Union Colony Christmas
“You’ll die of dullness in five hours.”
Fellow train passenger’s warning to author
Grace Greenwood not to stop in Union Colony in 1871
“Ingrate! That’s what he is!” Hannibal Heyes said, raising his voice for emphasis despite being the only person in the small hotel room. Outside his window the sky was promising snow and was certain to fulfill that pledge by nightfall. Disgusted, he threw himself down into the room’s only chair, glanced over at his pocket watch on the table, and groaned.
It was only 9:00, not even late enough to give him an excuse to hunt down lunch and some company. Exhaling, he got up and walked back over to the window, noting the main street had become alive with shoppers finishing up last-minute errands. Of all the towns to be trapped in on Christmas Eve!
Prowling like a caged bear, he once more cursed his cousin, his temper
and his luck. Luck, hell. Kid had tricked him good and proper. Knowing he’d had it coming did not improve
Heyes’ mood at the remembrance. As soon
as he saw Kid again, he was going to flatten him. As soon as he saw him and made sure he was
all right. No reason he shouldn’t be; he
took the pleasant job, escorting three good-looking women on the train from
Heyes had noticed the empty cells, looking over Lom’s shoulder as he
explained the jobs two weeks ago.
Catching Kid’s glance, he knew the bars were spooking him a little too,
although they knew they were visiting Lom for a good purpose: he had work for them. One job, if they wanted to stick together;
two, if they were willing to split up for a couple weeks for the sake of two
payrolls. And it was work that would
ingratiate them with the governor – the governor’s wife’s brother needed some protection
on two endeavors. Two payrolls right
before Christmas sounded just fine, so Lom sent them to Bradford Harrington’s
saddle factory in
Bradford Harrington was burly, loud, and profane as he explained his
needs. Not mean, not even unfriendly,
just a big guy who lived large. In
between shouting at various workers, he explained that he needed to be in two
places at once, starting the next day.
He was already behind on fulfilling a contract for saddles and tack for
“Had you thought about hiring professionals?” Heyes asked, thinking surely a businessman of this caliber would have thought of it.
“You mean like those damned Bannermans?” was the response. “That’s who lost me half the last shipment to those highwaymen. Feller just about talked my manager’s ear off all the way up, then lost his head and wasn’t worth a hoot in hell when the shooting started.”
Kid couldn’t stand it – he had to ask. “Fellow’s name wasn’t Harry Briscoe, was it?” He sort of regretted the question as Harrington’s florid face got redder.
“He ain’t a friend of yours, is he? If that’s what kind of help you’d be – ”
Heyes smoothly reassured him they were not friends, just had crossed paths a couple of times, signaling Shut up! to Kid. “No, we were disappointed in Briscoe ourselves before, Mr. Harrington. But it might not be fair to judge the whole Bannerman organization by him.”
Harrington’s anger subsided as quickly as it flared up. “That’s what Bannerman himself said, to tell
you the truth. He’s offered me two men
at the same price this trip, so they’ll be along, too. I want to leave for
Heyes nodded, consulting silently with Kid. “You mentioned you had a second protection job, Mr. Harrington. What’s that one?”
The big man hesitated, scratching his auburn beard. “Well, it sounds silly, maybe, but I’m
supposed to be taking my wife and two daughters to
“It’s not silly, Mr. Harrington,” Kid softly responded. “A man wants to protect his family.”
Harrington sighed, smoothing back his receding brown hair. “Over-protect is what my oldest girl says,” he admitted. “But there’s nothing more precious to me than them three womenfolks.”
Kid and Heyes silently reached agreement; two payrolls it would be. “We’ll take both jobs, Mr. Harrington. Mr. Jones will be here in the morning to go
Kid interrupted, “Well, we need to talk about who takes which job, Mr. Smith. Does it make any difference to you, Mr. Harrington?” No, it didn’t, Lom had recommended both of them highly, and that’s what mattered to the businessman. He gave them directions to his house, so they could come by after supper and let him know their decision.
Heyes barely waited until they were out of earshot. “What is there to talk about, Kid? You’re the better gunman, you should be on
“While you make the sacrifice of riding the train with three probably
pretty women? It’s a wonderful thing,
how you put yourself out for this partnership, Heyes.” Kid’s blue eyes had that steely stubborn
look in them. “Harrington doesn’t need a
fast draw, Heyes, he just needs someone with sense enough to pay attention and
keep his guard up. Doesn’t matter which
one of us goes to
The argument went on through supper, Kid implacable to Heyes’ silver-tongued disputations. Heyes finally went to his last resort. “Then let’s just flip a coin, Kid, we’re never gonna solve this arguing.” He began digging in his vest pocket for the silver dollar he always used for this purpose. For once, Kid didn’t accuse him of having a rigged coin, just waited for the flip and called Heads as he always did. Heyes caught the spinning disc, slapped it on his wrist and announced, “Nope, it’s ta—” But it wasn’t. He stared, disbelieving, at the heads-up dollar, then looked up to see Kid choking back laughter. The blond partner was also holding up a silver dollar.
“You switched coins on me!”
“Why, Heyes, what difference could that make?” Kid could no longer keep the laughter in. His cousin’s indecision was too much – he couldn’t object to the toss without admitting he’d been using a rigged coin for years. When Kid could talk again, he confessed, “I switched them night before last. I even nicked the edge a little to match yours.”
Glowering, Heyes responded, “Boy, you think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?”
“Just smart enough, Heyes, just smart enough.” He laid money on the table for the meal and
stood, putting on his hat. “Let’s go
meet the women I’ll be escorting to
Maybe the Harrington women weren’t the most beautiful in the world, but they were nonetheless restful on the eyes. Mrs. Harrington was reserved, though with a penetrating gaze and a set to her mouth that might indicate a strong will, at that. She and Mr. Harrington received their visitors in the formal parlor, darkly but richly furnished, the horsehair upholstery shiny and slick enough the visitors planted their boots firmly as they carefully held delicate china coffee cups. The daughters, Susannah and Elspeth, had tactfully taken farther chairs after serving around the coffee, but were paying attention to the conversation and glancing at the handsome visitors as often as they could and still be ladylike. They were almost identical – about the same height, brown-almost-auburn hair and cornflower blue eyes, delicate oval faces with quick, shy smiles. Kid was beginning to enjoy this assignment already.
“Any special reason you switched jobs after you talked it about it?” Mr. Harrington asked conversationally. Before Heyes could answer, Curry had his own response ready.
“Well, Mr. Harrington, it’s just that on your supply wagon job, you might
have need to Joshua’s special skills.”
He avoided Heyes’ gaze and added, “You see, it could happen you’d need
to follow someone, and Joshua has been called the champeen tracker of southern
“Listen, Thaddeus– ”
“No, Joshua, I know you wouldn’t say it yourself, but you know how true that is.” Curry sipped politely at his coffee, innocent blue eyes meeting Mr. Harrington’s.
Their new boss was clearly impressed.
“Then you’re right. Mr. Smith
should be along with us going to
“Yes, that sounds reasonable. Gentlemen,
I don’t wish to offend you, but I’m sure you understand my hesitation about
traveling in the charge of a complete stranger.” Curry and Heyes indicated that, of course,
they did. “After
Harrington’s answering grin was mischievous. “It may well be it’s the
Amid the laughter, Curry promised to do his best to protect both. Travel arrangements were made. The day after tomorrow was the fifteenth;
three days on the train would put them in
The two ex-outlaws had already agreed Kid would simply wait for Heyes and
they’d get through Christmas together in
Looking back at things, Heyes had little to complain of except boredom on
his supply wagon job. Mr. Harrington,
though loud and profane, was a decent boss who even took his full share of
night watching. It was cold in
With his pay and an extra thirty-seven dollars safely pocketed, Heyes bid
his erstwhile boss farewell and went to check train schedules. He was enormously cheered to find a train
Good thing for him, then, that he wasn’t along with Kid on the “simple”
Sunday was quieter, chiefly because none of the women was speaking to another. Mrs. Harrington had somewhat come down from her high horse, seeing it made no impression on her family guard, or maybe she wasn’t really so snooty, just upset about something yesterday. Curry was grateful for that improvement, but uncomfortable with the animosity among his charges. He had a new appreciation for the Devil’s Hole method of just punching the person you were mad at and getting it fought out and over with. Mrs. Harrington read her Bible (it was Sunday, after all). Elspeth had her Bible, too, but Curry could see the dime novel she was hiding with it, and grinned conspiratorially at her when she noticed his glance. Susannah, sober-faced and looking older than her twenty-one years, stared out the window as long as there was daylight, twisting her lace handkerchief over and through her fingers. Sunday was a long day, too.
Everyone’s mood lifted a little on their last traveling day, though. Despite the grime and discomfort of being in
the same clothes for three days (the
The station was typically busy: passengers getting off, greeters looking for them, the usual amount of noise, bustle, and cinders for a large city’s depot. Kid helped his charges down to the platform, counting their various parcels and hand luggage. Just as he was asking Mrs. Harrington if she’d prefer he wait with them, look for her brother, or go for the trunks, Elspeth spotted her uncle and waved her handkerchief madly. “Uncle Jonathan! We’re over here!”
“Elspeth,” her mother reminded her for not the first time, “a lady does not shout.” She did join in the waving, though, and told Kid to go for the trunks in the baggage car. Susannah suggested perhaps she should go help him, but Curry was already headed that way and didn’t wait for Mrs. Harrington’s answer. He figured if a lady didn’t shout, she sure enough wouldn’t tote trunks off the baggage car, either. It took a spell, but with a generous tip to a porter, Kid got the trunks onto a hand cart and found his family group again, by now augmented by the presence of Uncle Jonathan and Aunt Marguerite. As he got within earshot, the details of which cousin was where at the moment were almost finished. Mrs. Harrington looked at Kid in surprise and asked, “Mr. Jones, where’s Susannah? She insisted on going to help you identify the trunks.”
Curry shook his head. “No, ma’am, she wasn’t at the baggage car. I just walked the length of the train to here, and I didn’t see her anywhere. You’re sure that’s where she was going?” A cold sense of dread was building up in him; something was wrong. Susannah had been…different…all that day.
“But she said…” Mrs. Harrington’s voice trailed off and a sudden recognition flashed in her eyes. “Oh, no. Oh, Jonathan, Marguerite, do you suppose…?”
“Oh, Agatha, not that boy!” Marguerite’s horror was evident. But Elspeth had another take on the situation.
“Mama! Do you think they eloped? How romantic!” Her enthusiasm withered under her mother’s outraged look, though.
Curry looked to his only male ally, Uncle Jonathan. Mrs. Harrington made belated introductions, and Curry suggested perhaps the ladies should all go home and he and Mr. Worthing could institute a search. “That is, if there’s someone else there to help unload the baggage and such,” he concluded. There would be help at the house, and despite protests from the three women, Mr. Worthing’s long-suffering driver was soon on his way, barraged with weeping and frantic speculations from his charges.
Kid and Mr. Worthing searched the platform first and had the conductor
walk through the train. He wouldn’t let
the two unticketed men go themselves, but Curry’s firm gaze (and perhaps his
hand resting on his pistol) convinced him to look on their behalf. Curry and
“But Uncle Jonathan, I can help! Mama knows I came back, she knows I’m with you. You’re going in to search the depot, aren’t you? How are you going to search the ladies’ retiring room? See, I can so help!” The two men exchanged glances; she had a point about the retiring room.
No Susannah. It had been an hour
or more since they arrived; she could be far off by now. And it was not certain she was eloping; it
was still possible she’d been abducted against her will. Regretfully,
The police were not especially helpful.
Elspeth was useful here, though; since to look on her was to see
Susannah’s face, it gave the officer a clear description to hand around. She also had a detailed description of
Susannah’s probable companion: Jeffrey
Browne, a young law clerk the family had met last Christmas, a friend of one of
At a loss for what else to do,
“Oh, my poor girl!” wailed Mrs.
Harrington. “To have her think we won’t
want to see her, that she has to cut herself off! I could have talked
“Mr. Harrington promised me a hundred and twenty-five for bringing his family here. But I don’t think he meant for you to –”
Kid toyed with his drink, thinking.
He had so looked forward to a few peaceful days between delivering the
women and dealing with Heyes’ Christmas melancholy. However, doubling his pay was a pleasant
prospect. And truth to tell, he didn’t
like having one of his charges disappear the minute his back was turned. With a sigh, he answered
So the search continued. Kid was
glad enough to see Clementine and her father again; the man’s banking
connections might be of some help. He
had hoped to find Diamond Jim Guffy, too, but Jim was away on some pursuit or
other. The Worthings’ neighbor was not
any use; seemed young Browne had changed employers in October when he passed
the bar exam. The new employer had no
information other than Browne had requested and been given a few days off for
personal business. It was certainly to
be hoped there would not be a scandal from the young lawyer. Theirs was a well-established conservative
firm, etc., etc. Frustrated as the days
went by, Curry fervently wished he had let Heyes win this “easy” job back in
Near to the time Curry and his flock of females got off their train,
Heyes had boarded one in
Three days passed; then four.
While Curry chased around
Heyes’ luck ran out the night of the 22nd. The heavy snow didn’t hold off long enough, and late that night, a few miles outside of Union Colony, the rails iced over, forcing the train to a standstill. Most of the passengers were used to western winters, fortunately, and convinced the few newcomers that they would be safe overnight with the coal stoves in the cars. And by morning, when the train didn’t arrive, help would be on its way. They were right; by mid-morning, with coal to spare in the stoves, a dozen or more sleighs arrived to ferry the passengers into town. Heyes secured his hotel room and a late breakfast, then went to telegraph Curry about his delay. Another problem: the telegraph lines were down from ice, too. The telegrapher would send the message as soon as he could, of course…
Heyes went to explore the town, only partly in search of a saloon. He found a tannery, a couple of banks and
hotels, a few general stores, a smithy, and a produce warehouse near the train
station. He found two flour mills, three
opera houses, and no less than seven churches.
He did not find a saloon. Back in
the hotel, he made inquiries. The desk
clerk laughed genially. “You must be new
to Union Colony, son. There are no
saloons here. This is a temperance
town.” Heyes blinked, trying to
accommodate this idea. Here he was in
Even so, he was awake early, for him, and by 9:00 a.m. was going from
window to chair to pacing until he stormed out of the room. Maybe being around people would be a
distraction at least…maybe some food and coffee would improve his mood…maybe
the telegraph lines were up. Not only
was that not true, since the ice storm had moved south, the lines in
The early dusk reminded Heyes he hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and he wandered dejectedly down to the dining room. To his surprise, a Christmas tree had been put up, candles ready to light, and a few other geegaws decorated the mantelpiece and window sills as well. When the waiter came to his table, Heyes asked, “Someone having a party?”
Startled, the server answered, “No one told you? It’s our Christmas tradition at the Hanover House. So many of our guests are, well, stranded here that Mr. and Mrs. Hanover started celebrating their family Christmas with everyone who happens to be here. Those who want to have a gift exchange and it’s sort of encouraged – but not necessary – to chip in something for the Christmas dinner at the orphans’ home. Mr. and Mrs. Hanover always provide a lot of food for that every year. Do stay down for the party, Mr. Smith. It’s quite a ‘do’.” Heyes promised to think about it and ordered his dinner. It arrived in the hands of Mrs. Hanover herself, flushed and fragrant from the kitchen. After serving Heyes, she sat down in the opposite chair and explained to him that he would, in fact, attend her party. “You’ve spent enough time holed up in that room by yourself, young man, and I won’t stand for it tonight. It would break my heart. Are we clear on this, now?”
Heyes dimpled his
grin at her, knowing he was defeated.
“Yes, ma’am.” Satisfied, Mrs.
She was right. In spite of his Christmas dread, once the
music and games were underway, Heyes did begin to enjoy himself. He hadn’t played Charades since before his
parents died, but when two of the
Susannah? It is you – we met in
Susannah looked to
Jeffrey. He explained, “It was rather
sudden. In fact, we eloped, Mr. Smith,
and until the ice changed our plans, we were on our way to
Heyes agreed with
the nagging desire to communicate.
Amazing how dependent folks became on a new invention in a relatively
short time. “Do you mind telling me,
Miss…Mrs. Browne, did Thaddeus know of your plans? I’m concerned he’s in some sort of trouble
over not getting you properly to
“No, he didn’t
know, but we left word at Uncle Jonathan’s house explaining. Surely no one could blame him for our
elopement, Mr. Smith. But, Jeffrey,
maybe that’s another sign we should go back to
For many years,
Heyes had wished, prayed, done everything but offer sacrifices on an altar, to
have snow for Christmas morning. This
time, though, the prevailing wish was for a Christmas thaw, and by noon
Christmas Day the cry was going through town:
the ice is melting! It’s
thirty-six degrees! The trains can run
tomorrow! The former outlaw was one of
many who felt they’d been given a gift with that news. Checking with the ticket office at the depot,
Heyes arranged to be on the first train out, mid-morning the next day (assuming
the thaw held). The telegraph lines were
still down, so he could deliver his message in person faster than
“Yeah. Your Christmas present’s there, too. Were you…okay over Christmas?” The tone was carefully casual, but Heyes knew Jed had worried about him.
“Actually, except for you not being there, I had the best Christmas I’ve had in a long time; went to a lively party, danced with a bunch of pretty girls, it was nice. Real homey. Ow!” Curry had slugged him one on the shoulder. “What was that for?”
“For me worrying about you, and you’re off partying. Think I’ll take back my present.”
Heyes rubbed his arm with his free hand. “What is it?”
“Bottle of real good whiskey.” Curry frowned at his cousin. “What are you laughing about?”
“There really is a Santa Claus, after all,” Heyes finally managed to say. “Christmas might have been messed up, Kid, but I think things are shaping up for a hell of a good new year.”
While traveling in
The fledgling town of 1200 was founded in 1870 by members of a joint stock colonization company called the Union Colony of Colorado, organized by Nathan Meeker, agricultural editor of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune. Meeker visited
More than 3000 responded to his persuasive prose. Over 700 of the best applicants were chosen as members, and a membership fee of $155 was collected from everyone whose name appeared on the list of selected colonists. This money was used to purchase land west of the confluence of the South Platte and