The Benevolence of Montana Bill

The Benevolence of Montana Bill  (1902) 
by Arthur Stringer

From Munsey's Magazine, May 1902.

The Benevolence of Montana Bill.



"SAY, Ike!" cried a vigorous young voice from under the smoke stained fly drop of the grub tent. "Ike!"

Ike crossed his legs. "Wall?" he inquired impassively.

"Reckon you'd better deal me out 'nother hand o' this yere overland trout!" cried the voice from within the tent, half muffled in a mouthful of well fried bacon.

"Appetizin' air, this, for yearlin's," sniffed Ike wearily. Then ho raised his voice so as to be heard within. "Any razorback aspirin' for unwholesome feedin' and extra grub in this camp tonight is agoin' to do his own rustlin', I reckon!" And Timber Line Ike sat back in kingly and defiant ease, turning his gaze to the wine glow that deepened and melted into the cool mountain twilight about the summit of Banded Peak.

A frowzled young head appeared through the flaps of the tent.

"Say, Ike, ain't you kind o' nervous 'bout overworkin' yerself these days?" the indignant head gently inquired.

"Mebbe," said Ike. "But I reckon this yere grub tent ain't no all night restoorant!" And he sat back and once more impassively contemplated the white teeth of the Rockies biting up into a crimson watermelon rind of sunlit sky.

"The seemin' razor edge on this yore appetizin' air," he mused aloud, "reminds me some forcible o' one o' Montana Bill's promisin' schemes."


we had all known Montana Bill as a Napoleon gone wrong, and were not unwilling to wait while Ike languidly refilled his old black applewood, and then went on with his yarn.

"It were a horspit'l camp. Reckon Bill had the idee this yere mountain air wore jes' the thing for sick folks. He allowed if he ever got his camp goin' full blast, he'd wash enough metal out o' the enterprise to pack a fourteen carat loggin' chain on his vest and have a run East in a privit car. Bill were always a trifle sangwin.

"Bill's first idee 'bout horspit'l camps were more or less the outcome of a little set to 'tween him and me. Me and a cuss named Wilkins was runnin' the grub tent up on the old Baldwin ranch, and I guess mebbe I got kind o' tired rustlin' extra grub for Bill, for Bill were a reg'lar phenomanum when it come to eatin'. Reckon I had to speak to him some short. When I laid out to him that he et enough to founder a self respectin' cayuse. Bill jes' went on eatin' ca'm and natcheral as ever, and laid it all down to this yere Rocky Mountain air.

"'Why, Ike,' says he, lappin' up his bacon grease with a hunk o' bread 'bout the size o' your two feet—'Ike, mebbe you won't b'lieve it, but down in Montany,' says he, ' I were that pernickety 'bout grub I had to fall back on cod liver oil and such stuff, jes' to keep strength up. It's this yere mountain air, Ike. It clean makes a new man of a cuss,' says he, pourin' out about a pint o' surup.

"'Make a purty good locality for a horspit'l, mebbe?' says I.

"Bill looked at mo kind o' solemn for a minit or two. 'Reckon it would, Ike,' says he, cuttin' off another quarter loaf to sop up his surup. For about ten minits he gives his undivided attention to devastatin' the remains of his vittles, bein' one o' these yere thoroughgoin' eaters w'at always browse to the end o' the picket rope. Then he leans back agin the flour barrel and takes up that idee 'bout the horspit'l agin.

"'Ike,' says he, 'there's a uncommon good thing in that horspit'l notion o' yourn.'

"Then he draws over by the camp stove, and makes friends with the prune bag, and works out the whole game. He allowed all you had to do was to git a hold of a handful o' humble speerited pack bosses and a campin' outfit. Then you'd have to lay in a tidy little stock o' tea and pork and beans, and stuff of that breed, and then git hold o' some good, enterprisin' talker w'at 'ul make a corrallin' excursion in through the East and round up a couple o' dozen nice congenial invalids hungerin' for the genooine smell of mountain ozone and the simple eatin' o' the untootered cowboy. 'Why,' says Bill, 'it'd be uncommon like rakin' in good money for takin' a three-weeks' picnic. You could jes' jog them invalids up into the mountains on light rations, and keep 'em there three or four days, and then jog 'em down again, cured and grateful. And there you are!'

"Right then and there Bill give me the job o' rustlin' grub for the outfit at a dollar a day. He allowed, however, he'd kind o' like to do all the excursion managin' hisself, being a uncommon sociable and genial cuss by natcher, and specially fitted for them pursoots. He laid out that by the time he'd roped in a good campin' ground somewhere up in the mountains, he'd be able to set off with a fresh batch o' weaklin's ev'ry month durin' the summer, and reckoned he ought to git from four to five dollars a day from each of these yere invalids for board and travelin' expenses. And owin' to the fact that such folks wouldn't be hard on vittles, Bill guessed he ought to clear 'bout twenty dollars a week off each pore maverick w'at this yere mountain climbin' were the means o' headin' back to the priceless trail o' health. Least, this were Bill's idee.

"’Bout the time Bill had et a couple o' pounds o' prunes he had the whole enterprise worked out complete. He were stocked with cussed energy 'bout some things, and in about three shakes of a bronco's tail he wore off lookin' up Hank Moore.


"Hank, you'd allow, were the smoothest spoken cow puncher on the Eastern Slope. Hank'd argue a gopher into climbin' trees, 'f he once set his mind to it.

"Bill rooted him out in the middle of his spring round up, and when this yere horspit'l idee were first laid out before him Hank jes' gave Bill the Chilkoot eye. Hank said he weren't hungerin' to pose as no collector o' decayed humanity for any man. But Bill enlarged on the civilizin' inflooeuces of a Eastern trip, and the joy w'at would be brought to the sorrowin', and seemed that all fired sangwin and roseate 'bout the scheme that Hank finally allowed mebbe he were some sick o' hangin' round bull pens and brandin' unmannerly steers, and doin' gen'ral low down Siwash work. The outcome of it were that he finally allowed he might tail in with this horspit'l enterprise, providin' Bill give him so much a head for ev'ry A-one invalid w'at he rounds up for him.

"That were reasonable enough. Bill says, and then lays out his idee for this yere round up some explicit to Hank.

"'Now, I allow, Hank,' says he—'I allow I want A-one invalids. But there's all kinds and manners of invalids, Hank, and I'm buildin' on you roundin' me up jes' the right breed,' says he. 'I ain't thirstin' to do undertakin' bizness on the side, so I docks you forty bucks for ev'ry cuss w'at dies on my hands. And I don't want a walkin' sanytarium full o' low speerited Mohave cranks,' says he, 'w'at'd drive you to drink b'fore sun up. What I want, Hank, is a nice, cheery collection o' bright and interestin' sick folks, w'at 'll be congenial together,' says he, 'and mebby kind o' look after theirselves on a pinch.'

"When Hank were dead shore he'd got about the right idee o' w'at Bill wanted, he painted for war by adornin' hisself pertickler swell in a new Stetson and blue flannel, and ambled East.


"In something less than two weeks Bill's patients began arrivin'. For a few days Bill were kept busy meetin' 'em with a cheerin' word and a whisky flask, escortin' 'em, when willin', some later over to the 'Alberta Rest' to licker up more copious. The lickerin' weren't at Bill's expense, the same bein' dooly put down, for Bill were a close hand at figgerin'. While waitin' round for his party to fill up, Bill took a consider'ble heap o' pains findin' out the pertickler ailment of each one o' his invalids. He allowed to 'em he weren't a reg'lar medicine sharp with a reg'lar no account sheepskin. But he let 'em know that he'd seen a heap o' doctorin' in his day, 'specially among cattle, and were some qualified to look after sick folks. He got into the free and easy way o' speakin' to 'em as 'my people,' and flutterin' round among 'em uncommon like an old hen.

"Movin' day fin'ly come round, and Bill looked as proud of that cavalcade o' shattered constitootions as though they was all his own offspring. But jes' where Bill got his hooks on the pertickler line o' boss meat w'at were lined up in that percession o' broken down and mangy speerited pack animals were more 'n me or any man on the Eastern Slope were sayin'.

"Bill himself allowed he'd engaged hosses a trifle on in years, mebbe, but there were reasons for it. 'A nice low speerited animal,' says Bill, 'ain't goin' to stand round buckin' and rompin', and you can't be too careful,' says he, 'with the shattered nerves of a invalid.'

"The mornin' Bill and me gits this ambulatin' sanytarium under way were one of the finest foothill days w'at this yere recollectin' apparatus o' mine kin rope in. There were a warm Ch'nook blowin' down from the hills like a woman breathin' over a sick baby, and it put them invalids o' Bill's into uncommon good speerits.

"I'd laid out to Bill some plain that he were packin' a purty slim three weeks' allowance o' grub up into the hills for a party o' them consider'ble proportions, 'specially as he'd been talkin' uncommon big 'bout the feedin' he was goin' to give 'em. Bill wouldn't take no stock in my uncalled for misgivin's. Fact is, he got some hostyle and pointed out uncommon irritated that these yere parties were all invalids and weren't goin' to be benefited none by overfeedin'. 'It doesn't do an ordinary invalid any good to go round.' says Bill, 'gorgin" like a boa constrictor,' and he calls me a croakin' livered agitator and trots up along the line and gets talkin' eloquent 'bout the natcheral beauties o' the Canadian Rockies.

"When the land agent asked if there were plenty o' game in the parts we were headin' for, Bill told 'em 'bout the mountain goat and the bear steaks they were goin' to have, enlargin' some thoughtless on these yere eatables till he had that whole percession clean waterin' at the mouth. Fact is, Bill had to haul up unexpected for lunch, which kind o' took the speerits out o' him for the rest o' the day, seein' he'd allowed they'd worry along with an early supper o' pork and beans 'bout five in the evening.

"By noon the next day we'd begun to git up into the higher country, and by night we'd camped on Ribbon Crick. The novelty of this yere mountain trailin' had kind o' worn off some with Bill's invalids, and a couple of thunder storms had kind o' taken the nerve out o' them, and Bill seen they were gittin' downright peevish. He also seen that the open air and hoss ridin' had begun to tell on 'em, too. for the way they kept me rustlin' grub were a saddenin' eye opener to Bill. I could see that pork and beans were also beginnin' to pall on 'em, and that there were shore trouble on the trail ahead. 'Twere 'bout this time the bug collector got out a seven dollar nickel plated fishin' rod and tried the fishin' in Ribbon Crick. I reckon he landed 'bout two dozen fine rainbow trout in less 'n two hours. When Bill seen these yere fish an idee appeared to git its rope over him all of a heap, and in half an hour he had ev'ry invalid in that party out fishin', and were talkin' of usin' the pork barrel for saltin' down trout.

"'I've always heard tell,' says Bill, smooth as oil, 'that this yere Ribbon Crick were reckoned the healthiest and most saloobrious locality west o' Calgary, and I guess it'd pay us jes' to lay over here a spell.' And Bill kept 'em there feedin' 'em on rainbow trout till they elected a grievance committee and stated some emphatic they weren't consumin' no more fish. Bill said it were mighty disheartenin', 'specially when he were tryin" to pick out the healthy spots for 'em, and demonstrated to 'em that this yere misjudgin' of his motives hurt him a heap. But he were forced to strike camp.


"′Bout this time that mountain air were beginnin' to get its genooin work in on these yere invalids, and Bill couldn't deny they were gittin' huskier and more ravenous ev'ry day, and kickin' more strenuous agin Bill's pork and beans, and makin' disparagin' remarks in gen'ral 'bout my grub rustlin'.

"Bill got kind o' moody and low speerited watchin' good vittles disappearin' that unexpected way, and took to broodin' and bein' all fired dejected 'bout havin' no sickness in camp. We were out a week when Bill fin'ly allowed we didn't have enough provender to see us through another two days' eatin'. The only obvious wagon trail out o' this yere slough seemed for me to trip back with a couple o' the hosses and pack in fresh supplies.

"Owin' to the gen'ral debility of these yere two equestrian mavericks, it took me 'bout three days to make the trip. But soon as I struck camp ag'in I seen something was up.

"'Ike,' says Bill, lookin' me square in the eye. 'Ike, you ain't seen nothin' o' Pinto and Red Bird and Pompey, have you?'

"These yere were three o' Bill's sooperannuated pack hosses, and 1 had to own up I hadn't seen head nor tail of 'em. All Bill's invalids stood round sayin' it were uncommon queer.

"'Ike,' says Bill agin, still eyin' me kind o' fishy, 'you ain't chanced to see nothin' of any band o' maraudin' Injins down this yere trail nowheres?'

"I allowed I hadn't.

"'Don't s'pose there's any hoss thieves secreted in round these yere mountains, Ike?' says Bill agin.

"I laid out to Bill uncommon plain that it weren't likely hoss thieves were lyin' 'wake nights devisin' plans for the nefarious roundin' up o' hosses like Pompey and Red Bird.

"'That's no way, Ike, to speak 'bout a faithful old animal friend,' says Bill, mighty solemn and indignant—'a old animal friend w'at my people here were all uncommon attached to. But it's mighty mysterious,' says he, 'for these yere three hosses kind of appear to have stampeded or been stolen, and we're all beginnin' to feel some nervous 'bout 'em.'

"'Yes,' says the bug collector, 'for here we are all stranded, grievous short o' provisions.'

"'Mebbe,' says the lecturin' feller, 'three of us'd be willin' to go afoot to this yere place where the boss says game is so plentiful?'

"Bill wouldn't stand for any o' his people goin' round among them mountains afoot. He'd brought these yere friends o' his out for rest and repose, and he wouldn't hear o' no lives bein' endangered that way by violent exertion. 'Me and my friend Ike can walk,' says he, 'and mebbe we can cache the load off one of the hosses round here for the down trip, so we'll have enough animals same as ever.'

"But Bill's invalids wouldn't hear o' no grub bein' left behind in that light and airy fashion.

"'I reckon we'll need all the grub we've got.' says the engineer. 'Fact is, where'd we been this last time if it hadn't been for them three mountain goat you run across?'

"'That mountain goat were some tough eatin', though,' says the lecturing feller, sad and regretful like.

"Bill explained some hasty that it were the altitood lowerin' the bilin' point and makin' it hard to give goat a fit and proper stewin' w'at was responsible for its bein' some stringy.

"'Mountain goat?' says I, some puzzled, knowin' there weren't goat within fifty miles o' those hills.

"'Yes, mountain goat, Ike,' says Bill, kind o' provoked and hostyle. 'I had uncommon good luck up the hills when you were trippin' east for grub. Potted three fine goat,' says he. 'It were jes' what my people wanted, and made a good, bracin' feed o' fresh meat for 'em,' says he, 'and kind o' helped me out o' this yere tempor'ry stringency regardin' provisions,' says he, lookin' kind o' shifty in the eye while he were talkin'.

"'Bill,' says I, takin' the boss to one side and puttin' it to him straight, 'Bill, you don't mean to allow you've slaughtered these three pore old dumb animals?'

"'What dumb animals?' says Bill, gettin' some indignant and tryin' to put on dog.

"'Why,' says I, 'them faithful old animal friends w'at we were all so attached to!'

"'Jes' cut them insinuations out o' your head,' says Bill. I could see Bill were gittin' desperate sick o' this horspit'l camp and the thankless way these yere low speerited invalids o' his were imposin' on his benevolence.


"'Why, Ike,' says he, 'it's downright heartrendin' the way them fourteen hostyle impostors w'at were s'posed to be waverin' b'tween life and death fall onto their fodder three times a day. They're eatin' me into the grave, Ike,' says he, 'and they ain't even got no gratitood for the way I've mothered 'em all up through these yere mountains!'

"But I guess if Bill thought these yere ambulatin' weaklin's o' his were some voracious at the end o' that first week, he were clear locoed with astonishment second week out. I never seen fourteen invalids pick up faster 'n these yere pork consumin' patients o' Bill's. Got so they et uncommon like April grizzlies. He got so at meal times he couldn't sit there and watch 'em. He jes' had to climb out and walk up and down outside till them fourteen inordinate appetites were appeased, and then he'd sit and look at the sad remains o' them good vittles 'bout the same as a Cree Injin 'll look at a empty whisky barrel.

"It were clear enough all the doin' of that stimulatin' Rocky Mountain atmosphere, for the trail had climbed up to a purty good altitood, and that thin air were 'bout as intoxicatin' as champagne. And that hoss killin' bizness, too, were a sort o' boomerang on Bill, for some of the party always had to go afoot, and the way this yere worked up a unwholesome hunger in 'em were shore astoundin'.

"Bill did w'at he coidd devisin' schemes to keep 'em extra quiet and slothful, but it were like puttin' a badger on a sand hill and tellin' him not to dig. When they weren't playin' games and climbin' unnecessary rocks they were eatin', and when they weren't eatin' they were chuckin' boulders down the gorges or 'tarnally doin' something to work up a more unreasonable appetite. And all along they were jes' hostyle enough to see that Bill kept to his contract.


"Couple o' days later he had to send me down for another supply o' grub. When I got back his people told me some gleeful he'd had another streak o' luck and got a mountain goat. Likewise another pack hoss was missin'.

"Bill got mo to join him in puttin' up a bluff o' goin' out and browsin' round for big game, and things went draggin' on kind o' ominous and uncertain till one night Bill came scurryin' back to camp with a uncommon scart look on his face.

"'Ike,' says he some stern, 'have you seen any Injins round these parts? Any o' them hostyle Stoney Injins, I mean.'

"I allowed I had seen a handful o' Stoneys when I was trippin' up with the grub.

"'And you never told me, Ike!' says Bill, powerful reprovin' like.

"'Bill, what in thunder be you a drivin' at?' says I, some annoyed, and not seein' jes' w'at hand he were a playin'.

"'It were cruel negligent, Ike,' says he, shakin' his head, 'specially with all these yere invalids o' mine in camp.'

"'You shorely ain't gittin' scart o' them onery Stoney redskins I allood to?' says I.

"'No, Ike, I don't fear for myself.' says Bill. 'It's these yere innocent and unprotected lives I'm responsible for,' says he, lookin' commiseratin' like at his circle o' quakin' invalids drinking in every word. They seen that Bill were hintin' at something shore enough, aud the way the whole fourteen of 'em lay off consumin' supper right then and there were itself a bid for Bill to keep up the game.

"'You needn't lose any sleep, Bill, 'bout them pertickler redskins,' says I, 'for they were that mangy and mean speerited a gang o' degenerate, horn polishin' paupers they wouldn't face a catnip eatin' tomcat!'

"'You're shore delooded thereby,' says Bill, 'for I've been reconnoiterin' sufficient to find these yere redskins are desperit characters, and this yere is a marked camp!'

"'You don't mean we're all agoin' to be taken and massacred by these yere redskins?' says the land agent. And there were a most uneasy stirrin' among Bill's fourteen invalids.

"'There's no tellin',' says Bill, 'there's no tellin' jes' w'at they'll do with the captives. But this yere game isn't up yet, friends. As the boss o' this camp, you won't find me doin' any desertin' when it comes to a matter o' life and death like this yere. Meanwhile we must keep cool headed and lay low.'

"I knowed Bill, and weren't sayin' much. But that night when I'd moseyed up the trail to have a quiet smoke and think this yere deal out, I spotted Bill havin' a heart to heart talk with a couple of them degenerate Stoneys on the shady side of a rock. And I had a kind of a sudden soopernatcheral illoomination o' jes' w'at card Bill were playin'.

"’Bout three next mornin', shore enough, Bill wakes the whole camp and announces mighty excited that the Stoneys had raided the hosses and driven 'em off. Bill further pointed out where they were makin' ready for a war dance b'fore descendin' like a avalanche on an unprotected camp of invalids.

"'We're outnumbered ten to one,' says Bill. 'and at sun up they'll most obvious fall on us. You've got a clear trail from the Gap down to Foot's Crossin', and from there you kin strike the railroad 'bout eighteen miles east. My dooty is here. I advise you, my friends, to go while there's time. Don't mind me,' says Bill. 'I ain't quailin' none. And never mind botherin' 'bout this yere duffel and blankets and sleepin' bags. Life's more precious than this yere triflin' baggage, and I don't want no needless blood on my head. I advise you to go speedy, comrades. It's my dooty to stand here and cover your retreat!'

"The bug collector said it weren't right to leave the boss alone in a game like that.

"'It's my clear dooty, friends,' says Bill, gittin' out his rifle. And there weren't much delayin' and argufyin' 'bout the point. Bein' somew'at sore on the whole enterprise myself, I agreed to pilot them fourteen locoed tenderfeet down out o' the hills, for a consideration it ain't essential to delay on. Bill put on he were consider'ble hurt at me leavin' him, but fin'ly allowed he were prepared to face the end alone.

"And the last sight I had o' Montana Bill he were standin' on a rock most statuesque, holdin' back 'bout eight or nine underfed Stoney Injins, whose war yellin' were uncommon like these yere Roman mobs in a opery house. I reckon I know the hollow plunk of a blank cartridge when I hear it. The way Bill held back that hostyle band o' maraudin' redskiirs with a magazine full o' blanks were a standin' pride to Montany."