Deadlands: Riders on the Storm
A History Lesson
There's Gonna Come a-Reckoning…
Back in 1863, a shaman by the name of Raven went about gathering up what he called "The Last Sons," natives, like him, who were the last of their tribes. Raven promised the Last Sons "a Reckoning" for all that had been done to them and their people. He said he had a plan that would send the white man back across the waters.
He took his band, The Last Sons, from the Dakotas to some old Micmac burial ground in the hills of New England. There, he opened a portal into "the Hunting Grounds" and set his band loose inside. You see, Raven thought it high time that the Old Ones, shamans who were protecting folks from the evil spirits (or "Manitous") of the Hunting Grounds from the inside, let loose those spirits. He thought that they could be harnessed to wreck his revenge on the white man. He set loose the Last Sons to kill those Old Ones. And they did.
What the Last Sons didn't count on, and it's unclear as to whether Raven did or not, is that all kinds of manitou came flying out of the portal and now they're plaguing everyone —red, yellow, black, and white. All kinds of strange mischief has been gotten to in the West and things thought dead or just stories are rising up and being noticed.
The manitous feed off of fear somehow, they take all this fear and breed new monsters with it. It is said that the manitou are servants of something greater. These greater beings are usually referred to as "The Reckoners," as they were let loose by Raven's Reckoning.
If you buy into this, then a battle like a feeding frenzy to these things. But the fear isn't just devoured—it's used to create new abominations. Creatures out of legend. New monsters that boggle the imagination. Some have been around since time immemorial but are now growing stronger. Others are created out of whole cloth. All are used by the Reckoners to spread more fear and continue the cycle.
The Civil War
The Last Son's raid on the Micmac burial ground took place on July 3rd, 1863. That was the same day as the close of the Battle of Gettysburg. Most people think that Union General Meade didn't pursue Lee's army because he was skittish. The truth is much more complicated.
After the Union troops started piling up their dead, some of them began to rise again. The crawled back up and started doing things—terrible things. The soldiers eventually put them all back down, but after rumors got out about what happened, the army was in no shape to go chasing the Rebels.
Things weren't much better for the Confederates. Some kind of butcher snuck into one of their hospitals and started carving up the survivors of Pickett's Charge. He got away, but not before he managed to take off General John Bell Hood's arm.
Rangers and Pinkertons
Some of the generals on both sides began to figure things out. All of these unexplained events were spooking the troops, so the armies detailed smaller groups to take care of the monsters and keep things quiet.
For the Confederates, General Lee dispatched the Texas Rangers. As for the Union, President Lincoln replaced General Meade with General Ulysses S. Grant in early 1864. Grant had seen his own share of weirdness during the battle of Vicksburg, the same day as Gettysburg. He decided to hire on the Pinkerton Detective Agency to investigate the matter for the Union.
Both Rangers and Pinkertons prowled the ranks looking for anything unusual so that they could deal with it before word got out too far. Both sides did a fair job of it and soon tales of the walking dead and other such strangeness fell back into the realm of rumor.
That was in 1865. Now the Pinkertons and Rangers only gather together if there is word of a big battle. Most of the time, they just travel in small groups, looking for trouble. They don't let common folk on to what they're doing—and for good reason. The more people hear, the more scared they get and that just breeds more trouble.
Most of the time you'll find either group creeping about the Weird West. Things are just as violent as ever. Samuel Colt's little Peacemaker has done just the opposite in places like Dodge, Tombstone, and Deadwood. The boomtowns are full of young bucks trying to make names for themselves. And where there's violence, the manitous and what they bring with them are not far behind.
The Great Quake
In 1868, the Indian shaman Raven was up to more trouble. He traveled to the west coast and tricked the "earth spirits" causing the greatest earthquake ever known. The quake cut through California like a hot knife through butter—much of its land mass fell into the ocean, revealing a labyrinth of crevices in which the Pacific rushed in and filled with water.
No one knows how many died in that massive quake. But the tragedy did lead to the discovery of something that changed the world.
The sides of the Maze is riddled here and there with seams of gold, silver, and another element—Ghost Rock.
Stories filtered back East about the strange new element and its unusual properties. At first these tales received little credence. But, after a time, scientists descended on the West in droves to study the new element. The rock burns better than coal—longer and more efficiently. Put it in a steam engine and you can do incredible things. The name "ghost rock" came about due to the white vapor and eerie moan that is produced when the rock is ignited. The potential uses for the element have proved to be nigh endless.
The scientists who attempted to demonstrate ghost rock's incredible properties were first laughed at as eccentric kooks. That's when members of the press dubbed them "mad scientists." The name stuck but it didn't take more than a few flying machines and horseless carriages to convince the public there was a method to madness. A gang of thieves in Nevada even uses ghost rock-powered steam wagons covered in armor and Gatling guns to chase and rob trains. Of course, the rail barons aren't going to take that lying down…
The Age of Steel and Steam had begun.
People in California began to rebuild and now it's fair to say that there's a shantytown on nearly every canyon ledge in the Maze. People have rigged ingenious platforms to lower them up and down into the crevices to get at the gold, silver, and ghost rock now made available. The ore is loaded onto steamboats and taken to the City of Lost Angels, the biggest boomtown of them all. The city, situated on the inland side of the Maze, was founded right after the quake by a preacher named Grimme.
When the price of ghost rock hit a hundred dollars per pound, pirates and Union and Confederate ironclads popped up anywhere someone found a new strike, ready to strike the miners and take over the stake.
The New Mexican Army
When word got out about California, France struck a deal with Mexico's Santa Anna ("the Napoleon of the West"). Santa Anna wanted revenge for Texas—he blamed them for seceding and taking his leg in 1836 and then staring Polk's war in 1848. France promised Santa Anna that they'd give him the Foreign Legion to invade Texas if he could take hold of the Maze. They even outfitted him with an armada of ghost rock-burning ironclad gunboats under the command of a Spanish pirate from the Barbary Coast.
The Battle of Washington
The Confederate government was especially interested in ghost rock. Jefferson Davis got the notion these amazing inventions could be used to turn the tide of the war.
In 1869, Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederacy) annexed the Maze. He claimed the old Union state of California no longer existed, and if the Union wasn't going to protect what was left from the Mexicans, he would. He declared that the Great Maze was a Confederate Territory.
His plan was to seize the ghost rock for himself and develop an army of war machines the like of which the world had never seen.
What he was really after was English troops. Davis got money from England after freeing the slaves in 1864, but he figured that a few divisions of Redcoats would finish off the Yanks once and for all. And now he had something they wanted—ghost rock.
But Davis needed a victory to cinch the deal and he figured showing off the power of ghost rock wouldn't hurt his chances with the British.
Teams of Texas Rangers combed the West to recruit those with knowledge of ghost rock and how to apply it. Those scientists who signed up with the Rebels were taken to a secret Confederate base at Roswell, New Mexico.
Those scientists who refused the Texas Rangers' offer couldn't pass their knowledge on without a seance. This probably why mad scientist keep to themselves to this very day.
Davis never really go hold of the Maze, but he was able to establish enough settlements there to secure a decent supply of ghost rock. Mile-long mule trains carried tons of the stuff to Roswell, establishing the now-famous "Ghost Trail." There the scientists conducted every conceivable experiment (and a few inconceivable) to create the southern President's infernal devices.
In less than a year, Davis demanded the scientists turn over their gizmos—ready or not.
In February 1871, the Rebels attacked the capital with steam wagons, firechuckers and cannons that could fire clear back from Richmond. The Union forces were caught completely off-guard and pushed back into southern Pennsylvania. Grant and President Johnson got chased halfway to New York before they managed to fight back. The Confederate war machines began to break down and the supply of ghost rock began to run low. General Grant rallied he troops and staged a massive counterattack. Lee was forced to retire across the Potomac.
Davis' attack worked (to some extent) but the English had their own troubles in India and Africa. All they could spare was some East Indian sepoys and a token line regiment. Davis was so angry that he's left them sitting in Charleston harbor since 1872. Many of their officers have since left their posts and headed West.
Fortunately for the Union, the Confederate war engine was spent. The overworked inventors back at Roswell did not fare well. Many went mad while developing the new weapons. Some had been killed in experiments or while attempting to repair their gizmos on the battlefield. A larger number, tired of the horrible conditions at Roswell, deserted. Some took their weird gizmos with them. It is said the bones of many of these mad scientists still lie bleaching in the desert beside their priceless inventions.
Since then, a massive explosion leveled the compound reputed to be the Confederate laboratories. The vast stockpiles of ghost rock blew across the desert and have turned the pace into a blazing Hell. If the base continues to exist, perhaps underground, the burning stockpiles help keep the curious away.
The Battle of Washington was the kick in the pants needed to get the U.S. government's attention. Grant realized war machines powered by ghost rock were the way of the future. His weary eyes turned toward the Maze.
Secretly he commissioned the construction of "Fort 51", a secret base in southern Nevada designed to be the equivalent of the Confederate's laboratory in Roswell.
Publicly, Grant started the Great Rail Wars.
The Great Rail Wars
The ghost rush and the renewed vigor of the War Between the States spawned the hateful stepchild known as the Great Rail Wars.
In an impassioned speech before a joint session of Congress, Grant proposed the government support the construction of a transcontinental railroad. Plans for such a railroad had been proposed before, but the war and rise of the Indian nations had derailed them (pun intended).
The next day, Congress unanimously passed the Transcontinental Railroad Act. It offered a 10-year monopoly on government ghost rock shipments to the first railroad to complete a continuous rail line to he City of Lost Angels. The contract was worth millions. The Federal Railroad Board was created to oversee the intense competition that literally sprang up overnight.
Across the border, Jefferson Davis realized the first country to have rail access to the Maze would not only have an edge on creating new war machines, but could also quickly mass troops along its length. He urged the Confederate Congress to match the U.S. offer. They did. The Confederate Rail Committee was created days after the U.S. legislation passed.
There are now dozens of railroads competing to be the fist to reach the Great Maze. The race has captured the public's imagination. The furthest position of the railroads' work crews are reported daily in the newspaper. Fortunes have been won and lost speculating on the railroads' stocks. Betting on which railroad will be the fist to reach a certain longitude has become a national pastime.
The Coming of the Gangs
With so much at stake, competition steadily escalated, making the rail wars of the mid-'60s look like a bake-off. Unfair practices are supposedly reported to the committees overseeing the race, but little happens unless the perpetrator is caught red-handed. Both governments are taking a hands-off approach.
All of the railroads have recruited gangs of hired guns—and sometimes stranger allies. The more scrupulous companies use them to guard their interests. The underhanded ones use them to actively sabotage their rivals. If you know one end of a gun from the other, you can make good money working for the railroads, but you probably won't live to spend it.
Traveling by rail west of the Mississippi is quick, cheap, and dangerous. You never know if a gang from a rival rail has sabotaged the track in front of you, is lying in wait to rob the train, or has blown out the next bridge.
In one tragic incident, a Union Blue train passing over the Missouri River had the trestle blown out from under it. Over 200 people died. Some claim a Black River gang known as the Wichita Witches was responsible, but the investigators were unable to prove it.
Many railroads have begun putting armor and weapons on their trains. I've also heard some rumblings about companies laying spurs that connect to their rivals' trains and using them to place armed raiding trains on those rails A wagon train of settlers passing through Nebraska recently reported a spectacular battle between war trains of Union Blue and the Wasatch, and similar accounts have come from Texas where the lines of Bayou Vermillion and Dixie Rails cross.
Companies have also used their gangs to "negotiate" the right-of-way for their rail lines, usually by means of ambassadors like Colt, Smith, and Wesson, to name a few.
A few key towns have caught on to the rail baron's desperation. These "holdout towns" hire gangs for protection then charge outrageous fees for exclusive rights-of-ways. Some have even asked for strange and unique favors, though the details are never publicly revealed.
All these obstacles—the terrain, competition for rights-of-ways, and sabotage—make the going slow. Most anticipate it will be 1880 before the fist railroad ahs a single nonstop route from New York to the City of Lost Angels. Should you ever get to ride the transcontinental, you will no doubt see the bones of those who built it along the way. Remember their sacrifices, friend.
This struggle to be the first railroad to reach the Pacific Ocean is probably the most epic race in the history of mankind. Out West, you can't have a conversation without the rails coming up. If you want to engage in a little betting, you'd best learn about the participants.
It also doesn't hurt to know who's who when you ride the rails. Ask a Black River engineer about transferring to a Union Blue train, and he'll push you off the next trestle.
Though over a dozen companies are officially in the running in both the North and South, only six have any real chance of winning.
Bayou Vermillion is the front-running southern railroad. It's run by a wealthy New Orleans merchant of Haitian descent, Baron Simone LaCroix.
Not much is known about the reclusive LaCroix. The Baron's hermit-like behavior has led to all types of wild stories, including some that claim he dabbles in the black arts. It isn't even known where he ges his baronial title from, but he insists he be addressed as such by his employees.
Wild tales abound about his railroad as well. B.V. work crews have been seen laying track for 24 hours straight without topping to rest or eat. No photos have been taken of the glassy-eyed workers and one reporter from the Tombstone Epitaph even had his camera smashed.
B.V.'s expansion has slowed since arriving in Tombstone. The local Apache tribes attack B.V. work crews frequently and the Mexicans destroy tracks and trains along the Rio Grande. This has force the redeployment of guards and work crews along the length of the railroad. B.V.'s glass-eyed guards are not particularly observant but dangerous and difficult to put down in a fair fight, so the story goes.
The Apaches hate Bayou Vermillion, by the way, and never offer any quarter in a fight. If you know anything about the Apaches and their fear of the dead, this should confirm any suspicions about B.V.'s strange crews…
Black River Railroad was run by Miles Devlin, a ruthless S.O.B. by anyone's standards. Back in 1867, the Tennessee Central railroad tried to pressure Devlin into selling his company. When that didn't work, they put a bullet in his back. But no one counted on Miles' wife, Mina.
When Mina Devlin inherited Black River's stock, everyone expected her to sell it. They were sorely disappointed. In the next few months, this raven-haired beauty proved that she was twice asb bright and four times as mean as her late husband.
The details of what happened next are hazy, but it is said a number of executives from Tennessee Central (and their families) are on permanent sabbatical in Hell. I've even heard that the fellow who put the bullet in Mils Devlin's back is—unfortunately for him—still alive., if you understand my meaning.
Black River runs smack through the Disputed Lands. Mina rarely pays towns for the right-of-way, preferring campaigns of seduction, violence, or intimidation instead. Mina's gangs are the meanest of the bunch. She doesn't have all the toys of the Wasatch, the glassy-eyed servants of Bayou Vermillion, or even the resources of Dixie Rails, but her people can hold their own against any of their opponents. Women are especially preferred and actually get paid substantially more than men of equal skill.
Black River's most feared gang is the "Wichita Witches," led by a whip-cracking beauty from south of the border, named Violet Esperanza. Violet and her girls are as fast on the draw as any male gunslinger and can hit a man smack in the privates at 50 yards.
There may or may not be anything to their name. A few residents of Wichita say Violet has magical powers, but suspiciously they are all men who have fallen to her feminine charms.
Dixie Rails is owned in part by retired General Robert E. Lee. The company is managed by his nephew, Fitzhugh Lee.
Like Josh Chamberlain of Union Blue, both uncle and nephew thought it their patriotic duty to secure the riches of the Great Maze for their own struggling country. The Lees chose to build their railroad along the border so that it could be used to quickly shuttle Confederate troops along the frontier in times of war.
Dixie Rails makes most of its money contracting out to the Confederacy. It's working its way out to Roswell, New Mexico, where it is rumored a secret Confederate base still manufactures war machines from time to time.
The railroad's greatest obstacle to winning the Great Rail Wars is that Fitzhugh is nowhere near as crafty as his uncle Robert. When Fitzhugh is left to his own devices, the railroad struggles along at a moderate pace. Only when Robert takes an active hand in these maters does the railroad really live up to its full potential.
Perhaps the most unlikely of the rail barons is a man known only as Kang. This Chinese magnate amassed his fortunes shipping ghost rock from the Maze to points east. Far East. Adn he wasn't particularly nice about it.
Everyone who lives there knows to fear the colorful sampans of Kang. His pirates steal their ghost rock from other miners, raiding their camps and making off eith their ore-laden barges. The rest of the warlord's money comes from the opium trade, prostitution, and any other vice he can dip his well-manicured hands into.
Kang is a ruthlessly efficient warlord. He knows the real money to be made is in shipping ghost rock to the war-town eastern states. To meet his demand, he bought out the old Chicago and North Western, renamed it Iron Dragon, and quickly extended its lines west.
Kang entered the race later than most. By the time his first rolling stock was ready, all of the good routes west had already been claimed. So the crafty Kang did what no other rail baron was able to do—he headed straight into the Sioux Nations.
The real problem with building a railroad through the Sioux Nations was—and is—the Old Ways movement. In a nutshell, it's a rejection of everything technological. Kang's railroad was a direct challenge to the Old Ways movement, which had already had some resistance from younger Sioux.
Somehow, within a month after crossing the border of the Nations, Kang stunned the world by forming an alliance with Sitting Bull and the rest of the Sioux elders. How he accomplished this deal is one of the great mysteries of hte Rail Wars.
The treaty really paid off in 1875 when gold and ghost rock were discovered in the Black HiIls, right in the heart of the Nations. The Sioux agreed to let him build a single spur to the "treaty city" of Deadwood. Kang's fortunes grew by leaps and bounds, allowing his ominous Iron Dragons to chug on westward.
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Gettysburg, is the president of the Union Blue Railroad. Chamberlain was working as Grant's aide de camp when the competition was announced. Realizing the strategic importance of the transcontinental railroad to the country, he asked for and received a leave of absence to form the railroad.
Chamberlain's railroad is lagging behind. You've no doubt heard "nice guys finish last?" They might just wind ulp putting this on the cover of Chamberlain's biography. Fortunately, he's a tough bird, so don't count Mr. Chamberlain out just yet.
Union Blue runs just south of the Sioux Nations. As you might expect the spurs Chamberlain needs to generate revenue often stray into the Disputed Lands. this means very slow going due to constant harassment by Rebel guerrillas and Black River saboteurs.
Chamberlain's real advantages stem from his personal character. His incredible sense of integrity and honor has won him many friends along his path. This is why he is able to quickly negotiate rights-of-ways so cheaply with towns in both the United States and its territories as well as the Disputed Lands.
It is said Chamberlain's workers—the best-treated of all the rail crews—would die for their selfless master. Many of his guards are veterans of the war, some of whom are disabled but make up for their disadvantages with cold determination. All of Chamberlain's workers take the job of protecting the line and its crews very seriously.
The U.S. Army also frequently gives aid to Union Blue. When an unknown and very large gang besieged the camp at the line's railhead just last year, the cavalry showed up with cannons and even one of their new armored steam wagons.
The railroad most folks are betting on is Dr. Darius Hellstromme's Wasatch line. The railroad is named after the mountains around his renowned laboratory in Salt Lake City, Utah, the City of Gloom.
Hellstromme is arguably the West's foremost "mad scientist." His incredible inventions have led to faster trains, devious weapons for his gangs, and even ornithopters to survey the land ahead of his railheads. He even has one incredible vehicle that allows him to tunnel through mountains in a fraction of the time it would take to blast a way through.
Hellstromme has an easy time winning rights-of-ways in the West. He merely bribes the town's mayor or citizens with money or some fantastic device that they need. When he can't win a right-of-way so easily, Hellstromme quickly turns those devices around and resorts to terror tactics. Those who like the professor will tell you otherwise, but some believe that Hellstromme is as evil as he is dangerous.
According to some, there are secret messages hidden with a book entitled Hoyle's Book of Games. Apparently, Hoyle secretly detailed the means by which one can cast spells and hexes.
Hoyle had to hide what he was revealing because magic and hexes weren't very popular in the late 1700s, back when the original book was written. Those were days in which one could be hung or burned as a witch or warlock. Maybe one person in a hundred knows about this and less than that believes it.
But it's true.
Those that have deciphered Hoyle's book, or been taught by someone who has, can do some amazing things. Such folk are usually called "hucksters." When they cast their spells, playing cards pop up in their hands and disappear a few seconds later. Most people think they're just gamblers pulling some kind of fancy card trick. And most men you come across with a deck of cards are just that. But a few are best left alone…
All of these supernatural happenings were not as much as a shock to the native communities. The American Indians have a better grip on this sort of thing.
In 1872, a bunch of Sioux in the Dakotas decided they. could deal with the situation better than the few buffalo soldiers the Union was willing to send them. So they revolted and set up their own country: the Sioux Nations. The name is plural as it is made up of all the Sioux tribes. Some of these tribes are peaceful—others, not so much.
Right now, most of the tribes are decidedly not peaceful. This is due to various broken promises by the white governments. The 7th Cavalry claims they're going to ride into the Nations and teach them "redskins" a lesson. Chances are, it'll just stir up more trouble.
The Confederates had a little better luck down South. The Indian lands next to Oklahoma followed the Sioux's lead and declared themselves the Coyote Confederation. Just like up North, the Rebels couldn't spare the troops to put the insurrection down. So they came up with a better plan. They hired the Coyote Confederation, to work with them. It's a secret—but not much of one. Now the Coyotes raid Union towns and outposts in Kansas, Nebraska, and across the Mississippi. And it doesn't cost the Confederacy anything but some second hand muskets, rotten food, and whiskey.
The Rangers and Pinkertons are scouring the border states looking for hucksters, scientists, Harrowed gunmen, and the like to either hire or hang. Shoot it or recruit it is their motto. Of course, their rivalry is good and strong.
California, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas are disputed territories. US Marshals and Rangers from the Confederate Territories both claim jurisdiction in those areas, but mostly they just fight with other over who ought to be protecting the very folks getting killed in the crossfire.
Grant's the President of the United States. Lincoln got shot in 1865, then Johnson took over, but he didn't last long. Jefferson Davis has held onto his office in the South, but most are calling for him to step down. Lee's the man they want, but he seems a might skittish about the whole thing. Both armies are rebuilding their war machines for one last push, but in the meantime their raids are making a wasteland out of the border states.
The Election of 1876
Besides betting on the rail companies, the next most popular subject is the election. November is the month of destiny on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.
The Southern Election
In the South, Jefferson Davis has ruled unchallenged since the start of the Civil War in 1860. Lately he has met with increasing demands from the people and the Confederate Congress to step down.
General Robert E. Lee retired in 1870 to help run Dixie Rails, but many have called for him to come out of retirement and run for President. Davis promised free elections this year, but he doesn't seem eager to support them.
The Northern Election
Ulysses S. Grant is the Union incumbent. Grant was set to step down and resume command of the Union Army in late 1875, however, Generals Sherman and Sheridan convinced Grant that only he could remain president while the Civil War raged on. Letting a "civilian" run the war would only result in a quick death for the Union.
Grant's challenger this time around is Samuel Tilden, the Governor of New York. Tilden's "peace" movement, while unpopular, is actually starting to build some momentum. Needless to say, Grant, and his best friends Sherman and Sheridan, are less than thrilled at the prospects of making peace with the confederacy.
Grant believes a dramatic, Northern victory will revitalize the people's faith in restoring the Union. To this end he is readying the Union war machine for a "November Offensive."
The November Offensives
Davis is matching his opposite number's approach to the election, and is also readying his war machines in hopes of a big victory. The two candidates know success will help them carry their offices. Failure will send them packing.
As most of you know, this has happened every few years since he Civil War began. Cynics now call these battles "November Offensives."
Scuttlebutt around the prairie is Sherman—now in charge of the Union Army—is stockpiling supplies for an attack west of the Mississippi. Some say a move like this would only be made in combination with a decisive pinning movement from Washington into Virginia.
As he did in the Battle of Washington five years prior, Davis has been building an experimental division. Most of the regiments are armed with repeaters, while a few volunteer companies carry flamethrowers. Rumor has it there is also a very special "cavalry" troop using armored streamwagons mounting 12-pound cannons.
No one knows where the Confederates will strike, but the Rebel Army has been rebuilding in Virginia since last winter. Most believe Davis will try to capture Washington once again in yet another attempt to gain support from England. Others think the buildup in the East is a ruse, and they point to unmarked trains heading into parts unknown near Missouri.
Could Davis be readying a strike on Chicago? It would be a brilliant move. If he could hold it, he could sever the Unions reserves from Wisconsin and Minnesota and—more importantly—the influx of ghost rock from the Maze.