It was a very dry and dusty day in Muskrat Flats, somewhat of an Indian Summer. An Indian summer with its short but warm days brought forth a round of good memories for Sheriff Coleman Hawthorne as he peered out the window of his office. The oak and maple trees were beginning to show hues of bronze, yellow and red, dotting the landscape like those paintings he had seen in Paris a few years ago. Impressionism, they called it.
Sheriff Hawthorne took a big pull off of his cigar and swirled his tumbler of whiskey wishing he would have the opportunity to see those paintings again. But how to get to Paris? How indeed. He was needed here. He certainly had the means to do so, he just needed the time.
He sometimes fantasized that when he finally did get to Paris, he could convince some of those painters to come and add to the growing bohemian flavor of the community here in the Flats.
Perhaps it was a co-incidence, perhaps it was the location, but there was something about Muskrat Flats which attracted a certain type of person. Thinkers, writers, artists, and entrepreneurs seemed to all fall together quite by chance.
On any given day a lone wolf would wander into Muskrat Flats. Someone who would feel like an outsider anywhere else in the world ... they would wander into town and find themselves at home and looking for a place to live, to write, to hang out their shingle and most of all enjoy the spirit of community. Call it a co-incidence but things were happening in town the way Hawthorne thought that they should. Yes they were.
Sheriff Hawthorne looked over to the right, and peered down Petersen St., where the new Odd Fellows Hall was being constructed. Yes the summer of 1879 it had been a good summer, indeed. He was roused from his thoughts as the door to his office opened.
Edna Bartleby walked in, she was wearing a well worn apron and a house dress of somber earth tones. He could see that she had been crying. He rose from his chair and put out the cigar. He tipped his hat.
"Edna, what is wrong, how can I help you?" She was cradling a folded document.
"Can ... can they do this?" He looked at the document. It was from the Silverstein Brothers, the owner of the silver mine which had given birth to the little oasis Hawthorne and so many others called home many years ago.
Hawthorne rolled his unlit cigar around in his mouth. Tsking to himself as he read. He sighed.
"Tell you what Edna, ignore this letter. You are about the tenth person from your neck of the woods who has gotten one of these. I'll talk to the Silversteins and see what we can figure out."
She headed to the door. He reread the letter he had seen already addressed to ten different former employees of the mine. It was a scam of the worst kind, a legal one. The Silverstein Brothers had a mercantile where most of their employees shopped. The did so because in the leaner times they could get product from the mercantile on credit from their future earnings. It was not clearly explained that these purchases had an interest amount factored into the transaction which amounted to about 15%. So, there were workers who's whole check was going right back to the company with a balance still owed.
The Silversteins were coming to the end of the road with the mine. Their yield was half of what it had been in its heyday. There was a recent mine collapse about 18 months ago where five miners were lost. Much to their dismay, the Silversteins were encouraged to pay off a settlement to the deceased worker's families, a situation which surely would not have happened if Hawthorne did not get involved. This left a bitter taste in their mouths and an even more bitter resentment toward the Sheriff.
Now, what the Silversteins were doing was firing workers who had a tab they could not afford to pay back with the intention of taking their land and homesteads as a means to settle their debt, at least that is what they wanted to do.
"Can they do this?" Edna asked. "Can they really do this?"
"Technically they can, but they manipulated the system to their advantage. That is not how we do things in the Flats now, is it?" She smiled at the Sheriff who just winked at her.
"No, Sheriff, It certainly is not." She held her head high as she walked out into the warm dusty street. The Sheriff took a swig of his whiskey strapped on his side arm and ventured out into the street.
Sheriff Hawthorne walked down the street tipping his hat and smiling to those who greeted him. He entered the mercantile and walked up the stairs to Abraham Silvertein's office. He really ran the show, his spineless bother Jerome was more of a figurehead in the company. He did all of his older brother's dirty work.
Sheriff Hawthorne reached into his pocket pulling out the 10 documents he had pertaining to this matter. With the letters in his hand he walked into the office unannounced.
Abraham was sitting in the chair of his opulently adorned office with Celeste, one of Hawthorne's favorite girls on her knees in front of him with her beautiful blonde head bobbing up and down. He slammed the door behind him.
"Can I interrupt?" Celeste was used to making quick getaways. She was up and pulling her breasts back inside her dress. She gave him a smirk as she passed by. He winked and whispered,
"sorry sweetie." She hissed back
"You OWE me one, TODAY!"
"Hawthorne, vaht's the meaning of this, They don't knock in zee barn you grew up in?"
"On Beacon Hill we had butlers, to knock and answer when knocked. It was rather stuffy and I feel that I have missed out on some of the social folkways, I should have learned as a child. A point I just, so rudely have proven to you. So, If you will forgive my faux pas." He continued.
"My detachment from a segment of society whom I had so admired, much to the chagrin of my family, is why I chose to move out here. This wonderful community, of hardworking folks, artists and musicians, inventors, this little oasis I named Muskrat Flats."
Abraham was fastening his pants.
"Jah, I'm sure you haf a point..."
"I dropped by because I figured you would be hard at work on your next investment, your next scurrilous scheme which I would like to discuss with you." he said as he waved the documents in his hand and threw them on his desk. Silverstein picked up the papers and leafed through them.
"Jah, so vaht. These schwein-hund owe us a lot of money. Ve vill get vaht ve are owed. I don't vant to be responsible ..." Hawthorne cut him off mocking him.
"Jah, I don't vant to be responsible." He slipped back into his own voice. "Being responsible seems to be something you are incapable of. Being responsible means that you do the right thing. Being responsible means not following through with an obvious scam like this."
"Now, you just vait a minute."
"No, I have waited long enough. I would need time to look through the legal books and to find a precedent which proves what you are doing is wrong legally. To tell you the truth I don't think it is illegal. I would take it to the supreme court if I had to, to protect these "dogs" as you call them. I call them my neighbors."
Silverstein was glaring at him.
"I know the mine is failing, but I also know that by the time you close down its operations, you are NOT going to have stolen the land from the workers and families who made you rich in the first place. "
"You know sheriff, Fuck You! Look at your self, you got rich building this town, too!" He spat on the floor.
"Yes I did, I got rich beyond my wildest dreams, but in case you haven't noticed. I spread it around. When I do well everyone does well. You just covet what other people have and are willing to put them on the street to get it." He glared at Silverstein. I've got a proposition for you"
He outlined the proposition to Silverstein. He offered to buy the mine, and settle the debts owed to the mercantile. The offer was soundly rejected.
"I think my vay is better."
"I'm not going to let this happen. That I guarantee, as long as I am Sheriff."
"Vell, ve'll see vaht happens then, Jah? Vaht if the great Sheriff Hawthorne is not there to protect the vorkers, hah? Vaht if ve elect another Sheriff, Jah?" He began laughing an insane maniacal laugh.
"Okay, Abe, that's going to happen ..."
"Okay, vaht if you just. How you say ... Disappear, vaht then."
"Look Abe, I don't like you, maybe it is your accent, maybe it is because you were with Celeste. Maybe it is because you are the grimy little shit that I scraped off of the bottom of my boot on one of your shelves down stairs. I don't like being threatened. And You ... are ... NOT ... going to win. My offer stands I suggest you take it."
"Tell Bartelby he is out by Friday." He slapped the stack of documents back in Hawthorne's hand.
That was the last conversation that Hawthorne had with Silverstein. Hawthorne had something to prove. Unfortunately, he was not going to be there to see it. He was sure that Silverstein was going to kill him and he had to beat him at his own game.
The next afternoon he had a meeting with all of the future members of the Odd Fellows. He outlined his plan, he explained why it had to be that way. He told Edna Bartleby what her role in the plan was. She was to open a mercantile. She was not to undercut the prices across town. Former Union Officers who were friends of Hawthorne were coming into Muskrat Flats to help keep the peace.
The next afternoon, Silverstein was walking down the street scheming. There was a loud crash. The Sheriff Came flying through the window of the saloon. He was followed by his two best friends who were calling him a swindler. He dusted off his white suit and tried to calm them down. but they were determined. A crowd gathered. One person shouted out what the Sheriff's crimes were, he was taking kickbacks and going to allow the repossessions to happen. Everyone was drunk and disorderly. Before Silverstein could catch his breath there was a noose around Hawthorne's neck and he was on the back of a horse. Within seconds someone slapped the horse in the ass and Hawthorne was swinging from one of those colorful oak branches he was admiring a few short days ago.
His legs kicked for a minute and then his body went limp. Silverstein puffed his chest out at what he saw. He was a happy man.
The next day, one by one everyone who worked for the mine went to the mercantile to pay off their debts. Within days, Edna Bartelby had a fully stocked store and was doing a great business. Workers stopped showing up at the mine because they got jobs with the Coleman Hawthorne Foundation. It seems that after the sheriff was hung in a drunken rage, his will was discovered. He paid off all of the debts of everyone in town and purchased their land on which they could live indefinitely until it was willed either to a next generation or a land conservation trust. That is how the Farm Museum, the Railroad station and everything else that is so unique about Muskrat Flats came to be.
The Silversteins had no choice but to close up shop and they moved out of town. They had too much to lose, they knew when they were beaten.
Nobody shopped at the mercantile because they were predators. Edna Bartleby was a sweet heart and people wanted to see her succeed. The community thrived it became a destination for the generations, just as it is today. Sheriff Hawthorne's little experiment worked, even though only a handful of key people in town knew it was an experiment. It worked because the community had faith.
About 10 months later, an election was held for the office of Sheriff. Coleman Hawthorne the III was re-elected posthumously as Sheriff of Muskrat Flats.
At the swearing in ceremony scheduled a year to the day of Hawthorne's hanging, Deputy Waldo Robertson was going to accept the position as the Sheriff. He had prepared a speech which he would have slurred because he had gotten drunk, again. The ceremony was scheduled for 12:05 PM, right after the Noon train rolled into town dropping off three scruffy passengers.
Ned Bartelby was on the platform making a speech. He finally concluded.
"It is my great honor and privilege to name Coleman Hawthorne the III as your next Sheriff. Accepting on his behalf Deputy Waldo Robertson. Roberstson began to stumble across the stage.
A loud booming voice shouted,
"What's This? There stood Coleman Hawthorne in his signature white suit with his arms outstretched watching Robertson waddle across the stage. With a big smile on his face. He beamed at the crowd.
"I Win!" Robertson focused in on Hawthorne and pissed his pants. As Coleman Hawthorne swaggered across the platform to the podium. He was followed by two men.
Ladies and Gentlemen this is Jean Luc, and Esteban, they are two artists from Paris who want to live here with us in Muskrat Flats. What do you think of that?"
The crowd was aghast. Some of the crowd gasped, those in the know were hysterical with laughter. He looked over to Celeste who was crying and winked. The crowd started cheering and jumping up and down.
"Bon Jour, mon amis! Yep it's me. Sorry about the way I left the Flats a year ago. But I really needed a vacation and you all had a job to do ... saving your town and protecting your way of life. I could not be here to help you, and trust me, I really didn't want to leave you hanging."
That comment garnered groans and boos from the crowd as well as smattering of raucous laughter.
"But seriously, It is my pleasure to accept the position, for the second time in my two lives as the Sheriff of Muskrat Flats. And if anyone needs to dicuss this with me you now where to find me, either in my office or the basement of the Odd Fellows Hall. Speaking of ...On to more important things ...what's that, Edna? Do I smell coffee and blueberry muffins?"
Things were back to normal in Muskrat Flats, nobody blinked. Everyone kind of knew that Hawthorne was coming back, After all, who would really want to hang him, he had always been there to protect them and help them along. They finally did it on their own and they were proud of it.
Hopefully Abe and Jerome never looked back as they were ...
Running Hard Out of Muskrat Flats.