The Cursed Hunter in the Red Lands (January 1836)by Douglas Glover
The opening pages of a novel called Doom
I have great hope of writing one more book.
— Colonel David Crockett July 8, 1835
Yr Informant: from the Colonel’s Lost Book
Yr Informant is only trying to Portray the many entangled Currents of his Life. He is not One but Many. It is an unnerving thing to be.
He remembers this: in January four Years now, my little niece Rebecca Ann Burgin playing behind the Oxen at the horse Mill, bending to Grasp a shiny Stone when the Brace, which the Oxen pushed to, caught her Head against the outside Post & smashed it to pieces. She could not have felt but an instant’s Pain, yet the Sight of her were difficult to bear.
After which I gave up ardent Spirits & devoted myself to self-Promotion in Washington City.
A man offered me a well-built negro Boy, ten Years old, for my Mare & her colt & $150. I wrote back to say I could buy the Boy by himself for $150 in Washington City & I also had a stud Packlet I wanted to breed of that Mare.
I write this down in Confusion having the Ague & too much something or Other.
I have run a long Race, Lord.
And I keep hearing that dreadful Ditty in my Mind.
Did you ever see the devil,
With his pitchfork and ladle?
Her name was Doom. At least he believed she said that was her name. It could have been something else, something foreign that sounded like Doom. She said she would stay with him till he was dead. It wouldn’t be long. So, you see, the name fit.
This was in Nacogdoches in a cantina run by a Mexican named George Martin or Martinez who served whisky with his good hand and had a cutlass strapped to his stump where the other hand should have been.
The cutlass was extremely sharp. George could use it to cut paper, spent a deal of time honing it on a stone he kept behind the plank door he used for a bar. He had a pickle jar at the end of the bar half-full of fingers he had taken off unwary customers who chose to question their bill.
Missing or detached body parts were always a sign you were near the border, near the frontier. At the frontier, things always got misplaced or jumbled or turned upside-down.
This was maybe a week ago, in Nacogdoches, and he was still hung over from entertaining his supporters in Memphis, Little Rock and Natchitoches, where he had been asked to campaign again, to run for office, though he said he was through with all that. He said the politicians in Washington City had worn him out, had nearly nicked him to death. He would never get his land bill passed, couldn’t even get it to the floor.
Once he had stood for the president, he’d been a rock for Jackson. But the president himself had lost his principles. They called him King Andrew now. The little man had no chance.
He said he was bound for Texas, for the new Revolution. Our old Revolution had run out of juice, he told them, at which they grumbled a good deal. He said the Revolution was like a grassfire burning its way across the continent, and he wanted to go for the heat.
This was the fifth cantina. He had left the others in the third or fourth when a fight threatened to break out. And in five minutes he had been addressed as Mr. President and asked to give a speech or at least tell some stories as if he were a clock-work comedian, which, he believed, was a perception he had helped create himself.
But he had ignored the constituents and engaged George in private conversation. George had shown him his finger collection and then he had introduced his daughter, at least he believed George said she was his daughter.
George Martin said he could have her for ten minutes in back for a dollar. He winked and said he was a fifty-year-old man and might need considerably more than ten minutes just to get his pants down. George laughed and whacked the bar with his cutlass hard enough to bend the planks. George’s mouth, when he laughed, was a black hole circled with the brown ruins of his teeth.
George’s mouth was a vision of Hell.
He watched the girl walk through a door that went out behind the bar into a lean-to thatched with corn stalks. Shafts of sunlight came through the pine board walls like swords. A yellow cur dog watched her attentively. She was already dragging her dirty shift over her head.
I’ll give you ten dollars for the whole girl, he said on impulse. She was part Indian. He could discern faint vertical lines tattooed into the skin of her face. A tiny white spike of thorn or bone protruded from beneath her lower lip. She had tiny, immature breasts and barely a trace of new hair between her legs.
She squatted by the dog with her knees up by her ears like an Indian or a Chinaman, waiting, but would not look in his direction. The dog reminded him of a dog in Swannoa where his wife’s people lived. She whispered to the dog, so quiet he could not hear the words.
George stuck a dirty bandanna in his mouth and bit down. He had crafty eyes, wax cheeks, like a death mask.
Sweet Jesus! She’s my only daughter, he wheezed, his voice muffled by the bandanna.
I’ll throw in a dollar for the dog and another ten for the dog’s fleas.
George spat out the bandanna and guffawed. Twenty-one dollars for a whore? he shouted.
For the whole girl and the dog and the fleas. And if she doesn’t like it, she can come back tomorrow. But I’m kinder fond of the dog already. I’ll keep him.
George shook his head. The girl seemed to understand. She was squirming into her shift. Her hand was on the dog’s head. All packed and ready to travel, he thought. As he counted out the money, he could hear the fife and drum outfit from the fourth cantina wheezing and thumping lugubriously in the street. He could hear the laughter of his supporters in the street.
He beckoned to the girl. But as she slipped by the bartender he snapped his cutlass arm fast as a snake striking and the dog’s head jumped from its shoulders, rolling in the sawdust like a sliced melon. The dog squirted cords of blood, took two careful steps, then crumpled against the girl’s dirty bare leg and shook itself still.
Couldn’t bear to see him go, George said. I was kinder fond of him myself. He ran his tongue over the shiney stumps of his teeth.
He started a low tuneful whistle, more whisper than whistle. And then he was singing, eerie and rhythmic.
Did you ever see the devil,
With his pitchfork and ladle,
He Thought I Was Not Watching
He thought I was not watching which is a common mistake in a man who thinks because he can stick his dick in you you must be a moron.
I seen him before he seen me, in the street when I took Mr. Micajeh’s laudanum jolt to the dusty room above the newspaper office (where he allus liked me to beg to see his willie though seeing was all I ever got of it). The Colonel was speechifying in front of a tavern called the Heartbreak, telling stories and passing remarks about someone called the president and bank deposits and the pusillanimous Mexicans (forgetting, I guess, that we were all Mexicans here).
He looked like a song and dance man, a juggler from a minstrel show, with his buckskins and that foxskin hat with the little black nose and beady eyes bobbing as he spoke. But then the wind blew up a gust, and a swirl of red earth kicked up, and he looked a moment like a man on fire, like a prophet getting ready to ascend in a vehicle sent by the Lord.
When he came into George’s cantina, I saw him different. He looked all his years and more and tired and his gait hitched and his belly pooched out and his skins were stained and wore thin and soft as muslin and instead of looking tall as he had in the street (on account of he was standing on a buckboard gate) he seemed only middling in stature, square-set. When he was alone and out of the crowd like that, fatigue settled on him like a cloud.
He looked some kindly though and so tired he was calm, as in all wrung out of excitement and passion. I could sympathize with that. And I had been sold before and poked so often my pussy was like an old glove. So that even though I was whatever age I was (everyone told me it wasn’t much), I was ready to foller after someone kind and calm.
It was like I had raced right past youth and my middle years.
I only wondered when the illusion would pass and he get around to fucking me.
And I didn’t mind about the dog so much. I was used to all the tender things being took from me in some brutal way so that tenderness and pity and pain and loss were all wrapped up in a butcher’s paper parcel with blood on the string. I allus said good-bye as soon as I said hello.
I patted his side once and follered the Colonel into the dusty red street where he stopped and gazed at me as if I were some distance off and he was kinder surprised to find me there, barefoot and dressed only in my dirty shift which was all I had.
There was a band playing in the street clankety-clank, not music to me, and men shouting at the Colonel, all drunk and full of expectation--later I got used to those eyes full of expectation and how tired it made him to see. When they saw me, they got kinder embarrassed.
And part of the surprise was that after he paid for me, he was broke, and had to trade his pocket hunter to Mr. Teeter in the quarter store in return for a cheaper watch and $12 which he used some to buy me a one-colour muslin dress and a boy’s homespun jacket and a length of pretty ribbon which I guess he thought I’d like but I threw away.
In the store, he said I could go, but I pretended not to understand. He got the clerk to tell me in Spanish to go home, and I pretended not to understand that neither, and the clerk said, She’s Heathen, look at that lip-spike. She can’t understand shit. She worth nuthin except’n she got a hole same as a cow or a goat.
The Colonel stopped talking then, and, I don’t know, went stony with menace, his hands twitching like he had to hold himself back.
The clerk, who wasn’t much, was a clerk in his soul, a devotee of small and mean, who always come on my thighs before he could get it in and counted the number of times he come to get his money’s worth, the clerk was silent after that and only said when we were outside the door but still in earshot, You takin her home to meet the missus, Mr. President? You shoulda boughten some underdrawers for that. Underdrawers sure help a whore look proper.
The Colonel kept on, hitching his game leg, and smiling just a little to himself like he thought it was funny about the underdrawers. Without looking back, he raised his hand and waggled his pointer finger at the clerk over his shoulder.
Yr Informant: The Lion of the West, or the Double (from the Lost Book)
Yr Informant indites:
When the Orchestra blared out Crockett’s March, Hackett, the Actor, tramped upon the Boards in Moccasins, leather Chaps, buckskin Fringes a foot long dangling from his Shirt, & a shiny Rifle cast in the Crook of one Arm. On his Head was a Varmint curled in a peculiar Manner so that the Tail hung over one Temple.
This was at the Washington Theater.
It were Uncanny to see the Legend from the Box, me & not me.
As if there weren’t already enough Versions of me wandering the Earth.
There was no use saying I didn’t wear a buckskin Shirt or that the Fringes would catch in the Laurels on a bear Hunt or that Hackett was Taller & Straighter & Leaner than yours truly.
He bowed & I bowed. It was like looking through the Mirror. I had the Feeling as the Audience bayed & Applauded that there was some mean public Joy in the Juxtaposition of the Real & the Theatrical, only I was not sure which was which.
I knew who I was when I pissed in the Pot & put on my broadcloth Coat & tied my Tie & brushed my broad-brimmed Beaver ere Tom Doggett came to Fetch me at the boarding House.
But I had entered a treacherous Place in which it did not matter what I thought was real. People were sure James Hackett’s Colonel was the authentic One.
To most Folks who had seen the play or just heard about it, he was the Identical Colonel.
This is some new Dispensation in the Order of Things. I cannot Fathom it completely. Christians quote me back what I Said in the Play & if I don’t talk the way Hackett makes me talk they Turn away disappointed. So I find I must Bend myself toward the Unreal to seem Real.
I believe I was somewhat responsible for promoting Myself on the Stump & liked the Acclaim & Intrigue.
But it has got Away from me.
I am living Legend but the Legend precedes me.
He bows & I bow.
Did you ever see the devil,
With his pitchfork and ladle?
I am all of a Sweat because I envy Him.
Except for that peculiar Hat.
Which now the Constituents expect me to wear, which I do, God Help Me, imitating an Actor
Sudden Violence At The Heartbreak
He did not know why he had bought the girl. He thought it might have something to do with things he had seen at Tallusahatchee in the Indian wars and would rather not remember or the year he had spent when he was twelve working off his father’s debt for a teamster name along the Virginia road.
As a hunter, he believed in dreams and signs, and he thought she might be a sign of something and for a time he had been out of good signs. Even in his dreams he neither caught nor killed a beast in the old way. But they came and conversed with him in words he never understood.
And then he thought he would find some Indian family along the way and leave the girl, otherwise she would be Hell on his home-life not to mention his presidential ambitions. Although mostly his presidential ambitions amounted to having someone stand drinks at a cantina and listen to his hunting stories.
When the girl was dressed some, they walked to the Heartbreak to find out how the campaign was going. The fife and concertina band was still playing but he wouldn’t exactly call what they were playing music. A coffle of recaptured runaway negros took turns drinking at a horse trough, with nary a shirt between them, only rags tied in their hair, and blood oozing from their backs and the circlets of iron round their ankles, and a cruel white boy to watch them with twin shotguns dangling from shoulder straps and another in the crook of his arm. Every now and then a musket went fizz-bang like fireworks, the smoke mostly jetting upwards.
There was considerable drunken pushing and shoving amongst the constituents in the street with yeller dogs running in packs among their legs and horses rearing and bullocks lowing and stamping impatiently and everywhere a general air of hot expectation and hardly a woman in sight except for a couple of whores leaning out the upper story windows with their breasts bared like advertisements.
Abner Burgin, his brother-in-law, looking winded, apoplectic and drunk, had his arm around the neck of a blind-folded bullock for support. The bullock was yoked to a water-barrel on an iron-shod draw-boat. It had shied back and stove in the barrel with a hoof and water leaked into the street. A Mexican farmer, with a bull whip and a straw sombrero and effete gray piping on his black town clothes, watched the water soaking into the red dust.
Lindsy Tinkle and the Colonel’s nephew William Patton had their fighting knives out, back to back, eyeing the crowd, especially one hulking muleteer, with fight scars etched in his face and a ripply, badly-healed tear coming out of one eye still pulled together with knots of black sewing thread. The eyeball didn’t look right, looked milky and sick. The muleteer’s thumbnails were long, jagged, scooped and bony, like horn teaspoons. He was rocking on his heels, excited, fearless, anxious to perform some radical cruelty especially upon the boy Patton who was pretty and unmarked.
Did someone call the vote? the Colonel asked, his voice easy, affable. And the crowd let out a guffaw.
Ain’t no time for a filibuster, Colonel, someone shouted. Let them get on with it.
William Patton was slight and tow-headed with lips like a pencil line and no beard to speak of, nor eyebrows which gave him a bloodless empty-eyed moony look. He wore a coat like the one the Colonel had just bought at the quarter store and a linsey-woolsey fringed shawl tied round his waist like a girl would do and pants too short for him that rode up his calves and worn leather hob-boots with no laces and no stockings. He nodded to the Colonel and waved Tinkle off, then whispered Tinkle back, and handed him his knife, and stood waiting for the muleteer with a strange half-smile. Some in the crowd said later they thought they heard the boy humming.
The muleteer lumbered into the fight, not rashly, but sure of himself, with all his weight bent to bear down on Patton, hold him and get to work with those thumb scoops. But Patton stayed low and side-slipped and got under the muleteer’s arm, then behind him, then clear, and when the muleteer turned Patton kicked him in the balls which didn’t stop the muleteer but made him a touch slower. Patton popped him in the nose with a forehead butt, split the nose so blood and snot dribbled down. You could hear the nose bone snap. Blood and snot dabbled the boy’s forehead, too.
The muleteer came at him again with those thumbs out, grotesque and almost dainty scoops, dirty under the nails. His favorite hold was to get both hands on a man’s head with his thumbs a-scooping at the eyeballs and never mind what devilment the other man got up to, flailing or striking or screaming, just got to work with those scoops. And Patton was such a pretty boy, such a perfect thing to mutilate, to leave shrieking, wriggling, biting the horse-shit street ruts, with his eyeballs dangling on strings down his cheeks. No girl would ever look at him. The muleteer’s look was almost sexual, or, the Colonel thought, it was sexual.
This time Patton let the muleteer close, then grabbed his belt to steady himself, and reached for the muleteer’s balls. But that was only a feint. He was in close now, too close for the muleteer to get directly at his eyes. Those slab hands and thumb scoops were behind him somewhere and he could feel the muleteer’s arms getting around him for a bear hug. In a moment, he’d feel the ribs cracking, scarce able to draw a breath. He heard the muleteer’s harsh, excited breathing pick up. Close, close in, was always where the damage got done.
They swayed in the street like a pair of drunk lovers, grunting and straining and sighing, and it looked like the muleteer had all of it, with his great arms crushing the boy’s chest, the boy’s feet nearly off the ground, stretching his toes for purchase.
It was generally agreed that the boy was done, that the muleteer would break him down, half-cripple him and then go for the eyes. It was generally agreed and some shared this perception with the Colonel and the Colonel took bets with what was left of his $12 which he got for the pocket hunter, saying he would never bet against a relative and he was a fool for it as he had amply proved over his years of politicking which his wife would take an oath to any day of the week.
Someone shouted Mutrie had an ear hold and someone else shouted what was the boy doing with his hand down there rooting around for the muleteer’s peter. And sure enough—there was a shout—and the muleteer preened his head back to show he had half an ear in his teeth, all blood down his chin. But then Patton leant his cheek against the muleteer’s cheek and shut his eyes and it looked from afar as if he was a-kissing the big man’s neck. Except that all at once they were both drenched in blood, blood just drizzling down between their clenched torsos and splattering into the dust, coming so fast it was pooling in the dust, the dry earth not able to soak it up.
The muleteer roared and threw his arms out, dropping the boy in the street, and clasped his hands to his throat, though before he got his fingers up there a great arc of frothy red blood squirted out sideways from his wound. The muleteer was roaring and spinning slowly in the street with one hand on his wounded neck and the other beckoning mysteriously to the silent crowd.
And the boy Patton, ugly, marked now, his head gaping where his ear had been, leaped to his feet, one hob-boot gone, and kicked the muleteer hard behind the knee so he went down. Then kicked him again with his boot. And again. And when he could he started working to the man’s groin, just slamming his boot toe there till the roaring stopped and everything was eerily quiet.
The muleteer raised his hand slightly, and the boy stopped, and the muleteer said, his voice a shaky whisper, I reckon I’m done, boy. Alls I ask is you leave my eyes. I want my kids to bury me with my eyes in. I allus wanted to go out like that. I wished you hain’t ever touched my peter though. Made me feel the shivers.
You done? said Patton.
The muleteer nodded and Patton moved up to the head and started kicking that, aiming for the ear. The muleteer lying like a lamb, just moaned softly, his eyes open.
Once more he raised his hand, and Patton paused. The muleteer worked his mouth a while without any words coming out. It was hardly a mouth anymore anyway, just a hole, a well of blood and broken enamel and blood bubbles popping.
Then he whispered, I wished you hain’t touched my peter. And died.
Leave Not A Shadow Behind (from the Lost Book)
One good Thing about writing the new Book is that I believe I have figured out where to put the Periods.
I must have been Drunk in Natchitoches when I said I would capture General Santa Anna’s Head & hang it from my Watch Chain.
For one Thing, I do not have a Watch Chain.
I met a Man from a Place called Waterproof, Louisiana.
I wished to go hunting Buffalo with William Becknell at Sulphur Fork Prairie near Clarksville but was prevented by rumors of marauding Kickapoo. I never saw a Kickapoo.
I called the Place where we turned back Honey Grove for the prevalence of Bee Trees.
I have spent my Life moving to Unnamed Places and naming them.
Except that later on an Indian would tell me they already had a Name for that Place.
I wonder what I will feel like when all the Places are named.
The Girl said, & then there’ll still be Places inside yer Head that have No Names.
She has a handsome Face, with a slight Squint that makes her look thoughtful, a strange blue Tint to the Whites of her Eyes and Irises black as Currants.
She said her Name among the Indians was Leave Not A Shadow Behind.
To civilized Ears it sounds like you know what.
DOUGLAS GLOVER has published four novels, five story collections, and three works of nonfiction. In 2005 his novel Elle was a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. In 2003 he won the Governor-General's Award for Fiction. His most recent book is Savage Love (short stories, 2013). He edited the annual Best Canadian Stories from 1996 to 2006. He published the literary magazine Numéro Cinq from 2010-2017.