We are proud to announce the winner of our first-ever short story competition! Inspired by Carson City’s inaugural Mark Twain Days, we asked local storytellers to showcase their writing chops by penning an original story inspired by Mark Twain and/or Mark Twain’s characters.

The writers were challenged to compose a 500-3000 word original tale. We accepted short stories, screenplays, or One-Act stage plays. The competition was open to all ages. Our grand-prize winner was presented with a $100 Amazon gift card.

Our judges were enamored with the vernacular of this story, as the main character speaks in a voice traditional to that of a woman who has grown up on a cattle ranch in the late 1800s. This story is smart and pertinent to the political climate our society faces today. We at Silver State Storytellers are proud to debut An Exchange of Status by Elizabeth C. Johnson.

An Exchange of Status

By Elizabeth C. Johnson


My Aunt Dorothy and me was at the grocer store where we seen that Samuel Clemens, “also known as the highfalutin woman oppressor Mr. Mark Twain hisself,” says Dorothy.

“Do you know what he says ‘bout us,” she almost spits and pulls a piece of paper from her jeans pocket, “Let me tell you – he says and I quote, “Women, go your ways!  Seek not to beguile us of our imperial privileges.  Content yourself with your little feminine trifles- your babies, your benevolent societies and your knitting – and let your natural bosses do the voting.  Stand back – you will be wanting to go to war next.  We will let you teach school as much as you want to, and we will pay you half wages for it, too, but beware!  We don’t want you to crowd us too much.” 

“What a jerk,” says Dorothy…then with a twinkle in her eye, she says, “I might have an idea ‘bout how to change his mind,” then saunters up to Twain and invites him out to the ranch for the next days’ workin’ cattle gathering,’ assuring him he won’t have to sit a horse. “He don’t like horses neither,” Dorothy whispers to me.  “Just on the fence, enjoyin’ the scenery,” she tells him. He accepts! Dorothy and me walk away and I ask her, “What you got planned?” and she just smiles and says, “wait and see.”

Next day here comes Mr. Twain out to the corrals where we’s gathered a bunch of them cows and calves and bulls.  We women, me, Dorothy and my sister, Sadie, are pushin’ ‘em up the chutes where the men, who’s standin’ on the sides of the chutes are busy ear tickin’ and vaccinatin’ them.  Twain sits hisself up on the fence to watch, meanwhile George, the head man hollers, “Fill the chute!  Times a wastin’!”

I choked on the dust as I glanced over at Dorothy.  She had her kerchief over her mouth and nose.  “Good idea,” I thought and pulled mine up as well.  I turned my horse toward the herd of cattle. 

“All right, Clyde, here we go again.”  I spurred him through the cattle, cutting some into a small group; Dorothy worked from the other side, Sadie from the middle. 

“Move it!”  I screamed.  Jeez they was stupid.  Dorothy had her bullwhip a flyin’—I could hear it crack even over the noise of the men hollerin’ on the chutes.

“Come on girls—We’s waitin’ for some cattle…”

“Shut up you jerks,” I hollered.  My foot was twisted in my stirrup as a cow rammed into Clyde’s flank.  We had ‘em headin’ toward the narrow opening of the chute.

The dust thickened again.  I could hardly see.  One cow turned back, tried to run past me, but Dorothy’s bullwhip caught her on the nose and she decided for the chute.  The chute was full once again.  Johnnie, a ranch hand, pushed the heavy iron bars that served as a gate through the holes on either side of the chute.

The men on the chute worked, ear tickin’ and vaccinatin’.  I spurred Clyde over to where Dorothy sat on Chalk-eye, her leg carelessly bent over the horse’s neck in a relaxed position.  She was moppin’ her forehead.  Sadie joined us.

“How many more chutefuls?” she asked.

I glanced over the herd, calculated in my head and said, “I guess around five or six more-should be able to get ‘em through in that.”

Dorothy squinted at the men on the chute, then toward Mr. Twain, and said, “Today, Kate, we’s changin’ our status ‘round here—in other words, we’s changin’ our jobs.”

I saw the gleam in her eyes and knew somethin’ interstin’ was about to happen.

She flung her leg back into her stirrup, rode up to the edge of the chute, dismounted.  She swaggered up to the ledge where the men was runnin’ back and forth.

“Hey boys,” she yelled, “How ‘bout lettin’ Kate and me and Sadie ear tick and vaccinate awhile?”

The men turned—and laughed.  I saw Twain smile too.  “Better get back on ole Chalk-eye Dorothy, we’s almost ready for another chute full.”

Dorothy turned back to me.  In the sunlight, I could see her brown leathered face, her white teeth flashin’ under the ten gallon hat.  She signaled to me and Sadie.  We dismounted and swaggered over.  Us three climbed up on the fence, sat and watched the men work.

“Come on girls, get with it—Wanta stay here ‘till dark?”

Dorothy smiled and said, “We’s on strike.”

The chute full of cattle was let out into the open field.  The men sauntered over to us. 

“Ok, Dorothy, what’s the trick?” asked George. 

Dorothy returned, “What’s the trick?”  Look George, me ‘n Kate ‘n Sadie‘s been breathin’ amounts of dust that’s turnin’ our lungs as black as that there cigarette you’re smokin’;  we’s been eatin’ mosquitoes all mornin’ long, we’s been kicked, our horses been near gutted by bulls horns, they’s covered in mud, they’s tired, we’s tired, and we think it’s time we’s promoted to the chute.  We can ear tick and vaccinate and open and close gates jist as well as you, probly a hell of a lot better!” (she glanced at Twain who just sat and watched, smirking).

The men exchanged glances and smiles while Dorothy chewed her tobacco.

After a couple a minutes, George says, “Ok, you ‘n Kate ‘n Sadie work the chutes and we’ll ride ‘n push ‘em in.  We’ll show you women how cattles ‘sposed to be run into a chute!”

Dorothy jumped down from the fence, handed me a bottle of ear tick and yelled, “OK YOU DOGS—LET’S SEE SOME CATTLE IN THIS HERE CHUTE!!”  She laughed, turned to me and said, “This’ll teach ‘em a lesson.  Sometimes I wonder why men’re on this earth, they’s so dumb.  They’s gonna eat their hearts out fer givin’ us their easy jobs.”

As the whole thing turned out, the men wasn’t the only ones that was sorry fer givin’ into ole Dorothy.  We was sorry too.  We didn’t get done fixin’ those cattle till way late that night—near to midnight—but Dorothy, Sadie and me had plenty of restin’ time while we waited fer the chutes to get full. 

As for Mr. Twain, he left way afore midnight…but a few years down the road, we read that he wrote, “I should like the time when women shall help make the laws.  I should like to see that whip-lash, the ballot, in the hands of women….”   Wow!!!  We was mighty pleased!!!

The End

About the Author, Elizabeth C. Johnson

Born and raised in Fallon, Nevada on the George Pomeroy Jr. ranch, Elizabeth well remembers working cattle, riding horses, and participating in 4-H Clubs.  She graduated from the University of Oregon and made her living counseling young people and working in Human Resources in the healthcare industry.  She has lived in Oregon and California and when she retired, returned to her beloved native state of Nevada where she enjoys gardening, reading, and looking at the mountains in Carson City, Nevada.