When Rhiannon Davies was 12 years old, it came to her attention that while her father mostly worked as a printer for the town, he was also a proficient train robber.
She learned this because she used to deliver the money he’d stolen to the townspeople, tucked underneath the fliers he’d printed them for church bazaars, wedding announcements, job openings, barn-raisings. Then, one day, the bottom of the box she was carrying to Glenwood’s General Dry Goods broke, and on the ground she saw not just flyers announcing a sale on tooth powder and brushes, but also four stacks of bills.
That night she forced herself to stay awake long enough for her mother and sister to go to bed. Girallt liked to sit by the fire while smoking his pipe, long after his wife had fallen asleep. Once she was sure he was alone, Rhiannon climbed out of bed and went to meet him in the parlor of their modest home.
“Pa,” she said. He jumped, not expecting to see her.
“Little Raven, you ought to be in bed,” he said, his Welsh accent rounding his words. He called her raven as a joke — she was blond as a canary.
“I dropped one of the boxes today,” she confessed. “It was the one for Glenwood’s. I didn’t mean to. The bottom just broke.”
“It was a rainy afternoon,” her father shrugged, but she could tell in his eyes that he knew she wasn’t worried about the broken box. “Did you lose any of the papers inside?”
“No,” she said. “I picked them all up. They were all bundled, so none of them blew away.”
“Good girl,” her father said. “So it’s my taking that you want to know why there was almost $500 in that box for Mr. Glenwood.”
This was how Rhiannon learned her father’s business. Mr. Pincock at the telegraph office would listen into wires being transmitted to the nearby Derby & Crane Mine, alerting them to a shipment of currency being delivered by train. Once he had the exact time and date the train was supposed to arrive, he would do the math on when it would be passing through the woods near their little town called Polk. Then he’d deliver a message written on telegram paper to Girallt Davies’ print shop, and Davies would print and deliver flyers to his crew: Mr. Doberman, who played piano at the saloon; the Sheffield boys who owned the first ranch outside of town. They’d meet the train, rob it, and bring the cash back to Polk for distribution. Mr. Glenwood did most of the work, tracking in his ledger who had received their cut when they came in to make their purchases for the week. He didn’t mind doing this service for free, mind you: Most of the money he handed out came right back to his coffers.
“But what about the sheriff?” Rhiannon asked. She delivered printed Wanted posters to Sheriff Queen all the time, and she didn’t want to see her own father on one of them.
“He gets his cut, too,” Girallt assured her. “Usually hidden under Wanted posters for Jesse James and the Sundance Kid.”
Rhiannon’s head was spinning. Every Sunday her family attended church. Her father would sing the loudest, and he’d lead a discussion over dinner that night about the pastor’s sermon.
“But the Bible says ‘Thou shalt not steal,'” Rhiannon said. “And Pastor Simon says—”
“Rhiannon, we’re not stealing from individual people,” Girallt said, rubbing his temples they way he did to massage out the frustration. “Remember when the Derby & Crane Mining Company opened their mine up the river from us? They didn’t care whether they put dirt or silt in the river, even though that water comes right down to our town. We had to find other ways to get water that was clean enough to drink, and a lot of us spent all we had in digging wells — wells that might not last long, depending how much water is underground. And that mine didn’t help us at all, just watched as our ranchers’ cattle died and we struggled to get what little water we could that wasn’t tainted with the filth they send down it.
“That’s who we’re robbing, Little Raven. We’re taking from the company that took clean water from us, and we’re building lives out of it. Did you see Paulie Simpson’s new wheelchair? It just arrived from a fancy New England shop that shipped it special to him because he had enough money to pay for it, thanks to us.”
The logic was enough to help Rhiannon push out of her mind the image of her father burning in hell alongside all other unrepentant thieves and robbers. Girallt opened his arms for a hug, and she ran into them, breathing in the tobacco smoke. Her father stroked her head and whispered:
“Pastor Simon gets a cut, too, by the way. I hide them under his church bulletins.”