When I was just a lad, the Reverend Jonathan Thackeray Wheelwright, a flinty itinerant preacher who carried The Word to the heathen Blackfoot and Crow camps, told me the Lord cooks in mysterious pots His wonders to behold and therefore, against all reason, the Almighty could have some use for the likes of me after all. 

Ever since I was “rescued” from my People and spent some of my formative years among hard-rock Calvinists, I’ve had the notion that an All-Seeing Providence needs an assist from time to time and does not hesitate to call upon me when a particularly malodorous villainy needs attending to. As the shining light of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, I have, on occasion, run up against some of the most despicable, blood-thirsty, hard-cases of any race of man, be they White, Red, Yellow, or Black. But the tale I’m about to relate had me eyeball-to-eyeball with a devilment so loathsome it made even my blood congeal.

Before I begin this inspirational tale, however, you’ll need to know my origins and natural philosophy so the moral lessons I let drop from time to time won’t cause you any undue consternation.

For the benefit of those unfortunate readers who have not yet had the pleasure of perusing my earlier literary efforts, common in your better sort of bookstores, let me introduce myself.

Charles Goodfoote is the moniker I go by when I’m not with the Blackfoots. With them, I carry an appellation that’s a bit more descriptive and not altogether unflattering. My mothe, of old Bull Robe’s Piegan band, was known for her skill as a healer. My Irish father, a free-trapper of reputed little merit, died purging trade whiskey before I was old enough to know him, probably a mercy for us both. From my mother’s people, I inherited a prominent nose, hair like a raven’s wing, and a keen shooting eye. An Irish wit, a fair complexion, and one blue eye were my father’s contribution to my mortal package. Much of my early life was spent with Keeps-The-Lodge, an uncle on my mother’s side, who taught me the mystery of the Spirit and the wisdom of the track.

One bright summer day, when I was about 9 or 10, a cashiered Army major, Reynolds by name, and a parcel of half-drunk settlers raided our little village. They mistook our few lodges for a band of hostile Cheyenne and ended up killing most of my boyhood friends and a fair number of my family. The fools spared me because of my lighter skin and that one blue eye. It caused me no end of confusion later in life when I reflected that what I considered my father’s curse had saved me from sure death. Thinking I might be a White captive, Reynolds’s gang of murderers turned me over to the soldiers at Fort Benton who, being practical men, promptly sold me to an incorrigible reprobate with the unlikely name of Erasmus B. Bean who ran a snake-oil medicine show. 

Because his tiger had recently died of old age, Bean had an empty cage just my size. That’s how I became the “Wild Boy of the West,” and Bean drew up a poster with a sketch of me snarling and eating raw meat. During the day I growled around the stage with a toothless lion and a bevy of sideshow folks. Bean fed me on stage from a trough of slop and the only real food I consumed came from a couple of elaborately dressed gentlemen of exotic extraction who were on display in their native finery. One of the men, a tall Moor outfitted in leopard skins and chicken bones, slipped me heavy bread smeared with lard whenever he had the opportunity. The other, a bald Chinaman with incredibly long fingernails, stared at me and hissed if I got too close, as if I was the strange specimen in this menagerie. He fed me rice and milk on occasion and watched while I ate, a quizzical expression always on his face. At night I was chained inside my cage in case the siren call of freedom overwhelmed my gratitude for that villain Bean.

We traveled the West for nearly two years and eventually landed on the East coast. It was in Boston that my aspirations for freedom were realized. A prominent physician and poet by the name of Oliver Wendell Holmes attended our sideshow one summer afternoon and, outraged, threatened to horsewhip Bean for treating a poor savage in such a discommodious fashion. After setting me free in that depraved city filled with sinful snares for an innocent primitive lad such as myself, the good doctor felt he had no choice but to allow me into his home where I was wrapped in the bosom of his family. It was a good life, after a period of adjustment for both me and the Holmes’ family, and I soon became fast friends with my foster brother, Wendell.

There was some further modification of my behavior during my primary education at Mr. Hardcastles’ School for Wayward Boys, but eventually I learned enough tricks to stay out of trouble until Wendell and I went off to Harvard, that noted institute of scholarship for virtuous young men. It may have been my sparkling bons mots, or perhaps my robust physique that attracted the young women of Boston, for, after just two years, I was warned I lacked the virtuous requirements of Harvard men. A series of accusations from the fathers of several Boston girls set me up for the drubbing. In my defense, it should be noted the girls themselves found no cause to complain. The Board of Proper Conduct finally requested I terminate my association with higher learning after I was caught one evening improving the education of the daughter of the Dean of Letters among the book stacks in Boylston Hall. The curriculum we had chosen to follow was apparently a bit advanced for so staid an institution.

As it happened, the War Between the States erupted near about that time and would have brought my college career to a halt even without the Board’s action. As with many Harvard men, Wendell was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac and, mostly as a favor to his father, I agreed to become his civilian companion. After three years of successfully keeping the lad alive, despite his unhealthy propensity for bravery, I returned to the land of my People while Wendell decided to stay in Boston to read for the Law. It took a few months of looking, but I eventually found that my mother and old uncle had escaped the slaughter visited upon our village and were living on the eastern slope of the Rocky mountains. I joined their little band and underwent a full year of spiritual healing which returned me to my aboriginal origins. In time, I came out of the Rockies with the idea of putting my awakened tracking skills to use. With the help of some prominent folks, I became a Deputy US Marshal, then a Pinkerton Operative. My cunning and skill on the trail as a “Prairie Detective” soon resulted in a promotion to the rarified position of Senior Operative in San Francisco, a title I hold to this day.

Next month, in Chapter 2 and 3, Goodfoote takes on a case, and a dear friend is accused of murder.

An Engaging Tale of Extraordinary Villainy Set in Old San Francisco

Chapter 1,  An Introduction

Goodfoote and the Caper of the Crimson Cape


Tom Hanratty