Good Whiskey

by Carl Schoelkopf
(Redding, California)

The Wintu people lived around the site of the town of Redding for thousands of years. When the white men came, the Wintu tried to co-exist, but it was not easy. The white men brought with them many things the Wintu needed and learned to need...some good and some bad.

One afternoon a pretty, young, Wintu woman arrived at the south-side ferry landing leading a spotted pony carrying a pack-saddle with various packages tied to it. Strapped over the young woman's shoulder and gripped tightly under her arm she held a prized package in a deer-skin bag.

She made weekly trips from her village near Churn Town a few miles to the north to get supplies for those needing them. She had a few friends among the white people of Redding who helped her procure the things she needed and protected her from hostile whites and people of low character.

Among the young woman's friends was a white man of good disposition, and Irishman named Burke, a distiller of fine Irish whiskey by trade. His distillery was a beautiful thing to see, all made of shiny copper pots and tubing. There was a special, good smell about the place as well. Each week Mr. Burke provided the young woman with a bottle of his whiskey for her husband whom she loved very much. It was against the white man's rules for him to sell whiskey to Indians, but he supposed there was nothing wrong with "trading." So whenever she came by he would trade this or that for a bottle of Irish whiskey. He especially liked her smoked salmon.

On this particular afternoon as the young Wintu woman arrived at the south crossing, the ferry tender was an old Wintu woman who lived locally and worked relief. Aided by her small donkey on the rope-pull, the old woman worked the barge as her husband slept off a two-day binge in the nearby barn.

"What's in the bag," asked the old Wintu woman?

The young woman smiled, pressing the deerskin bag closer to her side. "It's a bottle of Irish whiskey. I got it for my husband."

The old woman, silent for a moment, pursed her lips a couple of times and said, "Ugh...Good trade."

Return to Very short stories.