Published on Monday, March 1, 2010
The Upamona Pig Squabble
By Oscar Case
|The small foothill town of Upamona was considered by those who settled there as a great place to live, it being peaceful and full of church-going, freedom-loving Mormons. Of course, there were a few residents who were not of that particular religious persuasion, but they otherwise didn't cause|
There is a nice red-brick schoolhouse for the education of the children that takes them all the way through grade six if they don't give up and call it quits before then. Many of them did because it was tough times economically to make a living and some of the older kids were taken out of school to work on the farms.
"Upamona is a decent place to put down roots and raise kids," the townsfolk said.
My name is Sanglant and everyone around here just calls me Ole Man Sanglant. We been living in Upamona for quite awhile now, not the first settler, but the town wasn't here very long when we settled in. We live north of town maybe four or five miles, where the land is more hilly and not too far from the river that flows out of the mountains over there on the west. We're in the sheep business. Yes sir, raise a lot of sheep. Always keep a few around the house in summertime for food and such and Slim, my son, and a couple of Indians take the big herd to the mountains for summering.
But, that's beside the point. I was going to tell you about the time we almost had a range war over pigs. Yes sir, pigs, and it almost came to an outright shootin' war. There was some shootin' all right, but thank the Lord, it was just animals that got plugged.
It was a bad time for anyone to buy some land and start ranching or farming then, but a rich old man named Traven Stillrivers thought it would be an ideal country for his business and he started buying up the land just north of town above the creek.
First to sell out and leave was Harold Meiers. He jumped at the chance to sell his acreage at the price old Stillrivers offered since he had to get rid of his cows to pay off debts. And next in line was Robert Baoudoin, also out of cash and cows. They both packed up lock, stock, and old harness and left town with their passels of kids and their sole possessions in the family wagons and let their teams of horses pull them to Hell knew where. And the other person to turn his property over to Stillrivers was the Ute, Johnny Fairweather, who only had a few acres to sell, but said he had been looking for a couple years to move back to Colorado.
Mrs. Priest, owner of the general store with her husband the church Bishop, was happy that somebody finally had some money to spend and was looking forward to provisioning the Stillrivers family and selling them a supply of dry goods for the farm. Bishop Priest welcomed them to the community and blessed them in their endeavors and the church members joined in, although they didn't know yet what Mr. Stillrivers planned to do with the land.
It wasn't long before the town folks found out, because a couple of weeks or so later, a convoy of sorts was seen coming up the road from the valley raising the dust like no one had ever seen except in a heavy wind. In the lead was the Stillrivers riding in a large wagon that the whole family, all twelve of them, could fit into with the largest wheels anybody had seen since the Great Migration. And directly behind the wagon were two more wagons just as large, one filled with personal possessions and household furnishings and the other loaded with pigs.
The farmers that lived along the road and their kids that were outside ooh-ed and aah-ed at the size of the wheels as the wagons rolled by raising a cloud of brown dust into the air, and they all agreed that "they ain't never seen anything like that before." The three wagons finally passed in a cloud of dust and the kids started up the road to see where they were going. It was almost like the Fourth of July parade.
So, as some neighbors watched from across the creek the horses pulled the wagons into the yard that used to belong to the Mieirs's. The Stillrivers climbed down and began unloading the household goods with the help of the drivers and some local volunteers. The wagon with the pigs was backed up to the loading pen that was built for cattle, and the pigs scrambled off, sniffing and snorting and uprooting the ground with their snouts, getting acquainted with their new home.
"That's a nice pen full of pigs you got there, Mr. Stillrivers!" one farmer yelled out as he watched them descend onto the empty field.
"Oh, yes, it sure is, but that's not all of them," said Stillrivers, standing in the wagon and taking a moment to lift his hat and wipe his brow of the sweat that was formed by the hot sun and heavy lifting. "Just wait until the rest of them get here!"
And two more wagonloads of pigs came the next day and the next, and every day for a full week-and-a-half, discharging their loads. By the time they all got relocated to Upamona, there were almost a thousand of the damn things in that field, snorting, grunting, squealing, and rooting all day and night, it seemed like.
Not long after, at the Sunday church meeting, Bishop Priest said that he had no idea that Mr. Stillrivers was going to bring so many pigs and park them right next to the creek where the whole town could see and smell them all the time, and he'd already heard rumors of some of them getting out and roaming the countryside tearing up gardens and eating the hay for the cows. "It's a problem, ladies and gentlemen, and it's going to become more of a problem if we don't do something about it," he preached. "Let's call on the Lord to send Traven Stillrivers a message that his pigs are not wanted in town and to pray for him to do something about it. The pigs outnumber the residents by more than five to one, maybe even eight or ten-to one. Let us pray."
The Stillrivers, being Catholic, didn't hear the prayers or the sermon, but everyone present agreed with the Bishop.
"Them pigs got to be moved," they said. "No doubt about it."
Pray they did, but the pigs were still there, causing more trouble and the odor was getting almost unbearable in the heat and the humidity of the rainstorms as the summer wore on. The cattlemen were getting upset, too, from all the hay and grain the loose pigs ate or ruined by their trampling. They warned Stillrivers there'd be trouble if he didn't keep the animals penned up. Stillrivers added more fencing to contain the pigs, but the ranchers didn't go for that idea, either, saying this was cattle country and fences interfere with the raising of them.
"What am I supposed to do?" asked Traven.
So, you can see that things were getting out of hand, but I was happy just to be a bystander in this. Yes sir, Slim and I and the sheep were just bystanders. Slim would go back to town once in awhile to buy some more supplies for the sheep camp and, of course, I would tell him what was going on so he didn't open his trap once too many times and put his two cents worth in. Slim's a big man and he wouldn't think nothing of sticking his nose in where it didn't belong if I hadn't warned him to keep his trap shut.
Anyway, Mrs. Priest took the side of the Stillrivers, of course, since they were spending money in the store and she was doing fine financially. She would tell every customer that would listen what good neighbors the Stillrivers were. She never went outside much, so she didn't get the full ripeness of the pig smell in the early evenings or mornings, but she would've kept it to herself if she did. She could put up with it as long as the money held out.
Come wintertime, the complaints died down. The smells were not as bad due to the snow and the cold, and the wandering pigs stayed pretty much around their pens as there were no crops to eat. Some of the animals froze to death, and the cattlemen took this as a good sign, thinking that if enough were killed off, old Stillrivers would sell out and move away.
That's what they thought, all right, but when the spring thaw came and the roads became passable again, the wagons brought more pigs to the farm, more than enough to make up for the ones that died, and old Stillrivers started butchering them himself. That is, he hired some men to butcher the pigs, cut them up, cover them in salt, and hang them up in his new building for curing. Ole Stillrivers had been busy as a bee looking for flowers, building himself a nice, new building for curing the pork and ham, and he put it to good use right off, he did. He was a man of means and, by God, he meant to make a lot of money off them pigs.
The cattlemen were getting more riled, with that Greek, George Lupadakis, saying, "Son of a bitch, that ain't right! We can't let ole Stillrivers steal our market and make this into a damn stinking pig-pen community. I say we run the son of a bitch out of town and pronto before everybody starts leaving!"
"I'm going to start shootin' every damn pig that gets into my grain!" said Mr. Wyatt. "And then I'll keep it and eat it!"
"That's a damn good idea, Willie!" said a man named Crawford. "Maybe if we all start shootin' them, he'll get the message."
It so happened that the next crop that was damaged by loose pigs was George's, and he let loose with his artillery and killed three of them. Taking two of the carcasses to the Stillrivers, he told him, "There's going to be a lot more pigs missing, if you don't keep 'em out of the cattle feed!"
Mr. Stillrivers looked the dead pigs over closely and seeing they had been shot, he retorted, "We'll see, we'll see."
That's when the shootin' started, but ole Stillrivers had something up his sleeve, too. He wasn't going to take this lying down, and I don't blame him a bit for what he did, either. Hell no, I would've done the same thing probably. The cattlemen think they own the whole damn countryside, yes sir, but they soon found out different.
Three or four days later, Mr. Stillrivers made a delivery to the Lupadakis's of one dead heifer shot between the eyes, telling him, "This here animal was in amongst my pigs, so I shot him. I thought that was the only fair thing to do."
"Why you dirty, low-down, son-of-a--!" cussed George.
Stillrivers paid him no mind, and more pigs were shot, answered by more cows being killed.
Bishop Priest called a meeting of the cattlemen and Stillrivers, and told them "to stop the nonsense before somebody gets hurt."
Mr. Stillrivers said, "Look here, gentlemen, I've built fencing all around my land to keep the pigs in, but your damn cows break it down and mingle with the pigs. I can't do any more."
"Are you saying that it's our fault your pigs damage our crops and gardens?" said Wyatt. "If you are, I'm calling you out right now, and we'll settle it one way or another."
"Now, Willie," said the Bishop. "You got to control your temper." Turning to Stillrivers, he said, "Mr. Stillrivers, you can see that this has gone on long enough, and I'm tired of hearing complaints from the folks that the smell of your pig farm is enough to drive them out of town, and all the run-off from the pens is going into the creek and making the people who drink the water sick. We've had three cases of typhoid fever since you came to town. I'm not taking sides, but it seems only reasonable that you should move your pigs away from town, and I've sent a message to the County Sheriff to make sure you do."
Well, as you can see, things were getting pretty hot, but so far nobody had been killed. And when the Sheriff showed up, well, he was supposed to put an end to it, but things didn't exactly go according to plan.
The County Sheriff showed up a week later and met with the pig farmer, the cattlemen, and the Bishop. He started off by addressing the group with, "Gentlemen, it's my understanding from what Bishop Priest has told me that Traven Stillrivers built himself a pig farm adjacent to Upamona and, forthwith, the pigs got loose and tore up the fields of hay and grain of the cattlemen even though they were fenced in. Am I correct in that?"
"That's right, Sheriff," said Mr. Lupadakis. "They also got into our gardens and ate up most of the vegetables."
"And Mr. Stillrivers tells me that the cattle broke down the fences and mingled with the pigs, even eating some of their grain and such, is that right, too?" asked the Sheriff.
"Just half right, Sheriff," corrected Mr. Crawford. "Those damn pigs were ruining our crops, but our cattle was only eating some swill and grain from the pig troughs, not causing nearly the damage of the pigs."
"And then we started killing them to teach him a lesson," added Mr. Wyatt, "but that double-crossing skunk killed our cattle, too, and we want him run out of town before we take some target practice on him."
"And the odor is making everybody sick, Sheriff," said the Bishop. "And the pig manure is running into the creek causing typhoid fever, too. Something's got to be done before somebody gets shot."
"Well, gentlemen," said the Sheriff, "there ain't no law against pig farming and there ain't no law against cattle raising, but, just talking as one man to another, I'd say that if the town raised enough money to pay Mr. Stillrivers to relocate, or if Mr. Stillrivers could raise enough money to move the town, then that would settle the matter. What do you think of that idea?"
"It sounds a little lop-sided to me," said Stillrivers. "But, I might be willing to move if the price was right. I'll need a hundred dollars a pig to make it worthwhile."
This set off an uproar among the cattlemen and if they hadn't checked their guns at the door, would've meant the death or severe injury of the pig farmer. They had to settle for calling him every name in the book and telling him there wasn't that much money in the whole county.
"A hundred dollars a pig! That's highway robbery!" they yelled.
The Sheriff almost lost control of the meeting, but his demeanor and loud voice was able to quell the noise. "Calm down, calm down, gentlemen, or I'll lock all of you up!" he said. After everybody quieted down enough to be heard, he continued, "There is another way to handle this, and that's to take it to the courts and let them decide."
The cowboys and the pig farmer thought about that suggestion for a minute or two until Mr. Crawford spoke up, "Hell, Sheriff, that'll take years for them to make a decision, and by then it'll...."
Well, you can see that it wasn't going to be settled by the Sheriff and it was getting near the point where both Stillrivers and the cattlemen were about ready to take up arms to defend their rights and start killing each other when Roger Proudmire spoke up. He didn't own many cattle, in fact, he only had four or five and at that time he didn't own any pigs, except for a couple he kept for food for the family.
"Gentlemen," he began, "I recommend that the town buy out Mr. Stillrivers."
Before he could even finish what he was going to say, the cattlemen let out their frustrations by yelling loudly and saying, "By God! We're not going to pay him no hundred dollars a pig! That's too damn much to pay for twenty pounds of bacon!"
Proudmire held out his arms and waved them up and down a couple of times to quiet them down and so did the Sheriff.
That Proudmire had always been a nosy son-of-a- gun, and here he was sticking his nose into something that he had practically no dog in the fight. But the crowd finally settled down after some loud cat-calls and cussing and he was able to continue.
"I was going to tell you," Proudmire began again, "if you'll just be quiet a darn minute, that I've been wanting to try my hand at the pig business and since I live a few miles away down there in the basin, I'm willing to buy maybe half the pigs if the town will put up the money for the other half, and if Mr. Stillrivers is willing to take the offer."
A loud cheer went up from the cattlemen and Lupadakis said, "By God! That'll settle the problem! I'll put in some money on that and I'm sure the other people will too. Did you hear that Stillrivers? Them pigs got to be moved!"
Well, the upshot of it was that Stillrivers agreed to sell out and before the snow started flying, he left town with the remainder of the pigs, a down payment and a damn difficult negotiated promissory note from the town and Proudmire.
And that's what happened with the pigs as I heard it mostly second-hand and most everybody was happy about the settlement except Mrs. Priest and her husband. They missed that money the Stillrivers spent for all their supplies and goods in the store.
The range war between the cattlemen and pig farmer had been avoided and the story is just about over at this point, but the pig odor lingered over the town until the cattlemen, at the urging of the Bishop, agreed to plow the old pig farm under and make a park for the town out of it.
The next summer the most beautiful and largest flower garden known in those parts sprung up to the delight of the citizens, and everyone said they had never seen anything like it before, although there was sagebrush scattered in with the flowers in the new park.
The Stillrivers, it was rumored, moved over by the Green River miles from the nearest settlement and were still in the pig business. Roger Proudmire settled in with his pigs and his family and after a couple of years was selected by the church authorities to replace Bishop Priest.
In Bishop Priest's last sermon he said, "Upamona has returned to being a peaceful town and for this, we thank the Lord."
And I say, "Amen to that."
Oscar Case began writing family history and genealogy about ten years ago before he switched to writing western fiction. He has written several novels and is working to get them published.