The western plains are sprinkled with towns like that. Towns that once, in the time of the long-horn steer and the forty-four and the nerve to handle both, were frankly unconventional. Touched later by the black magic of development, bringing brick buildings, prohibition, picture shows, real-estate boosters, speculation and attendant evils or benefits as one chooses to classify them, they became neither elemental nor ethical—mere gawky mimics of both.
When western Texas was cow-country and nothing else Eagle Butte at least was picturesque. Flickering lights, gay laughter—sometimes curses and the sounds of revolver shots, of battles fought close and quick and to a finish—wheezy music, click of ivory chips, the clink of glasses, from old Bonanza’s and similar rendezvous of hilarity lured to the dance, faro, roulette, the poker table or the hardwood polished bar.
The Mecca it was in those days for cowboys weary with months on the wide-flung range.
To-day Eagle Butte is modest, mild and super-subdued.
A garage, cement built, squatty and low and painfully new, its wide-mouthed entrance guarded by a gasoline pump freshly painted and exceedingly red, stands at the eastern end of the single, broad, un-paved business street. All of the stores face one way—north—and look sleepily across at the railroad track, the low-eaved, yellow, Santa Fe station and the sunburnt sides of the butte beyond. Opposite the station the old Occidental Hotel with its high porch, wide steps, narrow windows, dingy weather-board sides and blackened roof, still stands to remind old-timers of the days of long ago.
A city marshal, Tom Poole, a long, slim, Sandy-mustached Missourian, completes the picture of Eagle Butte. Regularly he meets the arriving trains and by the glistening three-inch nickel star pinned to his left suspender announces to the traveling world that here, on the one time woolly Kiowa, law and order at last prevail. Odd times the marshal farms a ten-acre truck patch close to the river at the southern edge of the town. Pending the arrival of trains he divides his time between the front steps of the old hotel and the Elite Amusement Parlor, Eagle Butte’s single den of iniquity where pocket pool, billiards, solo—devilish dissipations these!—along with root beer, ginger ale, nut sundaes, soda-pop, milk shakes and similar enticements are served to those, of reckless and untamed temperaments.
From the open door of the pool hall the marshal saw a thin, black streak of smoke curling far out on the horizon—a dozen miles—northeast of Eagle Butte.
“Seventeen’s comin’,” he remarked to the trio of idlers leaning against the side of the building; “guess I’d better go over an’ see who’s on her,” moving as he spoke out into the sizzling glare of the almost deserted street. Glancing toward the east his eyes fastened on a cloud of dust whirling rapidly along the road that came from the direction of the lower Cimarron.