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In the year of 1849, the great nation of the United States of America was on the move. Not only had recent wars and disruptions opened up plenty of unclaimed land to the average American, but cries of gold and untold riches in these far off places that had been dubbed Oregon and California drew numerous people. It was in this manner, as pioneers moved out towards these promised lands that the little town of Buffalo Oil was born.
Now Buffalo Oil was located in what today we would call Wyoming. Buffalo Oil was a slow growing town, for one simple reason; it was only halfway to the paradises of Oregon and California. Settlers would ask themselves, who would want to stop halfway to such wonderful places, and just settle down in the middle of nowhere? The town didn’t lay along any of the main paths used to travel to Oregon and California, such as the Mormon Trail or the Santa Fe Trail. It could only be reached by a little known trail called Greene Trail that branched off of a trail, that branched off a trail, that branched off a trail, that branched off a trail, that branched off of the Oregon Trail.
So this is how Buffalo Oil became a combination between laziness and hard-work. Most of those that settled in Buffalo Oil were ready to be done traveling on the Oregon Trail, and all the hardships and difficulties that it incorporated. Others were merely lost souls who saw a great venture in Buffalo Oil, and then they too decided to settle down there.
But in reality, a foreigner to Buffalo Oil would never know that it was one town. For you see, the town only had one street, Main Street that ran down the middle of the town and split it into two sides. Now on one side of Main Street there had settled the lazy peoples that hadn’t had the perseverance to continue down the Oregon Trail, and on the other were the hardworking souls that had simply been lost and stumbled into Buffalo Oil. The lazy ones and the hardworking ones stood in sharp contrast. And this was represented in a single way. Since its conception, there hadn’t been an official mayor of the town. Every five years both sides elected a candidate to run for mayor, but neither ever won, for the simple reason that the town was divided evenly it its lazy and hardworking folk, 56 and 56. Neither candidate ever won so Buffalo Oil remained without a mayor.
That was until the day that Samuel Young arrived. Now Mr. Young was a bright lad, at the age of twenty-two. Recently his wife had taken ill and died, back in his home of Pennsylvania. With his work as a newspaper printer fading, and no family ties to hold him to the area, Mr. Young sent out across the land to claim the riches of gold and profit that were greatly talked about in parlors all over America. He had set out with a single horse and quite a few supplies, all to take him to Oregon. However, as he wasn’t traveling with any other folks, and he himself hardly knew the land, he became lost and soon found himself on the Greene Trail, heading towards Buffalo Oil.
When Samuel Young rode into Buffalo Oil on his faithful steed, most people didn’t know what to think of it. Nobody had been there from the outside world for nearly fifteen years. Most people just stared at Samuel Young, trying to make heads or tails of him. To everyone, he looked like the lost type, the kind that’d be hardworking, not lazy. But none of the citizens of Buffalo Oil could really be sure until they’d talked to him. And for that job they picked Bo Harris.
Now everyone knew Bo Harris as the town drunk. So that gave him the excuse to follow Young into the local saloon. And being a drunk also made him likely to start a fight, and with Harris standing at 210 pounds and six feet tall, he was also likely to win that fight.
As Young hitched up his horse in front of the saloon and entered, Harris followed him. Young found it extremely unsettling as he pushed open the doors and walked toward the bar. Just moments before the saloon had been filled with the sound of laughter and drunkenness. Now the vibrancy of the room was fading, just because this blockhead of a stranger had moved in. The eyes of every gambler and saloon girl were on Young as he proceeded. If he didn’t know any better, he’d guess that it was his nice clothes from back east, his skinny build, his youthful face, and his brown hair complemented by his brown eyes that drew the stares. But he knew better. Indians and tradesmen alike had told him of the strangeness of the folks from Buffalo Oil. Young came up to the bar and waved the bartender over.
“I’ll have a shot of whiskey, if you don’t mind,” he said.
“Ya’ got money?” the bartender growled back.
“Well of course,” replied Young. Only then did the bartender go to pour the drink. Suddenly Harris came up beside Young.
“I’ll have a shot too, Bob,” said Harris. The bartender poured out another glass for Harris. As he did so Harris turned toward Young.
“Ya’ ever been to Buffalo Oil before, boy?” questioned Harris. The bartender delivered their drinks and waited behind the counter watching. Young passed over a nickel to the bartender, while Harris paid nothing.
“No sir,” replied Young politely. “Do you know where I might find a room to rent around here though? You see, I was just passing through, but after seeing your brilliant town, I thought I might stay on a while.”
Harris immediately became red in the face, turning the color of a tomato. The silence in the saloon instantly became heavier. All the gamblers laid down their cards and dice and turned to see if the new kid had really asked if he might stay.
“Get somethin’ straight,” Harris began to scream. “Ya’ can’t stay here!”
“And why not?” asked Young, stepping back to avoid the spittle flying from Harris’ mouth. Suddenly, a very large man got up and walked over to Young and Harris.
“I’ll explain Bo, that’s alright,” said the man. He wore extremely lavish clothing, made of the finest silks and cottons, with everything tailored to meet his extraordinary size. “Son, you see, this town has held a population of 112 persons for fifteen years now. And you see we’re dived equally in our local politics. 50% of the town always votes for one candidate for mayor and 50% for the other. This has been going on for so long now, that Buffalo Oil has practically been split in two. One side of Main Street, our side, represents the people who were too emotionally and physically exhausted to continue down the Oregon Trail, and decided to make a home here. The other half represents those who were quite stupid, got lost, and just wound up in Buffalo Oil. Since we’ve never had a majority to decide on a mayor, Buffalo Oil practically operates as two separate towns, each side with its own unofficial mayor. I, of course, am the mayor of this half of town. Our concern here is that if you were to settle in Buffalo Oil, then the population would be 113 persons, and you’d have to pick one side or the other. And with that, when the next election would role around, one side or the other would win. So I say, leave Buffalo Oil as it is. The town’s been peaceful enough like this for the past fifteen years, let the people enjoy it.”
“But what about the children?” asked Young. “Surely they can’t vote. And are you saying that no babies have been born in all these fifteen years? Surely some must’ve been.”
“Well no, no babies have been born,” replied the well dressed man. “That’s a sacrifice that all had to make when they were settling down fifteen years ago. You see back then the town was feuding. But then a last round of settles stumbled across the battling town. They called for peace, but had to agree not to have anymore children, so as not to change the population and disrupt the balance. Amazingly they all agreed, and no children have been born since. And as for the underage part of Buffalo Oil, well their parents just decide who they vote for. But believe me, their vote still counts.”
“Well, that’s just madness!” howled Young. “In what kind of place do you forbid people to have babies and let parents vote for their children!?”
“Listen, you may not agree with our ideas and philosophies, but everyone else has lived by them just fine for a while now. You may not like it, but we like it just fine. If you don’t like our rules, then go find somewhere else to settle down.”
“No, no, I like the town, I find it quite charming. I can’t say that I like the people that much, you being all hostile, and those laws of yours, but everything else is quite dandy. Buffalo Oil is placed exactly in the middle of the west, so if the Oregon Trail was ever to be moved, or an extension was to be made, then Buffalo Oil could become a very important crossroads. Besides, I think you all need a good local newspaper.”
“You listen to me,” Harris cut in. “If you think that you can just waltz in here ruffle up Buffalo Oil then you got another thing coming.”
“I don’t want any trouble,” Young replied. “I just want to settle down in your nice little town.”
“There’s always the game,” cried a little bearded man in the corner. The other people in the saloon began to mumble and murmur in agreement. Even the bartender Bob nodded.
“Well I think that’s a fine idea,” said the unofficial mayor of the lazy half of Buffalo Oil. “We’d be able to keep the current population, and everything would go on as it is. The only question is who’ll play him?”
“I’ll play ‘im,” said Harris. “I’d be glad to kick him outta town.”
“What exactly is ‘the game’?” asked Young.
“Oh, you’ll catch on soon enough,” said Harris, wearing a sinister smile. Young was shunted over to a green card table by the unofficial mayor, and forced to sit. Harris took the seat across from him as the entire residency of the saloon crowded around them. Three cards were laid between Harris and Young by an anonymous hand from the crowd.
“The rules are simple,” Harris began to explain, that smile still on his face. “I will show you the three cards on the table. Then two will be discarded and only one will be left. And you must then guess which card I have is still remaining. Guess right, you get to stay in town and I get thrown out. If not, then I suppose we won’t be seeing you anymore.”
Now, everyone in the room, except Young that is, knew that Bo Harris was a cheater. Harris would cheat at a game of tic-tac-toe if he could. So they all expected that Harris had something up his sleeve.
However Young was no idiot to card games either. He gambled enough back in Pennsylvania that he knew something was fishy about the game. Young had nothing to lose, while Harris had his position in the town. And Young knew never to gamble something against nothing unless you’re sure you can win.
Staring intensely at Young, Harris flipped over the cards one by one. There was an Ace of Spades, a Queen of Hearts, and a Two of Diamonds. Harris flipped all of the cards back down. And then his hands began to work extremely fast. Young almost instantly lost track of what was what. The cards moved so fast in Harris’ hands that it seemed like magic. And then the cards flew off the table.
Young saw all three flutter to the ground, the Queen, the Ace, and the Two all hit the ground. Only the Queen was face up, but Young had seen them and knew which was which.
“Pardon me for that,” said Harris as he bent to retrieve the cards. Young watched him collect them. And then Young saw something fall out of Harris’ sleeve. It was another card. Young continued to watch, astonished, as the Ace disappeared back up Harris’ sleeve. Such a thing would not be seen by the average eye, but Young had acquainted himself well enough with gamblers that he knew the best ways to cheat and to stop others from cheating. And Young knew that he couldn’t just announce it in front of all of these people. Most of them supported Harris, and wanted to see Young rode out of town. It would just be his word against theirs. Young wouldn’t expose Harris, but still beat him fair and square.
Harris’ hands began to move amazingly fast once again. But this time Young only watched one card, the card that Harris had replaced the Ace with. The cards went round and around, fast as lightning. And then they stopped. Harris set one card face down on the table and passed the other two off to the unofficial mayor. Young was still stared at the card. It wasn’t the replacement, which meant that it was either the Two or the Queen. And then an idea hit Young, a way to win no matter what.
“So what’s the card boy?” growled Harris.
“The Ace of Spades,” said Young softly. Harris smiled smugly, and flipped over the card. It was the Queen of Hearts. The crowed stirred, and a couple of people reached out to grab Young and throw him out.
“Hold it,” yelled Young. The movement stopped. “If that card isn’t the Ace of Spades, then one of the other two surely must be.” Harris looked menacingly at Young.
“You callin’ me a cheater?”
“Perhaps.” The unofficial mayor threw the other cards down on the table. There sat the Two of Diamonds and a Three of Clubs. And this time the crowd moved for Harris.
Harris was rode out of town right then and there. Young was congratulated for his wit in the game against Harris. A kind old lady even came forward after the game and offered Young a room to rent. He accepted gladly.
But this game was the lazy people’s downfall. For Young turned out to be one of the hardworking people after all. So now the vote stood 57 to 55, and Buffalo Oil finally had a mayor. And his name was Samuel Young.
Portola Valley, California
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