Worth Every Penny — An Original Story from the Old West

Author’s Note

No stories are more charming than folk tales. They are simple and understandable, yet compelling in their logic. Folk tales can be funny or ironic, but are always full of valuable lessons and relevant to daily life. The folk hero often delivers his message in an unexpected but effective way. The most entertaining stories are those where the listener can’t tell whether the folk hero is wise, foolish, or both.

The idea for the following story came from one of those string e-mails everyone receives from friends who admit they have too much time on their hands. You know these e-mails . . . the ones that offer endless top ten lists, jokes, pictures of cute animals, bad poetry, political commentaries, or inspirational life stories. Avoid the inclination to delete these e-mails without reading them; they often contain a gold mine of ideas for good stories.

Worth Every Penny

There once was a small farming town in the Dakota territory in the days of the Old West. The most respected man in town was the circuit judge, the Honorable J.T. Swift. All the townsfolk looked to Judge Swift for advice and counsel.

One day, a traveling salesman came to town. He went to the well in the center of town and began telling the townspeople that he had a miraculous thing to sell. Soon a large crowd gathered.

Holding up a cloth bag, the salesman reached inside and pulled out a handful of gold-colored seeds. “Not just any seeds, mind you,” he said. “Magic seeds. They grow flowers that shoot out gold dust like pollen. That’s right. You heard me. Real gold dust!”

The crowd was astonished. “That’s impossible,” said Dusty Hickok, a local rancher. “No such thing exists.”

“Then look at this,” said the traveling salesmen, who expected this response. He pulled from his coat pocket a pouch and poured its contents onto a plate. “Real gold dust!” He held the plate for all to see. On the plate was a mound of golden powder.

“Sure looks like gold dust,” said Mildred Cassidy, a seamstress in town.

Jesse Custer, the owner of the local dry goods store, agreed. “Yeah, it does. But how do we know this gold dust came from flowers grown from your seeds?”

“Prove it to yourselves,” said the salesman. “For fifty cents apiece, I’ll sell you some seeds. If—in just one day—the seeds don’t grow flowers filled with gold dust, I’ll give you your money back.”

“We don’t even know your name,” called out the Widow Grimsley.

“The name’s Smith,” said the salesman, “but my friends call me Sonny.

“Well, Sonny,” continued Mrs. Grimsley, “how will we find you?” She adjusted her wire-rimmed glasses on her nose so she could better see the salesman.

“I’m camping in the grove of trees by the river. You can find me there.”

The townsfolk didn’t quite trust this traveling salesman. Still, it was tempting to buy seeds that would sprout flowers filled with gold dust. They turned to Judge Swift for advice.

“Judge, does paying this man fifty cents for the golden flower seeds seem like a good deal to you?” (Now remember, fifty cents in those days was a lot of money.)

The Judge thought for a moment before replying. “Yes, I think it’s a very good deal.”

With that, just about every person in town paid the traveling salesman fifty cents for seeds. They immediately rushed home, planted the seeds in their vegetable gardens, and watered the seeds with care. Then they sat down to wait.

One hour, two hours, three went by. Soon, a day passed, and no flowers had sprouted. To be sure, they waited a full two days before giving up on the seeds.

“Let’s go to the grove by the river,” said Dusty, “and get our money back.”

“Count me in,” said the Widow Grimsley. Soon all the townsfolk who paid the salesman marched down to the river to confront him.

When they arrived at the grove of trees, there was nothing—and no one—to be found. The salesman had run away. Not even a burning coal from his cooking fire was left behind.

“This is all the Judge’s fault,” said Jesse. “Yes,” said Mildred, “it was the Judge who told us to do the deal.”

The crowd marched back to town and gathered around the Judge’s office. “What’s this all about?” asked the Judge as he appeared at the front door of his office.

“It’s all your fault,” said Jesse. “The salesman cheated us of our money. The seeds he sold to us were worthless. When we went to the river to look for him, he was gone.”

“Yes,” cried Mildred, “the salesman was a liar, a cheat, and a fraud. He stole our money. Now we will never see him again.”

“Never see him again; isn’t that something!” muttered the Judge to no one in particular.

Dusty pointed his finger at the Judge. “And you’re to blame. You’re the one who told us it was a good deal.”

“And so it was,” said the Judge.

“What do you mean?” asked Dusty. “We paid good money for those seeds. And they were worthless. How do you call that a good deal?”

“I didn’t say buying the seeds was a good deal,” replied Judge Swift. “I said that paying the salesman was a good deal.”

“How can that be?” asked Mildred. “We’ll never see that no good, lying, cheating, stealing rascal again!”

“In that case,” said the Judge, “the seeds you bought were worth every penny!”