Escape From Lexington - Cover

Escape From Lexington

Copyright© 2024 by FantasyLover

Chapter 14

Friday June 14, 1844

We reached our valley just after midday. Chief Soaring Eagle saw me startle when the Cheyenne women in our valley began shouting and singing, “la, la, la, la, la, la, la,” in a high-pitched voice for a good couple of minutes.

“They are welcoming us home and celebrating our safe return,” he explained. The messengers that we sent ahead yesterday morning had obviously gotten word to everyone that we would arrive today with only a few minor wounds.

My wives and family met me as I dismounted, all talking excitedly at the same time so I couldn’t understand any of them. Nawaji and Neha stayed back with three Crow women until I finally kissed the rest of my wives and greeted my brothers, Wanda, and the rest of the original group that came here. Only then did the three Crow women step forward.

One asked me something, but I don’t understand any of the Crow language. Seeing my lack of comprehension, the second woman asked me in Cheyenne if I wished for them to show the newest group around. “Yes, thank you,” I replied.

They were quickly among the newest arrivals, talking excitedly. After kissing me, Neha gave me an explanation. “They didn’t think you would be able to feed everyone when they first got here,” she chuckled. “They are amazed at how much food you have, and that you even trade food to many villages. When we showed the first group, they couldn’t believe how much corn, squash, beans, dried buffalo, dried berries, and pemmican we still had left from last year, and their eyes bugged out when they saw how much tobacco we planted.”

“You should have seen them staring at the men who were plowing,” Nawaji laughed.

“They stared at me a couple days ago,” I laughed, explaining about stopping at the salt deposit and using the pick to break it up instead of making the women use rocks or their squaw axes.

Nawaji and Neha wanted to go back for more salt immediately. I promised to take them as soon as the latest group was settled in.

“The three women who were just here are the head women from the first three Crow villages,” Neha explained. “We told them to have one woman report to Nawaji or me each day to find out what needed to be done and to let us know if they needed anything. We had the leader for the first group show the second group around. The leaders of the first two groups showed the third group, and now all three are showing the fourth group around,” she said as we watched the lengthy procession of women and children from the fourth village heading into the cave.

When I looked out over the little valley, there was a literal sea of tipis along the eastern side of the stream. “Wow,” I said quietly as I looked at rows and rows and rows of tipis.

“What have they got?” I asked nobody in particular when I looked out at the field where four of the former slaves from the Greene plantation were plowing.

Isum grinned. “I figured out a way to hook four plows together. I started with two and had them side by side, but they kept filling one of the furrows. I took them back apart and hooked them together with one set farther forward than the other and it worked great. We hooked four plows together that way. It takes eight oxen or twelve mules to pull it. Just like the single plows, it requires one man to guide the plow and one man to lead the oxen or mules, but it’s still faster than using four single plows,” he explained.

“That also lets the six men who would have been plowing accomplish other things,” Jimmey said, pointing to the windmill merrily spinning atop our ridge.

“We hooked up enough cast iron pipe to run from the pool in the lower section of the cave all the way to the barn section of the cave. Then we hooked it up to the panemone. It will pump water into a cistern in the barn section,” he said proudly.

“We burned more lime and used some of the rocks you already had here. We built a ten-foot-high stone base in the back corner of the cave by the smokehouses where that ledge juts out and we can’t build anything else. By the time the mortar set, we had more lime ready and built a ten-foot diameter by ten-foot-high cistern. It should be ready to fill in two more days,” my brother Nathan said proudly.

“You guys have been busy,” I exclaimed.

“We also finished the sturdy fence across the far end of the northeast valley. We left the original sturdy fence across the near end of the northeast part of this valley, but put a gate in it,” James said.

“And we’re up to three pounds of gold,” Tara said. “We showed some of the second group of Crow women how to pan for gold and they’ve been working the east side of the streambed, digging down almost three feet to bedrock.”

“The others have helped build mounds for corn, beans, and squash in the area we just plowed. That let us go hunting two days ago and we brought back ten buffalo,” Mahala added.

I found Chief Soaring Eagle and asked if we could have forty of his warriors go with us tomorrow so we could get more salt. He agreed, eager to get salt for the Cheyenne villages, too. I warned that anyone who went would have to ride a horse because I wanted to make the trip there and back in four days. That meant nobody would be walking.

Saturday June 15, 1844

Word spread rapidly through the villages yesterday. Almost every woman in the valley wanted to go with us to get more salt, but they managed to choose only fifty. By the time I headed for bed, we had two hundred empty baskets to take in addition to forty of our own. I limited the number of volunteers by requesting that each village appoint only six women. The six volunteers would keep track of baskets and bags from their village. Everyone would help fill the bags and baskets until they were all full. I made sure to include Crow women from the first three villages. We even took both of our two-wheeled carts pulled by a mule. As we were riding home along the trail from our first visit to the salt deposit, I had watched the trail carefully and was sure the two two-wheeled carts could get through, but wasn’t sure we could get a wagon with four wheels through the uneven terrain. We’d have to improve the trail, just like we did the trails to the coal and chalk deposits.

Monday June 17, 1844

Nawaji came with us since she was used to helping me when we mined coal. The Crow women who weren’t with us the first time stared at me again when we arrived and I started working. The Cheyenne women were used to me and the other men helping with “women’s work” like gathering firewood. They recognized the unique way we gathered wood and realized that they wouldn’t be able to do the hard work like felling trees.

Nawaji held the star bit with a set of blacksmith’s tongs while I wielded a sledgehammer. Two hours later, I had ten holes in a large circle, each hole about ten feet from the next, each packed with black powder and covered with a heavy rock. A fuse stuck out of each hole through a small gap I made as I set the rock atop the hole. The fuses were each roughly the same length and were twisted together in the center of the ring of holes.

Taking a firebrand from the campfire we had started when we first got here, I lit the fuses and ran for cover, making sure not to kick loose one of the fuses as I ran. Everyone else and all the animals were already behind the corner of a nearby ridge. I dove behind a pile of rocks and waited. I finished counting to sixteen before the first explosion, followed quickly by the other nine.

Still, I stayed behind the rocks for another minute just in case I had counted wrong and one of the charges didn’t blow. Finally, I peeked carefully over the top of the rocks and checked. I counted all ten of the large rocks I had used, some nearly ten feet away from where I placed them, and ten small craters. Satisfied that the charges had all exploded and weren’t going to go off when I got close, I stood up and walked over to the area.

Just like the coal when we did this, the salt ranged from grains so tiny they looked like powder all the way up to chunks big enough that it took two people to lift them. Those we broke into smaller, more manageable pieces. I gave a whistle to let the others know that it was safe to return. While they were on the way, I used the sledgehammer to break up several large chunks of salt and then prepared to drill another set of holes. I estimated that the second set would be enough to finish filling our bags, baskets, and two carts and would probably leave some loose salt for whoever came here next.

When the second set of holes were finished and filled with black powder, I warned everyone to take cover again when I started stuffing fuses into them and setting the rocks over them. I’d been surprised when several of the women worked together, two or three of them hefting or rolling each of the ten rocks, moving each rock near where they estimated one of the holes would be.

When I verified that the second ten holes had detonated, I whistled again, and everyone returned. It was late enough when we finished filling everything with salt that we ate dinner and went to bed. When we finally crawled into our tent, Nawaji chuckled at me. “Several of the Crow women have volunteered to help me keep you warm tonight,” she teased.

“I doubt that I’ll get cold tonight with you here,” I replied, giving her bottom a light pinch.

Tuesday June 18, 1844

While some of the women prepared breakfast, a few couldn’t resist and stuffed even more chunks of salt into the two wheeled carts. Yesterday, we finished filling our containers, as well as both two-wheeled carts. We even had several blankets with salt rolled up inside them and tied to travois we built. The women helped load the pack saddles on our mules or readied travois. The Cheyenne women who stayed in our valley last winter had become very adept at using the mules to carry loads for them.

Thursday June 20, 1844

Home by mid-morning, we were greeted with excitement, and everyone was amazed at the amount of salt we brought back. Tara just smirked at me. “I suppose you want us to make pickled eggs now,” she said, pretending to be upset. I just grinned. Fortunately, we had purchased several barrels of vinegar in Louisville to use for pickling food, although eggs weren’t among the foods we had planned to pickle.

Thursday July 4, 1844

The anticipated first wagon train from Independence finally arrived today, telling tales of woe about torrential rains, creeks and rivers near flood stage, and even days where it rained so hard that two or three inches of water sat on top of the flat prairie, making travel miserable or impossible.

Here, we’ve had considerably more rain than last year, but nothing that caused flooding. Like last year, Isum’s presence was requested to help at Fort John. He took Harry, our second blacksmith, and Jimmey too. Having anticipated the request, we left the blacksmith tools from the Greene Plantation in a wagon, along with the horseshoes, shoes for mules, shoes for oxen, and even iron and steel ingots. We also sent two wagons filled with coal.

It took the troupe from Independence a week to recuperate after their ordeal, as well as to make the necessary repairs to their wagons. Two of our carpenters went to help with repairs. We sold most of our spare wagon parts to this group, along with nine oxen. I ended up trading a few more oxen, giving two healthy oxen and getting two with sore feet and a little cash or goods in return. The oxen I received would need at least two weeks for their feet to recuperate.

I also managed to buy nineteen cows deemed unfit to continue, or whose owner decided that the effort necessary to drive them wasn’t worth it. The members of the wagon train were excited to buy fresh butter, cheese, and produce, as well as being able to replace lost and damaged flour and corn meal. Several families bought one or two parfleche bags of pemmican.

Mr. Chouteau conducted the sales of the butter, cheese, vegetables, pemmican, and wagon parts. He purposely charged less than the competition on those items and drew a crowd of eager buyers each day. Having those items available, as well as having three blacksmiths, a farrier, and several carpenters available garnered him most of business from the wagon train.

Several women, both Cheyenne and Crow, sold items near the fort, along with the Cheyenne living around the fort. They sold mainly baskets and buckskin clothing. Nawaji went with them as they lay out their wares to display them and helped them understand the concept of money to make sure they received fair compensation for the things they sold. They were able to get more value for their wares by accepting cash than by having the settlers buy overpriced goods from the trading post to trade for what they wanted.

Tired of having to gather dry buffalo dung to cook meals with, assuming they could find any dry dung, many families bought coal when they saw the wagons of coal our blacksmiths had. We had to send two more wagons of coal to meet the demand, which necessitated a trip to the coal deposit. With so many women helping to gather the coal while the warriors stood guard, we brought back eight wagons filled with coal.

Nawaji and I performed our oft-practiced ritual of drilling holes with a sledgehammer and star bit and then filling them with black powder. Knowing what we were doing now, the Crow women began to gather our large rocks from wherever the explosion tossed them the last time we used them.

Tuesday July 9, 1844

A much smaller wagon train, the Stephens-Murphy wagon train, arrived today, one with only twenty-seven wagons and forty single men. The surprising thing was that they left from Council Bluffs, although they still followed the Platte River. They reported some heavy rain and flooding, but not nearly as bad as the other wagon train had reported. They were ready to leave the next day, needing only minor repairs to their wagons. Most of their livestock were in good condition. They did buy some coal, butter, cheese, milk, eggs, and fresh vegetables.

Friday July 12, 1844

It was a good thing that the other two wagon trains left in the last two days. The first group from the Cornelius Gilliam wagon train from St. Joseph arrived today. While we hadn’t originally expected another wagon train, Sioux scouts had kept us apprised of any wagon trains within a week of Fort John, so we knew they would be here about the same time that the other two left.

This wagon train originally had 72 wagons, 323 people, three hundred cattle, not including over four hundred oxen, and over seven hundred Longhorn cattle that looked extremely dangerous. The wagon train had broken into four groups before they started so there would be adequate forage for so many animals. Each group took a slightly different route, usually varying it by a mile or two.

This group had only ten wagons and eight carts but had the longhorns. They were the first of the four groups to arrive, “Because longhorns are easier to get across a river than cows or wagons,” the man in charge of herding the longhorns explained. The longhorns almost looked like skinny buffalo with no hair, and with massive horns that looked to be six or more feet across from tip to tip. One of the men who saw me gawking at them laughed at me. “Never seen a longhorn before?” he asked.

“No, and I’m not sure that I want to see one again,” I replied, shaking my head.

“They’re not as bad as they appear to be,” he chuckled. “Wild ones tend to be a mite ornery, but these have been around people and are surprisingly gentle. Of course, you do have to watch out for the horns so you don’t get skewered accidentally,” he laughed.

Since their route was a little shorter than the one taken by the wagons from Independence, their animals weren’t in such bad condition. None of the longhorns had any problems with their hooves.

They reported the same problems with rain and flooding as the wagons from Independence, so I figured the heaviest rain was south of the route we usually took. The eight carts in this group belonged to a Mr. Bequet. He was a mountain trader who intended to go north and trade with the Crow, the Gros Ventre, the Assiniboine, and the Blackfoot tribes. He had twelve men with him to help. When he found out how much corn and tobacco we had available, he filled up the empty space on his carts from when they ate some of the food they brought. Even though our prices were higher than he paid in St. Louis, he bought a hundred pounds of corn, twenty-five pounds of flour, a parfleche bag of pemmican, a hundred pounds of beans, ten pounds of tobacco, fifty pounds of salt, and topped off his carts with squash.

When the wagon train left two days later, Mr. Chouteau was almost dancing because he was so giddy.

“Pratte is moving his trading post a few miles east of here hoping to get more business from the wagon trains before they reach us,” he chuckled.

“Won’t that hurt your business?” I asked, concerned.

“Naw, wagon trains are led by a former trapper or someone who knows the way and knows what to expect. Those men will know what we offer here and will bypass the new trading post. They’ve already started building it and it’s only a single, large wooden building. They won’t even have a place for a blacksmith shop,” he laughed.

Sunday July 14, 1844

The second group from the St. Joseph wagon train arrived today. This group had twenty-four wagons. Aside from extra horses, the only livestock they had were the oxen and mules pulling the wagons, and the horses they were riding.

Tuesday July 16, 1844

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