By Wes Annac, The Annac Blog
Here we are, back with our outlaw gang in this snowy hellscape to which we have fled. The interesting thing about these mountains (the Colter camp in particular) is that their vibe is dingy and depressing while the landscape is gorgeous. It is an interesting parallel between the harshness and natural beauty of the wilderness, and it mirrors the gang’s relatively hopeful spirit in the face of such rough circumstances.
When we last left our anti-heroes, we had rescued John Marston the Wolf Man after his legendary encounter with the mean doggos that tore into his face. It was a story the fans all agreed was an awesome and completely necessary way to explain his mysterious scar. (I liked the story, for what it’s worth…)
John was lost in the mountains after Dutch sent him and Micah to scout ahead. He was then attacked by wolves, who un-alived his horse and jacked up his face. By the time Arthur and Javier found him, he was facing certain death.
Now, with the first two missions in the game complete, we get to move around and explore for the first time.
The territory we can roam is limited to the abandoned mining town we are camping in, but this is our first chance to talk with other characters and check out Arthur’s stash. His satchel is now accessible, in which we access provisions and other items. We can also check out his journal.
Arthur writes in his journal frequently; not only to describe and share his thoughts on the events of the story, but to record new plants, animals and interesting locations. His journal is an intriguing part of the game that adds just a little more to an already engaging story.
Though the missions give us a proper feel for the kind of character Arthur is; it is through his journal that we really get to know him. His writings show that he is more than some empty-headed brute robbing and killing for cash. He is a human struggling to survive in a world dominated by violence and the desire for power. In reading his perspective on the things that happen to him and his gang, we see that this outlaw tough guy has authentic thoughts and feelings. He is creative, sometimes emotional, and he’s far from blindly loyal to his father figure.
Arthur’s journal also gives us exposition, as he explains what the gang was doing in the months leading up to the Blackwater robbery. When we open it for the first time in Colter, we see a hand-drawn map of Blackwater and a journal entry that takes us back to a few months prior – when the gang was hiding out near the town in relative peace and safety.
Before we walk around our camp, we’re going to learn what led up to the disastrous boat robbery that set the gang on a desperate escape from Pinkerton detectives. Since there are multiple journal entries at the start of the game, I’ll break them up into individual paraphrased paragraphs. Here we go!
Journal Entry #1: “Haven’t written or drawn much”
In his first journal entry, written a few months prior to the game’s opening, Arthur writes that he had to quit sketching for a while after his last journal was lost in a fire. He went without one until he started missing it and found himself near a store. He alludes to some “business up north” and to the fire that incinerated his last journal before explaining that the gang spent some time in the Northern Grizzlies, slowly coming down to Blackwater. The Northern Grizzlies is, of course, the game’s northern mountain region.
He writes that there was plenty of food and things were going pretty well. At one point, the gang almost bought some land but the deal fell through for some reason. So, they ended up wandering some more, picking up a couple people in the Grizzlies during their travels. They picked up a nice young woman named Jenny, and unfortunately, Dutch met Micah in a bar.
Arthur makes it clear in his entries and his interactions with Micah – as well as his discussions with other characters – that he is skeptical of this outlaw despite that Dutch trusts him. He is not alone in his skepticism, as Hosea doesn’t trust Micah either. In fact, most of the gang does not get along with him.
Arthur writes that they made their way down through the mountains and set up camp outside the town of Blackwater. He would sometimes linger in town looking for “opportunities”; presumably, a robbery or some other money-making scheme. He seems hopeful in these early entries; he’s found a good opportunity and he’s confident the law couldn’t have followed them through the Grizzlies.
Journal Entry #2: “Blackwater has grown a whole lot”
Arthur writes that Blackwater has changed quite a bit over the years. He expected there to be almost nothing there, yet he describes it as “almost a small city”. There is a lot of corruption in the town, and more importantly, a lot of money. He enjoys sleeping in a bed and “living a more civilized life” but gets nervous being near a town. They are wanted criminals, after all.
He writes that they are hiding outside of town “in plain sight” living a simple life. The only thing disrupting the peace is the near-constant fighting John and Abigail engage in. The character Josiah Trelawny is referenced; we are given no information about him except that he hasn’t been seen in months. As we’ll learn later, he is a peculiar fella.
Journal Entry #3: Robbery and Real Estate
Arthur writes that Hosea thinks the two of them could make a lot of money from a real estate scam he is cooking up. It’s “the perfect crime… one where we rob crooks”. He calls Hosea an “artist of nonsense” and a “born huckster”, giving us a glimpse into the kind of conman Hosea is. Like Arthur, Hosea is worried about staying in town and attracting attention.
Dutch has “something big” in the works: a robbery of a boat bringing in a metric fuck-ton of bank money. At the time of this entry, the gang is working on both projects simultaneously. As Arthur writes, “the plan is to flee west into the desert country someplace if we can”. He is, of course, referring to the desert region from the first RDR. Sadly, we won’t be going back there any time soon.
Journal Entry #4: The Plan is in Motion
Arthur confirms the ferry robbery is happening, with Dutch and Micah in charge of the planning. Hosea and Arthur plan to finish their con and escape at the same time the rest of the gang are pulling off the robbery. Spirits are high and everyone is confident it will go well. He reaffirms they will pull off their respective jobs and flee out west, writing that they’re considering California but also “a lot of other places”.
Journal Entry #5: “An almighty scramble”
This is Arthur’s first entry after the robbery goes wrong. The tone has shifted considerably. Before, he sounded hopeful and happy; now, he sounds a wee bit traumatized.
He writes that they’ve been on the run for weeks. The Blackwater ferry job “turned into a disaster”, with Jenny shot and killed, Mac and Sean arrested or killed (“nobody seems sure which”), and an innocent woman shot by Dutch. Arthur speculates it was a setup.
Forced to leave most of their possessions, the remaining robbers gathered the rest of the group and fled into the mountains. Arthur recounts the game’s opening in which we see Davey Callendar dying in a wagon before they find shelter and he passes away. Arthur also gives us more insight into Davey’s death: he was shot in the gut and his suffering was “brutal to watch”.
Now, they’re staying in an abandoned mining town until the snow thaws. To the left of this entry’s second page, we see the name Davey with a cross next to it.
Rest in Peace, Davey.
Journal Entry #6: “Profoundly concerned”
Arthur writes that this has been a pretty bad spring, which makes sense given that they’re stuck in the mountains, on the run, in a snowstorm, in May. His scam with Hosea and most of his possessions were all left behind when they had to flee. He is “profoundly concerned” about the future and worried the law will find them. He recounts finding Sadie Adler, reminding us about her husband who – just in case you forgot – was un-alived by the O’Driscolls.
That’s it for the journal entries for now. I’ll be summarizing them as they build up, stopping at random points in the story or my open-world wanderings to read the latest entries.
Bad Vibes All ‘Round
Now that we’ve learned what led up to the robbery that stranded our friends in the snow; let’s walk around and check out our Colter camp as we interact with the sorry souls with whom we are stuck on this mountain.
For good reason, nobody is in high spirits. Everyone is bummed that we couldn’t steal a boatload of money and ride away into obscurity like the good ol’ days. Seriously, though; everyone is in shock. Nobody expected the law to respond with such ferocity, but whether they know it yet or not, their trouble with Uncle Sam has just begun.
The deserted town of Colter looks and feels dingy, sort of hopeless; the rough snowy weather and abandoned buildings add to the hopeless feeling with which the game opens. The place feels bleak; uninviting; perhaps foreboding, signaling that rough times are around the corner.
The snow is pretty, though.
Colter is a fitting location for the gang in regard to where they are at in their outlaw career. The situation they are in, like the mountains they were chased into, seems brutal and, again, hopeless. Their environment matches their predicament; they’ve backed themselves into a corner and are forced to live in these harsh conditions, albeit temporarily.
Of course, none of the characters see the writing on the wall or the signs of what’s to come (besides Hosea and later Arthur). They keep doing what they’ve always done, assuming this is no different from the trouble they’ve been in before. They’re in a tight spot, but like always, they will prevail. We find later that the conditions around the gang tend to match the circumstances they’re in at that time.
Here, we’re going to walk around and interact with the rest of the gang – that is, those who are still with us. This part of the game gives us a basic introduction to most of the gang, and to the gamespeak mechanic. I’ll interact with some of our friends in camp and share their responses to give us a feel for the collective mood. We’re going to see how our friends are holding up after the sudden disaster that was the Blackwater robbery.
Spoilers: they’re not doing too well.
The mood in camp is straight up gloomy. Everyone is bummed and afraid of what the future has in store. Nobody is okay right now, as even if they weren’t anxious, they have the bitter cold to contend with. Their situation is deeply, irredeemably uncomfortable.
First, we walk into a room in the home we’re staying in and find a woman named Molly. When we ask how she’s doing, she tells us she’s cold but she’ll survive. Leaving the house, we walk out to the bright snow to do a little exploring.
In the course of our little stroll, we find the grave of our fallen comrade, Davey. This is the man who was dying in the blizzard when the game opened. He is buried next to the abandoned town’s equally abandoned cemetery, with a simple stone slab that reads Davey Callendar.
Rest in Peace Again, Davey.
Chillin’ with the Gang (Pun Totally Intended)
After we walk around a little more, we head over to a house across from the one Arthur is staying in. The house is filled with people, including two women comforting the widow whose house we burned down. I’d recommend spending plenty of time here in your playthrough, getting to know the people who make up the Van der Linde gang, So, that’s exactly what we’ll do.
One of the women comforting Sadie, whose name we find out is Mary Beth, assures Arthur the widow will be okay. Before we can talk to anyone else, a woman in a big ol’ coat stands up to make an inspirational speech about how they’ve faced trouble before but by God, they will prevail!
“We keep moving and we keep together, same as always. All of you.”
Without knowing who she is just yet, we get a sense that this woman is a motherly figure in the group – someone who’s been a part of this little community for a long time and has taken the role of a nurturer. As we’ll learn later, though, her methods can be far from gentle.
The people we’ll talk to first are, from left to right:
- Karen Jones
- Mary-Beth Gaskill
- Sadie Adler (the widow)
- Susan Grimshaw
- Jack Marston (John’s young son)
- Tilly Jackson
- Uncle (just Uncle – no last name necessary)
We start talking to Mary-Beth as another character, the reverend in the group, begins reciting a Bible passage. Mary-Beth is thinking about their friends who were hurt and wondering who will be next. Sadie Adler is, of course, distraught and in shock.
Sitting across from them is a German man named Leopold Strauss. Like everyone else, he definitely does not want to be here.
We then talk to a young woman named Tilly, who is trying to stay positive in this beyond shitty situation.
That’s not so easy for poor Jack, who is bored and in low spirits.
The woman who gave the speech, Susan Grimshaw, is not doing too well either. At least she has a big ol’ coat, though.
Uncle doesn’t seem to love the cold weather, and is doing “about as bad” as he can recall.
Abigail and John are obviously not doing well, with John lying injured in a cot and Abigail by his bedside.
Leaving the house, I walk around the Colter camp and explore a little, checking out the wrecked houses and walking by the gang’s snowed-in wagons. It’s interesting to walk by those wagons in this first chapter after having played through the game, knowing their significance in camp later on. As you build up money for the gang, you can stock up on resources you visit these wagons to collect. It’s cool to see them snowed-in here when you know you’ll be visiting them a lot later.
What happens next is interesting: I walk back into the house our room is in and trigger dialogue I’d never heard before. All the times I’ve played through this chapter, I apparently never left the house then walked back in to this conversation between Dutch and Hosea. This exchange is more heated than the last, with Hosea concerned about all the Pinkertons and bounty hunters after them. He is certain the Blackwater job was a setup.
Dutch doesn’t think the law could follow them up the mountains through the blizzard. He thinks the gang will be long gone by the time the law figures out where they’ve fled to, but when Hosea reminds him he has no idea where they will go, he storms out angrily.
With all that out of the way, we’re going to go talk to a man named Simon Pearson to trigger our mission for today.
The Aftermath of Genesis
Starting this next mission: Pearson (our camp cook) tells Arthur they are low on food. The reason? He didn’t have enough time to get supplies when they hastily left their camp outside of Blackwater. Pearson sent Lenny and Bill out to hunt, but of course they found nothing. Game is tough to find when it’s snowing so hard you can’t see three feet in front of you.
Charles Smith walks up during our conversation with Pearson and seems certain he can find some food. Since the snow has finally settled, he thinks the animals will be coming out to feed.
With a hungry, desperate gang depending on us, it’s off to hunt we go.
We are given a bow at the start of our excursion; canonically, this is one of the first times Arthur uses a bow. Our reason for using one now is that a gun would scare away all the game. Plus, in Charles’ words, Arthur is “never too old to learn” to use one.
Charles comments on a “stupid mistake” he made in Blackwater that left his hand injured, rendering him unable to use a bow for now. We are left to speculate on just what happened to him, but we learn later that he is cunning and willing to take big risks when in danger. So, it could have been anything.
Charles gives the impression of being wise and knowledgeable about hunting and animals in general. We learn in Chapter 2 that he holds great respect and reverence for animals – particularly bison – and is offended by the notion of killing them for sport.
We learn a little about Charles during this mission, so now seems like a great time to introduce him properly.
Charles Smith: Lone Wolf Turned Loyal & Skilled Recruit
I don’t have a cool video from a dope YouTuber to show you this time, as Charles’ backstory is pretty short. We only know a little about his life before he joined the gang, but we learn that his life, like most others in this story, was fraught with tragedy.
Our source for this information is the always helpful Red Dead Wiki.
Born in an unknown year to a black father and a Native American mother, Charles lives with his parents and his mother’s tribe. Sadly, the US army invades their territory and drives away the inhabitants. Charles and his parents flee. They wander for a couple years until his mother is captured by soldiers, never to be seen again.
After this, Charles’ father becomes depressed and falls into alcoholism. The dysfunction causes Charles to run away when he is just thirteen. He spends many years living alone in the wilderness, where he learns a myriad of survival skills. We see him exhibit some of those skills when he is hunting with Arthur.
By the time the Van der Linde gang picks him up in the Grizzlies in late 1898 – around six to seven months before the events of the story – Charles is an extremely capable survivalist. By this point, he’s looked out for himself for a long time. He can hunt, and he can fight.
Some of the things Charles says later in camp suggest he is carrying heavy feelings about his past and his place in the world. Not one for bullshit or smalltalk, Charles seems like an intelligent and caring person forced to survive in a brutal world he doesn’t fully understand.
(Fast forward to 3:38 in the video below to hear Charles talk about those heavy feelings.)
That’s pretty much it for Charles’ past. He joins the Van der Linde gang in ‘98, either does or doesn’t participate in the robbery, hurts his hand, and is in the mountains with us looking for food. With his intellect and survival skills, it’s safe to say that if anyone makes it out of this story alive, it will be him.
Hunting with Charles
As Arthur comments on what a crazy few days they’ve had, Charles admits he’s not completely sure what happened on the boat. This calls into question whether he took part in the robbery. If not, how the hell did he hurt his hand? It is, of course, all left to speculation. But I for one want answers to these irrelevant questions.
As I mentioned, Charles is full of wisdom about animals. Throughout the ride he is letting us know how the direction of the wind will impact our ability to find game – and other cool animal knowledge.
He finds a deer track in the snow (like he knew he would), which we follow straight to the animal we were looking for.
Hunting with the bow is simple: you find your prey, draw back, aim, and try to get a clean hit. The longer you draw back on the bow, the more your stamina depletes. This early in the game, with your stamina naturally low, it can be easy to deplete when drawing and aiming.
Once we find the deer, we get our first chance to practice hunting as Charles has Arthur practice with the bow because, again, our friend’s hand is hurt.
After we get two deer on the back of our horses, we ride triumphantly back to camp.
On the ride back, Arthur tells Charles he thinks things are looking up now that they found shelter and food. This will come up a lot throughout the story; most of the gang is surprisingly optimistic and certain they will endure, no matter how bad their situation becomes.
Dutch passes his blind optimism onto his protégés. He convinces them, and maybe himself, that they can handle all adversity and overcome all odds. He sees himself as an invincible messianic figure and his disciples as equally bulletproof. They shield their vulnerability by believing in the stories their leader tells.
But that’s a rant for another time…
Don’t Antagonize the Bear
Charles thinks they should focus on getting off the mountain, to which Arthur remarks folks are still weak and their wagons are still snowed-in. When Charles brings up the rather large price on their heads, Arthur responds:
“This is a big country. We’ll find somewhere to lie low.”
He tells Charles about Sadie Adler, the widow who lost everything to the O’Driscolls (and Micah). We also learn a little history about the O’Driscolls and their feud with our anti-heroes. Since our rivals were holed up in the mountains for the past few months, Dutch & Co. hadn’t encountered them since Charles joined.
“A big gang. Nasty sons of bitches.”
Calling it a “proper blood feud”, Arthur tells Charles about the rivalry between Dutch and the O’Driscoll leader, Colm.
We then encounter a big bear off in the distance, stopping and watching as it trudges through the snow. Mentioning that spring storms present big problems for hibernating animals like bears, Charles discourages us from shooting it for its meat. He believes it is best, for us and for it, to leave it be.
Charles’ attitude toward animals is a great example of the nuance of a person killing an animal for their resources yet respecting and refraining from brutalizing them. Charles does not see the animals he hunts as soulless creatures put here for his amusement. He takes their hides and meat, but he seems to respect the consciousness within them. Before I get too hippy-dippy, I’ll just say it’s cool to see a character like this.
Maybe Charles is super wise and in touch with the animal kingdom, maaan. Or maybe he has good enough survival instincts not to fuck with a hungry, angry bear during a snowstorm in spring.
In any case, we let the bear pass and keep riding.
Dutch the Savior
We learn that Charles has been with the gang for about six months; he ran by himself for many years and is not about that life anymore. He’s happy to be with the gang even if their problems are pretty massive right now.
He believes any “job” is bound to go wrong at some point and seems to hold no animosity toward Dutch for the Blackwater Massacre. In fact, he mentions that Dutch is “different” from most other gang leaders – meaning more charismatic, compassionate and maybe inspirational. Charles appreciates that Dutch and the rest of the gang treat him like a human being. Since he is black and indigenous, and it’s 1899, he is not used to being treated well by anyone.
We also learn a little of Arthur’s backstory: he’s been in the gang for around twenty years, since he was a teenager. Dutch taught Arthur, John and others how to read. Of course, they were taught “a few other things” as well. If I had to guess what those other things were, I’d say they have to do with writing, reading and riding horses. Nothing else.
Arthur tells Charles how Dutch has rescued so many poor souls in their time of greatest need:
“Dutch saved me, saved most of us. That’s why we need to stick by him through this. He always sees us right.”
When we arrive at camp and bring the deer to Pearson, we have a delightful encounter with Uncle. Fans of the first game will of course remember our interactions with him as John. That’s all I will say about that for now… (uncleisthebest)
We are then put through the animal skinning mechanic. It is exactly what it sounds like, and I won’t go into detail or show photos because it’s not pretty. Instead, here are a few more photos I captured in the wildneress during our hunt.
This mission leaves us looking at the old mining town we are trapped in, listening to the sounds of the snow and nearby water. It is a nice, peaceful way to end a mission before we get into some trouble in the next episode. Arthur’s next “job” will be decidedly less peaceful.
After our hunt, we walk into our little house and encounter even more dialogue between Dutch and Hosea I hadn’t heard before. I wanted to go in-depth with this playthrough, but I didn’t expect to stumble my way into so much more content so quickly. New Game+ be damned; this game keeps on giving.
In this not-really-new conversation, Dutch urges Hosea to send someone to the widow’s farmhouse to bury her husband. Here, Dutch is exemplifying the quality Charles pointed out: he is warmhearted toward the people he takes in.
A complex character, Dutch has a heart and shows it many times in this game (and at least one time in the first RDR). He wants what is best for these folks he’s taken in and educated. That is, until he doesn’t. How that unfolds, you’ll have to keep reading or watching this series to find out. Or you can just play the game, or watch it on YouTube. You don’t have to do what I tell you.
Molly Doesn’t Need Friends
After we brag to Dutch and Hosea about the deer we caught with Charles, we go to Molly and let her know everyone else is in the other house, if she wants to join them. She responds:
“Dutch is all the company I need.”
If it wasn’t obvious before, this makes it clear Molly and Dutch are more than just friends. It also hints that Molly is not comfortable around the rest of the gang or sees herself as different from them. Her time is better spent with Dutch than the rest of the crew; either because she’s in love with him, she doesn’t really like them, or both. This interaction (and others later) sets up a plot point that could go nowhere or could quickly go south.
This concludes our deep dive into the world of Red Dead Redemption for now. Get used to these posts, though, because we’ve just begun! As I wrote before, this is a massive game with so much to do and almost too much to write about. We haven’t even left the mountains yet. There is plenty of trouble ahead.
Stay tuned for the next part, when we’ll infiltrate our O’Driscoll buddies’ hideout and engage in our first real fight. Apparently these mountains have a lot of abandoned mining towns, because our rivals found a town of their own to hide out in. We’re going to see their leader for the first time before launching an assault and stealing their stuff.
Classic outlaw antics.
After that, we’ll be one step closer to leaving the mountains and getting a proper start to a story filled with highs, lows, and toward the end, lots of mangoes.
See you soon!