July 21, 1890 – The Stagecoach
The North Platte River had its headwaters in the mountains of north-central Colorado, just west of Fort Collins. The north-flowing river crossed into Wyoming and made a broad, sweeping bend around the mountains of southeastern Wyoming. Near the geographic center of the state, the river turned east and flowed to Omaha, Nebraska and into the Missouri River. The North Platte drained the springs and melting snow from the mountains to create the lifeblood of south-central Wyoming. Virtually the entire population of the state of Wyoming, the newest state in the nation, lived in the North Platte watershed.
Rose Prescott sat in the shade of a Cottonwood tree and studied the sharp contrast in colors between the lush green grass of the river banks and the olive-colored sagebrush that made up the vast majority of the Wyoming plains. She watched her father’s cows tirelessly munch the thin, dry, seemingly dead grass of the hills above the river. She watched them turn the desolate Wyoming landscape into gold. “That’s the true way to spin straw into gold,” her father had said of the cows; referencing both the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale and the sky-high price of beef.
Rose had moved with her family to this corner of the West five years earlier. Since that time, she had spent very few days out of sight of the life-giving waters of the North Platte River or its tributaries.
On its trek north from Colorado, the river cut deep canyons through the Shirley and Pedro mountains. These canyons were so sharp and narrow as to be impassable for anything except the water of the North Platte itself. The spectacular view to the south of Rose’s shade tree encompassed the red cliffs, laid bare by the river as it cut between the Bessemer and Coal mountains. This particular cut was wide enough to allow the passage of the river with room to spare for a roadway. The soil, which the river had stripped away from these two mountains, had formed the lush farmland of Bessemer Bend. There was very little of what one could call farmland in Wyoming, but this sweeping bend in the river was the best the state had to offer.
The vast majority of Bessemer Bend, and the land for miles to the west, were owned by her father, Jeremiah Robert Prescott.
As the river meandered eastward from this point, more soil had been deposited to create arid lands around the Wyoming city of Casper. Rose’s eyes once again studied the roadway east toward Casper.
The stage is late, she lamented to herself and huffed in impatience.
Rose was on a voyage to Wyoming’s capital city of Cheyenne. While this was not her first trip there, it was her first trip alone. That is, without the accompaniment of her parents or brother. And her parents, Jeremiah and Theresa, were not the least bit happy with her insistence upon making the trip. Rose glanced up to the porch of the stagecoach depot, where they scowled while she pouted.
Whoo-whoo. Rose stood and studied the dust cloud a mile to the east. She could not see the actual coach, but its approach was unmistakable. In response to the coachman’s horn, the workmen harnessed a fresh six-horse team in preparation for the stagecoach’s arrival.
Rose returned to the porch. “Goodbye, Mama.” She kissed her mother on the cheek, hoping that their prior cross words could be forgotten. “Goodbye, Papa.” She leaned forward to receive his kiss on her cheek. She smiled at the familiar tickle of his beard.
“You take care of yourself and do what Colonel Kasey tells ya,” Theresa Prescott said.
Jeremiah handed Rose her rifle and valise. “We are very proud of you, dear,” he said, in complete contrast to his earlier, angry words.
Rose smiled and watched the stagecoach grind to a halt. A workman hoisted her belongings up to the roof and lashed them down. She looked into the coach, and four men stared back. Technically, it held six passengers, three on each of the forward and rear facing seats. However, she had no interest in being wedged between two middle-aged men for the next fifteen hours.
“Howdy, Miss Rose,” rendered a familiar voice from above.
She tugged down the brim of her hat to shade her eyes from the setting sun and studied the driver atop the coach. “Dusty, it’s seven. You’re an hour late.”
“Yup,” he said as though it were a badge of honor. “Climb up here and ride shotgun with me.”
The West was a vastly more peaceful place than it had been in the days when coaches were actually guarded by men wielding shotguns, but the term for the topside passenger seat had remained. Rose closed the door on the four men inside the coach and allowed her father to hoist her up top.
“Much obliged, don’t mind if I do,” she said to Dusty. Harold was his real name, and he was two years older than Rose. They had attended the Bessemer Bend schoolhouse together. However, he was always caked in dirt and as his surname was Rhodes, thus everyone called him Dusty. As a coachman, his name was quite apropos.
With a team of fresh horses now hitched, Dusty released the hand brake, snapped the reins, and they were off. The coach had been at a standstill for no more than ten minutes. Rose turned and waved as her parents disappeared in the perpetual Wyoming dust.
Dusty steered the horses onto the road south along the river. Majestic, looming red cliffs towered above them and blotted out the summer sun as it hung low in the western sky.
“Ya heading to Cheyenne?” he asked.
“With the Girl Guards?”
“Yes, my company is to carry the new state flag in the parade. All the way up to the Capitol building, to hoist it for the first time.” She beamed. Being the first state in the nation to allow women the right to vote, Wyoming was also the first state to enlist women in their State Guard.
On the straight, flat road along the North Platte, Dusty urged the horses to their top speed. Rose tied her hat’s chinstrap to keep it from blowing away as the coachman sought to regain lost time. She was glad that her mother had braided her hair and wrapped the braids into a bun just above the nape of her neck.
“How long are you going to be in Cheyenne?”
“I don’t know for sure. Maybe long enough to find a husband,” Rose casually answered.
“Ah, you are at prime weddin’ age, huh?” Dusty acknowledged as he took the opportunity of a straight stretch of road to study her.
Rose regretted having made the off-hand comment.
She had wished to roll her eyes and groan in reply, but she stopped her wry impulse. Instead, she politely said, “Yes, I reckon that upcoming milestone snuck up on me right fast.” She was past prime age. At eighteen years old, she was in danger of becoming a spinster. “I do look rather fondly upon my friends and their new husbands,” she answered truthfully. It seemed single males circled her like vultures overhead a dying calf whenever they learned that she was rich and unmarried. “But my steadfast papa has refused to allow any suitors to call upon me.” This was not exactly true. The prospective spouse search had begun, yet it grew more complicated from moment to moment. Her father wanted her to entertain suitors, but he had refused to entertain the notion that any of the ranch hands, miners, prospectors, or tradesmen living in Bessemer Bend or Casper was worthy of his daughter.
Dusty stole a moment’s attention from his task to study the young woman again. “We had us some good times at the Judge’s bar-be-cue, didn’t we?” Most everyone called Jeremiah Prescott the Judge, though Rose had never known him to preside over any court of law. He had been the Mayor of Cheyenne before they moved to Bessemer Bend.
“Yes,” was all Rose responded. She liked Dusty well enough. She had known him for the past five years, and they had danced several times at her father’s annual spring festival. Each year, the Judge slaughtered several cows and invited his politically connected friends of the Cattlemen’s Association, along with almost everyone living in Bessemer Bend.
“Like my marrying yearnings done told me, ’tis time I claimed a bride,” Dusty added.
Her thoughts were spinning from the hungry look in his orbs. Why do I suddenly feel like a cut of prime rib featured in the butcher’s storefront window?
Rose choked on mere air and coughed aloud. Dusty had not been her imagined type from the onset, and his current words did not now alter that solid fact. No offense to him, she wished him well in his own search for a wife. It was just that the truth of the matter was that she agreed with her father. She had not yet actually run across the future life partner she had anticipated would strike her fancy enough to wed. Miss Prescott yearned for a certain, defined spark, or enamored embers of desire and mutual attraction. In short, she required lascivious lust, for lack of a better term. The man in her future would also possess redeeming traits such as kindness, honesty, loyalty, and intelligence, in addition to the financially secure future that her father demanded.
As the coach sped south, away from the narrow gap in the mountain pass, the Platte riverbed meandered toward the west while the road held a straight southerly route. The roadway became rocky as they diverged away from the river and Dusty had to slow down their pace. The sweet scent of the prairie sagebrush filled her nostrils.
“I would be right proud if you saw fit to marry me, ma’am,” he suddenly said.
Rose had never been proposed to before and it took her a few moments to recognize what it was that Dusty was saying. She recalled how she had taken her first drink of intoxicating beverage that night at the barbeque, and she remembered Dusty’s attempting to steer her along the path toward the barn—alone. The underlying meaning of his words became clear.
I’m not that desperate just yet!
“Dusty,” her hand briefly touched his forearm, “I sadly must report that my father has already stated that I must refuse your consideration.” She could think of no polite way to reject him, yet still retain him as a friend.
The jilted young man grunted. He returned his concentration to the horses and the road ahead.
At Bates Creek, they turned east to follow the meager flow of water. Here, the roadway began to twist and turn through the rocky terrain. Dusty slowed the coach even more. The high plateau known as Shirley Basin was home to numerous cattle ranches and expansive herds of sleek, wild antelope. Rose stared at the regal purples and oranges which streaked across the mighty heavens above. Sunsets on the vast expanses of prairie were spectacular in their brilliance. As the sun sank below the horizon, the coach stopped at the way station where the road crossed Bates Creek before turning south.
“Howdy, folks, come inside. I’ve some warm bean soup and cornbread for yer supper,” the station manager’s wife said as her husband began to unhitch the team of horses.
“This is as far as I go,” Dusty said to Rose as he helped her down to the ground.
“Why, Miss Prescott, I didn’t know you had joined us,” a man’s voice boomed.
Rose turned to the tall, lanky gent stepping out of the coach. She did not recognize him. However, as she was the unmarried daughter of one of Wyoming’s wealthiest citizens, it seemed every male capable of growing a hair on his face knew her. And this man could certainly grow a beard. His shaggy red hair was only slightly brighter in color than his beard.
Her jaw slacked as she prepared to respond, but before she could speak, he continued, “Pardon my manners, ma’am.” He removed his hat and made a show of bowing. “I’m Roderick McDougal, all my friends call me Rod, at your service.”
Rose nodded, but didn’t speak.
“And these gentlemen are Wayne Brown, Cooper Pennington, and Mitchell Holloway, everybody calls him Mitch,” Rod continued the introductions.
She recognized Mitch Holloway. The look in his eyes said he remembered her, too. The short, paunchy, balding, black Stetson-wearing man had been a merchant in Bessemer Bend and she had attended school with his daughter. However, when Casper was selected as the Natrona County seat, he had moved there.
“It’s my pleasure, gentlemen.” Rose nodded toward the men. “Now, if you will excuse me.” She turned and walked quickly toward the facilities.
She had worn her old fashioned drawers, with the open slit back, to facilitate the use of primitive facilities found at the way stations. Men were more elegantly equipped for travel and simply had to step around the back of the building. Fortunately for Rose, all of the way stations had installed private privies for the women two years earlier. Nonetheless, her modern bloomers would have been a nuisance if she had donned them.
When Rose returned from freshening up, she went back to the men. She caught up briefly with Mr. Holloway. “So, how is Laura doing now?” she inquired of his daughter, her former schoolmate.
“She’s doing fine. She teaches school in Casper. She and her husband Albert just had my first grandkid, a baby boy, three months ago,” Mitch revealed with paternal pride.
“That is mighty nice to hear. Congratulations on your new grandson.” Rose wished him good will in a perfunctory fashion. She sighed and knew her parents wished for grandchildren too. Her older brother Waylon had not yet married, and thus there were no heirs to their family dynasty.
“Much obliged.” Mitch tipped his hat to her.
Yet another girlhood companion of mine is wed, and with a child, too. I’m a lone spinster.
Rose hoped not to shrivel up and blow away like a tumbleweed before any real husband material came her way.
With no wedding band adorning her slim ring finger, Mitch did not ask about her marital status, or lack thereof. The three married men spoke of their wives. The youngest of the men, named Cooper, was evidently not married. Despite her glares, he would not stop staring at her. Rose was grateful when they were called inside the cabin for their meal.
I came here for the next chapter of my life to start. Let’s see what unfolds…
One thing was certain, Rose had developed an appetite. She was so hungry, her stomach growled.