To my loving wife, Sandy (Miss Aura Lee), without her undying love and encouragement Dusty Sourdough might never have come to life between these pages.
And a special thanks to the staff in the Alaska section of the Loussac Public Library, Anchorage, Alaska.
This is a work of fiction, based on actual Alaska events of the 1800s. Many of the characters appearing in The Adventures of Dusty Sourdough were very real, and some incidents took place. But the reader should know, in the development of characters and events, I have used some fictional literary license. While some characters and events are purely the creation of the author, I have made every effort to portray them with accuracy. However, the inherent dangers of wilderness are real, sufficient unto themselves, and seldom has it been necessary to enhance their reality.
By Glen Guy
Just around the corner, about a century ago,
There walked a transplanted cowboy named “Dusty Sourdough”
He came to the great north, with mountains majesty
He came to Alaska to fulfill his destiny
The “Old West” was changing fast
And Dusty knew his way of life couldn’t last
So, with his mind made up and his things in his pack
He started north and would never look back
The many things he would soon gaze upon
From the mighty grizzly to the Sitka fawn
Oh, the beauty and the wonders he will see
Along his northern journey, to fulfill his destiny
Here in the vastness of this majestic land,
Where everywhere you looked was the touch of God’s hand
Here at last he could truly be free
Living all of life’s adventures,
On his road to destiny!
As the morning sun broke over the tall snowcapped peaks, its golden rays came through the open window crossing the patchwork quilt giving it a golden glow. A groan came from deep within the warm, soft, goose-down cocoon and with a flourish, the quilt was swept aside, and Dusty, a sight only a wife could love, swung his feet to the floor.
“Boy what a dream that one was,” Dusty said to no one in particular. “I sure hope I didn’t wake Aura Lee with my carrying on.” Dusty paused for a moment with his one-sided conversation and looked around the room. Realizing he was alone and continuing to talk to himself, he said, “I’m so used ta havein’ Shadow Spirit around ta talk to, I just took it fer granted she was lying on the rug by the foot of the bed.”
If someone had been listening, they would have heard the unmistakable sadness in Dusty’s voice.
It was just yesterday when Aura Lee took out after whoever was sneaking around their cabin and Shadow Spirit had picked up their trail. When the commotion was over and everyone was back at the cabin, Shadow Spirit was nowhere to be found and as far as he could tell… she still hadn’t returned.
“I fixed your favorite breakfast, sourdough flapjacks. I used the recipe from that cantankerous old friend of Dusty’s…” Aura Lee was telling the Captain Johnny Dynamite O’ Brien as Dusty stepped into the kitchen.
“Now wait just a minute,” Dusty interrupted, trying hard to sound serious. “There’s nothing cantankerous about One Eyed Riley, he’s . . . Well, he’s just misunderstood.”
They couldn’t contain themselves; all three of them started laughing. One Eye had some peculiarities, but he was a gentle spirit and embarrassed easily, so he tries to hide it with his gruffness. He was one of Dusty’s best friends and a mentor. Dusty owed his life several times over to both One Eye and Walker, another noble friend. Since his first day in this vast, unforgiving land, they had come to his rescue more than once.
When the breakfast was over, Aura Lee chased the men into the living room while she cleaned the kitchen and started putting things in order for the rest of her day.
Last night everyone was too tired to sit up talking, so this was a good time for Dusty to talk with his friend about matters that concerned the town, and more importantly, about the letter Johnny had delivered to him. As Dusty told the story, he watched his friend closely looking for any sign of surprise. It astonished him the Captain’s expression didn’t change when he told him; he was, in fact, still a United States Marshal and was being asked to return to active duty. Dusty explained the need for a lawman in Alaska, and Johnny not only agreed but said it was well overdue.
“So, what are you going to do?” Dusty’s friend asked without mincing words.
Dusty sat there with a perplexed look on his face. He was about to answer Johnny’s question when Aura Lee came into the room with a quizzical look on her face.
“I don’t know what you two are talking about, but you both have a serious enough look on your faces to scare away a grizzly bear,” Aura Lee said with a chuckle, trying to lighten up the atmosphere. “Goodness gracious, you two look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders.”
Dusty glanced at his friend and Johnny averted his eyes, not wanting to be any part of what was about to be said, but to his surprise, Aura Lee changed the subject completely. Dusty knew, however, that it would be a temporary reprieve and as soon as they were alone the questions would come up again.
As he sat there dwelling on these thoughts, he heard her asking their guest . . . “Why don’t you stay with us while you’re here in Hope? We have plenty of room and I know Dusty would love the company, wouldn’t you dear?”
“Of course I would, and besides, we wouldn’t have it any other way!” Dusty interjected.
The Captain couldn’t refuse such a generous offer, and he also knew the grub was a far sight better at Dusty’s than the hash turned out at V.O.’s place, the only grub tent in town.
With that decision in place, the two men headed into town to see if anyone had seen anything of Shadow Spirit. It wasn’t like her to be missing for so long.
After stopping at V.O.’s for a cup of steaming coffee and a few sinkers (donuts) to go along with the latest news of the day, the Captain headed to his boat, the Utopia, and Dusty made his way to the general store.
“Good morning” George shouted over the din of noise. Even though the hour was early, the store was doing a land-office business because of all the new people brought into town with the arrival of the Utopia.
“Have you ever seen anything like it?” George asked with a wide grin, as Dusty made his way through the crowds of people who were pushing and shoving with little concern for the other guy. You could tell at a glance gold fever was running rampant in George Roll’s General Store and looking at the big grin on George’s face, he loved every minute of it.
“You’re doin’ a right brisk business this mornin’, George. I reckon that boatload of people Johnny brought in are all in yer store,” Dusty said, looking around at the crowd as he spoke.
Most everyone looked out of place to him, and Dusty knew very few of them would still be here when the first snow flew. That’s just how it was in most gold rush camps unless some big strikes are made in the early going, most gold seekers would disappear along with their dreams of striking it rich.
However, some would stay, some with the frontier spirit who could see beyond the lust for gold and instead see all that this wonderful county had to offer. These were the ones Dusty tried to pick out. He knew it was an exercise in futility. Only time would tell which ones would have what it took to carve a life in this harsh wilderness.
“I was wonderin’ George,” Dusty started out saying, “Ya haven’t seen Shadow Spirit by any chance, have ya? She didn’t come home last night and I’m a might worried about her.”
The storekeeper could see the desperation in his friend’s eyes and the concern in his voice he sincerely wished he could say he had, but in truth, he had been too busy to notice much of anything. After telling his friend this, he turned to take care of another customer and when he turned back to continue the conversation… Dusty was gone.
By the end of the day, Dusty had asked friends and strangers alike if they had seen the great white wolf-dog, and always the answer came back the same… no. The feeling of great loss was overwhelming as Dusty started down the trail toward home. He was in such deep thought he didn’t even hear the snap of a twig as someone came up behind him.
“Hey! What’s your hurry?” a voice behind him shouted.
Startled, Dusty spun around, dropped to one knee, and in one fluid motion palmed his Colt.
“Hold it, Hold it!” A surprised Captain O’Brien shouted with unaccustomed fear in his voice.
“I didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that… Gee whiz; you’re even faster than they say you are. I never in my born day knew a man could draw like that.
“I’m right sorry Johnny, but ya shouldn’t sneak up behind a man like that, ya could get yourself shot plum dead that away.”
Dusty dropped the Colt back in his holster and noticed his hand was shaking. He couldn’t ever remember that happening before, and he knew he had better get a hold of himself before some innocent person got hurt.
“I guess I’m a little edgy, what with all the goin’s on and everything,” he tried to explain as they started up the trail.
“I can’t, for the life of me, figure what happen ta Shadow Spirit. It’s not like her ta take off when danger is near and believe you me danger is near and I know she could sense it. This bunch of hard cases that came up here on yer boat is up ta no good and I need ta find out what it is they’re up to and put a stop ta it before it gets started.”
With that said, a silence fell between the two men as they walked toward home, each pondering the gravity of the situation they knew was building in Hope.
Around the dinner table that night, the air was filled with untouchable anxiety. Conversations were short and when the meal was over the Captain excused himself and stepped outside to admire the billions of stars blanketing the velvety black sky and after Dusty helped Aura Lee clear the kitchen table, he joined the Captain on the porch.
“There’s nowhere in the world that can compare to an Alaska night,” the old sea Captain said without turning to look at his friend. “Why, there are so many stars you don’t need a lantern to find your way in the dark.”
“Ya, and when the moon comes up, she should be even prettier.”
Dusty’s thoughts drifted to the many pleasant nights he and Aura Lee, along with Shadow Spirit and Little Bear, sat on this very porch and enjoyed God’s handiwork.
“Well, I reckon tomorrow will come early so I think I’ll go in and make up my pallet and get me some shut-eye.”
Without another word, the wiry little sea Captain silently slipped inside and left Dusty to his thoughts.
Inside, Aura Lee had already started making up Johnny’s bed by the fireplace. While the two talked, Dusty stepped inside got his Winchester, and slipped, unnoticed, out the door.
He hadn’t told Johnny while they talked that something had caught his eye in the woods. It was just beyond the clearing. Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him, but old habits die hard and Dusty never ignored his gut feelings, and he wasn’t about to start now. Before going to bed, he figured it wouldn’t hurt to have a look around. Caution had saved his life many times in the past and he was sure, sooner or later, it would again.
It was a beautiful moonlit night with a billion stars dancing in the heavens. Under different circumstances, Dusty would enjoy such a night with the silver streaks of moonlight causing strange and sometimes-foreboding shadows in the deep woods surrounding their cabin. Tonight, however, the beauty escaped him because he knew the deep shadows of the forest may be perfect concealment for an enemy. Any one of the shadows could be hiding someone with evil in their heart and a gun in their hand, waiting for the cabin to go dark and the occupants to drift off into deep slumber, unaware of the deadly threat lurking in the woods.
Dusty stood on the porch a moment while his eyes adjusted to the darkness, then he moved off into the shadows of the cabin. He wasn’t sure what he was looking or listening for, all he knew was something was telling his senses danger was very near.
The events of the past couple of days came back to his mind, and he frowned as he considered some of the riffraff he had seen come ashore off Dynamite’s boat. Not the least of them being the bully he’d had the confrontation with at the stables.
Was he the one lurking about? Was he waiting to exact his revenge?
As Dusty contemplated these serious questions, he realized, through simple deduction, it couldn’t be that Blackjack character. He didn’t have the time to get from town ahead of him, and besides, he had headed toward Sunrise on horseback. Whoever was spying on them at the cabin was on foot, not riding a horse.
A rustling in the brush to the left front of Dusty snapped him out of his thoughts, causing him to focus on the unnatural sound his ears had detected. He had excellent night vision and had caught movement in his peripheral, albeit ever so slightly. Something was moving toward him through the willows and whatever it was, was on a direct course to where he stood. Dusty realized he had been spotted, so being quiet didn’t matter any longer.
With this revelation, he ducked down behind the rain barrel, and in the same movement levered a round into his Winchester. The cocking action of his rifle seemed extraordinarily loud and ominous in the stillness of the night, and Dusty thought for sure it would draw a shot from the darkness, from whoever was prowling about… But none came.
“Well,” he said to no one in particular. “Guess maybe my ears were playin’ a trick on me.”
Dusty spoke this for the benefit of listening ears because he knew he hadn’t been hearing things and thought maybe this would draw the sneak out. That is if the polecat fell for his sham. As Dusty was carrying on this one-sided conversation, he stood and eased himself from behind the rain barrel. He was sure he was being watched and hoped he looked enough at ease to make whoever it was careless and give himself away. Nonchalantly Dusty walked to the steps of the porch. He knew his back would be to the woods where the sound had come from, and he also knew the moment his foot hit the first step, if anything was going to happen, it would happen then.
This was good logic, except the chain of events that followed weren’t exactly what Dusty was expecting . . .
Everything seemed to happen at once. The front door burst open, flooding the steps with light from the lamp held high in Johnny’s left hand. If this wasn’t enough, being back-lit. At that same instant, something streaked from the woods and had Dusty by the leg jerking him to the ground, all before he could turn and defend himself.
Johnny had his .32 Navy Colt in his right hand, trying to get a shot at the critter that now was seemingly getting the best of Dusty. Little Bear had decided to join in the fracas… Well, at least in spirit; she was smart enough to only lend her voice to the bizarre scene-taking place by the front porch. That’s not to say she wasn’t putting her all into it. With each high-pitched bark, all four paws would leave the ground. She sounded ferocious, but this was truly a case where the bark was worse than the bite.
Now if all this wasn’t enough, to add to all the confusion Johnny was caught up in, Aura Lee was hanging on his arm, trying to pull his gun down and at the same time was laughing so uncontrollably, tears were rolling down her cheeks.
What in the world was going on? Johnny thought. Nothing was what it seemed! Then, as quickly as the fracas had started, it was over. The critter that just moments before seemed intent on mauling Dusty had disengaged itself, moved off a few feet and was nonchalantly sitting back on its haunches, grooming itself. Dusty got to his feet, mumbling something about “that dog-gone cat!”
Dog, short for Dog Gone Cat, was the wild lynx that had adopted Dusty and his family. Even though he lived in the wild, he, for some reason, was as gentle as a house cat … Well, that’s after a fashion.
A lynx is a close cousin to a bobcat and both are usually nocturnal and shy. Dog was the exception to this rule. On any given day she could be seen traipsing behind Dusty and Shadow Spirit, or just stretched out luxuriously on their front porch enjoying the day.
When the unexpected evening’s entertainment was under control, except for the laughing, everyone went back inside leaving Dog, much to her dismay, looking indignant and perplexed at the way humans carried on.
After the humor of the evening died down, Johnny said with sincerity in his voice and concern on his face;
“Dusty, I’m sorry. I know without a doubt, I brought you this trouble that’s brewing, even though there was little I could do about it. I wish I could have refused passage to that suspicious-looking bunch of no accounts, but you know I couldn’t!”
“It’s not yer fault if they didn’t get passage on the Utopia they would have gotten it on another boat heading north.”
Dusty was a compassionate man and was trying his best to eradicate his friend’s feelings of guilt. His mind was in turmoil over the events of the past few days, and he knew he didn’t have the luxury of time to make a decision over the letter still in his pocket. He hadn’t even had time to talk with Aura Lee about it. With this running through his mind, he had unintentionally missed most of what the Captain had been saying.
“And I know the letter I brought you has something to do with that bunch of cutthroats that came up on my boat, doesn’t it?” Johnny exclaimed.
“What letter?” Aura Lee interrupted abruptly. “You haven’t said anything about a letter!”
The edge in her voice reflected the underlying current of worry and fear she was feeling. She immediately flushed and said. “I’m sorry … I didn’t mean for that to come out quite so sharply.” She reached for Dusty’s hand, “Please forgive me, I’m a little unnerved with the goings-on and Johnny’s news of a letter just caught me by surprise.”
“I know, sweetheart,” Dusty uttered softly as he put his arm around her. “I just haven’t had the chance to tell ya about it yet.” He reached into his pocket and handed the letter to her. “It’s from Marshal Tuckerman in Washington D.C.”, he said.
As she read the letter, Dusty explained the contents of it to his old friend, and why he had kept it a secret about being a U.S. Marshal. All the while he was talking to Johnny he kept an eye on Aura Lee, trying to tell if a change in her expression would give away anything she was feeling, but Dusty could detect no visible outward show of emotion. When she had finished reading the letter she waited for Dusty to finish his conversation with Johnny Dynamite, then she spoke.
“Well, this is a surprise.” She said, with very little emotion in her voice.
Dusty was a little surprised himself, to say the least, at how well she was taking it, but that was an understatement compared to what she said next.
“I knew last summer it was just a matter of time before you would be pinning your badge back on. The law is and always will be a part of your life, just as teaching is a part of mine.”
They stood looking into each other’s eyes and something passed between them, an understanding, and a look of knowing that can only pass between two people deeply in love with each other. Nothing else was said. Aura Lee left the room and returned in a moment with the little rosewood box Dusty had kept secreted away under the bed.
While all this was going on, the Captain stood silently by the hearth of the big river-rock fireplace observing, what he knew was to be, a history changing moment for this great land called Alaska. No longer would the lawless run roughshod over the good citizens of the last frontier. That was about to come to a screeching halt. Aura Lee opened the small velvet-lined box and took out the worn, but polished, United States Marshal’s badge. With reverence, she pinned it in place on her husband’s chest. Dusty couldn’t help but look down at the symbol of authority, as it reflected the amber glow of the fireplace. The same feeling of pride came over him as had been there before, when he pinned it on for the very first time so many years ago when he took the oath to uphold the laws of the land. No words passed between the two, none were needed. Aura Lee leaned forward and lightly kissed his cheek.
“There,” she said with finality and a smile. “That’s where that badge belongs, not under the bed collecting dust.”
With that simple word of finality, “there,” the heaviness of the evening was changed, as if the hand of God had lifted a heavy burden from both their hearts.
Without fanfare, Dusty told Aura Lee and their guest; tomorrow is going to be a busy day and morning will come early, so with that said it put an end to the eventful evening and they headed for bed with hope for tomorrow.
Sleep didn’t come immediately to Dusty. Lying in the darkness beside his wife, listening to the deep, rhythmic breathing of sleep, several worries ran through his mind, including his deep concern for Shadow Spirit. Had the day finally come for her return to the wild? He always knew that possibility could happen. Then again, was she laying some place hurt and alone? These and other thoughts kept running through Dusty’s mind until sometime, in the wee hours of the morning, he drifted off into a fitful, restless sleep…
To Be Continued…