August 2, 1876
A covered wagon rambled through the countryside. Painted across the canvas in black lettering were two words, “Utter Freight.”
Charlie Utter sniffed in the morning air and felt mighty proud of himself. He was a meticulous man, a true believer in the old adage ‘a place for everything and everything in its place.’
The inside of his wagon was immaculate. Boxes, crates, parcels, letters, tools, goods, equipment and supplies all stacked in an orderly manner. The only thing that looked out of place was the woman sleeping on the floor in the middle of all of it.
Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary was a beautiful mess. As she slept, she snored loudly and her mouth was open wide enough for flies to not only buzz into but stay awhile. Her long black hair was a tangled shambles and a strand of it blew up with every exhale and fell down with every inhale.
Her hat had fallen underneath the back of her head and was getting crushed. A cord fastened to it dangled around her neck, keeping it from getting lost.
She wore a white shirt, black vest, trousers, leather riding chaps with fringe on the sides and boots with spurs. Two six-shooters were holstered on either side of her belt. A rifle wasn’t far out of her reach.
And much to Charlie’s dismay, she clutched a nearly empty whiskey bottle under her arm as if it were a teddy bear.
Charlie, in contrast, was a teetotaler. He never drank anything stronger than coffee and wore a very clean outfit. His coat and pants were both made out of buckskin, which he washed regularly, whether it stank or not, a practice that was simply unheard of at the time.
He kept his blonde hair slicked back with pomade and shaved daily, again, another rarity in those days.
Charlie’s black haired brother, Stephen, was wide-awake and sat up front to keep him company.
“I have to say it, Charlie,” Stephen said. “I thought you were exaggerating in your letter, but you have truly made something of yourself out here.”
“I told you I wasn’t just whistling Dixie,” Charlie replied. “Fully established delivery route between Deadwood and Cheyenne. I can’t keep up with the demand. I need to start running a second wagon and I’d rather keep the business in the family. You say the word and that wagon is yours.”
Stephen took a swig of water out of a canteen. “I might just take you up on that.”
The sun rose higher in the sky as Charlie’s horses trotted onward.
“Charlie,” Stephen said. “This probably isn’t any of my business…”
“Let me stop you right there,” Charlie said. “If you have to say it probably isn’t any of your business then it definitely isn’t your business.”
“Even so,” Stephen said. “This arrangement you have with your partners…”
“What about it?” Charlie asked.
“You’re the only one doing any work,” Stephen said. “Seems to me like you’re being horn swaggled.”
“Oh,” Charlie said. “Don’t concern yourself. I haven’t made a bad deal yet.”
Stephen peaked into the back of the wagon. Jane was busily scratching herself in inappropriate places.
“She looks like a bad deal to me,” Stephen said.
“Who?” Charlie asked. “Jane? She’s my muscle.”
Stephen laughed and laughed hard. “Oh. Oh that was funny. Come on. What’s she really do?”
“I told you,” Charlie said.
“Are you two some kind of item or something?” Stephen asked.
“No,” Charlie said.
“I won’t tell Louise,” Stephen said.
“Tell her whatever you want,” Charlie said. “There’s nothing like that going on.”
“Then what is she here for?” Stephen asked.
“Sometimes on the trail you run across people who need to be shot,” Charlie explained. “Jane shoots them for me. She’s my bodyguard. Simple as that.”
“Fine,” Stephen said. “Keep pulling my leg all day then. But what about Hickok?”
“What about him?” Charlie asked.
“He’s not even here,” Stephen said. “How does he earn his keep?”
“That’s a longer story,” Charlie said. “You see…”
Charlie held that thought as he spotted half a dozen riders lined up on a hilltop off in the distance. One of them peered right at Charlie’s wagon through a spy glass for a moment, then collapsed it. As soon as he did, all six riders made their way down the hill.
“Tarnation,” Charlie said.
“What?” Stephen asked.
“It’s not good,” Charlie answered. “Jane!”
Charlie snapped the reigns. His horses picked up speed. The riders fanned out and flanked the wagon. Two on the left. Two on the right. Two at the back.
“Jane!” Charlie shouted even louder this time.
The bodyguard was lost in a deep sleep.
The riders opened fire. Bullets tore through the canvas.
Charlie drew his pistol but the trigger, the hammer, all the different parts…it was too confusing for him. He only really carried it to complete his frontiersman look. He passed it off to his brother.
“Here. Shoot someone will you? Jane!”
Stephen took aim at one of the riders and fired a shot but missed.
“Jane!” Charlie shouted. “There’s bandits trying to kill us! I need you to look alive!”
Inside the wagon, a bullet tore through a barrel of beer, causing a steady stream to trickle out onto Jane’s head. She sat right up and poked her head out through the front of the wagon.
“Hey you horse’s ass!” Jane shouted. “There’s bandits trying to kill us! You think you might have told me!”
Based on many, many past experiences with Jane, Charlie knew better than to argue.
“My mistake,” Charlie said as he ducked his head down and snapped the reigns again. “Think you can do something about it?”
Back in the wagon, Jane gulped the last bit of whiskey, then picked up her rifle. “For fuck’s sake, I have to do everything around here.”
Jane took a position at the back of the wagon and picked off one bandit, landing a bullet in his head that knocked him off his horse. She pulled the lever on her rifle to load up another bullet and was about to take another shot when…
The second bandit riding behind the wagon cracked a whip that curled around Jane’s legs.
“Oh don’t you fucking dare,” Jane shouted.
The bandit, a particularly grizzly looking fiend with a scarred up face, smiled then pulled back on the whip and yanked Jane clear out of the back of the wagon.
As Jane’s arms flailed about wildly, she dropped her rifle. She soared through the air until she hit the ground hard only to find herself being dragged across the rocky ground at a rapid speed by a gruesome fellow who wasn’t too concerned about her well-being.
Stephen took a few more shots at the bandits on the right side of the wagon, then looked back.
“Charlie! You just lost your bodyguard!”