Doc Ch. 13bykingkey©
When I woke up the next morning my wives were snuggled warmly about me. I just lay there like a sultan of Araby, soaking it up. I drowsily considered the most cost effective way to do my work. If I continued to stay in hotels as I made my rounds, it was soon going to get very expensive.
Even if every hotel gave me the same type of excellent discount Mr. Wagner had here, just the rent would exceed what I made as a deputy marshal, leaving me and mine prey to the vagaries of the medical profession. With the added expense of eating in restaurants the cost of doing business quickly becomes prohibitive. I would have to come up with something more economical.
If I could manage to use my camper as a mobile clinic, and traveling home, I'd save a lot of money. With its modern bunks it would be more comfortable than these rooms. The formica and metal surfaces were a lot cleaner and easier to keep that way. All I had to do was figure out a way to use the thing without it drawing a whole lot of attention.
My bladder did its usual morning insistence that I rise and drain it. Thus, I got up and went out back to the privy to attend to my morning ritual. When I returned from communing with nature, I found my wives were up and dressed.
Standing Bear, that walking appetite I loosely but still proudly called a son, declared they were all ready to go eat. I suspect he said that to divert attention from himself...
I washed my hands and face from my trip to the facilities in the basin provided by the hotel. Then my family and I moved from our rooms into the dining room. I ordered breakfast of bacon, biscuits, and rice for all of us. The biscuits were Aunt Lou's special, and I have no idea who consumed the most, Bear or me. I figured those biscuits should be required to be licensed – they were so good they were addictive.
As we ate, I told the girls, "I will see patients until about noon. Then we'll head back to the ranch. We have a lot to do back there."
When I had to pay out $10 for our breakfast, I was even more convinced to figure out a way to use my camper. I had already decided that using it would save us a lot of money for a place to sleep and receive patients. The price of restaurant food drove home to me just how much additional savings could be had if we cooked our own meals. But, not only would we be saving a lot of money on accommodation and food, we would have the added convenience of being able to stay where ever we might stop – no rushing to get to town – no worrying if they had room, etc.
When we left the restaurant, I took my family back to the general store. I gave them some money to do some shopping and reminded them we would be returning to the ranch that afternoon. I also told them they should buy whatever we would need to set up housekeeping. They should also pick up whatever they felt might help Red Cloud's people in relocating their camp to the ranch. Then I left them busy in the store and went back to the office to receive today's patients.
When I arrived, I found a dapper little man waiting. He reminded me of some kind of dude dressed up to play cowboy. This gentleman wore a spotless suit of buckskin with two nickel plated revolvers belted about his waist. His head was adorned with a huge hat. In my time we would've called such a fancy dresser a 'goat roper'.
This apparition introduced himself as Charlie Utter, the man who led the wagon train that brought Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane to Deadwood. As I talked with him, I determined that Charlie was not a 'dude', but likely suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder. He was deathly afraid of getting sick by being dirty or being touched. He said he bathed at least twice a day, but was still afraid of sickness. His excessively neat and meticulous appearance was just another symptom of his condition.
Charlie was aware his obsession and subsequent compulsions were not 'normal', but that still didn't help him with his anxiety. More than any other in this time period, I realized that despite his irrational fear of dirt and disease, his compulsion for cleanliness could very well save his life. Therefore, I was careful in how I addressed his fears.
"Charlie, I know you're concerned that your fears are irrational, and to an extent they are, but I also know that keeping clean is still the best way to avoid disease. There's nothing I can do at this time to help with your anxiety. However at the same time, I think that while your behavior may seem odd or crazy to others, as long as you can continue to function more-or-less normally, it is still a safe practice. Therefore, I suggest you continue what you have been doing – stay clean and avoid contact with sick people."
Charlie looked relieved when I finished my little speech. He appeared to be about to say something more, then abruptly changed the subject. "Do you have time to look at something? I think you may be interested in what I have to show you."
Just the way he said it, and from his slight smile, I was intrigued. I knew from history that Charlie Utter was an honest man. After all, he had been Bill Hickok's best friend. I had no fear of him leading me into an ambush or the like, so I figured he must be offering me some sort of business proposition.
There were no other patients waiting, and no one had appeared and left while I talked with Mr. Utter. I told him it looked OK, but I should check. I excused myself and went out to the lobby where I checked with the desk clerk. He had not had any enquiries today either. I advised him then that I would be leaving and had no idea when I would return. I returned to the office.
"I am at your disposal, Mr. Utter. Lead on."
The dapper gent then led me to where his wagon train was camped, about a mile north of town. He pointed out a couple of wooden wagons.
"These belonged to a snake oil salesman who got caught messing with another man's woman. He did not survive the encounter. Because they were part of my train, and still owed trail fees, I seized them against the debt. Would you be interested in them? I'm selling the whole rig."
Would I? Even from this distance, if they were even close to what I thought they might be, they could answer my dilemma about using my camper. It almost seemed as if there was some Force guiding me at every step so I could make a difference in this timeline. I tried to conceal my excitement – for the sake of negotiation, I should try not to look overly interested.
"Hmmm... if they can be suitably modified, they might fit into an idea I have been kicking around. Mind if I take a look at them?"
"Be my guest! You won't know if they are suitable unless you check them out. Here, I'll give you the tour."
As we approached them, I examined the two wagons more closely. They appeared to be set up like gypsy caravans. As we stepped up into the first one, Charlie pointed out that it was set up like a doctor's office. There was a lot of medical equipment. Although crude compared to my time it was the top of the line for now. There was even a small laboratory set up at the front. Too bad the previous owner had been such a cad and charlatan – he had some good ideas.
After poking around in the medical van, we moved over to the second wagon. It was set up as living quarters. It also was quite fancy for the times, but like the first one, was in serious need of a good cleaning. Dust covered everything. It was obvious that neither caravan had been looked after.
"They're pretty dusty. They'll need a thorough cleaning." I observed.
"Yes, well a few weeks on the trail will do that, Doc, if there's no one to keep them clean. Normally we would have left them behind and just taken the stock, but they looked like they might have some value. The drivers were paid up and agreed to stay on because they had already promised to get them here, but that was all they did. As soon as we got here though, they lit a shuck for the gold fields."
Charlie Utter looked to be taking exception to my observation, given his obsession with personal cleanliness. Before he could take umbrage, I explained my position.
"I understand, Charlie. I wasn't saying anything about you or your people as housekeepers. I was just making an observation from a professional viewpoint. You know, of course that even if they were clean enough to satisfy either you or me, my womenfolk would still want to clean them."
I must have said the right thing to ease the tension because Charlie smiled and commented, "Of course, Doc! Women can be a holy terror when it comes to cleaning! I remember my Ma... well, let's not go there, and just say I probably come by it honestly..."
I waved my arm toward the two vans. "You don't know the half of it, Charlie, until you have three wives. But, like you said, let's not go there. Anyway, yes, I'm very interested in them, but I don't have the tack or the stock to move them."
"Oh! They come with eight strong mules and tack. When I said 'the whole rig' that's what I meant – the whole kit and caboodle – tack, stock, the works. I thought you would understand that. I was wondering when you were going to ask to see the stock."
I had to cover my ignorance of the way a package deal was described in this time. If he'd said 'kit-and-caboodle' I might have understood, but I missed on 'the whole rig'. Sometimes I could be so dense! I should have known that in this time, wagons and stock from wagon trains, when sold, were usually disposed of as a unit. I grew up on those stories...
"Charlie, I might have grown up on a ranch, but I was never directly involved in any of the horse trading before I went off to medical school. Then I went straight into the army. I certainly never dealt with wagon masters selling off surplus equipment, either. Please forgive my ignorance. Now, we've established just what the package includes and that I'm interested. How much do you want for 'the whole rig'?"
In the tradition of all good salesmen and horse traders, Charlie Utter went into his spiel and started the bargaining/haggling dance.
"Well... let's see... I have the outstanding trail fees, the feed charges here for the mules and... a man should make a bit too, don't you think? I gotta have $250 for the whole lot."
I thought about it for a minute but realized that $250 would make a serious dent in my reserves. I also had no idea how big a bill the girls were running up at the store. That storekeeper was quickly becoming a friend who wouldn't gouge us, but this was a boom town after all, with the prices to match. If I paid Utter's asking price, I would have just under $100 left – not much of a grub stake.
I made my opening counter offer. "$150 for the lot."
He thought for a while, hemmed and hawed, then declared, "Let's split the difference. Final offer. $200."
I couldn't explain why he was doing it, but I sensed that Charlie was giving in far too easily, and that I really was getting one hell of a deal. I can be very dense at times, but even I knew that at this time and in this place, eight strong mules were probably very valuable. I remembered reading somewhere that the price of mules was relatively steady at between $100 and $125 each all through the last quarter of the nineteenth century. You do the math for the animals alone – no rolling stock and no tack.
Regardless, Charlie must also salvage his pride and make it look like he bartered well. Whereupon, in the spirit of the game, I did my own requisite hemming and hawing. At length, trying to sound defeated instead of elated (and a little confused at his generosity), I groaned, "OK, Charlie, you're killing me here, but it's a deal. $200 for wagons, mules and tack."
Mr. Utter said, "Done!"
We shook hands and I counted out $200 in cash to him. No paperwork. No lawyers. Just a handshake and our word to each other. After the legal shenanigans I left behind, man! Did that ever feel good!
I was quite convinced that not only did I get the best of the deal, but that Mr. Utter had manipulated it so. However, he did it in such a way it made him look like a businessman. From the grin that threatened to wrap all the way around his head, I suspected that I was right in my assumption, and for whatever reason, Charlie Utter indeed thought he had made out the best.
No matter, the deal was made and I had other, more pressing, things to consider. Among them, I would have to make arrangements to pick them up or have them stored at the stable.
With the deal closed by a handshake and the money paid, I thought it was safe to enquire, "Charlie, don't get me wrong. I think this is going to work out really well for me. Still, you seemed to be in a bit of a rush to sell this rig. How come?"
"I had thought I might keep the living quarters for myself, but I thought the other members of the train might think I was trying to take unfair advantage, so I decided to sell them quickly for whatever I could get. Then I discovered there was a doctor in town that planned on making regular rounds through the local area. I thought you might be able to make good use of them.
"That snake oil feller was a shyster, but he had the right idea with his equipment. I figured you might be able to make better use of his idea, so I approached you. I liked your professional manner and felt that you really care about your patients. I decided I was right to sell them to you if we could make a deal that didn't break you completely and didn't make me look a total fool as a business man."
"I thought I got a better deal than I should have. But I'm not one to look a gift horse – or mule – in the mouth. Thank you, Charlie. You're a good man."
Charlie laughed. "You might not think you got off light when you hear the rest of why I did it. You realize I also expect to be able to come to see you for any doctoring I might need, don't you?"
"Of course, Charlie! Sounds fair to me, but I would have done it anyway for a friend. I hope you can stay in good health for a few more days though. It'll be that long before I get back this way. Oh, I don't suppose I can ask your help to get them over to the stable?"
"Glad to help a new friend."
Charlie had a couple of his teamsters help me hitch up two teams to the wagons. The extras were fitted with their tack for easy carrying then two were secured to the back of each wagon by their lead ropes as spares. It was highly unlikely we would have to change them out, but if we did, we were ready.
I wasn't familiar with mules, so the men spent a few minutes showing me the differences, which were relatively minor, between driving mules and horses. I learned straightaway that mules are a LOT smarter, stronger and more durable than horses. They were the perfect dray animal for what I had in mind.
When all was ready, Charlie himself tied his personal mount to the back, then mounted the driver's seat of the living-quarters wagon and followed me as I drove the medical van, to the stable. When we arrived at the stable, Charlie and I parted company with a warm handshake. Like his 'pard' Bill Hickok, I thought I had made a real friend.
After saying goodbye to Charlie, I asked the stable master to inspect the wagons and mules. I wanted to make sure that the wheels were sound and that the animals were properly shod. I didn't want any breakdowns or animals fetching up lame, even on the relatively short trip home.
I left him with instructions to repair any deficiencies he found, but to keep a list as I would be checking before I paid the bill. I told him I wanted all the repairs done today if possible, but I might not be leaving before tomorrow because I needed to arrange for another driver. I appreciated the man's integrity when he observed that both doors on each wagon were equipped with a hasp that could and in this town, should be locked.
Thinking he gave good advice, I diverted to the general store to get my family and buy four padlocks to secure the doors. When they heard what I had acquired, and why, the ladies became very excited and wanted to see the wagons straightaway. So much for finding a driver today...
When we returned to the stable, the livery man hadn't removed the tack from the mules yet. But, he had finished his inspection. I was pleasantly surprised when he said that both wagons were in excellent condition but we should replace all the shoes on all the mules at five dollars each. They were tight, but worn out from the long trail they just came off. I told him to go ahead. While a very interested Bear watched the smith get started, I showed the girls the wagons.
My wives climbed over and through everything, inspecting the whole set up closely. They thought after a thorough cleaning and a "few small changes" (sic) it would indeed make a very nice home and office for when we were away from the ranch. As the girls finished their inspection and praised me for a wise decision with toe-curling kisses, I lamented the fact we either needed to leave a wagon behind and come for it tomorrow, or hire a driver. The ladies looked at me like a slow child. Dawn became their spokesman.
"We can drive a team. You just need to show us how mules are different."
"You sure? If you are, I'll hitch up one of the wagons. You can show me what you know and I can show you how mules are a little different."
They assured me they could, so I hitched a team to the living-quarters wagon. I showed them all the slight differences between mules and horse teams, and emphasized how smart a mule really was. I also told them if a mule displayed the stubbornness they were infamous for, they had better look around. A mule was usually only stubborn when it sensed danger.
We spent an hour or so in the livery yard driving around, getting the girls used to the mules. Periodically, as the smith finished shoeing a team, we would them switch out. By the time we were finished, the girls had driven all four teams and all four were freshly shod.
Dawn had no trouble handling the team once I showed her how. Running Deer and Little Doe were just too small to drive a team by themselves and Deer was handicapped by her broken arm, but working as a team themselves they could handle it just fine.
Of course Standing Bear wanted to give it a try too. However, being even smaller than the girls, he just wasn't strong enough to handle the big team. The poor kid was very let down that he couldn't drive so I told him I had a much more important job for him. He would be my hostler. His job would be to help me take care of the animals by feeding, watering, and brushing them down. He would also help with the hitching and unhitching. When we were on the road, he would ride his horse and lead the string of spare mules and extra riding horses. We had acquired quite a ramada.
The girls had proved their competence as teamsters and Standing Bear was set up to handle the spares. I was satisfied we could get home OK, and that we would also be able to make our rounds. That meant I wouldn't have the additional expense of hiring a driver. Even better... Things were coming together. We were ready to head home.
I paid the livery man the $40 for his work plus our livery bill since yesterday for the horses. I thanked him for his excellent treatment of all our stock. He helped us saddle our mounts while Dawn and I hitched a team to the medical van. Bear mounted up and took control of the string he was to lead. We got moving.
Our way out of town took us past the general store. We stopped and the storekeeper helped us load the ladies' purchases. There were some larger items that would not fit in the vans. I told the storekeeper I would be back as soon as possible to pick up the rest of our load.
With as much as we could carry, we took our leave of our new friend. The ladies all gave him a hug and Bear solemnly shook his hand. The storekeeper affectionately tousled Bears hair one last time and handed him a bag of hard candy. A final check on the tack, and we mounted up for the journey home. Because our day had started early, it was still relatively early in the day when we got away.