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223 By August of 1904, the third summer of the new township, the fields had gone four months without rain. The temperature spiked at dawn, sun sizzled at midday, and by late afternoon, everything—the settlers, the livestock, the ground itself—was thirsty. Come evening, when the heat was finally tolerable, ranchers and their sons walked the corrals looking for animals that had perished of heat exhaustion during the day. The most common victims were sheep. Naturally slow to seek shade, they collapsed in the dust, where their corpses bloated within minutes. Lifting one into a wheelbarrow required several hands and the utmost care—any abrupt moves and the animal would burst, leaking green bile from its mouth and anus. The boys, brushing flies from their faces, wheeled the dead to a side pasture and dumped the loads quickly. Packs of bony coyotes sniffed the remains each night but never partook. At dusk following one of the hottest days of the drought, W. A. Laidlaw, the man whose name the township bore, lit the kerosene lamp outside his yurt, a simple canvas structure that served as the office for the Clear Water Irrigation Co-op, the first organization of its kind in Oregon. Then he rang a large silver bell and waited for some thirty men throughout the township to pull on their boots and walk, grumbling, to meet him. A tall, lean man with a salty-red mustache, Laidlaw wore a l a i d l a w l a i d l a w i d l a w l a i d l a w l a i d l a w Christopher Feliciano Arnold fiction 224 ecotone denim jacket, leather chaps, and a black hat no matter the weather, and sweat now beaded his face. The men assembled, eyeing a yellow slip of paper in Laidlaw’s hand and speaking in low voices as the early moon cut the sky like a scythe. “Gentlemen,” Laidlaw said, holding the paper to the lamplight. “This telegraph has just been wired from Shaniko, and I promise you it cannot wait.” “Spare us another speech,” said Nathaniel Sutherlin, standing beside his brother, Thomas, at the front of the crowd. It was they who, only days earlier, had led a small but vocal group of men in burning a crude effigy of Laidlaw in the fire pit just outside his office. The message was clear: Bring the railroad, or perish. “Very well, I’ll be succinct,” Laidlaw said. “You have worked hard, you have sacrificed, and now you can tell your wives and children that Columbia Southern is bringing the future to Laidlaw.” Nathaniel snatched the notice from Laidlaw’s hand. The men watched him read. “It’s true,” he said, removing his spectacles. “They’re coming.” TheassemblyletlooseacheerandNathanielpassedthesliparound. Even those who could only pretend to read nodded in approval. At once, a flurry of questions: “When exactly can we expect them?” Nathaniel said. “And our shares?” his brother added. “What will they be worth now?” “How soon till they need labor?” asked Joseph Walgamuth. Laidlaw raised his hand to calm the crowd. “Tomorrow we’ll all have business to attend to, I assure you. But tonight,” he said, withdrawing a flask from his pocket, “tonight is for celebration.” The men whooped and whistled before dispersing to tell their wives. Laidlaw took a long, hot drink and wiped his mustache with the back of his hand. He retreated to his office to gather documents. Soon the air filled with laughter and pistol fire, and men convened at the central corral. Laidlaw closed the flaps to his yurt and returned to his table, where he continued to make preparations until he heard footsteps on the gravel outside. “Mr. Laidlaw?” Walgamuth’s brittle voice. Laidlaw went to the door and opened a flap. “Yes, Joseph?” 225 christopher feliciano arnold Walgamuth stood, hat in hand, sweat glistening under the lamp glow. “I know you’re busy, Mr. Laidlaw, but you ought to know, I’ve just got to tell you, I knew all along this would come together.” “I appreciate that sentiment,” Laidlaw said. “Now why don’t you go ahead and enjoy yourself some...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-2651
Print ISSN
1553-1775
Pages
pp. 223-237
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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