Luther “Yellowstone” Kelly had one of the longest, strangest, and most breathtaking careers in the American West. The intrepid scout’s talent for being in the right place at an exciting time would take him all over the world, from the Great Plains to Africa to the Philippines to Cuba.
Throughout his adventures, Kelly maintained a stoic outlook, a fierce wit, and a talent for survival that got him out of more than a few dangerous scrapes.
From hunting wolves with the Nez Percé to encounters with Jim Bridger and Brigham Young to a stint with the Rough Riders, in these four novels Yellowstone carves an exciting, hilarious, and unforgettable path through the Old West—maintaining his trademark humor and fortitude, always finding his way through even the stickiest mess.
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About the Author
Following time at the University of Michigan and the University of Montana, he published his first novel, Yellowstone Kelly, in 1987. After two more novels featuring the real-life western hero, Bowen published Coyote Wind (1994), which introduced Gabriel Du Pré, a mixed-race lawman living in fictional Toussaint, Montana. He has written fifteen novels in the series, in which Du Pré gets tangled up in everything from cold-blooded murder to the hunt for rare fossils. Bowen continues to live and write in Livingston, Montana.
Peter Bowen (b. 1945) is an author best known for mystery novels set in the modern American West. When he was ten, Bowen’s family moved to Bozeman, Montana, where a paper route introduced him to the grizzled old cowboys who frequented a bar called The Oaks. Listening to their stories, some of which stretched back to the 1870s, Bowen found inspiration for his later fiction. Following time at the University of Michigan and the University of Montana, Bowen published his first novel, Yellowstone Kelly, in 1987. After two more novels featuring the real-life Western hero, Bowen published Coyote Wind (1994), which introduced Gabriel Du Pré, a mixed-race lawman living in fictional Toussaint, Montana. Bowen has written fourteen novels in the series, in which Du Pré gets tangled up in everything from cold-blooded murder to the hunt for rare fossils. Bowen continues to live and write in Livingston, Montana.
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The Yellowstone Kelly Novels
By Peter Bowen
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1987 Peter Bowen
All rights reserved.
I was down to my desk in the War Office when the news came that McKinley had died, and it seemed that my old friend Teddy Four-Eyes was the new President. I'd first met Teddy some twenty years before, when he was gentleman-ranching. He was as good a feller as you are likely to meet, but then I have never been comfortable with the idea of a government run by any of my friends. I know them too well, you see. Teddy enjoyed life more than anyone I ever met. The thought of him with all these new toys—battleships and armies and such—was a mite uncomfortable.
I ain't much accustomed to riding a swivel chair. I had taken an Igorotee arrow in my thigh out in the Philippines and the wound was slow in healing. I had spent quite a few years helping to drag our red brothers off the free life on the Plains and onto reservations where they could raise alfalfa and such and learn to be as unhappy as the rest of the farmers—plagued with church, newspapers, regular baths, the whole disaster—and I had recently got back from helping to visit the same upon our little brown brothers over China way and they didn't like it any better. The Army was proving as good at massacring brown as red. Put 'em under the ground, it's good for the corn. Good for business.
There was a bar across the street, Scanlan's, so I went there for a drink. It's always the same with me when something tragic happens to a friend—death, getting married, becoming President—and I needed to be alone with myself. I put some money on the bar and had a drink or two and pecked through the ruins of the free lunch that Ollie, the owner, set out every day.
I heard a Sioux war whoop behind me and my hand went for the gun I wasn't wearing—some habits is hard to shake—and when I turned around there was Buffalo Bill Cody. I had seen the posters advertising his show and had planned to stop in that night. I had a lot of friends who were in Bill's Wild West Show, and I had known and liked Bill for thirty years. Liked him some of the time, anyway.
"Well," says Bill, "looks like Theodore is the new President."
Bill was dressed like he always was these days—fringed white doeskin coat, white pants and embroidered white shirt, a big glob of silver and turquoise at his throat, thigh-high dragoon's boots. Bill was much better known than McKinley. All of the loafers in the bar (I had business there, you see) got goggle-eyed and began to edge over to us. Bill waved them away without ever quite looking at them.
"Before you ask," I says, "I do not want to rejoin your show."
"I'm damned sorry to hear that," says Bill, "since you are the handsomest feller, Luther. You look like what every mother wants for her daughter. Had you gone on the stage instead of to our great West, you would be a wealthy and respected idol of the footlights."
"I can't help how I look," says I. Well, damn it, I do look like the dark-haired feller in the ads for elegant suits. It has caused me no end of trouble.
"Think of the money you could make," says Bill.
"I ain't parading around like a prize bull at a goddamn stock show," I says. "To hell with you."
I looked myself over in the mirror behind the bar. Well, if you want a tall, black-haired, moustachioed, modern gentleman, I'm it so far as appearances go. And that's as far as it goes.
And as for Bill's show, I'd done that for a few weeks back in '88 and I am hard put to think of anything I ever hated more. My part in the proceedings was to thunder out from stage left and haul a buxom actress name of Gertie Jordan up behind me on the horse. She wore so much whalebone she made a sound like a stick run along a picket fence when she slid up the saddle skirts. And then I was supposed to say, "Fair Maiden, do not fear, for Kelly is here with you now, and I shall gladly die to save you from these savages." Try it at the top of your lungs sometime, while you're sitting on a banister and hauling an overstuffed chair up one-handed.
Bill was a great one for what he called "veracity," which as near as I can figure means the bull is covered with fudge. Some stagehands was painted up, dash here, splash there, and they'd wave tomahawks and sort of hop up and down. Then I would ride the horse off stage right and Gertie would reveal this and that portion of her anatomy. Me, I'd look noble; it's a trade, you see. Ladies threw gloves, flowers, room keys and notes on the stage. They piled up at the stage door like hens at a feedbox. Made me nervous as hell.
This was supposed to be a re-enactment of the time I had snuck into Red Hand's camp to winkle Sally Parmenter out of a tight spot, up near the Musselshell River. Sally was to be the center of attraction at a gang rape as soon as Red Hand and his chums and squaws and such were finished skinning out her pimp, who was providing a fair amount of noise and cover what with shrieking in agony and begging for mercy (fine with me, you see, I knew him pretty well and would have been happy to help, if I had been asked polite).
Sally had a map she'd diddled out of an old drunk who claimed he'd been one of Plummer's cutthroats and knew where Plummer had cached his gold, down in Idaho. A million dollars in coin, nuggets, and dust, which sort of riveted my attention. The map was laced up somewhere on her pulpous person, so I snuck in and cut her loose. She commenced to caterwauling, torn between curiosity about what was to come and Frank's piteous bubbling wails for mercy. So I whopped her up side the head with my Colt to get her attention and then hissed like a rabid badger. "Shut up, or we're going to look like horse doovers on the ends of them lances. If we're lucky." She piped down to a snuffle and we snuck back to my horse.
The camp dogs was raising hell as we lit out, me thinking of Frank and thanking him for such a fine performance. Red Hand's bunch was so drunk that they couldn't have ridden Sally, much less any of their ponies. Matter of fact, they was so drunk they was grabbing handholds in the grass in order to pass out. (A month later I was eating dog stew in Red Hand's lodge, and no word about any of that, which is Indians for you. Frank was still with us in the form of two pemmican bags and a chairback. Waste not, want not. I never found the gold, either, come to think of it.)
So here I was in Scanlan's thinking back, you see. Instead of forward or even now. Memory is an unruly thing. I looked over at Bill, who was shedding a manly tear—about a teaspoon's worth.
"We have lost a great man," says Bill. He signaled for another whiskey.
"Who?" I asks, wondering who'd died now.
Thing about Bill is the simple-minded sonofabitch is exactly as the dime novels have him, although worse lately on account of how many he reads to keep up with himself. He was always that way, and a couple of times it almost cost us our hair. There we would be, in a tight spot, and Bill would get this dreamy, wet-eyed look—sort of like he'd been called and couldn't come—and go to composing a speech. I have come nigh to shooting him out of sheer exasperation oftener than I like to think of. And to this day I don't know if he was funning me or not. Play poker with him, you'll see. You'll lose.
"I must go prepare our show, and tell those who may not have heard that we have lost a great man, and we must have the proper equipage of mourning," says Bill.
"How do you spell that?" says I.
Bill ignored me. He was playing to himself in the mirror back of the bar.
"We must bear this loss like men and Americans," he went on.
"It wouldn't be seemly for us to grieve like women and lurks," I says. "How 'bout an anchovy for strength?" I guzzled about four fingers of Ollie's Old Popskull. One thing that has always fascinated me about Bill is that there is no way to insult the man. He just don't hear it.
"So many gone now," he says. "Over the Great Divide."
"Deader than smelts," I says, eating another anchovy.
"I must compose a eulogy." Bill cast his eyes upward.
"I don't know how to spell that," I says, "but it ain't a oology, it's a you-logy."
"Fond friend," says Bill, laying a bead-encrusted gauntlet with a hand somewheres in it on my shoulder, "I must go now and prepare for the evening's performance. Our President lies dead...." He put his gauntlet over his heart and took off his hat. His hat was big enough to house a whole family of Eye-talian mackerelsnappers, and you know how they breed. Bill walked toward the door, head slightly bowed.
"How 'bout paying for yer drinks before I have to," I hollers. Ollie don't care if it's Buffalo Bill or Queen Victoria, drinks equals money.
Bill ignored this sordid behavior on my part and sashayed out into the traffic on E Street. Ollie made change from my money and swept away Bill's glass.
"Are you going to have it stuffed?" I says, as Ollie looked lovingly at the smears made by Bill's fingers. Ollie scowled at me and plunged the glass into the soapy water he kept near the sawed-off shotgun underneath the bartop.
I had another drink, in memory of McKinley (a bird who looked to me like a feller you wouldn't want to hold the bet money), and then I had another, and the truth of the matter is that I just felt like getting drunk. I was all of a sudden sad. You see, there was a lot of good times and free country out there before the honyockers plowed up the grass and the railroads cut the land up like so many stitches on a wounded body. I was one of the first white men to go through those dry hills between the Yellowstone and the Missouri and live to tell about it. I knew everybody that you hear about these days—Bill Cody, California Joe, Custer (a pure bastard), Jim Bridger, Shanghai Pierce, Tom Horn, Texas Jack Omohundro. And Crazy Horse, who was the best man ever I knew—I ain't even sure that he was human, and if you had known him you'd agree.
Hell, I thought, I ain't even sure that I can remember in which order some of them things happened out there. Just then one of them newfangled electric trolleys went clanking by in the street outside, making my face in the mirror dance. How'd we get to this? I thought.
"Ollie," I says, "you got a pencil? And maybe some paper?"
"You don't want to write a check, do you?" he says, suspicious-like. He took one from some English lord ten years ago, which he still has, and it rankles him yet.
"No, Ollie, I'm going to write a book." This was obviously gone-round-the-bend drunk talk, like Ollie was used to and comfortable with, so he rummaged around in a couple of drawers and found me some foolscap and old bills with the backs hardly used and a stub of a pencil. I resolved that tomorrow I would go to a stationer's and get all properly equipped for the writer's trade. Well, I'd been a buffalo hunter and a wolfer and a scout for the army and a dude wrangler and I knew that the proper tools is half of the job. I was even a Catholic bishop once—it's a long story, I'll tell you some time.
"He's going to write a book," Ollie says to a few gents holding down the other end of the bar.
I got some amazed looks. First, Buffalo Bill Cody, and now someone who had said he was going to write a book. The day looked brighter. Maybe a geek would wander in and bite off a few chicken heads if their luck held.
"Yer gonna write a book," says one. Guffaws.
I retired to a table with a bottle of Sinner's Cider and my foolscap and pencil. I put the bottle in front of me and the glass over to the right and then I put the paper on the table between my elbows. I whittled a point on the pencil with my pocketknife. I bit my lower lip and squinted at the paper, the same squint I use looking for tracks on broken ground. I stared at the paper and it stared at me. I remember Charley Russell, the painter, telling me he always began two or three canvases the night before, when he was blind drunk. He had awakened one morning to find an empty canvas on his easel and the sight haunted him ever after.
Maybe I'll get one of them silk-lined capes, I says to myself. Oscar Wilde had been wearing one when I got him out of Salt Lake City one step ahead of a lynch mob. Oscar was in jail these days for buggery, so I heard. There seemed to be hazards in the writer's trade.
I was staring at the paper so hard I didn't notice right off that the bar had got real quiet. When I looked up, there was an elegant gent standing at the bar. He had on a well-cut suit, spats and calfskin shoes, a diamond stickpin in the silk cravat at his throat, and a big blue stone on the end of his ebony cane.
He was also a nigger, and in Washington, D.C., in 1901, niggers didn't come into bars on E Street, unless it was after closing to clean up.
Ollie smiled nasty as a weasel at a crippled bird and says, "What will it be?"
"I would like a gin," says the nigger. He had a deep voice and a northern accent.
Ollie polished a glass before setting it on the bar. He poured the gin with great and exaggerated flourishes. He slid the gin in front of the nigger.
"That will be fifty dollars," Ollie says. He had his hand beneath the bartop, where the sawed-off shotgun was.
The loafers guffawed and elbowed each other.
The nigger nodded and reached into the inside pocket of his coat. He took out a wallet and opened it. He peeled five one-hundred-dollar goldbacks from the wad he had and dropped them onto the bar.
"I'll take ten of them," he says.
I could see his face now. It was Wilson Parnell, as fine a singer as ever I heard. He was headlining down at the Orpheum, and the paper said he was being paid three thousand dollars a week.CHAPTER 2
In the early fall of '77 I was doing a bit of loafing up on the Big Bend of the Missouri, looking for likely spots to kill wolves in the winter. I was supposed to be scouting for hostile Indians. I had spent over a year guiding the U.S. Army to camps where they then slaughtered as many Indians as they could, and burnt the lodges and the dried meat and berries. Thirteen babies had frozen to death in Crazy Horse's camp alone. The Plains tribes were done for—Sitting Bull was up in Canada, Crazy Horse was on a reservation. I had spent a lot of time either chasing after Crazy Horse or running from him. For some reason the news of his surrender gave me pain, as though I had lost a dear friend. The then Colonel Nelson Miles had given me orders to find the redskins, which I was being quite careful not to do. Oh, they were somewhere out there, all right, but they were so much more mobile than the United States Army it made no sense to do anything until the winter pinned the Indians in camp. Then the army could take advantage of its superior supply and firepower. I'd bird-dogged for the Fifth Cavalry—I'd point and they would do the dirty work. I was sick of it, so I made sure that I avoided hostile redskins, whiteskins, brownskins, and them buggers with polka dots. Me, I fight only when there's no chance to run. Still have my hair. Luther Kelly, scout of the Yellowstone, wolfing on government pay.
A prime wolf pelt was bringing five dollars. Two winters before, I had found as many as twenty big loafer wolves around a single bait. We used strychnine, three-quarters of an ounce to a cow buffalo. Wolves are particular eaters, they won't touch tough bull meat unless they're starving.
We'd find dead eagles and crows and ravens and magpies, too. There would be an occasional skunk or badger. The scavengers would eat what was left of the bait, or rip open the wolves' bellies and eat the poisoned meat in their stomachs. Then they would die, too. That strychnine, it just never quits.
The pelts wouldn't be prime for another five months. I had been all over this country, of course, but there are thousands of little draws and streams that cut down to the Missouri through the hills, and I couldn't look at one without I wanted to know what was up it. These little streams gnaw at the hills like worms. Sometimes a stream will chew right through a ridge and draw the water from another little stream, capturing it, sort of, and then the part below where the other stream got captured becomes a dry draw, down to the river.
The dry draws are good places to camp, they still have some buried water and the shrubs and trees will reach down to the moisture below. The cover is tangled enough that no one can sneak through it without making a hell of a racket. How long you live out there depends on how good you are at hiding. Many times I have holed up during the day and traveled only at night.
It was more than a year since George Custer had managed to get himself killed (he was not only stupid, he was real aggressive, a bad combination) along with two hundred and twenty-seven other men at the massacre on the river the Indians call the Greasy Grass. A few friends of mine died there—Mitch Bouyer and Lonesome Charley Reynolds and Myles Keough. Rain-in-the-Face had cut out Tom Custer's heart and eaten it (bon appetit to old Rain, says I; Tom was an even viler specimen than his better-known older brother). George had tried to borrow me for a bit from Miles. I told Miles I wouldn't go with that idiot to see a vaudeville show, much less scout for him.
Excerpted from The Yellowstone Kelly Novels by Peter Bowen. Copyright © 1987 Peter Bowen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
Kelly and the Three-toed Horse,