Jobs being scarce in those parts, I tore the sign off the hitching post and stuffed it in my britches right quick. I waited until I got home to read it, figuring that once word got out there’d be a stampede to the hiring wagon—and I wasn’t about to go tipping nobody off.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild Westit read, in big, fat, bold letters. Hiring rope riders, wranglers, sharpshooters, cowboys, and cooks. Be a part of the biggest tour of 1890. My heart thumped beneath my vest as I looked the poster up and down, hardly believing my sore eyes. Seeing as I ain’t never been more than a day’s ride from where I was born, and pretty much believing I never would be, this thing here was a gift from God himself, my ticket out of that one horse town of mine.
Now then, truth be told, I wasn’t any of them things they was looking for, no siree, but I figured that, give me some meat and some potatoes, plus a pot full of hot water, and, by golly, I could rustle me up some grub if I set my mind to it. Guess they believed me, too, because I was the first cook they hired. Didn’t hurt none neither that I could read and write and fill out an application. Yep, left them other applying fellers in the dust and didn’t never look back.
A week later, they packed us tighter than a can of sardines in that long, long train of theirs and shipped us out to the middle of nowhere. Training grounds, they called them. Chock full of cowboys and injuns of every size, shape, and color. Not to mention a whole bunch of folks I ain’t never heard of before: Turks, Arabs, Mongols, and Cossacks—all from places I couldn’t find on a map even if I tried.
All in all, there were hundreds upon hundreds of us, mostly entertainers of some sort or another—all except me and a bunch of others, of course. We was there to feed them, wash them, fix their gear, darn their clothes, and keep them fit and healthy. In other words, do whatever it took to keep the outfit moving and making money for that crazy, old Buffalo Bill Cody, who we didn’t ever see hide nor hair of, except maybe during show days, out in front of the huge crowds that gathered to see the spectacles he had waiting for them.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Them there shows were a sight to behold, bigger than life and louder than thunder. Cowboys were only something most of them paying people had ever read about. And injuns, well, they were frightening to see, whooping and hollering, shaking their tomahawks over their devil-painted faces. Sakes alive, first time I seen the show, up close and personal like, I done nearly shit my drawers.
Of course it was just an act. Those injuns were tamer than a pack of lambs, the way I heard it told. And you couldn’t talk to them other foreigners, what with them not knowing a word of English. And the cowboys, well, they done kept to themselves, mostly. Quiet bunch, they were. That is until you got them liquored up some, which was more often then not, I reckon. Then the real show would start.
Oh, sure, I’d met cowboys before. Back home, you couldn’t throw a stick without hitting one. And, trust me, I threw my fair share of sticks hoping for just that: to hit one, land one, get one in bed, if you know what I mean. Again, the liquor didn’t hurt none in that regard, a hole being a hole when all is said and done. Still, might’ve been nice to have one of them fellers stay longer than a night, but, heck, I wasn’t complaining.
Anyway, the west was shrinking from what it once was, but in that camp of ours, well now, it was just as wild as it ever was. Especially since what few women there were, not counting Annie Oakley and them Sioux squaws, were all huddled off in a corner of the camp somewhere, far away from the menfolk. And without women to keep men in their place, well, that just leads to a whole heap of trouble.
Not to mention, it made them cowboys randy as all hell—present company notexcepted.
Lots of men wandered the camp, eager for a fight, a way to release some steam, work off the booze they done drunk. Of course, there are other ways to work off steam, mind you.
One night that first week, after a good fifth of Kentucky bourbon, I staggered back to my tent, drunker than a skunk. Only I couldn’t rightly find said tent of mine. Heck, they all looked alike, especially in the dark: hundreds of them lined up in neat, little rows. Anyhow, I ended up falling into someone else’s. Someone already inside. Someone abusing himself, nekid on his cot.