I am a simple man. All I ask for is to be left in peace to pursue my interests in traditional Navajo and Chinook Indian silversmithing, making walking sticks, and learning the modern art and science of photography. To make ends meet, I pawn certain of my personal possessions,Â and engage in a little international trade.
I was born in England of a relatively “good” family, albeit one with associations to what used to be called “the artisan class;” however some of the tremendously ornate objects my family made now reside in the Tower of London under guard by the famous Beefeaters. As it happens, we were silversmiths to kings at one time, but lately we’ve become more respectable, and the family money (none of which is ever likely to come to me) is in land and commercial buildings.
My family connections got me a position with a group of financiers who were headed to the dangerous Far West of America, to invest in some fabulously rich and famous property in what some call the Cimarron country. I was attached as a sort of young, expendable scout; it was my duty to befriend the current landowners and assess the situation “on the ground” and attempt to survey the Grant discreetly, while my principals stayed in great comfort in an hotel in Denver. I was several hundred miles to the South, in an area that was once part of a legendary Spanish land grant that had become the closest thing America has to a fiefdom. The landowner was a great man, locally, and his best friend was the famous American hero, Col. Christopher “Kit” Carson, late of the Indian wars in that country. I spent the happiest two years of my life in their company, enjoying their hospitality, while I made my reports to my so-called superiors.
Much to my dismay, my friendship with both Western gentlemen “took,” and although I convinced myself that they would profit much by selling their interest in the gigantic Land Grant, I was much ashamed when my principals, having bought the place for a very large amount of cash, immediately sold at a huge profit to a new group of investors, who were also sequestered in comfortable hotel suites in Denver and Colorado Springs, unaware of how much of a premium they’d paid. I was now attached to the new enterprise, a most unwelcome stipulation in the fine print of my contract.
My new employers soon ordered me to “clear the Grant” of all of the Hispanic families who had settled there over the centuries; some were common squatters and immigrants, who had been allowed to stay on and improve the land by my hospitable and too-trusting friends. Yet many were truly “Old Families,” who had probably been granted land by the Spanish King of 2 centuries before, but their records and the property lines had become lost in the reddish sands of time.
My friends decided to help their former tenants fight (with lawyers, guns, and money I believe), and I decided to “jump the fence” and side in with them. I had spent many months in their company, traveling the land and assessing it for my former employers. The so-called squatters had welcomed me into their homes and fed me from their own larders, too; I felt I had no choice but to throw in my lot with them, as I was ashamed of my role in convincing my friends to sell up and “retire from the field,” as it were. At first I assisted in the war of words by attaching myself to the local newspaper, and soon learned a bit of the printing trade by necessity. All too soon, I was trading hot lead locked in a press by me, for hot lead being shot directly at me by “the enforcers,” hired men sent by the investors to run off all the opposition. Thus my journalistic career came to a swift and unremarkable end (this sort of thing happens all the time in America, I’m told). The newspaperman I started with is still there, as it happens, and may well gain a seat in Congress on the strength of his mighty pen and press.
This period was but one of many such “range wars” in the American West; it was a short and inglorious war, which ultimately ended in a highly disputable legal case that went all the way to the American Supreme Court and from there to their Congress, and it looks to be resolved sometime late next century.
After an unfortunate injury in one of the last skirmishes of our little armed conflict in Colfax County, I decided it was time I went the furthest West I could get, and so I booked passage via train and steamer towards China, via Japan. I took only my clothes and my silversmithing tools, a hobby I’d picked up from the old Navajo craftsmen who lived around Col. Carson’s fort. There was no question of going back to England, of course – the family will keep me on a stipendiary leash, but they want no part of a younger soon who turns on his employers, so that’s that. I’m to be what they’re calling a “remittance man,” but I’m determined to make my way on my own eventually.
Ironically, I’m falling back on the artisanal skills that my great-grandfather used to such success with the old English King of his day. And after some adventures in the Furthest West (that is the Far East, but to get there from America, one must travel westward), I now find myself in the wild and not-quite-civilized city of Steelhead Shanghai. The railway has not reached here yet, which suits me just fine (in the American lingo, meaning that this is a satisfactory arrangement). My former employers will stop at nothing to hunt me down, for various reasons, but mostly because they are very bad, but very stupid men.
Nearby there are tall mountains, a mining boomtown, an old lumber town, and the great City of Steelhead, but I choose to ply my trade in the Chinese part of the region. I’ve got a little enterprise going on now, as the Chinese are avid for silver, and pay for it with jades, fine ceramics, and a certain commodity of which it’s best not to know too much. Also, the China tea that also comes on the junks is excellent.
I enjoy jabbering along in their lingo, and I’ve also picked up a smattering of the local Chinook trade jargon. As it happens, the local Indian tribes carry on a lively trade in silver jewelry, and so it seems my nascent silversmithing skills may have some use after all, once I learn the local styles. I’ve decided to call my enterprise “Further East-West Trading Co.”
Now if only the bad old days will stay in the past, so that I may make a fresh start…