Friday, March 06, 2009

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter 31

February 25, 1882

It was still dark when Charley reached over to kill the shrill ring of his alarm clock. He had been forced to arise earlier than usual this morning because his cousin, Doctor Charles Harris, was due to arrive on the morning train from St. Paul. A glance at the bedroom windows assured him that it was still mighty cold outside; both panes were opaque, heavily covered with frost in spite of the storm sashes he had installed in the fall.

Hastily dressing, he touched a match to a burner on his oil stove to make coffee and toast. He noted his wall clock indicated 5:30 a.m., proving his cheap alarm had lost nearly a quarter hour in past days. After the pot began to boil he added a dash of cold water to settle the grounds.

A half-hour later he was at Mason's livery harnessing his bay. Backing the animal to a sleigh at the rear of the building he fastened the tugs, then returned inside to gather up a horse blanket and two buffalo robes.

Charles, now a full-fledged doctor, had been only seven years of age when Charley had last seen him. An inquisitive youth, he had pestered Charley constantly about his war experiences. Charles' Father, Jeremy Harris, had taken his young son to Harpers Ferry shortly after Union troops had overrun the town, exposing the youngster to scores of bodies piled like cord wood across bolstered wagons, casualties abandoned in the heat of battle. Charley guessed that sight had possibly given the boy the inclination to study medicine.

Gathering a robe snugly around his shoulders, he guided the horse east to the Red River ice, then up the Minnesota side to the St. Vincent depot. Securing his horse on the lee side of the building he carefully fastened the blanket over the animal. Stomping snow from his boots he entered the waiting room noting that Carl Gooding, the depot agent was already seated behind the grill. He was the only other occupant in the huge room, and was busy at the telegraph key.

"Come to meet the train? It's nearly an hour late - won't be in until around eight. They've had trouble down the line I expect. This blamed cold causes the outside steam lines to freeze up. Gosh, it's at least 35 below outside." Opening his half-door he moved to the potbelly stove in the center of the room. Lifting the lid he tossed in a half scuttle of coal from a badly battered bucket. "Not many passengers this winter. Trade has been slowing down since those boom years of '80 and '81."

Charley moved a chair nearer the stove to take advantage of its warmth. "Yup, they were good years for Jim Hill. He carried thousands of pilgrims and goods to Canada -- five trains a day, each way. At least he still gets all the farm grain to ship, naming his own price."

Gooding nodded. "Since I work for him I have to keep my mouth shut, but the carload rates are mighty high. It's the old saw, the rich get richer and the poor, poorer." He brightened, "I'm supposed to be getting a big shipment of frozen fish today, barrels and barrels of both Walleye and Northern Pike. Red Lake must be loaded with them."

"Next month they'll start spearing at the mouth of the Pembina River," said Charley, "The fish should begin running in mid-March."

Carl was curious, "What are you doing over here?"

"My cousin Charles Harris wired me that he would be arriving this morning. He's a doctor, coming to stay permanently."

"That's good news! Doctor Appel at the fort has been run ragged. I understand he's only contracted to take care of the soldiers at the fort. Lucky he treats anyone, 'course he charges the civilians. Too bad that other doctor and his son died of diphtheria. Where is your cousin going to stay?"

"Probably with me, temporarily. I don't know of his plans, but I'll take him out to the fort to meet Doc. Appel. I've already told Appel that Charles would arrive soon; he seemed tickled to welcome new talent."

Suddenly the outside door opened and a blast of cold air rolled across the floor. It was Leifer, the drayman1. He ignored both men, moving to the stove while removing his heavy mittens. After long moments spent warming his hands he turned and began a brisk conversation with Gooding. An Icelander, he spoke broken English. Yet he spoke volubly, expecting Gooding to fully understand each word.

Unexpectedly, the telegraph key began to chatter, and as Gooding turned back into his office, he called over his shoulder, "The train should be here in five minutes. It left Hallock twenty-five minutes ago."

A faint rumble seemed to roll through the building as the train finally approached the station. Glancing out the window as the engine glided by the depot, Charley saw that behind the baggage car there were only two passenger cars. Steam leaked from coupled hoses between each car as the train squealed and thumped to a halt. A door on the first passenger car opened and the conductor swung down to the platform, dropping a metal stool beneath the steps. A jauntily dressed man appeared in the doorway carrying two bulging carpetbags; he was wearing a small dark derby hat, hardly appropriate for the frigid weather.

Charley laughed aloud as he walked outside, recognizing his cousin instantly; why he was the spitting image of his father! Approaching his cousin, with his hand outstretched, he smiled, "Judas, Charles, we'll have to get you some warm clothes. You'll freeze to death in that get-up."

His cousin grinned as he grasped his hand. "They don't make artic clothes back in Virginia. Thought I'd refit myself when I got here." He looked around at the deep snow and shivered dramatically, "Lead me to somewhere where it's warm."

"Got a trunk or other stuff?"

"It's checked in the baggage car, together with all my medical equipment and supplies."

"I'll get Leifer to take them to my place." He stopped momentarily to speak with the drayman who was rolling barrels from the baggage car onto his wagon, then turned to Charles. "Lets get over to Pembina. It'll only take a few minutes."

Crossing over the frozen Red River, Charles remarked, "I've never seen this much snow, not even in Baltimore."

"We'll lose it in April. Kind of expect high water this spring, there's just too much snow. Even the trains have had a hard time with track blockages. 'Sides that, we've had 40-45 degree below temperatures on several days so far."

"You wrote that there's an Army fort near town. Do they have a doctor?"

"They do. He's a good man, spreads himself pretty thin though. He takes care of all he can."

"I'd like to meet him."

"You will, I'll see to that. You'll need introductions to all the important people around. I'll tend to that too. You might as well stay with me until you get settled, I've lots of room."

Charles smiled, then said teasingly, "I heard Josey Watson made a trip out here with matrimony in mind. Did you evade that trap?"

"Charley grinned wryly, "I'm still single!"

Finally entering Pembina his cousin remarked, "I hate to impose on you, but I'll appreciate every bit of your help. Do they have an apothecary here, with plenty of medications?"

"Yes. Wilkins is the pharmacist, almost a doctor. He does the best he can, but he's of limited experience. Charley swung the sleigh around in front of his store. "We don't open for business until 10 o'clock, but we'll go inside. Anything is those bags you have that will freeze?"

"No, just clothing."

"Then leave them in the sleigh until we go upstairs. I'll leave the blanket on the horse; it'll be all right for a few minutes. We'll throw some coal on the stove while we're inside, also make coffee. Or would you rather have a stiff drink?"

Charles smiled, "Both sound great! I'm mighty chilled.” Tossing his hat on the bar as they entered the building, he walked over to the stove, saying, "I won't need that derby until spring."


It was turning daylight when Charley heard loud thumping noises coming from his kitchen. Sleepily, he pulled on his trousers to find his cousin Charles prowling the kitchen. He was placing plates, cups and silverware on the table. He already had the coffee pot on the kerosene stove with the burner lit. Water dripping from the lip of the kitchen pump, indicating it was the culprit causing the noise.

Charley grumbled, "Gosh, Charles, I thought after all that coffee and those drinks we had last night you would want to sleep in."

"That's what woke me up. I had to take a leak! 'Sides that, you need to trim the wicks on your stove, it smokes."

"I know, but it suits me. What do you want to do today? I'd suggest we get you outfitted for the weather first thing, else you'll freeze in those city clothes.”

"Best I do that, then I'd like to see Eugene. After that I'll stop to say hello to your Mother." He hesitated, "Do you suppose we'd have time to see that doctor at the fort this afternoon?"

"Sure! It sounds like the wind is down. If it gets up with all this loose snow, nothing will move." He sat down heavily at the table, and then leaned the chair back to a comfortable angle. "I might as well tell you now - my Mother and I aren't getting along. She's as bull-headed as ever."

While Charley related his recent problems with his mother, Charles listened intently, and then said, "I'll not let Eliza involve me." He laughed, "I'll stay neutral. Say! Where do you keep your eggs, bacon, potatoes and bread? I'm darned hungry!"

After getting Charles outfitted with winter apparel at Yerxa's store, Charley directed him to Eugene's house. Walking in the sled tracks in the center of the street was no problem, but when Charles cut from the road he found the snow knee-deep. Entering the screened porch he stamped his feet noisily to shake the snow from his boots. The door opened partially and Eugene peered out. "Charles! Is that you? Where in heck did you come from?"

"Got in on the train this morning. Charley picked me up. Is your Mother here with the girls?"

"They won't be here until sometime in April. Got a letter a few days ago. They had trouble getting the money from the sale of the house. It's best they come later anyway. It'll be warmer then. Come on in before the house cools off. I'll refill the coffee pot; I already drank up the first batch.”

As Eugene puttered in the kitchen, he asked, "Want to stay with me for awhile -- I've lots of room."

“I haven't made plans yet. Charley offered me quarters too. He's taking me out to meet the doctor at the fort this afternoon. I want to get acquainted with him, don't want any hard feelings about crowding him. Charley says he's a good man."

"Yup! He’s hard pressed too! He has enough problems with the soldiers during the winter. They've got about 140 men out there." He removed the center two rings of the stove lid, placing the coffee pot directly over the open flame.

Reaching into a cabinet he took down a cup.

"I failed to bring heavy clothing with me. I never anticipated it would be this cold, but Charley got me outfitted this morning. I'm having a few medicines shipped in, although Charley says you've got a drug store here. Maybe I wasted some money."

"Wilkens runs the drug store, he even tries to help when someone is sick. He's not got much on hand though. Money is short, but he might buy your supplies."

"It was mighty short back home too, and too many doctors in Charleston. The schools are turning them out fast. How is Eliza getting along?"

Eugene chuckled, "Ask Charley, he'll sure tell you!"

"I've already heard his version. He mentioned she talked Josey into coming out, hoping to marry him."

"That she did, but it didn't work out. He already had a good-looking girl friend. She dumped him, but it was his own fault."

"Where does Eliza live?"

"Just two blocks north, then left, second house on the south side, it's a white, two-story with outside stairs to the upper floor. You can't miss it."

It was nearing eleven when Eugene and Charles concluded their conversation. Charles then decided he would make his meeting with Eliza as brief as possible. At Eliza's, he was treated to a diatribe of how she had foiled Charley's involvement with the breed girl.

Charles listened dutifully, and then made his excuses to leave. Joining Charley at the saloon, they walked across the street to have lunch at Lucien Geroux's hotel.

Lucien greeted Charles with enthusiasm. "We've finally got a doctor! Oh, Appel is good, but he just can't handle all the pox and other diseases. He quarantines the fort if anyone in the two towns gets a transmittable disease, but he can't force the civilians to quarantine their own homes. We need that!"

Charles agreed. He turned to Charley, "Doesn't the town council enforce the quarantine on smallpox, chicken pox, measles and mumps?"

"It's been a voluntarily thing, done by most, but some don't give a damn. You'll get cooperation from now on though. I'll see the county commissioners appoint you as health officer."

As they entered Fort Pembina that afternoon Charles was impressed with the neatness and layout of the buildings. Charley took him directly to the hospital and introduced him to Dr. Appel.

"Doc, this is my cousin Charles Harris. He graduated from the School of Physicians and Surgeons in Baltimore a few years ago. He has been practicing in Charleston the past few years. I talked him into coming out here, told him it was the land of the future."

Appel smiled as he offered his hand. "Charley told me you were coming soon. You'll be mighty welcome! I just can't handle all the sickness and trouble alone. I informed Captain Collins that you were coming and he suggested you stay at the fort temporarily. I understand housing is mighty short in both towns, except at the hotels, and they are expensive. Unfortunately the Captain is in Grand Forks today. Would you like to see our clinic and wardrooms? At the moment we have a few frozen fingers and toes, also two cases of pneumonia.”

After a brief tour of the hospital, and after being introduced to Corporal Ira Hocking, Dr. Appel's assistant, the doctor suggested, "You'll find the training beneficial if you decide to stay, since we have a plethora of diseases, sometimes even frozen limbs. Also we have full use of the fort teamsters for transportation as needed. I can fix you up with a private room too."

Charles looked to Charley, then back to Appel. "Thank you! I'll accept your kindness and assist you all I can, but I intend to put my ad in the local paper if you don't mind. I think I'll like this Dakota Territory, it's big, and not crowded. Charley tells me there is no malaria! What do you think Charley?"

"I suggest you stay in town with me tonight, I'll help move you out tomorrow."

Doctor Charles Harris was cordially welcomed to the fort the next evening at the officer’s mess. Surgeon Appel introduced him to Captain Collins and the other officers at supper.

Frequently Charles was called on cases in town and to farms. Thankfully the fort teamsters were available. He made a habit of stopping and buying a drink for his driver when his task was completed. He seldom lacked for a volunteer. His cousin Charley took him in hand to introduce him to the most influential people in both St. Vincent and Pembina. Soon he found himself almost swamped with work, as was Doctor Appel. A new officer came to the fort to replace another transferred to the officer school in Leavenworth, Kansas. Charles found an instant rapport with this studious man, Lieutenant Andrew Rowan.2 Rowan, at 22 years of age was only two years younger than Charles. They smoked numerous pipes of tobacco after the evening meal, while discussing ancient history. At times other officers joined the discussions, especially Captain Collins. His special interest was of Indian artifacts.

1 - My grandfather, Sheldon Albert Fitzpatrick, would eventually become the drayman for the town several years later...

2 - Andrew S. Rowan: Famous for carrying the message to Garcia, in Cuba, during the insurrection (Spanish-American War) in l898. "Message to Garcia" fame, by Elbert Hubbard.