Western snippet…

Another stream of consciousness…

And a question. Did I get into too much detail on this one? Is there too much dialect? Comments and recommendations appreciated.

Chapter 7

Monte and Billy stood at the base of the bluff, looking toward the two creeks on the flats as Rio rode up. Swinging down off Red, Rio stretched his back and groaned. “I think that’s about it for branding the cows out here. Next day or two, we’ll drive them through the gap and into the canyon, where we can keep better track of them, with the drives coming in the next couple of months.”

Billy smiled. “That’s good, boss. We’re thinkin’ puttin’ a line shack right about here.”

Monte looked around as he chewed the inside of his cheek. Nodding, he said, “I guess this is about as good as we’re gonna find. High enough not to flood, and the bluff will cut the wind. It’s between two creeks, and the main gap through to the ranch.” He waved a hand at the flats stretching to the east. “And you’ll have a good view to the east, which is where the other grazing is.”

Rio cocked his head. “Alright. Where are we going to get the wood?”

Beeker drove up with the small wagon and snickered as Monte pointed to the lodgepole pines across the gap from where they stood. “Right there. And that will clear out enough space for a corral you can put hosses or cows in.”

Rio took off his hat and scratched his head as he glanced at Beeker and the four men in the wagon. “I don’t know how to do this kind of building. Down in Texas with either dug soddies or built out of rocks. The only trees we have down there are cedars and cottonwoods. Neither one of them is worth a damned for straight logs.” Slapping his hat back on, he added, “Our ranch house and outbuildings are adobe. Caliche mixed with straw and covered by more caliche.”

“Cal…whatever you called it?” Beeker asked.

“It’s a kind of clay. Real slimy stuff.”

Bleeker nodded as Pronto rode up on one of his mules, leading the other one, pulling the front axle of a wagon. Pronto asked sarcastically, “You ain’t started yet? What’n hell you waitin’ on?”

Monte chuckled. “Waitin’ on yore boss to make up his mind, that’s what.”

Rio sighed. “Fine! We’ll build it here.” He turned to the four men riding in the wagon. “Montoya, y’all pick the trees you think will work, cut ‘em and let’s get moving on this. The sooner we finish, the sooner you get your pay and get on down to Denver.”

Montoya grinned and hopped out of the wagon. Reaching back, he pulled out two of the long two-man saws and asked, “How high you going to make the walls, Señor? And how big the cabin?”

Rio glanced at Monte, who replied, “Six feet, so nine or ten logs high.” Monte looked up at the pines across the gap. “Either twelve or sixteen feet, depending on the size of the logs.”

O’Shaughnessy picked up a pair of double bit axes, walked to the back of the wagon and jumped easily to the ground. Rio looked up at him and asked, “One at a time, or both at once?”

The others all laughed as O’Shaughnessy flipped each axe up and held them at arm’s length, smiling down at Rio. “Never tried, Mate. But I probably could. I’m better on the saw and the pull knives.”

Rio sniffed. “Well, I sure as hell ain’t going to fight you over that.”

Montoya laughed. “Smart man. Neil is usually the thrower. He just picks up the log, or bracing, or spars and does whatever needs be.” He looked up at the trees. “That be a dog hair stand o’trees, so we can probably get forty to fifty trees out of that mess easily. I’d say they be eighty feet, so three logs per tree, plus roofing poles.”

York, the Arkansawyer, slid off the back of the wagon with his boy. He drawled, “They be them pines. We kin cut prolly most of what you’ns needs today and tomorrer with them misery whips. If’n you want boards, that’ll take longer. Matty, grab them wedges and let’s get to work.”

His boy, Matty, grabbed a canvas bag that clanked and followed his daddy as they walked across the gap. Rio noted that both of them had hatchets on one side of their belts and what had to be Bowie knifes on the other side. Montoya shook his head, saying softly, “Crazy man. Churchin’ and allus readin’ his big black bible. That boy might say three, mebbe four words a day.”

Pronto chuckled. “Between him and you, O’Shaughnessy, that’s like feedin’ four or five cowboys. Y’all can eat!”

O’Shaughnessy’s laugh rang out. “I’m just a growing lad!”

Montoya snorted. “Well, bring your growing self over here and let’s cut some timber.” The two of them followed the Yorks, sniping at each other all the way.

Rio shook his head. “That has to be one of the strangest crews I’ve ever seen.”

Monte shrugged. “Timbermen are a strange bunch. Apparently, these four have been together for a good while. They been up in Laramie workin’ on some buildings at the fort and were sent down to Fort Collins. But there wasn’t anything that needed done. If I hadn’t seen them at the café, they’d been long gone, and we’d be tryin’ to do this our own selfs.”

The rattle and creak of the big wagon coming through the gap caused Rio to stop what he was going to say as he saw Isom and Fat Jack up on the wagon seat. Rio said, “I’ll gladly pay them. That was we’ve a better chance of getting it done right and built to last. No cowboy that I know of wants to do anything that requires him to be on the ground.”

Pronto laughed. “Other that eat, sleep, drink, and whore around.”

Fat Jack stopped the wagon next to them, set the brake, and said, “This where you’re gonna put the shack?”

Monte said, “Yep. You gonna build the chimney?”

“Me and Isom are.”

Isom climbed down and walked around the wagon to them. “Here?” He pointed at the ground and looked at Rio.

Rio shrugged. “That’s what Monte and everybody else is telling me.”

Isom smiled. “Well, in that case, we need to lay it out properly.” He glanced over to where Montoya and the others were working. “Lodgepole pines. Not the best, but good enough for what you want.” Turning in a circle, he looked at one tree halfway up the bluff. “And there is a spruce. That will do admirably for the shakes. If they fell it correctly, it should land right over there.” He paced around and finally made an x in the dirt with his boot. “We will build the chimney right here on the north wall. Pointing toward the gap, the door will be on the south wall. Possibly one window about,” he took six paces, “Here on the east wall.”

Fat Jack snorted as he climbed down. “Got it all figgered out, have you?”

“Of course, Jack. I, unlike others here, actually do plan things. Shall we unload the rocks and get started?”

“Load the rocks, unload the rocks. Get the right rocks…” Fat Jack sighed. It was all Rio could do not to laugh, and he covered it with a cough. Fat Jack glanced up at him. “You’re the youngest one here. Git yer butt over here and help us old men!”

Pronto got up on the wagon and backed it around to where the chimney was going to be, saying, “I ain’t carryin’ rocks any further than I have to.” He spun around and climbed into the wagon bed. “Rio, git to pullin’ them rocks off the back. Thet way I can move these uns back that away.”

Rio pulled his gloves out of his chaps and slipped them on, then started handing rocks to Fat Jack, who handed them to Isom, who started laying in courses of rock for the fireplace. An hour later, they were all drenched in sweat and the chimney was already waist high when Isom said, “That is enough for now. We need that clay from the riverbank to coat it before we go any higher.”

Isom walked over to the side of the wagon and said, “Now we need these six big slabs. Jack, would you and Monte please help Pronto get them up on the side of the wagon? I believe Rio and I can carry them to the corners.”

Rio wiped the sweat off with his sleeve, put his hat back on, and walked around the wagon as Jack and Monte got up in the bed with Pronto. The three of them got the first slab up on the side of the wagon and Rio goggled at it. “What are we going to do with these?”

Isom chuckled. “These will go in the four corners and underneath where the door will be. It will keep the corners from sinking in the ground when it rains. Are you ready?”

Rio spat on his gloves and got a good grip on the edges of the slab. “I think so.”

“Then let us move it.” Isom and Rio carried the stone to the rough location of one corner, then they repeated that five more times. By the time they dropped the last slab, Rio wheezed, “And this is why no cowboy likes to do anything on the ground! Damn…”

Pronto and Monte climbed down as Isom smiled. “Just wait until we put the lodge pole up. You will enjoy that!” He climbed back onto the wagon. “We will be back tomorrow with clay and water to seal the chimney.” He nodded at Fat Jack, who clucked at the horses and popped the reins.

They clattered back through the gap as Pronto looked at Monte. “Who’s huntin’ supper?”

“I ain’t. They got a perfectly good chuck wagon out there.” Monte pointed to the dust cloud on the flats and added, “I’m going out there for supper. Bear is cooking, and he’s a lot better a cook than you are.

Rio just shook his head as he looked across the gap, surprised to see eight or ten trees already on the ground.


Two days later, Rio rode back to the gap, following the last of the cattle as the hands drove them onto the main ranch grass. It surprised him to see the walls already up, the door and a small window blocked in, and Isom and Fat Jack standing in the wagon bed working on the chimney that now stretched over a dozen feet in the air. Montoya was chopping a log to length, and the two Arkansawyers were notching shorter timbers that were being set as the end caps on each side of the chimney, while a ridge pole lay next to the rough line shack. Monte stepped out of the door, his hands covered in mud. “Did you bring anybody else?”

Rio pointed back toward the flats. “Chuck wagon and Jeb are coming. I’m amazed at…”

Monte waved a hand, interrupting him. “This is why you pay people that know what they’re doing.”

“Where’s Pronto?”

“He left for the ranch house. Ain’t nothin’ else we needed him for. Wanted to make sure Anna was okay.”

Rio winced. “I…probably should have gone on to the ranch. I’ve been out here almost a week now.”

Monte nodded. “Mebbe, but you also didn’t make the hands do all the work. You got in there and did yore share and then some on the branding. That is turning those hands that stayed on into believers in you and Anna. You ain’t like the Kidds, just bossin’ and not doin’ any of the work.” He waved his hand at the cabin and dropped his voice. “Just like this. You admitted you didn’t know everthing. And you’re payin’ timbermen to do the work, rather than makin’ the cowboys do it.”

Rio blew out a breath. “I try.” He looked around slowly. “Monte, I’m not sure I know what I’m doing. I…talked to Pronto about it and he…”

Monte interrupted him. “You got throwed off the deep end. It was sink or swim, and you’re swimmin’. Yore daddy tole me he was pretty sure you could do it, since you got the herd up here last year.” He shrugged. “You been doin’ a man’s work for a while, and you got a rep as a gunnie, but you also got respect for what you did to help Alice and Anna.”

Red snorted and sidestepped, and Rio patted his neck. “Easy, boy.” He dismounted, dropping the reins and loosened the girth. “So, what is next here?”

“York and his boy are bout to catch up with Isom and Jack. Soon as they do, they goin’ to move to the south end and take that end cap all the way up. We should be puttin’ the ridge pole up this afternoon.”

“Where’s the big guy, O’Shaughnessy?”

Monte laughed. “Round here,” he walked around the west side of the cabin and Rio saw O’Shaughnessy sitting on a stump, using a pull knife to quickly level a two-foot-long piece of spruce. He threw it on a pile at least four feet high, reached for another one, put it in his stomach, and made two quick pulls with the knife and flipped it over, making another couple of pulls. He picked it up, glanced at it, and added it to the pile.

Rio whistled, catching O’Shaughnessy’s attention. “That was quick!” Pointing to the stack of shakes, he asked, “How many of those do you need?”

O’Shaughnessy cocked his head. “Probably about four hundred, mate. We’re going to triple them up to manage the weight of the snow in the winter. And spruce is softer wood, so more is better.”

“How are you going to attach them?”

“Beeker went after more nails. We’ll tie the cross pieces with rawhide, but,” holding up the shake, “These need to be nailed. If we don’t, the wind could take them, or the snow could slide them. Either one is bad, mate.”

Rio nodded. “That makes sense. I’m…still trying to learn these northern things.”



Western snippet… — 14 Comments

  1. I like it! Don’t think there is too much detail, it helps to paint the picture in my mind as I read along. Especially as I know nothing about how to build a cabin, or a fireplace, or shingle a shake roof.
    Those are the details that help flesh out the story, and help the reader see all the challenges that our ancestors dealt with.
    More please!!

  2. I enjoy the detail and the dialogue – it helps me to visualize what they are doing. Showing the skills needed to build the shack makes the story richer, and more real.

    Looking forward to the next segment!

  3. It’s perfect. The detail is good, it pulls the reader in. Dialect is never a bad thing, for all that it can be a right pain to get it down. But the readers always like it, helps with the immersion. I don’t think you did too much at all. I think you hit the right balance.

  4. Suz/SLee/John- Thanks! I’m always worried about too much detail/dialect taking the readers out of the story with an info dump!

  5. “Down in Texas with either dug soddies or built out of rocks.” with => we?

  6. Dialect is about right, and the detail is fine. This let you work in a lumberman thread, a fortuitous find. What’s fleshing out is how capable Rio is, with the promise of much more. Working teams on the herd, and now another to build a line cabin the right way. Humble guy too, compared to the Kidds, and the older men appreciate him working what he can, getting folks to do what he can’t.

  7. Seemed to me to be a good balance of detail and dialect. Very enjoyable read.

  8. “That was we’ve a better chance…”
    Should be “That way we’ve a better chance…”?

    The only but that hung me up was the colloquialism “a dog hair of stand o’ trees”.

  9. Zeb- Thanks! Fixed

    PK- Okay

    Feral- Thanks!

    Drang- Thanks! Fixed. Dog hair stand is one that the trees grow close enough together to basically intermix limbs. You don’t see that today with the tree farming, but you do occasionally see it in remote areas where there hasn’t been any forestry work done.

    • Thanks. I suspect that’s a regional term, never heard it even though historically the timber business was big in Michigan, and I read up on it growing up.
      (One of many places Paul Bunyan was born, lol!)

  10. I like it. There’s lots of details, but they’re woven into the narrative well.

    I’m having the same problem writing my current book.

  11. Purty good stuff. Detail’s great; dialect can be distracting if used too much.

  12. I’m not into the Western genre per se, but I do appreciate the information of extra construction details in how site-built cabins were constructed. Just the architectural draftman in me I guess, lol. Dialects make it more real, not distracting to me.

    Shaping up well sir – good job !

  13. Drang- It’s a western/southwestern term.

    D.A.- Thanks, and good luck!

    Boat- Thanks!

    jrg- Thank you.