Reprinted from the New York Herald-Tribune – June 15, 1936
Our older readers may remember Watt O’Hugh the Third as the hero of various dime novels that circulated back in the 1870s, battered copies of which were still passed around among our less discerning lads as late as the 1890s. His more enthusiastic fanatics may even have managed to spot his Wild West show, which played New York’s now forgotten Hippodrome theater (the first one) in 1874, before closing quickly and ignominiously. Since discovering his story, and his alleged heroic exploits in Little Mount, I have wondered what had ever become of Mr. O’Hugh, who has over the years variously been described as dead or “on the lam.” He has now turned up, age 94 or 95, living in some squalor on an inactive western ranch, living off the last bits of a small fortune, the source of which he will not disclose. He agreed to a brief interview on two conditions: the state in which the ranch is located will not be identified, and I bring a case of whiskey and a carton of cigarettes, brand not specified. Mr. O’Hugh looks every bit his age, but he is still an imperfectly handsome man recognizable from old photographs.
NYHT: You seem to spend a lot of time sitting here on your front porch and telling tall tales to the town’s children.
O’Hugh: Not tall tales. God’s honest truth. I tell them about time Roaming, the dragon I spotted in Utah, the ghosts that guided my aim and made me the greatest living shootist in the West, some time back.
Fire breathing dragons are well-known to be mythical creatures.
Dragons are the lost link between dinosauria and birds. A few survived into the 19th century. They haven’t been spotted in many years. You are correct that they didn’t breathe fire. Cold blooded reptiles couldn’t breathe fire. That would be ridiculous.
And you are a time traveler.
Time Roamer. We can visit, but we cannot change a thing. “Traveling” somewhere implies fully possessing a time and place, which Roamers cannot do. We are like the wind, like a shadow. I’ve spent many days and years in the past and in the future. It’s hard to get out of your blood, once you get good at it. It’s addictive as opium but has its frustrations. It’s because of my Roaming that I am writing my story, and writing it so fast. I finally roamed to the day of my death and it is coming sooner than I had hoped, but later than I had any reason to expect, given how often I’ve been shot in the head.
How often have you been shot in the head?
Once or twice. In any event: more often than I would have preferred.
What do you expect to come of this memoir? Will you send it to Harper & Bros? Are you the new Hemingway?
Ha. A real Lum and Abner, ain’t you? I don’t know what I’ll do with the book. I may bury it in the sand. But one day it will be found and published, by a rather unlikable has-been in the 21st century. A really despicable bastard, without a redeeming quality, other than his admiration for me. Kirkus will have some nice things to say about it, though they will mistake it for a novel. Peter Keough, a famous film critic in the future, will call it “rip snorting.”
Quite a remarkable prediction.
Believe what you want. It’s men like you, city men, skeptics, who have chased the magic out of the wilderness that America used to be. I have seen a dragon scurry across the cloudless sky in Utah, I did fly among the snowy stars in Wyoming with a woman of the dark arts, who promised me eternal life. Poor Oscar Wilde and I saw deadlings rise in a mountain city in Colorado, we really saw a whole army of them. And I fought in the first battle of Sidonia, back in 1905.
Sidonia? The legendary magic city nestled in the Montana valley?
Not legendary. I wish that it were.
Have you been to Atlantis?
No. There was never an Atlantis. But I’ve been to the Chinese Hell of the Innocent Dead. For example. That’s as real as your ass, and even more frightening. Giant ferocious sand crabs, just for starters, and it goes downhill from there. It’s the 6th level of Hell.
Can you – you, the remarkable hero – possibly have any regrets, after this apparently spectacular life of adventure?
I have one regret. Involves a woman. Don’t want to talk about it.
At this, the indomitable, possibly lunatic O’Hugh heaved a heavy sigh, took a heavy drag on his cigarette, took a heavy gulp of whiskey and looked up at the stars. And our interview came to a close.
Watt O’Hugh’s memoirs are available wherever books are sold, or on-line.