Saturday, May 14, 2016

An Excerpt from The Great Liquor War.


            For many years I have been writing and telling stories about people I’ve known, places I’ve been, experiences I’ve had and the country I have spent time in or passed through. I have found that my experience with people, places and events sometimes clashes violently with those scenes depicted in Canadian history books. As a result I enjoy taking historical events and weaving them into my own stories.
            My first attempt at publishing, “The Great Liquor War” was done in the “traditional” manner with the printing of 600 copies in 1998. A fine thing to start I thought, but within three months all copies were gone.
            Since then “Partners” was released in 2008 and “Homesteader: Finding Sharon” in 2009.
            “Homesteader” is a sequel to “The Great Liquor War”
            This release of “Liquor War” is in Print on Demand which should keep copies available for a long time to come. There have been a few slight changes in the manuscript for this release but it still remains loyal to the original.
            My usual notes on the history that might pertain to this story can be found at the end but in addition you will find excerpts from some upcoming releases. You can also find, on those occasions when I get enough breathing space to post, excerpts and short stories on my blog at  You can also make comments and email from there.
            There are also connections on this site to my author web page
author facebook page ( and the few videos that are out there. Of course, there is also and then search for D. M. McGowan.


          I rode beside a carriage built to carry no more than six people but holding eight. We only intended to go as far as the Farwell train station, so the rested team would easily handle the load, despite their light weight. Some of the men might have been able to run to the station almost as fast as they were being carried, but the sight of policemen running down the street would have created much more unwanted attention than the overloaded carriage. Besides, at that point they were all desperate to maintain a dignified appearance.
          The crowded conditions also forced them into a unity that they would soon need to survive and had not practiced recently. True, they were all peace officers with similar views of the world that develop with folks who have their occupation in common. However, three of them were British Columbia Policemen and the others wore the dress uniform of the North West Mounted Police. Their respective superiors had recently managed to force these men into a situation where they had been pointing their pistols at each other.
          Even though I rode with them, I was not a policeman, had no intention of being one, and wasn’t looking forward to the meeting we were about to have. We were riding toward a situation where we might all be shot, and I wasn’t at all happy about being put in that kind of danger. I hadn’t actually volunteered to go along, it wasn’t my job to face down thieves, and yet I wasn’t really being forced to join them. I was with them because one of the B.C. Constables, Jack Kirkup, had done me a favor a year and a half before. True, that favor had resulted in my enjoying success, but I didn’t think I needed to be shot and killed to pay for it.
          Almost everyone can remember at least one person or event that changed the course of their life. Sometimes these people and events come together causing far more than a simple upset. There have been more twists and turns in my life than you’d find in a mountain stream, but the first important one that I remember was the combination of Jack Kirkup and what I think of as the Great Liquor War.
          It was a fellow by the name of Jerry Hill who had the booze that started it all, but he had almost nothing to do with the war. It was the North West Mounted Police and the British Columbia Police that fought over it. And it was guys like Jerry Hill and I that had our lives torn apart because of it. Of course, my own involvement would have been far less if it hadn’t been for the debt I believed I owed Jack Kirkup.
          It was a year before the Liquor War that I met Jack in Rossland. I came up to the country the fall before with the idea of making my fortune by panning for gold.
          Actually, that’s not exactly true. I returned to the brand new country of Canada that year. I was born some place north of Fort York in Upper Canada one month before Daddy moved to Kansas. He wanted to move to Oregon but he ran out of steam in Kansas and we stayed there until the drought ran us out in 83.
          I always found that part of my family history real interesting. We moved to Kansas right after the Civil War and right into the middle of bad feelings between those who supported the Union and those for the South. We lasted through raids by outlaws from both sides - with relatives in both groups - and protected our home from Indian raids. We handled everything that man could throw at us, but we couldn’t beat Mother Nature. And after the sun dried the land and finished our crops, we finished the move to Oregon that had been interrupted eighteen years before.
          When we got to the end of that trail, I tried to talk Paw into trying something new. He had always had trouble feeding his family from farming, and it sure wasn’t from lack of trying. He just wasn’t a great farmer. The land he chose in Kansas was too dry to grow crops and it looked like what he picked in Oregon was too wet.
          “You’re a fool, boy,” he said. “All I ever done is farm. I don’t know nothin bout loggin r fishin. Family’d starve, I went t’ doin’ somethin’ else.”
          I looked around at my brothers, my sister, and at my mother. I was sure Paw had used up the little cash money he had managed to put in his pocket before we left Kansas. I knew there wasn’t much to put into the cupboards that hadn’t been built yet. I decided that my mouth was just another one to be fed from a farm that couldn’t feed those that needed it. I lit out on my own.
          A year later - the spring of ‘84 - I was on my own gold claim near Rossland, British Columbia. It was about then that I realized all the good gold claims were gone and I wasn’t doing much more than making a living on mine. I was trying to decide if I should keep it up, look for a new claim, or look for a new way to make my fortune. While I was doing all this thinking I was shoveling gravel into my rocker and washing it down for the gold.
          Not that I wasn’t seeing lots of color. Every time I worked that rocker I’d find at least some gold in it. I was making a living on that claim, and there were lots of folks that didn’t do that. But there was no way I was gonna get rich on that piece of ground, and I knew it.
          I think it might have been the country that got to me. Not that it ain’t pretty, for it surely is. But it was a might on the dry side, at least that year, and tended to remind me of Kansas during the drought.
          Mind, the land kind of rolls in Kansas, but it doesn’t have those pretty hills and mountains. I guess it was just the dryness that made me think of the hard times that drove us out of a nice place that I still think of as home, even after all these years.
          While I was rolling all manner of things through my mind, and washing dirt from the dirt, a fellow rode down the creek and told me there was gonna be a big prize fight in town. It had been several months since I’d had any entertainment and weeks since I’d been off the claim. Watching a fight seemed like a good idea, and I figured I could make my decision just as well from ringside as I could from creek side.
          When I got into town I found a good place to camp on the edge of town, up on a ledge covered with aspen and surrounded by spruce. I stripped the pack and saddles from my horses, picketed them, and set about to cook some supper.
          About the time I started the fire another fellow with just a riding horse came into the grove, dismounted and began to make camp. In those days it was a good idea to be careful who you invited into your camp, for not only did others judge you by the company you kept, but sometimes the company you kept wasn’t against taking things without asking: maybe your life. I kept an eye on him for a bit, decided he wasn’t a danger I couldn’t handle, and called him over.
          “Might as well join the fire,” I called out. “No sense two of us heatin’ up the night.”
          He waved at me and a few minutes later came over with his plate, cup, and a slab of bacon. He was a well set up man just a little older than me, wearing laced miner’s boots that were in pretty good shape. His pants were made of canvas, a lot like what we call jeans now only they hadn’t been dyed blue, and his jacket looked like it had been made for him as part of a suit, although it was startin’ to show some wear. Like me he wore a bushy moustache that hung down both sides of his mouth, but unlike me, his side burns were also bushy and extended down to the corner of his jaw.
          Now his hat was of special note. It was one of them round, hard things with a reverse curl brim. I think they call them a derby. There were places them days where a hat like that would get you in a fight.
          Not that folks didn’t wear derby hats back then. There were all kinds of head gear in the country, but most had been beaten and smashed about and generally made into part of the landscape. Most of the underground miners would take a beat up hat, maybe a derby, and shellac it until it was almost as hard as the rocks that might fall on their even harder heads. I always wore a Stetson and the one I was wearing then had held water for my horses more than once. His headgear looked like it had been brushed regular and was the property of some city swell. The point is, he was pretty well fixed up in comparison to the way most folks had to dress at the place and time.
          Take my own rig for example. On my feet was a pair of moccasins, one of several pair I had made from the hide of the elk whose meat had been keeping me alive through the winter. I had two pair of bib-coveralls, and the ones I wore only had one small patch on the seat, and one seam stitched up at the hip, so they were my good ones. The blue flannel shirt I wore had been new six months before, so it wasn’t faded too bad, but it was the only one I owned. I had a good sheep skin vest, but the hide on the outside hadn’t been white for a long time, and the coat in my pack had been made from the hide of a bear who had out worn it before me. I had one pair of long johns, which had been washed before I headed for town, and I already mentioned my hat.
          There were many men carrying pistols in those days, usually in a pocket, or behind the waist band of their pants and hooked in a suspender, but I wore a gun belt. I took it from the body of a man my Maw shot on the trail from Kansas. While Paw and I were rounding up the stock one morning, this gentleman decided that Maw and my sister would be easy pickings. He was wrong. It was a nice, wide belt, with an Army Colt in the holster, and, on the other side, a 15 inch Bowie knife. Later I had made a sheath to hang next to it and hold a 4 inch skinning knife.
          After he set his things down by the fire, he straightened and stuck out his hand.
          “Jerry Hill,” he said. “Pleased to have somebody else cook, for a change.”
          Now I hadn’t said anything about cooking, just that I’d share the fire, but I didn’t object, considering that he offered the first smoked side meat I’d seen in a couple of months.

No comments:

Post a Comment