Escape From Lexington - Cover

Escape From Lexington

Copyright© 2024 by FantasyLover

Chapter 13

Sunday March 31, 1844

The former slaves left for town and church right after breakfast, even Jimmey, Cisley, Lucey, Mahala, and Sallie. After tending the livestock, the rest of us took advantage of the chance to do nothing for a few hours. Well, we might have spent some of the extra time in bed.

We had lunch ready when everyone got back from church. I was surprised that church took so long until I found out that the preacher had performed a short wedding ceremony for the ten couples afterwards. Once I learned that, I got out the rings and necklaces and gave a set to each of the guys. I also gave Emma, Belle, and Neha their rings, promising Emma and Belle to find a preacher or preachers willing to marry us.

I molested Mahala and Sallie after lunch, and they exited the wagon giggling while I decided to take a nap. Sallie was so happy that she told me she missed her monthlies last time and thought she was pregnant.

Everyone but the little kids were grinning at me when I climbed out of the wagon. “Hard afternoon?” Samuel asked, making several people laugh.

“Morning, too,” Tara replied.

“He’s not done yet,” Cisley added as she sat across my lap with a plate literally heaped with food. “I thought you might be hungry after working so hard today,” she said, almost sounding sympathetic, at least until she laughed at me. I wasn’t sure how dark my face was blushing, but it felt as hot as if I was sitting far too close to the fire.

“We should buy another five hundred pounds of wheat tomorrow,” Tara said from beside me. “That will give us enough to plant a few more acres and to have a small surplus in case we need to grind more into flour before harvest. This many people will eat a lot of bread. Someone asked us to get rice. They want to see if it will grow there. We can plant it around the closest beaver dam so it gets enough water,” she suggested.

“If it grows, we should probably terrace some of the ridges like the drawings in our schoolbooks of the way they do it in China,” I suggested.

Monday April 1, 1844

We headed for town this morning with lists designed to fill the remaining extra space in the wagons. My first stop was the sawmill where I started filling the last wagon from the German wagon maker with a one-foot-deep layer of lumber. Then we added wheat and rice to our other wagons. I also added another five hundred pounds of corn, realizing that we’d need to raise more hogs and chickens. I found four collapsible brass telescopes that I bought to go with the two we already had. We carried one with us and I had left one with Nawaji. I thought they would make good gifts for some of the important chiefs. Each telescope had a round leather carrying case with a strap you could slip around your neck and over your shoulder. I found the man who sold me beehives last year and bought two full ones and six more empty ones from him.

I also visited eight churches in town, upsetting the first seven pastors. Pastor number eight was very accommodating, and I told him that we’d be back tomorrow at 11:00. Then I told my wives that Emma, Belle, Neha, and I would be getting married tomorrow morning, although Neha and I had already been “married” in a brief ceremony performed by their village’s medicine man.

We spent the rest of the afternoon teaching the former slaves to use the shotguns. Planning ahead when I bought the shotguns, I bought them with only two different gauges. Jimmey, my brothers, Mark, and I worked with the men using the larger gauge shotguns. My and Jimmey’s wives, along with Wanda and my brothers’ wives worked with the women.

We emphasized safety with the weapons, never pointing a weapon in someone’s direction unless you intended to kill them. We showed them how to measure the powder with the powder measure I bought for each of the weapons. Once each of them loaded a shotgun, we showed them how to hold it and fire it, warning them about the recoil. After they fired the shotguns several times, we explained about hiding behind something while firing and practiced from behind trees and small boulders.

By the time it was late enough for the women to start dinner, both the men and women could hit something consistently about fifty feet away. Since that was the distance I expected they would fire from if they had to use the shotguns, I was satisfied for now. If we were attacked, we’d have twenty more shotguns helping to defend us.

Tuesday April 2, 1844

Everyone in our party was excited today. The women all rode into town in the two carriages. The guys all rode horses. Emma and Belle wore beautiful white dresses that I wasn’t aware they had. Neha had a beautiful buckskin dress with long fringes and lots of beadwork. I found out later that Tara had warned the women that I’d try to find a preacher to perform the marriages. Nawaji and Neha had spent a lot of time completing the buckskin dress before we left, and Neha continued to add more beadwork whenever she had time.

By 11:45, the brief ceremonies were over. The pastor spoke for about five minutes about how a husband should treat his wife, and then amended it to wives. Then he explained how wives should treat their husband. After a brief prayer, we said our vows and were pronounced husband and wives. Then he performed the ceremony for Wanda and Mark, although he omitted the advice on how to treat each other. After a bit of hand shaking and backslapping, I handed the pastor four gold eagles and thanked him.

Samuel was excited when I rode by the fur office. The goods were here, and he was heading to the farm with his two men to get their wagons. I promised that we’d join them as soon as we could because we had to go back to the farm and change into work clothing.

An hour and a half later, we finally found the correct ship on the bustling docks. With so many people helping, their wagons were loaded long before dinnertime. “No missionaries this time?” I asked him.

“No, any missionaries will be leaving from Independence. The newspaper last week said there were already twice as many wagons as last year and they planned to travel in smaller groups this year. Last year, there was too much competition for camping spots, water, and graze for the animals. The wagon train was too unwieldy and too hard to manage is the word back from Oregon. Surprisingly, over two-thirds of the cattle made it there,” he laughed.

On the way back to our wagons, I stopped at the three blacksmiths we passed and bought ingots of iron and steel. I also bought several dozen ready-made horseshoes in different sizes, along with shoes for mules and oxen. The blacksmith at Fort John had been overwhelmed when the wagons arrived last summer. Isum and Jimmey had gone down shortly after dawn each day and worked until it was too dark to continue. Isum fitted horseshoes and shoes for the oxen and mules while Jimmey worked as a farrier and shod the animals.

Mr. Chouteau didn’t mind paying them handsomely for the help because it kept more of the wagons there instead of at the competition, Fort Platte. He also appreciated the fact that I only dealt with people selling cattle and oxen if they went through him. He told me later in the year that, because of our help, he did more than twice the business that Fort Platte did from that wagon train.

Knowing that we’d be leaving before dawn, everyone headed for the wagons and sleep as soon as we cleaned up from supper. Despite the relative safety of the farm, we’d been setting four-man watches each night. In addition to two experienced men, we had one of the recently freed slaves with each of the two men, so they got some experience. Tonight was no different.

I took the 1:00 to 3:00 watch since we planned to get up at 3:00. The women would fix breakfast and the men would hitch the animals to the wagons. Everyone should be done eating breakfast in time for us to leave before dawn. Since the moon would be full later tonight, there should be plenty of light to see what we were doing, and then where we were going.

Wednesday April 3, 1844

We pulled out at 4:45. Samuel was already gone, along with my brother James, who had enough money to reserve spots for our wagons aboard one or more steamboats. Samuel left Arnaud in charge, and we followed him as he started forward.

Unlike last year, the weather was nice. There were some clouds, but no rain, and the weather was noticeably warmer. By the time we got to St. Charles, Samuel had arranged transportation aboard three ships, rented wagons, hired men, and already had the goods for the Council Bluffs trading post being loaded aboard one of the boats.

When we left, our wagons and carriages nearly filled the decks of all three steamboats. Several of the deck passengers asked for and received permission to sleep beneath our wagons. By attaching blankets to the bottom of our wagons, they created a cozy enclosure that helped them stay warmer at night and gave them a little more privacy.

Sunday April 7, 1844

The weather was nice enough that I didn’t have to erect my canvas cover for the livestock. Unlike the trip south, we had no trouble with any of the crew. While the steamboat unloaded goods and passengers in Independence, I ran into town and managed to buy eight more long rifles, along with the other necessities for them.

As we left the docks in Independence two days ago, we saw at least a hundred covered wagons waiting just outside of town. I’d bought a newspaper, a single sheet, and it said that, depending on the weather and how the prairie grass was growing, the first wagons intended to leave here for Oregon on Monday April 22. Other groups of wagons would follow them at intervals of a week or so.

Samuel thanked me when I showed him the article. “The first group should arrive at the post near the end of June,” he commented after a minute of calculating using his fingers. “If you have fresh produce available by then, you’ll make another fortune selling it,” he laughed.

“I couldn’t believe how much they paid for fresh tomatoes and other fresh produce last year,” I replied.

When we reached Council Bluffs, the supplies for that trading post were quickly unloaded, left sitting along the riverbank near what passed as their dock. Once their supplies were unloaded, the steamboat headed upriver slightly before maneuvering and turning for the far bank where the rest of our wagons were already unloading. Having no supplies for the trading post to unload, the other steamboats had gone straight to the west bank and were nearly done unloading when we tied up. Once we were all ashore, the steamboats headed south. One planned to stop in the small town of Bellevue, which was across the river and slightly upstream from the Council Bluffs trading post. The other would stop in the next small town.

With Neha riding beside me, I set out to locate our first campsite. It was easy to find, and we rode back to accompany the wagons the rest of the way. I made sure to pick up any wood we found, remembering the difficulty we had a few times last year finding dry wood. By sundown, we had camp set up and dinner was ready.

That night, Tara, Mahala, Sallie, and I celebrated the one-year anniversary of our marriage by the missionary. I guess I’m married to Tara twice. We missed having Nawaji with us, as well as being able to celebrate with her.

Tuesday April 9, 1844

Neha and I met a group of eight Pawnee hunters less than half an hour after leaving this morning. I relaxed when I saw the big grin on the face of the man I fought last year. “Greetings Strong Hand,” he signed and then reached out and clasped my arm in a friendly greeting.

“Hello, Stalks Like A Wolf,” I replied in sign language.

“I’m surprised to see you here again,” he commented questioningly.

“I went with the wagons from Fort John to sell my furs and then buy new trade goods,” I explained. “This year, two of my brothers and my sister have joined us.”

We could see the wagons approaching so I waved at them with my left hand, letting everyone know that that everything was okay. When they caught up to us, I introduced Stalks Like A Wolf to everyone and then pointed to my two brothers. “My brothers were always bigger than I was, and we always fought,” I explained. Then I introduced him to Wanda.

“If she had an Indian name, it would be ‘She Fights Dirty,’” I signed, grinning. Stalks Like A Wolf broke up laughing.

“Now I see why you are such a good fighter,” he signed, laughing. At that, they headed out to finish hunting. They intended to hunt along the river where they knew of a herd of buffalo. They agreed to let me join them. My brothers, Wanda, and Mark all wanted to join us so they each grabbed their Hawken rifle and a shotgun, found their horses, and followed us. I grabbed ten pack mules. We found the Pawnee scout about a mile away, dismounted, and approached the herd quietly on foot.

I’d already offered to kill the buffalo for them. They originally intended just to kill one, but enthusiastically agreed to take two if we killed them. I whispered instructions to Wanda, Mark, and my brothers. We were close enough that they should have no problem with the shot. “Three, two, one, now,” I whispered my countdown and their four rifles fired as one.

Two buffalo dropped immediately, one stood for a moment as if dazed before falling, and a fourth staggered several steps before dropping. The rest of the herd took off, heading farther upriver. After they reloaded, we headed down to check on the four. Based on Wizzer’s reaction, the fourth buffalo was still alive. I put it out of its misery while my brothers went back and got the horses and mules.

While they were gone, I chopped some branches off the trees where the buffalo had been hiding. By the time the mules were back, I had started making eight travois. My brothers helped with that. Wanda and Neha were busy cutting up two of the buffalo and the Pawnee hunters were working on the other two. When they finished dressing the buffalo, I had finished the travois and had the hunters load each of four travois with half of one of their two buffalo. I’d already found out how far away their village was and offered to take the meat there for them.

Neha joined me following the Pawnee hunters as the rest of our party headed to catch up with the wagons, taking the other four halves with them. An hour later, we rode into the Pawnee village. Chief Two Wolves recognized me and came to greet me, looking questioningly at the four travois.

Stalks Like A Wolf explained my presence in rapid fire Pawnee and suddenly everyone around us was laughing. “He told me about the sister you named ‘She Fights Dirty,’” the Chief snickered. When he offered to let me stay for dinner, I explained that I had to catch up with our wagons before dark. After a clasped-arm farewell, I climbed aboard Dusty and followed Neha as she turned her horse northwest.

Samuel was gone scouting when we caught up, Arnaud had been left in charge. “What was that about?” he asked, curious.

“The brave I was talking to is the one I fought last year to free Wakiya. I met other hunters from his village on our way to Council Bluffs. I figured they must camp near here during the winter, and I wanted to stay on their good side since we pass here going each way. They were hunting so I helped. My brothers, my sister, and her husband were looking forward to shooting their first buffalo, so I let them have the opportunity.

“They got to shoot a buffalo, we got enough meat for a few days, and we remain friends with a nearby Pawnee village. I made sure they knew I was with the wagons taking furs from the trading post to sell. That way, even if I’m not with you, they should remain friendly,” I explained.

“You think too much,” he teased and turned his attention back to guiding the mules.

Wanda was shaking her finger at me accusingly when I rode by, but she was smiling. “Tara told me what you said to that Indian,” she said, trying to sound upset.

“Was I wrong?” I teased her, making her blush. She didn’t answer, but her blushing smirk did.

Sunday May 5, 1844

26 days later

Shortly after noon, we reached Fort John. I’d felt the excitement building all morning, knowing that we would soon be home. Once again, everyone turned out to see us arrive. Mr. Chouteau came over to me even before I was off my horse.

“Everyone is fine, but a Crow war party tried to attack your place two days ago. Nobody at your place was hurt, but the Crow didn’t fare very well,” he warned me.

My first reaction was to ride home as quickly as possible. I also realized that wasn’t a smart thing to do. If the Crow had encroached this far into Cheyenne territory already, we needed to be wary on the way home. I told Neha what he told me, emphasizing that everyone at our place was unharmed.

Six of us rode ahead of the wagons, spread out on both sides of the trail, watching for an ambush. I heaved a sigh of relief an hour later when I saw the Cheyenne lookouts wave at me with their left hands in reply to my left-handed wave. Still, our six outriders hung back behind the wagons, making sure the gate was closed, and that nobody attacked us from behind.

Nawaji, Isum, and Edy all ran out to meet us with huge grins on their faces. It took several minutes for each of us to be hugged and kissed thoroughly before I started introducing the new people with us.

When I finished, Neha and I rode to find Chief Soaring Eagle. He greeted us excitedly and told us the same thing Nawaji had just told us. A band of fifty-two Crow warriors followed the trail his warriors left on the way back to their old village from their last battle. His warriors had been instrumental in defeating the Crow’s attempt to wrest control of a stretch of territory along the Platte River, which would give the Crow access to Fort John and Fort Platte, as well as just decreasing the overall territory of the Cheyenne. The Cheyenne depended on the Platte River for fish, both to eat and to dry for the winter.

Finding the Cheyenne village gone, the Crow warriors followed the trail they left when they moved to my place. Chief Soaring Eagle had kept three sentries posted all the time on the highest ridges around our valley. The sentry on the west closest to the river saw the Crow warriors more than an hour before they arrived. He used a short blast on one of the ram’s horns we used to signal each other to warn everyone in the valley.

Chief Soaring Eagle used the collapsible telescope that I had left there and confirmed that it was Crow warriors, and not a hunting party of Cheyenne or Arapaho. When it was confirmed, they took up the defensive positions on the ridges that I had showed them before leaving. The women and children were herded to safety inside the cave, along with our livestock and the Cheyenne horses.

Nawaji, Isum, and Edy climbed the ridge above our cave with six shotguns, the Model 1839s I left for them, their Hawken Rifles, and their Colt Paterson revolvers.

The Crow warriors rode in from the south, whooping and shouting, thinking they had caught everyone by surprise. Once the Crow were in the main part of the valley, the Cheyenne started firing their rifles or shooting arrows at them. The Crow rode right up to the ridge, but had to dismount, both to take cover and to find a way up the steep part of the ridge.

Once they were dismounted, Nawaji, Isum, and Edy started shooting from behind the Crow, catching them completely exposed. Six of the Crow warriors made it to the ridge above the cave and were partway up the ridge before the three of them used the shotguns to stop their attack. Only a handful of the Crow warriors survived the initial few minutes and they tried to escape.

Unfortunately for the warriors, Nawaji and Isum had driven their horses towards the back of the valley by firing at the ground in front of the closest horses, panicking them and making them run off. The Crow warriors who tried to escape had to do so on foot and were easily captured or killed by mid-afternoon.

“Obviously, the Crow intend to continue their attacks,” I commented to Chief Soaring Eagle. He nodded glumly.

“How many warriors do you have?” I asked.

“Forty-two,” he replied.

“Are there other villages nearby with warriors?” I continued my inquiry.

“There are three villages within two days’ ride. Between them, we have over a hundred warriors,” he replied, his eyes asking me why I wanted to know.

“Before I left, I asked, and you told me you thought that the Crow would try to take your lands again this spring. I have just returned from visiting several large cities. In every city, I bought many good rifles and shotguns. I bought so many that I no longer know if my count is accurate, but I believe I have 83 of the rifles and 81 shotguns.

“How many enemy warriors do you usually face in a battle?” I asked.

“Between thirty and a hundred,” he replied.

If you have fifty warriors trained to use the longrifle, you should be able to kill or seriously wound between twenty-five and fifty of the enemy right away. If your warriors have time, they can reload and fire again. If not, they can switch to their bows. When the enemy warriors get close, have the second fifty warriors use the shotguns. It should knock down the advancing enemy warriors leaving very few healthy warriors.”

“I’m sure that it will work, but we can’t possibly afford to buy that many rifles,” he protested.

“What if I let you borrow them until next winter. Fight the Crow and defeat them, then bring your village and the other three villages here if you need to for the winter. By then, you should have eliminated the Crow threat. Any who can afford it may buy their rifle or shotgun and the others will simply return them to me.

“I will provide everything you need to use the rifles and shotguns. I will teach the warriors how to use them. Most of your warriors should be able to hit an enemy or game from as far away as the door to the cave,” I said, pointing to where everyone was standing by the door about two hundred feet away. Truth be told, someone who was a good shot should be able to hit something at nearly double that distance with the Hawken.

“That is much farther than the rifles the trading post sells,” he commented.

“These rifles are better, but they also cost more. These are the same rifles that your son asked me about when we first met,” I explained.

“Yes, I have heard from others that the rifles you sell are accurate and can kill a buffalo from far enough away to keep the warrior safe,” he mused thoughtfully. “Why are you willing to help us like this?” he queried.

“The Sioux allow me to live here and farm here because I grow and trade things they, the Cheyenne, and the Arapaho need. If the Crow win, they will be nearby and may cause problems for my family because I trade with their enemies. If I help the Cheyenne defeat the Crow, the Cheyenne will remember me as a good friend and ally, and I won’t have to worry about having hostile Crow living nearby,” I replied.

“Let me speak with the elders. I will let you know our decision,” he said.

With that, Neha and I headed back to our wagons. The five lambs were already out of the wagon and bounding around inside their pasture. Wizzer, Mercury, and Hermes were busy chasing Diana, Artemis, and the twelve puppies. I was surprised at how much the puppies had grown in the last three months. I hated to think about how much they had eaten.

Four wagons had already been pulled inside the cave and were being unloaded. Several of the men were with Tara in the house portion of the cave deciding where to build the partitions to provide at least a little privacy for each couple or family. For now, the “walls” would be canvas-covered wood frames with a canvas flap for a door.

With so many hands helping, we had the wagons unloaded before dinner. Even though I knew the cave was huge, watching the last of our wagons enter the cave and knowing that they were all in there left me in awe. When everything else was out of the wagons, we transferred the lumber and cast-iron pipe into six wagons, leaving the rest empty so we could use them. The pipe fittings and tools for putting the pipes together were loaded into one wagon. We’d sort them out when we had time. That left most of our wagons empty to haul rocks, coal, wood, and any game we killed.

At dinner, Isum, Nawaji, and Edy retold the story of the attack, including the fact that we now had forty-five more horses. Chief Soaring Eagle gave them to us both for our help during the attack and for the help we gave them with food for the winter. They had kept seven of the horses so that even their new, young warriors had a horse.

Isum also told us that the ground was thawed enough to plow. He started plowing a week ago. It was still too cold to plant, however. We told the story of what happened when we got to St. Louis, the trip back to Lexington, “inheriting” and then selling the Greene Plantation, and buying the plantation near my parents.

Then Jimmey excitedly explained about the panemone. He kept out one of the schoolbooks we bought that had a drawing of a Dutch windmill to give them an idea of what it was. They were excited that we wouldn’t have to hand pump water or carry it from the stream in buckets once the windmills were working. Originally, I’d envisioned one windmill serving the cave and the cabins I intended to build. A second would provide water to the trees along the eastern ridge, the garden, the chicken coop, and the enclosure for the pigs that I planned to build.

The third windmill would provide water for the crops we planted on the west side of the stream and could provide water for the livestock to keep them out of the stream. Now, we’d need a fourth windmill for the northeast valley along the branch of the stream that came from that direction.

While the ground was thawed enough to plow, it was probably still frozen on the north-facing slopes of the ridges. We could build the towers for the windmills but could probably only install three of the four towers right now.

After dinner, Isum showed us his surprise. While we were gone, he had worked on the steps of the walkway down to the cold levels of the cave and had finished them. He built up each step using mortar and small rocks or gravel. Once he had a level surface for the step, and the mortar was dry, he mortared one of the wide, flat slabs of sandstone in place for each step. He had measured each step and used one of our masonry chisels to score and then break the sandstone to the right size. I was impressed and told him so, as much by the initiative he’d shown as by what he’d done. He had learned how to cut and then set the sandstone when we built the floor for the two mill wheels.

After that, it was time for bed. Starting tomorrow, we had a lot to accomplish, again, although we all made sure that Nawaji was well compensated for missing our anniversary celebration.

Monday May 6, 1844

During breakfast, we decided who would be doing what jobs today. One of the first jobs was getting the six new cast iron stoves into the kitchen area. Six of the new men accepted that job. One of them knew how to hook up the stovepipes and was surprised that we only used one length of pipe before venting the hot air into the upper part of the cave. I explained that the cave had several natural vents in the ceiling where the hot air and smoke escaped.

Our carpenters and Jimmey started work on the last wagon we bought from the German wagon maker, converting it into another handcart and a two-wheeled horse-drawn cart like we did last year. After that, they would start building five windmill towers.

Isum took the last two former slaves, my two brothers, and Mark, and started them plowing in the northeast valley. I climbed to the top of the ridge above where our cave was and looked around our valley. I felt a lot of pride in what we had accomplished in the last year. As I surveyed our farm, I decided on locations for three of the stone and mortar cisterns I planned to build. We’d have to drain them each winter, so they didn’t crack when the water inside froze.

The cabins would go along the ridge just outside and to the right of the cave entrance. While picturing them, I decided that we should make a covered walkway behind the cabins. In an emergency, we could escape into the cave through the walkway. By covering part of the ravine leading up to the cave entrance, we could have a separate doorway like a barn door for the livestock and the wagons to use to enter the cave. The chicken coop would be built partially into the ridge on the opposite side of the cave entrance to help keep the smell away from us.

Chief Soaring Eagle approached me when I came down from my perch. “I have sent messengers to the three nearby villages asking them to send their elders. Our elders are still suspicious of your motives, however,” he admitted.

I shrugged. “I don’t know what to say to convince them. My motives are twofold. First, I want to keep my family and the people with me safe, and second, I want to keep my friends safe. I’m not trying to sell you the guns. The shotguns will only be useful when hunting small game like birds. The rifles will be popular because they are more powerful and more accurate than the ones sold by the trading posts. I will be able to sell them even if you don’t use them. I only had three left last year and expect to sell many more this year. Besides, I make more money on the furs traded to us for corn, beans, and squash since I grow those and don’t have to buy them. If nothing else, ask Neha and Nawaji what they think,” I suggested.

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