Although it can provide an entertaining diversion from time to time, it turns out that being a concerned citizen doesn’t reliably pay the bills. So I had to find a job. I had a few offers that weren’t too appealing, including one from a client of Nurse Jane’s. As it turns out, I stumbled across my job while visiting the vacation mecca of Alisal after a hunting trip. It turned out that a slightly overdressed gentleman in his 40s by the name of Jared Crandall happened to be enjoying (tolerating?) dinner at a nearby table in the same less-than-fine establishment I was. Mr. Crandall’s mind was obviously elsewhere, but it was pretty obvious that a few less than savory types were sizing him up as a mark.
When mealtime was over, Mr. Crandall’s unsavory entourage followed him out and I followed them out. The thugs approached Crandall, things started to get ugly, and I rushed in to save the day. Not exactly a perfect story of heroism, though, because if Mr. Crandall hadn’t tipped me off about the third thug behind me things would have ended a lot differently.
Normally I figure that no good deed goes unpunished, but in this particular case my good actually got rewarded. Duly impressed with my mad pistol skillz, Mr. Crandall asked if I was interested in work, and a brief interview later I had a nice position as an express messenger for the Pioneer Stage Line (PSL). Basically I babysit passengers and cargo moving between Placerville, Folsom, Sacramento, Stockton, and San Jose. Babysitting is a more violent business than most folks would probably suspect, though.
The PSL is run by two men, Jared Crandall and Lewis Brady. Jared and I hit it off from the beginning, and I kind of see Jared as a cool father figure who maybe cuts me a little too much slack. Mr. Brady is more of a businessman, and probably would say I did a bad job if I saved customer’s lives but put a dent in his coach. Mr. Brady and I have had a few discussions about priorities… once he was even going to dock my paycheck until Jared stepped in on my behalf.
Wednesday, 3 February 1858
Moving up toward the present day, my PSL coach had just arrived at San Jose. I wasn’t feeling at the top of my game… a little nauseous and maybe a low fever. Making matters worse, we were supposed to have a run back to Sacramento, but Wells Fargo cancelled the contract at the last minute after deciding to send their box by steamer instead. That meant a little less cash for me and a deadhead ride back to Sacramento. So I dragged my butt up early to catch the coach at dawn, feeling way worse than I had before.
There was only one other passenger – a man in his late thirties with a serious face but a friendly disposition. He bought a ticket all the way to “Folsom and beyond”. He says he has business in Carson Valley, and needs to make the crossing over the Sierra Nevada at the first melt.
Mr. Smith and I were having a friendly chat while I was loading his gear when two rough looking men come up. Smith took a carpet bag back (that he had just asked you to stow up top) and asked me “why don’t you go help those fellows”.
So I did. Green seemed like a nice enough guy, and pretty sharp. He wore a grey duster and a tan sombrero in the Mexican way. His friend Charles had a scarred face with a black overcoat and a white stetson that was stained muddy grey.
There seemed to be a little tension between Smith and Green/Charles, but the coach left on schedule. I heard them talking among themselves in low tones, but couldn’t pick up much. Where’s the German when I need those sharp ears of his? I think I heard that Green and Charles are heading to Sacramento and then “up to the mining towns” – and that they are looking for something. I might also have been distracted by the fact that I was puking sick by now.
We pulled into the midday station at Alisal (now Pleasanton) hours behind schedule. The driver told me I was slowing them down too much, which was true. He also told me I was getting left behind, which sucks but is also business as usual. The show must go on, right? Smith took a quick walk to relieve himself, bought tacos (gag, the thought of tacos right now…) and fresh fruit from a stand, and then got right back in the coach. G&C came out of the saloon with a bottle of whiskey, brown bread and cheese.
Great, so I’m stuck in Alisal. Without a doubt the biggest shit hole on our route. Bandits and gunfights are regular occurrences here, and I wonder if I’m even fit to shoot straight if things go bad. Basically the only things in Alisal are assholes and whiskey, and I’m not in the mood to spend several days with either of those waiting for the next stage.
I just wasn’t up to walking yet, though, still fighting that fever. I got a room for the night and felt a little better in the morning. Even went half an hour without puking, so I must have been ready to hit the road.
Thursday, 4 February 1858
The options for getting from Alisal to Stockton range from bad to worse, so I chose bad. I walked east along the same road the coach took. Rough country for about 30 miles, but things smooth out once you get to the San Joaquin Valley.
I forgot there was a little bit of a tricky turn near Altamont Pass, so on the first day I spent a good chunk of time wandering around aimlessly. Eventually impassable terrain reminded me that maybe I should try a different route. At least I got it right the second time, but I lost about half a day in the process. Later on I saw some bandits. Lamest bandits ever… hiding in plain sight, or not. I gave some serious thought to messing with them, but decided maybe taking on 4 armed men in the middle of nowhere wouldn’t be the smartest thing I’d ever done. Hopefully I didn’t pay the bandits forward to a defenseless group of orphans who happened to be the next ones coming this way.
The next day wasn’t so eventful. I was running a bit slow thanks to taking the scenic route the day before, but pretty much the only challenge in the San Joaquin valley is finding good points to ford the creeks. My navigation skills were apparently too embarrassed to fail me again, and I got across the creeks with no trouble.
And that has me walking into Stockton bright and early on Saturday, February 6th.