On a quiet day in February of 1873, Dr. Nathan Pruitt, thirty-two, was updating his journal. As he looked through it he found the entries he had made just a few months before moving to the San Joaquin Valley and making the acquaintance of people such as Dr. Sam Jenkins, Murdoch Lancer and his sons – Johnny and Scott, the Portillo, Mays and Millar families and, most of all, the Talbots who treated him as though he were one of their sons that they had lost in the war. As he read he realized that he wouldn’t trade all the wealth, position and prestige of Philadelphia for the whole San Joaquin Valley…
August 1, 1872
There was yet another fundraiser for the hospital last night. This one was held at the Girard House. The only reason many of my peers go there is because of the elaborate bar the owner has created out of the old one. If I want to see heavy mahogany furniture and the like I’ll come home. Anthony Drake made an absolute fool of himself with the amount of liquor he consumed and Paul Henderson practically assaulted the wife of a guest. Dr. Webster and I had to forcibly remove him from her presence and put him in a cab to take him home. I’m so tired of this nonsense!
August 2, 1872
The head administrator of St. George’s called Anthony and Paul on the carpet this morning. I hear it didn’t go too well for them at all. Anthony has been told to lay off the liquor when he’s at these parties and Paul was told that he’s fortunate the woman he assaulted didn’t press charges. I’m afraid that if they mess up one more time they’re going to find themselves out of jobs. It’s not the first time that Anthony has been known to drink too much and Paul thinks too much of himself where the ladies are concerned. It’s a shame because, when they’re sober, they’re darned good doctors!
August 10, 1872
Yet another fundraiser last night. I know the hospital needs money but I wish they wouldn’t always require my presence. It’s my family connections I’m afraid. The hospital administrator, Mr. Norman, seems to think that my being related to the Drexels and the Biddles automatically means that they’ll support the hospital just because I work there. If that were true I’d be able to skip out on the fundraisers by sending a note to my relatives asking them to support St. George’s. I won’t do that though. I refuse to capitalize on my family connections.
August 15, 1872
I’m absolutely exhausted. For the last five days Mother has had one dinner party after another and expected me to be my “most charming self” at all of them. It’s hard to be charming when the young ladies she invites – minus their parents – are empty-headed society girls looking for a husband with a good name and a fat bank account! I just can’t get through to mother that these girls are of no interest to me! I wish I could just throw it all away and become a hermit!
Mrs. Appleton and her daughter, Jessica, came into my office today. I’ve about had it with these foolish women and their corsets! Jessica was having fainting spells Mrs. Appleton says. No wonder she was having fainting spells – she, and her mother, insist on being cinched in those whalebone stays until they can hardly breathe. Yet if I suggest that they not tighten their corsets so much they look at me as if I had two heads! What good is it to be a doctor if your patients don’t take your advice?
August 20, 1872
Mother had another one of her dreary dinner parties last night. Most of the guests were eligible young ladies of “good family” as she puts it. I detest these parties and I’ve done my best to avoid them but if I do it too many times Mother either becomes angry or she gets weepy. I try telling her that I’m not interested in these girls because they only want to marry me for my money or the prestige of being a doctor’s wife but that doesn’t do any good. Mother thinks I need to marry one of these girls because marrying into their families would be good for my career. She just doesn’t get it. I wish I could just throw it all away and move somewhere far away from Philadelphia!
August 27, 1872
If it’s not one of Mother’s dinner parties it’s a trip to the opera. I hate opera!
Mother insisted that I take Eleanor King to the opera last night. She made arrangements for our box to be empty and available and told the girl that I would pick her up at 6PM since the opera started at 7. As usual Eleanor was late and we were late arriving at the theater. The only good thing about that is that we missed the entire first act so the evening went by fairly quickly. I dropped Eleanor at her home around 10:30 and went straight to bed when I got in. I was scheduled to go on duty at 7AM and that means being out of bed by 5:30 so that I have time to clean up, eat and get dressed before reporting for my shift. These late nights are wearing me down and I’m so wound up when I get home that I can’t get to sleep for at least an hour if not more. This has got to stop!
August 30, 1872
More of Mother’s endless parties. This time we – she, father and myself – went to dinner at the Steens’ and to see Jerome Perry in Hamlet at the theater. Mother invited the Stanleys to join us, which meant having to listen to Catherine’s incessant giggle all night. If she wasn’t giggling she was clinging to my arm during the sword fights. I think I’m going to have bruises for a month where she held me so tightly! It’s not worth it to say anything to Mother but Jerome Perry isn’t that good of an actor. I think Father agrees with me but he, too, gets tired of ruffling Mother’s feathers.
September 1, 1872
A fund raising auction for the hospital was held at the Appletons’ last night. Jessica insisted on my being her escort – as if she needed one in her own home. She kept plying me with drinks and those stupid little sandwiches and cookies all night. I practically got sick eating them all but good manners insists that I make the effort. I wish she’d turn her attentions to some other victim!
September 5, 1872
No more fund raisers for a while. The well to do families are getting tired of them and they’re gearing up for the big social season which will start at Thanksgiving. Mother is making all sorts of plans for dinner parties and trips to the theater and such. I’m trying to find a way to get out of them.
September 15, 1872
I’ve been so busy, and tired, that I haven’t had any time to write. There was an outbreak of typhoid fever in the poorest part of the city. Hundreds of people were afflicted and many died. All we really know about this terrible disease is that it thrives in the dirtiest parts of the city but it plays no favorites with victims. Both old and young are affected. It was a tragic time.
September 27, 1872
Mother is having a dinner party – again. This time I begged off by telling her – and father – that I was exhausted and had a headache. I wasn’t lying either. I’m exhausted from dealing with emergencies at the hospital and the constant flow of women in tight corsets that won’t listen to me when I tell them they’re endangering their health by cinching themselves in so tight. And I’m sick of society matrons throwing their daughters at me!
I know I have a good family background – in Philadelphia society it’s a very good thing to be related to the Drexels and the Biddles and Penns but I don’t want to marry a girl who wants me only for my family background or my supposed prestige in the medical field. When, and if, I marry it will be for love! Why can’t I get Mother to understand?
September 28, 1872
I found the most interesting advertisement in the Philadelphia Gazette last night. I was catching up on my reading – something that has been happening too much lately but can’t be helped between work and Mother’s parties – and I found an advertisement for a doctor to take a partnership in a practice in a place called Morro Coyo, California. I’m going to write a letter expressing my interest and asking for more details before I go down to breakfast in the morning. I’m sure Mr. Shaughnessy won’t mind mailing it for me when he drops me off at the hospital in the morning. I’ll just have to swear him to secrecy until I hear back from this Mr. Lancer. Actually, I’m going to send a telegram instead. I want to make sure I get my name in quickly.
September 30, 1872
I received a reply to my telegram of inquiry. I would have sent a letter but it would have taken too long. It seems that Mr. Lancer is on a committee to find a partner for their doctor. It’s to be a surprise but from what I gather Dr. Samuel Jenkins is the only doctor for Morro Coyo and two other towns, Spanish Wells and Green River. He also tends to the farmers and ranchers who live in that part of the San Joaquin Valley. They’re quite interested in seeing my credentials and hear from me as to why I’d like the job – especially as it’s so far from home. If they only knew how interested I am! I don’t want to sound too eager because they might get the wrong idea but this job could be the answer to my prayers and an escape from a life of misery in this city!
October 2, 1872
I’ve just received a telegram telling me that the job is mine. Now to break the news to Mother and Father. I’m not worried about Father, but Mother is going to be very upset that I’ve decided to leave Philadelphia. She has such hopes and dreams for me but they’re hers and not mine. I’ll tell them right after dinner tonight.
Later that night.
Well, the worst is over. I broke the news to them. Father took it very well. He’s always been more on my side anyway and I believe he gets as tired of Mother’s constant entertaining as I do. More so, perhaps, because he’s not allowed to have any input as to the guest list. Mother, on the other hand, practically fainted when I told her I was leaving. Things will be a bit tense around here until I actually leave. She’s absolutely furious with me and thinks I’m throwing my life away by leaving my practice here.
October 5, 1872
I’ve been too busy to write anything for three days. I tendered my resignation at the hospital the day after I got the telegram from Mr. Lancer. I’ve spent the last three days cleaning out my office and doing my packing. Mr. Lancer wired me the money to make my travel arrangements. I’ll be traveling by train most of the way and one of Mr. Lancer’s sons will meet me at a place called Cross Creek once I arrive in California. I’m planning on making a stopover in San Francisco to do some purchasing of medical supplies. I don’t know what Dr. Jenkins has to work with and I’d like to be well prepared to contribute to the partnership right from the start.
Mother still isn’t happy and keeps reminding me what I’m giving up by leaving my home here, in Philadelphia. To her that means I’m going out in the wilderness and facing savages and wild animals. To me it’s freedom that I’m facing. Freedom from Mother’s constant entertaining and matchmaking.
I am curious about what lies ahead of me. I plan on doing some research before I leave. I want to know all I can about what is to be my new home.
October 8, 1872
My packing is done. I have all my train tickets, my itinerary and timetable. Mr. Shaughnessy will drive me to the station in the morning. I’ve said good-bye to all the neighbors who really matter plus the relatives. Saying good-bye to Mother, and Father, in the morning won’t be easy I’m sure. I’m almost homesick but I long for the adventure of this trip and the opportunity that it presents.
October 9, 1872
It was difficult to say good-bye to everyone in the household. Mrs. Garrity, our cook, and Ellen, the housekeeper, were very upset to see me go. Mrs. Garrity packed a picnic basket with enough food to feed a regiment. What we wouldn’t have given, during those war years, to have this food at the hospital for our wounded men! There are ham sandwiches, a jar of pickles, corn muffins, roast beef sandwiches, fresh bread, a crock of sweet butter that she bought from one of the farmers who comes into the market every week…She actually blushed, like a schoolgirl, when I kissed her cheek to thank her. Ellen did as well.
Mother is angry and weeping at the same time. She says I’m throwing away my career and ruining her plans. I’m sure Father told her that her plans are not my plans and, since I’m a grown man, she’s got to let go and let me find my own way in the world. I’m not a child any more. I trust Father to stand up for me now.
I took a last walk through the house before going outside. I will, to some extent, miss the mahogany furniture, the velvet drapes, the many fireplaces – my favorite is the red brick one in the study, truth be told, and not the Vermont marble one in the parlor. I ran my fingers over the solid oak table in the dining room and ran my hand down the railing on the marble staircase in the front hall. I went to the attic to “visit” my old toys. Who knows? Maybe I’ll meet some wonderful young woman in California and finally get married and have a family. Although I’m sure Mother wouldn’t approve unless she’s got a pedigree a mile long.
Outside I kissed Mother good-bye one last time and shook hands with Father. Father surprised me by engulfing me in a bear hug. He told me to write as often as I can and declared that if he were a few years younger he’d sell the house, pack up and move out to California with me. He also says he’s too old for that now. I told him that was nonsense.
I had a cab drive me to the station. It’s quite chilly and I don’t want Mr. Shaughnessy to wait around, in the cold, until the train pulls out. That’s exactly what he’d do, too.
The cabbie saw to it that my luggage was loaded properly on the baggage car. I gave the man ten dollars for being so careful and helpful. I’ve dealt with this particular cab driver in the past and he’s always been fair, honest and decent.
October 10, 1872
The train left Philadelphia at 9AM yesterday morning. I boarded at 8:30. I will miss some things about Philadelphia but I do feel that I’m needed in Morro Coyo and that I have a calling, from God, to move on to California. It’s said that Florence Nightingale heard a similar calling – that to be a nurse – for years before she finally convinced her family that it was what she should do. I can sympathize. Father may be on my side about this change but Mother is definitely against it.
October 11, 1872
The train is moving through the Midwest now. We’ve passed many farms with their white houses, red barns and pastures full of dairy cattle. I’ve seen many fields of corn, that have been harvested, the farther west we travel. Their now dark green and dried stalks stand in the fields with their leaves blowing in the breeze.
October 22, 1872
What I wouldn’t pay for a nice hot bath and a soft bed! The smoke, and cinders, from the train’s smokestack sting my eyes, blacken my face and clothes and cause everyone difficulties in breathing when it sneaks into the coaches. The problem is, that when we close the windows, it becomes unbearable. The smell of the privy at the end of the car, cigar and cigarette smoke (the pipe smoke isn’t quite as bad if the gentleman smoking it has decent tobacco) plus the variety of food smells and unwashed bodies makes for a very unpleasant atmosphere. When I arrive in California I think I’ll disappear into a bathtub and not come out for days except to drain the cold water and refill the tub with steaming hot!
October 25, 1872
We ran into trouble in Nebraska. They haven’t had much rain since the beginning of August and no snow yet so the ground was pretty dry. A dust storm stopped the train for three hours until it blew itself out. We stopped at this little town about fifty miles from Omaha. The conductor said that we were going to be there long enough to get a meal while the train stocked up on firewood and water again. There was supposed to be an overnight stay in Omaha but now they’re not sure. They’re worried about snow when we get into the mountains. If it’s too heavy, they say, we could be stuck until spring. I think I’ll send Mr. Lancer a telegram and let him know the progress we’re making. I wouldn’t want someone to show up looking for me only to find that the train isn’t running because of the weather conditions.
October 27, 1872
We made it to Omaha and, thankfully, we are staying overnight. The passengers, and crew, are exhausted and some of us are not in the best of moods. Some of the men were playing poker and the one who lost the most money (this is what I heard) wasn’t happy about it. He thought he’d been cheated and started a fight, which almost ended up in a stabbing. I was about to step in when a tall man wearing the rough clothes of a cowboy got between the fighters and knocked the knife away. I have my bag with me, of course, but I’m not prepared to do the kind of work that would have been required if that cowboy hadn’t broken up the fight. A train is no place to try and perform surgery and we were miles from the nearest town when it happened.
October 28, 1872
Yet another delay. This time it was for a tremendously large herd of buffalo. The ground under the train trembled like an earthquake as thousands of the large shaggy beasts went across the tracks. The dust was so thick from their passing that we had to close the windows on the train so we wouldn’t suffocate.
The conductor told me that there used to be millions of these animals living on the plains. The Indians, such as the Sioux, lived off of the meat and used virtually every part of the animal for food, shelter or clothing. Perhaps even for weapons.
I’m told that they could well be on their way to extinction, though. A good hide sells, in Dodge City, for $3.00. A very good hide sells for up to $50.
The army, in an effort to weaken the Indians encourages the destruction of these animals. The railroad is happy to see them destroyed because of the damage they have done to some of the locomotives. There is an Army scout, by the name of Bill Cody, who has killed many of the buffalo himself – just for the hides. Or maybe it was for the meat. I’ve heard conflicting stories but one thing they all agree on is that he killed 5,000 buffalo in 18 months. What they didn’t take – generally the meat – was left to rot while the hides were shipped to Dodge. I remember reading that Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich, of Russia, was taken on a game hunt by this Mr. Cody. I don’t recall how many buffalo they took down but any buffalo they shot just for the pleasure of killing one or for the hide, while leaving the meat to rot, is just plain sinful in my opinion!
November 1, 1872
We stopped at a small town on the Nebraska/Iowa state line last night. A storm had gone through and some of the track was washed away. We had to change trains and detour north in order to catch a train that will take us to Sacramento. I’m told it will be another week before we actually get there. I’ve taken the precaution of wiring Mr. Lancer again of my progress. I hope Dr. Jenkins is all right. I had the impression that the people of Morro Coyo, and the surrounding area, were quite concerned about him.
November 10, 1872
Finally! I’ve changed trains for the last time. We did run into a little snow as we climbed up into the mountains but nothing like it could have been. If all goes well I will be in Morro Coyo about six weeks before Christmas. I did some Christmas shopping in Omaha and sent gifts home to Mother, Father and some friends. For Mother there is some fine stationary that was imported from England. For Father I found a copy of Mark Twain’s The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. I’m sure he’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of that fanciful story – he always did have a good sense of humor.
Some of my friends are receiving gifts that are unique to the areas I’ve passed through. There is a nice warm Indian blanket for Mr. Shaughnessy to wrap around himself in the cold weather as he waits for Father outside the bank or the theater (when one can persuade Father to go to the theater that is). It’s quite thick and warm and I’m sure Mr. Shaughnessy’s old bones (as he calls them) will appreciate it.
I found some nice lace collars for Mrs. Garrity and Ellen. They took such good care of me, and my parents, all those years that I wanted to do something special for them. I can hear Mrs. Garrity scolding me for spending that kind of money on an old woman who never goes anywhere but she can wear it to church if nothing else. Ellen will mist up I’m sure.
November 12, 1872
San Francisco at last! I plan on spending the night at the Lick House. I’m told it’s one of the fanciest hotels in the city. It’ll be a treat to enjoy, and remember, for a long time. Starting out in private practice in an area surrounded by ranches and small farms won’t allow me to spend this kind of money very often. Right now I’m looking forward to a hot bath, a filling meal and a soft bed. First thing in the morning I catch the train to Cross Creek. I intend to send Mr. Lancer a telegram informing him that I have arrived in San Francisco and he can plan my transportation from there according to the train schedule..
November 13, 1872
I arrived at the station in Cross Creek at around 11:15AM. I was approached by a tall young man – about my own age – who introduced himself as Scott Lancer. He is not, however, the Mr. Lancer with whom I’ve been corresponding. It seems that there are three of them – Scott, his brother Johnny and his father, Murdoch Lancer.
Scott is tall with ash blond hair and blue-gray eyes. He carries himself very erect. He has a hint of a New England accent in his voice. When I asked him about it he told me that he has only been in California a couple of years. His maternal grandfather, Harlan Garrett, raised him in Boston. Scott came west, at his father’s summons, partly out of curiosity and in part to help his father fight off some men he calls “land pirates”. He explained to me that these men were employing every dirty trick in the book – including rape and murder – to take over all the land in this part of the San Joaquin Valley. Fortunately the ranchers were able to defeat this Day Pardee person and peace reigns over the territory – more or less anyway.
November 14, 1872
Scott Lancer took me to stay with the Jim and Maura Talbot, yesterday. When he told me “one does not argue with Mrs. Talbot once her mind is made up” I had a completely different idea of what the lady in question would look like. I had envisioned a tall, rawboned, florid faced woman in her fifties with a voice like a harpy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Mrs. Talbot is short and petite with red hair and brown eyes. Her quiet voice still retains a trace of Ireland in it though it’s been years since she was there. She, and her husband, welcomed me with open arms. Immediately I was shown to a spare room – one that once belonged to her son, Kendall. Scott explained to me that the Talbots’ three sons, Kendall, Rory and Blair, were lost in the war. All three are buried in a small graveyard on the Bar T.
November 15, 1872
After giving me a snack to tide me over until supper Mrs. Talbot had her husband bring water up from the stove and fill the tub that was already in place in the bedroom, so that I could have a bath.
Mr. Talbot is tall – about as tall as I am – with blond hair that has a touch of gray at the temples. He tells me that he and Mrs. Talbot are originally from Massachusetts themselves – the Sturbridge area in the south central part of the state. He has just a trace of a New England accent for he’s been here for almost forty years now. He has blue-gray eyes that sparkle with mirth when teasing his wife or talking about Johnny Lancer. When he looks at his wife, however, it’s very easy to see the love in his heart for her. I understand, from Scott, that they were married just before they moved out here.
Their oldest son, Kendall, would be thirty-six. The Talbots keep pictures of the boys – taken just before they went off to war – in their parlor. It’s a shame that color photography doesn’t exist because these boys look mighty fine in their suits. I understand that Rory, their middle son, was a redhead like his mother. Kendall was a strawberry blond. His blond hair, from what I’m told, had coppery highlights in it and Blair’s was just blond – a honey color Scott told me. He learned all this from his father who knew the boys very well.
The tub that was set up in my room may have been a small, galvanized metal tub but it was sheer bliss to soak in it and wash away the dust and coal smoke from that last train trip and the wagon ride from Cross Creek to the Bar T. After that, and a short nap, it was time for supper.
Later that night
Not since I left Philadelphia have I had such a sumptuous meal! Mrs. Talbot is a marvelous cook! She served a pork roast that was extremely tender. There were mashed potatoes and gravy, beets and corn and a peach pie for dessert. I swear that pie just melted in my mouth! Mrs. Talbot kept at me until I’d had at least two large helpings of everything including the pie. She says I’m too skinny – just like Scott – and she’s going to work on that.
After dinner the Talbots and I got acquainted over coffee. I told them some of my life in Philadelphia and my service as an army doctor during the war and they told me about some of the people who will become my patients. I’m told that each of the three towns – Morro Coyo, Spanish Wells and Green River have their own sheriff.
Sheriff Jayson of Morro Coyo, I’m told, is a nice enough person but not the most effective lawman in the world. But he’s honest and Mr. Talbot says that finding an honest lawman can be difficult in this part of the country. I told him to rest assured – it’s not a problem unique to California. Philadelphia has plenty of crooked police officers.
Sheriff Gabe, of Spanish Wells, is effective and honest. Mr. Talbot described him as being around 40 – 45 years of age with brown hair and a moustache. An honest man and a good lawman. He’s said to be tough but fair.
As for Sheriff Crawford of Green River …Mr. Talbot could scarcely contain his mirth as he told me about him. Crotchety as an old man with messy dark hair and normally unshaven and disheveled. He’s also completely buffaloed by Mrs. Talbot – whatever she wants he gets her or does for her. But he also said that Val Crawford is honest as the day is long and also one of Johnny Lancer’s best friends. He’s been the victim of more than one of the stunts that Johnny and his three best buddies have pulled.
I must admit that I am intrigued and look forward to meeting these gentlemen.
November 18, 1872
It’s late at night but I must write about my meeting Scott’s family. Mr. Lancer is a tall man – very tall. He must stand about 6’4” - maybe even 6’5! He has a rather deep voice with no trace of an accent for all he tells me he’s a Scottish immigrant. His hair is pretty much all gray and he has blue eyes the same as Scott only a different shade of blue. Not a real dark blue but not the blue-gray that Scott’s are either. Standing next to him makes me feel like a child! He gives me the impression of being very smart, very driven and fairly well educated. He told me that one of his favorite books is The Iliad by Homer. Not what I expected a prominent cattleman to be fond of reading I must say!
Scott’s brother, Johnny, is somewhat shorter than he is and much shorter than their father. Without actually measuring him I would have to guess that he stands about 5’10”. He has dark hair, is darker complected than Scott and has eyes the color of Mother’s sapphire ring. I’m told that Johnny’s mother was a Mexican woman, which accounts for the difference in the brothers’ complexions. Scott told me that his own mother, a beautiful young Boston socialite, died in childbirth and that his father married Johnny’s mother a few years later.
Johnny’s only in his mid-twenties but he seems so much older. And yet he also seems younger. I’ve been warned that he, and his three buddies, not only eat Mrs. Talbot out of house and home when they’re at the Bar T but they have a reputation as the biggest jokers in town. Scott tells me that he refers to them as the Prankster Posse and, that whatever Johnny doesn’t dream up his buddy Kevin Millar will. The other two, Willie Mays and Rico Portillo seem to willingly go along with just about anything those two come up with. During the course of our conversation Johnny asked me if I’ve ever gone hunting. I told him I have and his eyes lit up. From what Scott has told me about Johnny’s penchant for practical jokes I wonder if I should be concerned about this.
Teresa O’Brien is Mr. Lancer’s ward. Scott told me, on our ride to the Bar T, that Teresa’s father had been murdered by the land pirates he told me about on the ride from Cross Creek. He and Mr. Lancer had ridden into Morro Coyo to look for a stolen horse and they were ambushed. Mr. Lancer was very ill for a long time after that and Mr. O’Brien was killed. Miss Teresa stayed by Mr. Lancer’s side until he recovered and was the one who met the boys in Morro Coyo when they answered their father’s summons. I do wonder, from what Scott told me about these “land pirates” what Mr. Lancer was thinking of – sending an innocent young girl into town with just a couple of cowhands to protect her. When I get to know him better I may just ask him that question.
I gather that the boys, Scott and Johnny, treat Teresa like a kid sister. She’s about eighteen or nineteen with long dark hair and big brown eyes. She positively blushed when I kissed her hand when we were introduced. I guess she doesn’t get much of that treatment from the men in the valley. I shall have to do my best to make her feel like a lady.
Maria Delgado is their housekeeper. I hear that Johnny calls her Mamacita, which I understand translates roughly as “little mother” or “Mommy”. She’s a wonderful and warm person who works hard to take care of the Lancers. She does the majority of the cooking and housekeeping but Miss Teresa helps out. Miss Teresa, from what I gather, also likes to be out on the range on horseback. Mrs. Delgado speaks English quite well but definitely has a bit of an accent.
November 19, 1872
Scott drove me into Morro Coyo today to meet with Dr. Jenkins. On the way in he told me some delightful stories about his brother and the Prankster Posse. It seems that these young men went around moving scarecrows, lighting jack o’lanterns in abandoned buildings, swapped clothing for things that were either too large or too small for the victim, put Kevin’s father’s prize bull up in the hayloft and all sorts of things. I think I shall have to be on my toes when I’m around those young men – they sound pretty sneaky!
The stores we passed are all cleaned up and decorated for Christmas. Even the jail has a wreath – courtesy of Mrs. Talbot. Scott laughs when he tells me that Mrs. Talbot has Sheriff Crawford so scared that he wouldn’t dare remove that wreath no matter how much he might hate it. He also says that the man is truly touched that Mrs. Talbot thinks so much of him that he was asked to stand in for one of her sons when they recently dedicated a small library in their memory. Johnny and Scott stood in for the other two. I shall have to visit this library and contribute to it. I’m sure Father won’t mind buying books for me in Philadelphia and sending them to me here. I believe in encouraging people – especially children – to broaden their horizons by reading. I’m thinking that Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens and Shakespeare will be good additions if they don’t already have them.
November 20, 1872
I have finally met the man with whom I will be sharing the practice. Dr. Samuel Jenkins is in his fifties, tall and a bit stooped with graying dark hair and kind eyes that don’t miss a lot. We had a long chat in regard to my education and qualifications. He told me that hiring me was a “conspiracy” to give him what his friends think he needs most for Christmas – a partner. Thus I am Dr. Jenkins’ Christmas present for 1872 from the people of this part of the San Joaquin Valley
Dr. Jenkins – I can’t bring myself to call him “Sam” as it goes against the way I was raised – introduced me to some of his patients as they came to welcome me to the valley.
The first people I met, though, aren’t just patients. They’re the famous – or should I say infamous – Prankster Posse. Rico Portillo is a young Mexican man around the same age as Johnny Lancer. I understand that he is part of a large family. His father is a master carpenter and wood carver. His mother sometimes works as a housekeeper for people such as the Lancers or the Talbots but generally stays home to look after her large brood. Dr. Jenkins informs me that Mr. Portillo made his desk and the bookshelves that line the wall of the living room. Rico’s thick dark hair is cut short and he does not use any kind of hair tonic or grease to keep it in place. He says it’s partly because he doesn’t always have the money for it – he contributes most of his pay toward supporting the family – and, quite frankly, he just doesn’t like the stuff. I told him I feel the same way.
Willie Mays is a young Negro the same age as Johnny and Rico. He’s quite tall, has close cropped wiry black hair and black eyes. When he smiles his whole face lights up. Willie tells me that he is one of three children. His siblings, Jimmy and Cecelia, who goes by Cece most of the time, are quite a bit younger. Willie’s father is a blacksmith. Willie’s mother takes care of the house and sometimes works out as a housekeeper or a nurse though she has no formal training. Like Mrs. Talbot (Dr. Jenkins told me this about them) she has a natural talent for it and healing hands.
November 20, 1872
The weather has turned damp and rainy. I remember reading, before I made the decision to come out here, that winter in this part of California is cool and damp with the much needed rain, for livestock, people and crops, coming in the winter months. It’s not winter yet but Scott tells me it’s not unusual for the rain to start in November.
Dr. Jenkins and I made several house calls to some of the local families. The Pittmans have a number of children including twin boys. All of them, especially little Holly with her long brown braids, are cute and well behaved. The family is not well off financially but they have something much more important – love. Mrs. Pittman raves about the Lancers and the Talbots. It seems that their son, Tim, won a scholarship to further his education. Tim, they say, hasn’t quite made up his mind what he wants to do but he is leaning toward law right now. However, he works hard and sends what money he doesn’t need, back to his family.
We also visited Agatha Conway-Addison’s ranch to check up on a cowboy with a broken leg. I’m happy to find that the patient is doing quite well.
We also visited several new mothers and paid a call at the Green River jail where Sheriff Crawford was holding men he’d arrested in a brawl early this morning who needed tending to for cuts and bruises. None of the injuries were terribly serious but Sheriff Crawford looks out for his prisoners when they’re locals and not some out of town troublemaker.
November 23, 1872
It’s been a very busy few days. A couple of saloon brawls with injuries - a pregnant woman who went into labor on the stage and was brought into the office – Mother and son are doing fine - and a workman who had an accident at a construction site.
Dr. Jenkins’ housekeeper recently quit so Mrs. Mays and Mrs. Portillo have been taking turns coming in and seeing that the house, and office, are cleaned up and that we have decent meals to eat without spending what little cash we have by going to one of the restaurants or cantinas in the area. The little cantina down the street is nice but it’s going to take me a while to get used to the spicy food. Scott tells me that he still can’t quite get used to it and drinks a lot of milk to kill the burning sensation in his mouth. Johnny laughs at him and tells him he ought to be used to it by now.
November 25, 1872
Several of the expectant mothers in the area went into labor the last couple of days. No sooner had I safely delivered Mrs. Ryan of a daughter when Mrs. Kennedy went into labor with triplets! The Ryans have two sons and now a daughter while the Kennedy’s, with the addition of three sons, have six boys and four girls. I have to wonder how they manage so many children! It’s hard for me to imagine my mother, who lost several children before I was born, managing more than one. Maybe that’s why I’m so close to Mrs. Garrity and the others, they were more motherly, and patient with me than my own mother. I do love Mother – it’s just that her endless matchmaking and dinner parties wore me down.
November 26, 1872
A nice quiet day. No emergencies. Several patients came in to make payments on their bills. Scott and Johnny Lancer were in town so we went out to lunch at the cantina together. Scott and I both requested much milder versions of the chili and such that Johnny ordered. One thing I don’t need is an upset stomach from too much spice that I’m not accustomed to. I’ve got the night duty tonight so that Dr. Jenkins can relax and get a good night’s sleep. It’s my week for it but I hope nothing comes up because I’m still adjusting to the weather, the climate and the lack of amenities. The last part doesn’t really bother me but it’s still something I have to get used to. Of course, if I don’t attend an opera for the next six months or so it’s not going to break my heart – and in order to do so anyway I’d have to travel all the way to San Francisco. I don’t plan on doing any traveling like that unless it’s to purchase medical supplies.
November 27, 1872
Got called out on an emergency call last night and lost my first patient since coming to California. It was an elderly lady – a Mrs. Tabitha Greenwell – who had been sick for many years. Dr. Jenkins told me not to take it to heart for there wasn’t really anything we could have done for her. He was surprised she lasted as long as she did for she’s had pneumonia and influenza and spells with her heart for twenty years. He reassured me that it wasn’t anything I did, or didn’t do, it was just her time to go. Her husband died five years ago and she was very lonely without him.
November 28, 1872
I was called out to the Lancers' late yesterday afternoon. It seems that Johnny took a rather nasty fall while breaking horses. Back in Philadelphia horses are already “broken” though there is always the possibility of getting what Scott says is called an “outlaw” - a horse that refuses to obey a human no matter what.
Johnny isn't hurt very badly but I want him to take it easy for a few days. I don't quite understand the looks his father and brother exchanged when I said that. Surely Johnny knows how to obey doctor's orders!
November 30, 1872
I've been quite busy wandering the countryside checking on patients. When I got to Lancer I found Johnny on top of a bucking horse. Not exactly what I told him to do! When I confronted him about it he said he felt “fine”.
After I bawled him out I went to the house to speak to his father only to find that Mr. Lancer, and Scott, were not at home. They were driving to Cross Creek to meet the train and pick up some special items they ordered for Christmas. I left Mr. Lancer a note explaining that I wanted to speak to him about Johnny and how he disobeyed my orders. All I got from the ranch hands was that it was “normal” for Johnny to do as he pleases. Too many years on his own with nobody to answer to. Well I'll “normal” him!
December 1, 1872
I went back to Lancer today. What an uproar! Johnny is really angry that I “treated him like a kid” by reporting what I found him doing to his father. His father, however, is angry with him because he'd already told Johnny that he should do as I said and stay off of the untamed stock for a few days – until I cleared him for such strenuous work.
Scott was concerned, I could tell, but kept out of it. Johnny glared daggers at me but I didn't back down. There's something about that boy's eyes that is a bit scary.
The weather has turned nasty. Chilly and rainy. Foggy in some places as well. I had to go out to the Bar T, after I left Lancer, to look Mr. Talbot over. He took a spill, in the mud fortunately, from his horse. Thankfully he only got a few bruises and wrenched his shoulder trying to hang onto his reins and keep hold of the saddle horn. Mrs. Talbot hovered over him and made him go to bed after a hot bath. She also made sure that I had some of her sweet rolls and some cookies to bring back to me. Mr. Talbot will be in to pay my fee when he goes to the bank on Saturday.
December 2, 1872
I still haven’t met Kevin Millar, the final member of the Prankster Posse. His mother has been in town with his sisters, Sarah and Lori. She tells me that Kevin has been quite busy at the ranch. First they had to finish the fall round up and then there were some repairs of fences and such that needed to be done. He’ll be in eventually, as will Kelly, who is the youngest member of the family. Mrs. Millar, aided by Kelly – who seems to be a bit of a tattletale – also said that it had something to do with Halloween pranks and his somewhat less than appreciated (by some) sense of humor.
December 3, 1872
Miss Teresa came into town with Lancer’s Segundo – that’s second in command I’m told. Cipriano is a big Mexican man who is as loyal to the Lancers as he is to his family. He’s been with Mr. Lancer for many years and stayed with him right through the trouble with the land pirates and still works for him. There is something about that man that exudes confidence. He doesn’t say much and when he does speak he doesn’t brag, unlike some people I could name that I used to work with. I have a feeling that the Lancers can trust this man with their lives and he would die before he allowed anything to happen to them.
Miss Teresa brought in some fresh bread and cookies for Dr. Jenkins and myself. I gather she does this on a regular basis because our regular housekeeper, though she was a marvelous cook, she wasn’t much of a baker. Mrs. Talbot sends bread and stuff into town on the days when she can’t make it herself. Mrs. Millar, Mrs. Mays, Mrs. Portillo and some of the other matrons of the three towns also send baked goods in to us.
December 4, 1872
The barter system lives! An old trapper, Pete Hamilton, came into town to have one of us check the shoulder he thinks he injured in a recent accident. The truth is that the poor man suffers from rheumatism but doesn’t want to admit it. He doesn’t have any money so he left us some animal skins – a couple of raccoon, an otter and even a skunk. Dr. Jenkins accepted them in payment and then put them out in the shed in back of the house. He says he can trade them later on for items we may need for the house. Interesting way of doing business I must say. I can hear Mother and Father now. She’d be outraged and he’d be laughing his head off. My colleagues, at St. George’s wouldn’t find it very funny either.
December 5, 1872
Mr. Talbot came into see me today. He paid off the bill from the time I came to see him after he took that fall from his horse plus he had an invitation to dinner for me and Dr. Jenkins for tomorrow night. Mrs. Talbot insists and one does not refuse Mrs. Talbot unless one has a good reason. I don't intend to refuse – she's a marvelous cook and such a pleasure to talk to. I hear she tells great stories about leprechauns and such. It's too bad that Mr. Shaughnessy can't hear them – he loves a good leprechaun story. I'm anxious to hear the one she told Johnny and Scott that sent them off hunting the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It must have been a good one!
December 7, 1872
Dinner at the Talbots was wonder just as I expected it would be. Roast pork, potatoes, gravy, beets and chocolate cake for dessert. Mrs. Talbot tells me that she has to make two when Johnny is around because he eats the better part of a whole cake all by himself.
I prevailed upon her to tell me the story that got Johnny and Scott into so much trouble a couple of years ago. Imagine them believing in little people! And Scott with that classical education from Harvard! I laughed my head off which got me glared at by Mrs. Talbot which made her husband laugh and that set me off again. It's just too funny – except for the part where Johnny temporarily lost his eyesight while Scott had a very badly bruised hip and a broken hand. The leprechaun part was very funny though. They are such tricky little devils!
December 8 ,1872
I've been writing letters home and sharing Mrs. Talbot's stories. I can just picture Father getting a good laugh out of them and sharing them with Mr. Shaughnessy while Mother will look completely confused if not outright disdainful. She's got no sense of humor sometimes - especially not when it comes to outrageous stories. That's why I always saved the best stories for Father and Mr. Shaughnessy. They'll laugh for days over my outrageous experiences at the hospital and since I came out here.
I must get Mrs. Talbot to write these stories down for me in spite of her claims that these stories are best related as part of an oral tradition.
December 10, 1872
Christmas preparations are in full swing around here. Wreaths that were getting dried out have been replaced. The stores have decorated their windows – some of them have based their decorations on what I've told them about Wannamaker's and all the other stores in Philadelphia. The people I've met here, in the San Joaquin Valley, don't always have a lot of money but what they lack in money they make up for in ingenuity. There are many beautiful trees that have been decorated with shiny balls from Germany and paper chains crafted by the hands of children. Popcorn strings and candles in special holders adorn other trees. It makes me a little homesick.
December 11, 1872
Sheriff Crawford needed our help again. Some people here, just as in the city, don't seem to be able to celebrate without indulging in too much alcohol. He had three men injured when they dared each other to “tight rope walk” on the railing at the largest – and seediest – saloon in Green River. For a small town Green River certainly has more than it's share of saloons I must say. It doesn't make Sheriff Crawford's job any easier that Mayor Josiah Higgs keeps too much money in his store. The man's been robbed numerous times but he still refuses to follow the sheriff's advice to put most of it in the bank! He's an insufferable, pompous fool! The less dealing I have with Mayor Higgs the happier I will be!
December 13, 1872
Mr. Lancer was in town today and invited Dr. Jenkins and myself to Christmas dinner at Lancer. It's hard to believe that Christmas is so close and there's no snow on the ground. The lack of snow is one of those things I find myself having to adjust to. It seems very strange that Christmas is just around the corner.
December 14, 1872
A package has arrived from Philadelphia. I can see Mother's hand in this as well as Father and Mr. Shaughnessy. There are wool socks and a woolen muffler among other things. Mother has enclosed a letter. I'm not going to read it for a while because I'm sure she's entreating me to give up this foolish notion of living in the “wild and woolly” west and come back to my lucrative practice in Philadelphia. The west may be “wild and woolly” but my practice was anything but lucrative since I wasn't in private practice and refused to treat most of the socialites and their families for the obvious reason – to me anyway – that most of their problems are brought on by their own foolishness. Especially that nonsense over tight corsets!
December 16, 1872
I had a chat with Sheriff Gabe, of Spanish Wells, this morning. He's a very pleasant man and long suffering. I'm told that he worked at the baseball games Scott organized a year ago – keeping watch for pickpockets and other thieves and breaking up potential brawls. He said the biggest problem – outside of the fact that one of the teams was cheating – was that the Prankster Posse was out to get one of their own. It seems that Johnny didn't want to play and the other three were determined to have some fun at his expense. From what Sheriff Gabe tells me Kevin, the second ringleader of the group, Johnny being the first, dumped a bucket of cold water over Johnny's head. Not only did he get Johnny but he got Johnny's border collie by the name of Lady Sweet Friend. Lady got a lot of attention from the ladies and Gabe kept Mr. Lancer from getting involved. He says it was just high spirits – nothing malicious – so there was no sense in getting too upset with them.
I wonder if we could get some of those teams together in the Spring? It would be fun to get into a baseball game or two this summer. I tried organizing a league at the hospital back in Philadelphia but most of my counterparts are only interested in getting drunk or going to the opera or some other such foolishness.
December 18, 1872
A busy couple of days. Several people came down with the influenza, over in Morro Coyo, and Sheriff Crawford suffered a minor concussion when a prisoner attacked him in an escape attempt – an attempt that was thwarted by Johnny and Scott Lancer who happened to be riding into town at the time. Thankfully the Sheriff will recover fairly quickly. He knows how to obey doctor's orders unlike some people I could name.
December 19, 1872
I've finally met the last member of the Prankster Posse. Kevin Millar brought his little sister, Kelly, in to deliver some eggs that she had for us. Kelly seems to be a very bright girl but I can understand why Kevin gets annoyed with her. He's about ten years older than she is and she likes to push him around if she thinks she can get away with it. Dr. Jenkins knows both of them well and handled the trouble that was brewing quite nicely. I'm going to have to ask him for some tips on that if I'm going to be dealing with these two very often.
Kevin is tall with sun streaked light brown hair and blue eyes that sparkle with mischief. I can easily believe that he’s one of the ringleaders of this little band of merrymakers.
He's invited me to go hunting with himself and the rest of the posse. Something about a “snipe hunt”. I get the impression that Kevin – and the others – think they're going to put one over on me. Little do they know that I know all about snipe hunts and I think, with a little help, I'm going to one over on them! It'll be fun trying!
December 20, 1872
Scott Lancer and I are making plans to teach Johnny and his pals a lesson. Saturday is only a couple of days away and we've got to get some things in place and Scott needs to learn how to imitate the call of the loon – all three of them. So far so good. We've gotten permission from Dr. Jenkins to use some of the furs and hides that were given to him by a couple of trappers and prospectors in payment for medical treatment.
December 22, 1872
The snipe hunt is over and the results were quite satisfactory – for me and Scott.
Scott is a quick study. He learned how to imitate the cries of the loon quite well and we scared the living daylights out of Johnny and his pals! I can hardly write for laughing – it was that funny.
Johnny, I've been told, used to be a professional gunfighter but he was in no way prepared for what Scott and I did. Scott's loon calls were perfection and having the animal skins with shiny glass eyes hiding in the bushes didn't hurt. Kevin, Rico and Willie took off like they were shot out of a cannon with Johnny not too far behind them yelling at them to come back. Once they were out of earshot Scott and I practically fell on the ground we were laughing so hard. Now for the final stroke of genius which will be delivered on Christmas Day. I'm not sure how Scott and I will restrain ourselves. I do hope the families understand why we scared them the way we did! They had it coming. Snipe hunt indeed! I wasn't born yesterday!
December 24, 1872
Christmas Eve in California is far different from Christmas Eve in Philadelphia. There's no snow. No sleigh rides. There will be some caroling though. The Talbots gave Scott a sleigh, a couple of Christmases ago, that can run on snow but also has wheels. At the discretion of the driver all he has to do is throw a switch and he can travel either way. Mr. Mays and Señor Portillo helped build it and did the iron work for the springs and the runners.
Scott has promised me that he and I will take a couple of the local lovelies for a ride some Sunday after church. He also says he doesn't trust Johnny and the Pranksters with it. They're too apt to get into a race and his lovely sleigh would end up being wrecked.
Reverend Hawk will hold services, in conjunction with the padre, at the mission. It's such a beautiful old place to celebrate the birth of our Lord! I wish Mother could see it – I'm sure she'd appreciate the beautiful flowers that the ladies of the area have decorated the sanctuary with and the embroidered tapestries and such that they have! Such beautiful handiwork. I'll have to buy some from some of my Mexican patients to send home. Surely Mother, Mrs. Garrity and the others would appreciate the work that went into creating these item!
December 25, 1872
I'm still laughing. Scott and I put another one over on the Prankster Posse, or rather, extended the joke from the snipe hunt.
We took the hides, which Dr. Jenkins received in payment, and sewed them together. When we had it three-quarters sewn up we took the wool that we bought from a local farmer and stuffed it into the hides. Then I put it in a sack with a ribbon on it.
When Dr. Jenkins and I arrived at Lancer we went into the house and waited patiently, but once all of the Prankster Posse was there Scott and I sprang our trap. In Mr. Lancer's presence I thanked the boys for taking me on the snipe hunt.
Mr. Lancer was fit to be tied! I think he was about ready to knock their heads together when I stepped in to reassure him that no harm had been done and I'd been on a snipe hunt before.
That was when I sprang the trap. I handed Johnny the bag with the “snipe” in it. The look on his face was priceless! He, and his buddies had thought they'd put one over on us but they were wrong.
I think the best part, other than the look on the Pranksters' faces, was when Scott told Johnny it looked like he was the one left holding the bag and it wasn't Santa's bag of toys! I think you could have heard us all the way to San Francisco when everyone realized what had happened.
December 26, 1872
Mr. Lancer has invited me to attend his family's New Year's party – he calls it “First Footing”. It's a tradition he's held onto from his youth in Scotland. It sounds intriguing. I'm going to ask Mrs. Millar to make something for me to take. I don't want to continually impose upon the Lancers hospitality and not bring something to contribute to the meal or other refreshments. My “privileged” upbringing didn't allow for any kind of cooking lessons.
Scott has explained to me that the “first footer” must not be in the house and exit in order to be the first one to enter after the new year arrives. Traditionally it is a tall, dark-haired male who enters the house first after midnight and brings gifts as well as good fortune. These gifts consists of things such as a coin, bread, salt, coal and a drink – oftentimes in the form of whiskey.
We've never celebrated New Year's Eve in this manner back in Philadelphia. It certainly sounds like a lot of fun. I wonder who the “first footer” will be? Johnny certainly has dark hair but he's not as tall as some of their neighbors. I guess I have no choice but to try and be patient. After all New Year's Eve is only six days away!
December 27, 1872
Mrs. Millar has generously offered to make a cake for me to take to the Lancers. She and her husband will be there as will Lori and Sarah – Kevin's other sisters – and Kevin himself. If Willie and Rico are there as well I shall have to keep my eyes open and be on the alert. I'm sure those three, and Johnny as well, are plotting some sort of revenge for the trick Scott and I played on them a week ago. In the meantime I keep some ideas in the back of my head for tricks to play on them to even things up.
December 29, 1872
New Year's Eve is just around the corner. Last year, at this time, I never would have dreamed that I'd move away from Philadelphia – let alone to the unsettled west. My life seemed to stretch out before me in an endless stretch of days, weeks, months and even years of medical practice at some big hospital in Philadelphia or New York or maybe even Boston. Not to mention Mother's endless dinner parties and theater engagements that I was expected to attend in order to keep peace in the house.
Now I've left home for good and I'm very much enjoying getting to know the people in the San Joaquin Valley such as the Lancers and the Talbots. The Millars, Portillos and Mays are wonderful people as well. I've become pretty well acquainted with all of the local lawmen as well.
Sheriff Gabe is quiet and thoughtful – he likes to think things through before he acts and it's always within the law. No stretching a point. Except for the time I'm told he engineered a “jail break” when he aided Scott in getting Johnny, who was jailed on trumped up charges, out of jail so that they could get some falsified legal documents before they reached the state capital.
Sheriff Val Crawford is not the neatest dresser in the world. But he is as honest as the day is long. I'm told that he was practically supporting a local Indian family all by himself by buying blankets from the widow of a man named Lone Crow. Apparently he'd had to kill the man in self defense but couldn't put the widow and their five children out of his mind. He talked Johnny into buying some as well. Not a hard thing to do. I've seen the way Johnny interacts with children. He'd do anything in his power to keep a child from being hurt in any way. Scott's the same way. I think I'll ask Sheriff Crawford to get some of those blankets for me to send back to the family and friends in Philadelphia.
Sheriff Sam Jayson. What can I say? He's honest. He's diligent. He means well. He's just not as bright as the other two. I can't help liking the man though for all his apparent shortcomings. An honest peace officer seems like a rarity in some areas. While Sam may not be the most competent his honesty makes him a good man. He tries his hardest but he has a tendency to underestimate his quarry.
December 30, 1872
Another year is almost gone. So many changes for me. Leaving home and starting a new practice. I've been to several dinners and parties since I came west to California but they're not the same as the ones in Philadelphia. There's no pressure on me to squire a certain young woman around (though I wouldn't object to escorting Miss Teresa or one of Kevin Millar's sisters. Miss Teresa is a bit young for me but she's a very nice girl,)
The parties I've been to involve a lot of dancing with locals bringing, and playing, whatever instrument they have. There are no organized bands in this area which suits me quite well as the variety of music is much better. While there are certainly waltzes and other slow pieces played there are many dances that I've been learning how to do. The Virginia Reel, a jig, some Mexican folk dances. Mrs. Talbot has told me that I'm a natural and she's going to teach me all the jigs and reels that they dance in Ireland. I hope I'm up to it!
How do I begin to describe the food at these parties? Back home it would have been things like Beef wellington, stroganoff, Cornish game hens, pheasant, escargot (snails to the uninitiated) and oysters. Out here oysters are rare. A Cornish game hen would scarcely be a mouthful for someone like Johnny Lancer or his friends. Here they serve honest to goodness food that sticks to your ribs. The steaks are at least an inch thick! Roast or fried chicken, roast beef, baked ham, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, candied yams, corn on the cob, several different kinds of bread with butter and several flavors of jam. There are usually pies and cakes for dessert! In the warm weather they sometimes make ice cream. I could learn to like this very much.
December 31, 1872
New Year's Eve in California will certainly be much different that New Year's Eve in Philadelphia. No last minute trips to Market Street or other shops to get things for dinner at home or at the hospital. Mother is probably frantically checking all preparations for the big, fancy and formal dinner she's been planning since last New Year's Eve.
I can see it now. Snowy white tablecloth with the best china and silver set out for twenty people – most of them eligible young ladies that I'm supposed to show an interest in but can't because they bore me to distraction. In fact I made a fool of myself last New Year's because I started daydreaming about escaping from their clutches and missed some of what they had to say to me. Eleanor King was furious and started talking to the other girls about how I was rude. I honestly didn't mean to ignore her but I just couldn't help it! The woman drives me insane with her constant chatter about parties, shopping and the opera.
They may have fireworks to welcome in the new year but Mr. Lancer's party sounds like much more fun. Lots of good food and good company and some new friends. I'm anxious to see who the “first footer” will be. Johnny and his pals seem to have been scheming for a few months now but there's no guarantee that Johnny, Willie or Rico will be the one that becomes “first footer” - I've noticed that quite a few of the people who are going to be attending are dark haired.
January 1, 1873
Well, the Hogmanay celebration ended quite nicely at around one o'clock this morning. With all the scheming that Johnny and his pals went through you'd think one of them was first footer but it was Sheriff Crawford! Mr. Talbot had gotten wind of what the boys were up to and decided to turn the tables on them. He got together with Sheriff Crawford and set him up with the items he would need to bring. Then he sent the boys on a merry chase to check on the horses of all the guests because he thought he saw someone tampering with the harness on one of the teams or with one of the buggies.
Those boys are so good and so conscientious that they fell for that line and went out. While they were busy he got Sheriff Crawford out of Jelly's quarters (I forgot to mention that the Lancers have an older man – Jelly Hoskins – working for them as kind of a handyman) and had him enter the house. Now Sheriff Crawford's hair may not be quite as dark as Johnny, Rico or Willie's but he's not a blond or a redhead so Mr. Talbot's little prank came off spectacularly! When the boys got back to the house they found out that they'd been beaten out for the title of “first footer” for 1873. They're good sports though. When they realized that Mr. Talbot had set this up they looked chagrined and laughed at themselves.
I'm going to like my new life in California very much!
January 3, 1873
The weather has turned very damp with rain and fog. I've had to make a few house calls at some of the outlying farms and it's been pretty scary driving around in the fog. Johnny tells me that he's going to find me a good saddle horse. He says if I'm going to live out here I need to learn to ride. I hope he's a patient teacher because right now I can just about manage one horse hitched to a buggy. I'm not so sure about actually sitting on one. The lessons start on my next day off.
January 4, 1873
All was quiet today. No emergencies and no patients came into the office. It gave us a chance to catch up on our bookkeeping and to see what we have for bartered goods in the house and the storage shed.
We seem to be doing fairly well. Mrs. Talbot sent two dozen each of three different kinds of cookies in with their foreman and Miss Teresa sent some bread. Mrs. Millar sent a cherry pie and Mrs. Mays stopped by with a cake.
I think the expression is that we will be “eating high off the hog” for the next few days. I look forward to it. The ladies are all excellent cooks and bakers.
January 5, 1873
I'm a bit apprehensive. I'm told that my riding lessons will commence tomorrow. Johnny persuaded Dr. Jenkins to give me the day off so I'll be driving out to Lancer to start.
I wonder if I should be reassured – or suspicious - when he tells me that he's chosen the gentlest, slowest horse they own for my lessons?
January 6, 1873
My riding lessons have been postponed for a day or two. I went out to Lancer, as planned, and ran smack into trouble!
Scott was injured in an accident. A dumb, stupid accident I might add. He fell down the stairs in the house because he and Johnny were fooling around.
Johnny feels guilty about it but it was just as much his brother's fault as his.
It seems that – as their father puts it – they were feeling their oats and were playing keep away with their dog, Lady Sweet Friend. They were tossing a ball back and forth between them and Scott forgot to look where he was going. It seems he tripped over Lady and fell down about five stairs.
It's not a serious injury but it is definitely a painfully sprained ankle. He's going to have to soak it in hot water and epsom salts several times a day and keep it wrapped. I showed Johnny, Mr. Lancer and Miss Teresa how to do it. I also showed Mrs. Delgado. I'm sure Scott will be quite well taken care of. He's also very embarrassed when I told him that he could have broken that ankle – or his foolish neck!
Lady, by the way, will be just fine. She's hiding, or keeping well out of Scott's sight for now. I think the poor thing feels guilty and is afraid she's going to get yelled at.
January 7, 1873
Well, my riding lessons have started.
Johnny, much to my surprise, really did choose their gentlest and slowest horse for me. Of course, jokester that he is, he tells me it's because they can't let anything happen to Scott's doctor.
I glared at him but it didn't do me any good. He laughs at me all the time now. I think maybe he's adopted me as another brother already.
I think Scott and I will have to be on our toes with Johnny and his friends.
January 8, 1873
I ache all over! Johnny didn't keep me on the horse – Patches I think his name is – for very long. He says if he did I wouldn't be able to walk at all.
After an hour I was ready to scream from the pain in muscles I forgot I even had. I'm going to climb into a nice hot tub and not move until I have to!
January 10, 1873
I won't have another riding lesson until tomorrow. Johnny guarantees that I'll be too sore the next few lessons but, as soon as I toughen up, the lessons will increase in frequency.
He does seem to think that I could be a fairly good rider with a little work. It would be nice if I could master this. I'd like to be able to ride all over Lancer and the Bar T to check out the scenery I've heard so much about. I have seen the scenery from the top of the hill on the road to Lancer and it's every bit as beautiful as anything I ever saw in Pennsylvania or New York.
January 22, 1873
It's official. Half the children in the area are either sick with the measles or recovering from them. Dr. Jenkins and I have our hands full reassuring the inexperienced parents of young children and making sure that they know what to do for the children.
The Pittman children are doing well as are the Carrier and O'Rourke children. The McDonalds are still quite sick but we feel sure that the worst is over for them. It will be another week before the epidemic has quite finished running its course.
February 1, 1873
I had a letter from Father today. He mailed it right after Christmas but it takes a while for the mail to get from the East even if it's put on a train. I'm told that blizzards in the Dakota territory and Montana can stop the trains for days so I'm grateful that this letter is only a little more than a month old.
Father writes that all is well. My colleagues at St. George's were asking for me – especially Mr. Stevenson, the administrator.
Mr. Stevenson wishes me luck in my new endeavor and says that the Certified Nursing Attendants all miss me. Silly women! They were always mooning over me or some of the other doctors instead of paying attention to their patients. I warned several of them about that.
Father loves the Mark Twain book I sent him. He talks about visiting California and seeing some of these camps for himself but he'll never make it unless he just takes off. Mother would surely raise a multitude of objections over his going if she ever caught wind of his plans.
Mrs. Garrity and Ellen love the lace I sent them. He didn't say much about Mother's gift. I guess she's still upset with me for defying her her plans and leaving home. You'd think I was still a child!
February 5, 1873
My riding lessons are going quite well. I've ridden around the yard several times now and even up the road to the top of the hill. Johnny guarantees that, by Spring, I will be riding almost as well as Jelly. I think he was joking but I'm not sure. I want to become as good a rider as Scott and Johnny. Johnny seems to be a natural while Scott learned in the army – he was in a Cavalry unit.
February 7, 1873
A week of February has passed. Most patients have been suffering from colds or the assorted ailments of the elderly that afflict them when the weather gets damp and chilly which it has been for the past couple of weeks in particular. Mrs. Hannah Marchant suffers terribly but she never complains. Mrs. Talbot has been looking in on her as much as she can as has Miss Teresa. They're both very good nurses.
Nathan looked over what he had written and put his pen away. It was February 10 and time for another riding lesson. He would continue to keep his diary for he enjoyed looking back at what he'd seen, heard and learned since leaving home. He was really enjoying his new life in California and the friends he'd made since he'd arrived.
He and Scott had plans to go fishing in the near future but Scott had told him they would leave Johnny behind. It seems that his younger brother has no patience and will take out his pistol and start shooting at the fish when they manage to disentangle themselves from his hook and line. Nathan's eyes twinkled at the thought of using this to pay Johnny back - some day - for some of the tricks he'd played on them.