Recollections of My Life and Reflections on Times and Events During It: A Memoir by Father W. J. Howlett

Page 32

daily, but to and from this point the western coaches were accompanied by a detachment of cavalry for the protection of the mails, and incidentally of the passengers. The Indians were shy of the soldiers and I did not hear of any attacks being made on the coaches while under guard. I do not think there were any permanent settlers at Fort Kearney, but there were traders who were selling spirits and limited supplies that might be needed by those passing. I saw there the first exhibition of public gambling, then so common in the West. This kind was by a Three-Gard-Monte man. He tossed three cards around carelessly on a table in such a way that one could see the faces of the cards at almost every move, and he was offering to bet five dollars that no one could name a certain card as they lay upon the table. The way he had shown the cards made it look like robbing him to take up his bet. If I had any money I might have been tempted to bet, but I had no money and my brother who had been in the West, laughed at my simplicity.

          “Yes,” he said, “if I were being used as a bait I might win,” but as soon as the strike was important the gambler won. He had a trick in the cards and in his manner of showing them that would make him win or lose at will. It was a variation of the game of the thimble-riggers at the fairs in Ireland. They had three thimbles and under one of them was placed a pea. Then the thimbles were moved about and whoever could guess under which thimble the pea was would win. I heard my father telling of the game, but he never told of anyone who won except the rigger himself.

          A few days after our arrival at Fort Kearney there came along a train of forty wagons bound for California. We fell in with this, but without joining ourselves officially with it. We had their protection without social obligations on either side. They were men whose business was hauling freight across the continent, yet come [some] of them were making their first trip, and this rather to see the West and judge if it might hold anything for them. A few might go as passengers - at least they were two such, very nice boys from Beloit, Wisconsin, who were tired of their undertaking and joined our party with the expectation of going to Denver and taking the first opportunity of returning. They were brothers in kin, and they paid us a small amount for their meals and bed while walking as most of us did. Two days after our arrival in Denver I saw them get a job as teamsters and never heard of them afterwards; but they did what so many did before and afterwards; yield to homesickness in its first stages, which are always the worst, and went away without even looking over the country they came to see.

          Our way lay up the Platte River along the south banks; the road was good as a general t ing [thing] with the exception of sandy bluffs here and there which were very hard on the horses. At times we were forced to double the teams and take only one half of the wagons over the sandy hills and return for the other half. The horses got very thin and weak, so travel was slow and days’ journeys hort [journey short]. We had grain for them and the grass was good, but we dared not allow them to range far away from the camp for fear of the Indians who were ever on the lookout for horses. They

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