Lucius Quintas Cincinnatus Lamar
Engine #345 moved slower than a turtle in quicksand, and Raephy had swung the lantern back and forth, back and forth for what seemed like a thousand hours. She was certain her arm would drop off if she swung the lantern even one more time.
She had seen one cow on the tracks, but before anyone heard Raephy’s warning, the brakeman chased the cow away with his club. Mr. Marshall didn’t really need her help, and besides, the sky was showing the first signs of dawn. She blew out the flame, set the lantern on the floor, and rubbed her arms.
The workmen trudging beside the tracks were singing in rhythm with the slow clack clack clack of the
wheels. “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, Hurrah! Hurrah!” Singing softly so she wouldn’t bother her sisters, Raephy joined in. “The men will cheer, the boys will shout. The ladies they will all turn out—” She stopped when she realized they were singing different words. This wasn’t a song about a Civil War soldier any more. It was about Mr. Black.
|When Amos goes marching home again|
|We’ll give him a hearty farewell then|
|The men will cheer, the boys will shout,|
|The ladies they will all turn out|
|And we’ll all have a good laugh|
|When Amos goes marching home.|
Too-too! Too-too-toot. The train whistle picked up the rhythm of the song, then sounded one very long loud ear-splitting blast and slowed to a stop. The conductor shouted. “This is it! The new home of Blackwell Station!”
“Sadie, Laura! We’re home!” Raephy leaned as far
out the window as she could. In the early white light of morning, she saw a broad level meadow stretched out on both sides of the tracks. On one side stood a large tent with a banner that read “Lamar Town Site Company.”
“Town site!” Raephy’s head whacked the windowsill. “Ouch!”
Mama ducked through the curtain, “What happened?”
“They’re going to build us a town!”
“Yes, girls! We’re going to build us a town! Now get dressed. Quickly! The men will unload the station, hook up the telegraph as fast as they can, then lay a siding switch for Engine #345. They have to clear the tracks for the other trains that will be coming.”
Raephy scrambled into her clothes, raked her fingers through her hair, slipped down the stairwell and out the door toward the sound of a harmonica.
“Good morning, fuzzy head.” Harry was sitting astride Sugar. “How was the ride?” He pushed back his cowboy hat with his thumb, a trait he’d picked up from the ranch hands.
“Long!” Raephy tiptoed across piles of lumber,
past the crates of chickens, and poised at the edge of the flatcar.
“Need a hand down?” Harry slipped his harmonica into a shirt pocket.
“Nope!” Raephy flew through the air and landed on both feet. “I’m going to look around.”
“Spy a little?
“Urf?” Jinx jumped up on her leg.
“Yes, you can go, too,” she said, “You don’t want to stay behind, do you?” She grabbed his cheeks and shook his head “no.”
“Come on, Raephy, I’ll give you a ride.”
“Raephy McDowell!” Mama called from upstairs. “Where are you? I don’t want you running around out there alone.”
“It’s all right, Mother.” Harry cupped his hand to his mouth. “She’s with me.”
Harry grabbed Raephy’s arm and helped her up behind the saddle. “Nice site, huh?” Harry said over his shoulder. “See those big cottonwoods by the river? Fishing will be great. Arrowhead hunting, too.” He clicked his tongue, and Sugar stepped out into the
meadow. “Look at the prairie dog holes. Hundreds of them. Careful, Sugar. Watch your step.” He leaned forward, reining Sugar around the prairie dog mounds toward a village of small tents and into the welcoming aroma of food.
Raephy couldn’t see everything fast enough. Where had all these people come from? Then suddenly she knew. They were homesteaders. She had no idea there were so many. Women were cooking and setting tables. Several men were hammering stakes into the ground, pacing and measuring, then hammering more stakes.
“See that fellow over there with the tripod?” Harry nodded with the brim of his hat. “He’s a surveyor. He’s measuring and marking where the streets will be. Streets and stores and houses and—”
“And a school?”
“Yup.” Harry nodded and tipped his hat to a group of women who were laying out a huge meal on sawhorse tables. “Good morning, ladies.” Enormous roasts of meat browned on a spit over an open fire, the juices sizzling in the flames. Steam from a gigantic, black-iron caldron puffed the delicious aroma of coffee into the air. One tent manned only by men offered nothing but kegs and
cups—the whiskey and beer those workers were talking about, Raephy bet.
With all the wonderful smells filling the air, it was no surprise that the workers unloaded the station much faster than they had loaded it. Engine #345 rolled onto a siding, bellowed a long, loud blast, and as the men stampeded toward the food, fiddles began to play the happiest music Raephy had ever heard.
“Here, child. Take this quickly before they get here.” A woman with a big flowered apron dished up two steaming plates of food. “You must be McDowells. Welcome to your new home.” She handed the plates up with a smile. “Come fall, I’ll be living here, too. I’ll be your new teacher.”
“Really!” Raephy exclaimed. “And Harry’s and Laura’s and Sadie’s, too?”
The teacher nodded.
“I can’t wait to tell Laura! She loves school.”
Harry balanced his plate as he nudged Sugar to a spot away from the stampede then helped Raephy down. They had just started to eat when Daddy, Laura, and Sadie joined them carrying plates heaped with food. “See that
lady?” Raephy whispered, pointing with her eyes, not her finger. “She’s our new teacher! And she’s really nice.”
“Anyone hungry besides me?” Daddy asked, taking a bite. “Ummm!”
Raephy was too busy eating to answer. She watched the sun rise on the workmen lined up at the tables and in front of the keg tent, and on people scattered by twos and threes over the whole town site. Some folks were putting up makeshift shacks or tents inside the freshly marked boundaries of their new property.
Raephy imagined the houses that would be there soon, a house on every lot, sunshine sparkling on the polished windows. She could almost hear children laughing and singing, and mothers calling, “Dorie, Sammy, Tom, come in now. It’s time for bed!”
She would be invited for an overnight sleepover with her new friend, Kathleen. Yes. Kathleen would be her name, and she would call her “Kat”, and they would be very best friends forever and ever. “I wish you were here now, Kat,” she said.
Sadie’s tickling fingers brought Raephy back to her senses. “Which cat?” Sadie teased. Harry and Laura were laughing at her, too.
“You’re thinking out loud again, Raephy.” Laura shook her head.
“Don’t worry. I loaded all the cats on the train. But never again!” Harry rolled up a sleeve and held out his scratched arm. “Compared with cats, loading cattle is easy.”
“Harry, if you’re finished, take a plate to your mother, will you?” Daddy said. “Too bad she has to work today.”
Raephy ate until she couldn’t stand the thought of another bite. And then, with the sun beating down, the dancing began. Daddy danced with Raephy and Sadie, then Raephy and Sadie danced together. And Laura? Laura danced with the long string of men who lined up to ask her.
Six more trains arrived during the day carrying fresh workers who put the cattle chutes, chicken coop, and corrals back together. A crew dug a deep hole and covered it with a brand new two-seater outhouse. Blackwell Station looked almost the same as it had on Amos Black’s ranch. Only better.
As the sun set over the new town, people were lying on the ground under tarps, in makeshift shacks,
in wagons, and under wagon beds. A new town and people, people, people everywhere. The music of Harry’s harmonica wafted up with the smoke from one of the campfires, but the rest of the family sprawled on the edge of the station platform looking out at the flickering lights.
Even with all the excitement, Raephy couldn’t keep her eyes from drooping. She leaned against Daddy and stroked Jinx’s tummy as he lay on her lap with his paws up in the air.
“How will you get to the ranch every day? Will you ride the train? Will Harry have to leave Sugar out there?”
Daddy chuckled. “No. No, Raephy. I won’t be going to the ranch any more.”
“But what about—”
“Up to bed, everyone,” Mama said, interrupting the thousand questions Raephy wanted to ask, especially about Mr. Black. “It’s been a very long day.”
“Get off, Jinx,” Raephy leaned away as Daddy scooped Sadie into his arms. For a second Sadie’s nose stopped whistling, then returned to its regular tweet—tweet—tweet.
“But this will still be Blackwell Station, won’t it?”
“No,” Mama said, herding Raephy toward the door. “It has a new name.”
“But if it’s not Blackwell Station,” Raephy moaned, “we won’t be special any more.”
“Raephy, don’t be silly!” Mama nudged her. “To bed!”
“What is it then?” Raephy asked. “What’s the name of this new town?”
Daddy paused in the doorway. “It’s official. The town site papers were signed in Washington. Our town will be named after Lucias Quintas Cincinnatus Lamar, the United States Secretary of the Interior.”
“Eeuuuu! That’s a terrible name! Lucias Quintas Cincinnatus Lamar? Why that? It’s too long!”
Mama pivoted to Raephy, hands on hips. “You and your curious mind. This will be your last question for tonight. Agreed?”
Raephy nodded. “Agreed.”
“All right,” Mama said, all business-like. “This is a little complicated, so see if you can follow. Mr. I. R. Holmes is a land boomer. He makes towns. As the railroads came west, he built Garden City and many other
railroad towns in western Kansas. Now he’s moving into eastern Colorado to promote our town.
“Mr. Holmes convinced us to choose Lamar because the Secretary of the Interior decides where land offices and post offices and railroad stations will be. See?”
“Ha!” It was complicated, but Raephy saw. “So Mr. Lamar will feel all puffed up and important. Then he’ll choose our town for all those things, right? Because we’ve named our town after him.”
“Right.” Daddy whispered over Sadie’s tweety-snores. “Especially now that the railroad station is here.”
“Tricky!” Raephy said. “Mr. Holmes must really be smart.”
“I suspect he is.” Daddy chuckled. “Tricky and smart. Like a politician. Having Lamar chosen for the railroad and post office would make it a good choice for the county seat, too. And a fine place to raise a family.” He yawned. “Now, scoot! Go up to bed.”
“What’s a county seat?”
The only answer was a pat on her own seat nudging Raephy in the door.
Mama lit a lantern and led the way upstairs. Daddy shifted Sadie higher onto his shoulder and followed, but
Laura lagged behind.
“I’ll be up in a minute, Mama.”
Suddenly Raephy was not so sleepy anymore. She hung back hiding beside the platform door.
“Miss McDowell?” A man’s soft voice floated in from the darkness.
“Over here, Mr. Gobin,” Laura whispered. “You’ll be just fine under the platform tonight, William,” Laura said. “It’s one of my sister’s favorite hideouts.”
“I appreciate thy kindness, Miss McDowell, and I…I…I did so very much enjoy dancing with thee today.”
Raephy peeked around the door frame to see this person with the unusual way of speaking. In the dim moonlight, she could see William Gobin open a toolbox and pull out a blanket. He should have a better place to sleep than under the platform, Raephy thought, like inside the station. But she couldn’t say anything without being caught.
“Good night, William,” Laura whispered. “Sleep well. Perhaps I shall see you, —thee— perhaps we shall see each other tomorrow.”
Raephy scurried upstairs faster than a mouse, and fully dressed, snuggled under the covers next to Sadie,
squeezed her eyes closed, opened her mouth, and see-sawed her way into a raucous snore. She didn’t know if she fooled Laura or not. After one or two snorts, she was fast asleep.