From Denver to Spokane, from El Paso to Fort Benton, men talk of Casey Ryan and smile when they speak his name. Old men with the flat tone of coming senility in their voices will suck at their pipes and cackle reminiscently while they tell you of Casey’s tumultuous youth—when he drove the six fastest horses in Colorado on the stage out from Cripple Creek, and whooped past would-be holdups with a grin of derision on his face and bullets whining after him and passengers praying disjointed prayers and clinging white-knuckled to the seats.
They say that once a flat, lanky man climbed bareheaded out at the stage station below the mountain and met Casey coming springily off the box with whip and six reins in his hand. The lanky man was still pale from his ride, and he spluttered when he spoke:
“Sa-ay! N-next time you’re held up and I’m r-ridin’ with yuh, b-by gosh, you s-stop. I-I’d ruther be shot t-than p-pitched off into a c-canyon, s-somewhere a-and busted up!”
Casey is a little man. When he was young he was slim, but he always has owned a pale blue, unwinking squint which he uses with effect. He halted where he was and squinted up at the man, and spat fluid tobacco and grinned.
“You’re here, and you’re able to kick about my drivin’. That’s purty good luck, I’d say. You ain’t shot, an’ you ain’t layin’ busted in no canyon. Any time a man gits shot outa Casey Ryan’s stage, he’ll have to jump out an’ wait for the bullet to ketch up. And there ain’t any passengers offn’ this stage layin’ busted in no canyon, neither. I bring in what I start out with.”
The other man snorted and reached under his coat tail for the solacing plug of chewing tobacco. Opposition and ridicule had brought a little color into his face.
“Why, hell, man! You—you come around that ha-hairpin turn up there on two wheels! It’s a miracle we wasn’t—”
“Miracles is what happens once and lets it go at that. Say! Casey Ryan always saves wear on a coupla wheels, on that turn. I’ve made it on one; but the leaders wasn’t runnin’ right to-day. That nigh one’s cast a shoe. I gotta have that looked after.” He gave up the reins to the waiting hostler and went off, heading straight for the station porch where waited a red-haired girl with freckles and a warm smile for Casey.
That was Casey’s youth; part of it. The rest was made up of fighting, gambling, drinking hilariously with the crowd and always with his temper on hair trigger. Along the years behind him he left a straggling procession of men, women and events. The men and women would always know the color of his eyes and would recognize the Casey laugh in a crowd, years after they had last heard it; the events were full of the true Casey flavor,—and as I say, when men told of them and mentioned Casey, they laughed.