Dear Mister Simpson,
It was mighty kindly of you to enquire about my life story for your newspaper. I can’t read nor write so my friend Big Mike is write’n it down for me, some parts he remembers better anyways. He taught himself read’n and write’n so’s he could tend his saloon, the L&L that used to be in Dodge City, Kansas before it burned down in ’83. He ain’t much better’n me so’s I hope you’ll git the gist of things.
First off my name’s Buck Henry. Don’t know my age, but I knows how I was named. My momma had me in the back of a buckboard in front of Henry’s Livery Stable near Witchita, Kansas. She couldn’t recollect who my daddy was, being as momma had a free and easy lifestyle. But I had to get named, and as I was born in a buckboard, that’s my first name, Buck, and Henry after the livery stable. Momma had someone write down the date in her Bible, but she sold it to a preacher for one dollar when we had to leave Witchita in a hurry one night. Seems momma had a misunderstanding with a gentleman caller, and that poor man had a accident, ended up with his Bowie knife sticking straight in his heart. Bad luck I guess. Momma said when you got troubles, you just gotta move on down the road and not look back.
Now Big Mike wanted me to tell you about the Dorland Gang, cause he still talks about it, so here it is. It was 1881, some day in July I think. I didn’t have no steady job, but I helped out in the Hogg Soap Works, run by the Hogg brothers. Everybody laughed about it, cause we made soap outta pig lard. But them Hogg brothers was good to me, let me sleep up in the rafters. Nice and warm up there. Well, Big Mike says I gotta continue the story.
Make’n that soap was a dirty job. I remember mix’n soda ash with the lard over a fire, and boy did that smell bad. The stink of that lard would get into your hair, your clothes, even inside you. It took months to wash it out. But one night, that stink’n lard saved my life!
I’d been drink’n in Big Mike’s saloon til well past midnight. Me and my best friend Tiger were whooping it up, something we did every payday. Just to keep the peace, Big Mike kept his army issue Remington .44 under the register that had enough firepower to blow out the foundation of a house. We used to say Big Mike was bigger than the Rockies, six foot five, big grey beard and a twinkle in his eye that looked friendly, but you could never tell what he’d do if he were riled. He wore a striped fireman’s jumper, always bragging that if it wasn’t for him stoking those old Peabody boilers, the railroad would have been a bust. Big Mike was in the middle of that old story about how he wrestled a bear while stoking a Peabody up the Plimpton grade when the Dorland boys rode in.
Them Dorland boys were a might unpredictable. They lived way up Dorland canyon, and nobody but who they invited ever saw their ranch. Folks say unnatural things went on up there. Some say they heard strange music playing, that the whole canyon was haunted. Anyways, every time the Dorland brothers hit the L&L, folks got quiet and very respectful, if you take my meaning.
Well, that night I wasn’t in no respectful mood. Tiny Dorland came over to the bar and told me and Tiger to shut our big fat mouths. Well heck, I was just having a good time! You see, Tiger was an old stray yellow cat that lived in the soap works with me. I called him Tiger cause of them stripes he had. Tiger would follow me to the bar, jump up there and drink with me. You can’t believe how fast that cat could lap up a beer! After a few rounds, me and that old cat would howl and sing together. Folks said we was made for each other.
Now Tiny hated cats, and he yelled in front of the whole place he wasn’t going drink with no cat on the bar. You had to see the look on his face, them big eyes of his bulging out like goose eggs. You gotta understand, they called him Tiny but he towered over Big Mike. He told me and Tiger to shut up again, that me and that cat was disturb’n him and his brothers. I told him to go stuff it. Tiny reached for his gun, one of them long barrel Colt .44’s like Big Mike had, and I had to act fast.
I knew Tiny had a bad knee from when a mule threw him a couple years back. Folks said he couldn’t ride no horse, only a mule would carry someone as ugly as him. Well, I saw that .44 com’n up level with my eyeballs. I threw what was left of Tiger’s beer in Tiny’s face, and as he blink’d his eyes I kicked out that bad knee. Tiny went down like a dried up cornstalk!
Somehow he fell on that Colt and it went off, blew a cavern right through his gut. Hell, you could stick one of Big Mike’s Peabody boilers in that hole. I didn’t have much time before the rest of the Dorland gang would be hot on my tail. Big Mike told me to go out the back way, and I didn’t argue, I flew out that door. I dove under the boardwalk, hid real good, cause them Dorland boys were out for blood, my blood!
Wasn’t long before they fetched that old hound dog of theirs, Bessy. Bessy had a hanker’n for bacon, and she could sniff it out a mile away, some said all the way to the next county. Since it was still dark, I hightailed it over to where I had an even chance, the soap works. We kept the lard boiling round the clock, cause it was easier to keep it heated than to let it simmer down. Well, that boiling lard always made them soap works smell pretty bad, kinda exactly the way I smelled.
I hid real good up in them rafters above the catwalk, which was right over that vat of boil’n lard. I figured Bessy would’a had a hard time picking me out from all the bacon fat, so I kept real quiet. Poor Bessy was bark’n and lick’n everywhere, she was just go’n crazy with the smell of that lard. Them Dorland boys were looking up a might too close to my hid’n spot, and I knew I had to figure something fast. Then I had a idea…
I yelled down to ’em: “Hey you yellow belly’d hicks! I’m up here!” Them Dorland boys flew up that rickety old ladder to the catwalk like a swarm of angry hornets. They thought they had me, but I knew someth’n they didn’t: them planks over the vat was called a catwalk cause Tiger was the only resident of them soap works them planks would hold up for.
Now them Dorland boys were all of ’em, kinda like Tiny, big boys, if you know what I mean. The next biggest brother after Tiny was Baby Huey, and he weren’t no baby. Some said Baby Huey weighed more than Doc Blanchard’s prize steer, and that old bull broke every scale they put him on.
Well…I kept ’em coming onto those planks, and them try’n to figure out exactly where I’s hid, and there was some bullets flying ’round try’n to find me too. But, I kept ’em coming, and sure enough, them planks broke! The whole Dorland clan ended up in that vat of boiling hot lard! One of ’em tried to get out, but it were no use. He just sank down and that was it.
Well, Big Mike and the sheriff know’d it weren’t my fault, but we had to decide what we was going to do with them boys in the vat. Trouble was, folks spent a little too much time on decide’n, and not enough time on do’n. We tried to hook them bodies out, but all we got was their clothes! Them Dorland boys were mixed in real good with the lard.
Well, I don’t like to brag, but it seemed to me we really didn’t have no problem after all. I just told ’em: “Why don’t we just make soap out of ’em?” Well, that’s what we did! And, just to show that we were kinda respectful of the dead and all, we shipped a hund’rd pounds of the finest soap ever come out of them soap works back up to the Dorland Ranch.
I thought it were a mighty fine gesture, but even so, Big Mike told me I better high tail it out of Dodge, gist to be safe. I didn’t argue not one bit, and I did like my momma said, moved on down the road not look’n back. I kept on mov’n West, work’n in soap works an try’n to stay out of trouble till me and Tiger got to Tombstone, Arizona in October of ’81. We got there on the same stage with Doc Holiday. Poor Doc was ail’n, got consumption I’s told. He sure did help me out when I lost Tiger at a transfer station, that I can tell ya. When we got to Tombstone, town didn’t feel right, kinda tense, like when the Dorland Boys rode into Dodge that night…but, I gots to go, I’ll tell you that story some other time.
Mighty Respectfully Yours,