The Old Men of the Mountain

Damon Runyon

Many a strange thing happens back in my old home town out West, but nothing stranger ever happens than the time old Zeb Griscom suddenly hauls off and drops out of sight, leaving his wife, Mrs. Griscom, mourning for him more than somewhat.

My grandmaw says that as far as she can see Mrs. Griscom gets a pretty good break one way and another, because old Zeb Griscom is not much husband. In fact, Old Zeb is a good deal of an old sot, going around getting his pots on very often, and only going home when there is no other place to go.

My grandpap says he does not blame old Zeb for this, because the best he gets when he does go home is plenty of cold shoulder and tongue, what with Mrs. Griscom being no rose geranium when it comes to temper, which is a crack that starts some little talking back and forth between my grandmaw and my grandpap.

But no matter what he is, old Zeb is too prominent as a pioneer to be allowed to haul off and disappear without somebody asking questions, especially as Mrs. Griscom is going down to see the authorities every day, and threatening to give them a good stirring up if they do not do something or other about it.

Finally, when it begins to look as if old Zeb is gone sure enough and it does not look as if he is coming back, the authorities get to snooping around on this proposition, and it comes out that the last seen of Zeb he is traveling on foot off in the direction of the Greenhorn Mountains with a pack of what seems to be supplies on his back.

The man who mentions this to the authorities is a party by the name of Diggers, who keeps sheep, and is therefore very unreliable, so nobody pays any attention to him for a couple of weeks.

Then as old Zeb is still missing, and cannot be located any place, somebody decides that maybe the sheep party is partly telling the truth. In fact it commences to be the opinion back in my old home town that maybe something happens to old Zeb, because it does not stand to reason that a man rising sixty years old, will suddenly disappear from the earth leaving no word, even if he is married to Mrs. Griscom.

So three of old Zeb’s best friends decide to go off toward the Greenhorn Mountains to see if they can find a clue of Zeb. These friends are old Joe Calkins, the horse trader, Mr. Hathaway, the banker and Weed McCullough, the dry-goods man. They are all pioneers of my old home town and highly respected by one and all.

I remember my grandpap saying at the time that he does not see how Joe Calkins ever gets his wife, Mrs. Calkins, to let him go on the search, and my Aunt Margaret says it is a sure thing that Mr. Hathaway chloroforms Mrs. Hathaway before she lets him out of her sight, because it is pretty well known in my old home town who wears the pants in these families.

It comes out after they leave that Weed McCullough never asks his wife, Mrs. McCullough, if he can go, and there is plenty of talk about what will happen to him when he comes back, because Mrs. McCullough is one of those women.

Well, sir, what happens but the searching party does not come back. When it is gone a week, with no word from anybody, there is plenty of excitement back in my old home town. Somebody figures that there must be a band of outlaws, or maybe Indians, out there toward the Greenhorn Mountains grabbing up these citizens and robbing and murdering them, and one thing and another.

So finally my grandpap goes around town and gets up a posse of seven men, all of them old-time Indian fighters, and they get themselves a team and wagon which they load up with plenty of supplies, including food, although my grandmaw afterwards says she notices they do not forget to take more or less liquor with them.

In fact my grandmaw says it is more than less, and there is plenty of talk back and forth between her and my grandpap asking her if she has the heart to talk to him like that when his dear old comrades may be perishing out there in the hills, and my grandmaw saying yes she has.

But my grandmaw says she guesses she can spare him all right if old Pete Dillaway’s wife, Mrs. Dillaway, can let Pete go; old Pete being one of my grandpap’s posse, and a very much henpecked man. It comes out afterwards that as soon as the posse gets out of the city limits, old Pete lets out a big whoop, and when somebody asks him why he does this he explains it is because it is the first time in twenty-five years he dares raise his voice above a whisper.

Well, it is quite a sight to see this posse of old gentlemen loaded in the wagon and carrying rifles, and six-pistols, and one thing and another, driving to the rescue of their old comrades. My grandpap is in the front seat wearing the old coonskin cap he wears when he first comes up the Arkansaw Valley with Kit Carson, and Marshal Pat Dillon has a skinning knife in his belt with which he says he expects to scalp any hostile Indians they come across, and he hopes they will be Kiowas, these being the Indians he especially hates, because they run him knock-kneed back in the early days.

The last word of the rescue party comes from this same man Diggers who keeps the sheep, and he says when they pass his place they seem to be quite jolly, and that a man in a coonskin cap takes an off hand crack at him with a Winchester rifle from about two hundred yards off, but misses him quite some.

My grandmaw says when she hears this news that it confirms her suspicion about the liquor, because it does not stand to reason, she says, that my grandpap will miss a sheepman at two hundred yards if he is perfectly O.K., although my grandmaw admits when somebody calls her attention to the matter that my grandpap is not as young as he used to be.

Well, sir, a week goes by and no word comes from the rescue party, although they promise to let people know how they are getting along. Another week goes by, and there is talk of asking the governor to call out the state militia. Every morning you can see Mrs. Griscom, Mrs. McCullough and all the other wives of the missing, except my grandmaw, down in front of the mayor’s office demanding that Mayor Joe Heintzman do something or other.

My grandmaw does not go visiting the mayor, because she says in the first place Joe Heintzman is an old fool and has been such for many years. In the second place she says she will go find those old scalawags herself if they do not show up pretty soon, and when she does find them they better make themselves mighty scarce, especially my grandpap.

My grandmaw will not believe anything very terrible happens to any of the lot, although everybody but her in my old home town is in pretty much of a sweat. Finally she commences to worry a little herself, because, say what you please, my grandmaw rather likes my grandpap.

Old Jake Warburton, one of grandpap’s best friends, starts in organizing a new posse to go in search of the missing, and somebody notices that he is picking only old pioneers, and asking none of the young squirts of the town to go along, which old Jake explains by saying that this looks like a big fighting job, and he wants experienced fighting men.

When my grandmaw hears of old Jake’s posse she says, “Uh-huh,” like that, and the next thing anybody knows she makes me hitch up old Silver, our gray horse, and away she goes off toward the Greenhorn Mountains in our light buggy, all alone and looking very determined.

It is a good day’s drive to the mountains in those days but my grandmaw knows the roads and the country well. Furthermore, she has many friends on the ranches out that way, and nobody will worry about her whatever, if it is not for what happens to the different missing parties.

Three days later my grandmaw comes driving back again, and who is with her but my grandpap looking none too brash. Furthermore, not far behind them comes all the pirates who are missing, even old Zeb Griscom with a new set of whiskers, and looking very wild. In fact all of them look wild, and they look still wilder after my grandmaw tells their wives a thing or two.

It seems that what happens is as follows:

Old Zeb Griscom gets sick and tired listening to Mrs. Griscom after many years, and so he tells a few of his old friends that he is going out into the Greenhorn Mountains to live in a cave and have a good time the rest of his life.

Of course many wish to go with him, but Zeb shows them how it will look too suspicious if they all start off at once. So they figure out they can go searching for each other in bunches until they are all together in the cave, and living happy.

The scheme works out great until my grandmaw gets to worrying about my grandpap, which of course is something they do not figure possible. And it seems my grandmaw knows enough about Indian fighting to know that Indian fighters do not need as much liquor to do their fighting on as my grandpap and his searching party takes with them, and she judges that some dirty work is going on somewhere.

She is pretty sure of it when Jake Warburton starts picking out only old guys, and while she does not wish to spoil anybody’s fun she decides that it goes far enough. So she starts searching herself, and the first thing she does when she hits the mountains is to find herself a Mexican who lives in those parts, and who naturally knows what is going on.

This Mexican leads my grandmaw to the cave, and she busts right into as jolly a party as anybody will wish to find with Mr. Hathaway, the banker, doing some cooking over a big fire, and my grandpap dealing out drinks, and everybody laying around looking very happy indeed, until they see my grandmaw.

Well, that is all there is to the great disappearance, except that old Jake Warburton is missing for several days after the lost ones return and it comes out that he is in the Greenhorn Mountains looking for the Mexican who guides my grandmaw. It seems that old Jake is so sore over losing out on the party that he wishes to cut the Mexican’s ears off and keep them for souvenirs, but the Mexican outruns him through the Hardscrabble Canyon, and old Jake comes back to town to spend the rest of his life listening to the stories of the others about the good time they have, and feeling sore at the Mexican.