Escape From Lexington - Cover

Escape From Lexington

Copyright© 2024 by FantasyLover

Chapter 10

October 31, 1843

During the first three weeks of this month, we had five days with frost. The last six days have all had frost, and a much heavier coating than earlier in the month. Still, I managed to pan for gold most days. I wore gloves, alternating between four pairs of gloves throughout the day, laying the gloves on rocks in the sun throughout the day to warm them up. The girls had sewn me two sleeves from the India rubber cloth they bought in St. Louis. The sleeves are wide enough that I can spread my gloved hands inside them and grasp the gold pan.

The sleeves keep my hands dry and alternating the gloves helps keep my hands warm. Kneeling on a sheet of the India rubber cloth while I wash each pan full of sand keeps my legs dry. Finding that the deposits of alluvial gold are heavier about two feet from the active stream, I started panning the sand starting at the fence. The days that I didn’t pan for gold, one or more of the girls shared the task. Isum and Jimmey were busy cutting lumber and bringing trees back to use for building and for firewood.

I heaved a sigh of relief when my first batch of moonshine came out right. I distilled it three times like Dad used to. He’d had me taste a sip after each time he distilled the batches I helped him with. The first batch tasted terrible. The third time, it burned all the way down my throat. “If you’re making it to drink, you should let it age at least a year in white oak barrels,” he’d recommended. He also suggested using a barley mash if I intended to distill a batch for drinking.

I’d helped Dad several times over the last few years as he showed me how he made the alcohol we used in our alcohol lamps. We brought out the alcohol lamps that had remained carefully packed in the original shipping boxes until now. The alcohol lamps gave off better light than oil lamps and don’t give off the distinctive, acrid odor of burning oil or grease. It also allowed us to use more of the fat we collected to make pemmican, a combination of buffalo fat, dried berries, and chopped up dried buffalo meat.

Nawaji showed us how to make it; stitching together buffalo hide to make a bag about two feet long and a foot wide called a parfleche. She measured pulverized buffalo jerky into the bag, added several handfuls of various dried berries, and filled the bag with melted buffalo fat. When she deemed it full enough, she sewed the top closed tightly. Laying it on the table, she used a rolling pin to flatten the bag a bit and had us carry it into the uppermost cold room. Once the mixture solidified, the parfleche bags could be stacked like firewood. The trading post bought them from us to sell to trappers. The Indians eagerly traded us furs and other things for them. Bags of pemmican would be good to eat for several years. They didn’t need to be kept cold and were a great way to store an emergency supply of food.

We talked about building a cabin. The plan at this time was to build a large central room that would be the kitchen, dining room, and parlor. We would build two large bedrooms with plenty of room for cradles for the children that are due soon.

Nawaji’s father stopped by with a handful of braves to thank us. Using the new Kentucky long rifles, they were able to shoot farther and more accurately, allowing their hunters to bring back more game, especially buffalo, which meant more food for this winter.

I took Isum or Jimmey with me when I hunted. Both were becoming much better hunters. We’d take two girls with us to help us dress the game before we brought it back. I was glad that we always brought eight mules with us because we used all eight several times to bring back buffalo. I was astounded when I saw and killed my first moose.

Nawaji and Tara kept us well stocked with rabbits. Tara used her Kentucky long rifle and Nawaji used a bow to protect our garden. I set out dozens of snares and snagged hundreds of rabbits. All those rabbit furs ensured that everyone had a thick, warm coat and warm leggings when we went outside once it got cold.

We built another coal bin, except this bin was for corncobs after we stripped the corn kernels. We use the cobs in the smokehouses when we smoke meat. We built yet another bin, but without the front wall. This bin was to store chopped firewood and we quickly filled it. We built a second bin when it became too difficult to keep hardwood for the smokehouses separate from wood like pine and others that were not good for smoking meat.

Diana and Artemis each delivered litters of six healthy puppies between ten days and two weeks ago. Four in each litter look to be slightly larger than their littermates, and their heads and jaws are wider. I’m guessing that Wizzer is the father of those. It will be interesting to find out if they are still as fast as and have the stamina of the other dogs, or if they’ll be slower with less stamina like Wizzer.

Monday January 1, 1844

A new year dawned today, one perhaps not quite as scary as the last one. It’s been ten and a half months since that fateful February morning. On one hand, I’m still angry with the Tyler brothers because I had to leave my family behind. On the other hand, had I not left, the seven escaped slaves would probably have died or been recaptured. I’m not sure which would have been a worse fate for them. Overall, I have to believe it was a good thing that Tara and I left.

Despite the circumstances of our leaving and the abruptness of our departure, Tara and I still managed to get married, and she has even brought five additional girls into our marriage. She also misses her best friends and her family, but we have our own family now, one that has grown in the last month.

Tara delivered a healthy baby boy early on the morning of December 4. We named him Raymond after Tara’s father. Sallie followed three days later with a baby boy that we named William after Willie, the Negro overseer at Mr. Greene’s plantation. He was the one who helped get rid of the bodies of Mr. Greene and his son, as well as suggesting what the group should take with them and where they should go.

Edy delivered Molley, a healthy baby girl, two days after Christmas. Based on her size, I’d say that Isum is the father. She named her after Sally, Mahala, Isum, and Jimmey’s mother.

Nawaji looks like she has another month to go, and she has helped make papoose boards for all three babies, as well as for hers. Mahala, Cisley, and Lucey are ecstatic, having missed their last period. They were starting to worry that they wouldn’t be able to get pregnant until I reminded them of how much work we did and how little sex we had after we arrived.

One of our many projects was a chicken run of sorts to protect the chicks from hawks and eagles. It also makes it easier to round them up each evening. We used tall, thin saplings that grew in the shade of other trees to build the chicken run. Yeah, we had to go a few miles to find enough saplings that were the right size. We dug a circular trench two feet deep and buried the cut end of the saplings in the trench. We filled the trench with rocks and mortar to hold the saplings in place and to keep animals from digging a hole to get into the chicken run. It took us longer to find forty-six acceptable saplings than it took to cut them down, drag them back, dig the trench, and mortar the saplings in place.

After allowing the mortar to dry, we tied the tops of two saplings on opposite sides of the circle together to form an arch across the top of the open area. We worked around the circle, tying the tops of opposite saplings together to cover the area enough to prevent hawks and eagles from swooping in and grabbing chickens and chicks.

When the top was finished, we wove the branches attached to the sides of the saplings over and under neighboring saplings to make the openings small enough that chicks couldn’t get out and small predators like weasels would have a hard time getting in. We cut off many of the branches that protruded into the interior, leaving just enough that the chickens could roost on them. Branches facing out we cut off and wove between the saplings, along with branches from several mature willow trees that I coppiced. By the time we finished, the bottom ten feet of the enclosure was woven tightly enough to keep out anything larger than a mouse. Then we covered it with adobe. We still have to move the chickens into the cave each evening or they’ll freeze to death.

One of the more critical projects we finished was setting up both millstones. Rather than a mill powered by a waterwheel, ours is turned by our mules walking around in a circle. The grain is ground between a pair of millstones. The millstones to grind corn were specifically made for corn and deliver a slightly coarser finished product than the wheels meant to grind wheat into flour. Once we determined how large an area we needed for each millstone, we leveled the floor by mortaring pieces of sandstone in place.

Then we built a round, eighteen-inch-high rock and mortar platform an inch smaller in diameter than the millstones. Once the mortar set, we used our crane to set the lower millstone (quern stone) in place horizontally. The quern stone doesn’t move, just the top one.

Then we gently lowered the upper millstone (hand stone) into place and installed the rest of the hardware and wood parts, including what looks like a round wooden vat around the grinding wheels so they are completely enclosed. The vat runs from the floor to just above the top millstone. A single opening in the side of the vat is where the flour comes out. The top of the vat has a wood cover and a hopper that holds two bushels of grain. The grain feeds through an opening in the center of the upper stone. From there, it gradually works its way to the outside as the millstone turns and grinds the wheat into flour.

Once we had it ready and tested it, we built a four-foot-high circular wall around the first set of millstones to keep any dirt or offal from the mule we used to turn the upper wheel away from the millstones and the flour. Once we finished, the mule walks in a circle outside the four-foot wall, connected to the mechanism turning the top millstone by a long hardwood pole. I was surprised the first time we used it. I originally thought that one circuit by the mule would turn the wheel one revolution. Instead, different-sized cogs and gears turn the top millstone three times for each circuit the mule completes. That sped up the grinding process tremendously.

When the first set of millstones was ready to use, the girls started grinding our wheat while Jimmey, Isum, and I set up the second set of millstones so we could grind corn into cornmeal. Rather than grind everything, we only grind what we need for two months. We don’t want the flour or cornmeal to sour from sitting too long. I realized that we need to bring back barrels from St. Louis to fill with flour and cornmeal for the trading post. Most of what we’ll grind, however, will go into cloth sacks.

Next, we built a sled, complete with runners with the front tips upturned. Jimmey worked hard at cutting each runner from a single piece of cedar and smoothing them. When they were done, we nailed rough planks that we split from oak across them. Then he built a sturdy three-foot high box from rough split oak planks. The box has no top or bottom, and sits on the sled when we need it. Three holes drilled along each side of the sled’s flat top can have a short oak peg stuffed in them. The pegs are just outside the box and keep it from slipping or sliding on top of the sled. If we only use the flat surface of the sled, we remove the box and pegs.

The extremely cold weather has allowed me to cut down three trees containing wild beehives that I had spotted while I was out hunting during the spring and summer. First, I stuffed a rag into the opening used by the bees and tied it in place with rawhide thongs. Then I roped off the tree so it wouldn’t fall over, topped it, and chopped it down. Using a pulley with the rope, I lowered the tree trunk onto the sled and had the mules drag it back home.

The snow never got deeper than eight inches, but the frozen ground made the sled a better choice than a wagon. It was also easier to get the trunk onto a sled than into a wagon. Stopping about a hundred feet from the door when we got back, I chopped at the tree, opening the beehive. I carefully cut out the dark honeycomb filled with eggs and young bees, got the queen and some of the nearby worker bees, and cut out a section of honey-filled comb to feed them until spring. I put those into one of our wooden hives and closed it before taking it inside the cave until spring. All three hives ended up being swarms that had somehow made it this far west, despite what the man who sold me the bees said.

Then I cut the rest of the honeycomb out of the space and took buckets filled with it inside to the girls. They started separating the honey from the honeycomb. I used a flat wooden scraper and a large iron spoon to scoop the rest of the honey and honeycomb into buckets and cooking pots, lugging them inside so the girls could separate the honeycomb, dead bees, and honey. Once I was satisfied that I’d removed as much as I could, I sawed the ends from the log until only the hollow portion remained, and dragged it inside the cave. I took the hollow section into one of the tobacco drying/curing rooms, raising it onto a small stack of firewood so it was about eighteen inches off the cave floor, and right above the small fire keeping the room warm.

Once the log was steady, I elevated the right end, so the left end of the log was lower than the right. Using a brace and bit, I drilled a hole at the lowest point, one just big enough to stick my finger in, and set a bucket under the hole for honey to drip into during the week as the low fire in the curing room warmed the wood and any honey that remained inside it, making the honey flow to the low end and into the bucket. I brought back one hive in August. Even though I wore the getup I bought from the beehive man, I used smoke to keep hundreds of bees from attacking me while I plugged up the hole they used to enter and leave the hive.

I worked at cutting open the log and extracting the honeycomb in the middle of a smoke cloud from the fire. I started the fire and then put lots of dry grass on it. I managed to get the queen, the dark honeycomb with the eggs and young, and a section of comb with honey into one of the empty wooden beehives that I had. I was surprised that they stayed. We sold some of the honey to Fort John and one of the Indian villages traded with us to get a quart jar of honey.

That first hive netted us four quarts of honey. The three hives I brought back this winter netted us a total of ten quarts. I suggested taking any extra to St. Louis to sell when we went in the spring, but Nawaji assured me that her people would eagerly trade furs for the honey in the spring when they brought their furs to trade. Her only comment was that we needed LOTS more glass jars from St. Louis, as well as a few more large cast iron kettles, buckets, and several more funnels. When I finished emptying the first bee tree, we burned the remainder in the smokehouse. Once the girls finished processing the honey, I went out to get the second tree.

We took a ham, potatoes, honey, onions, garlic, and a wheel of cheese to the fort as a Christmas present, surprising them. They thanked us and worried that they hadn’t gotten us anything. I told them not to worry because they helped get us here safely and we both helped the other make a lot of money. They sold our cheese, tobacco, corn, flour, corn meal, and some pemmican to trappers for cash.

He was happy that, despite what he sold to the wagon train when they stopped, he still had a ready supply of flour, corn meal, and tobacco. He paid us double what the items cost him in St. Louis when we were there and still made a good profit on the items because he didn’t have to pay freighting costs. Because of that, we’d be leaving for St. Louis February 5 instead of January 10 like last year. That was good since January is usually the coldest month, and it’s already been pretty damn cold here. I thought winters in Kentucky were cold. Little did I suspect just how cold it would get here. We’ve had a couple days where I thought our big thermometer that we keep outdoors was broken because it never registered. It stops at 0°F. That meant it never got above 0° all day and I have no idea of how cold it got overnight.

We continued to hunt, and we still got an occasional trapper or small group of Indians interested in buying or trading for buffalo jerky and other foodstuffs.

Thursday January 4, 1844

This morning, Isum, Mahala, Cisley, and I headed towards the coal deposit. Nawaji told us that buffalo frequently stayed among the trees along the river or hid among the cedar trees a little beyond the coal deposit. Finding no buffalo along the Platte River before we reached the turnoff for the coal deposit, we continued on to the closest cedar grove. I rode Dusty while the other three drove wagons to haul back any buffalo we managed to shoot. Each wagon had a spare horse and two mules tied off to the back of it in case we needed to ride or needed pack mules for something.

Previously, we’d cleared several trees and rocks from the trail we’d used to drag the trees home and it was now wide enough and level enough for the wagons. We’d even done a bit of digging along the banks of the three streams we crossed to get to the coal, as well as two other places where the trail turned north along a wide streambed with a narrow stream. I scouted ahead for signs of buffalo or other game. Since the day dawned clear and cold, we wore our heaviest clothing, covered by the rabbit fur pants and hooded jackets. Even though there were no clouds visible, we took the hooded ponchos the girls had made for us from the India rubber cloth they bought in St. Louis.

Having slept under the stars before while we were hunting in Kentucky, as well as along the trail to St. Louis, Tara had bought all the India rubber cloth she could find in St. Louis. When we left home for longer than a trip to Fort John and back, each of us now carried two India rubber ground cloths. The second one was to cover ourselves with if necessary. We were always heavily armed. In addition to the double rifle scabbard that came with the Tyler boys’ horses, the girls had added a third rifle scabbard for a shotgun since I always insisted on carrying all three with me. The shotgun scabbard was a little different, holding the butt of the shotgun so the barrel was pointed up and to the front. That way, the shot and powder didn’t vibrate and fall out of the barrel while I was riding. That was my Christmas present, one I truly appreciated. They also sewed rifle scabbards for everyone else.

We located the buffalo in the first grove of cedar trees we came to, a grove that we’d thinned significantly as we cut trees for our use. I insisted on leaving enough of the trees to repopulate the grove. We tied the teams of mules to trees, making sure that they were tied securely so they didn’t run off when we fired our rifles. With the teams and wagons secured, we made our way up a ridge about a hundred yards from the buffalo.

Isum brought a repeating rifle in addition to the Hawken rifle. The girls each brought a shotgun in addition to their Hawken rifle. I carried both with the shotgun in a shoulder scabbard. The stock of the shotgun was behind my right shoulder where I could reach it easily. The girls each laid out a ground cloth and lay on it, sighting on the buffalo. Isum and I stood, using tree branches to steady our rifles since we could absorb the recoil better than the girls could. Wizzer, Mercury, and Diana sat nearby quivering excitedly like they always do when we hunt. They could tell when we were preparing to shoot.

Once everyone let me know they picked their target, I counted down from three to zero and we all fired at zero. I glanced quickly at our wagons and mules before turning my attention back to the buffalo. The other three were already reloading and I followed suit. The buffalo were moving away much slower than I would have thought and I only saw three of them down. We all finished reloading about the same time. “Shoot three more. The wagons will carry that much weight,” I told them. We had all aimed for a large female buffalo since their hides were worth the most. The wagons could easily hold two female buffalo and the mules could pull the wagons home with no problem. If there had been a significant grade, mud, thick sand, or a long distance to travel, it would have been too much for the six-mule teams.

When they were ready, I counted down again and they fired. Once again, I glanced quickly at the wagons and mules. They were fine. Once they reloaded, they headed for the wagons and I went for my horse. The dogs headed for our quarry. They got to the six downed buffalo well before I did. I could tell from the reactions of the dogs that one of the buffalo was still alive. When I got close, I fired one more shot into the skull to end its suffering.

Wizzer approached and sniffed the buffalo again, giving a sneeze-like snort as if saying, “So there.” I continued to watch around us as I reloaded, especially downwind. I was sure that the dogs would catch the scent of anything approaching from upwind. Once the wagons arrived, the three drivers began field dressing the buffalo, cutting the chest cavity open and propping it open with tree branches that I had gathered from cottonwood trees along the river.

Once all six were ready, we broke out our portable crane. Driving one of the wagons alongside a buffalo carcass, we lifted the buffalo, turned the crane slightly, and then settled the buffalo with the head towards the front of the wagon. The second buffalo was loaded with the head towards the back part of the wagon, so the head and shoulders were alongside the narrower hindquarters of the first buffalo.

After taking the extra time to bring down three more buffalo and load them, we barely made it to the first of the overnight shelters. I don’t think the temperature rose above freezing all day, and it began dropping quickly when the sun dropped below the horizon. There was barely enough light left to start a fire. Fortunately, aside from baskets of coal, we leave kindling and dry moss where it will remain dry enough to use for starting a fire. We also carry some in each wagon. Once the fire is going, we add coal.

While I started the fire, Isum and the girls unhitched the teams and took them to the nearby stream for water before bringing them just inside the cave for the night. They had to break the ice on top to get to the barely running water in the stream. Then they pulled the cut, dry prairie grass we brought along out of the front of each wagon and let the mules and horses eat. Isum and I tied the four extra India rubber ground cloths from the upper two corners and hung them so they effectively blocked the front of the cave, keeping the warm air inside.

We ate dinner, a stew the girls made by adding dried meat, dried vegetables, four fresh potatoes, and a little flour to the pot of ice and water they got from the stream. With three dogs and twelve mules, I didn’t feel the need to stand guard tonight, so we turned in right after eating dinner.

Friday January 5, 1844

The restlessness of the animals woke me shortly before dawn. The coal I put on the fire a couple hours ago was still glowing. I added another handful and woke Mahala, cautioning her to be quiet. We pulled on our boots and straightened our clothing as I woke Isum and Cisley, cautioning them to be quiet because something had the mules restless. Oddly, the dogs weren’t restless.

While Isum and Cisley got up, Mahala and I grabbed our weapons and headed for the entrance of the cave. When I got up, the two dogs followed me. Peeking out through a gap between the ground sheets, all I saw outside that wasn’t there when we got here last night was a thin layer of snow, maybe an inch at most. Then I noticed what had the mules restless; I smelled wood smoke.

“Wait here,” I told Mahala. “I smell wood smoke so there is either a hunting party, raiding party, or a trapper camped nearby.” While the former slaves had become proficient with a rifle, their stalking skills were still lacking, and we hadn’t really had the time to work on that skill. With my Hawken, shotgun, and two revolvers, I crept out of the cave after looking around carefully.

It took me about ten minutes to creep close enough to determine the source of the smoke. Even before I was close enough to hear the two trappers talking, I knew there was a problem. I saw that the two visible men had two bound Cheyenne girls with them. The two girls looked to be my age or younger.

“We need to get going,” the scruffier looking of the two men said as he looked southwest.

“We need to rest the horses,” the other man protested. “We’ve ridden nonstop since yesterday afternoon. I’m sure they won’t be able to track us because the snow covered our tracks during the night.”

The two girls were tied to a tree near the horses. From where I was, the girls and the horses would be out of the blast pattern of the shotgun. Using my body to muffle the sound, I cocked the hammer of the shotgun and of one of my revolvers. “Don’t move,” I shouted at the two men as I stepped out from behind a tree so they could see me.

Surprise! Both men reached for their revolvers. They didn’t get them out of their holsters because I fired the shotgun, catching both men. Leaning the gun against the tree, I covered the two downed men with my revolver and moved closer. One of them was obviously dead when I checked. Mercury was standing over the second man growling while Diana sniffed the dead man. Wizzer sat protectively near the two girls.

“You gotta let me go,” the live man pleaded. “If the Cheyenne catch me, they’ll torture me to death.”

“You probably deserve it,” I replied coldly as I cut the two girls’ bindings. “Maybe I should save them the trouble and stake you out naked right here. If the cold doesn’t kill you, a predator probably will.”

“We got a stash of furs and money,” he offered.

“I’m listening,” I replied, intentionally not making a promise I wouldn’t have kept.

He told me where their cave was, not far from where we mined chalk. He even said they thought there was copper in the area. They had furs in their cave that he admitted to stealing from other trappers, as well as from a few Indians coming to trade their furs at the trading posts. They also had money. Some was from selling their furs and some taken from other trappers. The more he told me, the more I was sure that he couldn’t be allowed to live.

Once I had him tightly bound, I whistled loud enough to be heard at the cave we used, and then talked to the two girls, although I had to use sign language. While my Sioux was now passable, aside from a simple greeting, my Cheyenne and Arapaho were nonexistent.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Cheyenne, I only speak Sioux,” I signed.

“We understand Sioux,” the older woman replied aloud, smiling.

“Good, should I kill him, should I let you kill him, or should I return him to your people when I return you?” I asked the two girls. My captive’s lack of distress when I asked told me that he didn’t understand Sioux.

“You kill him,” the older looking of the two replied. The other woman nodded her agreement.

“Come on, let’s get you on a horse, but I’m keeping your weapons,” I told my captive gruffly.

“What did you tell them?” he asked nervously.

“I asked if they could guide me back to their people. They assured me that they could,” I replied. As we neared the horses, I pressed the barrel of my gun against the back of his neck, pulled the trigger, and pushed him so that he fell on his face when he crumpled to the ground.

“How fitting,” I chuckled to myself as the sun rose to begin a new day just as I turned back towards the men’s camp.

“Do you know how to use their pistols?” I asked when I got back to the two girls. They were eating ravenously from the food stores the two men had while watching Mahala suspiciously. I went to her and kissed her, thanking her for picking up my shotgun on the way here.

“She is one of my wives, although she doesn’t understand much Sioux yet,” I explained to the two captives. “Take the men’s knives so you have some sort of weapon,” I told them after they told me they didn’t know how to use the revolvers.

“I’m going to take the two girls home, so I need the rest of our rations and three sleeping rolls. I’ll take two of our horses for the girls. Take anything the two men have that’s worth taking, along with their horses and weapons and head home. I probably won’t be home before tomorrow at the earliest unless there is a search party looking for these two and we find them before noon,” I told Mahala. I figured that we could sell or trade the men’s two single-shot pistols and their two Kentucky long rifles.

Then I explained to the two girls what I’d said. They followed us back to our camp where I packed the rest of the food we brought, leaving enough for the other three for their lunch. We put a blanket on our two horses since the two girls didn’t like saddles. Once my shotgun and revolver were clean and reloaded, I headed out with the two girls.

The source of this story is Finestories

To read the complete story you need to be logged in:
Log In or
Register for a Free account (Why register?)

Get No-Registration Temporary Access*

* Allows you 3 stories to read in 24 hours.