Snuffy Johnson's Cowboy Christmas - Prolog
The year was 1926 and Christmas was once again coming to Jackson Hole , Wyoming . It had been one heck of a winter so far. The snow started coming down about the middle of October and just kept right on a'coming. By late November the fences couldn't be seen because the white stuff had them covered to a fare thee well. Now it was late December and every morning the telegraph poles looked like they were getting shorter and shorter because the snow from the night before had crept further up the poles.
Snuffy Johnson looked out of the window of his little cabin at the Bar BC ranch and sighed. He hadn't seen another soul for over two weeks and he was feeling pretty dang lonesome. In the fall he'd figured that real winter would set in on the country about the middle of December, like it usually did. But this year the cold season turned out to be a real "woolly booger," as his fellow cowboys called something which was bigger and meaner than usual.
Today the sky was clear and the sun was just coming up over the horizon. Now, in a lot of places when the sun shines it means that it is going to be warm. But in the Teton Valley during the long winters a clear sky and sunshine sometimes means it is going to be colder than usual. And this morning was one of those days. The thermometer outside the cabin door said that it was thirty-seven degrees below zero!
The young cowboy crossed the little room and opened the door to the stove. Then he picked up a piece of pine wood and shoved it into the red embers. A little puff of smoke came out the door and got in Snuffy's nose, making him sneeze. He closed the stove door, took out his hanky and wiped his eyes and then his nose.
"Dang smoke!" he said.
Snuffy took the little coffee pot off the hot stove and stepped to the small table nearby. He poured coffee into his blue metal cup and returned the pot to the stove. A mail order catalog was open on the table and he sat down to read in it as he sipped at his hot coffee and forked off a big chunk of mock apple pie, his favorite breakfast.
The catalog was from Montgomery Wards Company, but just about everybody called the company "Monkey Wards." It was a funny name and Snuff didn't have any idea how it came to be known that way. It just was.
Looking at the catalog's pictures was one way to pass time in the winter when there wasn't much to do. There were a couple of them in the cabin, along with a few precious magazines and two thick books. Right now the cowboy was reading both of them, Rob Roy and Lorna Doone . They were stories about Scotland and one had lots of action and sword fights while the other was a romantic adventure story. Sometimes he felt like reading action and other times, when he thought about his soon-to-be fiancee Sina Christiansen, he wanted to read about the life and adventures of a beautiful young woman.
As he looked at the catalog he began to think about the package that was waiting for him at the Wilson store. It had taken a lot of his money to pay for it, but there was nothing too good for Sina. It was going to be a real special Christmas present for her—five yards of watered silk for an engagement party dress. Sina had long blonde hair and he'd asked Mrs. Lundy what would be the best color for a girl with blonde hair. She'd picked out blue silk, saying that any girl would be flattered by a gift that thoughtful—and expensive.
He turned to the page that offered the silk he'd ordered. It read:
OUR SPECIAL SILK DEPARTMENT
Of Evening Shades or Light
Colors in Plain and
At $1.09 per yard we are offering these goods at less than the largest wholesale dealers can buy the same grade of corded silk in any quantity. No illustration or description will give you an idea of the beautiful effect and the fine quality shown in this, our $1.09 line. Don't wait to write for samples when ordering. No set of small samples would give you any idea of the value. Simply enclose our price with your order, give us an idea of the coloring wanted, state your complexion, what garment you wish to make, and leave it somewhat to the judgment of an expert silk man to give you the finest thing in our line to match your complexion.
These are the richest and handsomest wash silks imported. The illustration gives you a faint idea of the designs in which they come. These silks are the very height of style. They are goods finer than have ever before been brought from Japan . They are goods that are equal in every way to silks that sell for up to $1.59 in French and domestic American silks. The silk is bright and clear and the colorings are exquisite. They come in colors: Pink, salmon, rose, heliotrope, violet, lavender, Nile green, cardinal, yellow, straw, maize or ange, purple, light blue, turquoise, and cerise. Every piece and every yard we guarantee perfect in every respect.
"Heliotrope, lavender, Nile green..." The colors sounded wonderful and warm as he mentally cast them out the frosted window to decorate the cold, white world outside the cabin. "Every piece and every yard we guarantee perfect in every respect," he said aloud, savoring the words.
Snuff took a drink of his "cowboy" coffee, laced with lots of sugar and canned milk, then leaned back in his chair to think about his good fortune. Some of it had come through pure luck, but most of it had come through real hard work.
He was "proving up" his little homestead beneath Shadow Mountain . He'd built a small cabin and a corral when he first moved onto the place, but this past summer he'd added a larger room to the cabin. Now it was big enough for two.
He'd also improved the little cold water spring, lining it with rocks so the sweet water flowed beneath the spring house, to cool the butter and milk so it would not spoil. He'd also built a chicken coop and fenced off a place below the spring where the water fed the grass and made it perfect pasture for a milk cow. Of course, he didn't actually own a milk cow or chickens yet, but he'd saved enough money to buy them.
When Sina and he were married he would move her out to his little ranch and she would have absolutely everything she needed to start a married life. Snuffy was very proud of all he had accomplished over the last three years. He'd worked real hard to get it all done and he just knew that the girl he'd chosen to be his wife would be impressed with his ambition. How could she not be
Sina's father had a place down the valley, on Mormon Row. He was from Denmark and had brought his family all the way to Jackson Hole to start a new life in America . He had lots of kids, nine, and Sina was born smack dab in the middle of Hans Christiansen's brood.
One of Sina's older brothers, Søren, was Snuff's best friend. They cowboyed together on the big ranches in the valley and both had reputations for working real hard. Søren was also planning to get married and he'd bought some land from his father. He was still living at home, but was building a small house down the lane from the Christiansen family's big house.
Hans raised dry land wheat and barley, and also raised big Clydesdale horses. In September, when it came time for harvest, Snuffy always pitched in and helped. He was real good with horses so he drove the mowing and threshing machines, which were pulled by a team of six of the big animals.
It was during harvest time that Snuffy had first seen Sina up close. One day at noon she came out to the fields with her mother carrying the crew's dinner packed in grub boxes.
The men stopped their work and went over to where the women had laid out the meal on the ground—a big tub of fried chicken and a pot of potato salad, cucumber pickles, fresh baked bread with churn butter, and homemade root beer. And pie. Snuffy loved pie and when Sina had brought him an extra-big piece of Huckleberry pie he took one look at her up close and fell smack dab in love. She had looked at him, smiled and that had been it! He was a done duck from that very moment.
That had been almost a year and a half before. Now that he had saved his money and proved up his homestead, he was ready to finalize everything. But first there was the question of the formal engagement period. While at the Halloween dance in the Moulton barn, he and Sina had come to an understanding—they would announce their engagement at the big Christmas dance held every year in Jackson .
It had seemed to take forever but Christmas was only two days off now and his plan was to ride to the little town of Wilson and pick up the silk from Hungry Jack's store. Mrs. Lundy had promised to wrap the material for him in Christmas paper and make it look real nice. Then he would ride to the dance hall in Jackson , give Sina the present, and then officially ask her to marry him.
But there was a fly in the ointment. A considerable one. The last time Snuffy had seen Søren, at the post office, he had mentioned that a new lawyer in town had been paying a lot of attention to his sister. Søren said that he'd even taken Sina to the harvest dance when Snuffy had been away in the Buffalo Valley , working the fall roundup!
"Dang!" he said aloud, then took another drink of his coffee. He wasn't going to let something like a little competition worry him. He loved competition, and that was one reason he was such a good rodeo cowboy. Snuffy always won the saddlebronc bucking horse competition at the Fourth of July rodeo. And that was the day he was going to marry Sina. The Fourth of July. First he was going to claim the girl, then he was going to win the bucking horse competition! He'd give the money to his new bride and tell her to spend it on anything her little heart desired.
Snuffy put on his boots, gum overshoes and heavy coat. Then he put a big silk bandanna on his head, covering his ears from the cold, and tied it low in the back so the knot wouldn't make his cowboy hat ride forward over his eyes. It was going to be a real cold ride over to Wilson .
He'd fed the horses earlier in the morning, forking the aromatic hay which still smelled like summer into the mangers. He had also given his favorite riding horse, Monty, a bucket of oats so he would have extra energy for the cold ride. Real cold weather uses up a lot of body heat and both man and horse need extra feed to stay warm. Snuff had given himself a big dose of oats, too. He'd eaten a whole panful of oatmeal with molasses poured on top—lots of oats and lots of sugar to stoke the stove in his body.
As he walked out to the corral, Snuff stopped to look at the towering Teton mountains. The new morning sun was bathing them in pink and lavender light and the view was breathtaking. The frosty air looked like it was filled with dancing diamond dust and the soaring mountains seemed almost alive, stretching toward the sky to greet the morning sun after a long, cold night.
Snuffy looked around the ranch, checking to see that everything would be all right while he was gone. All the rooves were shoveled, the horses had enough feed to last them for a couple of days, the fire in the stove was almost burnt out so there was no danger of it catching the cabin on fire. Looked like everything was in ship shape.
Stubby the barn cat, a big tom whose ears had been nipped off during a run of real cold weather a couple of years before, was sitting on the chopping block in the sunlight, licking his paws and washing his face.
Snuffy called "You catch a fat mouse and have yourself a big Christmas dinner, Stub!" The cat paused his paw in response, licked a cheek and smiled as if to say, "You bet. And a Merry Christmas to you, too."
Snuff had put the blankets and saddle on Monty earlier, so the leather would warm and the cinch could be tightened. After adjusting everything, he swung up into the saddle and he could feel a little frost in the saddle's seat. But it would warm up in a couple of minutes and he'd settle in for the ride.
As he rode away from the ranch and into the beautiful morning he was a happy young man. It was a beautiful frosty morning with scenery to spare—and he was riding to meet his beloved Sina; to spend Christmas with her and the wonderful Christiansen family. And formally ask her to be his wife.
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