Brief by Dave Delling
Animals – December 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine
The major drinking place in Silver Cliff — the place that looks like it doesn’t belong there — was filling up. I sat at the end of the bar, sipping beer while slowly warming after a long day outside. February is usually tough in Custer County and this one was no exception.
A local band, The Beginners, was setting up preparing the loud discord to follow. The local crowd gathered. Saturday night. Nothing better to do.
I was about the only person alone but that was O.K. People here will leave you alone if you look like you want to be that way. The thinking part of my brain was lost in thoughts of what Silver Cliff was like in the boom days — say 1880. It’s hard to imagine now that this place was considered as a location for the state capital back then. The population peaked at 8,000 in those days. Now it’s maybe 300.
In 1880 there was a February and it had cold Saturday nights and bored people and local bands and maybe a few things that don’t go on around here anymore. The major change, though, is that silver isn’t mined here now.
A slap on the shoulder jarred me back to the present. George, an older guy like me, pulled up alongside and ordered a vodka and something. We hadn’t seen each other for a while.
Both of us are part-time prospectors so there’s always something to talk about. Silver Cliff has always had prospectors.
I don’t recall how we got on the subject of snakes but I told him about an encounter with a rattler last October. He ordered us a round and then said something like, “That’s kind of late, I usually see my last ones in September.” George recalled though that somebody got bitten by one during an unusual January thaw some years ago. We agreed that they can show up almost any time.
Well, that got us going trying to outshine each other with snake stories. That was bad since such a discussion can go on all night. But, we mercifully deflected ourselves somewhat and got on whether hawks or eagles will take a rattlesnake. We weren’t sure. Both of us had seen hawks snatch snakes but were never close enough to identify what kind.
So that shifted us to hawk and eagle stuff, and George told me about a mongrel pup he had a few years ago. It was yellow and destined to be a big dog but at that point was just a friendly, clumsy, fifteen-pounder with a bit of mean streak showing.
George and the pup were out one day and the pup was running ahead. A golden eagle came by. “It kind of fascinated me ’cause it dropped down low and started to glide right at me,” said George. “That’s when I realized it was after the pup so I ran forward to get the dumb thing. That caused the eagle to flare off at the last moment — almost hit me. Damned dog never knew anything was wrong or that it almost got grabbed.”
Our conversation shifted to dogs and George went on about this same yellow pup. He had brought the pup down here one evening. “It really had a good time, running around and visiting with everyone in the place and getting in the way out on the dance floor,” George said. “You know how they’ll do.”
After a while all the socializing wore the pup down so it crawled in under a table and went to sleep. There were two couples at the table. The pair of cowboys with not-too-clean jeans scratched down over the tops of well worn boots weren’t saying much. The ladies were ranch gals, similarly attired. They all drank beer — longnecks — and had just gotten a fresh round.
George didn’t know why, but suddenly the ladies decided they’d had enough. They just got up and headed out the door. One cowboy followed them right away, but the other one couldn’t stand leaving all that beer. He held back chugging some of what was on the table. But he was in a hurry too and just as he left the table he reached down under it in the dark and grabbed the yellow pup kind of hard. The startled pup yelped and turned, biting the cowboy on the wrist. Drew some blood according to George. The cowboy dropped the pup and started hollering and making a commotion. Everybody was watching.
George rushed over to the guy wanting to know why he’d grabbed the pup. The cowboy hurriedly explained as he wrapped his wrist with a handkerchief and headed for the door, “Hell, I thought it was my old lady’s coat!”
The pup was fine. It had crawled back under the table and gone right back to sleep.
George and I switched over to talking about all the trouble women can cause.