Escape From Lexington - Cover

Escape From Lexington

Copyright© 2024 by FantasyLover

Chapter 11

Tuesday February 27, 1844

Shortly after noon, we reached the Missouri River across from Council Bluffs. The river had ice all along the edges, and floes of ice, some as big as a wagon, drifted lazily down the river periodically.

“It must really get cold for the edges of the river to freeze like that,” I commented.

“The entire top of the river usually freezes over at some point,” Samuel advised. “This was a very mild winter. Two years ago, we slid the raft across the ice on top of the river. We could probably have driven the wagons across, but didn’t want to chance it. Have you noticed that it’s been warmer for the last week or so?”

“Not really,” I replied, laughing, wondering how you quantify cold when it’s this cold.

From here, the settlement at Council Bluffs looked the same as it did last year. Samuel fired his revolver three times to get the attention of someone on the far side of the river. An hour or so later, a canoe reached our side of the shore, handing Samuel a stout rope. We tied it to my horse and I headed away from the river, dragging the rope. When it stopped suddenly, I damn near fell off my horse and everyone laughed at me.

The rope I’d been pulling was attached to three ropes, two of them nearly two inches thick. Those two ropes were attached to a wooden raft very similar to the one we used to cross the Ohio River, but about twice as wide. Samuel chose two sturdy cottonwood trees set back about thirty feet from the river and we tied the two big ropes off to them, pulling them as tight as we could. Once the ropes were tied off, the men started digging out a section of the riverbank about six feet wider than the space between the ropes. We dug it about sixty feet long and just deep enough for about a foot of water to flow into it. They had already broken up the ice there while we brought the ropes across and tied them off.

When Samuel was satisfied with our digging, he had me start pulling the remaining rope, one like the ones we used to cross the Ohio River. It pulled the empty raft across the river to our side. They had quite a setup. The raft also brought over a short ramp. It sat on the ground at the end of the raft so the wagons could roll up onto the raft that was still several inches higher than the ground, even in the small bay we dug. Several sections of what almost looked like solid wooden fence were on the raft. Those went onto the muddy riverbank as a sort of wooden road for the wagons to use to reach the raft so they didn’t get mired down in the mud.

The big ropes went through three large eyebolts along the sides of the raft. Those were meant to keep the raft going straight across the river.

One by one, the first four wagons drove aboard the raft with the teams still attached. The hand brakes on the wagons were set and four-inch-thick planks were nailed in place in front of and behind both sets of wheels on each wagon. Once that was done, Samuel signaled and someone on the other side pulled the raft across the river. We let the extra rope on our side feed out while it did.

The middle of the two heavy ropes bowed downstream as the current pushed against the raft, but the raft made it across easily and quickly. I realized that the river wasn’t even half the width of the Ohio River where we had crossed it. I had measured the ropes we used after crossing the Ohio River and estimated that the river was over two thousand feet wide. This part of the Missouri River didn’t even look to be a thousand feet wide. It took about two hours to get the four wagons loaded and situated on the raft, get the raft across the river, unload it, and then get the raft back to our side.

The raft made three trips taking everyone and everything across, except Blaze and me. Since I used Dusty to drag the ropes and the raft across, I sent him with the last four wagons and kept Blaze to pull the raft across the final time.

Samuel had already explained to me what to do when the raft got here. First, I untied the large rope on the downstream side and used it to replace the smaller rope they used to pull the raft across to the other side. I coiled the smaller rope that we used to pull the raft across to our side and set it on top of the raft.

Then I led Blaze aboard. They had sent a rudder with a larger blade than the one I had used for our raft, and installed a sturdy Y-shaped branch to hold the rudder in place and attached the rudder. Finally, I untied the second, thick rope, tied a big knot near the end of it, and waved. When they pulled it from the other side, the knot stopped when it got to the large eyebolt at the rear of the raft, it caught, providing a second rope to use to pull the raft across the river.

After looking around to make sure everything was ready, I securely tied the smaller rope from across the river around my waist and fired a single shot into the air. The raft lurched and then pulled smoothly into the river. As soon as the back end cleared our makeshift bay, the raft swung downstream. Once the rudder cleared the ice along the shore, I dropped it into the water and helped swing the raft further downstream, as well as closer to the far shore.

Aside from a midstream collision with a piece of ice half the size of a wagon, our crossing was fairly uneventful. The collision made Blaze stumble and go to his knees, but he appeared unharmed and stood right back up. I was hanging onto the rudder. Aside from almost stumbling myself, I was okay. The ice helped push us towards the far shore even faster because it pushed the rear of the raft. When I was close enough to shore to be able to throw a rope ashore, Samuel was there and caught it, hauling the raft the rest of the way to the shore.

“Are you okay?” he asked once he tied the raft off to a tree.

“I’m fine, and I think Blaze is, too,” I replied as I stepped unsteadily off the raft.

“That chunk of ice scared us,” he said. “We’ve had them run into us before, but not one that big.” I walked Blaze for a couple minutes to make sure that he was okay before climbing into the saddle and slowly walking him to where the wagons were, paying attention to see if he favored either leg or limped. The girls ran to me and hugged me when we were close.

The excitement finally wore off and they started fixing dinner. Samuel had checked and told us that the next steamboat wouldn’t be here for three more days. Baby Raymond and baby William were both doing well. With so many extra people, Tara and Sallie only drove when they were spelling someone. That let them feed and tend to the babies. When they weren’t carrying them in the cradle boards, the cradle boards hung inside a wagon to minimize the jolting. After the trip west, the girls had made thick cushions stuffed with corn husks, pine needles, dry prairie grass, and moss to put beneath the throw pillows we bought in St. Louis to cushion their backsides while driving the wagons.

Monday March 4, 1844

Late this morning, we unloaded our wagons at the docks across from St. Charles. While aboard the steamboat, we stayed in the wagons and kept the dogs chained up. I’m pretty sure the captain was happy to be rid of us. We caught one of his crew members sneaking into one of our wagons when he thought we were all eating supper. We laughed at him because the only things in the wagon were furs and dry prairie grass. Two other crew members tried to give Neha a bad time because she was Indian, pushing her around. The dogs quickly disabused them of that notion and left them with nasty bite wounds on their arms.

Once we had everything and everyone unloaded, we set out for St. Louis, hoping to make it before dark. I rode ahead of everyone hoping to talk to the new occupant of the farm we stayed at last time to see if he would let us use his pasture. He agreed, although we had to pay this time. Evidently, the old farmer had said something about us staying there so he trusted us. I paid him the five dollars that he wanted. He would also allow us to load our wagons with hay right before we left like we did last time. That alone was worth the five dollars.

It was almost dark when the wagons arrived, and I had a fire started already.

Tuesday March 5, 1844

Our excitement was almost palpable this morning. We were here! We made it! Now we could order the supplies we needed. Samuel warned that, like last time, it would probably take four weeks for their supplies to arrive. They would turn in their load of furs and buffalo hides and give the man at the American Fur Company office the list of supplies they needed. One of his assistants would make the trip to Philadelphia with the furs. He would then buy the supplies and return with them. He offered to let me add my list of supplies to theirs.

Once we entered the city, we headed for the fur company office. Samuel told me to sell my furs first. Considering that more than half of what we traded for furs was things we grew, I was feeling pretty rich by the time our four wagons of furs were sorted, graded, and sold. Then Samuel and the others sold the furs they each brought with them. While they did, I headed for the post office, almost holding my breath, wondering if Dad or my uncle had sent me a letter.

“Ah, there you are,” the postmaster laughed when I asked if he had anything for Lewis Clark, care of General Delivery. He dug out two envelopes telling me that they had arrived almost a year ago. The fronts were addressed to me and I recognized Dad’s handwriting. There was also a note on the back warning that I might not pick it up until spring or summer 1844, and another on one of them telling me to open the other letter first.

Most letters are a single sheet of paper, usually glued with the letter inside and the blank side addressed to the intended recipient. These letters were thicker and had a blank sheet of paper folded and glued together to hold the letter. “Yes!” I hissed excitedly after reading the first sentence.

“Dad shot and killed Mr. Tyler ten days after we left. He sent this letter as soon as he heard from my uncle, hoping it reached us before we left St. Louis,” I told Tara, who was watching me expectantly. The sheriff had ruled that I was justified when I shot and killed the Tyler boys. There had been enough rumors about them raping other women that he had no problem believing Wanda’s story. Mr. Tyler was outraged and threatened revenge, but Dad told him that I had already left for Tennessee. Before Mr. Tyler stalked off, the sheriff warned him that he’d arrest him if anything happened to any member of my family.

When they heard what happened, at least twenty men volunteered to help stand guard at the house. Dad was in the barn watching the house at night ten days later when Mr. Tyler tried to sneak up on the house and burn it down. Dad shot him on sight and the sheriff ruled it justified when he investigated.

With Tyler’s demise, the deaths of his two sons, and the previous disappearance of his wife, the sheriff went to his ranch to see if any of his men knew of any other relatives. Only two of the men remained, and they were now working for the man Tyler sold the ranch to the previous day. They knew of no relatives and explained that Tyler had taken his horses to the plantation of Jacob Greene, a close friend who lived just east of Mount Sterling.

Since Tyler had no known relatives, the sheriff had awarded his property to our family, split evenly between Dad, Wanda, and me. Dad would hold Wanda’s share until she got married. The sheriff had gone with Dad to Mt. Sterling and to the Greene plantation. They had been surprised to find nobody but the slaves and the Negro slave overseer there. The overseer had explained that Mr. Greene had gone to sell some slaves to his favorite nephew. On the way home from there, he intended to take a steamboat to Natchez to buy new slaves not related to the ones he already had. He needed more slaves because he intended to expand his plantation.

“He’s not worried about anyone running away?” the Sheriff had asked.

“Ain’t never had no problem before. I’d hear about it afore it happened if someone was thinkin’ of tryin’ and I’ve got my ways to make sure it don’ happen,” he replied.

The sheriff was still shaking his head dubiously when he and Dad left the plantation.

Dad left the horses where they were and took Mr. Connor back to the plantation a few days later. They both agreed on which horses were the best. Dad arranged an auction for all but the two best studs and the six best mares and went back two weeks later to hold the auction on a Saturday. He got $2600 from selling the rest of the horses. Adding that to the $27,200 that Mr. Tyler had in his saddlebags, Dad, Wanda, and I each got almost $10,000.

When Dad received my letter, he couldn’t believe the coincidence and quickly rode back to Mt. Sterling. He took Willie, the Negro overseer aside and explained that our family didn’t believe in slavery and that he was proud of me for helping seven slaves escape. Then he read the part of my letter where I explained about helping the slaves escape. He could tell that Willie was worried about his part in covering up the deaths of Mr. Greene and his son until Dad told him not to worry.

Then Dad told Willie his plan and Willie eagerly agreed to do it. Dad had one of my brothers write a letter that was supposed to be from me. In it, I had asked him to check on my Uncle Jacob. I’d bought the seven slaves he brought me and gave him enough money to buy three additional good, strong bucks for me when he went to the slave market in Natchez. He was supposed to bring the three slaves back to me, but I hadn’t heard from him and was worried about my uncle and my cousin because they were traveling with a lot of cash.

My brother went to the sheriff in Mount Sterling with the letter and the actual envelope that I had sent from St. Louis. He asked the sheriff if he knew anything about the disappearance of Jacob Greene and his son. The end result was that my oldest brother Daniel, would run the plantation until I, posing as Mr. Greene’s nephew, could be contacted and come to Mount Sterling to assume ownership of the plantation. Along with his letter, Dad had sent me a document that he had found in Mr. Greene’s study that had his signature so we could forge bills of sale for the seven former slaves.

Fearing that somebody might accidentally let something slip, Willie had told the slaves remaining at the plantation the made-up story about Mr. Greene’s trip. Hence, when my brother Daniel arrived, everyone believed that he knew Mr. Greene’s nephew.

Of course, he didn’t tell the story in those words. He wrote the second letter as if he were informing Mr. Greene’s favorite nephew about Mr. Greene’s disappearance and demise. I was absolutely flabbergasted by the time I finished the second letter. “We have to go back to Lexington and deal with this,” I said insistently.

“Immediately,” Tara agreed.

We gathered our group together and explained what happened. Jimmey, Mahala, Sallie, Cisley, and Lucey were beside themselves knowing that Mr. Greene’s slaves, their friends, would be freed. We bought more paper and a steel pen. Everyone tried to duplicate Mr. Greene’s signature. Belle did such a good job that it looked like the real thing. Tara wrote out a bill of sale for all seven of the former slaves and Belle put Greene’s signature on them. Emma signed them using her father’s name as the witness.

Then we headed to find Samuel. “Try to be back in four weeks or less,” he asked. We stopped by the Hawken brothers and bought the four rifles they had finished. He felt they could finish two more in the next three weeks, so I paid for those, too. Then we hurried to the German wagon maker, taking Samuel with us. The wagon maker was expecting to sell even more wagons this spring and had six finished already. Samuel bought the two he needed and I bought the other four, along with three spare wheels, two spare axles, and two spare tongues. The wagon maker agreed to make another wagon like the one he had built last year that we made into two carts. He directed us to a man selling mules and we were on the road two hours later.

We took six wagons with us to the docks and left two of our wagons with Samuel so that he’d have feed for his mules and horses. I gave Samuel money and asked him to fill the two wagons with lumber while we were gone. I planned to buy more lumber right before we returned home and wanted the lumberyard to have enough time to cut more. I left him plenty of money, and enough to buy two rounds of good whiskey at Howard’s Emporium. “Maybe Maddie will sit on your lap this time,” I teased.

I rode ahead to the docks and spent two hours looking for a steamboat headed to Louisville. When I found one with enough room for six wagons, I quickly paid the fares for us and for the wagons. He planned to leave at sunup, so we loaded all six wagons and our mules. Then we bought produce from the nearby marketplace and hurried back to the ship. We only had Wizzer with us, having left Mercury and Hermes with Samuel so they had dogs watching out for them.

Thursday March 7, 1844

Aside from being aboard the steamboat bound for Louisville, today was Tara’s and my anniversary. We spent a quiet afternoon together in the wagon while all the usual raucous commotion on the deck outside covered our sounds of passion.

Saturday March 9, 1844

Louisville! We were almost home! We were unloaded and had the mules hitched to the wagons well before noon. Knowing that it would take us just over three days to reach Lexington, I spent time in town visiting every gunsmith. I bought 19 shotguns and 26 Kentucky long rifles. Some were to trade for furs, but others were for a different trade that I had in mind. If many of the slaves planned to go with us, I hoped to trade shotguns for the Cheyenne to use against the Crow for the right to develop a coal and a copper mine, assuming that the rocks actually contained copper. We would mainly use the coal for heating, cooking, and smelting copper.

While I shopped for firearms, the ladies shopped for food, mainly cabbage, carrots, squash, and potatoes.

We made it several miles outside of town before finding a place where we could stop for the night. I noticed that it has been growing warmer as we moved south. Council Bluffs had been warmer that Fort John. St Louis had been warmer than Council Bluffs. Here, just outside of Louisville, it was considerably warmer than even St. Louis. I laughed remembering how I used to think it was cold here when I went out in the winters to hunt and trap.

It was almost completely dark when we found a spot to stop for the night. I’d forgotten how populated the area was and it took a while to find a place that wasn’t part of a farm. Jimmey and I took the teams down to a nearby stream for water. I laughed when we didn’t have to break a layer of ice off the top before the animals could drink. By the time we had them watered, made a rope corral, and pulled out enough dry prairie grass for them to eat tonight, dinner was ready.

We talked while we ate. I could tell that everyone was excited. Mahala, Sallie, Emma, Belle, and Neha would meet my family. Tara and I would see our families again, and Tara would see Wanda again. My family would be able to see my first two children. I felt bad now that Nawaji wasn’t here, but she needed to stay home as a go-between with the Cheyenne. Our excitement carried over when we went to bed, and it was late when we finally went to sleep.

Tuesday March 12, 1844

3 days later

I knew when we went to sleep last night that today was going to be a long day if we were going to make it home. When we stopped briefly at lunch to water the animals, Tara told me to ride on ahead and warn our families. Dad saw me first and burst into a huge grin. He and my brothers were hugging me when Wanda screeched as she ran out the door, straight for me. Mom wasn’t far behind her.

“Look at how much you’ve grown,” Mom commented after hugging me. She stood back and looked up at me while a few tears rolled down her cheeks. I knew that I’d grown taller as the girls had to make new buckskin pants for me twice when my old ones got too short. “You’ve obviously been working hard,” she said as she gripped my upper arms near my shoulders. Once again, my new buckskin tunics were bigger because my old ones were too tight on my arms and shoulders.

Then Mom had Nate come over and had us stand back-to-back and she started laughing. “It looks as if you three boys smacking Lewis in the head made him grow more, not less. He’s already as tall as you boys are,” she teased.

“Everyone will be here sometime after dinner; the wagons aren’t as fast as a horse,” I warned. Wanda insisted on going with me when I headed back to find the wagons. I stopped by to let Tara’s family know that she’d be here tonight sometime after dark, along with our baby.

It was nearly suppertime by the time I got back to the wagons. Wanda jumped from her horse to the seat of the wagon Tara was driving and gave her an emotional hug. Seconds later, she had little Raymond out of his cradleboard and in her lap, all while talking excitedly with Tara. I’d just finished riding to each wagon and checking everyone and stopped by Tara’s wagon again.

“What?” Wanda gasped incredulously to something Tara said.

“It’s true,” Tara chuckled. “Your brother has seven wives, and you have another nephew and a new niece in addition to this nephew. You also have another one who’ll be born in a few more months,” Tara said proudly.

“I thought Lewis loved you,” Wanda protested.

“He loves me very much,” Tara almost purred.

“But ... don’t you get jealous of his other wives?” she asked.

“Not at all, we all share,” she chuckled.

“Share?” Wanda asked, her inflection telling me that she wasn’t sure what Tara meant.

“Yes, share, as in we share with each other when he’s busy with one of the other wives like you and I did,” Tara whispered.

“All of them?” Wanda gasped disbelievingly.

“We have a very large bed,” she chuckled. That was true. They took four of the corn shuck mattresses and carefully ripped the stitching out. Then they stitched them together into one very wide mattress after adding more stuffing. Then they did four more and made a second one to go beneath it. They did the same thing for Isum, Jimmey, and their three wives.

“Are any of his other wives here?” Wanda asked.

“Yes, the two Negro girls driving the two wagons behind me, the Indian woman behind them, and the other two white girls are his wives. His other Indian wife stayed home because she only gave birth two weeks before we left for St. Louis.

“You agreed to those extra wives?” Wanda asked.

“I practically had to force Lewis to take the first two. The third one he let me decide on. After that, he’s been easy to convince,” Tara explained.

“Why so many?” Wanda queried.

“One reason is that I know how much your brother loves me. He doesn’t love me any less now than when we left here. Second, more wives means more help on the ranch so we can get more done. Third, there isn’t much of a selection available. Mahala and Sallie had three choices, Lewis, or one of their two brothers. Nawaji’s choices were Lewis or going back to her tribe and marrying an Indian brave. She said that a brave would treat her like a dog.

“Emma’s parents were leaving her behind at Fort John because she upset too many people on the wagon train. If they didn’t leave her, the whole family had to stay. Nawaji realized just how dangerous it would be for her if she was left alone there and offered her father $20 so everyone at the fort would realize that Emma belonged to Lewis. That way, they’d leave her alone.

“Her sister, Belle, ran away from the wagon train hoping to find Emma to stay with her. A Sioux hunter captured her. Fortunately, he knew enough English to understand that she was looking for her sister. He brought her to Lewis because he knows us and recognized that her sister was with us. Lewis bought her and reunited her with her sister. Again, choices for a husband are slim out there. Most of the men are nearly the same age as our fathers.

“Lewis rescued Neha and her sister-in-law from two trappers who were mainly thieves. They’d kidnapped the two girls. Lewis killed the two kidnappers and met the war party searching for the two girls while he was taking them back to their village. Lewis learned that their village would be short of food this winter and offered a deal. We’d help their hunters and provide corn, beans, and squash so they had plenty of food. They agreed to set their village up at our place and stay there until we get back from St. Louis.

“Neha’s father is the Chief. He gave Neha to Lewis to thank him for rescuing the two girls and for helping to provide food for his people this winter.

“Lewis is known to many of the Sioux in the area, as well as the Arapaho, the Cheyenne, and even some of the Pawnee. Neha’s brother knew who Lewis was when he heard there were Negroes with him when he rescued the two girls. Neha told us later that she agreed to be Lewis’ wife when her father asked her. She knew that the tribes in the area respected Lewis. Being his wife was almost as prestigious as marrying another chief. That he already had numerous wives gave Lewis even more prestige. Their men can have a second wife, but they have to be able to provide for both wives and any children they have.”

“Wow,” was all that Wanda replied.

I was getting embarrassed, so I rode back and checked on everyone again. It took another half hour to make it home and everyone came piling out of the house again. Both sets of parents were together and hugged Tara before holding baby Raymond.

“This is my wife Sallie and our baby William,” I introduced her next. Baby William was as big a hit as baby Raymond was and my parents and brothers hugged Sallie, too. Then I introduced each of my other wives as everyone’s eyes opened wider and their jaws dropped further.

“I have one more wife, Nawaji, but she stayed home. She just had a baby boy two weeks before we left. We named him Stalking Wolf. She’s also acting as our liaison with the Cheyenne village spending the winter in our valley,” I explained. Then I introduced Jimmey, Cisley, and Lucey.

We went inside and ate the late dinner Mom had prepared for us. Everyone else had already eaten. It was very late when Tara’s family left for home, and my brothers and their families left for their homes. We slept in our wagons again since there wasn’t room for so many people in the house.

Wednesday March 13, 1844

We rose at the first crowing of a rooster, even though dawn was still at least an hour away. The girls helped Mom prepare breakfast. Dad, Jimmey, and my two brothers who were here helped saddle six horses. Right after breakfast, Dad, Jimmey, Mahala, Cisley, Lucey, and I climbed into the saddles. Tara and the others would follow us with five wagons. The wagons would take two days to reach the plantation. My brothers would ride alongside the wagons to keep an eye out for trouble.

We arrived at the Greene plantation just before supper. The former slaves were excited to see people they knew, but were still a bit unsettled about being back here. “This is Lewis, Mr. Greene’s nephew,” Dad told the woman who nervously greeted us. She sent one of the older children in the house scurrying to find “Massa Clark” and Willie.

“It’s good to see you again, cousin,” my brother said as he shook my hand. Dad and Willie decided long ago not to tell any of the other slaves about what was really happening. Willie felt that several of them would be too nervous, and it might make the sheriff suspicious. It was better for them to believe I really was Mr. Greene’s nephew. Dad had explained more about the planned deception last night to Jimmey and our former slaves. I already had the forged bills of sale signed by “Jacob Greene.”

We ate supper in the dining room along with my cousin/brother and the house slaves. The house slaves fidgeted nervously at first, unsure if their presence at the dining room table would upset their new master. “Please relax,” I told them. “My only regret is that the table isn’t big enough for everyone else to join us.”

“We always eat with Massa Lewis,” Jimmey assured them. I saw several faces surprised that Jimmey spoke without my permission. I felt proud knowing that he had changed that much. I’d frequently seen each of the former slaves making decisions on their own at our ranch.

Thursday March 14, 1844

After breakfast, Dad and I rode into town to find the sheriff. He was glad that I had finally arrived since it had been nearly a year. I apologized, explaining that I only went into St. Louis twice a year, right before spring planting, and after we harvested everything. Once I showed him the forged receipts selling Jimmey, Isum, and the others to me, we went to the courthouse. He verified the signature against the one when Mr. Greene bought the land, and had the clerk register the land in my name.

Since Dad had told him that I’d probably sell the plantation, he had the names of four other plantation owners who were interested. As I suspected, all four had plantations either adjoining this one or nearby. The sheriff went with us to visit the four men so he could verify that I was the owner of the Greene Plantation.

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