Will to Survive
Copyright© 2015 by Ernest Bywater
San Francisco, Days 15 to 18
This morning Will is well enough to be allowed to eat outside at the fire and to be briefed on what’s been done while he was ill. He smiles when Ann tells him, “I found some extra cargo to take so I ordered a sixth wagon, the chains and harness for the animals are ready, on hand, and all paid for. The animals are in a camp on the edge of town and are being trained with a regular wagon, now all we’re waiting on is the last two wagons to be finished and for you to be fit enough to ride. Captain Wilson found us some honest men: five drivers, ten guards, five scouts, five helpers, and a Guard Captain. The only issue there is four want to bring their families with them. They’ve got wagons and everything else ready to go, but not enough money for trip food. What should I do?”
Will sighs, thinks, and replies, “It’d be easiest to just organise their food and meals in with what we need to do for all the rest then ask their women to help with the cooking and other camp work. That way we’re trading the food against their work. OK?” She nods yes. “Now, about the meals, I want to buy a lot of the hams, sausages, and lots of fresh bread just before we leave. That way we can organise ham sandwiches for our lunches while it lasts, and a quick breakfast I’ll teach you at lunchtime. Thus we should be able to minimise stops until the ham and bread run out. That should get us a few extra miles each day.” Ann nods again.
It’s a bit later than he wants to get going before Will leaves the camp. He smiles when both Ginny and Light Fawn fall in beside him with shotguns in hand. Toby joins him, and Will spots a Derringer in his belt. Toby sees Will looking at the gun so he says, “Miss Ann bought it and taught me how to use it. She insists I need it for my protection.”
Will laughs and says, “More like for mine.” The others smile.
He stops at the butchers for some sausages and he places an order for several hams plus lots of sausages to be collected in a couple of days. The butcher has some almost ready and he promises to keep Will’s order set aside for him. On to the bakery to get a few loaves of bread and to order two dozen more loaves for pick up in a few days time. Then he visits the banks about tomorrow’s shopping collections and payments.
A trip round the various businesses to check all is OK and to look at Ann’s new items that require a wagon of their own. He decides she’s right because of the size and weight of the stove / water tank units, and he adds extra pipes and fittings to the order. Last stop is the wagons.
They’re back at the camp in time for Will to start cooking sausages for their lunch. They all give him odd looks because that’s all he has on cooking for them to eat. When the sausages are almost ready he slices up a loaf of bread, getting more odd looks because he hasn’t any plates out, other than the one for the sliced bread. Will grins when the sausages are cooked and he moves them to the side of the fire so they keep warm without cooking any further. He grabs a slice of bread, laying it on the palm of his hand instead of holding it with his fingers he sticks a sausage with the fork, places it in the middle of the slice of bread in his hand, and he folds the bread around the sausage. He grins and bites the end off the sausage before starting on the bread and hot sausage taco-style sandwich he just made. The rest come over and repeat his actions to try this out. Miss Hattie comes over to talk to Ann, sees what they’re doing, and she tries it out as well. They all like it, mainly because it’s a bit different to what they’re used to eating. Will says, “You can also add things like sauces, cheese, tomato, herbs, spices, or anything you want to change or add to the flavour. The real beauty is there’s no need to clean up, beyond licking your fingers, and you can walk around to do things one handed while eating it.”
The afternoon is a trip to check on the animals and to arrange for four teams to be taken to the wainwright in the morning so they can get the new wagons to collect the bulk of the cargo tomorrow. The rest of the day and night pass without any issues. Will wonders if the worst of the town’s crooks and bullies are now buried!
The next morning the wagons arrive a little after breakfast because they got a very early start. Will takes them to the warehouse area to load them up with the bulk of his purchases.
First is the gun merchant to pick up the guns. Will wants to load a quarter of each item into each wagon, but the way the guns are crated doesn’t really suit that. One thousand rifles with twenty to a crate is fifty crates of each type. So he loads twelve crates of each type into each of the wagons, he puts the last four crates in the driver’s areas at one to a wagon for use on the trip, so that’ll do for now. The Navy revolvers are boxed fifty to a crate, making twenty crates so they go five crates to a wagon with one wagon being a crate short because he wants them on the trip and they go in the driver’s area too. The cylinders are one hundred to a crate of the same size as the revolvers for fifty crates. That gives him one crate in the driver’s area, twelve in each wagon, and one in the wagon short a crate of revolvers. The kegs of gunpowder and the kegs of Minié balls are evenly distributed because he buys a few more to balance the loads and to put some in with the drivers. Once everything is checked out the men with Will load them and Will signs the paperwork for the Wells Fargo man to pay the merchant the amount owing.
Second stop is the bourbon salesman because he handles all goods. First to be loaded are barrels of flour, salt, and coffee; a few bags of each are loaded beside the drivers for use on the trip. With the current load now level the sheets of iron roofing are loaded, followed by lots of large bolts of canvas, blanket material, and cloth in a variety of colours. The wagons aren’t full, but close, so a few more bolts of materials are added to each to finish the loads, and they’re tied down well with the covers secured for the long trip. Will signs the Hibernia draft payment for Dave.
They go back to the camp for lunch. The wagons are parked in a row beside the camp and the cattle being used to pull them are taken back to the ranch on the edge of town where they’re being kept and trained. All of the goods loaded in the driver’s seat areas are taken into the camp.
The rest of the day is spent getting the guns and cylinders ready for use by cleaning them and loading them all with the same loads in their current guns. The bags of food items for use on the trip are loaded into the horse-wagon set aside to carry the food for the trip.
Today there’s only two wagons to load. Ann checked them out and paid for them yesterday morning when she was told they were ready.
Ann takes one wagon off to be loaded with feed for the animals. The bulk of the load is hay with some barrels of oats for the horses and ten large water barrels. She designates where she wants the barrels set at the back of the wagon and the feed store workers stuff the wagon with many bales of hay until it’s full. She signs the agreed Hibernia bank draft and heads back to the camp.
Will is having a difficult time with loading the stove units because they’re big and heavy. He has to load all of the metal pipes in the centre of the wagons first because he won’t be able to load them once the stoves are in place. So a few wood blocks are cut to hold the pipes in place. Once all of the pipes are in the first stove is loaded in. Will is glad the place has a high loading dock so a few thick boards can be used to slide the stoves down and into the wagon. The stove’s legs go just outside of the pipe pile then some boards go across between the stoves to stop them rubbing against each other. He gets all five stoves in before he sticks the boxes of fittings into the small space left at the back of the wagon. After he ties the load down he signs the Hibernia bank draft to pay for it all.
There’s still some room in the wagon, but it’s close to the weight limit. A stop for some more bolts of materials adds a lot of bulk but not a lot of weight. Will pays for this in cash because it’s outside of the prior amount for payment by bank draft. He wants all of the wagons stuffed so the loads have no, or very little, room to move about while travelling.
Back at the camp Will finds it very different. The wagons for the staff families are now there and are lined up with his wagons. This one is put at the end of the row of his wagons. He looks at the heavy action going on with Big Fawn directing traffic to load their horse-wagons and horses.
Will grabs a sandwich, horse with a wagon, and goes to get the order of meat and bread. He also gets the five large double-walled tins Ann ordered a week ago, using the design Will made several months back.
The tins are collected first and they’re tied in place in the back of the wagon. When he pays for and collects the meat and bread Will stores them in the tins. Once he returns to the camp he uses a bucket to carry cold water from the stream to pour it into the space between the sides before he places the lids on them and ties them down.
Checking all of the horse-wagons Will sees all the woodworking tools are in one wagon with all of the other gear they won’t need until they set up the ranch. The wagon is full, so he checks with Big Fawn then ties it down and secures it after she agrees he can do that because she’s in charge of loading.
The rapid movement around the wagons slows down as the day goes on. Wagon after wagon is tied down and secured for the trip, the horse packs are also secured and readied to be put on the horses. Only the last pack and the last wagon aren’t secured and ready to go. They’ll finish them in the morning.
All of the workers are now present, and all but six will now stay at the camp. Those six will spend the night at the ranch with the cattle and they will bring them along in the morning. They all have a nice meal and settle down for an early night.
Just before he drifts off to sleep Will reviews the situation. Despite all of the big spending he still has eighty percent of the money he placed with Wells Fargo in their bank, and twenty percent of the deposit in the Hibernia Bank. He’s also surprised there’s been no more trouble with the crooks in the last two weeks. He does wonder if they’re waiting to hit him on the trail.
Everyone is up early, have a quick breakfast, and break camp. The staff are all set to go while Will’s family are still packing up. Will calls the staff to him and he has them line up. He walks down the line handing each of them a rifle, shotgun, revolver, and three cylinders each. He tells them how much they each cost him then he adds, “I want them all back in good order when you finish working for me, unless you buy them off me for your own future use.”
They all smile then place them on their horses and wagons to be near at hand if needed. Those with family hand their regular guns to their family for them to use if needed. A set of each gun is placed on the driver’s seat of each of the big wagons with extras stored in a blanket in the driver’s area of the feed wagon because Ginny will be driving it.
Will takes the time to confirm all of the guns he and his ladies have are from the new guns with spare cylinders handy, and all are loaded. He asks Ann about the old guns, and she says, “I sold them yesterday after we changed to the new guns.”
After a little more activity in the camp everything is packed away, the camp-site is cleaned up, and the ladies are making ham sandwiches to be handed out at lunchtime. A bit more waiting for the last of the men to get there with the cattle teams to pull the big wagons. A few more minutes to hook them up then Will calls these six together to tell them about the guns on the seats.
Soon all is ready, everyone is mounted on a wagon or a horse, and it’s time to leave. Will nods to the Guard Captain, he assigns the men to positions, two scouts head out, and Ginny takes the lead with the feed wagon and her helper beside her, followed by the four family wagons, the four pack horses with the horse-wagons attached - they’re in two rows of two horses, and the five wagons of trade goods with a driver and helper on each. Ann and Little Fawn ride beside Ginny, Big Fawn and Light Fawn ride beside the pack horses, the guards spread out along the sides of the column, the rest of the scouts fall in at the back while the Guard Captain takes a position on the left of the column beside the third wagon, and Will is on the other side level with the eighth wagon in line. The Guard Captain had a long talk with Will about the formation while they waited for the cattle to arrive.
The man asked Will why he was using cattle to pull the wagons, and Will replied, “Bandits won’t be able to run away fast if they take a wagon. Also, if worst comes to worst they’ll taste nicer than horses if we have to eat them.” All within hearing laugh at his reply.
A large number of the locals wave to them while they head out of town. Will and his family are all very happy to be leaving the city and its troubles behind them.
On the Road
Despite starting a little later than Will wants to leave the fair road and easy terrain allow them to make fifteen miles the first day. The wagon-train stops beside a river and Will uses the wagons to make a wide, flat ‘U’ with the open side against the river. The camp is made by measuring out a pre-calculated space along the river bank and a wagon backs up close to the river, then it’s secured in a way to keep it right there. A cargo wagon on one side and a family wagon on the other side. A second wagon of each is backed up as close as possible to the first on each side, then the cross is made by putting three cargo wagons close together on that side, leave a set space, back in the feed wagon, and follow with the last two family wagons. A set of posts are pounded into the ground to run a rope from the final cargo wagon into the river on the downstream side and back to the cargo wagon by the river. They bring stock in through the gap and put them into the roped area after it’s created. The gap on the land side is closed by the manhandling of two horse-wagons into the gap to back against the wagons while facing each other. The third sealed horse-wagon is placed across the gap the shafts create. Thus they’ve a wall of wagons on three sides and the river on the fourth.
They collect a lot of firewood to last through the night before they close the final gap. When night falls the Guard Captain and the scouts sneak under the wagons to string nets over the wheels and across the bottom of all of the wagons while Will does the same on the river ropes. This will stop most people from sneaking into the camp and it’ll slow down those the nets don’t stop.
The nets are put out after dark so anyone watching the camp won’t see the nets being put up. This set up will see them reasonably safe from most types of attack. The drivers and their helpers sleep on the wagon seats and the foot areas for them while the families sleep in their wagons and the rest sleep spread out on the ground under the wagons.
The night passes in quiet, and just before dawn the scouts and Will bring in the nets to put them away. The women are fast to cook breakfast and to hand people sausage sandwiches to eat while getting ready to move out. It takes time to hook up the wagons to move them so the next one can be made ready, and the ladies use the time to make a large pile of ham sandwiches for eating during the day.
The same routine is followed each morning and night for the next few days. They make eighteen miles on day two, just seventeen miles on day three because they stop early at a good camp-site, and eighteen miles on day four.
They’re also doing well on day five. Until mid-morning when the rear scout reports a group of about fifty rough looking horsemen who were riding fast until they topped a hill behind them and saw the wagon-train in the valley several miles ahead of them. Then the men moved off the road and are now pacing the wagon-train. He suspects an attack soon. The word is passed down the line, along with today’s lunch sandwiches so they can be eaten early or when the people feel like eating them.
Will slips out of line and around the back of the column just after the report comes in. He and the scout on that side will keep an eye on the men while the rear scout goes back to his job. The two work by finding spots on the other side of the men where they can watch them from a distance while staying hidden. They use Will’s monocular to watch them, and the scout is amazed at the high quality of the small spyglass. He really likes how easy it is to hold it still while using it as all he’d used before were long two handed brass telescopes that were heavy.
Will has a laugh when he sees how upset the men are because the wagons don’t stop for lunch. Maybe they’d intended to attack then and they don’t like the idea of spending more time in the saddle following the wagon-train going away from their homes.
When the column stops to set up camp for the night the men move in closer to see how it’s set up. Their actions while talking about the camp make it clear they don’t like how secure it is. The leader is having a hard time keeping the group together and focussed because several men are talking and waving arms about in a way to show they want to call this off as too hard, but the leader stays in control and he wants to attack the wagon-train.
Taking Out the Trash
Turning to the scout Will asks, “Is there any doubt in your mind they intend to attack tonight?”
“If the leader has his way they’ll probably attack when we settle down to sleep. If they have an internal fight with a change of leadership I think they’ll ride away to look for easier pickings.”
Will grins, “I don’t like waiting for them to attack when it’s clear they will attack. Do you have an issue with us hitting them first?”
“No, but what say we ride back close to them to let them take the first shot, then we give them all we can!”
“If you’re prepared to take that risk I will. But let me go first. That way you can hit their flank once they concentrate on me.” The scout gives Will a smile. Both check all of their guns are ready before they move off with Will about twenty feet in advance. With the heavy local scrub it means the scout is soon out of sight behind Will.
The men are in a screen of trees on the top of a low ridge north of the camp. The eastern end and southern side of the ridge are much clearer, but they do have some trees with a bit of scrub while the back side of the ridge is heavy with scrub. Will rides half out into the open in a cleared area and about seventy yards from the men. One of them spots him and he automatically takes a shot at Will, who grins and heads behind a tree beside some rocks. He dismounts and he gets out both his rifles. Pegasus is ground hitched behind the rocks and is safe from the gunfire for now. If they flank Will she won’t be so safe and will have to be moved then.
The shot is heard in the camp and all of the people scurry to defensive positions. The attackers aren’t happy about their presence being made known so they move toward Will to make him pay for the warning.
Will settles in and he uses his long rifle to shoot the man who fired at him. He can legally return fire on him, but not the rest. The others shoot at him, and some fools are using handguns. Will takes careful aim and he drops five more before the idiots think to take cover behind trees and rocks. He swaps cylinders and he returns to the combat to shoot six more of them. He can’t believe how stupid these men are. They’re moving to his position on foot and are now about fifty yards away, except for the twelve he’s killed. All of their horses are tied to trees and bushes a good ten to twenty yards behind them, and they’re almost knocking each other over due to how bunched together they are while staying behind cover to be safe from Will’s fire.
Taking aim to start on number thirteen Will grins when one man near the back drops as a shot is heard coming from their flank. Will’s scout has joined the fray. Some turn to deal with him and expose their sides to Will. After a few more minutes there’s a slight quiet while both Will and the scout replace cylinders, but the enemy now have twenty dead with four wounded. Will is ready to open fire again when the man leading them calls them back. They keep better cover going back than coming at him, but he still gets three more while the scout gets four more. The men mount up and start to head north when Will gets a good shot at the leader. It seems he and the scout have the same idea because the man is shot out of the saddle and the rest of the men gallop away to the north. Both Will and the scout let them go.
Cylinders are replaced before they move forward. They’re quick to just strip the pocket contents, boots, hats, belts, guns, and shirts from the dead before they drag them to the back of the ridge to roll them down into the denser scrub for the scavengers to deal with. The twenty-eight horses of the dead are either still tied to the scrub or standing around, so they’re easy to gather together. They tie the horses into two long lines and mount up. It’s well into twilight before they’re finished, but that’s not a worry. They make their slow way toward the camp and they call out to the camp when they get close. The way in is opened and they lead the new horses into the camp.
Will explains how he was riding around them to warn the camp the group was going to attack tonight when they fired on him and a fight followed. Twenty-eight are dead and the rest raced away north. His ladies know how well Will can move in the bush so they know he let them see him, and the rest figure that to be the case as well. But it’s better to have the fight out there than here near the children and women.
Examination of the booty shows the leader to be a rich rancher. Well, they now know how he became so rich. At the next town they report finding his body and they leave his family to deal with the rest. The booty is all sold and the money evenly split between all of the workers. Some of them use the extra income to buy the new guns from Will.
The rest of the trip to Fort Yuma and New Mexico is trouble free.
The bulk of the wagons travel through the town and go to wait on the eastern edge of it, but Will has the wagon with the stoves pull up to the large warehouse behind the town’s general store. He takes the cover off the wagon and he moves the fittings from the back to the driver’s seat so he has a little room to move the first stove about. Pushing the ropes under the stove is a bit of an issue, but they manage it, then he ties the ropes to the hook on the pulley tied to the beam sticking out the side of the warehouse near the roof. After a little more effort the stove is lifted up then the wagon pulls forward to let them drop it down into a normal wagon. The stove is taken to the loading dock and moved inside. The wagon is brought back under the pulley and the next stove is set up for lifting. With the first one gone there’s more room so it’s easier to shift it and to get the ropes on it to lift it out of the wagon.
Once all five are out of the wagon Will unloads the pipes and fittings that go with each of the first four stoves then he starts to reload the wagon with some thick hardwood beams the length of the wagon. He leaves just enough space for the pipes he’s keeping and he stacks them in the middle of the beams. Then the pulley is used to load the first stove onto the wagon again. The fittings going with Will, the bulk of them, are placed in the space between the beams and the wagon sides.
Will places thick boards across the back and on the sides of the wagon then he loads the rest of it with beams the same length as the space left. He hires the man’s wagon to load one of the stoves and its pipes onto it, he completes the load with boards of wood and he fills the space in the feed and food wagons with kegs of nails and tins of varnish.
After all that the store owner still owes Will a fair amount of store credit, and they both know the ladies will spend it at some future time. Will and the two wagons move out to join the wagon-train then they head to the Wilson ranch. They arrive in time to set up camp around the back of the ranch house before dark. While they’ve been away the building has doubled in size to become a very respectable ranch house.
The night is spent updating both groups on the events while apart.
The next day is busy. They unload the stove and its fittings onto the back porch while the wagons with cargo, except the one with the stove and wood, are taken to the barn, set in line, and they unload them with most of the goods being in the barn for now. Will sorts all of the loads.
One hundred of each gun, three hundred cylinders, six barrels of salt, six barrels of flour, six barrels of coffee, bolts of the canvas, bolts of blanket material, and bolts of cloth are taken up to be stored in a spare room in the ranch house. Sam will sell or trade the guns to the locals for stock for the ranch. The Wilson families will eat the consumables, and the materials will become blankets for sale or clothes for them. Will has trouble convincing Sam and Betty to accept the goods as a gift to them from his family, but he does manage to talk them into it.
The wagons are reloaded in a similar manner to their original loads with extra kegs of nails, boards of wood, and tins of varnish taking up the space of the goods being left here. Everyone on hand works hard to get it all done. Each load is a good balance of weight, packed tight, and tied down. The work is finished in time for them all to have a bath to get clean before they sit down to eat dinner that night.
The next day is also busy with Betty deciding where she wants her two stoves, she wants to keep the old one for when she has a lot to cook. The locations for both are readied with heat protection for the wall, the stoves put in place, the pipes and fittings installed, the bathtub and wash tub are secured where she wants them, and drain pipes for both put in. The hardest part is to set pipes to pump water from the inside pump direct into the stove’s water tank. The job takes most of the day.
Sam had solved the inside water access by digging another well beside the house then extending the house over it. It was easier than digging inside the existing structure, and it gave them more room.
The only task left to do is for Sam and Jim to dig a big leach hole to run the waste water into. They’ve got pipes left to do that, but they need to dig the hole and to fill the bottom with rocks for it to work properly.
Both the Wilson families appreciate the ease with which a hot bath is now available. They need only keep a check on the water level gauge on the tank and pump in more water as needed. Keeping the slow burning wood stove going all of the time keeps the water hot while it provides an always ready hot cooking surface and it keeps the building warm.
That evening Will raises the topic of all the shootings he seems to get himself into without trying to. After a long discussion by all involved a summary is offered by Sam saying, “Will, you may not notice it but most people do spot troublemakers from a distance and they seek to keep a good space between them and the troublemakers. Some even go across the street to do so. You don’t step aside for the troublemakers, which they see as a challenge to their power so they go for you because they can’t let anyone get away with it. Yes, I know you don’t mean to challenge them. But you don’t bow and scrape to them, and that’s the challenge they react to. Also, you don’t let anyone stomp on another person in your presence. In short, your confidence and caring for others shows up the thugs and bullies so they feel they can’t get on with life unless they take you out of it. The result is dead crooks and a Will who’s unhappy about having to kill the crooks. Soon your reputation will be big enough and will be wide spread enough they’ll be the ones to work at keeping out of your way!”
That gets a good laugh from everyone else and a frown from Will because he doesn’t like having people think of him like that. One of the scouts says, “Don’t worry about it, Will. Your reputation is like that of a top US Marshall: tough, fair, honest, fast, and hard to kill.” They all nod their agreement with the addition, and Will feels a bit happier about having that sort of a reputation than having one as a gunfighter.
The next day is declared a rest day for the wagon-train so the ladies spend the day washing everyone’s clothes. The Wilson families go to town for their regular shopping trip and to return the wagon to the store owner. Will and his wives visit the nearby Indian village to catch up with family and friends there.
The following day the wagon-train gets organised to travel and it leaves the ranch heading north.
Looking for a Home
On the earlier gold hunting trip Will found a good route for wagons to the Colorado River area that interests him. They go that way because he wants to set up in what looks like good country further to the north. They go to the coach road and head east along it until they reach where they want to turn off. Since they look like a supply wagon-train they stick to the road to pass through the few places on the route to stop for a short time to talk to the locals and to see about selling any of the extra guns they have. Thus further enhancing the idea of what they’re doing.
When they cut off Will takes care to hang back to brush over their tracks so their departure from the road isn’t noticeable. That way it’s a lot less likely anyone will follow them for any reason. Unknown to Will the action is a very good idea because several crooks from their last stop wait until well after they leave before they follow after the wagon-train with the intent of robbing them; thus putting the women, children, and workers of the wagon-train at risk. However, Will’s actions to hide their passage means the crooks don’t realise the wagon-train is off the road until the next day, and then they can’t find where the wagons left the road due to the stagecoaches messing up the wheel tracks. So the crooks give up on the wagons to go look for easier pickings.
When the wagons reach the river they head along it. That night Will calls the scouts together, gives each of them a copy of the best map of the area he could buy - which isn’t that good, and he indicates the area to the north and south of the Bill Williams River, saying, “In the morning take pack horses with plenty of supplies. I want four of you to go out in two pairs to scout the area real well. I’m looking for a good valley with side valleys, all with a permanent watercourse. Something I can make a good ranch out of. You’ll have plenty of time because we’ll slow down with only two of us scouting and hunting, but we’ll head up the Colorado to the junction then travel along beside the Bill Williams so you can find us by coming back along the rivers. I’ll let you men sort out the teams.”
The men talk a bit, decide who does what, and leave early the next morning, each with supplies for twenty days. The wagon-train makes its own slow way north alongside the river, but about a half mile from it to stay on good solid ground that’s a little smoother than the riverside.
No point in hurrying, so the wagon-train takes its time to move up alongside the Colorado River. The area is quite open for the first part of the journey with the mountains in view on each side of a few miles of the wide plain. When they get closer to the junction with the Bill Williams River the mountains close in on both sides and they move up a lot closer to the river before turning to follow the Bill Williams River. Two days after making the turn the first scout team reports back with good news about a location further along the river and a little to the north of it. Two days later the second scout team reports back with a suitable location to the south but much further along the river.
Will decides to look at the one closest to them first. So the wagon-train continues along the river while one of the scouts takes Will to look at what they’ve found. Will doesn’t like the dry look of the area. There’s a stream through it, but it looks like it does dry out at times. They rejoin the wagon-train and another scout takes him to look at the southern location. It’s a lot greener as the available water seems more regular and it also has what looks to be a good way out to the south that’ll be easier to travel than the current route. Will sends the scout back to lead the rest of them here while he looks at the area in a lot more detail.
It has some large plains areas good for raising cattle and there’s plenty of side valleys. Will selects a section that’s a bit harder for anyone just travelling through to get to, and it’ll also give them good defences. Also, the mountains around the valleys will alleviate some of the worst of the weather. He smiles when he finds one of the side valleys has four caves in it and they all look to be of a good size when he stops in their entrances. After a look for animal tracks or their use of the caves, and finding none, Will thinks, These caves will do nicely. He starts planning what to do on his way back to the wagon-train.
A few hours on a horse turns into a few days riding a wagon. But that’s OK because it gives Will time to think about the layout and to plan what to do, but only in general. He needs to do some close checking of things before he works out the details. There’s only a few weeks of summer left, plus the autumn, to make a safe and warm home for them all for the winter.
Starting the Ranch
Although he didn’t give them a thorough check when he first saw them Will thinks the caves will be a good place for them to spend the winter while they get the ranch organised. That’ll reduce the amount of the initial work to create a safe shelter for their immediate use.
Entering the valley where the caves are you don’t see them right away because the valley entrance is narrow and that side has a bulge of rock you have to pass before you can see the caves. The low scrub and trees also make it harder to spot them at a casual glance. Moving down the valley allows you to see the caves and some side valleys further down on the opposite side. Will checks the side valleys and he finds they open out a lot after a narrow entrance, plus the two closest ones have plenty of trees in them. They’ll be a good source of wood for building.
The wagon-train stops in front of the caves and all but the scouts enter the caves to check them out. The scouts stand guard and will check them out later. All of the caves are deep, and they find an underground stream running in a tunnel across the back of all four of them. There’s a drop of three feet down to the water level and the tunnel top is just below the cave floor level. The entrances are big enough for two wagons to enter side by side and they’re about thirty feet apart, but all of the caves open up inside to be much wider than their entrances.
While everyone studies the caves Will makes a point of stepping out the space between the entrances and how much the caves bulge toward each other inside, then he smiles at his rough figures. There’s only a few feet of rock between each of the caves, so it won’t be very hard to create internal doorways between them. That’ll give them a task to work on during the winter. There’s a slight slope to the land and cave floor, but not enough to be a major concern as it’s nothing they can’t level out with a little work.
There’s a lot of daylight left so the first cave is cleaned of debris and the ladies get to work setting up camp when some of the men collect a lot of nearby firewood while Will leads others off to look for good fallen trees to drag back to cut up to use for building. There’s a lot of good fallen trees to use for split-wood construction and a lot of fallen wood good only for firewood, so the men get busy dragging it all back to camp. Will rides through the side valleys using a hatchet to mark trees to be ring barked to be cut down for building materials later. Near dark they’re all back at the cave and setting the wagons up for night security.
During day one in the valley most of the men are busy with bringing in the fallen trees while the ladies set up the camp a bit better. Will smiles, because he knows they’ll want to move again soon. He unpacks some lumber and tools into the second cave then he gets busy working at the back of the cave. By the end of the day he’s dug the dirt out down to the rock two feet back from the edge of the stream then he measured and cut some posts and beams to form a fence across the space.
On the second day Will has the two oldest boys help him with his work while the rest get on with what they started yesterday. By the end of the day the camp is set up to the satisfaction of the ladies, all the fallen trees are lined up outside the cave, and a pile of firewood is in the cave. Also, Will has the beams and rails for the fences in the next two caves cut and varnished ready to be put in place.
The third day Will takes the men and a shovel to mark out where he wants a split-rail fence built from near the edge of the rock bulge to go along in front of the caves at an angle then back to meet the rock wall just above the first cave. He wants it to be three rails and a height of four feet.
The men get busy on the fence while Will has the boys help him put the fences in place in the two caves. They drill holes and use wood pegs to hold it all together. Pegs are also used to secure the boards Will trims to a tight fit and he attaches them on the river side of the fences. Before he puts the boards in place he puts foot wide strips of canvas against the wall and along the floor. When the four foot high boards are all in Will has the boys varnish the boards then push the canvas into the damp varnish. A length of canvas is laid across the river side of the full fence and pushed into the damp varnish then more varnish is added. A third layer of varnish is added before they varnish the other side of the fences. While the boys do the varnishing of the fences Will prepares the fourth cave for the same treatment, along with cutting the posts and beams.