Tam the Tall Tale Teller, Chapter 86: The Colorado Constitution



To say the former hostler accepted my job offer with alacrity would be an understatement. He’d not given his boss notice, though, explaining simply that if he did, he’d be fired on the spot. Instead, he’d arranged to have a message sent to his employer at the last minute. Mister Jurgens–no one seemed to know his first name–showed up jist as our hired hack pulled in, ready to take us all to the train station.

“What’d you want to see me about, Barnes?” The fat man demanded. Not asked; you could tell this scowly jowly porker wasn’t in the habit of asking fer anything.

Chet took off his hat–bugger still had a full head of hair, I noticed–and bowed with a flourish like one a them European courtiers, sticking one leg forward when he done it. “Mister Jurgens, I wish to inform you of the great benefit you have bestowed upon me in allowing a poor, misguided wretch such as myself to attend to the needs of the animals fer these past three years.”

Jurgens clearly didn’t know quite what to make of that. You could see them steel marbles rolling around inside his round skull, trying to figure it out. Marie and I were stifling ourselves, trying to keep from busting out laughing. Our new hand jist waited.

Most city humans can’t stand silence.

After a bit, the fellow sort of spluttered, “Well, ah, I’m glad to hear you appreciate the horses–”

“No, no, no sir. You misunderstand. The horses are good people. The animals to which I refer are the rotating expectorating defecating excoriating frustrating irritating flatulating imitating wannabe excuses for specimens of humanity you call guests at this fine establishment. I have learned much from observing their habits when feeding and breeding and me-me-me needing. But now I must bid adieu to the likes of you.

“In other words, Jurgens, take this job and shove it.”

Chet had jist stepped aboard the hack when his former employer found his voice, screaming–yes, screaming; that’s the way it came out,

“You’ll never work in this town again!”

At that, Marie and I both lost it. We were laughing so hard, we almost missed hearing our man’s reply.

“Truer words were never spoken, good sir. You finally got something right.”


The train ride home didn’t even make me sick. All three of us–Marie, Chet Barnes, and I–felt the weight of the world come off our shoulders as the steam locomotive gathered speed, huffing and puffing and pulling us south toward Walsenburg and Flywheel Ranch.

We loitered in the dining car after lunch, sipping coffee and listening to our clan’s newest addition tell about his past life. After Marie got him started, he did.

“Chet,” she twinkled at him, “your education has obviously included more than jist the School of Hard Knocks. Tell!”

He chuckled. “Who could resist a directive like that? All right. I will tell. You may hear me slipping in and out of dialect.”

“Like you talk western most of the time but sometimes go back to your highly educated eastern roots?”

“Precisely, Marie. Precisely.

“I grew up the third son in a family of nine children, back in New York state. Our father was not terribly wealthy, but his brother was. Still is, I suppose, unless he’s passed on. Uncle Peter paid for our schooling. He wasn’t too thrilled when I told him I wanted to study law. Lawyers were, in his opinion, the black sheep of the Scum of the Earth family.”

That made sense to me. It was a lawyer who’d skinned me out of my parents’ ranch a couple of years after they died. So now I’d hired one? I raised an eyebrow, Tam-style, and waited fer the rest of it.

“Nor was that the worst of it. It was when I picked out the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law in Louisville, Kentucky, that he blew a gasket. To the family as a whole, Kentucky was crazy-wild, barbaric frontier country. I might as well have told them I wished to go live with the Devil and bear his demon children.”

My wife choked on her coffee. When she got it under control–wiping the new stain on her sage green dress with the edge of the table cloth while the porter wasn’t looking–she told Chet, “That would be something to see!”

“My apologies, Marie,” he smiled at her, not looking the least bit sincere, “The Devil made me do it.”

“Anyway, I was a stubborn young cuss. Uncle Peter–and my mother especially–were certain sure I was out of my mind. I was equally certain I was destined to be the next Daniel Boone, except I’d be smart enough to stay away from any place called the Alamo.

“In the end, my uncle agreed to pay my way to Kentucky–I suspect more to be rid of me than anything else–and to cover my expenses at the school. I was off on my grand adventure.”

“So,” I had to ask, “you’re a lawyer?”

“Got the degree, yes. Never took the bar exam, so to that extent, no. See, in those days the law school in Louisville was a part-time thing with classes in the afternoons taught–sort of–by part time professors who made their real money from private practices. I learned the material; my obligation to my uncle kept me honest enough to do that much.

“But I had wa-ay too much free time on my hands. Started falling in with bad company.”

“Murderers?” My innocent-looking little woman asked all too innocently. There was something about Chet Barnes that got her mischief bone going something fierce. “Thieves? Rapists? Gamblers? Whores?”

“Worse,” he replied. “Actors.”


Calving season was in full swing by the time Dawson and Marie got home with a new hand trailing along behind ’em. Happy times all around, except the reunion between the Trasks and their daughter was not exactly all it should have been; seemed like it took little Sadie a day or two to remember who these strange people might be.

The tyke was conning ’em, though; I could see she was jist a bit ticked at having been left behind fer nearly ninety days at the tender age of eighteen months. Of course, some folks would say a baby couldn’t plot revenge like she done.

I tend to disagree.

We done all right at holding the place together during their absence, but it felt damn good to have our partner back in the saddle. The three of us–Coug and Dawson and me–made one helluva combination, no two ways about it.

Bodeen took over the breaking-in of Chet Barnes to ranch duties. Said the man looked like he’d work out jist fine, given time. Didn’t know the first thing about cows–yet, anyway–but he worked hard and thought quick.

Plus, once you got him to open up a little, Chet was entertaining as all git-out.


“Three-forty had twins,” Dawson reported, handing the mashed potatoes down the line. We were back to a full–meaning crowded–table at mealtimes, which meant a man did have to watch his elbows. It felt right.

“Both nursing okay?” Number 340 had dropped fast-gaining calves in both ’74 and ’75, and now twins? We’d be keeping her progeny around fer a while, fer sure.

“Yep. Both heifers and both showing the funny face,too. The bulls still look to be passing that on about fifty percent of the time. Looks like we really will have enough of ’em to select fer that trait, at least a small herd.”

Cougar lifted a fist, thumb up, unable to comment till he’d swallowed. “I do still like that idea.”

“We all like that idea, son.”

Once the meal was over and the hands headed back to the bunkhouse, Dawson asked if we’d like to hear his report on what he’d accomplished in Denver. Other than surviving an ambush, of course. We’d been brought up to date on that already.

“Long story short, the experience showed what they meant when they come up with that old saying. You know, the one that says if you love either sausage or the law, don’t ever watch either one of ’em being made. That Constitutional Convention was a mess. If it hadn’t been fer half a dozen good men who had their heads screwed on straight…no, I’m not including me in that count. Mostly, I was jist kinda…there. Got a few licks in.

“Anyway, it was argue this, nitpick that, and come up with stupid or even flat-out evil ideas all day long. Fred and Doc and the Sheriff were right; one of us did need to be there jist to keep an eye on all the idiots. It was educational; I’ll say that much. Wouldn’t take a million dollars fer the experience, nor would I do it again fer a hunnert million.

“I brought home a copy of the finished Constitution. It ain’t the end of it; the lawyers will no doubt be getting rich trying to change the thing fer centuries. But it’s what we got fer now.

“Here, I’d like you all to see the wording on self defense.”

He pulled out a sheet from his briefcase, handing it off to Cougar as he explained. “The wording on this come up fer approval the morning after them rounders tried to take us out in that ambush. It’s the one provision where I’m most certain the thing woulda come out different without me there to butt heads with two crazies that wanted us all to walk around with nothing fer protection.”

Cougar handed the paper off to me. I took a look.

State of Colorado Constitution

Article II

Bill of Rights

Sec. 13. That the right of no person to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall be called in question; but nothing herein contained shall be construed to justify the practice of carrying concealed weapons.

“Dawson, I gotta admit…this puzzles me.”

“I’m not surprised, Tam. Specifically?”

“Well…fer starters, why didn’t they jist follow the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and be done with it?”

“Believe me, I asked my fellow conspirators that very same question. Know what they said? No? Well, neither did I. Couldn’t git a straight answer outa them idjits. Some of ’em, though, were jist flat-out deadset against shooters in any and all forms, like I wrote in my letters.”

I shook my head. This was going to be the law of the land? “And the concealed weapons provision?”

“You can thank me fer that.”


“I mean, it was me that kept that wording from being even worse. The squirrels wanted to flat-out prohibit concealed weapons. That scared me on a lotta levels, and our sort-of lawyer, Chet, tells me I was right. He explained what I instinctively understood in my gut. See, it says only that we ain’t approving if you’re packing your little Garza Surprises, but that’s sloppy wording. It does not say it’s illegal to carry, jist that the stupid law don’t necessarily approve.”

Penny spoke up. “I’m confused, Dawson.”

“About what this will mean in practice? So am I, but I figured confusion was better than outright prohibition.”

“No, I got that. Maybe confused wasn’t the right word. What I meant was, how did you convince ’em not to prohibit hideout guns outright?”

“Oh. Gave ’em a song and dance about how they’d be asking fer federal intervention if they did. Pointed out the Second Amendment don’t limit the right to keep and bear arms. That is, it don’t say,You get to keep and bear arms, but only out in the open. Hammered and hammered and hammered that in committee meetings, day in, day out. There’s no but in the Second Amendment, I said, and iffen you put a but in the Colorado Constitution, you’re all gonna end up the butt of a national joke at Colorado’s expense. The whole danged country will be laughing at you!”

“The whole danged country,” I noted drily, “Prob’ly wouldn’t give a hoot.”

“Yeah, I know. But they didn’t. And a fair number of the committee members disliked the idea of being laughed at, so they agreed to at least mush up the language a mite. That’s the one thing I can say fer sure wouldn’t have happened without me being there. I’m the Constitutional Wording Mush-Maker.”

“I figure,” Marie interjected, “This was why they set up that ambush the day before the wording got finalized. If they coulda got Dawson outa the way, the anti-gun squirrels might have been able to outlaw concealed weapons completely. It’s like they really do want to outlaw guns so’s only outlaws will have guns.”

“Gee,” Cougar rolled his eyes, “Ya think?”

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