Scott's Letter
by  Justine Storhaug

                                                                      5 September 1870


Dearest Grandfather

Thank you for the fine edition of ‘Crime and Punishment’ you sent for my birthday.  I began it that very night, but had not read further than the first chapters when chores and crises here on the ranch forced me to put it aside.  It is a busy time now with calves and foals to be weaned and, of course, the inevitable fence mending, but I am assured by Murdoch that within weeks work will have slowed somewhat and I look forward to resuming my reading.  At well over 500 pages, Dostoevsky’s book promises to help me pass more than a few chilly California evenings! 

At least the family claim they will be chilly. It seems hard to imagine when compared with our Eastern winters, but one acclimatizes, I suppose, and I may agree with them after the heat we have been experiencing. Right now, some coolness would be a welcome relief.

You will be experiencing the very start of my favorite time of year and I confess to some envy.  Despite the raw beauty of the landscape here, there is not the concentration of deciduous trees to provide the glorious colors of a New England autumn.  As well, I do miss the sea air.  I think I shall miss the snow, but may quickly decide in favor of the warmer winters on offer here once I escape the drudgery of slogging through deep drifts to access footpath and carriage.

Your last letter again beseeched me to return to Boston, Grandfather, and while I feel I have tried to express to you my reasons for remaining here, I do so again in the hopes you will take them to heart.

I know you see this land and the western people as rough and uncultured, and I can’t deny that in many respects you are correct.  What we have been raised in the East to respect and value seems at times to hold scant sway in this new and often harsh land.  But if the people seem at times equally as rough as the land, even to me, it is because they daily must rise to the challenge of taming an often unforgiving landscape. And for all its harshness, there is also a freshness and vitality here which is invigorating. 

And it is precisely this, Grandfather, which I find attracts me to life in the West.  Here I feel I can be part of carving out something new, of making my mark on a land which is both new and old in the same breath.  Perhaps this will not be accomplished in a grand way; certainly not in the way it is commonly accepted in the East, or at least in the circles to which we were accustomed.   It’s nothing to do with money or prestige, although Murdoch has carved out an empire rife with both.  It is more to do with the simple integrity of physical labor, and of changing and shaping the land while still hopefully respecting the richness of its natural offerings.

Is this fathomable? 

Perhaps it is necessary to have spent time here to understand it, and for this reason, I do so look forward to the day you can make a visit to us here at Lancer, Grandfather.  There is so much to see in this vast land, and the people here have become very important to me.

I know you were displeased when I accepted my father’s invitation to come west and I knew in my heart the hurt I would cause you when I told Murdoch I would stay on here, but I trust that in time you will see that it is the right decision for me.  

Grandfather, I need this time to discover who my father is. 

I know the ill will you have always held toward Murdoch Lancer and you know well the feelings I, too, harbored in relation to him for the perceived abandonment in my childhood. Until the time the Pinkerton agent approached me, I could not honestly say I was aware of a desire to know the man.  And while I shall not pretend that the issue of his failure to come for me is entirely resolved in my mind, I have been given this opportunity now and I must take it. Whatever has gone before, I believe Murdoch when he says that the past is the past and we must each deal with the present.  And I am finding the present surprisingly exciting!

At risk of hurting you, Grandfather, I must say that I have found Murdoch to be quite unlike the image I had built up in my mind.  Perhaps time and life have changed him, and I will not pretend he is an easy man to know, but he is of fine moral character; a man who is honest in his dealings, passionate about his life’s work—this land—and while he scarce would vocalize it, I feel he is truly grateful to have his sons at his side.

I have also found, to my surprise, that Murdoch is an avid reader and we have shared some lively discussions about books we have enjoyed.  He is currently reading ‘The Odyssey’ which you gave me several years ago and I think I shall make a present of the companion ‘Iliad’ volume for his birthday in October, or perhaps for Christmas.  I have found an agent in San Francisco who hopes to find a copy for me in time for one of the two occasions.

I mention this in particular because you commented in a recent letter that you worry I will stagnate intellectually in this barren environment.  I will be honest and say at times I have thought this myself.  Many of the hands can’t even read and haven’t travelled farther than the next ranch in search of work.  Certainly there is not the range of debate topics here that could be enjoyed in Boston.

But I have learned to find stimulation in the most unexpected places. Of necessity, I am learning some Spanish and there is even a hand here at the moment who speaks passable French, having been reared in New Orleans.   I try my hand at writing when time permits and perhaps some day I shall share with you my observations of life here in ‘the Wild West’. 

That topic, of course, points me to that which has been most exciting about this adventure of life on the West Coast—Johnny! It is a joy to have a brother, Grandfather, and I am so eager for you to meet him.  What an adventure learning to know him has been!  At first impression we could not be more different, and you know what a surprise his very existence was to me, but I am finding that our differences, far from separating us, are slowly binding us to each other as I imagine brothers reared together must be bound. We complement each other in a most unexpected manner in so many ways.

Johnny is a man of contradictions.  From all reports he led a very hard life in Mexico, but to his credit, he does not appear to dwell on it.  Certainly he rarely discusses the hardships he has faced, and while they appear to have imbued him with an unseemly degree of cynicism, he has shown himself capable of great fun and spontaneity.

He and Murdoch still struggle at times in their relationship. Murdoch said on our first meeting that Johnny had his mother’s temper.  Perhaps it is the Latin disposition that one hears discussed, and there is certainly truth in its application to Johnny, but I doubt he gets it all from his mother’s side, having become acquainted with Murdoch myself more now!  The truth of it is that I’m not sure either of them recognizes the degree to which they are similar in temperament and nature and it is this, I’m sure, which predisposes them to conflict.  But I do see subtle changes in Johnny’s manner and bearing—if not his table manners!—which indicate that he is finding his place in this family, as am I.

We have had different lessons to learn, Johnny and I, in the course of becoming ranchers and family members.  For my part they have been largely practical in nature.  There have been moments when I have been the source of some merriment for the seasoned westerners here, but I must say—and not too proudly, I hope—that I have also taken them by surprise in some respects.   Certainly no one expected me to ride as I do and I acquired some reasonable skill with a rifle, as you know, during the war.  As for the handguns, well…that I confess I have found a different matter entirely.  The occasional carrying of a derringer on longer journeys in the East and a sidearm during the war has not been quite preparation enough for the daily use of a heavy Colt .45 worn in the low slung western style.  I trust that people generally, and Johnny in particular, will not learn of the hours I have spent secreted in the woods accustoming myself to its use!

My lessons have not entirely been of a practical nature, though, Grandfather, and if the opportunity to learn to know my father and brother is not sufficient to promote your understanding of my presence here, then perhaps that of which I write next will suffice.  

You see, I am discovering things about myself, Grandfather, which I do not believe would be possible in the comfortable confines of Boston Society, in a world in which I am known—and this is no slight!—as Harlan Garrett’s grandson.  Murdoch is well known in the area, and I am now ‘Murdoch’s son’, to be certain, but having come here as an adult, I feel that people can form their own opinions of me based on my conduct.

Sir, you taught me to work hard and stand up for things I believe in, but while we have much in common, our paths diverge at this juncture. I simply cannot believe in the things you value to the extent you value them.  Please understand, Grandfather, this is not to assign a higher degree of worth to what either you or I believe—a ranking, as it were, on a scale of merit.  It is simply a reality we must each face as adults and individuals, and I trust our respect for each other will enable this transition in our lives.

Apologies that I make so few enquiries as to your well-being in this letter, Grandfather, but it is important for me to ensure that you know how happy I am here and that my time and energies are well spent.

Please pass my warmest greetings to the household staff, in particular Madison and Mrs. Bennett and should you see Vernon Prescott at the Club, do tell him he owes it to me to put pen to paper!  Better yet, I should like to show him my new home.

Fond regards,




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