Here’s my second letter. I think my Marston might be losing it a bit—but he recovers at the end. We’ll see what the future brings for him.
Apropos more of the West than of Red Dead specifically, I just finished reading a book about the Comanche people, called Empire of the Summer Moon. It seemed solidly researched, and it presented a nuanced portrait of the various white and Indian cultures in west Texas during the 19th century. Maybe it’s a function of being a white Jewish liberal, or maybe of being a New Englander (our Indians were, on the whole, more docile), but the picture that emerged for me of the pre-reservation Comanche was far closer to that of the Apache in Stagecoach than to the Pequot or Wampanoag of my childhood textbooks. Morality is relative—I almost wrote “of course,” but not everyone agrees with this. Even so, the dissonance between horrifically violent and noble and free is not so easily resolved.
The book also talks about the foundation of the Texas Rangers, and about the man who I gather was the model for Woodrow Call of Lonesome Dove. I suppose this is (in part) the sort of stuff that Texas school boards are talking about when they say they want students to learn more about their state’s history?
Dear Mister “Gish” Marston,
Events conspire to make me very much at home here in New Austin. Hard travel and gunfights remind me of better days with worse companions, and the beginnings of a plan to repay Bill Williamson’s latest kindness have begun to stir. The men who are to be the instruments of Bill’s destruction (or at least of the destruction of his front door) are not, in the main, what you might call upstanding citizens, but they are the men I have a hold over at present. And before you say so, I do realize I must sound like the hog making fun of the bacon.
I too find a measure of serenity in the lonesomeness of the plain and the beat of hooves beneath me. It is a pretty land, though parched and sharp. I have taken to watching the slow shift of the vegetation from one place to the next; from high plains to scrub brush to cholla, prickly pear and saguaro. I pick flowers from time to time, which is happier work than hunting animals, or men.
I rode the same horse for some time. He was a broke-down old nag, and tired easily, but I felt the stirring of a bond between us. Riding down by the Rio Bravo five days ago, I heard an awful screech, and felt the horse collapse beneath me. I killed and skinned the wildcat, but have not sold the pelt. It sits in my camp as I write this, uncured and mouldering, a grim reminder that—whatever the faithful may say of heaven—trust, love and sorrow make up the only trinity that you and I have ever known.
Miss MacFarlane continues to ask my help around the ranch, and I am both happy and obliged to lend a hand. I enjoy breaking horses, and have replaced my lost mount in this way. She—Miss MacFarlane—is a fiery sort, and I hope that she reminds me of my wife.
Your letter described a strange dream, and though I have not encountered anything so alien as floating horses, things are exceeding strange at times. I have no clear memory or knowledge of my family, my past associates or the agreement made between myself and the federal government. Much is obscured to me. This seems scarcely possible, and when I consider it at any length I feel cold and frightened. You know that I am not a man to scare easily.
I sense falseness everywhere, shadows and artifice. I met an actor playing a gunfighter, and a newspaperman seeking entertaining trifles—neither could tell where his story ended and reality began. Mister Marston, I left a young girl to die in the desert. She would not ask my help, and I could not offer it—I know not why. Her eyes saw God in everything. If that is so, then God is in the beasts of the Earth and the birds in the sky. Vultures eat the eyes first. I am looking down a hall of mirrors.
I am sorry, my friend. It is a spell, and it will pass. There are madmen aplenty here, and I do not mean to add to the glut. Tomorrow I must find a dishonest, drunken Irishman—but I might have just said “an Irishman,” and you would have known the rest.
John “Max” Marston