American Book of Golden Deeds - James Baldwin

Little Boy Blue and Golyer's Ben

Had it not been for John Hay, who first told us this story, Golyer's Ben would probably have been forgotten long ago. Ben's true name was known only to himself, and his history was a secret which no one could guess. He was called Ben because the word was easy to pronounce, and Golyer's Ben because he worked for Mr. Golyer.

He was a rough man, as most stage drivers were in those early days in the far West. He was morose and unsocial, and most people were afraid of him. It was not known that he had a single friend in the world.

The route over which he drove the Golyer stage was a dangerous one. The roads were steep and rough, the settlements were few and far between. Bands of unfriendly Indians were often in the neighborhood, and highway robbers had more than once planned to waylay the stage in some narrow pass or at some lonely point on the mountains. It required a brave man to face all these perils, and everybody knew that Golyer's Ben was not afraid of anything.

One day there was a little boy in the stage. His father and mother were dead, and he was in the charge of an old nurse who was carrying him to the home of a relative beyond the mountains. The lad made so much noise with a little tin trumpet, which he wished to blow all the time, that the passengers nicknamed him "Little Boy Blue."

Little Boy Blue was tired with the long journey. He blew his trumpet till he could blow no longer. Then he laid his head in his nurse's lap and took a long nap. When he awoke he blew his trumpet again and became very restless. He did not like to stay cooped up in the stage. He wished to get out and walk. He wished to gather wild flowers and chase butterflies. He wished for everything that he could not have.

Then he saw Golyer's Ben sitting on the high seat at the front of the stage, and swinging his long whip over the four toiling horses.

"I want to sit outside with the driver," he whimpered. Then he began to cry, and this annoyed the passengers even more than the tin trumpet had done.

"I want to ride with the driver; I want to ride with the driver," he repeated.

The nurse tried to soothe him. "The driver doesn't want you," she said. "You would be in his way, and he would throw you out into the first gully. Only see how cross he looks."

The child would not be silenced. "I want to ride with the driver!" he screamed. "I want to ride with the driver!"

At the top of a long hill Ben pulled up his team and looked around into the stage.

"What's the matter with that kid?" he growled.

"He is crying to ride with you," was the answer.

"Then why don't you let him? What's the use of making him miserable about such a little thing as that? Just chuck him right up here."

So the little fellow was handed out, much to the satisfaction of the passengers as well as to his own joy. Ben placed him by his side on the driver's box, and buckled a strap to his belt so that he could not fall off. Then the whip cracked, the four horses strained at their traces, and away went the stage, rattling swiftly along the rough and winding road.

Who was happier that afternoon than Little Boy Blue, perched in his high, cozy place by the side of the driver? He looked up into Ben's rough face and then down at the fleeting horses. His weariness was forgotten; his ill temper gave way to sweetness and joy. He clapped his hands and shouted. He blew his tin trumpet and shouted again. And, all the while, Ben kept his eyes on the road and his hands on the reins, and spoke not a word.

Not long before sunset a narrow pass at the foot of a steep hill was reached. Once beyond this pass and it was only a short mile to the way station, which was at the end of Ben's route. The passengers were all rejoicing at the thought of being so near to a safe and quiet resting place, for they would go no farther that day.

Suddenly they were startled by the most dreadful yelling that ever fell upon travelers' ears. A band of Apache Indians leaped out from among the rocks and underbrush. A volley of rifle shots rent the air; the bullets pattered like hail upon the roof of the stage. The women passengers screamed and some fainted. The horses sprang forward and fled, dragging the coach with perilous swiftness through the narrow pass.

At the sound of the first yell, Golyer's Ben threw himself over to the left side of the driver's box so that his body completely covered that of the little boy. As the rifles cracked he bent forward and gave the frightened horses the rein.

Oh, it was fearful race, a wild race with death, over that last mile of the day's journey! Shouts, screams, curses, the whistling of bullets, the rattling of the heavy stage, the furious galloping of the horses, clouds of smoke and dust—and, following in swift pursuit, the bloodthirsty, pitiless foe; imagine, if you can, the terror of those few dreadful moments.

[Illustration] from American Book of Golden Deeds by James Baldwin


The way station was reached at last—a little fortified house on the edge of the wilderness. Here were help and safety. The horses galloped into the courtyard and stopped suddenly. The passengers leaped from the stage. Thank God! they were all there and unhurt.

They lifted Little Boy Blue down from his lofty perch. He was as sound as a dollar, and his first words were to inquire for his tin trumpet.

They lifted Golyer's Ben down, too. He was gasping for breath. Three bullet holes in his side, and as many trickling streams of blood, told the story. The life was fast going out of his rough and weather-beaten body. They carried him tenderly into the house and laid him down on the floor.

Then there came into his old gray face a smile such as no one had ever seen there since he was an innocent boy looking into his mother's eyes.

"I reckon I saved the little chap, anyhow," he whispered.

The light faded. The room grew silent. With the smile still upon his face, Ben's rough and troubled life was ended. And little Boy Blue stood weeping beside him.