I had a good business there on the waning ends of the Missouri, teaching would-be-wagoners about death. Here in the young city of Saint Charles, we were an odd mix of union soldiers, families and grey-coats who were looking to erase their lives and start over. We all had reasons for wanting to head west. Mormons were convinced that a promised land lay out there past the horizon. Some figuring that if gold sat in streams in California – it figured to do so in streams all up that coast. Some folks saw a path to an entirely new way of life, trying to leave as much of the young country to the east behind them as possible. At least until it inevitably caught back up with them.

Many folks that came to me had never held a weapon, leave alone fired one. That was something to be thankful for. That there were men and women that didn’t wear the stain of death on their character. If rumors were true – there were men and beasts between here and Oregon that had nothing but our deaths on their minds. That was something to be taken very seriously.

Between Bison, Cheyenne, Bears, Wolves and the Pawnee, there was plenty to fear. All of them had the advantage, knowing the land you were crossing. Knowing it’s secrets; knowing where to catch you by surprise. I had to teach people how to react under stress, how to be able to pull their gun and use it. There’d be time to think about the consequences afterwards.

“Always fire with the intent to kill or don’t bother picking up a weapon in the first place.”

During the war, he’d done so many times. No time to worry about whose family you were rendering fatherless when you fired, because if you hesitated, you’d be dead. The war had been ugly – with great losses for both sides. While it was over, the feelings of distrust, the feelings and the filth of warfare – still remained in all of us. It was a matter of fact.

“Aim to kill, with certainty. Make a bullet count or what you are shootin’at is liable to kill you first.”

The line of trainees brought their weapons up pointing down range, kachink, pow. zing. kachink, pow. zing.

“Man or beast, nothing likes being shot in the arm or the leg. Shoot for the heart and the head, make it quick, bring down your target.”

kachink, pow. zing.

A Winchester level action could shoot two shots a second if it had to. It was meant to be fired from a standing position, not crouched and prone like a sniper gun. This was not a now-that-I-have-your-attention gun, this was a weapon meant to kill it’s target.

By the looks of today’s crop, some might not even make it as far as Wyoming. Some would turn back when the horizon fell out so far that the big country would send them back to Missouri in a panic. Some would disappear into the grasses, never to be seen again.

July 8, 2018