Staking a homestead claim in the untamed Canadian frontier of the 1880s was a hard proposition. When the manager of a large cattle company, Portis Martin, runs roughshod over the settlers, Hank James takes a stand.
Martin had been using every trick he knew against the homesteaders, but then James and his partner arrive to take him on.
Fighting against the land-grabbing cattle company, James decides he wants it all, including the woman he loves. He finds Sharon calling herself Miss Sadie and running a bordello. The true grit of Western settlers is tested in this historic saga.
After we had turned our horses into one of the corrals, I said, “A lady we knew over in Farwell came down this way last fall. Name of Sharon Dalton. Wouldn’t mind talkin’ to her while we’re here.”
He screwed his brow into a frown, and then shook his head. “Don’t recollect nobody by that name. Come on the cars?”
I nodded. “First part o’ last September. Good lookin’ lady, maybe five foot six. Dresses pretty well.”
I saw a light in his eyes which quickly went out as he turned off all expression, and then turned away toward his shop. “You might want t’ go down t’ Miss Sadie’s place. Other side o’ the Victoria House, down by the tracks.”
“Much obliged,” I responded, puzzled by his change in attitude.
The Victoria House sat north of the tracks not far from the McLeod Trail. Next to it, and slightly further back from the street was a large, two-story house with a small sign on one of the porch pillars that proclaimed it as “Miss Sadie’s.” We sat our saddles at the hitching rail in front of the Victoria for several moments.
“Looks like a damn cat house,” I observed.
“Yep,” Harry responded.
“Why would he send us to a cat house?” I asked.
“Wouldn’t know,” Harry replied.
“Maybe we should go back an’ ask him.”
“Be easier to ask Miss Sadie.”
We sat there for a few moments while I chewed my mustache. Finally, Harry swung down and flipped his reins over the rail.
“Well?” he asked.
“Ain’t never been in no cat house,” I admitted. I could feel my face turning to a fiery red.
Harry’s usually bland face showed what passed for surprise. “At your age? It’s time to continue your education.” He ducked under the hitch rail and stepped up on the board walk. “Come on. Get down off that horse. It’s not like the place is full of demons.”
“That’s pretty much what my mama claimed,” I responded, then swung down and joined him.
The man who opened the door to our knock had not a hair on his head. It was impossible to guess his age, although I felt he was old. He was large, at least as tall as my own six feet, but weighed more than two hundred pounds and his skin was a light brown, what the southerners call a “high yallar”, and most everyone else calls a black man. He wore pin striped, gray pants, and a fancy brocade vest under a black swallow tail coat.
“May I help you?” he asked, his voice deep and full of British sounds.
I was pretty much speechless. Not only was I upset about entering a house of ill-repute, but I had never seen such a person as stood before us.
“We would like to speak to, uh, the management,” Harry announced.
The big man almost smiled before his face returned to an unreadable mask. “I am the manager.”
Harry did smile. “And quite capable, I’m sure, of dealing with those areas for which you are responsible. However, you are certainly not the person we were instructed to consult.”
The big man’s left eyebrow rose as he stood there blocking the doorway. Finally, he stepped back and to the side, his left hand held palm up toward the interior. “Come in, gentlemen.”
He led us to a well appointed parlor and gestured toward the settee. Gratefully I sat, hoping that I could disappear into the cushions. Harry stood beside me, his hat held before him. When I noticed this I whipped mine off and dropped it in my lap. The big man left through a curtained doorway.
“Very nice,” Harry noted, looking around the room. There was another matching settee and several large, overstuffed chairs. Back in one corner was an upright piano, and on the other side of the room a fireplace.
It was certainly not what I had expected. I thought I would come into a room full of curtained bunks and naked women, but this was a room that might grace some of the finest homes in the east. The lace over the windows made it a little too dark for my taste, but despite that it was probably the nicest room I had ever been in.
“Shoulda cleaned up a bit,” I said, more than a little conscious of my brush scarred chaps, the sweaty band where my gun belt had hung, and the dark stains under the arms of my flannel shirt.
“Yes,” Harry agreed. “Trail dust and sweat does little to improve you.”
The big man came back through the curtains and said, “Miss Sadie will be with you shortly. Would you care for tea?”
“That would be fine,” Harry responded.
“Please, be seated, sir. Make yourself comfortable,” the big man said, then turned and disappeared through the curtains. Harry took one of the overstuffed chairs across a low table from me.
Perhaps ten minutes later the big man returned, his swallow tail coat now replaced by a short, white jacket. He pushed a small cart on which rested a tea service. Harry said later that it wasn’t silver, but it sure looked like it to me. That was my first experience with the ritual that goes with serving tea in genteel society. Thankfully, I had Harry’s example to follow.
We had drained our cups when the lady of the house entered through the curtained doorway. “Dreadfully sorry to keep you waiting, but we don’t usually have guests this early.” she said, stepping forward and extending her hand. “I’m Miss Sadie.”
It was about then that her eyes became accustomed to the light and she recognized me. She stopped and clasped her hands at her waist. The woman who now called herself Miss Sadie was the woman I was looking for, Sharon Dalton.
D.M. McGowan has been a cowboy, forest firefighter, heavy equipment operator, farmhand, gardener, road musician and businessman. He lives with his wife, Karen, and children and grand children in Northern British Columbia, where he works as a commercial driver.