A Short Story By: Jake Jones
© Copyright 2015 – All Rights Reserved
This story begins in Oklahoma City abut 1830, in a small orphanage right at the edge of town. The orphanage was run by a woman who was the widow of an ex-lawman. Her husband was gunned down in a bank robbery attempt only yards from their home.
She was a woman of about 30 years. She had decided to start an orphanage to help ease her mind of the sadness of her loss. She was a patient woman with black, wavy hair that cascaded over her shoulders down to her waist. She constantly dressed in clothes that were black in color, another tribute to her dead husband.
The orphanage was furnished well with items supplied by donations from the townspeople. Even with donated furnishings, and a great deal of donated food, it was still a difficult life for a widow, but she survived knowing she was helping those in need.
Nevertheless, she was known far and wide as a kind and generous person.
She was also known to be strict with the children who ranged in age from infant to their late teens. As a widow, and an orphanage mother, Mary Beth Stanton was on of the finest people God had ever graced the Earth with.
It was a sight to behold each Sunday morning when Mary Beth would bring the orphans to church. To see anywhere from 6 to 15 children being led up the stairs of the church entrance and into the Chapel by this generous woman, melted the hearts of many a churchgoer.
Could this be the church that Mary Beth took the orphan children to?
The children rarely gave her any difficulty, but there was one who got a bad reputation with Mary Beth because of his antics during the church service. Well, not only at the church, but at the orphanage as well. The town came to know him as Mr. Trouble.
Even with the moniker of Mr. Trouble, he was still well liked by Mary Beth. The trouble he caused was of a mischievous kind. You know the kind of trouble, the kind caused by climbing trees and throwing things at people, or constantly pulling pranks on the other kids. He was always teasing the girls, or getting into scuffles with the other boys at school.
Invariably, several times a year, Mr. Trouble would come home with a black eye, or other schoolboy injuries. Probably the worst thing he did was push an outhouse over on Halloween night when he was about 15 years old. This doesn’t seem like such a terrible thing, but in this case, it was Schoolmaster Appleby’s outhouse, and he was in it!
But all in all, Mr. Trouble was just a normal kid. Mr. Trouble’s real name was not known, as he was found as an infant of several months in a basket at the front door of the Bluebird Restaurant. Clothed in only a blanket and crying from hunger, he was taken to the orphanage by LeAnn Newhope, the wife of the restaurant owner.
When Mary Beth opened the blanket, she found a note saying that the baby’s mother had to leave the baby because she was unmarried and had no way to take care of him. The note didn’t even give the child’s first name. That didn’t bother Mary Beth too much, as she said, “we’ll just call you John Smith”.
Well, John Smith seemed to grow at a fast speed and before she knew it, he was a little man. The next thing she knew, he was in his late teens and talking about leaving the orphanage to set out on his own and go to the gold fields of California. It seems that kids were able to handle responsibility more easily then, than now. Mary Beth was able to talk him out of leaving several times, but in the end, he won out.
John (Mr. Trouble), had lots of orphan brothers and sisters over the years but he was the only one in the orphanage in all these years that didn’t know his real name. The rest of the kids knew about this and, as kids will be kids, they teased him about it.
As a matter of fact, the other kids said since he didn’t know “who” his Mother and Father were, he was nothing more than a mongrel, and over the years, this is how he eventually decided on the nickname of Mongrel Smith. Nope, no more Mr. Trouble.
Mongrel Smith he thought; just the kind of name he needed to survive now that he had decided to leave the orphanage and head West to those precious gold fields. John spent quite some time developing a persona that would fit his name. He spent countless hours in front of a mirror contorting his face, twisting it this way, and that way, trying to look mean by showing his teeth, and trying to get drool to run out of on corner of his mouth just so he could scare people. He knew that to survive on the new frontier, he had to be tough, and aggressive, and develop a reputation. It was Spring of 1850 when he packed his bags and left the orphanage.
It was a sad day for Mary Beth as she had become accustomed to his help and kindness as he grew older. He was the senior member of the orphanage when he left, and Mary Beth would be hard pressed to find another child who would be so resourceful and who would act as a leader to the other children. Now he was gone, and she was sad.
In a way, Mongrel was sad also, but the urge to move West to gold fortunes was too strong to be talked out of this time. He took a job as one of the cooks on a Wagon Train heading West to California. During this time he would learn many things, have many new experiences and see just how tough life could really be. One of the first things he learned as a cook was that no matter how hard a Chuck Wagon Cook tries, you just can’t make everybody happy. Surviving on beans and Salt Pork for six months with little else was very trying. He also learned how dependent people were upon one another when crossing the prairie by Wagon Train.
He also learned to chew “plug tobacco”!
His first experience with a chew was a horrendous one. He had the chew in his cheek for about twenty minutes when he tripped over a wooden bucket while walking backwards during wagon loading. When he fell, he landed on his butt and swallowed the whole chew. In a few minutes, he felt very green and wanted to go somewhere to lie down and die. But, he got over it and continued using chewing tobacco for years as the legend goes.
Covered Wagons were the main mode of long distance transportation.
Perhaps the first Pick-up trucks?
About three weeks out of Oklahoma City, the Wagon Train was pelted with hail the size of a small boys fist. The wagon covers were torn to shreds. Days were lost making repairs. That’s how he learned to sew. He became skilled at handling horses, cooking, sewing, hunting, collecting natural foods, and so forth. In short, he gained all the attributes necessary for survival in the gold fields.
It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t tell you how he also learned how to defend himself while on this three month trip. He had also worked on developing his persona which would help him gain the upper hand when encountering other men who were also after the gold wealth. They were only several days from California when he had an unexpected encounter with another male Wagon Train member.
Mongrel had put his supper plate still full of food on a rock near the campfire to keep it warm while he answered nature’s call. When he got back, he found someone had helped themselves to his supper and left him little. He looked around and saw a man sitting on the ground resting against a wagon wheel. So, Mongrel asked him, “did you have my supper?” The man took immediate offense to the question, even though Mongrel really had put his finger on the right person.
The man stood up and walked face to face with Mongrel, their noses almost touching. The man said, “you talking to me?” Mongrel swallowed hard because this was his first face to face confrontation as an adult. Right away though, his mind went back to his orphanage days and immediately he regained his composure and remembered the persona behind the name Mongrel. So, he got even closer to this fellow and turned his head to one side and let a wad of tobacco juice fly. It was headed towards the campfire and landed on a hot rock used as a part of the campfire ring. It hissed and steamed for several seconds and then he looked back at the other man and said, “yeah, I’m talking to you!”
“So, what if I did help myself to your supper,” the man said. Well, said Mongrel, “I’ll have to make you pay for it.”
The man was not sure if he should be frightened or not. Then, at that moment, Mongrel lost control and was unable to hold back the persona that he worked so hard on, and he put it to the test. He began to growl in a low but steady tone and he curled his upper lip to expose his tobacco stained teeth. Now the man was really scared. All of a sudden, the growling stopped and Mongrel began to bark. Yes bark, like a huge dog might bark at a stranger at his master’s door. “Bark, bark, bark” went Mongrel. Then, the man took several large backward steps, but Mongrel still managed to stay in his face. The man tripped and fell over backwards and begged Mongrel to stop. Mongrel complied but said to him, “never touch my supper again.”
Lying there on the ground, looking up at this tobacco-chewing, barking, probably mad person, the man realized he had made a huge mistake, but was sure he would only make it that one time.
Mongrel turned and walked away smiling inside, thinking of how all the time he spent in front of the mirror had paid off. The rest of the trip went smoothly.
It was late summer when the wagon train arrived in `Frisco, and the mountain peaks were covered with snow. He got a room for a dollar a day and began to search the town for supplies for his trip into the mountains. He had a list a mile long; gold pans, sluice box, shovels, picks, mules, wagons, beans, and so forth.
Two weeks later, he found himself setting up camp along a large stream of which the name he did not know. He built a lean-to for shelter and made himself a bed out of tree limbs and padded it with pine boughs, pine needles and leaves. This was a real “Mountain Man’s” mattress he thought to himself as a grin crossed his face. Then he began to stake out his claim. Soon enough, he would have trouble.
As time went by, he was lucky enough to have found several thousand dollars worth of flake gold and a few sizable nuggets while panning the waters of this unnamed stream.
Then, one night he awoke to someone in his camp trying to find his gold stash. He jumped up from his bunk of pine boughs and leaves, barking and growling, and growling and barking, while running full tilt toward the noise he heard. All of a sudden, Mongrel was face to face with not a person who was stealing his gold, but a Grizzly Bear helping itself to his food supply.
I guess I don’t need to tell you here that is must have been a terrible sight to anyone who would have see it. If you can picture a man in his mid-thirties or early forties, with flame red hair and beard, barking and growling while running toward this noise must have been quite a frightening sight.
Mongrel swallowed hard when he came face to face with the Grizzly, just like the time on the Wagon Train, but this time there was no chew, and no campfire, so he did the only thing that he felt made any sense at all. Again he started to growl and then let out a blood curdling bark and a howl that would have made your skin crawl. After a few seconds of this awful howling and barking, the Grizzly turned tail and ran out of the camp full speed, crashing through the brush, knocking down four inch thick saplings that were in its path.
A lot of things happened during this time in the west, and Mongrel has become a legend in the region. The reputation that he gained through his barking, howling, and tobacco juice spitting are still talked about today.
The legend says that he died on his claim in 1912 at the age of 80 years. He had become so successful in wilderness survival, he nearly never came to town except for women, whiskey and whoopin’ it up. No one knows where he is buried, but as the story has it, a survey crew in the mountains found a skeleton of a man in 1913 lying on a bed of pine boughs and leaves. The witnesses said he was found under a blanket of Grizzly skin. The survey crew buried this man but only marked the grave with a pile of stones as they had no idea who he was.
So many times I have wondered if this was “Mongrel Smith” that the surveyors buried. “John Smith” or “Mongrel Smith” doesn’t make much difference. The legend is an old one and I find myself wishing that I would have the guts to live the lifestyle of this legendary figure. We can be sure that he is at peace since he lived the life he chose.
R.I.P. John Smith
This story begins in Oklahoma City abut 1830, in a small orphanage right at the edge of town. The orphanage was run by a woman who was the widow of a lawman who was gunned down during his attempt to stop a bank robbery attempt only yards from their home. She was a woman of about 30 years, and had decided to start an orphanage to help ease her mind of the sadness of her loss. She was a patient woman with black, wavy hair that cascaded over her shoulders down to her waist. She constantly dressed in clothes that were black in color, another tribute to her dead husband. One of her orphanage children was a special character, and he would let everyone know just how different he was from the other children.