Escape From Lexington - Cover

Escape From Lexington

Copyright© 2024 by FantasyLover

Chapter 19

Sunday August 26, 1849

I doubt that I’d more than fallen asleep again when Wizzer woke me a second time. This time, there were only four men trying to sneak up on our camp. These men approached the camp the same way the first group had, through a shallow draw behind a low ridge that hid them from camp. This time, the two barrels of the first shotgun seemed to do the trick. Once again, I backtracked and found their horses and the man watching the horses.

“Don’t move,” I shouted at him, covering him with the second shotgun. He didn’t move at all, and I realized when I got closer that he couldn’t move. “He” was a Mexican woman tied tightly and gagged enough that I’m surprised she could breathe. Her horse was tied to a tree so she couldn’t escape. I cut her loose and left her with the horses while I checked on the men. Once again, the dogs had taken care of them for me.

I was surprised that the Mexican woman was still there when I returned to the horses. I had brought a vaquero along just in case she was still there. The men had killed her husband, taken over their claim, and kept her prisoner to cook and provide sex. “What are you going to do with me?” she asked nervously in Spanish.

I asked the vaquero to translate for me, “Tell her that she’s free to leave if she has someplace to go. If not, she may stay with us. We have plenty of work she can do. She can stay as long as she wants, or leave whenever she wants.” The woman sobbed and fell against him, relieved. Her name was Esmerelda.

After that, I was grateful that I was able to sleep, uninterrupted, for a couple hours before sunrise. The men in our group spread out in front of the wagons and to the sides as we watched for signs of an ambush. Without the two bulls, and with the wagons mostly empty, we were able to travel faster and made it home before supper.

The first new thing I noticed was the foundation for a lumber mill near where the men were digging the trench. At supper, my brother James showed us a sketch he made yesterday. He used several vantage points on both sides of the river to make the drawing and explained it. “We know that rivers shift course over the years. That time you and I made the raft and floated down the Kentucky River to the sawmill we saw where the river had changed course the previous winter, creating an oxbow. That’s obviously what happened here. From the looks of it, the river has changed course several times just in the area where we’re digging.

“I think we’ll continue to find gold in this same alluvial deposit all along the edge of this ridge. I have no idea if there are other old alluvial deposits with gold, but it would only make sense that there are. I doubt that the gold only washed downstream while the river flowed in this particular channel.

“I didn’t sketch the other areas, but along most of the north bank of the river there are places where the river changed course. It probably changed course along the south bank, too, but the areas on the south side are flat enough that it’s hard to tell. We may be mining deep alluvial deposits for years.

“Also, I spoke with the Miwoks. Last winter and this spring were the worst flooding they remember. As best I can determine, the flat area where we’re digging didn’t flood so we should be able to plant crops there and the three mills we want to build should be safe there. Once we get them built, we could even build a levee around the flat area and plant the levee with berry bushes,” he suggested.

Everyone had heard about our adventures in Sonora and last night. Now all we had to do was teach two Chinese women and a Mexican woman, as well as our vaqueros and wives to speak English. Even if Tara hadn’t already informed me that I was going back to see Señor Castro and his neighbors, I knew that I’d have to return to find more people fluent in both Spanish and English who were willing to join us. Tara wanted more chickens, as well as all the apples, pears, and any other fruit we could bring back.

Six of our former trappers were going out tomorrow with several of our women and a group of Miwok women and warriors to pick berries. Our men had Hawken rifles in case they came across any bears. They also had a shotgun and an 1839 carbine each. We learned that wolves weren’t a big problem here, but coyotes were.

Wednesday August 29, 1849

Señor Castro welcomed us again, happy to see us. The trip went a little faster this time since we had a better idea of where the pass was and were able to take a more direct route to it.

Honon, the Yokuts vaquero, took off as soon as we were across the San Joaquin River, promising to meet us where the trail started up into the mountains. He was headed for three Yokuts villages where he thought former vaqueros had returned when the mission didn’t need as many workers. Once he met back up with us, he said that four more former vaqueros had left to find our people, each taking his family with him.

Our trip across the San Joaquin River had been faster, although wetter. I took the raft across for when we returned. Everyone else rode their horse as the horses and mules swam across. Even the dogs swam across. While several dogs came with us, the smaller four of Wizzer’s original offspring had gone with the group picking berries. Unlike the original four dogs that I got from Samuel, Wizzer’s offspring became alert and defensive if they smelled anyone they didn’t know or anything besides one of our farm animals approaching.

Once I told Señor Castro what we wanted to buy, he sent messengers to the two neighboring rancheros letting them know I wanted to buy cattle, gilts, and hens. He could sell me all the fruit that my mules could carry. He was excited when he saw the sugar, coffee, and tobacco I brought to sell him, three things he bemoaned the lack of on our last trip. We had gotten the same complaint from the military governor. I also bought a number of spices and vegetables from him that the Mexican women in Sonora had asked for, but we didn’t have. Having no hope of remembering the Spanish name of each item, I had one of my vaqueros write the items down.

Having heard similar comments about the lack of coffee, sugar, and tobacco from people returning from Oregon, we had brought LOTS of the three items with us. Coffee and sugar were two of the things I wanted more of from St. Louis. Picks, shovels, gold pans, and India rubber cloth were the others. We didn’t bring extras of most of those items since I had thought that I was going to Oregon. What we did have extra of, we were using or selling.

Saturday September 1, 1849

Wow, what a crowd when we got back! The number of Miwok seems to have doubled since we left, and they seemed to be taking turns spearing fish in the river. Dad explained that there had been some violence against the Miwoks with white miners chasing Miwoks who were panning for gold off their claims. Worried that the violence would extend to their village, two villages moved onto our property after hearing about us from the village nearest to us.

It was a good thing that we returned with seven more Yokuts vaqueros who spoke Spanish, English, Yokuts, and Miwok. Now, in addition to watching our one thousand new head of cattle, they could help us translate.

The berry gatherers had been wildly successful. Aside from gathering enough berries that they could share with the two Miwok villages that just arrived, our men killed two black bears at the berry patches, making it safer for us to gather berries in the future.

Aside from fruit they took to sell in Sonora today, the remainder of the fruit we brought back from our first trip to Monterey was dry or drying. The Mormons, who were building a town across the river, were also busy as I could see numerous felled trees that had been dragged to the area. The Mormon miners were hard at it, having extended the trench to nearly fifty feet long. A framework of split rails sat across the top of the trench, with canvas setting over it to provide shade to keep the brutal summer sun off the men working in the trench.

I was glad that the rancheros had accepted small gold nuggets for the cattle and other things I just bought. I hoped to hang on to as much of our supply of coins as I could. The ranchers only valued the gold at fourteen dollars an ounce, but I didn’t want to change our pricing system for the goods we sold in Sonora.

I noticed that our production of gold was increasing as the new section of trench reached deeper. More men were now digging out the gold-bearing sand and rocks. At the end of each day, the gold mined that day was weighed and divided. We got half and the Mormons got half. We agreed not to dig for gold on Sunday. It gave everyone a much-needed day of rest.

Sunday September 2, 1849

The people who went to Sonora got home late this afternoon. Tara was excited about the trip, exclaiming, “We need to set up the two mill wheels as soon as possible. At this rate, we’ll be out of flour and corn meal in four or five weeks. We could have sold even more than we took. Four guys got into a bidding war for the four bulls, and we got eighty dollars for each one. We even got twice what you got last week for the whiskey we sold.

“Isum and Jimmey were just as busy this week as last, and we sold out of everything shortly after noon, even though we took three wagons this time. The apples and pears were a huge hit, and we only had to deal with one group of seven bandits last night. They seem to like sneaking up on our camp in that same draw so we can’t see them from camp,” she chuckled.

Saturday September 8, 1849

The week has been a busy one. We finished a rough barn for our fledgling dairy herd, complete with six milking stalls with room to build ten more. Our vaqueros have separated the cows and bulls into different pastures, leaving a handful of the best-looking bulls in with the cows. Near the barn we’ve begun digging a deep root cellar, hoping to keep milk and eventually cheese cooler. I definitely miss the cold lower level of our cave. The two mill wheels are almost ready to use. We finished building the stone and mortar bases yesterday. We had made the necessary wooden parts for the rest of the enclosures and to operate the wheels before we left Fort Laramie.

Several wagons have the covers off and the bed of the wagons hold dozens of wood trays with apple and pear slices we’re drying. The trays are covered with the cloth we use when making cheese to keep flies off them. A number of women turn them during the day. Each day, the women empty a third of the trays and refill them with more apple or pear slices.

We reached the marketplace in Sonora shortly after 8:00 this morning to find a crowd already waiting for us. We brought ten bulls this time and they sold while the women were still setting up the tables. Isum and Jimmey also had a line of men waiting, many looking dejectedly at their damaged or broken tools. We felt that we brought enough tools from Fort Laramie for what we needed, so we brought the tools we collected from the dead want-to-be bandits. Isum would offer to sell a replacement to a man if he couldn’t repair their tool.

The twelve barrels of booze sold almost as quickly as the bulls, and for a lot more money. The same man who bought the first barrels was the high bidder and seemed quite pleased with the deal, even though he paid triple what he originally paid.

I heard the trouble, people protesting about being shoved out of line, before the man stepped in front of our tables, pistol leveled at me. “I represent a citizen’s group that’s tired of you coming here and gouging us out of our hard-earned gold,” he growled. I noticed that everyone else in line except his five henchmen took cover. The men we had stationed around the marketplace had their own guns out and leveled at the six men. I saw Isum and Jimmey grab their guns, but the men waiting in line for Isum and Jimmey to help them drew guns and moved behind the six men instead.

“Lower the gun, Bob,” one of the men ordered as he pressed the barrel of his revolver against the back of Bob’s head. I saw that other men from the line waiting for Isum or Jimmey had the other five men covered.

Bob tried to spin around, and I got splattered with his blood and brain matter. The other five men were quickly tied up and an impromptu trial was held. By noon, their lifeless bodies hung from the branches of a sturdy oak tree in the center of the marketplace.

“The only person he represented was his own selfish self,” the man who shot Bob told me after the trial. “Everyone for twenty miles around knows that you bring much needed food to sell every Saturday and your two Negroes repair our tools and shoe our neglected horses and mules. I hope this doesn’t keep you away,” he said. He introduced himself as Jacob and asked if we might sell some of the beef in smaller portions so more people could afford it.

“We’ll be back next Saturday. Let people know that we’ll butcher a bull and sell much smaller portions,” I promised. During the speedy trial, the women had finished selling the rest of what we brought with us. We had to wash the blood off one table and throw away the samples before we continued, but we managed. Tara made sure that I was as clean as she could get me. Someone even brought the bandits’ six horses and gear over to us while the five convicted owners were still twitching at the ends of the ropes. Our women were gossiping with several local women when the trial concluded, three knots of women chattering excitedly in three different languages.

Isum and Jimmey told me that the local men had asked them to keep working, promising to take care of Bob and his cohorts.

Surprisingly, we didn’t have any unwelcome visitors that night, despite the huge amount of money that we had earned.

Monday October 1, 1849

Two days after returning from my second trip to Sonora, we had a surprise visitor, Señor Francisco Rico, business partner of Señor José Castro, which was an even bigger surprise to me. The two men owned the Rancho Del Rio Estanislao. The Rancho Thompson abutted our property on the east and was sandwiched between us and the Rancho Del Rio Estanislao on their east.

Rancho Del Rio Estanislao

Señor Rico had been in the marketplace Saturday when Bad Attitude Bob met his demise. Señor Rico’s wife had bought sugar and coffee from us each of the last three Saturdays and gossiped with the three Spanish-speaking women. She learned from Esmerelda how I had rescued her, gave her work and a place to stay, and that nobody had required her to have sex with them.

He offered to sell me Rancho Del Rio Estanislao. He and Señor Castro were both worried about the escalating violence in the area between American miners and Mexicans and Californios. In addition, they had more and more trouble keeping their vaqueros as they ran off to strike it rich in the gold fields. Evidently, we had more vaqueros now than he did and his property was twice the size of ours.

I almost fell off my horse when he quoted me a price of $90,000 for 99 square miles of land, including everything on the rancho. It included 8,000 head of cattle, 2,000 sheep, pigs, chickens, and an orchard with 200 apple, 200 pear, and 200 peach trees, as well as ten acres of grapes, and the almost ready to harvest crops of wheat, barley, and corn. He assured me that gold nuggets and gold dust were an acceptable form of payment.

He suggested that we both go talk to Mr. Thompson who was also nervous about the violence. While he was American, his wife was Mexican, the daughter of a former governor of Alta California. His fifty-some workers were all Chinese. “They all speak English and Spanish as well as Chinese,” he assured me when he saw the look of concern on my face.

Two hours later, I met Alpheus Basil Thompson, owner of Rancho Thompson. The rancho was about three-quarters the size of Rancho Del Rio Estanislao. It didn’t have sheep, but it had 5,000 head of cattle. They also had two hundred acres each of corn and wheat, anticipating selling most of it to the miners. They had the same size orchards as the other rancho, eight acres of grapes, four acres of berries, and a small, but operational, sawmill. They cut most of their lumber during the winter when the river ran higher and faster, and during the spring runoff after they had their crops planted.

Since we weighed and split the gold we recovered every day and Tara kept a running tally, I knew that we had enough to buy both properties. It would cut deeply into what I had available to send back with the Mormons, but I felt it would be worth it in the long run.

The agreements necessitated another trip to Monterey to register the sales. First, however, our surveyor had to complete a survey of the two properties since the land deeds were rather vague about the boundaries. By the time he finished his survey, both families had finished packing the things they intended to take. They took their belongings to Stockton and shipped them, and themselves, first to San Francisco and then to Monterey.

The two men met us at our place, and we set out for Monterey the following day with a short train of pack mules. Wei and Jia had spoken with the Chinese workers at Thompson’s Ranchero, reassuring them that they would be treated well. I learned that Captain Thompson had been the captain of a ship trading between San Francisco and China. That was why he had so many Chinese workers. They had been desperate to escape the hunger and warfare in China and made a cheap crew until he retired.

Esmerelda and two of our Yokuts vaqueros had gone to Rancho Del Rio Estanislao and reassured the workers who were still there.

We reached Monterey with no incident except Señor Castro laughing at me because I hadn’t known he was a neighbor. By the time I made my first return trip there for the cattle and fruit, he already knew a lot about me.

Governor Riley was happy to see me again. Evidently, he was an occasional visitor to the Castro home and had heard about me from Señor Castro. He even heard that they intended to offer to sell me the two ranchos neighboring mine. Once the deeds were transferred, I changed the name to Ranchero Uzumati. I’d mentally debated the new name for days. I didn’t want to use Clark’s Rancho because it sounded too presumptuous. I decided against Rancho Strong Hand because Strong Hand was a Fort Laramie identity.

One of the Miwok chiefs had suggested Ranchero Uzumati. I was surprised to learn how much information flowed back and forth between people who spoke so many different languages. They were aware that I’d killed four grizzly bears and felt it was fitting to name this Ranchero Grizzly Bear. Uzumati was Miwok for grizzly bear.

Governor Riley was even happier when I sold him some of our coffee and sugar. He was tired of the coffee substitute made from burned wheat kernels. He asked if I was interested in becoming part of the new state government. We’d all heard that he intended to turn the government over to civilians by the end of the year. I had no intentions of being part of the government, but Dad was interested.

Thursday November 1, 1849

Another eventful month has passed. Mom and Dad were in Monterey for a week just as the new Constitution was finalized and signed on October 13. They immediately returned here, and Dad started campaigning. The first place he campaigned was in Sonora. Everyone working at our wagons made sure to let our customers know that it was my dad campaigning and that we supported him.

We now take six wagons to Sonora every Saturday, along with twenty bulls. Six of the bulls are butchered in a makeshift cover like the Indian women used at Fort Laramie except this one has canvas instead of buffalo hides for the top and sides.

Four Indian women work inside butchering the bulls and selling cuts of beef. We sell beef for a dollar a pound, a seemingly damn cheap price to the miners. That helps appease the men who buy the bull live and butcher it themselves. At first, some of the miners balked about buying beef butchered by Indians.

“No problem, please step aside so someone else can buy what they want,” I told the complainers. Most bought the beef anyway, albeit grudgingly.

With our two millstones operating, we grind flour and corn meal six days a week. In deference to the Mormons, as well as to the numerous Catholic converts who work for us, we do as little work as possible on Sunday, mainly caring for our livestock.

We’re still stingy with sales of coffee and sugar, but have more tobacco to sell now thanks to the efforts of the women who started it growing in flats while we were still on the trail. Our tobacco drying sheds were finished two days before we picked the first of the lower leaves. We also have enough butter to sell some now, and the former Rancho Del Rio Estanislao bakes bread on Thursday for the women to sell in Sonora.

We also build and sell two to four rocker boxes and long toms every week, now using six here to run the sand from our trench through instead of having the women pan it in barrels and tubs if water like we originally did.

We sell an occasional parfleche bag of pemmican that we brought as an emergency food source, just in case. Dried fruit sells well, as does the last of the whiskey. All we have left now is one barrel of whiskey and five barrels of moonshine. We use moonshine for our alcohol lamps. The last barrel of aged whiskey is reserved for celebrations.

Isum and Jimmey have two more men working with them, two Yokuts Indian men who learned blacksmithing while working at the mission but who returned to their village when the mission was secularized and lost most of its land. Each of the natives received twenty-eight acres from the mission, but most had no use for it.

The ranchos raise cattle for the hides and the tallow, selling both to ships sailing to ports in South America where they made candles with the tallow. The hides continued on to the east coast. We inherited a lot of tallow from the two ranchos. Some of the women at the ranchos wanted to make candles and soap with it instead of selling the barrels of it to the ships that sailed up and down the coast buying them.

Hence, we made tallow candles and soap. I had to buy cotton, which they used to make wicks for the candles. They rigged fifteen wicks on a board and dipped them into the melted tallow, pulled them out and hung them off to the side to cool, and repeated the process for each of the forty boards they had filled with wicks. Then they started over with the first board, dipping the wicks repeatedly until they deemed the candles thick enough. Now we sell soap and candles in Sonora, and sell out of both every Saturday.

Half of the Mormon prospectors left for Great Salt Lake City two weeks ago. Like I suggested, they took ten of our wagons and filled them with dry grass. Despite what I spent buying the two ranchos, I sent a thousand pounds of gold back with them and still have plenty of gold left, thanks to our weekly trip to Sonora. The Mormons had just over three thousand pounds of gold. That should net them over $600,000, depending on how much they get per ounce for nuggets and gold dust.

Of the four men elected as State Senators from the San Joaquin District on November 13, Dad got the most votes. The new constitution was approved overwhelmingly.

The only drawback to the election was that Peter H. Burnett was elected governor. As a former governor in Oregon, he had the experience. Unfortunately, he was instrumental in getting a law passed there that made it illegal for Negroes to live in Oregon, something I hadn’t known when we set out for Oregon. It seems that we were destined to end up in California after all.

Tuesday January 1, 1850

I am in a reflective mood this morning, looking out of our kitchen window at the view of the Stanislaus River south of us. Heavy rains this last week have caused the water level to rise, but nothing dangerous. I can remember this same day six years ago as I reflected on our first summer at Fort Laramie and at everything we had accomplished there in just over half a year. I have stopped on this day each year since then to reflect on what we accomplished or didn’t accomplish, and to give a prayer of thanks for each opportunity that we’ve been provided during that year.

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