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    • "Just when I was thinkin' this was a cake-walk!"  Justus' grin didn't show under the bandanna, but he was trying to take it all in stride.  But he did realize that either way, it was going to be miserable.  The wind stirring up the dust was annoying at best, but if it got bad enough, it could make vision next to impossible.  But if it started to rain...well, there was a whole mess its own issues, none of them pleasant.   Funny thing was, it sounded like the worse conditions got, and the harder they had to work, the more the chances of a good, hot meal and decent rest went down.   Not much to do about it but take it as it came, unless he just bugged out, but it would take something far worse than weather to get him to quit!   @Flip
    • "Or at least I hope he won't. I hear he's hell on wheels with a gun, and quick to anger. Maybe we best call this off."   "If you insist."  Emeline stuck out her bottom lip in a pout, but then laughed, kissed him and stood.  She was so happy that Barnabas was able to joke and tease with her, and didn't take every little thing seriously.  If you didn't have fun now and then, life could be pretty dull.   She glanced out the window, then followed him to the door, regretting that they were going to lose the luxury of the car, but looking forward to the next part of the journey.   As he helped her to the platform, she took the chance to look around, noting that Reno was much more what she was accustomed to, and it was a bit of a relief after the huge cities of Portland and San Francisco.    "This is nice, and I'm well-rested, ready for supper and that stroll."  She hooked her arm into her husband's.  "Lead on, and I will follow!"   @Flip
    • Reb Culverson had claimed a good sized chunk of land and one corner of it sat on the river, north of Alice Fletcher's land. the rest backed up to low tree covered hills. He was not the type to b;lock off water to any who needed it, it just wasn't who he was. He ran maybe six or seven hundred head on his range. He didn't like the fences any more than the next man but it was a necessity, and ranchers were more prone to fence off their range, it prevented the mixing of cattle, destruction of farmers property, and problems in general. But most had vulnerabilities that rustlers could exploit.   The circle C seldom had more than six to eight hands at any one time, which was far less than the size of the herd needs, but of course, that is on open range where they are able to spread out over many more acres. The other problem that had not been a problem for some time was the threat of rustlers.   Toole and six of his comrades sat in the trees watching. There was plenty of time. The day team of two hands had been relieved as the daylight faded, and were replace by a solitary rider. Just as Toole learned earlier. The law was laid down by Case, no killing, no unless it was absolutely necessary, which with one man it shouldn't be.   The day riders were more than a mile off, the evening man was at the south end of the herd. The plan, simple, four would go to the left, three would pinch in from the right and push the cattle into the trees and then drive them toward the dry creek bed and home. It should work like a charm.
    • Warbow now understood why the young woman was asking him to officiate a marriage between her and her beloved. What she was asking was taboo amongst the overwhelming majority of Anglos. He could see that even Shade was looking uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had gone although he did not wear the look of disgust that so many whites would have. Then again, Shade had grown up amongst the Diné.   "Child," Warbow said, his voice soft and kind although no pity showed in his eyes or on his face, "I am sorry to say that although I can perform a marriage ceremony for you and will be happy to do so if you wish, it will have no legal standing amongst your people. I do not know much about the legal systems of the Anglos, but perhaps you could make a legal document that indicates a desire to share your property?"   @Javia
    • Once they had all eaten, the four sat where there was cover, to the right, up against an outcropping of rock. There were stones so they set a ring and built a fair sized fire and even though there was whiskey, the set a pot to boil, that way they would have coffee, it could get chilly for whoever was on watch, and even if the others decided on a cup, there would still be  coffee for the men on watch.   Maybe the Lost Lake hands had found the body and hauled him off the mountain, it didn't seem like they were looking for any blood trail, and if Carson had managed to control his blood loss, and kept it off of the ground, then maybe they lost interest and just brought the man in. Chances Carson was able to that, were not real good, but he may had been able to manage the bleeding enough that there was no blood trail for quite a ways, and they lost interest.   That could have happened ad it seemed to be a good reason that the Lost Lake riders had not shown up at the fence line. The Evergreen riders would be happy to have that wire down, but until the framer was gone, and Lost Lake was taken, it would remain. It was just the way of it. Evergreen cattle would just keep heading in a southerly direction destroying crops as the moseyed along. but they'd not be looking for grass in the rocky terrain beyond, they would turn back and do more damage.   It didn't seem like Steelgrave was ready to wipe out the sod buster, so the fence needed to be watched and mended when necessary. All four believed their time on the fence would be short lived.    

Deadly December


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Mature Content: Yes

Author: @Flip

With: List characters and NPCs in the thread.
When: December 12,1875
Time of Day: Midnight into the next morning.




The Winter so far had been mild, there was a steady two feet on the ground in between sunny, or partly sunny days. Mild, but miserably cold in the entire Flathead Valley, as most liked to call the area, which included Whitefish. But to a lesser degree in Kalispell, yet nothing like what was about to hit their northern neighbor.

What they could not have known, was a heavy front was moving down from Canada with a howling wind. A thrashing wind that would drive the snow, and at the same time, cause lake effect snow to blend in with the blizzard that was about to draw a bead on Whitefish and it’s immediate area.

For the citizens, outlaws, and all those who called Whitefish home, the coming evening would be much like any other even with the average two feet of snow on the ground. The Silver Dollar, of course, was full, it’s stove glowing from the fire in it’s belly. Men crowded closer together, wearing heavy coats for additional warmth, some chose the body heat from the saloon’s whores upstairs to help stay warm.

Without warning, save for the increasing wind, the approaching winter storm slammed into Whitefish somewhere around midnight, wind buffeting against the buildings which was initially ignored. Though business was still brisk in the saloon, Case Steelgrave was secluded in his jail, his own stove radiating heat, reflecting off the stone walls of the cell block, and toasty warm. Even the wind banging the Marshall’s Office sign didn’t disturb his reading of Robinson Crusoe.

Doctor Josiah Boone was at the moment, sound asleep in his cabin, though by the door sat his bags, clothing and medical supplies. He had finally had enough of the outlaws, Case Steelgrave, and Whitefish. Perhaps he could catch on with Jonah Danforth in Kalispell. If not, he would push on. In his lean to was his buggy, and horse ready to be hitched come daylight, he would take Dotty with him, if she wanted to go.

The wind howled as it picked up intensity, immediately causing all manner of minor damage as it grew in strength. First shingles were ripped from rooftops, then loose boxes, barrels and buckets blew into the street and careened down the empty way. And with it’s sudden force, the almost fifty mile per hour winds toppled several weak trees, one of which crashed into though the back of the saloon, ripping through the wall of one of the bedrooms, smashing through the window frame as well as the clapboard wall itself. The window frame and wall crashing onto the unsuspecting couple in the bed with enough force to kill the both of them while knocking an oil lamp from the table, crashing on the floor and bursting into flames then spreading rapidly, licking at the dry wood, carpeting, cloth and furniture.



Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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Part 2


Bedlam spread quickly as people ran haphazardly from buildings that had caught fire in nothing but their night clothes. With no fire department, Whitefish was at the mercy of the flames, which offered none.  A couple of the weaker buildings, which had not caught fire simply caved in under the weight of the snow with a horrible crash. People trapped inside, unable to get away from the collapsing structures. It couldn’t be happening! How were the flames spreading in this snow storm? How could it be possible that the flames were fanned as opposed to being suppressed? Yet they were!


Men raced outside the Silver Dollar Saloon, a couple of them swept off their feet by the wind and the ice already formed on the porch. They scrambled off of the slick wooden porch and out onto the ice and snow covered road. Men were struggling to mount their horses who were wild with fear of the fire, covered in snow, panic stricken, and fighting to get free of the men. More than one cowboy lost his stirrup and was left on his back as his animal ran off.


Suddenly, the Silver Dollar Saloon was fully engulfed! The flames leaped to the hardware store  next door, catching hold before the swirling wind could extinguish the flames. But with the swirling wind came hot embers blowing in every direction, and suddenly, the tinder dry buildings in the path of the embers and flames lit up the night. And with it, the complete horror of what was happening to their town was realized.


Screams of trapped victims could barely be heard as the second floor of the Silver Dollar collapsed with a horrible sound, sending sparks, embers, and flames sky high and into the wind. And into other buildings along to street as men tried to scoop water from the frozen water trough as their efforts fell short. Breaking the ice proved near impossible as buildings burned, Case Steelgrave fought to help suppress the flames, but there was little he or any of them could do, and before anyone could start, they were overwhelmed. Case began shouting for people to get out of Whitefish, to head for Kalispell or even Columbia Falls. The screams of horse and people including Cases directions were all but drowned out by the blizzard at hand, yet he continued hollering as he ran from building to building urging people to attempt their escape from the double edged sword they faced.


Case saw the Doc Boone whip into the street. The buggy sliding side ways before straightening out with the Parsons woman along side of him. The man drove as fast as the rig would go, dodging, people, fire, and falling trees, as many were not only burning, but the wind was taking them down like match sticks. He disappeared into the night as case continued to battle. When case looked, Doc Boone’s cabin was a blaze, as was his office. He cursed the man as he would be needed. Yet, wasn’t he doing what Case as was directing others to do, and wasn’t he trying to save the woman?


Others, mounted on horseback, some in wagons and rigs of various types, were all racing with the wind out of town, toward Kalispell, and the trail toward Columbia Falls, it was a sheet of snow and ice driving forward across the face of Whitefish.


The only hope was Kalispell!




Edited by Flip (see edit history)
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(Oh, man, there goes the neighborhood!)


The offer had been too good to pass up, a chance to make a great deal of money for just a week of effort, so when a merchant from Whitefish proposed to her, she agreed at least to a 'trial run', a week to see if they were compatible -- more for her to see if she could stand living with a man for more than a day and find a way out of cooking and excessive housework.  Alcohol wasn't a problem, she figured, he was a merchant, after all, and lived over the store. 


There was no sense in taking her son, nor even mentioning him at this point.  Porter was accustomed to getting by on his own, the tow-haired boy known to most as 'Weedy' had many friends in town, and she knew at very least that the stage driver Addy would look out for him.


So Copia Bridge had spent the last of her coin on a few bits of clothing so that she didn't appear destitute, and let Richie Love cart her home to Whitefish.


Strangely, for the first time in her pitiful life, Copia was starting to believe that her life had turned around.  She actually didn't mind the cleaning, Richie was very clean to begin with, and he had agreed to hire a cook.  While alcohol was plenty, Copia was finding that she needed it less than she'd imagined, and when she'd finally worked up the courage to mention that she had a son, something she had been certain would ruin the deal, but Richie had surprised her and actually been enthusiastic about having a son.


They would head to Kalispell in the morning to fetch the lad, then come home and make the relationship legal.


Funny, how life works...or doesn't...





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Case stepped sideways to avoid a falling timber when he was struck in the head by another. He crumpled to the frozen ground, out cold. He had done all that he could to try and save as many as possible, but the wind and fanned flames were too much for any of those to tried to help. Including Case Steelgrave.

The wind began to die out as the storm moved on to the south-west, skirting the major ranches as well as Kalispell, but leaving heavy, deep snow in it’s wake. Everyone would be digging out from under the weighty white blanket, but damage was minor, if any to the ranches.

The same could not be said for the town of Whitefish. Most of the buildings were either damaged, from moderately to severely, or destroyed. The fire had crisscrossed the main street, touching some, avoiding other buildings. As with most disasters, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for how it had played out, just that it brought death and devastation to the town people had called home.

Perhaps it had been prophetic, but the church, scorned by the outlaws, was spared, as were a mere half a dozen buildings. Thirty children, almost all of those in town were inside with their mothers and almost half again that many women. The men who were spared were out on the street ensuring that the last of the flames were out, the toll had been heavy and not just the men, women and children had been lost as well. With the storm finally exhausted, and the fires most all extinguished the people came out of the church under heavy, leaden skies to view the devastation in the morning light. The stores and shops that were not burned were blown apart to one degree or another, roofs caved in or ripped off, some buildings heavily damaged with snow forced inside by the wind burying whatever was inside. Not much was spared.

Case Steelgrave had been lucky to survive, first knocked unconscious, then buried under several feet of snow until the wind that moved it there moved it partially off again. He was found by a pair of ladies that would have just as soon left him to die, they recognized that the Marshal had actually been fighting to save as many people as possible. Trying desperately to fight the fire to no avail, and instead of running as so many had, he stayed.


They were Christian ladies, and his demise was just not going to happen. Everywhere men and women, even some children were busy digging for bodies, as they knew there would be more than they would like to find. Stores were being searched in the hopes of finding clothing for those who needed it, and food for everyone that would be needing it. As well as any and all supplies that were to be found

Two men were out gathering horses and what mules they could find as they would need to consider moving out for Kalispell themselves, it was a long walk south and none of the survivors were prepared for what would amount to a forced march.

The large Studebaker wagon needed to be stood upright, and a wheel repaired, but once repaired it would hold the women and children. Luck was with them in that the wagon was not it worse shape, or a pile of ashes for that matter.

Case began by pitching in wherever he could instead of directing and shouting orders to people who were aware of what had to be done. His head being bandaged slowed him down not one iota. There was work to be done, lives that hung in the balance and Case Steelgrave was their Marshal, the man who they would ordinarily look up to, but he was well aware that he had long past failed them, for everyone knew who and what he was.

The rattle of steel rimmed wooden wheels on the snow, along with the jingle of trace chains and the steady clip clop of hooves on the packed snow gave cause for most to at least look up from their tasks if not simply sand and stare. Doc Boone made his way up what once had been a street, weaving in and out of boards, limbs and all manner of ruin. There came a point when he could go no further so, he drew up his horse, climbed out of the buggy and attached the anchor weight to the halter. Then he reached in and took up his bag. Doctor Josiah Boone was back in Whitefish.

He was quick to explain that he had placed the woman Dotty, with another wagon so he could return, and with that, Doc Boone went to work.




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  • 2 weeks later...

The snow was slow to melt and it had been deep, just about to the belly of most of the horses in town. So it had been over most of the hubs on wagons, buckboards and buggies which required digging out a path wide enough for the wheeled conveyances and the horses.

But melt down it did, and with almost everyone in town pitching in with the shoveling of the street as well as the boardwalks they were ready to mount a serious rescue mission. Marshal Guyer organized it as best he could, enlisting most every able bodied man or woman. First on that list was Addy, he also enlisted every available wagon besides Addy’s.


A week had passed before the procession rolled out of Kalispell praying the trail to Whitefish was clear enough to allow them to pass. It was cold, but the sun shown brightly as was helping, a mile out of town they came upon the first stragglers from Whitefish who notified the cavalcade of the dead the littered the trail just ahead of them. They also relayed stories of horror and of bravery, from looting by the outlaws to care administered in town and along the way.


Of the greatest concern were the survivors still in Whitefish. Of which they were told were many, a number of men, but specifically the women and children that had remained behind for one reason or another. Marshall Guyer insured that the food that was brought along was shared, along with the coffee that was carried in anything that could be capped except for glass.


It was a ragtag affair, but the citizens of Kalispell were on a mission of mercy and fully intended to rescue all those that were stranded.


Meanwhile in Whitefish, every effort by those who remained to right the Studebaker failed. Food supplies dwindled rapidly as there were not a lot that survived the storm and sickness was beginning to take hold while a few of the outlaws began to take liberties with the stranded, especially the women, and with Marshal Steelgrave down from his head injury there was no one to stop them.


Tag @Players


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  • 2 weeks later...

As soon as the alarm reached Kalispell, Addy had gone into action, frustrated, just like all the good folk in town, that they couldn't get moving sooner.  But it would be near impossible to get any conveyances through until the snow was cleared at least a little.


During the lull, folks in town had started organizing, so that when they finally did get on their way, she had her recruited Barnabas Pike to drive her wagon, loaded with relief supplies -- blankets, clothing, bandages, shovels and picks, among others -- and she was driving a stage, also laden with supplies strapped to the roof while the inside was full of townspeople eager to help.  In addition, she had two teams of horses along.


As they made their way to Whitefish, she was horrified by the trail of frozen bodies, men, women and children who had last their bid for safety.  And it was just a small taste of what was coming once they reached the town...



Wrapped tightly in her coat, with a scarf wound around her neck, face and head, Emeline sat beside Barnabas, wishing, like everyone on the rescue party, that they could have left earlier.  She kept her gloved hands clenched to hold back her emotion as they passed body after body, although she couldn't keep tears from misting her eyes.


"This is horrible," she whispered, "the town must be..."  Taking a breath, she tire do steel herself for what they would find.


@Wayfarer; @Flip; @Longshot; @Stormwolfe; @JulieS; @Juls; @Grimscythe; @Nuclear



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"Yes 'em, it shorely is." Pike said, himself wearing a heavy Buffalo coat, heavy hair gloves and like Emeline, his face was covered by a borrowed scarf which was wound about his head and over his hat to keep in on. "Doubt it'll get much better, though the bodies oughtta lessen the close to Whitefish we get."


He was glad she was with him, but sorry she had to see the results. Yet women of the west were tough, they had buried their men, their children and complete strangers. They had defended their land as well as any man, and under all that which was perceived as softness was a core of steel. Emeline had that too, this trip was just real hard on everybody The woman had her own business up and profitable, no easy task for anyone. He let go of the reigns with one hand and gave hers a squeeze.


"It'll be alright."


Tag @Wayfarer@Longshot@Stormwolfe@JulieS@Juls@Grimscythe@Nuclear and anybody that was missed.

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Quentin held the telescope in his gloved hands and squinted through the tube. He picked out the group of wagons and riders in the distance. A tight smile moved across his face as he lowered the telescope and turned in his saddle to look back behind him. A double column of Lost Lake riders were pushing along the road, their horses trudging along, clearing the snow with their legs and chests for the group of ranch wagons that followed. The children and a small skeleton crew had remained back at the ranch to deal with the aftermath of the snowstorm. Quentin watched the town party approaching as he sat Paladin on the small knoll and remembered the events that had transpired...


The snow had finally blown itself out, leaving behind the typical painfully blue skies but icebox frigid temperatures. The snow had been too deep for the children to go out and play so the only outdoor activity had been the ranch chores that could not wait and to check on the ranch livestock. The hands had stayed in the bunkhouse when not doing the necessary work of the ranch. Everyone had shared food, making sure everyone got to enjoy some hot home cooked meals with the weather as opposed to the usual fare.


The first indication to reach Lost Lake of what had befallen Whitefish had come one morning. The house was bustling with typical activity, enhanced by the cabin fever attached to being snowed in by the drifts outside. Quentin at that time was on his hands and knees in the living room, rubbing his chin as he looked over his array of toy soldiers set up before a low table that was currently serving as the fort garrisoned by the soldiers led by Cody, his nephew. "I am pretty sure I regret how much attention you paid to me when I was telling you how to play with your armies..."


The boy grinned widely and then reached, fussing over some last minute positions of his cannon. Quentin's lips quirked up. He had seen that same look of concentration on the faces of young troopers...checking and rechecking tack on their mounts...checking everything from the angle of their hat to the edge on their saber during that time before the bugles blew and none of the details mattered anymore.


Quentin's planning was interrupted by the sound of a horse outside as it galloped up and stopped outside. He was already getting to his feet and moving toward the front door when he heard the fist knocking hard on the wood. Quentin opened the door to see a bundled shape that bustled into the foyer, tugging off his hat as he stood steaming in the warmer air of the house. "Cup of coffee, please!" Quentin called toward the kitchen as he sensed movement at the doorway. He looked the rider over. "You look like you've been riding for hours...where the Hell have you been?"


The rider's face did much to silence the rest of Quentin's question. "I got bored and decided to ride out to the main road...just to see the conditions and maybe...maybe see if the way was clear into town..." Quentin nodded. He knew this hand had recently met a girl in town and had been looking to get back to her as soon as possible. "...I got to the main road and...and...there's bodies, Boss..."


Quentin's jaw dropped. "Bodies? What do you mean...who? How many?"


The rider threw his arms out in anguish. "I don't know! I could see several from where I sat. They were scattered along the road from Whitefish and going towards town. I didn't...I didn't get too close..."


Quentin heard footsteps behind him and watched as the hand took the cup of coffee and drained it quickly, savoring the heat and he handed the cup back for a refill. Quentin stood quietly for a minute before he looked back at the young hand. "I need you to go rouse the bunkhouse. I need you to have the Foreman come up here and you pick someone who can make their way to Kalispell. Make sure they pick a good horse and dress very warm. Tell them to get to town, find out what has happened, and get back as quickly as they can..." The hand turned and dashed back out the door. Quentin closed the door and turned back to the people who had gathered behind him.


@Stormwolfe and anyone I missed (open tags and insert any other characters)

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As Mike lead the Lost Lake riders, his mind drifted back to when he had first heard of the disaster...


"There you go gentlemen, a royal flush," Mike said with a smile as he put down his cards.  It was too bad that they were only paying with matchsticks or he'd would have most of the wages of the men he was playing poker with.  There wasn't much to do on days like this except the odd chores that involved taking care of animals or chopping wood.  Besides the men would need any money they did get to buy clothes to keep them warm as this winter was turning out to be one of the worse he had seen in years.


Just as Mike was scooping up his winnings, a loud banging on the door surprised everyone.  Stan told Marty that it was his turn to open the door, a job no-one really wanted to do as the cold air was just that. Marty got off his bunk and wrapped his blanket tightly around him.  He grumble something about how he thought it was Sam's turn and not his.  Opening the door, wide enough to let whoever it was in and keep the cold, Marty was taken aback, "What the heck?  I thought you would be in town by now."


The young hand, whose name was Pete, shook his head, "So did I but...well there's no easy way of saying this.  There are bodies out there just lying in the snow on the trail to Whitefish."


Mike got up and went over to the man, "What do you mean by bodies?"


Pete went over to the stove to get warm, "Bodies...men, women, and even little kids.  It was bad.  I told Mr. Cantrell about it and he said to get someone to ride into town to find out what was going on."


Sam grabbed his gloves, "I'll go.  Matt or Hannah will know something,"


Mike nodded, "All right, but take it easy the snow will be piled high enough to make it difficult."


After Sam had left, Mike turned his attention back to Pete, "Was there anything else?"


Pete nodded, "Yeah, Mr. Cantrell said he wanted you up at the house."


Just before he headed into his quarters, Mike went over to Stan, "Make sure the men are ready to ride just in case."


"You bet," Stan replied.


When he had gotten his coat, hat, scarf and gloves, Mike had made his way up to the main house where he waited until Sam returned.  It had taken a few hours but Sam came back with the news of the disaster that befallen Whitefish.  Not long after, a group from Lost Lake were on their way to help.


@Longshot (or anyone else who feels the need to jump in)

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Quentin heard snow crunching and turned back from the telescope to see Shade climbing the small knoll to stop beside him. Quentin handed the telescope over to Shade and pointed. "There is the town rescue party. Looks like we timed it about right..." Quentin looked back at the Lost Lake group then to the town group. "I think our mounts are probably fresher. We should get ourselves in front to help clear a path for them to follow. What do you think?" Quentin swore softly and tugged his scarf up over his nose to protect his face from the biting cold. "I forgot how much I hate winter..."


@Stormwolfe for Shade

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Not to be left behind and sure that his wartime experience could be of help, Phinn was one of the first to head the call when it came.  Of course, there was a story in it, it was a disaster after all. But his humanity took over, there were people left behind in Whitefish and they needed help.


He would get that story and be of service to his fellow man, regardless of who they were, or where they were from. He had ceased to care much about prejudices after the surrender, as he saw no good was coming from it. Part of the reason he had moved west.


Phineas McVay was hardly a perfect human being and admittedly so, but like some in his business, he was not callous to the suffering of others. He had seen far too much of that.


Tag Players!

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Dressed more like a man than a young lady of means Leah Steelgrave had joined the cavalcade early on, doing whatever she could to ease the suffering, which included giving up the family suite and taking up a bed at Doctor Jonah Danfoths office.


Before she could deliver what news she had the remnants of the survivors from Whitefish had arrived and everything focused on them. Leah had gone to every store in town and opened her accounts to those in need, something that made the businessmen sit up and take notice. She had then gone to the hotel and rented every room that was available including opening her families suite. Her actions even stunned Jonah Danforth.


She plodded along on a rented horse, torn by what she was seeing along the trail, and what she had witnessed in town. She had no illusions about forgiveness of the Steelgrave name by what she had done, and she cold honestly care less. What was done, needed to be done and she had the where with all to see to it. Those that did not think her motives were genuine could go to hell!


Taggin' Ya'all

Edited by Flip (see edit history)
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Emeline glanced at Barnabas and smiled, even though he couldn't see her mouth behind the scarf.  "I've no doubt it will not be pleasant, but we can only do our best."  Reaching over, she squeezed his arm, then left her gloved hand resting there.


"The people of Kalispell have put up a good team, I'm sure we'll be able to do the most we can."  She left off the 'for the survivors' part, for there was no guarantee that there would be survivors, considering how cold it had been, and there was no telling what sort of provisions were left.


With riders serving as plows and trampling the worst of the snow, the wagons were able to move at a fairly good pace, and  the horses were winded as they arrived at what used to be Whitefish.


The rubble of collapsed homes as they drew closer to the town proper gave them an idea what to expect, but even that didn't prepare Emeline for the devastation. 


Collapsed buildings, still under huge snowdrifts, burned hulks, massive trees knocked over...and bodies...strewn in the streets and on the boardwalks...


But there was no time to fret over that...as the caravan rolled into town, they were quickly met by all manner of people, young and old, some injured, some obviously sick and unwell...


"Oh...oh, goodness."  Emeline's heart broke, and even before the wagon stopped, she hopped  down from the wagon and ran to help a woman who could barely walk, taking the woman's baby and wrapping inside her coat, then helping her to the side. 


"You need to stay back so we can get the wagons in!" she called, but she doubted she would be heard over the shouts and noises.






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Whitefish hadn’t promised much. Oleander had been warned of that when it was first pointed out to her on a map of the local area. “You could try and make it out to Kalispell before the next big storm hits, but if you’re really just looking for any kind of place like you say, might as well go for Whitefish.” They had said. And that really was all she had been looking for. 


Her last safe haven had been with Felix, the old veteran. In fact he had given her his old mule, Twiddles, on account of “she hardly did much anyway.” What Twiddles did do was at least march her scrawny nag body over to Whitefish and allowed Oleander to scrounge a bed from a pitying passerby. Oleander had gone to bed that night expecting some solace. 


She was woken up not a few hours later by screams and a warm, threatening glow bleeding through the windowpanes. Leaping out of bed to assess the blaze, Oleander was quickly met with it as it licked along the sill. Blizzard winds had brought the embers slamming into the side of the shed, and soon enough the shed was collapsing. 


That’s what she told people when they pulled her out a few days later. Somehow they had placed her in the church along with the other women and their children, but instead of huddling with them Oleander had picked herself a corner seat in a far removed pew. It gave her a good look over the rest of them, as well as a place to clear her head and allow her to shiver and chatter her teeth in peace. 


The best part of her perch was it had the best window that looked out onto the main street of Whitefish … or what was left of it. She watched as the horses plowed their feet through the paths, the wagons groaning along behind them. More and more continued to emerge from the silhouettes of what once were buildings. Oleander, like many others, seemed to suddenly become possessed and rose to her feet, surging out to meet the rescue teams. The orders to have those from Whitefish disperse to let the wagons through fell on deaf ears, and suddenly Oleander found herself tugging on the sleeve of anyone who would listen. 


“His mule. Twiddles. His … my mule. Has anyone seen the old nag?” She drifted from person to person, hardly waiting for an answer. Her mind was more frayed than she had realized. Apparently midnight infernos would do that to a person.


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Aurelian was there in his buckboard wagon as part of the rescue mission organized originally in Kalispell. He had felt he needed to be involved as his civic duty. Oh and Christian one also. They needed wagons to transport refugees to Kalispell and he could do that much.


Once all of these surviving folks made it to town, temporary shelter and living space was going to be at a real premium so the man also notified those in charge he was willing to put up a few unfortunates on his farm outside of Kalispell.  The place was nothing special but it was at the least a roof over their heads, a warm fire, and he would be happy to share meals with these luckless souls.


People had been kind to him and his children when they had first arrived in Kalispell, he would never forget that. So maybe this was a chance to pass on that kindness to at least a few of these unfortunates. And a fine lesson in Christian charity for his children. Now it was just a matter of seeing who those in charge would assign him.

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Inside the coach, Jonah stared out the window, horrified by the conditions that they were riding into.   It was unlike anything he had ever thought he'd encounter, but at least he wasn't the only doctor.


And as they drove farther up the main street, the magnitude of the situation became evident.  At least there had been some pre-planning, and the goal was to find intact buildings and set up temporarily where people could be treated, fed and sorted before loading everyone up and heading back to Kalispell. 


But someone else was coordinating that, his job was doing what he could to keep survivors alive, and he was not really sure he was prepared for the magnitude of that.


Addy bit her lip as she drove the stage into town, staying focused on the job at hand.  Her task was to see to the animals, to make sure that the Kalispell stock were fed and tended to, then to do what she could for the town's critters, be it cows, horses, dogs, cats...


She looked down at the young woman, desperately talking to one of the men from town.  "Gimme a minnit ta git th' stage here stopped an' I'll take a look for ya," she called down, setting the brake then hopping to the ground.  She was wearing pants, a heavy coat and had a scarf keeping her hat jammed on her head.


"Don't fret none, Missy, I'll look for ya."  She knew how important your animal could be, and she'd make every effort to find it.  "Let th' doc take a look at ya, get some food..."





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Matt was helping the kitchen staff take stock of how much food there was in the hotel's pantry.  He was working with the town council and Pastor Evans getting everything ready for all the people that would be arriving soon.  There had already been a few people who had made it Kalispell but only just barely.  Thankfully, the hotel was virtually empty of guests and so they had the room to accommodate some of the victims and their families.  He had been adding extra beds to the rooms that had the space, as well getting all the available linen and blankets.


When Walter told him that Leah Steelgrave had rented out all the rooms, Matt was a bit perplexed.  Her motives for doing so would be something he would be looking into later on when things were back to normal.  When he got the chance, he would have to inform her that she didn't need to rent the rooms and he wasn't about to take any payment for it, as he was not one to make a profit out of someone else's misery.  Giving the rooms to the victims was already on his mind from the time the news had come through and he had been too busy getting things organised that he had forgotten to tell Walter to let the current guests know.


One of his housemaids, came into the room to let him know that Pastor Evans had arrived.  As he went out to the lobby to meet the man, he mentally assessed the food situation.  Between the hotel, the White Rose, the Stardust saloon, and Miss Blakesley's establishment there would be enough places to feed the victims and their rescuers.


After greeting the Pastor with a sturdy handshake, Matt told him about  the hotel preparations.  The Pastor was pleased and in turn, told Matt that many of the town's residences and some of the outlying farms and ranches were ready to take in whoever needed a safe place to stay and recover.  Even though some of the work had been done already, there was still a lot more to do.   Pastor Evans informed Matt that the town council was having a meeting in two hours at the church to see what still needed to be done.


Giving his confirmation that he would be at the meeting, Matt said goodbye the Pastor, who was on his way to check if anyone needed help with stocking up their firewood.  There were a few men in town who had stayed behind to any physical work and repairs that needed to be done quickly to make things comfortable for the victims.  After checking with Walter that all of the guests were aware of the situation, he made his way back to the kitchen.


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Dressed in a buffalo coat, woolly chaps, and heavy gloves for added warmth, Marshal Henry Guyer rode with the procession out of Kalispell. Seeing the bodies strewn along the trail was not easy. It looked like a scene out of the late war, but they had been soldiers, not women and children. His heart was heavy, yet there was comfort that those that had survived the trip were lodged wherever there was room. Pike had given up his room at  to sleep in a cell, while Speed offered up his mining office and the rooms above to bunk right next to the Texan.

Before Speed could get the word out that they could begin the rescue of Whitefish survivors Pastor Gideon Evans was rallying the people of Kalispell, so he just took a step back and allowed the sky pilot to handle the organization. That had been sometime back and finally they had gotten moving while the town council sans their Marshal would be meeting, businesses would be doing what they could to prepare for what was to come.

Speed rode into what remained of Whitefish near the head of the column and it was clear that it had suffered a death blow. Fires had consumed just about everything, few structures were spared, and those that were did not look all that stable. Except the church, it stood unaffected at the end of the street, it’s spire reaching toward the heavens in defiance of the destruction and tragedy around it, offering what shelter it had.

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More than one person had shrugged Oleander off. All they could give her was a blank stare, a shake of the head, or an agitated huff. As if whatever pesky animal she was griping about was the only thing on her mind. As if she was ignoring the collapses houses, holding bodies (both alive and dead) in their bowels. As if she wasn’t aware of just how many other animals had run off in blind terror the first moment they could.


But Oleander was very aware of all of these things. And if that old mule had run off without her, Oleander wasn’t sure how long either of them would make it. Both she and the old ride had seemed to be keeping each other going. 


One person seemed to understand. Oleander found herself whirling when she heard a set of feet plod into the frozen earth behind her, and she whipped around, causing what braid was left in a shoddy plait to free itself and cling around her face. Her muscles immediately tensed, but as soon as she looked upon another woman, full of life and sincerity, Oleander let herself breathe again. “A dun,” she croaked. “It’s an old dun mule. Regular sized.”


The woman had mentioned a doctor. That’s right, the doctor was still in town. “No, no, I’m fine. I just want the mule. I’ll … the doctoring is for later. I just need the ride.” And need the ride she did. As soon as she could, she would high tail it out of here with directions to Kalispell. It seemed this woman with the stagecoach would help make that happen. Now, where did those herded steeds get placed? And had that damn old thing even been part of that rescue mission?

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"A ride where?"  Addy wasn't sure if the young woman was delirious or maybe just confused, although she wouldn't blame her, it had to have been a rough few days.


"Here, have somethin' ta eat."   She pulled a bundle from beneath the seat, revealing some biscuits and jerky.  "Tell ya what, ya help me get these horses settled an' we'll take one'a th' spare teams an' go lookin' fer that mule'a your'n."  At least they knew it wasn't in town, or she would have found it, and it wasn't on the road to Kalispell.  "There's a couple places outside'a town we might could look."



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 "Oh...oh, goodness."  Emeline's heart broke, and even before the wagon stopped, she hopped  down from the wagon and ran to help a woman who could barely walk, taking the woman's baby and wrapping inside her coat, then helping her to the side.


“Em!’ But she was already down and covering the infant wither coat.


"You need to stay back so we can get the wagons in!" she called, but she doubted she would be heard over the shouts and noises.


“He’p us out here, git on back!” He shouted at the throng of people. “Let the wagons through!” There really weren’t that many people, but with debris strew everywhere, the spacing of the people blending with it congested all but room for horses to maneuver through.


“Alright! Clear the way!” A familiar voice boomed, Marshal Guyer. “We’ve food, coffee, blankets, but you need to let us get through.”


“Need ta git some riders up here, rope the big stuff an drag outta the way!” Pronto shouted.



Shouts came from further up the main street and some Lost Lake riders came trotting back down with Quentin Cantrell in the lead. He looked around from the saddle and nodded to Pike. "It's not quite as bad further up but we'll clear all of main street." He turned back to the riders who were behind him. "Clear the street boys!...Only the main street, leave the rest. There's not enough of us to clean up everything so don't wear yourselves out!" The hands began to tug their lassos loose. Pairs of riders began working on the bigger pieces of debris sticking out of the snow. Cantrell reined up near Pike and the Marshal. "I hate to mention it, but there could be bodies under the snow...any ideas?"


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“Not much we can do, Cantrell.” Speed said with some reluctance. “Ground’s hard as granite!” The man was right, there were sure to be bodies buried in the snow, but what they really would have a problem with would be trying to bury them.


“Can’t hardly pull ‘em out, animals’d get to ‘em.” Pike added, “Glad you boys come along, If there was a place left that were safe to put them what was deceased, thet might work.” He looked around, “‘cept fer the church thar, it don’t look none to promisin’.”


“The ones out on the street, now, maybe we can get some men to help with putting the bodies in the church. As for those buried in the snow, if it ain’t froze solid, maybe we can get to them but I dunno.” Speed added.




Cantrell nodded. "I was more referring to the fact that our wagons and horses could do a number on the bodies since we can't see them...even if all we do is get them off the street and into one of the burned out buildings it's better than running over them several times." Cantrell looked back along the street as the larger pieces of debris were now mostly to each side, leaving a pretty wide space for traffic now. "I sure don't care to hunt for them but I figure it's the decent thing to do once we have taken care of the living."


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"Come on, now..."  Emeline shepherded her charge toward the boardwalk, stepping gingerly over debris, the child held tightly in her coat.  "Let's get to the church, it looks like we can set up there." 


She smiled at the woman, reaching with her free hand to touch her shoulder.  "We'll get everyone fed and warm while we figure out what we need to do.  I know that Kalispell knows you are coming and will have rooms ready."


"Did you say rooms in Kalispell?"  An elderly man approached, his gait unsteady. 


"Yes, they know something bad happened here, we're ready to help the survivors."  Emeline nodded to the man.  "Come along with us to the church."


"No, I can't." the old man protested, "my Martha, she's in there, trapped.  I can't leave her." 


"Oh...here," she slipped off her coat and handed it and the baby back to the woman, then patted the man on the shoulder.  "You go with these two here, to the church, take care of them for me, all right?  I'll help your Martha."


Gathering her skirts, she ran over to the wagon that Barnabas was driving.  "I need a couple blankets!" she called up to him, "and some water!"  Then she pointed to the rubble of a boarding house.  "I'll be there!"


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Pronto handed down the request blankets and a canteen of water. He looked to what had been the boarding house. “Hold on Em, I ain’t lettin’ you go there alone, whatever’s left don’t look none to safe, so, lemme git down an’ I’ll go with you.” He grabbed a length of rope and climbed down.


“Okay I feel better bein’ along, not thet I don’t believe you kin handle this, I jest ain’t believin’ thet the rest of thet building’s safe fer anybody to be traipsin’ around in it.” And from the looks of it, it was not safe, the fact was, very few buildings still standing did look safe.


Once on the ground, Pike looked around at the destruction wrought by Mother Nature. Whitefish was through as a viable town unless come spring there were those will to rebuild it, but that seemed hardly likely due to the death rate suffered by the community. He shook his head and followed Emeline toward the wreckage of the Boarding House.


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Avant la mort.


The warm Summer sunlight filtered through the slit-like, glassless windows in the highest room of the medieval castle, illuminating the pale, lifeless, but heart-breakingly beautiful figure who had been placed carefully on the enormous marble catafalque. Monks chanted dolefully, courtiers wept openly, and the several different liveried knights who had loved Arabella in life, and oft times clashed sword and shield in pursuit of her hand, or even just the kerchief from her hennin as a token of her esteem, now stood united in heartbroken grief. All except one, the evil black knight, who knelt weeping at the base of the catafalque, the peerless example of holiness and beauty that Arabella’s life presented finally turning him to the path of good.


Then, suddenly, she was the girl on the funeral bier, and sitting up and turning in her flowing white shroud, she found herself walking along an enchanting grassy riverbank; all green and yellow with daisies. Looking across the wide, blue flowing stream, she saw that on the other side were some familiar figures, waving and beckoning to her. There was Mammy, and Pappy, and even little Johnnie, still four years old in those rags she’d patched up so many a time, no longer that dead, stiff thing that stared out from a horrible tintype  memento mori photograph. Most importantly, there in the middle, was the Lord himself, just like in the pictures, with a beautiful golden blond beard and flowing long hair, and wearing a spotless white nightshirt, not at all like that ornery old grey thing that Pappy had worn. Why, this was the River Jordan, and she knew that she must cross it to reach her long-lost loved ones on the other side.


But something was impeding her. Something had a hold of her foot. Looking down she saw that it was that pesky rascal of a black knight. He had a hold of her boot, both boots, and was pulling and pulling so. Maybe he was helping her to take them off. Yes, that was it, sure she’d need to take off her boots and stockings to wade across the Jordan to the other side. But no, he pulled and pulled, and he pulled her back so far that suddenly she was back there, back in the cold, that unbelievably freezing cold, and the horrifying sensation of snow in her mouth and up her nose, each compulsive convulsion of her lungs pulling more and more of it into her, literally drowning her. She tried to scream in pure blind terror, knowing that she was about to die, but her mouth was too full of snow.


And still he pulled at her boots.

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