Boone - the Early Years
Chapter 6

On the Trail to California

The trail west from Fort Laramie, Nebraska Territory is well marked, due to the many hundreds of wagons along the trail in the past twenty years. Many of the worst parts of the trail have been improved by earlier wagon-trains, which simply means the trail is wide enough for the wagons, it’s well marked, also some water crossings have stones in them to stop the crossing from washing away, and some of the worst crossings now have ferries in place to make them easier. There are still some places with steep slopes up and down, and some river crossings where care is needed. The wagon-master tells them, “The trail west isn’t tamed, but it is pacified a little in many of the worst places, when compared to how it was in the early eighteen fifties.” Some of the people who’ve been with him on the main trail along the Platte River don’t believe him, because it’s like what they’ve been on all along. However, Boone’s group have been off the trail, and they all believe what the wagon-master has to say about the trail being easier than it used to be, or it could still be.

The bulk of the trail between the two forts is fairly good traveling, but it does have a few spots where the terrain is difficult, and it slows them down. Some of the river crossings also slow them down. One good thing with this wagon-train is there are no wagons pulled by oxen. This wagon-master only allows wagons pulled by horses or mules, so some people had to sell their oxen to buy mules when they first joined the train.

They make good time to cover the four hundred miles to be in Fort Bridger, Nebraska Territory in fourteen days, including the rest days.

The Desert

The biggest problem for the wagon-train is the desert, as both Boone and the wagon-master thought it would be. At the last good watering hole just before the main crossing the wagon-train rests up for a day and a bit while they make sure everything is well tied down, everyone has all the water they can carry, and all is ready to cross the worst part in one long drive with everyone and the stock all well fed, watered, and rested.

About noon they have a meal, water the animals, harness them, put the bags over their heads, and get ready to go. For this crossing each of the wagons will have about triple the usual space between them and the wagon in front, to allow most of the dust to settle again. Being the last group to join the wagon-train means Boone’s group are on the end, which means they don’t have to worry about people behind them.

Boone has the horses tied to the center of the back of the rear wagons to give them the most protection from the dust kicked up by the mules, everyone except the drivers are inside the wagons with all access points shut and well sealed to keep the dust out. Mary, Heidi, and Boone are the ones driving, with Boone driving the last wagon pair. To keep as much as possible of the dust out Mary, Heidi, and Boone have a layer of cloth over their eyes with two layers of cloth over their mouths and noses.

Every hour or so the wagon-master stops the train, and has everyone water their animals as well as having a drink each. He also goes down the line checking everyone is OK. On the second such break Boone tells the wagon-master, “Each of my wagons has two barrels of water. If anyone is getting low let me know, and they can get some from me.”

The man smiles, and says, “It’s good to know someone knows what is the most important thing to carry. Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind when I check on the people.”

Two wagons do run out of water on the crossing, but since it’s at the final watering stop in the desert the wagon-master doesn’t take up the offer to share Boone’s extra water. The next stop is at the waterhole on the south-west side of the desert with plenty of good water for everyone to restock their water supplies.

To make most of the crossing at night they start in the early afternoon, and keep going all night. Many of the people swap drivers during the crossing, but Boone, Mary, and Heidi don’t want to subject the others to the dust, so they stay awake for the full crossing; they aren’t the only ones to do so. The crossing takes more than a day, so they all rest up for the remains of the day, and the next day after they cross the desert.

Due to the desert crossing many of the people who didn’t believe the wagon-master about the trail change their minds about it being easier.

Another rest day is called when they reach Fort Bridger, Nebraska Territory late afternoon on Monday April 28th, 1862. When they come to a halt at the fort Mary tells the rest of their group what the date and day of the week is, making them all laugh. Despite not knowing why they’re all laughing the rest of those on the wagon-train join in the laughter, so it’s a jovial group of people organizing their meals that night.

Salt Lake City

On the Wednesday morning the wagon-train moves out on their way to Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, their next major rest stop. Despite being only one hundred and twenty miles away, according to the map, the distance up and down the countryside makes it a lot longer. It’s during this stage the rest of the people on the wagon-train believe the wagon-master’s comment on the trail being only slightly pacified. They don’t dawdle on the way, but the terrain makes it rough going, despite the many improvements earlier travelers have made to the trail. They arrive on the edge of Salt Lake City late on Sunday May 18th, 1862.

Their arrival in Salt Lake City isn’t a Monday, but the next morning is an important day. They’re just finishing breakfast when a lieutenant and a group of soldiers arrive at the camp. When one of the soldiers is in the act of climbing up onto one of their wagons Boone shouts, “Get off my wagon.”

The lieutenant says, “We’ve orders to check the contents of all of the Mormon wagons coming into the valley to make sure they don’t have any contraband or excess weapons.”

Boone turns to him, and says, “Lieutenant, this is not a military base, and this is not a combat zone, there is no declaration of martial law in place. So you have no legal right to interfere with civilians or their property. If you or your men try to enter my wagons without my permission I will regard them as thieves and shoot them as well as the one who orders them to do so. I may have to justify my actions in a court, but the men will be dead and you will face a military court for your actions in getting your men killed.”

The lieutenant starts to argue. However, an older sergeant waves all the troops back from the wagons while the lieutenant and Boone argue. The sergeant also sends one of the troopers off in a hurry.

The two are still arguing when a captain rides up, and demands to know what’s happening. After being told about the dispute the captain turns to Boone to sternly ask, “What makes you think you know the law about this?”

Boone grins, and says, “I spent many years sitting in classes at the Virginia Military Institute, and one of the subjects covered was military law. Most of it covered matters to deal with authority and obedience in the Army itself, but it also covered what and when an Army officer can order a civilian to do, and what they can do with civilian property. The situation here does not authorize the behavior or actions of this officer.”

“We’ve orders to search all incoming wagons.”

“That may well be. But whoever gave the order has no legal right to issue such an order. Also, any order of that type has to be in writing and shown to the civilians, unless the area is under martial law, and the declaration of martial laws has to be shown to them.”

The dispute goes on for about an hour before the captain withdraws the troops to check into the matter further. As soon as the captain leaves Boone seeks out the wagon-master for a short chat about the incident, and is directed to another man. By noon Boone’s wagons are packed up, and another local is leading the way south along a local trail to join the Old Spanish Trail into southern California.

The wagon-master follows Boone’s lead, and has those going west on the road to California by a trail that goes due west while the ones staying in the valley are dispersing to the places of their friends and families. In the late afternoon the Army captain returns to find the campsite empty, and when he asks those who live nearby about it they say, “The wagon-train is on its way to California. They were only staying here over night. They left soon after breakfast.” The captain isn’t happy with the situation, but there’s not much he can do about it, now.

Going South

For four days they go due south along the base of the mountains, then they go slightly up into to the mountains and through a pass into a valley on the east of this mountain range. Seven days later they join the Old Spanish Trail at Salina, Utah Territory. Their local guide collects his pay from Boone, and leaves them to go home. From here the trail is well marked and easy to follow. However, Boone and his family do rest up a day to ask locals about the trail west, and to restock on perishable foods.

From here the trail runs south-west down into southern California. It passes through a number of towns and villages along the way, where they stop to buy fresh food when they need to. When they reach San Bernadino, California they stop for a rest, because they’ve been on the road for seven weeks since leaving Salt Lake City, Utah Territory. With good water and forage along the way they’ve not felt the need to press on, so they’ve taken their time, but now is time for a few days of rest.

When they check Mary’s diary for the date and day they all have a good laugh at finding out today is Monday July 7th, 1862.

When they talk to the locals about southern California and the area around the Colorado River they get told of the several battles in the New Mexico Territory, with some not far from the Colorado and Gila rivers. A few of the local farmers mention a lot of good farm land along both of the rivers, but there’s not enough water on the land itself to get a good crop from it. Which is why they’re not over there farming the land. However, what they describe does remind Boone of some of the places he’s read about in the books at VMI, so he keeps the places in mind.

Due to it now being late June, plus their concerns about fighting close to the California side of the New Mexico Territory, Boone’s group doubts they’ll find a good place to get properly organized before winter comes, if they go to the Colorado River area. So the discussion turns to what they should do for the rest of this year and the coming winter. The next day they talk to the locals about a lot more things, and eventually decide it may be best to spend the winter in the city of San Francisco, California further north and on the coast, because they’ll be more likely to find work for the winter in the city. Despite it being a lot larger place than where they’d like to spend the winter the danger of warfare occurring within or close to a city in California is a lot less than in the eastern states. It’s about another month on the road at their usual travel speed, but it seems the best place, based on what they can learn from the locals.

When they ask some other people about the road to the coastal city north of them they learn of some locals who are looking for people to work for them, so they go to talk to them first. A lot of men went off to the goldfields in the nearby mountains, and good workers are in short supply in many of the businesses around town. So Boone takes a job as a guard in the bank, and they stay in a barn owned by the bank Boone now works for. It’s not that far from the bank, so it’s an easy walk to work for him.

Boone does tell the manager, “I intend to move to the Colorado River area to start a farm in the spring. I’m letting you know now, so you won’t be surprised when I do go.”

The man smiles, and says, “By then I should be able to find someone else to do the job. It’s good to know you’ve plans for your future.”

San Bernadino

For many years this bank in San Bernadino, California didn’t need to have any guards, and they did well. However, the town has changed a lot in recent years, and it’s no longer the quiet staid town it used to be. For most of the 1850s the core of the town’s white population had been the Mormons in the city. The first two mayors of the incorporated city were Mormons, because the Mormons made up three-quarters of the residents, until they were recalled to Salt Lake City, Utah Territory in the late 1850s. Then the city became so disorganized it stopped being an incorporated city. The discovery of gold in nearby valleys in 1860 saw an influx of people after the gold, as either miners or selling services to the miners. What was left of the city suffered a major change in the Great Flood in early January of 1862, which caused major damage across a large part of the western states and territories. In San Bernadino the Santa Ana River overflowed its banks to destroy many rich farm fields beside the river, and it devastated the original Mexican town of Agua Mansa, California. There was no loss of life, but it destroyed the local Mexican community, due to the survivors moving away to find a new life elsewhere. Thus, in a few years a large quiet community of Mormons and Mexicans changed to be a frontier town with a lot of less educated white people. Life became a lot rougher and more dangerous than it had been a few years earlier, and those in the town with anything of value were taking measures to protect their valuables and businesses from the rougher elements moving into the town and the area. In mid 1862 the town was still recovering from the flood, and in a state of major change due to the goldfields, the events in the east, the fighting near the border, and the tensions of the local supporters of both sides in the conflict.

The man who owns and manages the bank has concerns for the safety of the bank, and its deposits, during these trying times. The main action he takes to protect the bank is to hire an armed guard. Boone is the first person to apply for the job who looks like he’ll protect the bank instead of robbing it, so Boone is hired. The manager is making better longer term arrangements, but he needs something done right now, and this is the best option he has available to him. The situation will change a lot before next spring, but how will it change? That’s an issue for the future, for now he feels the bank is safe and protected against the known dangers.

Housing

The bank manager doesn’t agree to spend any money on changes to the barn, but he does approve for Boone to make some to make it better for them to live in. Keeping in mind he’ll have to dismantle most of what he builds before he leaves Boone hires a couple of local young men to do the hard work needed to make this barn like the one they had back in West Point, Nebraska Territory. The warmer climate means it doesn’t need as much insulation, but some construction is needed. Mary is the boss of the work being done during the day while Boone is at work at the bank, and Boone does a lot of work of an evening and weekend.

Boone buys the materials needed to do the work, including the pipes and stove with a water heater. The only difference in the arrangement is the privy is built in one corner of the barn with a drain trench under the wall to the leach pit they dig outside. The system is set up so it can all be dismantled and taken with them when they leave, except for what they put into the ground, which they can bury again.

Bank Guard

The manager provides Boone with an old Paterson .36 cal revolver plus an old style double barrel shotgun. Boone accepts them from him, but as soon as he can he unloads them to make them safe, because they look too old and worn to be of much use. He does leave the percussion caps in place after he removes the balls and gunpowder from them. That way they’ll look loaded to anyone who grabs them. He leaves his thigh gun in the wagon, and wears the Paterson in that holster when at work.

Bank Robbers

All day, every day, Boone stands inside the front door of the bank. He has a table beside him on which he places the bank issued shotgun. Just inside the front door is a coat-rack on which Boone leaves a long all weather duster and his hat. Unknown to the other staff Boone’s Henry rifle is in a boot on the same rack, and hidden by his coat. Handy, but out of sight of everyone.

Just before lunch on a Wednesday in early August a man stops in front of the bank, gets off his horse, walks in, and heads to the teller. Three men get off horses outside the bank a bit behind him. At the same moment the three men walk in the door the first turns to Boone with a gun in his hand, and says, “Carefully take your gun out and put it on the table.” Boone does as he says. “Now move to the other side of the door.” Again Boone does as he’s told. While this is happening the other three have guns out, and are pointing them at the staff while they walk over to the counter. With Boone well away from the guns the man covering him isn’t as alert as he should be.

Out of the corner of his eye Boone can see two more men dressed like these four sitting on horses in front of the bank, obviously part of the gang to watch for trouble outside. Both have a gun in their hand.

Slowly Boone slips his hands under his coat to take hold of his two waist pistols, draw them from their holsters, turn them out until he has them aimed at two of the robbers, and says, “I suggest you put your guns down and surrender, so I don’t have to kill you.”

The man leading the three to the counter says, “Kill him, Jim.” He doesn’t react when there’s a gunshot as soon as he says the first words. But he does react when the man a bit behind him on his right staggers forward in front of him with a splotch of red in his back just above his waist. The two remaining robbers are just starting to turn when Boone finishes shifting the aim of his pistols, and fires again. Both the men are knocked forward into the counter by the bullets slamming into their backs. Boone turns while putting his left gun away, pulls the door open with his left hand, takes aim, and shoots one of the men on horseback. The other man turns his horse, and Boone shoots him, too.

Boone stands in the doorway looking up and down the street for any more robbers. He can’t see any, so he reloads the gun still in his hand, then swaps guns and reloads the other one. With that done he drags the four dead robbers out of the bank, and starts to strip them of valuables. The Town Marshal is soon on hand, and is being told what happened by the bank manager who saw it all. While Boone continues to strip the dead the Marshal goes back to his office for his handbills. By the time Boone has all the valuables loaded and the horses are ready to go Sam is there with Boone’s hot lunch for him, so she leads the horses back to the barn for Mary and the ladies to go through all of the plunder Boone loaded.

Five of the six men are worth a hundred dollars reward each, so the Marshal writes out the bounty claim for Boone, which he deposits in his account with the bank. The Marshal arranges to have the dead removed and buried, after thanking Boone for protecting the town’s money.

While Boone eats his lunch the manager asks, “How did you shoot them when your guns were on the table?”

Boone swallows, and says, “Those old guns are more dangerous to the user than they are to the target. I keep them unloaded, for safety. I’ve my own guns in waist holsters under my coat. I’d rather you don’t tell anyone about them. Every robber checks out the bank before he robs it, so they know if it has a guard, and they can plan accordingly. If they think they get the drop on me and disarm me, then it’s easier and safer for me to draw my guns to shoot them.”

While slowly shaking his head at Boone’s reply the manager thinks, This young man knows what he’s doing, so I’ll let him do it his way.

After everything is checked and sold Boone has nine hundred and seventy-six dollars from the robbers plus their goods he sells. Crime sure seems to pay for Boone. Well, shooting criminals does pay well.

More Robbers

Life for Boone and his family passes with little trouble for several weeks. However, a quiet Thursday morning is disrupted by the sound of gunfire well down the street from the bank. Boone looks out the window, dashes to his coat, grabs his rifle with his right hand, opens the front door, and races out onto the boardwalk in front of the bank.

Down the street over a dozen men on horses with kerchiefs over their lower faces are shooting at both the Town Marshal, who’s a few shops further down the street, and the guards in the stagecoach office while two more masked men are pulling two strongboxes out of the coach. The driver and guard on the coach are both lying on the ground, shot.

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Story tagged with:
Politics / Violence / Historical / Western /