Escape From Lexington - Cover

Escape From Lexington

Copyright© 2024 by FantasyLover

Chapter 1

Saturday Feb 18, 1843

I struggled with all my strength, trying to free my wrists from the rope binding them behind me. Unfortunately, Jim Tyler knew how to tie a knot. Lying on the ground where I had fallen unconscious when Jim kicked me in the head, I felt a rock with a sharp edge and quickly began rubbing the rope across the sharp edge in hopes of weakening it enough that I could pull free. I was also rubbing the skin off a spot on my wrist, but I could live with that.

“You jest wait right here while me and my brother have a little fun with your sister,” Jim said flippantly. I got lucky when he walked nonchalantly towards where his brother held my sister Wanda. He walked close enough to me that I could reach him. As angry as I was, I kicked when he wasn’t looking. Putting all my anger into the kick, the heel of my boot caught the side of his knee, about the only place I could reach. Jim screamed in pain a split second after the sickening crunch from his knee.

Frank was holding Wanda’s hands behind her back. He’d already gagged her with his bandana and a handful of dry grass. Frank tried to shift so he could hold both of Wanda’s wrists with one hand so he could grope her, but was momentarily distracted by his brother’s scream.

That distraction allowed Wanda to pull away. When Frank grabbed for her again, Wanda raked his arm with her fingernails, drawing blood.

“You’re in for it now, bitch,” Frank spat as he lunged for her again. I managed to wiggle my way around to a different angle and landed the heel of my boot against the side of Jim’s head. Then I wriggled closer trying to reach the sheathed knife he carried.

With three older brothers, my sister knows how to fight. She saw through Frank’s fake attempt to grab her and countered his second attempt by raking his left arm with her nails, drawing blood for a second time. When Frank glanced at the arm, she kicked him between the legs, dropping him like a road apple from a horse’s behind.

While Frank writhed in pain and groaned, Wanda grabbed his unconscious brother’s Colt Paterson revolver, cocked the hammer, and aimed it at Frank.

“Lose the hardware,” Wanda growled, motioning to Frank’s holster that held a revolver identical to the one she now held. Frank must be one of the few people in the area who doesn’t know that Wanda is a decent shot with either her rifle or a revolver. When he went for his own revolver, despite the pain he was in, Wanda pulled the trigger, hitting him squarely in the middle of the chest.

With a stunned look on his face, Frank stopped trying to draw his revolver and glanced briefly down at the blossoming red spot on his shirt. Then, his head dropped to the ground where he lay, motionless.

“The women in the county will breathe easier tonight,” Wanda said smugly. She grabbed Frank’s revolver and the knife on his belt. While she covered a still-unconscious Jim with his brother’s revolver, she cut the rope around my wrists with the knife in her other hand.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t get free,” I apologized.

“You took care of Jim. That let me get free of Frank,” she replied. “Besides, you couldn’t have known he was gonna ride up and kick you in the head.”

“Give me that,” I said insistently to Wanda, pointing to the revolver. “I shot him, understood?” I asked her.

Wanda’s eyes widened when she realized the enormity of what had just happened.

“Oh, God, Lewis, what are we going to do?” she sobbed, grabbing me and holding me like a drowning person grabs anything that floats.

“We’re going to go home and tell Dad what happened, but we’ll tell him that I shot Frank. That way, their old man will come looking for me. I’ll have to leave town today and hope I can evade Mr. Tyler,” I replied. “You and Dad will have to go see the constable tomorrow and tell him my version of what happened. That should give me a one-day head start.”

Everyone in the county and probably most of the neighboring counties knows about Mr. Tyler’s temper. He doesn’t get mad; he gets even. He negotiates with his fists or his guns. His temper was so bad when he was younger that nobody in the county would allow him to court their daughter. He had to go to Virginia to find a wife and she disappeared shortly after Frank was born. In the last few years, two men that Mr. Tyler had an argument with have disappeared. The Sheriff says he can’t prove that Mr. Tyler had anything to do with their disappearances. I’d still bet that a local jury would convict him.

“What about Tara?” Wanda asked, knowing that I had just turned sixteen and we had planned to get married after spring planting this year.

“I can’t take her with me, it’s too dangerous,” I replied as my heart broke. I loved Tara with all my heart and doubted that I’d ever find anyone else like her. I might find a woman to marry, but I doubted that I’d love her as much as I loved Tara.

“What about Jim?” Wanda asked.

“Good question,” I replied. I kicked him onto his back while he was still out cold and gave him a matching red stain on the front of his shirt. The two brothers were widely rumored to have raped several of the young women in the county, as well as a few married women. I couldn’t remember if Jim was unconscious yet when Wanda shot Frank. If I had let him live, Jim might tell his Dad that it was Wanda who shot Frank, not me, especially since I’d been tied up.

We gathered the Tyler brothers’ belongings. I dug through their pockets, hardly surprised to find that both boys had a pocketful of gold eagles, half eagles, and quarter eagles. “Must be nice having the richest Dad in the county,” I said enviously, mentally adding, “For all the good it does you now.”

“Sweet!” I gasped when I got a good look at their horses. Both saddles had dual rifle scabbards tied to them with a new Hawken rifle and one of the new-fangled Colt Model 1839 carbines with a six-round cylinder, one more round than the Colt Paterson revolver.

“Frank said they were heading over to the Conner place when they finished with me,” Wanda said, shuddering. “He said they was gonna buy his stud horse and his ten best mares.”

“No way Mr. Conner would sell his stud. He makes more than $500 a year on stud fees alone. Selling off his best mares as well would leave him with nothing but a bunch of geldings and average mares. He might as well buy a donkey and raise mules,” I commented.

“The way Frank said it, I don’t think they was gonna give him a choice. That’s why they had all the weapons,” Wanda explained. Even though it meant I had to leave and never return home, if I survived, the county would definitely be a better place without the Tyler brothers.

“They definitely weren’t going to offer Mr. Conner much. It looks like there’s only $1000 or so in their saddlebags,” I said after a quick estimate of the gold coins I found. I’ll admit that a thousand dollars was a hell of a lot of money, several years’ wages in fact, but it wasn’t even enough for the one stud as good as Mr. Connor’s, let alone an additional ten good mares. Leaving the two bodies where they lay, Wanda rode the horse that we had been sharing on our now aborted trip to the salt lick and I rode Frank’s horse, Dusty, trailing Jim’s horse Blaze behind me. I knew the names of their horses, as did nearly everyone in the area after listening to the two boys constantly bragging. I don’t know why they were so adamant about buying Mr. Conner’s horses since these two were damn near as good as Mr. Conner’s stud horse.

The big reason Mr. Connor’s stud was more popular was that people liked and trusted him.

Half an hour later, we rode into the barn at home. Dad looked up and did a double take.

“Ask Wanda. I gotta pack my things,” I said waving off the question on the tip of his tongue when he looked at me enquiringly. Gratefully, I had originally planned to hunt today. Instead, Ma asked me at dinner last night to go to the salt lick today. I guess several families in the area, including ours, were running low on salt. Since I had planned to hunt today, everything I usually took was already clean and packed. Twenty minutes after arriving home, Ma gave me a final, tearful, hug and kiss and told me to stay safe. Dad just shook his head.

“You did what you had to do back there. Don’t ever regret doing it,” he said solemnly before hugging me. I had to blink several times to keep the excess moisture in my eyes from escaping.

“Take Wizzer,” he added as an afterthought. Wizzer was a stray dog I had befriended two years ago. The damn dog was now nearly the size of a small pony. The farm wouldn’t miss him much because he’s sired at least four litters of pups in that time--that I know of. Half of each litter looks similar to Wizzer. The other half looks like overgrown replicas of the bitch with a little larger head and bigger jaw.

“I packed some things on Warren (one of our mules, and the best one to use as a pack mule when hunting) including a few tools and the gear you had ready to take hunting. I packed two full powder horns and extra lead as well as a bag of possibles for your rifle and one for your revolver. You’ll need to buy bullet molds for the new rifles. I packed your furs on Nellie,” Dad insisted.

“I can use Blaze as a packhorse,” I protested.

“Nonsense, you’ll need to switch horses during the day so you can make better time. Besides, your fur money is still in the bank for when you get married. I can’t get it until Monday, two days from now. There’s more than enough to replace the mules, and you know neither of these two are gun shy or blood shy.”

“Write to Uncle Hank in Cincinnati and let us know where you end up,” Wanda pleaded tearfully. She hugged me one last time before releasing me, tears now streaming down her cheeks.

“And make sure you stop by to tell Tara or she’ll hunt you down herself,” Wanda reminded me, not that I needed reminding. Tara was headstrong and a tomboy at heart. The only time she acted all girly was on Sunday when our families went to church together or when I was over at their house to visit her. Even when I was over there, she behaved like a tomboy half the time.

As good a shot as Wanda was, Tara was far better. She was damn near as good as me with both a rifle and a revolver. Her mother was just as good as Tara was. It was too bad I had to leave, or Tara would show me how excited she was about the two new Colt Paterson revolvers and the four new rifles. That was one time the last two years when she definitely acted feminine, making me happy when I did something that made her exceptionally happy.

Trust me; I went out of my way to make her exceptionally happy as often as possible. She also warned me that she expected me to return the favor once we got married or I could forget about her doing it for me anymore. I had offered to do it then, but she explained that she’d get too excited and would insist on going all the way. She didn’t mind what she did for me, but still wanted to be a virgin when we married. She did allow me a few liberties, though, but only if we were standing.

My tears began flowing the second my back was to my family. At least the asshole Tyler brothers had good horses. I’d never ridden a horse that looked and felt as fast or as strong as these two. With my heart in my throat, I headed for Tara’s house and spent the whole trip forcing back the tears since the ride only took a few short minutes.

“At least Wizzer’s happy,” I thought glumly as I watched him bound off in front of me and then turn around to make sure I was following. Wizzer loves to go hunting as much as I do. He and the pack mules I take warn me if any visitors or predators come around.

When I got to Tara’s house, I got the same questioning look from her pa while he fended off Wizzer’s eager attempt to lick his face.

“Damn,” he hissed. “Let me get Tara,” he said once I’d explained what happened. He didn’t have to look for her as she exploded through the front door of the house when she saw me, only to pull up short when she saw the two horses.

“No way you’re gettin’ outta marryin’ me that easily,” she insisted angrily once I explained what happened and what I intended to do. Even Wizzer sensed her mood and backed away.

“It’s too dangerous. I couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to you,” I insisted. The look she gave me sent chills down my spine, and not good ones.

“Pa,” she said solemnly, turning her steely glare on him, “I’m goin’ with Lewis. If you try to stop me, I’ll just follow him and track him down.”

“Son,” her dad said to me apologetically, “unless you want to stand here and argue with her for a week, you’d best just agree.”

“Fine,” I sighed, praying that this didn’t end up getting her killed. Tara ran back inside and returned half an hour later with a small wooden trunk and a bundle I assumed was clothing. “It’s my hope chest,” she replied to my unasked question when she saw me looking quizzically at the trunk.

“Take Abner,” her dad said to me, pointing to one of their mules. “Consider it a wedding present since we don’t have much else to give you that you can take with you. Your pa and me had each planned to give you ten acres and help build a home for the two of you.”

At least he and my dad both knew what I planned to do. I wasn’t comfortable telling anyone else lest they let it slip. I was going to head northwest towards Louisville but planned to stick to the woods. I couldn’t chance anybody recognizing me, or a description of me, if Mr. Tyler asked them. I was sure he’d have at least a dozen men out looking for me within minutes of learning what happened.

Tyler would surely have men watching and questioning people at all the ferries that cross the Ohio and Kentucky Rivers since I’d have to cross one or both to go north or west, the two most logical directions to flee. From Louisville, my next destination would be St. Louis. From St. Louis, I wasn’t sure ... yet.

Once we had Tara’s things tied securely to Abner’s packsaddle, Tara gave her parents a final emotional hug. “It’ll probably be next summer before we settle anywhere,” she told her parents. “Lewis will let his uncle in Cincinnati know where we end up so his parents will know sometime after that. Let them know that I went with Lewis so they pass on any word from us,” she told them as we mounted our horses.

“You should tell your friend Elaine that you and I are moving to Nashville,” I suggested as we started riding. Yet again, Wizzer bounded away, stopping fifty feet up the road and checking to make sure we followed. We did.

“She’ll tell everyone,” Tara warned. “She can’t keep a secret to save her life.”

I just grinned at her.

“We’re not going to Nashville, are we?” she asked, laughing.

“Nope, we’ll head east from her house to confuse her. She’ll tell everyone that we headed east, not south to Nashville. Tyler will expect us to go west, or possibly north, not south, or east. I hope the deception will buy us some additional time or spread his men out even more. I plan to head for Louisville, but to stay off the roads. I’m still trying to figure out how to get across the Kentucky and the Ohio Rivers,” I admitted.

It only took us a few minutes to reach Elaine’s house since her family lived next door to Tara’s family, next door being nearly a mile away on the side opposite our house. Wizzer greeted Elaine with sloppy kisses on her face that would make every young male in the county jealous.

“That’s so romantic,” Elaine gushed when Tara told her we were headed for Nashville where we planned to get married and start our own farm. Elaine was a bit on the slow side. Many guys my age lusted after her because she was gorgeous and easily manipulated. She also had the biggest breasts of any girl our age.

Many of the men had bragged about having convinced Elaine to let them play with her breasts but I knew better. Well, Tara knew better. She spent nearly as much time talking with Elaine as she did with my sister, and frequently, the three of them were huddled together.

While Elaine was easily tricked, she was thoroughly aware of her body and the attention men and boys paid to it. She could flirt as well as the most experienced women and sent many a man and young man away with a hope in his heart and a painful erection in his pants after he paid her a visit. She was probably more adept at flirting than any other single female in the county.

Elaine knew that even toying with one button on her clothing could quickly lead a man to draw the conclusion he wanted to draw, even if it wasn’t the correct one. That could lead to her losing her virginity, even if not voluntarily. She planned to marry a wealthy man and knew that she had to be intact for that to happen. She and the girls used to laugh at the stories she told of men and young men who had tried to convince her otherwise.

We headed east on the road that led to the Cumberland Gap. Two miles east of town we reached a wide stream running northward. The ford was wide and shallow, making it easy to hide the point where two horses and three mules left the road headed north along the meandering stream.

It was already noon when we reached the ford which left only five hours before the February sun disappeared for the night. This winter has been the mildest anyone could remember, but that could change at any moment. I was glad that Tara and her father had frequently gone hunting with Dad and me, or my brothers and me so often during the winter.

Dad took me hunting for the first time when I was eight. Every winter after that, my granddad, dad, or one of my older brothers would go out with me several times. The rest of the year there was too much work to do on the farm for me to hunt more than one or two mornings a week. During the winter, I hunted and trapped as often as I could. When I was ten, Dad let me hunt by myself. When I turned twelve, my parents let me go out alone for a week at a time. I ranged far and wide in every direction and usually reached the Ohio River several times each winter since it formed a big arc around us. From due west to the northeast, the river was only sixty to seventy miles away.

I brought home enough furs and meat to make it worthwhile for the family to let me continue hunting and trapping. Tara and Wanda also wanted to hunt, and each learned from her dad and older brothers. Wanda and I could go out together, but we had to have a chaperone, especially when Tara went with us. Tara usually brought her dad or an older brother.

I ran a small line of traps each winter, and caught mostly rabbits and foxes, along with a few raccoons the rest of the year. I shot deer, elk, or a wild pig about once a week. The biggest surprise was the buffalo I killed two winters ago, one of a small herd of about ten. I guess they weren’t all that uncommon at one time if Daniel Boone had followed buffalo traces into Kentucky, but I’d never seen a buffalo before, just drawings.

I usually had between three and four hundred pelts by the time I had to stop hunting each spring, and they brought a good price, especially the pelts of the beavers I trapped in some of the small valleys and meadows hidden in the surrounding hills and mountains. Tara and Wanda usually had twenty to thirty pelts, depending on how often they went with me. In Tara’s case, it was a matter of how often she could convince one of her brothers, and occasionally her dad, to go with us.

Dad sold the pelts for us each spring, giving Wanda and me half of what we earned. Tara’s dad sold her furs for her. Mom sold part of the meat from the larger animals I brought home to neighbors or had Dad sell it in town when we had enough extra. A couple of taverns would occasionally contact her to let her know they could use meat if I brought any home. She usually cooked the rabbits, squirrels, and other small animals I brought home and sold much of the deer and elk meat we didn’t smoke. The wild pigs were all smoked. She had a lot of extra meat to sell when I shot the elk and the buffalo because the animals were so large.

I bought my own Kentucky long rifle with money I made from the pelts. I bought one for Wanda for Christmas three years ago (my brothers already had their own) and for Tara’s Christmas present two years ago. The rifles made both sets of parents happy with me. They were happy enough that Dad didn’t pitch a fit when I bought myself a holster and a new Colt Paterson revolver last spring. I also added a new trap or two each spring and had an even dozen now.

When I finished trapping each year, I made sure the traps were clean and then slathered them with bear fat and wrapped them in oiled buckskin. I had to clean them thoroughly each fall to get rid of the smell of the bear fat before I could use them.

Having been up this creek more times than I could count when I was hunting, we made good time. The afternoon was warm for February, probably reaching fifty degrees. Despite the warmer weather this winter, the nights were still cold with overnight temperatures usually close to freezing.

We continued riding in silence, allowing me time to formulate some sort of a plan to cross the Ohio River. There were only two ways we could cross the river; take a ferry or steamboat, or build our own raft.

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