This is the twenty-ninth part of a fiction serial, in 966 words.
Wichita soon became the favourite destination for the big cattle drives coming north from Texas. With the railroad able to take live steers up to Topeka, then on to the big city stockyards and markets like the one in Chicago, the town was soon booming.
With the cattle came more people. Not just the cowboys involved with driving the huge herds, but anyone looking to make money on the back of the industry. It wasn’t long before people started to call Wichita ‘Cow Town’, and that name sure stuck.
More people and all that money meant more saloons, more whorehouses, and a whole heap of trouble. As well as the fights, there were shootings, and places getting smashed up. It weren’t much better across in Delano either, as that place was a magnet for drunks, gamblers, and troublemakers. At least most of the ructions happened at night, and we made sure to always be home before it got dark.
One good thing about it was the extra work. With so much expansion, there was more work than we could handle, including lots of new stores, saloons, and a bigger and better hotel. We got some full-builds, and some part-jobs, but we were always working. Daddy stayed home most of the time, but continued to make what he could using his new bench.
The town offcials, who liked to call Wichita a city, had got together to raise the money to form some sort of law enforcement. They gave it the fancy name of The Wichita Police Department. Despite the appearance of lawmen on the streets, it seemed to me that people could pretty much still do whatever they wanted. And when the big cattle drives arrived, some of the places even shuttered up once those crazy cowboys hit town.
Married life was good. We stayed in our house for dinner now, though Walter and Mary kept up the habit of eating with daddy and Henry. Susan seemed to take to her wifely role like a duck to water, and I never saw her not smiling, not once. On a very hot day in late summer, she came to talk to me as I was washing in the cold water from the pump. “Phin, you’re gonna be a daddy. What do you think of that?” I suppose I should have jumped up and down, picked her up and swung her around, something like that. But it didn’t seem real. Despite my age and my size, I still thought of myself as a boy. Maybe because I still lived so close with daddy, and looked to him to make so many decisions.
I didn’t do no jumping nor swinging, I cried instead. They were happy tears, and Susan knew they were.
Daddy and Henry shook my hand when they got the news. Mary and Walter already knew before me, as Susan had asked her ma lots of questions to confirm what she thought. After pouring me a glass of whiskey, daddy rubbed his beard. “Reckon you should have your own money now, son. Instead of just buying what you need from what we all share, seems like time to make proper arrangements”. Daddy was a fair man. Me, him, and Henry would get equal shares, and we would each pay a part from our shares to Walter and Mary, so they had their own income.
There was a bank in town now, in a sturdy building on north main street. It was called The Wichita Bank, and run by a man named Fraker. Naturally Mr Mead got involved too, as the richest man around. Daddy said we should open up business with them, as we couldn’t keep using the old cash box and hiding our money in the outhouse. We all got accounts with that bank, ‘cepting Walter. He wanted to take his share in ready cash, and that was fair enough.
That fall of seventy-two, I turned nineteen. I was going to be a daddy come February, and realised I had to step up and stop relying so much on daddy. Henry didn’t mind none that I was in charge. Although he had picked up some skill with wood by then, he still mainly did the heavy work, as well as some sawing and hammering. With advice from daddy, I started to price up new jobs, and haggle some with merchants and suppliers too. By the time some light snow told us winter was on us, I could build almost anything I was asked to, and had my own reputation as a businessman.
The baby came early. Susan woke me one night and told me to go fetch her ma. It was cold, and snow on the ground. I had built the fire up before we went to bed, and threw more wood on it as I got dressed. Mary wasn’t concerned. She said Susan might have counted her days wrong. “She’s young and strong, Phin. Don’t you worry, she’ll be fine”. I suggested going into town for a doctor, but Mary shook her head. “Leave her to me, but best you go and sleep in your daddy’s cabin”. I doubted I would get any sleep, but went and sat in the old cabin with the glowing embers of the fire to warm me. Daddy and Henry were both snoring, and I didn’t wake them.
Next morning, Henry had gone off on his own to do some jobs, and daddy was in the barn fixing something. I told them I had to stay home for once. It was early afternoon when Mary came to get me. She was looking tired, but beaming a big smile. “You have a daughter, Phin. She’s sure a beauty”.
We named her Sophia, after granny Fuller. And Mary, for Susan’s ma.