• Sage Webb

Remembering My Shower Sandals ... and the Women Who Lived Here Before Space Heaters

Or this post might be called “A Bucket ... and a Book About Brothels.” Because over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve gained a new appreciation and gratitude for buckets ... and a new realization of the hardships faced by nineteenth-century soiled doves trying to make a go of it in America’s wild western environs.

Yes, it’s been a few weeks since my last post. Almost a month? We camped in the deep freeze. (The holding tank is STILL pretty frozen [I can’t resist: I have to snicker “poo-cicle”], which adds a certain flare to the challenge of addressing the sewer system right now; and the water pump, or a piece around it, suffered serious damage in the freeze, but more on that in a second). I’ve shot A LOT of arrows (and put up scores with which I’m kinda happy). Texas made it through the winter chaos, though we suffered a *bit* of boat damage (I can’t go into it—too bothersome and even sad).

(No need for a freezer when it’s way below 0 out.)

(It can get expensive, with having to buy new arrows, but “Robin Hooding” an arrow and blowing its back off always feels good ... a bit of precision ....)

(He did not appreciate his Iditarod training.)

The Bosun left me and headed south to deal with the freeze fallout (and to return to work). I stayed in the RV to shoot, file insurance claims, mourn some “boat loss,” and have running water (that remains an issue “deep in the heart of Texas”). Except that the RV’s water pump is out of commission because of freeze damage, so I don’t even have running water. I’d planned to walk into town to buy a bucket to put into service, but for real ... this happened:

RV Dog and I went for a stroll in the woods. We encountered a bit of trash, seemingly a trove the coyotes had gotten into and strewn about. And we encountered a bucket! Right there. In the fields and trees behind the campground. Not a four-mile-away walk into town in the cold! A miracle!

So now I fill my bucket morning and night and bring water into Traveler, feeling a certain parallel with the ladies who carted water into their pioneering camps on the way to the nineteenth-century gold rush in the Black Hills, west of here. Having camped in South Dakota in -26 below, I appreciate even more the heartiness of these adventurous lasses.

The stories of some of these ladies come to light-handed, compassionate life in

Michael Rutter’s Boudoirs to Brothels: The Intimate World of Wild West Women, a layered peek into the world of the Victorian-era, Old West, pioneering bawdy girl. While Rutter’s prose doesn’t quite sparkle, the ladies’ stories themselves leap off the page, and gave me a good read while wiling away in the snow. These women were creative, tough, resourceful, and spirited. Some built empires, dying with sprawling businesses and fortunes. Some served their communities as philanthropists, putting their “ill-gotten gains” toward meals for the hungry and succor for the afflicted. And some died in obscurity ... perhaps intentionally, like Etta Place, who disappeared from history after a crime spree in South America with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Since it hasn’t been that long since Traveler took us through Tombstone, Arizona, Rutter’s vignettes about Sadie Marcus (“Mrs.” Wyatt Earp) and Big Nose Kate (Doc Holliday’s paramour), and their adventures around Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theater and Oriental Saloon, felt real indeed. Now being up in the Dakotas, I also have a gritty sense of the rugged world in which Madam Dora Dufran and Calamity Jane lived up to tall tales.

Sure, I realize that carting a bucket twenty feet to the trailer, and having to dash back out into the cold from the bathhouse to retrieve my shower sandals when I forget them in the RV, hardly put me in the pioneering category. But maybe that’s the point: I’ve got space heaters, and a faucet not far away that sprays potable water, and Gor-Tex, a pantry full of vegetarian chicken substitute, and sparkling fruit juices, and it’s still not “easy”! So hats off to those girls gone by.

(A quick note regarding the “spectrum” of Traveler’s travels in less than a year: she’s gone from 120 degrees F in Big Bend to -26 F in South Dakota ... and the only breakdown has been a water pump!)

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