Hope y’all enjoy this little tale it was written to help me get to know Nugget Nate and Penny a bit better. I’m going to add it as an extra to the print version of this years Nano Novel. Anyway let me know what you think.
Jenny Gentry sat in the parlor watching as her grandchildren and great grandchildren were playing their various games. God had blessed her with a full and adventurous life since the day her family had come west. She would always thank HIM for that. Now, on this her one hundredth birthday, she knew her adventure in the shadow land was almost come to an end. Her next adventure would come in the Kingdom of Heaven. If it weren’t for all the blessing of her family she would have asked God to usher her into that adventure already. She watched as the younger children gathered around her grandson Koll. She could see by what he held in his hands he had been exploring the attic. “What is it?”
“I don’t know. I found it in one of Granny’s trunks. It’s cool though, right?”
“I think itsit’s weird; it looks like a bunny with antlers.”
“Yeah, who would glue antlers on a rabbit?”
Jenny let out a cackle at that one. “Koll, bring that here if y’all want ta know about it.”
As the children followed along behind their older cousin, Jenny’s daughter-in-law came around the kitchen corner to see what had Ma’ma Gentry all stirred up. When she saw what Koll was handing her mother-in-law, she laughed. “Oh, Mother Gentry, where in the world did you find that thing?”
Jenny looked at her daughter-in-law “Why, that there’s Jack, my legendary messenger Jackalope. I’ve had him ever since I was a lil’ girl in pigtails.”
“What do you mean he’s your legendary messenger, Granny?” One of the lil ones asked before popping her thumb back in her mouth.
The daughter-in-law spoke up, “Oh, Granny’s just funnin’ with you, Cindy. Jackalopes aren’t real.”
“Well, maybe they is and maybe they ain’t. All I know is the man who gave him to me believed in ‘em. That’s good enough fer me.”
The children gathered around Jenny’s feet a scooting close to hear the story they knew she was getting set to tell. Just then the door opened and in walked Jenny’s sons from their time hunting the family land. “What’s all this then?” Her oldest son asked.
“Your mother was about to fill the children’s heads with another one of her adventure stories.”
“Which one this time, mama? I figure we’ve heard all your stories at least five or six times.”
Jenny shook her head. “Not this one, Gary. I honestly hadn’t thought about this till Koll came in here carrying ole Jack.” She held up the Jackalope.
“Mother, where in the world did you get that contraption from.”
“I’ve had Jack a long time; a true western Legend gave him to me on our trip west.”
“Ma’ma said a Jackindope ain’t real, Papa. Is dat true?” The little one asked before popping her thumb back in her mouth.
“No, honey, Jackalopes are a legend; there is no proof they exist.”
Jenny just shook her head. “Whacha call this right here, boy? You take a close look and if you can find out how this one was faked together I’ll believe ya. Jack was real, not only that, he was magical.”
“Oh, Mother, come on. That’s a bit of a tall stretch even for you.”
“Well, you listen to my story and then you tell me iffen Jack is a tall tale or not.”
“When I was three days past my sixth birthday, ma Pa closed up the doctor’s office early and left the house. Me, Kevin and Ma’ma didn’t know what to think. Pa never closed the office early; people might need his help. But that day he did. He returned several hours later with the biggest wagon I’d ever seen in my life. It was huge and had a big round canvas cover on top of it. Two of the funniest looking cows I ever done see were pullin it. Pa told me later they was called oxen and pullin was what they did best.
Well, after dinner that night Pa told us that there was just too many doctors in Boston and he wasn’t making enough money to take care of us. He said he had sold the house and office and we would pack everything we could and head out west. He’d heard they needed doctors out west. He told us it was a great adventure and I reckoned he was probably right, Kevin musta thought so too cause he was asking if we’d see Indians and outlaws and gunfighters and such. Ma’ma I don’t think liked the idea but she never complained, not once. By Saturday we had everything packed and said goodbye to our friends and family and started out on our great western adventure.
The first few weeks were really fun, we was travelin through what Pa called the civilized country. There were towns every day, sometimes two or three a day. At night we’d stop outside some town and cook our dinner over a campfire or once or twice we even stayed in a hotel and ate at a diner. We got to take baths in rivers and creeks and it was really fun. But soon the towns got farther and farther apart and even when we found one, most of the time they didn’t have a hotel or a diner. Then came the day when we hadn’t seen a town for about a week. We were running out of supplies and Pa and Kevin had tried their hand at hunting but didn’t have much luck. Before long we ran out of food and it had been about two days since we had had anything to eat. Even our water was starting to run out, and I heard Ma’ma and Pa talking about maybe this trip had been a mistake. The next day we started out again and everyone was hungry and cranky. That’s the day we met a real life western legend. It was just about midday when we rounded a rise in the trail and came upon a strange site. There was a man all in animal skins with some kind of animal on his head, like a hat. He was standing alongside the trail and behind him was the most elegant lady I had seen since we left Boston. She looked just like a princess out of a book. She was tending a big ole cast iron kettle over a campfire. The man stepped into the trail and raised his hand, waving with a big ole grin on his face. “Howdy,” he shouted.
Pa pulled the oxen to a halt, “Hello, there.”
“Where you folks headin?”
“We’re heading out west looking for a town that might need a doctor.”
“Well, shouldn’t take ya long, there’s a town about four days from here that could use a good doctor. All they got right now is an ole woman makes mountain cures for em.”
Well, that’s great information. Thank you, mister. I’m sorry, I don’t think we introduced ourselves. I’m Thomas Gentry and this is my wife, Virginia.”
The strange looking man walked up to our wagon and shook my pa’s hand. “Right glad to meet ya, Doctor Gentry. Everyone just calls me Nugget Nate so I reckon y’all can too.”
Kevin stuck his head between Ma and Pa. “Nugget Nate? Are you Nugget Nate Ryder, the mountain man of the west?” He held up his favorite dime store novel. The man laughed, “Well, I don’t know about that mountain man of the west stuff, young feller, but my name is Nugget Nate Ryder.”
“Wow! Pa, that’s Nugget Nate Ryder. He’s Famous!”
“So I heard, Kevin. Now settle down, you’re embarrassing Mr. Ryder.”
“Y’all go on and leave the boy alone I was about the same way first time I ever laid eyes on Ole Davy Crockett. Ain’t the boy’s fault them stories grow in the tellin. Listen though, don’t want to intrude on ya, but y’all might want to pull in here at our camp and rest a spell; them animals look like they could use a rest and a waterin. There’s a creek runs on the other side them there Cottonwoods. Might want to top yer water barrels, too. Ain’t no more water ‘tween here and that town I was tellin’ ya about.”
Ma looked at Pa. “A creek! Thomas, perhaps we could catch some fish to feed the children for lunch.”
Nate nodded and stroked his blond bushy beard, “Y’all could catch a few trout, that’s fer certain sure, but you ain’t got to do that. Why, the good Lord provided me two large jacklopes jes this morning. Normally we’d stew one and smoke the other for use later but God done tole me we’d be having company for lunch an’ dinner. So we stewed them both up. Why don’t you pull them besties off the trail and come join our camp. I’ll introduce y’all to my wife Penny and get the lil ones bellies full.”
“Oh, we wouldn’t want to impose.” Pa started to protest.
“Well, way I sees it, the Good Lord done told us you was acomin’ and I done cut up both them critters and Penny done cooked ‘em up. So unless you is saying you don’t care to eat with us and don’t mind wastin’ what’s already been prepared fer ya come on an’ get some grub.”
Nate turned his back on the wagon, walked over to the camp fire and sat himself on a log. He picked up a small bundle from beside it and proceeded to work on the furry thing in his hand. Ma mentioned to Pa how he needed to lay aside his pride and think of the children. With that Pa directed the oxen to the side of the trail and helped Mama down off the wagon. Kevin and I followed right along. The smell of that stew was heavenly to us after two days of nothing to eat. Penny smiled and dished out plates full of the rich hearty meal and we all ate ’til we were fit to bust. Along the way, Nate asked Pa about how much hunting he had done and if he’d gotten any game as of late. Pa finally admitted that he didn’t do much hunting at all when we lived in Boston and had been finding the process a little challenging since we left there.
“Ain’t nuffin’ ta be shamed of, Doc, why I’m sure I’d be as lost trying to cure a body of sickness as you are at hunting. Tell ya what, why don’t Penny and I tag along with y’all tomorrow, that way I can show you and yer boy some of the basics of huntin’ and trappin’? Nothing as detailed as a mountain man would do but enough to keep yer family in free meet and give the wife furs to be making bed covers and winter gear from.”
“That isn’t necessary, Nate, but thank you.”
“Don’t want to be arguing with you, Doc, but you’ve got it wrong. Out here in the west it is necessary. Meat ain’t as ready bought as it is back east. Iffen you don’t learn to grow veggies and hunt yer meat you ain’t gonna survive long out here, even in a town. Least let me take you and the boy out in the morning and show you how to spot a herd of buffalo and read tracks of other wildlife. Believe me when I say it’ll be important to ya this winter specially.”
Before Pa could protest again, Mama spoke up and accepted Nate’s offer. Pa finally nodded his acceptance, too. Kevin, for his part, was bouncing up and down with excitement at the thought of getting to hunt with Nugget Nate. The rest of that day we spent right there alongside that creek. Nate’s wife, Penny, help me and Mama get a bath in the creek and we filled our water barrels up and rested and ate all of that great stew. The next morning Nate took Pa and Kevin out and Mrs. Penny showed Mama the basics of smoking meet and tanning hides so that she would be able to put up what Pa and Kevin would hunt up to help us get through, not just the rest of our trip, but winter too. That evening Pa, Kevin, and Nugget Nate came back hauling two small rabbits that Kevin claimed to have shot and a large animal tied to a pole that Pa told Mama was buffalo. Nate spent the time showing Pa how to cut the different pieces and Penny cooked up some and showed Mama how to preserve the rest. After dinner Nate took out the buffalo hide from his pack and began to work on it with that big ole knife that was hanging on his side. He scraped it and scraped it til the hide was clean of any lasting meat and blood. He was still scrapping when I fell asleep beside the fire listening to the steady drag of the knife over animal skin.
The next morning we packed up and said our goodbyes to the Ryders. It was almost like leaving family. Nate surprised everyone by having gifts for each of us. Pa he gave the big knife he had been wearing. “This here is the very Knife I won off Jim Bowie hisself. It’s served me well, you take it and use it ta help keep yer family fed an’ clothed.”
Mama he gave the buffalo fur he had scraped clean the night before. “This will help keep yer yungin’s warm this winter, Ma’am. I cleaned it like the Apache do so it should last ya a long time.”
Then he turned to Kevin and pulled a wooden pistol he’d carved that looked just like one of the ones Nate had tucked in his belt. “Reckon yer still a bit young for the real thing, but here’s a wooden one to get used to carryin til ya are old enough for the real one. Keep helping yer Ma and Pa, boy, and you’ll grow up ta be a fine man indeed.”
Finally he stopped in front of me. “Well, Jenny my girl, I’m agiving you the most important gift of yer whole family. I’m giving ya a piece of Indian medicine so strong that I want ya to be careful with it.” He reached into his trapper’s bag and pulled out the thing he had been working on the first night at dinner. This here very Jack-a-lope. “This here is Jack, he’s a Jacklope. the Indians say they are spirit messengers and if killed and stuffed by someone they will carry messages to them when they are needed. So iffen you ever need Ole Nugget Nate, Jenny, you just whisper to Jack here and he’ll come find me and I’ll come arunnin’”
With last hand shakes and hugs we said goodbye to our new friends, and following the directions Nate gave to Pa, we headed to what we hoped would be our new home.
Just like Nate said, the town was pleased as punch to have a doctor and soon enough Pa built us a little house on a stretch of land near a creek and we became real western settlers. We’d been there almost a year when the day came that I needed to send Jack to find Nate. It started like any other day. Ma’ma had fixed breakfast and we were all sitting around eating when the door to our little home was kicked open and in stomped two men with bandanas over the lower part of their face, dragging a third between them. “Doc, we need you to be patchin up our brother here. You do it right fast and well leave yer family alone. Iffen you let him die or ain’t fast enough, well, let’s jes say yer family won’t survive it.”
Pa got up and directed the men to take their brother to his and Mama’s bed. “There is no need for threats, gentlemen. I’ll do what i can for your brother and then you be on your way.”
Pa went and poured some water over his hands and got his doctor bag and began to work on removing the bullet and sewing up the outlaw. The whole time his two brothers stood looking out the window like they were waiting for someone. Sure enough, about half an hour later another fella rode up to the house and the two of them went out to talk to him. They all came back in and the new fella went up to Pa and asked, “How is he?”
Pa looked at him. “I removed the ball and cleaned the wound as best I could and I sewed him up but it don’t look good. He lost a lot of blood. If he makes it through the night I’d be more confident of his recovery.”
“Well, we will just have to stay and see how he is in the morning then.”
“I don’t think you understand,” Pa said with a look of worry on his face. “Even if he lives till morning it will be weeks before he is able to travel.”
“We ain’t got weeks, Doc. That posse will catch up to us before then.”
“I don’t know what to tell you; if you move him then he’ll die for sure.”
The three men looked at each other. Pete if we stay here he could heal and we could use these people as hostages to keep the posse from stormin us. They won’t chance killing the only doctor for miles.”
I didn’t understand then what all that meant, but I knew that Mama and Pa looked at each other in that way they do when they are upset and don’t want me and Kevin to know they are worried, and that’s when I remembered Jack, and what Nugget Nate had told me. I reached over on the table beside the fireplace where Pa had sat Jack when we moved in, and I hugged him close to me.”
Jenny pulled the Jackalope close to her chest with his long ear close to her mouth, just like she had done that day, being carried away by the memories of her story.
“I leaned my mouth down over his ear and I whispered “I hope you are magic like Nate said cause we need Nugget Nate now.” Then I sat him back where he came from. One of the men saw it and laughed. “Well, I’ll be. Lookie here, boys, someone done stuck antlers on top of this here stuffed rabbit. Ain’t that a hoot.” He held him out for the others to see. The last man to arrive shuddered, “Get rid of that thing, Bill, it gives me the creeps.”
“Oh, Jed, it’s just a bit of funny work, that’s all.”
The one called Jed walked over and grabbed it from his friend and walked over to the door and threw it outside. “It ain’t a bit of funny work, Bill. The Apache say it’s a spirit walker called a Jackalope. They give me the creeps.”
“You and yer Indian mumbo jumbo. I swear you take all the fun out of life.”
“It ain’t mumbo jumbo and if you paid any attention to the Indians you’d know that. Now you and Rusty go get our horse out of sight. Maybe if the posse don’t see our mounts they’ll think we rode on by.”
The other two nodded and headed out to do what the one called Jed had told them to do. Ten minutes went by and neither man came back inside. It was obvious that Jed was getting more and more nervous by the second. He looked at Kevin and motioned toward the door. “Boy, you go out there and tell those two I said quit fooling around and get their butts back in here.”
Kevin looked at Pa who nodded his head. Kevin stood and walked out the door. After a few more minutes and no one returning to the house, the outlaw was fit to be tied. Finally, he stalked over to the door himself and flung it open to go yell at his friends. When he did he looked straight into the barrel of a Harpers Ferry Pistol held in the steady hand of Nugget Nate Ryder. “Howdy,Doc.” Nate said, “Seems like you got unwanted company here.”
Pa shook off the look of shock on his face. “Yes, Nate, we do.”
Nate nodded once and without taking his eyes off the outlaw in front of him, pulled the man’s weapons from his belt and tossed them behind him. He called over his shoulder as he did. “Penny dear, would you bring me one of them hobbles from my saddle bag? I got another one in here.”
Penny walked up and handed a piece of rawhide to Nugget Nate. “I sent Kevin to get the posse on my horse, Nathan, he should be back soon.”
Nate made quick work of the last outlaw and soon all three were seated on the ground in front of the house.
Pa took the opportunity to ask, “Nate how in the world did you know we needed you?”
“Well it’s like this, Doc, we was heading by this way anyway. Penny wants to go to New York and visit her parents for a bit. Anyway, I was jes about to put out the campfire this morning when I hears a rustling in the sagebrush. Thinkin I might get to shoot a varmint fer us to fix fer lunch later I picked up ole Bess and sighted in on that clump of sagebrush when out popped a Jacklope. Soon as I seen him I remembered givin yer little one ole Jack and I jes knew y’all was in trouble. Put out the fire and told Penny we needed to ride fer y’all like the wind was a chasin us. Got here jes as them two owlhoots was coming out so Penny and I got the drop on em and used a few steer hobbles to bind em jes like they was calves for branding.”
“Well, whatever brought you here, we’re grateful.”
“Well, jes thank the Good Lord.”
Jenny looked at her family who were all sitting and listening to her tale. “That’s how I came to own Jack here and meet the Legendary Nugget Nate Ryder.”
Her son smiled and then stood and indicated to all the children, “Alright, gang, let’s give Granny some time to rest. Dinner will be ready soon. Outside with you all til then.”
The kids were dispersed to play and Jenny’s kids all were working on putting the finishing touches on her birthday celebration. She sat in her rocking chair dozing and holding good ole Jack on her lap. She dreamed about the times over the years that Nugget Nate and Penny had visited. Slowly she became aware of a growing pressure in her chest that made it hard to breath. She struggled to call out to her family but didn’t have the strength. She barely managed to pull Ole Jack close to her lips and whisper into his ear. Sure enough, in seconds there he stood before her, dressed in his buckskins and coonskin cap, knife, hatchet and six guns on his belt, Ole Bess cradled in his arms. Sitting at his feet was Jack the Jackalope, returned from carrying his message. “Well, hello there, Jenny my girl! Ole Jack tole me youse was in some trouble here.”
Jenny smiled up at Nate. “Hello, you old Mountaineer. Always know when yer needed don’t cha?”
The old mountain man smiled “Reckon I do at that. Listen, the Good Lord done sent me to escort ya home, girly, is ya ready?”
One single tear slipped down Jenny’s weathered cheek. “I am Nate, but I sure hate to leave the younguns on my birthday.”
“Well, girl, I reckon they’ll grieve a bit but they know where yer heading. So I’m sure they won’t be holding yer homecoming against ya. Ya did grand, my girl, not an unbeliever in the bunch.”
Nate held out his hand and helped Jenny stand. As she laid her hand on his elbow all the years melted away and the young woman she once was stood beside the Legendary Mountain Man of the West. “Thanks for coming to my rescue once again Nate.”
“Didn’t come to yer rescue this time, Jenny, came to invite you on the greatest adventure of yer life. Ready?”
Without a single word the huge smile on her face was all the answer the Legend needed. Together the two stepped from the shadowlands into the great adventure of the Kingdom of Heaven