It could be said that the story “Calamity Jane- How the West Began” was not so much written as it was woven together from historical anecdotes. The pie episode in Kustar’s bakery is an example of this. Here is that anecdote as presented by Langford in “Vigilante Days and Ways” (pp. 190-191):
“A singular genius known as “Slippery Joe,” whose character reflected the twofold qualities of bummer and loafer, hung around the saloons and restaurants in the early days of Bannack. He worked when compelled by necessity, and was never known to buy a ‘square meal.’ One evening he was an onlooker at a party of miners who were playing euchre in Kustar’s bakery. Their frequent potations, as was often the case, developing first noise, then dispute, then quarrel, finally culminated in a fight and general row. Pistols and knives were drawn, one man was badly stabbed, and several shots were fired. The bystanders stampeded through the door and into the street, to avoid injury. One man was prostrate, and another bent over him, with an upraised knife. Kustar and his bartender were engaged in quelling the melee. Seizing this opportunity, Slippery Joe stole behind the counter, and taking a couple of pies from the shelf, mashed them out of shape with his knuckles, and laid them, still in their tin plates, on the floor near the combatants. He did not dare steal the pies, knowing that detection would result in his banishment from the gulch. Kustar, discovering them after the fight was over, supposed from the appearance they presented, that they had been jarred from the shelf and trodden upon. He was about casting them into the street, when Joe stepped forward, and offered twenty-five cents for them, pies at the time being sold at a dollar apiece. Glad to sell them at any price, Kustar regarded the quarter of a dollar a clear gain, and the sneak owed his supper to his criminal ingenuity.”
That’s the genesis for the similar vignette in my “Calamity” novel. Langford continues with an episode that shows that this was not an isolated incident.
“This same individual was the hero of another foraging exploit, which, however we may regard it in a moral aspect, was not discreditable to his strategic perspicacity. Two partners in a mining claim had quarreled, fought and so far reconciled differences as to agree to live together. One day a load of potatoes, the first that we had had for eight months, and a great luxury at sixty cents a pound, arrived from the Bitter Root Valley. The two miners bought several pounds, and agreed upon having a holiday, with an old fashioned stew for dinner at three o’clock p.m. Joe had epicurean tastes, and longed for the stew. He stationed himself near the door of the cabin. Just after it was taken from the pan, and placed, steaming hot, between the partners, and one was in the act of slicing the loaf, Joe entered, and with much adroitness introduced the subject of former difference. This brought on a dispute, and the two men rose from the table and rushed into the street to engage in a fist fight. While thus employed, Joe made a single meal of the entire stew.”
His manner of telling of the story also illustrates something Langford tells us of the times (p. 189), that humor was a constant companion in early Montana. Here is a similar story of purloined food told for humorous effect, from “Golden Treasure” by Ovitt (pp. 133-4):
“Sam Hauser and his partner lived for a time in a cabin near Deer Lodge, where they worked at mining. When they heard that molasses was to be had at the store they hastened to get some as it was regarded as a rare delicacy. Shortly afterward the partner came into the cabin and saw Hauser holding a syrup besmeared mouse by the tail. His liking for the food disappeared, although he said nothing. Hauser continued to enjoy the molasses until the last of it was being used when he remarked.
“’Why don’t you eat molasses any more? I used to think you liked it.’
“’Not when a mouse has died in it,’ came the reply.
“’Oh, is that what you thought?’ answered Hauser.
“Then the partner knew he had been tricked. Hauser had caught the mouse and smeared it with syrup.”
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