"I figured I better sit here when I saw that you was all alone. A
girl your age? It ain't safe." The woman looked around the boxcar
in disapproval. "Sure ain't the Palmer House."
Addie had no idea what that meant, but she got the gist. And
just exactly what age did she think Addie was? "Thank you. But
I do all right." She looked herself over, wondering how that was
going to stay true if they made women wear dresses out here. Boots,
pants, boys' shirts that buttoned up the middle, and a leather vest
did her fine, she thought. The train was going at a good, noisy clip,
which made the pair lean into each other to hear what the other
"You from down near Kentucky by any chance?" the woman
Addie perked up, curious now. "Down near."
"Thought I could hear it. Get pretty good at things like that
when you live in the Territory. Everyone speaking this way and
that. Most days you don't meet two people from even close to the
same place. Unless you're in the mine camps I suppose, then you
got all them coolies and Finns and such, thick as thieves."
"Coolies and Finns?" Addie searched her mind. Already there
were a few more words she didn't know. She assumed this woman
must be talking about people, but what they sounded like to her
were different kinds of fish.
"Oh, young lady." The woman sighed, shaking her head as if
Addie was at grave risk. She smoothed down the front of her dress.
"Where exactly are you going?"
"My brother is meeting me up in Rock Springs, then to his
homestead." Addie paused. Rock Springs was her destination, then
her brother's place. But where she was headed felt just then like a
question without an answer.
The woman huffed and again looked up and down the length
of the boxcar. "Homesteading? Outside Rock Springs? And you
"Then I best fill you in on a few things." The woman held out a
palm and jabbed her finger into it. "Whatever land your brother sits
on, see to it you got drinkable water. Don't know of many homesteading
folks in those parts ain't met with heartache. 'Course,
there's a few, and maybe your brother'll be one of them." She took
a deep breath as if what she was about to say would take a lungful.
"And when you get to Rock Springs, you stay away from the coolies.
The Finns is okay if they aren't drinking, but the coolies are
the most savage lot you'll ever meet. If they get the chance they'll
snatch a baby out of a mother's arms and eat it right in front of her.
And at night they go underground into their burrows, doing all
manner of deviltry."
What was it, Addie wondered, about the women in these parts
that turned them all into the preacher's wife? And if this woman
was purposely trying to frighten Addie, it was working. She wasn't
sure if she wanted to hear more. Outside, the landscape suddenly
wasn't comforting at all. The sunlight had a weight to it, seemed
to press down on every living thing, left the world flat and dry, the
brush more gray than green, the clumps separated and solitary like a
wandering army in disarray. And then ahead, Addie caught sight of
a dozen or so strange-looking animals, not dogs or deer or cows, not
goats either, but still, four-legged. They had long black snouts, tan
backsides, white bellies, and one of them had a pair of evil-looking
black horns shaped like the pinchers of an earwig. "Are those coolies?"
Addie asked, pointing as the train passed the animals. She'd
seen them once or twice on her travels but never this close.
The woman looked out the window and then at Addie. Her
face held an expression that fell somewhere between worry and
sympathy. "You are a green one," she chuckled. "Those are pronghorn.
Wouldn't hurt a fly," she said, her chuckle evolving into an
Addie didn't appreciate being called green, nor the fact that
this woman she didn't know from Adam was laughing at her.
"Then how will I know a coolie if I see one?"
Kenn Nesbitt is new Children's Poet Laureate(Jun 12 2013) Kenn Nesbitt has been named the new Children's Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children's Poetry to the Poetry Foundation, which noted that the two-year position...