’t return with her, he’ll send out his men to stretch all our necks.
That dang negro boy wouldn’t admit to nothing, too bad for him. ‘Course, I ain’t cryin’ no tears for a newly stove up negro boy, that’s for sure. Even so, just to temporarily save my own hide, I had to sign over ownership of the Greenhorn to Willard. That whores not gonna’ see Willard alive I tell you that! An’ I’m gonna’ do some god awful things to her before I bring her dead carcass back to the Greenhorn, that’s for sure.
“So this is what I’m thinking. She ain’t no trail savvy cowboy so she’ll most likely head over to Leadville because the trail is easier. There ain’t no call or reason for her to head up to Mount Tweto. Most folk knows there ain’t no shelter on the trail up there. If you look to the north east, a winter storm is brewin’ big time up Tweto way. Even a stupid whore wouldn’t head into the teeth of a winter blow. No, she’s headed to Leadville, Let’s trail up to the divide atop the tree line and then head that a way.”
With that decision, Dana’s luck had turned again for the better. By the time Jasper and his posse reached Leadville and realizing she had instead gone on up to Mount tweto, the three days allotted for returning Dana would have run out.
By the second day, the mare’s breathing was becoming more labored as they climbed higher into the Colorado mountains. Dana wrongly figured Mount Tweto should be just a few more miles ahead. She had heard patron’s talk of the passage over Mount Tweto to the town of Buckskin Joe but only in the summer months, never in the winter. Dana thought on this but decided she had no choice anyway. With the mare’s thrown shoe and Jasper most likely figuring on her to head to Leadville, she dismissed the thought that she had made a mistake.
By the third day, Dana began to realize just how big Colorado was. The staples she had and the grain for her horse in her saddle bags were pretty much gone. Having to huddle each night in a hole dug into a snow drift, she covered herself as best she could using her and her horses stiff wool saddle blanket.
That night Dana had fitful dreams of the young man she loved but had recently driven away. In her dreams she called to him as she watched him ride away, always into the storm.
By the morning of the fourth day, Dana was aware she may not make it to freedom after all. In fact, so weak was she that upon standing she nearly toppled over the cliff alongside the trail. That’s when she realized her mare was no longer there. Whether the mare left to return home from hunger or it too had miss stepped and had gone over the cliff’s edge, Dana did not know. She did know one thing though, without a horse, Dana the runaway whore was done for.
Finding a handful of grain in the bottom of her saddlebag, she chewed the hard beads and swallowed them. When she could find no more, she began to cry. Sitting pow wow fashion with her empty saddle bags on her lap, she wailed away. The storm with all its fury laughed back at her.
By nightfall, Dana was convinced she was not coming off the mountain top. She lay down in her dug out snowdrift and once again covered herself. “I wonder what all went on after I left”, she mused. “I shouldn’t have let Rufus do so much, he’ll be found out for sure. Poor Rufus, Oh why did I think they wouldn’t find out? Why was I so selfish to that poor boy?” Dana once again dozed off.
Dana awoke to a sound, or lack of it. During her fitful hours of sleep the storm had blown itself out. Dana reckoned it was near dawn. A sliver of moon and the stars of heaven lit the far away mountain peaks like giant diamonds glittering in a sea of black. Where the wind still raged in the furthest mountains, snow blew over the peaks like wind spray over ocean waves.
The breaking daylight removed the black sea and replaced it with green tree lines broken by purple and crystal white shadows. The sky was as light blue as blue can get. Amazed, Dana sat up in her dug out and gazed at the beautiful scene before her. If she were to die she thought, this is what she wanted to look upon during her last moments.
She wondered how the earth in all its beauty could sustain the evil of mankind, herself included she admitted . If she were God she thought, “I’d of never made man, I woulda’ just made what my eyes now see, beautiful things like mountains so’s I could enjoy looking at them.” Suddenly she felt very lonely. She then wistfully said, “All this beauty and no one to share it with, what a shame.”
It was then that she remembered what day it was. Christmas. She began to laugh. “I’m to die on Christmas day!”
Her laughter turned to tears as she remembered Christmas as a child. Her loving folks, the sound of hymns being sung at church, the story of baby Jesus being told and the reason for his birth. It all came tumbling back in an avalanche of childhood memories. She realized it was she who had driven God from her life, not the other way around. With the full knowledge that in all likely hood, today would be her last day on this earth, she prayed. So fervent were her prayers that she did not hear the plodding hoof beats approach her from the direction she had come days before.
A shocked voice was suddenly heard, “My God, Dana, “Oh Lord my prayers have been answered!”
Like a spring being unwound, Dana violently shot standing up in a last ditch effort to defend herself from the fear that the rider was none other than Jasper Shroud. Looking about wildly for other riders that usually accompany him, she began edging towards the cliff. She would rather throw herself into the abyss below than face Jaspers torment.
But something about the voice halted her at the edge. Trying to see the face hidden in the morning shadow his hat cast, she stood there prepared to leap.
“Dana! No, don’t, it’s me, Ben.”
Removing his hat his sandy colored hair was whipped backward in a gust of breeze, showing his face.
“When you told me to leave”, he said, “ I was sorely hurt an in my selfishness I went back to my ranch an’ pouted like a schoolboy. I tried to forget you, I really did but I could no sooner stop lovin’ you than I could stop my own heart beating by wishin’ it.”
Dana stood transfixed, her hands slowly cupping her mouth and nose. “ Ben? Is it you? How did you find…”
Jumping down off his horse he grabbed Dana by the shoulders, his eyes searching her face.
“ I went back for you. I had to one last time see you, to offer you everything I had if you’d just leave the Greenhorn and come back with me. But when I got to Mosquito Gulch, you was all the news. Folks there said you robbed the rail baron Henry Willard and carved up his behind as a message to his wife that he’s a cheatin’ skunk! Word was, Willard had given Jasper just three days to find you, then he’d send his men after him.”
“Ben, How did you find me? What made you decide on which trail I took?”
“Well, When I got to the fork an found Jasper, the Madam an’ the rest of his friends all neck tide on a tree, I figured they wasted them three days lookin’ for you in Leadville, so why should I?”
Dana, weak as she was, wrapped her arms around Ben and looking up into his eyes asked, “Now that you found me, do you really think a whore like me could ever be a fit wife for a man as good as you? Really Ben? “
Ben, leaned down and kissed her, “Dana, we all have our good an’ bad points about us. I ain’t no better fer callin’ on you than you was fer lettin’ me into your bed. I guess like the good book tells us, We all fall short but for the grace of God we’d all be lost. It’s Gods Christmas present to us Dana. If you’ll be my wife, I promise you this, I’ll try to be the best present you could ever wish for”
Dana said to him smiling, “ Dear Ben, I have no gift but myself to offer you in return. If you want me, I’m yours… but I want three, no, four more promises from you .”
Thinking of all the savory and unsavory possibilities of what those promises might be, Ben nervously asked,” What are these four promises you ask for Dana.”
Dana stepped back and weak as she was, a glint of mischief still hinted in her beautiful blue eyes.
“First, we are to be married by a preacher just as soon as we can because a lady does not bed a man until they are married. I do hope you own a nice Sunday go to meeting oufit , ‘cause each Sunday we’ll be sittin’ front and center in them church pews, OK?”
Ben gulped, “Yes’m, married. Preacher…pews…OK”
“Second , get on over to that nag you rode up on and rustle us up some grub from your saddle bags. If you haven’t noticed I’ve been starving up here.”
“ Grub, Gotcha, What’s the third promise?” Ben asked.
“Get me the heck off this here mountain and set me in front of the biggest fire the stove at your ranch can make, I about froze to death waitin’ on you to come rescue me!”
By now Ben was chuckling as he finally realized Dana was only toying with him so he asked, “An the fourth Promise?”
Lifting her hand, she gave him the “come hither” wiggle with her finger… and said, “ Come here and promise to kiss me again.’
It was a promise he never broke.