Tam the Tall Tale Teller, Chapter 109: The Aspen Grove Life



Heyókȟa or no, Wolf Tamson turned out to have contacts spread out all across the country. How this had come about, I neither knew nor cared to ask. He was an avid reader when reading material was to be had, wrote a fair hand, and had undoubtedly gotten his start in these civilized pursuits from Believer, the old mountain man who’d raised him and his gunfighter brother.

Beyond that, I figured it didn’t matter–except fer the fact that because of Wolf’s contacts, the rest of us from time to time got to enjoy bits of news published in the Athens Messenger of Athens, Ohio. One of the young Cheyenne’s more faithful correspondents lived in that town and had been so glad to hear of Cecil Jerome Tamson’s return to “civilization” that she (yes, she) forwarded her newspapers the minute she was done with ’em.

Which wasn’t for months, sometimes, but still.

“Listen to this’n,” he announced.

We all kept munching our apple pie, but we listened.

Athens Messenger, Athens, Ohio February 7, 1878

Lumon Brine, thinking he was shooting a dog, one night recently, killed one of his own hogs.

That earned a chuckle around the table, but Tam had the logical question. “What I want to know is who ratted poor Mr. Brine out. You don’t s’pose he was dumb enough to drop by the local newspaper office and admit it, do you?”

None of us had a clue.

Wolf spotted an item he’d missed.

New Lima and Rutland are about to have a telephone.

More than a chuckle that time. There was a fair bit of discussion, trying to figure out how two towns got together to breed. “Rutland’s gotta be the male of that pair,” Billy Blakely pointed out, “what with it’s name being RUT-LAND and all. But I never knew baby towns were called telephones.”

Fer that matter, none of us had ever so much as seen a telephone, let alone gone to school to learn how they propagated.

The conversation was rapidly degenerating into pure silliness when Cougar pointed out his brother wasn’t done yet.

“I can tell jist by looking at him,” he stated. Then, “Go on, brother.”

“Well, there is this one from March 14, 1878.”

The Pomeroy Telegraph says; A son of Mr. Lippert, who lives on Sugar Run, while sleep-walking last Monday night, fell out of a second story window to the ground. He was pretty badly bruised.

My turn. “Dang. Living in that there so-called civilization could git you killed! Anybody here ever heard of a person–male or female–falling out of a second story window without being pushed?”

Nobody had. Not sober, anyway.

“One more, and then we’ll get to Henry’s request? Okay? Okay. This is from the most recent paper, May 23.”

Clark Gorby, of Salem township, four years ago, beared the lion in his den by marring his mother-in-law, that he didn’t stand up to the scratch a great while is shown by the fact that Mrs. G., No. 2, got a divorce last week on the score of Clark’s willful, and no doubt willing, absence for over three years.

“That one is jist plain confusing,” Penny admitted. The rest of us mostly agreed, though we finally got it translated. Gorby must have married and divorced a girl…then married the girl’s mother…and ran away from Mommy Dearest less than a year later.

Enough of that. “Coug, your show.”

The shootist finished off his last bite of pie before speaking. “Henry asked me today if he could start working in the hayfields, running one of the dump rakes. Told him I’d think about it. The floor is open.”

Hm. “He could be a big help, if he can do the job. Old Cotton’s gentle enough; he wouldn’t pull no runaway tricks on the kid or anything like that. But the boy surely ain’t big enough to sling harness; one of us would have to throw the leather on and off for him.”

“Ten minutes,” Tam nodded thoughtfully, “And we’d have another man freed up fer pitchfork work fer the rest of the day. But what about his woodcutting chores?’


“Yeah…he’s overdue fer some major responsibility. Sorta been slip-sliding in behind his big brother up till now. Why not?”

“Gentlemen,” Penny spoke up, “I believe you’re missing one thing. The dump handle. My son’s strong fer his size; he could probably operate it okay–if he could reach it. But those levers are set up fer a man’s reach, not a little boy’s. How…?”

The answer to that one was obvious. “Scrap,” I put in. “Bet he could rig an extension, git it to hook over to where Henry could reach the thing.”

They all started nodding at that. Our mine manager had been making his own mining machinery fer more’n twenty years now; if anybody could jury rig a simple lever extension on a dump rake, it would be Scrap.

That settled it. We had us a new hand, even if he wouldn’t turn eight years old till next month.

"If the can is in place...."

“If the can is in place….”


“Coming, Henry?”

“Coming, Grandpa! Right behind you!”

He was, too. Wolf and I glanced back at my eldest grandson, a sturdy eight year old with a full haying season on the dump rake under his belt. The young cowboy forked his little mustang gelding about as surely as any full grown drover.

‘Course, he’d been riding hardcore since he was four.

Reggie, age seven, was swinging his double-bit axe with a will, splitting pine blocks fer the cookstoves. You could feel the boy’s fury, though he was working it out appropriately. Coug and Penny’s second born didn’t take to woodcutting the way Henry’d done; we were purty sure he was already looking forward to the day he could pass the chore on down to Felix.

Of course, being only one year old, Felix had some growing to do before inheriting sharp-edged tools. Reggie would be stuck in that slot fer a while yet.

From the time we’d gotten back to Flywheel in late April with my second son and his family in tow, we’d wondered where to put the bunch of ’em. That is, where they were to reside on the premises. Throughout the summer, they’d stayed in a tipi made from Army tent canvas and poles cut from the ridge up behind the spring.

Somewhat surprisingly, Wolf had assured us he could act as a “regular” ranch hand, sometimes even giving us a break from his whistling, and he’d been as good as his word.

“Summer and Freedom deserve a bit of stability,” he explained. “It’s the least I can do.”

“Freedom? She finally named her son?”

“We finally named our son.”

“Ah. Right. Freedom Tamson, then? Got a bit of a ring to it.”

Anyway, as I was saying, all through branding and then the much longer haying season, we’d been wondering where my number two and absolutely unique son was going to fit himself in.

Shoulda known.

“Right here.” Wolf’s roan mare stopped on cue. He stepped down, spreading his arms and spinning around once, twice, three times. “This will be our home.”

“Huh. Son, this is exactly the spot, back here in this little clearing behind the spring, where we found Reggie the day he hiked up to have a sleepover with Medicine Coyote. Or as he calls him, Little Wolf.”

“I know. This is where you were standing, and over there,” he pointed, “was the coyote’s burrow. The den is still there, but he’s using another at the moment.”

“You’ve seen him?”

“Yes indeed. We’ve talked. His family says my family is welcome. The cabin we build will be low and pretty much invisible, sunk into the ground a bit, sort of Pawnee style. Except we’ll cheat, use Portland cement to make concrete for the foundation. The Pawnees never had that, eh?”

“Eh,” I agreed. “Kind of reminds you of the aspen grove, don’t it?”

“It does.” He didn’t have to ask; fer the Tamsons, there was always and ever the aspen grove, up where the glaciers are at home and the Blackfeet roam. The aspen grove where Believer once built a log cabin that lasted fer the rest of his life. The aspen grove had been home and sanctuary to the old mountain man with his young and very beautiful Cheyenne slave-wife. The aspen grove had marked me in my thirteen year old Crazy Rifle mode fer all the years to come, and my sons had grown up from birth till their late teens in that grove as well. There was no aspen growing here–the elevation was not high enough–but Wolf and I understood each other completely. He had truly come home.

“Reckon Reggie will be climbing on his pony to head up here the minute the last woodbox is full,” I noted.

“He is welcome always. I have talked with his mother. Any time he wishes to stay the night–except on Sunday nights during the school year, of course–all I need to do is hike over in front of the treeline and place an empty coffee can upside down over a fence post. Penny can then take a look through the field glasses. If the can is in place, she’ll know the boy is safe with us till morning.”

“Good thinking.” We’d never yet been able to break the child of sneaking off at ever opportunity, heading up to the spring to wander the woods and–more often than not–hang out with Medicine Coyote fer a while.

Well, the sun was fixing to set. We headed on back out through the screen of brush and pine trees, then made our way down the steep grade before leveling out fer the final quarter mile back to ranch headquarters. Henry hadn’t said a word, but he hadn’t missed nothing, neither. There were some deep, still waters in that boy, as I was beginning to realize.

“You gonna want the bunch of us up there to help throw your cabin together?” I figured I knew the answer, but I had to ask.

“No,” Wolf shook his head. “It’s important that only certain people do this, build this dwelling the right way. I must put it together with my own two hands, down to mixing the horsehair and buffalo blood in the concrete, so that the structure and I are one. My wife and son will be here sometimes, when they are not glued to Mom’s side in the kitchens. Henry is welcome any time, and Reggie, but no one else.”

He meant keep Quentin Pritchard away especially. I understood that, and I’d put out the word. The former bully wasn’t a bad kid these days, but he wasn’t spiritually aware in the right way, either. In fact, he might also take it wrong about the horsehair (to keep the concrete from cracking while setting) and especially the blood (to help the concrete resist water infiltration during spring runoff). The Romans had known these things, but Quentin might think they were voodoo or some such. Plus, young Pritchard wasn’t a Tamson.

“I think you may be missing one thing, son.”


“Yeah, not to help with the building; I git that. But you need to think about leaving your Mom an open invitation to visit. Laughing Brook Over Stones lived the aspen grove life more’n any of us. More’n Believer, even, since she was sometimes stuck there alone while he was off doing various things.”

“You’re right, Dad. I…don’t know how I missed that.”

“You didn’t miss much, Wolf. You’re fer dang sure on the right track. Now, one final, itsy bitsy teensy detail. The youngest of Coug’s boys, Felix?”


“You’re gonna want to keep the door latch out fer him, too, even if his Grandma will have to carry him up here at first. Brook and I come to realize some time back–there’s a hunnert year old mountain man in there behind them one year old eyes. Believer and Medicine Coyote watched over you when you was growing up, son. Now it’s time fer you and that same spirit animal to watch over him.”

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