Story type: Essay
I have always had a horror of opiates of all kinds. They are so seductive and so still in their operations. They steal through the blood like a wolf on the trail, and they seize upon the heart at last with their white fangs till it is still forever.
Up the Laramie there is a cluster of ranches at the base of the Medicine Bow, near the north end of Sheep Mountain, and in sight of the glittering, eternal frost of the snowy range. These ranches are the homes of the young men from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and now there are several “younger sons” of Old England, with herds of horses, steers and sheep, worth millions of dollars. These young men are not of the kind of whom the metropolitan ass writes as saying “youbetcherlife,” and calling everybody “pardner.” They are many of them college graduates, who can brand a wild Maverick or furnish the easy gestures for a Strauss waltz.
They wear human clothes, talk in the United States language, and have a bank account. This spring they may be wearing chaparajos and swinging a quirt through the thin air, and in July they may be at Long Branch, or coloring a meerschaum pipe among the Alps.
Well, a young man whom we will call Curtis lived at one of these ranches years ago, and, though a quiet, mind-your-own-business fellow, who had absolutely no enemies among his companions, he had the misfortune to incur the wrath of a tramp sheep-herder, who waylaid Curtis one afternoon and shot him dead as he sat in his buggy. Curtis wasn’t armed. He didn’t dream of trouble till he drove home from town, and, as he passed through the gates of a corral, saw the hairy face of the herder, and at the same moment the flash of a Winchester rifle. That was all.
A rancher came into town and telegraphed to Curtis’ father, and then a half dozen citizens went out to help capture the herder, who had fled to the sage brush of the foot-hills.
They didn’t get back till toward daybreak, but they brought the herder with them, I saw him in the gray of the morning, lying in a coarse gray blanket, on the floor of the engine house. He was dead.
I asked, as a reporter, how he came to his death, and they told me–opium! I said, did I understand you to say “ropium?” They said no, it was opium. The murderer had taken poison when he found that escape was impossible.
I was present at the inquest, so that I could report the case. There was very little testimony, but all the evidence seemed to point to the fact that life was extinct, and a verdict of death by his own hand was rendered.
It was the first opium work I had ever seen, and it aroused my curiosity. Death by opium, it seems, leaves a dark purple ring around the neck. I did not know this before. People who die by opium also tie their hands together before they die. This is one of the eccentricities of opium poisoning that I have never seen laid down in the books. I bequeath it to medical science. Whenever I run up against a new scientific discovery, I just hand it right over to the public without cost.
Ever since the above incident, I have been very apprehensive about people who seem to be likely to form the opium habit. It is one of the most deadly of narcotics, especially in a new country. High up in the pure mountain atmosphere, this man could not secure enough air to prolong life, and he expired. In a land where clear, crisp air and delightful scenery are abundant, he turned his back upon them both and passed away. Is it not sad to contemplate?
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