Escape From Lexington - Cover

Escape From Lexington

Copyright© 2024 by FantasyLover

Chapter 20

On our next trip to San Francisco, we stopped in the new state capital of San Jose so I could buy additional land. I bought everything between the Stanislaus River and the Tuolumne River up to five more miles east of our eastern property line, which was the old property line of the Rico place. The land was all foothills and lay between our current property and the area where miners were still busy seeking their fortunes. Given what we’ve found along the Stanislaus River, I made sure to include a one-mile strip of land south of the Tuolumne River, so we owned both shores.

I wasn’t sure that we’d ever look for gold along the Tuolumne River but wanted the option. I also didn’t want other miners working the river and causing us problems or harassing the Indians. The new land encompassed even more of the area where the Miwok Indians had villages and still didn’t include any known locations for mining, at least that I was willing to tell anyone about.

I also added another section west of our present boundary, making sure we included both banks of the Stanislaus River. We didn’t really need the land right now, but I wanted to buy it while we still could. I was betting that the new bigot, I mean Governor, would eventually pull some sort of shenanigan--political or otherwise--to keep me from buying more land.

In addition to everything else we were building and doing, I started a group of men building fortifications around our main location. I had them build the fortifications about half a mile north, east, and west of our main compound. Several small hills on our property were leveled and the dirt used to make a long mound. Atop the mound, they put two logs, side-by-side. Short pieces of split rail fence were laid across those two logs and a third log was placed atop that. It left a narrow gap for our men to fire through, a gap that would be difficult for an enemy to hit.

We built placements for our cannons, which were stored inside a barn and cleaned twice a week. To the best of my knowledge, nobody outside of the people living here on the ranchero knew that we had the cannons. Two of our Mexican workers knew how to use them and have trained enough other men that we can use them if necessary.

Wednesday January 1, 1851

Another year has come and gone. While I’m still reflective today, I’m more apprehensive than contemplative.

CALIFORNIA IS OFFICIALLY A STATE! We were admitted to the Union on September 9, 1850 as the 31st state. The news made it here surprisingly swiftly, arriving via the steamship SS Oregon as it steamed into San Francisco Bay on October 18. A banner tied in the rigging read, “California Is Now A State.” The news didn’t reach our ranchero from San Francisco until the 26th.

The first group of Mormon men who left last winter returned triumphant on August 5. Their church was ecstatic about how much gold they had returned with. Using the gold I sent along, they managed to buy everything on my list and still had a large cache of gold and silver coins for me. I was excited to get the cargo I had ordered, especially the pumps we needed for the windmills. I had thought the twenty pumps I bought on our last trip to St. Louis were at least ten more than we’d need, expecting to sell any extras to people in Oregon.

Our huge harvest is complete except for the cold weather crops like beets, cabbage, and broccoli. We planted them late last summer and had fresh vegetables most of last winter, so we did the same thing this year. We have four times as much tobacco in curing sheds here as we ever had at Fort Laramie. The soil is amazingly fertile, and everything grows bigger and produces more than it did in either Kentucky or Fort Laramie.

I made another of my forays into San Francisco two weeks ago. There were no cannons, but I intercepted another shipment of twenty cases of M1843 carbines and twenty cases of double barrel shotguns. When I said something to the ship’s captain, he grinned and commented that I might not want to let the new Governor catch me with the weapons.

I also found forty of the cast iron stoves that I’d had a difficult time finding. Before this, I’d only managed to find a total of thirty, always a few at a time. The same ship had a huge cargo of cast iron pipe. I bought everything, even knowing it would take our wagons several trips between Stockton and the Ranchero to get it all there. We’d have to store the excess in a warehouse in Stockton in the meantime.

I knew that the barrels of honey and molasses I bought would make people happy, and they did. Despite increasing the number of beehives we had each year while we were in Fort Laramie, we only brought half of them with us. Once here, I bought beehives from most of the ranchos I visited. I still have plenty of the geraniol because I stocked up on it during the last two trips I made to Lexington. That meant we’ve been able to convince most of the hives that swarm to move into an empty hive next to their old one. With as much honey and molasses as I was able to buy, we used some of the huge stockpile of clay jugs we had available for Dad’s moonshine. We filled two hundred with honey and two hundred with molasses and took fifty of each to Sonora every week for four weeks. A gallon of honey or molasses can go for up to ten dollars in Sonora. A barrel would be prohibitively expensive for individuals or even small groups.

I was surprised that none of the Spanish ranchos tried to sell goods in the mining district like we did. When I asked him, Señor Castro explained that most Californios were formerly Mexicans. With the rising violence directed at foreigners, they were worried about being accosted as they traveled to mining communities to sell their goods and then tried to return home with the money they made. Instead, they were happy to sell their extra goods to us, especially since we went to them, paid in gold, and paid a little more than they used to charge. They were making more money now than they had made before, so they were happy.

We bought a small cabin just outside of Sonora from a miner who’d had enough of trying to strike it rich and decided it was time to return to his family in Virginia. Twenty of the Miwok and Yokuts Indians who are proficient with both a bow and a rifle ride with our group each week, scouting ahead and riding drag to make sure nobody surprises our wagons. Several of them stand guard each night, aided by the mules and by Wizzer’s progeny. While our wagons are in town, the Miwok and Yokuts warriors wait at the cabin. That way, people don’t get upset about “Indians” carrying rifles, and would-be bandits don’t know they’re with our group for security. We don’t usually have any trouble, but about once a month a new group who just moved into the area and doesn’t know us well tries their luck at robbing us. It’s hilarious that every group tries to sneak up on our camp at night through the same draw.

I know that some of the extra horses and saddles that turn up are compliments of the bandits they catch once a month, but that number doesn’t come close to explaining the numbers of extra horses and saddles we have, and nobody claims to know how they got there.

Saturday March 22, 1851

One of the Miwok galloped past our house today. He was riding so fast that he didn’t even wave to anyone. About fifteen minutes later, well over fifty Miwok and Yokuts warriors, each armed with a rifle, shotgun, revolver, and even their bow, rode back the way he had come from. I noted that the same man who rode in was leading the group, but was riding a different horse.

Chief Hesutu, the Chief nominally in charge of the Miwoks on our property, explained the next afternoon that the warrior who rode in was a scout. He reported over two hundred white men riding to the south. Those men were a militia sent to fight the Ah-wah-nee’-chee and Chowchilla tribes in revenge for their attack against a trading post in the Yosemite area. That attack had been to protest previous attacks against Indian villages.

“None of the militia men survived to report back that they failed,” he replied solemnly.

“They will send more men next time,” I warned.

“Our scouts have already warned all Miwok villages in this area. Others rode south to warn the Ah-wah-nee’-chee and Chowchilla. We sent men with extra horses and mules to help the Miwok villages move here. White miners are saying that some of our people have stolen cattle from white settlers.

“It wasn’t the Miwok stealing the cattle,” he added several seconds later. “Our warriors tracked the men who stole the cattle. It was a group of white miners. The warriors tracking them made sure the white miners won’t steal any more cattle.”

I guess that was about as close to an admission that they were being vigilantes as I’d get.

Friday, April 11, 1851

Our Indian scouts, now a combination of seven different Indian nations, rode up to the house today surrounding a group of twenty very nervous white men. “We insist that you turn over the savages who slaughtered the militia group we sent to deal with the vicious Ah-wah-nee’-chee and Chowchillas,” the leader of the group said to me angrily.

“First,” I replied caustically, “the Ah-wah-nee’-chee and Chowchilla are no more vicious than the men who raided Ah-wah-nee’-chee and Chowchilla villages, killing men, women, and children. If this militia group planned to deal with the Ah-wah-nee’-chee and Chowchilla the same way your other militia groups have dealt with other Indian villages, none of the men, women, or children would have survived. Who’s the savage?” I asked sarcastically.

“Second, how do you know that any of the Indians living here did anything to your militia group, or that it even was Indians? Even if it was Indians that attacked your militia, can any of those militia men identify their attackers? What makes you think it was Indians that live here?” I asked rhetorically.

“You have no proof of anything. You’re just hoping to murder more Indians, and the fact that there are so many living safely on my property infuriates you. I insist that you leave now and strongly suggest that you not return. If you return, you might just personally find out that the Indians here are much more efficient at defending themselves than the ones you accuse of attacking your militia,” I growled.

“Fine,” he huffed, “but we’ll be back with more men,” he warned as he wheeled his horse around and rode off, his men quickly following suit.

With his warning in mind, we redoubled our efforts at building up our defenses. We even added several nasty surprises for riders coming from the west and north. From the south, they would have to cross the Stanislaus River, one currently swollen with winter rains. The elevated ground leading up from the river would be difficult terrain for mounted riders to navigate.

To the east, we had dense woods that made a mounted attack all but impossible. Still, we built defensive works there, including adding fence rails high enough that horses couldn’t jump them. We improved our defenses by adding rows of sharpened pikes along the base of the earthen breastworks, the tips pointed outward to repel an attack by either infantry or mounted riders.

Several months ago, we found a huge limestone cave on the Thompson place, one nearly as large as our cave near Fort Laramie had been. We’ve filled in most of the opening with a thick wall of rock and mortar, covering it with adobe to help hide it. The door is a double door, wide enough for one of our new two-wheeled carts to enter. The new carts are the width of the Spanish-style oxcarts but are longer and much lighter. They used spoked wagon wheels instead of solid wood wheels.

For now, the cave was too far away from where our people lived to safely use it to store Dad’s whiskey while it aged. Eventually, I was sure we’d have enough people in the area to secure the cave. For now, it has become a minor fortress where the women and children will hide if we are threatened. There is a stream flowing inside the cave to provide water. We’ve stockpiled alcohol lamps and enough alcohol and wicks to keep them burning for six months. We installed the old mule-operated grinding mills for flour and corn, and stockpiled enough grain and dried and bottled food to feed a thousand people for six months. We also stockpiled coal and firewood, as well as lumber, tools, nails, canvas, and many other things they might need.

I’ve filled saddlebags for each of my wives with $5,000 in gold coins, and another $5,000 worth of gold nuggets. The saddlebags hang in a narrow, hidden space behind a fake wall in our bedroom. If necessary, any one of those saddlebags will provide for my extended family for quite a while.

Friday May 2, 1851

Mom and Dad rode in today from San Jose. Dad was grim-faced and had several other men and their families with him. “The Governor issued a call to raise a militia group to come here. He’s called for at least five hundred men. They’ll probably have the men within a week, at most,” Dad warned.

I sent messengers to find the seven men who were leaders of our military groups. Chief Hesutu was the primary one, with Chief Wis-cha a close second as nominal head of the Yokuts (and Chowchilla, who were part of the Yokuts nation) on the ranchero. Chief Teneiya of the Ah-wah-nee’-chee, Chiefs Salvador and Marcos of the Salinan and Costanoan tribes, and Chief Lewanu of the Nisenan tribe were the others. Walter spoke English, Spanish, and Chinese and was in charge of those men. Eduardo commanded our cannon corps.

I explained what Dad had told me and warned that the militia would probably attack in the next week or two. Yokuts scouts were sent to watch the Pacheco Pass, as well as the road from Stockton to Sonora. That road cut through the northeast part of our property on what used to be the Rancho Del Rio Estanislao. Miwok scouts watched the southern and eastern approaches to our ranchero. Costanoan scouts headed out to watch Livermore’s Pass. My guess was that the militia would ride through Livermore’s Pass since that was the most direct route from the state capital of San Jose.

Wednesday May 14, 1851

Costanoan scouts reported this afternoon that 573 men rode out of Livermore’s Pass this morning. Well after dinner, another scout reported that the militia had made camp on the far side of the San Joaquin River, half a day’s ride from here. It was much later before we got to sleep tonight. We sent messengers to everyone on the ranchero to let them know the women and children needed to be ready to leave for the cave at a moment’s notice.

Our scouts should give us at least two hours warning. That was plenty of time for the small carts we had set up for the women and children to reach the cave and get safely inside.

Friday May 16, 1851

For two days, the militia men have been camped in the same place. We debated what their intentions were, hoping to figure out what they were doing. Were they waiting for more men? Were they hoping we’d get tired of waiting and come out of our defensive positions to attack them? I worried that they were trying to hold our attention while another group snuck in from the north, south, or east.

One of our veterans of the Mexican War suggested that they might have sent recruiters into the mining areas to enlist more men. This group was waiting for a pre-determined day to attack to give those men time to recruit enough men and then get into position. We decided to skip the weekly trip into Sonora on the off chance they were waiting to ambush our people.

Still, two of our Mexicans rode into Sonora with a large contingent of Miwoks scouting for any sign of an ambush. They asked people we knew if they had heard anything. They hadn’t heard anything, but commented that recruiting men for a militia where we knew a lot of people and had a lot of friends wouldn’t be a smart thing to do.

Monday May 19, 1851

Just as we were finishing breakfast, I heard the ram’s horn and almost threw up. As it was, I had to spend nearly a minute collecting myself and saying a fast prayer before I stood from the table.

“Go,” I told Tara who looked at me, worried. “Don’t even look back unless you hear the horn signaling that it’s safe. Just get inside the cave as fast as you can.”

I kissed each of my wives and gave them a gentle push towards the kids. “I love you kids,” I managed to say after kissing and hugging the last one. Even those four words had been difficult to say due to the tight constriction in my throat.

We’d debated the pros and cons of everything for the last month, multiple times. It all boiled down to the fact that this was something I HAD to do, just like helping seven escaping slaves was something I had to do. If I ran, I’d consider myself less of a man for the rest of my life. Some things had to be stopped. I considered the proposed wholesale slaughter of men, women, and children just because they were Indian or Chinese to be something that had to be stopped.

Like I explained to the Mormons, it wouldn’t stop there. Emboldened, the haters would target all foreigners, then Negroes, and then Californios. After that, it could well be Mormons, and then Catholics. Where would it end? Would it end? Would there be anyone left alive in California to reap the blood-tainted harvest of gold?

The horns were meant to give us at least a two-hour warning when, not if, the attackers began moving towards us. Now the remaining questions were which way were they coming from, how many attackers were there, and which side would survive to provide the narrative of the battle?

Dad came inside, the grim, determined look on his face probably mirrored the look on mine. He re-opened the door and I followed him outside, checking the lookout in the tower. He was pointing almost due west. “Keep a sharp eye out in the other directions so they don’t flank us or sneak up behind us,” I reminded the sentry. I doubt that he was even twelve years old. His horse was tied to the base of the tower so he could light a shuck out of here if need be. He was the unlucky “volunteer” lookout simply because he was able to blow the ram’s horn and wasn’t old enough to be involved in the battle.

I felt naked going into battle with only an M1843 carbine and my revolvers, but the Kentucky long rifle, shotgun, revolving carbine, and Hawken rifles would each arm another man on our side. Word of our defiance of the state law making it almost mandatory to kill any Indians you came across brought us a lot of support from the Mexicans, Californios, and Chinese, since they had all experienced the increasing violence directed at anyone who wasn’t an “American.” Many of the local Indian tribes had flocked here for whatever safety could be found in numbers. The Yokuts and Miwok I understood since they lived nearby and knew us.

When tribes I’d never heard of started showing up, I was surprised that they knew about us. We even had fifty Paiute warriors show up from the east side of the Sierras. I learned that many of them had learned about us from their tribal members who had worked in the gold fields and had returned to their villages when the violence escalated.

After the militia tried to attack the Ah-wah-nee’-chee and Chowchilla in the Yosemite area, those villages had moved here.

Fortunately, most of the men who worked in the gold fields already had a rifle and spoke at least some English. With all the rifles and shotguns I had bought in San Francisco, the rifles and shotguns we brought with us, what Striking Eagle had sent, and what the men who arrived to help brought, we had well over four thousand weapons.

We had at least that many men competent with rifles. Between the people who came with us from Fort Laramie, the warriors from the various tribes represented here, the Chinese, Mexicans, Negroes, and Californios who were competent enough to use the rifles, we easily had more than four thousand men. The best marksmen each had one of the M1843 carbines. If the attackers were far enough away when the shooting started, those with the M1843 carbines were to aim for the lead riders and anyone who looked to be in charge.

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