Tam the Tall Tale Teller, Chapter 1: Reincarnation


Many a drover on the old Chisholm Trail blessed his good fortune when hiring on with a crew that included Tam, the tall tale teller.

Though he was a solid cowboy in the saddle, always willing to pull his own weight plus a bit more, few trail bosses would let him pull nighthawk duty. He was too valuable, setting around the fire with the rest of the crew after supper, regaling us with one of his many farfetched, highly imaginative concoctions. I remember every one he ever told in my presence, though I did miss some. The boss didn’t mind assigning me to circle the herd after dark, singing to them notional critters, persuading them to stay put fer the night instead of stampeding jist fer the fun of it like Texas longhorns are prone to do.

The first one I ever heard him tell had to do with the Indians and the white men.

There’d been a time when plenty of westerners figgered the only good Indian was a dead Indian, but the red man’s time as ruler of the plains was drawing to a close. They was less of a threat these days, and mebbe because of that, more folks seemed willing to consider the possiblity our side had been a bit harsher than needed to be, killing women and children and such like that.

The subject come up one evening, jist as the stars were coming out. Tam tamped a fresh load of tobacco in his pipe, lit up, and started out the way he done it every time. “Reminds me of a story,” he said, and we all shut up our talking to give him a listen. The tall tale went something like this.

Tam speaks

Once upon a time in a far-off land beyond the Great Beyond, a feller come to the Creator Hisself with a complaint. Now, the Boss of All weren’t no Complaint Department at one of them big Eastern stores, but He was in a good mood at the moment, so He listened to what the man had to say without even blasting him with lightning or anything frisky.

Mostly, the complaint centered around white human beings mistreating red human beings.

“How can you allow such a thing? It jist don’t seem right!”

Now, the Top Dude knew better’n most that the type to ask whiny questions is unlikely to be the type to understand the answer, but it was a slow day by comparison to most. He shrugged his shoulders–which caused a few earthquakes and erupted half a dozen volcanoes here on Earth–and told Mr. Whiny Pants,


See, normally the Big Guy don’t waste words.

But y’all know how them whiners are. They can’t see the forest fer the trees in no simple, straightforward answer, so he jist looked as dumb as he truly was. Clearly, he didn’t git it any more’n the average drover gits the idea of saving a bit of his pay when he hits Dodge City.

Well, the Creator sighed–which stirred up a couple of hurricanes and more dust storms in the various deserts than you could count–and elucidated.

“Simple,” he intoned, “It’s simple. The white soldiers who let the Dark Side be their guide, who massacred Indian fer the sheer joy of it, indulging their blood lust and such, will git to walk in the red man’s moccasins in the next go-round.”

The man never did come to understand, though, no matter how many ways his Spiritual Superior tried to explain it to his feeble little mind. His allotted time finally come to a close and he was tossed out on his ear, no wiser for the wear.

Nonetheless, irritating as he’d been, he’d made the Boss of All think some. “Jane!” He bellowed (you don’t want to know what that did on Earth), and yes, the Creator’s secretary is named Jane. “Jane! Git me Incarnation Schedule 88 Gazillion and Three!”

The Schedule was laid before him in an instant. It don’t take no time at all, see, there being no such thing as Time or even Space, out beyond the Great Beyond.

“Yep! Jist as I thought,” He nodded, prompting his secretary to inquire.

“Thought what, Sir?”

He grinned at her, the blazing coloration of his teeth causing the Northern Lights and thousands of rainbows to go absolutely nuts on Earth. “General George Armstrong Custer,” he said, pointing at the relevant entry.

“He jist got sent to reincarnate as a brand new Cheyenne baby on the reservation in Montana Territory.”

“And this time…he’s a girl.”