[March 13th 2006]
First published in the Civil and Military Gazette, 18 September 1889. Collected Volume VII, No.51 of Turn-overs, 1889, and in Abaft the Funnel (Unauthorised and Authorised Editions), 1909.
Set mainly in Montana, this is the story of how a fat man in Chicago, one thousand miles away from the action, obtained “a little more beef” and the cost to others of providing it.
A herd of cattle, red Texas longhorns, are being driven steadily through the plains of Montana towards Wachoma Junction, and the stockyards owned by the C.M.R. corporation of Chicago from where they will be transported by rail to the slaughterhouses in Chicago. A few of the cowboys are named – Lafe Parmalee; Schwink; Michigan; Jim from San Diego, and The Corpse, so nicknamed from his declared place of education.
There was a great drought in Montana and Northern Dakota that summer and the cattle were restless from the poorer quality grasses, one beast in particular being unsettled by an instruction that he remembered receiving from his mother:
“When it blows five ways at once,” said she, “and makes your horns feel creepy, get away my son. Follow the time-honoured instinct of our tribe, and run.”That night, the wind gets up and it starts to hail; the red steer talks to his yearling neighbour and suggests that they move to the outside of the herd. A white heifer saw them move and assuming the worst, bellowed “Timber wolves!”, and started a stampede.
The cowboys moved off at full gallop to try to get ahead the herd, and to cause them to circle and bunch up, gradually calming down again. But in this story, the stampede fanned out in the dark and the stinging hail, and one cowboy found himself surrounded by part of the panicked herd, the worst possible position in which to be. He was totally reliant on his horse to keep him out of trouble, but the horse stumbled on a gopher hole, fell, and The Corpse “lived up to his durned appellation.”
“And that was how the fat man in Chicago got his beef. It belonged to the red steer.”
Kipling visited the northwest area of the U.S.A. and went a little way into Canada between 18 June and 11 July 1889. After leaving San Francisco on 17 June, he travelled by train to Portland, Oregon, for a stopover with a steamer trip up the Columbia River to The Dalles, and also a fishing trip to the Clackamas River. On 22 June he had crossed into Washington Territory for a stay in Tacoma followed by a journey by steamer up Puget Sound to Vancouver in British Columbia. He called at Victoria on Vancouver Island and then took the Canadian Pacific Railroad back to Tacoma arriving on 30 June.
From Tacoma, he was on the Northern Pacific Railroad going via Stampede Tunnel and passing through Pasco Junction and Helena to reach Livingston in Montana for 2 July. From Livingston he went via a spur railroad to the Yellowstone National Park where he stayed from 5 to 11 July. From Yellowstone he returned to Livingston and then travelled on to Salt Lake City, then Ogden and eventually via Utah, Gunnison (noted by Prof D.H. Stewart in Kipling’s America: Travel Letters 1889-1895), Denver and Omaha to Chicago.
These journeys and adventures are described in From Sea to Sea, chapters XXVI to XXXV, with letters from the period in The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, ed. T. Pinney, Vol.1, pp.317-331. Descriptions that are most relevant to this story can be found in chapter XXIX about Livingston (misspelt with an additional ‘e’), although the livestock are horses rather than cattle:
LIVINGSTONE is a town of two thousand people, and the junction for the little side-line that takes you to the Yellowstone National Park. It lies in a fold of the prairie, and behind it is the Yellowstone River and the gate of the mountains through which the river flows. There is one street in the town, where the cowboy’s pony and the little foal of the brood-mare in the buggy rest contentedly in the blinding sunshine while the cowboy gets himself shaved at the only other barber’s shop, and swaps lies at the bar. I exhausted the town, including the saloons, in ten minutes, and got away on the rolling grass downs where I threw myself to rest. Directly under the hill I was on, swept a drove of horses in charge of two mounted men. That was a picture I shall not soon forget. A light haze of dust went up from the hoof-trodden green, scarcely veiling the unfettered deviltries of three hundred horses who very much wanted to stop and graze. ‘Yow! Yow! Yow!’ yapped the mounted men in chorus like coyotes. The column moved forward at a trot, divided as it met a hillock and scattered into fan shape all among the suburbs of Livingstone. I heard the ‘snick’ of a stock-whip, half a dozen ‘Yow, yows,’ and the mob had come together again, and, with neighing and whickering and squealing and a great deal of kicking on the part of the youngsters, rolled like a wave of brown water toward the uplands.A letter to Prof ‘Aleck’ Hill written in Livingston on 2 July 1889 (Letters, Vol.1, p.327) includes the following:
This place Livingstone is about to celebrate the 4th. All the cowboys are in, and they are at present only shooting fireworks about the street which is composed of wooden buildings.Whilst a letter to Hill’s wife of the same date (Letters, Vol.1, p.328) has:
. . . I’ve been seeing wonderful scenery and am now among the Montana cowboys in a ramshackle building designated by dwellers in smaller towns as an “elegant hotel.” They call it the Albemarle, and just don’t you ever come anigh here.Wachoma Junction
No reference to this station has been found on the internet, nor by examination of railway lines on the 1895 Rand, McNally State maps. However, Kipling could have derived it from the place-name Waucoma (sometimes spelled Wacoma) since there are waterfalls with this name near Eagle Creek in Clackamas County, Oregon. Whilst staying in Portland (OR) Kipling went fishing for salmon on the Clackamas River which is joined by Eagle Creek (From Sea to Sea, chap. XXVII). The name is also used in Hood River at its junction with the Columbia River, just downstream from The Dalles which Kipling also saw on a steamer trip up the Columbia River (chap. XXVI and XXVII).
There is another Waucoma in Fayette County, Iowa, just under four miles south of Jackson Junction on the Chicago, Minneapolis & St Paul Railroad but this is considered to be a little to the north of the route that Kipling would have taken on his way from Omaha to Chicago.
©David Page 2006 All rights reserved