A Christmas Journey

By Kathy Knudsen

It was mid December when Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode into the Colorado town of Lamar, located on the south bank of the Arkansas River in the southeast corner of Colorado. Lamar was just sixty miles from Garden, Kansas, home of the Valparaiso School for Wayward Boys. Having received their amnesty just a few weeks ago, Heyes and Curry were in the Christmas spirit like neither had known since childhood.

Both could recall the warm, happy Christmases of their youths, their family cabins filled with the smells of warm gingerbread, wild turkey roasting in the fireplace, sweet pine from the garland that decorated the mantle. But always these cherished memories led to the lonely memories of Christmases spent unacknowledged at the Valparaiso School for Wayward Boys. This year, in celebration of their amnesty, Heyes and Kid had decided to take gifts and a grand feast of food to those boys to make at least one Christmas memorable for those poor orphans. When they arrived in Lamar, both their horses as well as a mule were heavily loaded with two large burlap bags filled with gifts, candies, and preserved foods which they lugged up to their hotel room for safe keeping.

But winter had begun early that year, even for Colorado, and at the time of their arrival in Lamar, the third blizzard of the season was about to descend upon the little community, already blanketed in over twenty inches of snow.

“Looks like you gentlemen will be spending the holiday here,” the clerk said as they registered for a room at the hotel.

“Why, what's the date today?” Kid asked.

“The twenty-second. I hear we will be getting as much as eighteen inches of snow beginning sometime tonight. The roads won't be cleared by Christmas. Even the trains have been canceled.”

“We was planning to be in Garden City by Christmas,” Kid replied.

The clerk smiled. “I think St. Nicholas himself might have some reservations about being out in this weather.”

“Where's the best place for a hot meal?” Heyes asked.

“I recommend Lillie's Cafe, just a block down the street.”

“Well, thank you,” Heyes replied as he scooped his saddle bags from the counter and tossed them over his shoulder before before grabbing two of the burlap bags and heading for the stairs.

“Could be worse, Heyes. We could be out there somewhere in the middle of that blizzard.”


“Heyes, we've got two days to get to Liberal, and then another day to reach Garden City,” Kid reminded his partner the next morning as he watched the heavy snow fall in a horizontal pattern. High winds swirled the snow outside and shrouded the buildings just across the street.

Heyes stretched lazily in his bed, then pulled the blankets up tighter about his shoulders. Even the warm fire snapping and crackling in the fireplace was no match for the arctic winds that chilled the drafty room.

“I think our good intentions may be lost to the storm, Kid,” Heyes replied through a long, exaggerated yawn.

“Well, Grandpa Curry always said where there's a will, there's a way.”

“I think he was referring to sowing and reaping his crops, not traveling a hundred miles in three days through twenty odd inches of snow, and in a blizzard to boot.”

“It ain't a hundred miles, Heyes. It's sixty, maybe seventy at the most.”

“That's still at least twenty miles a day, through several feet of snow. That's too hard on the horses. It simply can't be done,” Heyes argued.

Kid frowned and continued to gaze out into the street. The snow had let up temporarily and a few daring people had ventured out to tromp knee deep through the freshly fallen snow..

“Heyes, there's people out walking around. Let's go get some breakfast while the restaurants are still open.”


Stepping out of the hotel and onto the freshly swept boardwalk, Heyes fumbled with the buttons on his jacket. Without looking he stepped out into the street, only to be grabbed by the collar and yanked backwards by his partner as a sleigh sped down the street spraying them both with swirling snow.

“Heyes, that's it!”

“What's it?”

“A sleigh! We can drive a sleigh to Liberal and then on to Garden City!”

“We'd freeze our as....No, no sleigh!”

“We can dress warm and take lots of blankets and scarfs. Heyes, if St Nick can do it, so can we!”

“Where are we going to get a sleigh?” Heyes asked, choosing not to point out the obvious about St. Nick.

“Find out who owns that one, then see if we can borrow or rent it. Maybe the livery's got one. Heyes, a town that gets this much snow has got to have more than one sleigh.”

Heyes sighed heavily. Kid's idea might work, but if it didn't, they could become stranded in the middle of nowhere, in a blizzard.

“Gonna need Clydesdale or Shires, too Kid.”

“Yep, and winter shoes on em. I think the best bet is to start at the livery. We'll head there right after breakfast.”


With little time to waste, they left the cafe and headed to the livery and, for what both considered a hefty and inflated price, they were able to rent a sleigh and were directed to a ranch where four Shires could likely be rented by the week. Both thought themselves rather shrewd when they were able to bargain a portion of the rancher's wood pile so they would have dry wood to build campfires at night. Next they paid a visit to the Mercantile to purchase lanterns, feed for the horses, and heavy wool blankets to keep themselves warm on the three day trip.

By noon they had the sleigh fully loaded with the gifts for the orphanage as well as the supplies they deemed necessary, and the Shires hitched to the sleigh.

“All we need now are plush green robes with white fur trim, Kid. Then we'd look just like St Nick himself when we drive up to the orphanage,” Heyes said with a laugh as they climbed into the sleigh to begin their long journey.

“No telling where the road is, Heyes,” Kid warned as they headed east toward the town of Liberal, Kansas.

“Don't think you need a road when you got a sleigh. By the way, have you ever driven a sleigh before?”

“Nope. You?”

“Can't say that I have.”

Kid grinned. “This should be quite the adventure, Heyes, provided we don't freeze to death in the process.”

Dusk arrives early in the winter season and by five in the afternoon they had several lanterns lit to provide at least a little visibility in the still harshly blowing snow. By the time night had fallen, they could see flickering lights reflecting off the snow and knew that the town of Liberal was just a couple of miles ahead.

“Might as well spend the night, Kid. A warm bed tonight and an igloo tomorrow.”

“We should be so lucky,” Kid replied and drove the sleigh right through town to the livery.

“Oh, you must be the Christmas sleigh coming in from Lamar,” The livery owner said when they pulled up and requested a place inside for the sleigh as well as the horses.

“The what?” Heyes asked.

“Sheriff got a telegram this morning from somebody in Lamar saying a couple of men were foolish enough to try to drive a sleigh to that orphanage over near Garden City. We was told to be on the watch for you two, to make sure you got here safe. Whole town knows about it. Nice gesture but seems a might foolish to be out in a blizzard like this.”

“You ever live in an orphanage?” Heyes asked the livery owner.

“Can't say that I have.”

“If you had, you wouldn't be thinking we was foolish.”

The livery owner nodded, realizing Heyes was probably right. “I'll let the Sheriff know you arrived safe and sound.”

Taking only their saddle bags, Heyes and Curry headed to the hotel for a room and a hot meal. Then, cold and exhausted from the day, they headed to their room and fell into their beds.


“What's all this?” Heyes asked when they reached the livery early the next morning and discovered several additional bags in the sleigh, thickly packed straw in the foot section of the seat, and four canteens filled with steaming coffee and packed tight in a wooden crate filled with insulating straw.

“Told you, everybody in town has heard about the two of you. Folks wanted to join in some of that Christmas spirit. There's toys and books, tablets and chalk boards, candy canes and other sweets, and some fruits in them bags. Them two bags in the very back has two plucked turkeys inside. We figured they'll stay good and cold way back there.”

“That's awfully kind of you all,” Heyes said.

“Well, we've all heard stories about that orphanage and how bad it's run. Fact is, the town's talking about inviting them boys here next year as sort of a holiday adoption, you know, families will to take them boys in for a few days, give em presents and good food just like they was their own.”

Heyes and Kid looked at each other with great satisfaction and appreciation.

“We think that would be a fine idea,” Kid said. “Heyes and me spent a few years living there and....”

“Heyes? You two Heyes and Curry?”

“We are,” Heyes said with a smile.

“Hell, you two is famous at that school. I hear they teach them boys that running away will only lead to a life of crime and hold the two of you up as examples.”

Heyes and Curry both laughed.

“Well, that might have been true for a while....” Heyes said.

“Yeah, I heard you two got amnestied. Heard you're now fine pillars of the community.”

“I don't know what community you'd be referring to, but we are law abiding citizens now,” Kid replied.

“Are they still here?” they heard a woman shout and turned to see her plodding through the snow toward the livery with a burlap bag in her hand.

“We're still here, Ma'am,” Heyes said as she entered the livery and thrust the bag into Heyes' arms.

“When you get to the orphanage you put these on. I hear they've got some pretty young boys living there now. Wouldn't want to disillusion them none.”

“Yes Ma'am,” Kid replied. “What is it?”

“Why St. Nicholas robes, of course. I had to do some mending of them, but I think they'll fit the both of you just fine.”

“Two St. Nicholas'?” Kid asked.

The woman frowned. “Fine, just one of you wear a robe. The other can be St. Nick's helper.”

“They both smiled and thanked the woman before setting off on their way.


After a cold night on the trail, Heyes and Curry managed to reach the Valparaiso School for Wayward boys in the predawn hours of the morning. Being the stockier of the two, Kid dressed in the green St Nicholas robe and he and Heyes carried overflowing burlap bags up to the front door and banged loudly with the knocker.

“What in the world...?” a woman dressed in layers of flannel and wool exclaimed when she opened the door.

“Merry Christmas, Ma'am,” Heyes and Curry exclaimed as they brushed right by her and headed for the large open parlor where a very small fired burned in the fireplace. On their way they saw dozens of boys, all ages and shapes peering down over the second story banister.

“Well don't just stand there, come on down,” Heyes called to them. “St Nick's got a few more stops to make before he can call it a night.”

“You can't just come barging in here,” the woman protested.

“Yes we can, Ma'am. St Nicholas can barge in anywhere he pleases on Christmas Eve, and being as it's still dark outside, it's still Christmas Eve in my book,” Kid said in a dismissive manner. “Come on boys, there's toys and treats for everyone.”

Two dozen boys came scampering down the staircase, sounding like a heard of stampeding cattle as Kid and Heyes emptied sacks of toys and candy on the floor.

“There's more. We'll be right back Ma'am,” Heyes said as they headed out to the sleigh for the rest of the bags.

As the children gleefully opened packages and stuffed their mouths with candy and sweets, Heyes and Curry brought in the remainder of the logs and built a strong, warm fire.

“Might be a good idea to start cooking up dinner, Ma'am,” Kid said, handing the woman the bags of plucked turkeys. “I'll carry these other things into the kitchen for you.”

“Who are you?” the woman demanded as she followed Kid into the kitchen.

Kid stopped and turned to the woman. “Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes, Ma'am. Former inmates here. We're the ones your teachers tell the boys are so corrupt and evil. But today, Ma'am, I am St Nickolas and you best address me as such till my partner and me leave. Now them boys have plenty to keep them busy most of the morning so my partner and me are going to help you fix them boys a fine holiday feast. Then we're going to sit down with em and yourself Ma'am, and eat it.”

“You're Heyes and Curry?” she asked, with blatant astonishment.

Kid smiled. “St Nickolas, Ma'am.”

Late that afternoon, bellies full and hearts bursting with joy, Heyes and Curry climbed back into the sleigh and waved to all the boys gathered on the porch to see them off.

“Heyes, that was the best Christmas I have ever had,” Kid said as they headed back toward Liberal.

“It was, wasn't it,” Heyes said with a contented smile.

“I guess it's true what they say.”

“What's that, Kid?”

“It really is better to give than to receive.”

“Oh, I don't know, Kid. I think we received a whole lot more than we gave.”

Kid smiled. “I think you're right, Heyes.”