(Ink illustration by Buck O’Donnell in 1967; public display, World Museum of Mining, Butte, Montana, USA)

July 22, 2021 by 10 Year Anniversary Writing Contest 4 Comments

This story is by William W. Hawkesworth and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.

Marty celebrated the anniversary of his heroic deed and subsequent retirement at the early age of thirty in a quiet fashion. No nightlong party to cheer on the hero of Butte, Montana. Marty made do with a quiet night at home.

He was a genuine hero who saved eleven men. On this anniversary, his fame had faded, and his deed was nothing more than a fond memory.

Like many before him, and everyone else in Butte, in the early 1900’s, he went to work for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company (ACM). The Company, as the locals called it, provided everything he needed; work, meals, and a warm place to sleep. In return, he worked his ass off.

He was a rugged fella, broad chested, a fine specimen, he came from good stock and had good genes. But in the end, he was simply good ole Marty, a fun-loving free-spirited jokester who loved to play pranks, get into lunch boxes, and eat the other miners’ pasties.

The years of toil were catching up with him. He was aching, sore and just plum worn out. He meandered through the lush meadows enjoying the warm spring day. He could not help smiling, as he reminisced about his mining days, his best friend Willie, and the day that he became a hero.

Working hard every day for over eight years, deep underground, in the dark, Butte mines. He never left, never complained, he just did his job. It was demanding work and he never saw the light of day. It took its toll on him, and he lost his eyesight, going blind.

The yellow flowers swayed in the wind and Marty was amazed that he was able to see them. Although, it seemed as if he was looking at them through a foggy lens. Slowly, images were starting to come into focus. It reminded him of his youth and romping through fields in Missouri. This past year had been good, and he was slowly regaining his eyesight.

Marty was born in Pike County Missouri. He was a handsome fella at birth. And won the heart of Mary his care giver. There was many living at the farm, but Marty soon became Mary’s favorite. She took a special interest in him. She saw how big and strong he was, and yet a gentle, fun-loving soul. She saw the potential in him and decided to send him off to school.

When Marty was four, he left his home in Missouri. It was a sad day because he would have to leave Mary. She was so kind and nurturing and loving and had built the foundation for a successful life. While the world around him seemed mean and scary. He did not want to go. He was afraid of the cruel men in the fields.

He first heard men using profanity, in the fields, at an early age. The constant frustration of men erupting into a cascade of cursing impacted on him. The yelling and screaming were unnerving to a young fella. He would get worked up and excited. It scared him.

He was sent to the mining school in Bisbee Az, where he learned his craft. Marty mastered his skills quickly and was an excellent student. He learned the intricacies of the track, its ascensions and descensions, its twists and turns and when to stop. He did it with brute force and finesse. He graduated with the dubious honor of being the strongest and most stubborn in his class.

Next, he was off to the mines. He was selected to go to Butte and work in the Anaconda Mine. This is where he experienced the scariest moment of his life. Lowered into the copper mine one thousand feet underground was terrifying.

Once in the mine he met WillieThey both had a fondness for goofing off and playing practical jokes. Willie became Marty’s best friend.

Once paired together they were inseparable. Willie was a storyteller. And when anyone would listen, told the story of how he and Marty met and how Willie had caught Marty getting into a miner’s lunch bucket trying to eat a pasty. But kept it a secret.

Willie was always cheerful. Man, he never stopped talking. Marty did not mind, especially since he always had food to share. Marty looked forward to each morning when Willie would come bouncing in with a treat hidden in his overalls. Marty would pin him against the ore car and not release him until he gave up the treat. He never stopped talking or whispering. Never whistling. It was a custom that the miners never whistled. Cursing was their language.

It became an art form and oh my God, could Willie swear. He was a true artist. His profanity laced rants were so vivid and upsetting that it made the hair on your neck stand up.

 Willie was tall and skinny, wore a derby, a checkered shirt, and trousers that matched. His clothes were as colorful as his language.

Marty was a loner and never had a good relationship with most of the men. But Willie was different. He was not like the other men. Most people misunderstood Marty and treated him poorly. Willie was different, he got him.

 When he first heard Willie’s voice something inside of him came alive. It was a familiar sound. A sound from his youth. The voice was comforting in an odd way, it reminded him so much of home.

He thought to himself my God he must be a Pike. Taking an instant liking to him. Growing to love him and enjoying his cursing.

Indeed, a Pike and a damn good one. They worked together for years hauling the muck and misbehaving. They had a knack for playful pranks. And never missed an opportunity to pull one on another miner. Then everything changed on that fateful day.

First there was a creaking noise and then a slow churning and cranking. Then suddenly the mine started to cave in. Rocks and timber were falling everywhere. Miners were scrambling for cover as the roof collapsed.

 As the dust settled there was an eerie stillness in the air and surprisingly the track was clear.

Men were moaning in pain and screaming out.

Marty looked back and saw that Willie had been hit by a rock. He was unconscious and dangling on the side of the ore car.” Oh my God,” thought Marty, Thinking, “Willie is dead, now what am I going to do?”

Marty froze on the track.

In an instant he decided to keep on going. Not knowing what else to do. It was what he was trained to do. It was his job. So, he kept moving forward, pulling the ore car, worrying about Willie.

As he came around the turn and ducked his head as usual, he noticed that two wooden beams had fallen onto the track and crossed each other directly in front of him.

. They had formed a big X in the middle of the track. Marty paused for a moment, lowered his head and with his broad shoulders wedged himself under the beams. He grunted and pushed trying to move the beams, but they were stuck. He pulled back and tried again. No luck.

He was ready to give up. When he heard a boisterous bellowing cry of a wild man. Recognizing the voice he thought, “Willie is alive.”

Willie had regained consciousness and was clinging onto the side of the ore car shouting out orders. In the harshest nastiest profanity laced ballad he had ever heard.

Looking back, he saw men scrambling, limbing and climbing into the cars. Willie was in command shouting orders, his voice was getting louder and more animated.

“Come on Marty you no good sob get your ass moving,” Willie shouted. Adding, “get going you lazy good for nothing …”

 Marty got pumped up. It was such a relief to hear his friend’s voice. It was a defining moment.

 He began to dig deep inside himself to find his inner strength. With a deep breath he summoned all his strength. Willie’s cursing reached a crescendo.

Marty’s muscles screamed, but his spirit roared louder. His chest was heaving with exhaustion.

Using every ounce of strength, he gave it all he had in one last desperate motion. There was a loud snap and cracking sound, the beams split in half.

 Marty lunged forward through the opening pulling the men to safety. Just in time as mine caved in behind them. Willie and the other men erupted in a joyous roar, “You did Marty, you did it.”

Marty, the hero, never understood what all the fuss was about. He was just doing his job.

That night the men celebrated their victory over death, drinking shots of whiskey, chucking beer, and singing songs. Marty wanted no part in the celebration.

 Instead, he spent a quiet night relaxing in his stall, eating his oats, and relishing the special treat Willie had left for him. Three extra-large pasties.

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