Authors: Manifest Destiny
For Jane and Thomas
in memory of John
All the historical books which contain no lies are extremely tedious.
Some events do not occur at the right time, and others do not occur at all. It is the proper function of the historian to correct these faults.
Let me take you into my confidence.
This book is a novel about real people and real events. It relates a true storyâby Herodotus's rules.
All the characters lived; virtually all the significant events took place. The tale is based largely on the recollections and writings of actual participants. But in the attempt to put history in tidier order, I have oversimplified and rearranged.
Every person who is named in the book was real, except for a hotel guest whose stolen watch is a fictitious invention; a few characters, however, are composites of more than one real personâand several people who played important roles in reality have been left out altogether. I beg the forgiveness of their partisans. For similar reasons of economy the book fails to mention various places and institutions (including one of Theodore Roosevelt's two Dakota ranches).
Some of the dialogue derives from actual words spoken or written by these people; much of it, naturally, is fictitious but most speeches and items from newspapers are abridged from real ones (with occasional revisions designed to fit the narrative) and much of the trial testimony and vituperation are quoted directly from the records. The letter from the Marquis De MorÃ¨s, challenging Theodore Roosevelt to a duel, is genuine, as are Roosevelt's reply and choice of weapons.
The novel compresses an actual five-year span into a fictitious two years. Some incidents are not related in the sequence in which they actually occurred, but as a general rule all the events, confrontations and adventures of consequence actually took place, although the knowledgeable reader will see that some have been repopulated and reorganized for dramatic purposes.
If an incident or character in the novel seems particularly outlandish, it probably existed in reality. (E.g., the menacing two-gun man who disrupted Roosevelt's 1903 speaking tour of the West, and the curious character called “The Lunatic,” are not my creations; they are described in Theodore Roosevelt's
With a cheerful sort of recklessness I have tried to impose dramatic coherence on an assortment of events that took place a century ago in ragged haphazard fashion. I have also been merrily willing to accept versions of a few events from sources of dubious veracity when their accounts seemed both entertaining and at least plausibly conceivable.
In sum, I have no ambition to mislead: this novel aims to be a dramatized homage to history rather than an unblemished factual record. If it goads the reader's curiosity, facts that are uncorrupted by my imagination can be found by consulting nonfiction sources such as the works listed in the bibliography at the end of the book.
Los Angeles, 1989
pprehensive, Arthur Packard stepped off the Northern Pacific Flyer onto the platform. He carried his valise through dwindling coal-ash smoke to the near corner of the weathered wood depot and peered past it at the town below the weedy embankment.
No one stirred in the twilight. Empty buildings sprawled like a hand of cards dealt hastily. Heat contraction brought echoes from broad rusting metal rooftops beneath the spire of the old abattoir's great brick smokestack that loomed against Bad Lands bluffs and the broad darkening Dakota sky. A little dust devil turned a dainty pirouette along a street the name of which he could not remember.
He was startled by the voice of the porter who spoke from the train behind him: “Sir, I don't see nobody. You sure you wants to get off here?”
Arthur Packard fluttered a hand at hip level to waive the porter's concerns and absolve the railroad. He heard a train door slamâchuff of steam, jostle of couplings and wheels; he set his valise down on the platform and caught a glimpse of his own reflection in the unbroken half of a windowâtall, bearded, Lincolnesqueâand heard the train clatter across the bridge. He made a face at his reflection and looked back across the river in time to see the caboose disappear around the long bend in deep silver shadows at the foot of Graveyard Butte.
The wind was a gentle ruffle against his ear. Otherwise there was no sound. No life. His stare lifted to the terrace alongside the butteâto the big house that loomed southwest of him, overlooking the river valley and the town.
ChÃ¢teau De MorÃ¨s. It stirred uneasy memories. Against the fading evening sky there was some sort of trick of reflection, for it appeared as if there were a light in one of the downstairs windows.
He put his back to that, picked up the valise and stepped off the platform and walked down off the embankment, kicking up little misty whorls that tickled his nostrils with a scent that invoked remembrance.
Irritated by the weakness of such sentimentality he looked down and saw, with a sort of gratification, that the powder dust had instantly obscured the polish on his boots. So much for remembered charms.
The embankment did not seem different; no more weeds than ever. It ran straight across the flats from one set of bluffs to the other like a military earthwork, interrupted midway by the flatiron bridge that spanned the fitful surges of the Little Missouri River. Pack walked down the flats on the northerly side of the embankment amid false fronts and weathered boardwalks: except for a fading of paint the ghost town appeared eerily unchanged from its glory days. Evidently there had been no fires since the blaze that had destroyed his newspaper nearly two decades ago. He walked slowly, memories stirred by the little brick church that the beautiful Madame la Marquise had built, the sagging shops his friends had occupied, the saloons that had seen as much commotion as conviviality, the great mass of the abattoir with its towering brick smokestack, the open field where they had chased baseballs in those days long before it had become the national game, the jail shack they had called the Bastille: with an audible grunt of quiet laughter he remembered the time a dozen drunken cowboys, determined to bust a friend out, had tied lassos around the building, hitched it to an unsuspecting train, and watched aghast as the departing train towed the entire sturdy little structure all the way down to the river's edge before the ropes had snappedâand all of it without a scratch of visible damage to the Bastille. Pack remembered the horror with which he had put the key in the padlock and dragged open the heavy door (it, like the rest of the Bastille, was constructed of railroad ties) only to find the occupant unharmed if you didn't count his inebriated bewilderment: “My God, boys, wasn't that one hell of a earthquake!”
Now Pack looked around the town and it seemed the only things missing were the people, the animals, the noise of uncivil civilizationâand the stink of slaughter.
In an abasing dusk on the porch of the general store he propped himself beneath the false-fronted sign that was still more or less legible:
JOE FERRIS GENERAL MERCHANDISE.
In a moment he would go inside to take shelter from the Western night. Just now he leaned against the wall to rest his legs and contemplate the scorched plot across the way where his own establishment had stood.
He was like that, picking a tooth with a fingernail, when the sudden loud scrape of a door made him wheel in heart-suspended fear.
A walrus of a man came through the doorway; one arm, brawny as a side of beef, held the door away. His squint of irritation became a peculiar scowl of surprise followed by dubious delight. “âLook what we got here, then.”
Uncertain at first in the poor light, Arthur Packard squinted at him. It was the voice, finally, that gave it away. “Joe Ferris.” He laughed. “Must be prosperity. You have sure as hell filled out.”
“You haven't. Still too damn skinny to live.” The unexpectedly stout Joe Ferris beamed and pumped his hand. “Be that as it may. Pack, Pack. Now this is fine. Oh, Pack, I've missed you. Letters every three, four Christmases just don't cut the mustard.”
Pack's glance tipped up toward the signboard with Joe's name on it. “You don't still own this â¦?”
There was a grunt of aspersion. “See anybody around here to sell goods to? I've got my big store over in Montana. One's enough.”
“Then I assume we're both here for the same reason. But the President's not due till tomorrowâyou're a day early.”
“May be. So are you.”
Pack said, “I wanted to get here before the crowd.”
“Me too. Came in on the eastbound this morning. Tramped the whole town today. Nothing to seeâunless you count recollections.”
In the flowing shadows color died out of the world. Joe Ferris continued to hold the door. “Come upstairs. We'll light a fire. You can tell me things. You're newspapering in Chicagoâthat's all I know, and it ain't enough.”
Pack followed his old friend inside. Joe struck a match and put it to the stub of a candle from his pocket. The big room was emptyâshelves, counters and hardware being too valuable to leave behindâbut implausibly there lingered a faint familiar redolence of leather, kerosene, linseed oil, licorice.
“Remember when I had to fort up in here with a shotgun to keep Jerry Paddock from robbing all my stocks?”
“Now in fact I remember before that. I remember when Swede owned this place.”
“And Jerry Paddock ran him off. Wonder what ever came of Swede?”
“How old are you, Joe?”
“I'm forty-three,” said Pack. “Listen to us. Like old menâchewing over the past so long ago it's history.”
Joe started up the stairs. “Does seem a hell of a long time ago, doesn't it. I wasn't a Republican then. Hell, I wasn't even a citizen.”
“Another ageâanother century. You realize Roosevelt's only forty-four?”
“Tell the truth I never could enumerate whether he's too young or too old,” Joe Ferris said. “Either he was born an old man or he's a bright little kid that never grew up at all.”
“I thought you were his man, Joe, body and soul.”
“And I thought you were against him. What are you doing here?”
“I'm a newspaperman,” Pack said evasively. “He's news.”
On the upstairs hearth a fire had been laid; Joe ignited it with his candle. A blanket-roll lay against the wall. Joe began to unpack itâa bottle of whiskey, fold-handle frypan, airtights of peaches and pork-and-beans.
Most of the windows had been papered over. One still had its glass. Pack went to it and looked out. That definitely was lamplight in a downstairs window of the chateau up on the bluff. “Somebody's up there. Squatter? Pilgrim taking shelter for the night?”
Joe Ferris took a look. “More likely caretaker. Madame De MorÃ¨s still owns it, I hear. Had somebody looking after it, case she ever comes back.”
“Not much chance of that after all these years.” Pack set his valise down. “Now I remember how your great man took one look at that woman and all of a sudden it was as if a locomotive had hit him in the face. Which is not surprising, I suppose, when a man finds himself face to face with a woman who ought to be against the law.”
“That was all in your head, Pack. Don't you know that yet? She never had an eye for anybody but her husband. That was her big mistake, you ask me.”
Pack had learned years ago there was no point arguing that particular matter with Joe Ferris, no matter how obvious the real facts might have been. He changed the subject. “Now it's oddâI was going to camp up here tonight. Right here.” He turned a full circle on his heels. “He stayed up here that day, on his way out to face De MorÃ¨s.”