This Job Would Be Right Down My Alley
By Jeff Salter
Asked by Tuesday Fox Joselyn Vaughn what our livelihood would have been if we’d lived in the old American West, I had to re-calibrate. I was raised on TV and Hollywood westerns, so naturally, I’d want a horse and a Colt .45. But I wouldn’t want the isolation and hardship of an actual “cowboy.” And enlisting in the U.S. Cavalry would be a no-go, because of terrible pay, lousy conditions, and constant danger.
I don’t figure I would’ve been lucky enough to have been born a Cartwright, so I doubt I’d reside in that sumptuous cabin on the Ponderosa. And I certainly would NOT fare well in a sod hut out on the desolate prairie.
So, I’d pretty much need to live in town. But not the strenuous stuff like blacksmithing or running a stable.
My town job would need to be indoors… in relative comfort, with conveniences like roof, walls, and floors — and a kitchen. I’d want a real bed and a place to wash up. I know there were few (if any) indoor toilets in those days, but I’d at least want my own private outhouse — couldn’t stand to use the “public” privy behind the saloon.
Sheriff and Gunfighter
My former first choice, sheriff, would be too much risk for too little pay — and poor prospects for longevity. Wouldn’t want to be a gunfighter anymore either – though that WAS a childhood fantasy – because they have even less income and shorter life expectancy.
As I was considering this topic, I thought maybe I’d work in a bank or a claims office. Then I got to thinking I’d probably get stuck with a rotten boss who’d spend more time in the saloon pestering Miss Kitty than he’d be productive inside our office… but he’d make me work 12 hours a day by lantern light. I’d likely go blind before I went crazy.
Next I considered the general mercantile business. Pretty sweet deal owning the store where everybody bought their hardware, dry goods, and food staples. Then I realized I’d need (1) a lot of investment capital to purchase the store and acquire the inventory, (2) to ensure I had a reliable delivery channel for regular re-supply, and (3) enough flexibility in my overhead to absorb the losses from those hard-luck settlers who couldn’t pay a dime on their store tab. Hmmm.
Well that cogitation led me to the livelihood you’ve already guessed from the featured photo — I’d be the publisher and editor of the town newspaper! In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I worked in journalism – as editor or photo-journalist – full-time for over four years and part-time for perhaps another year… not counting part-time and un-paid experience with other papers elsewhere. I’m well suited for a job writing and reporting and editing.
But newspapering is hard work, so I’d need somebody to set the type and run the press… and I’d want a pretty office manager to handle book-keeping and advertising and messages. [Her name is Inga and she has a cute Scandinavian accent.] That would leave me free to report on territorial politics, local matters like crime and civic improvement, and loftier issues such as whether our corner of the newly civilized world ought to seek statehood. And I’d still get to ride a horse and shoot a revolver, because (after all), it’s the Wild West.
And I think I’d like to write a regular column concerning the comings and goings of people around town, plus my own observations and experiences and insights about other matters large and small.
You’ve possibly already guessed the name of my newspaper — Possum Trot Tribune.
What about you? What would your livelihood be if you were living in the old American West?
[JLS # 337]