Will to Survive
Copyright© 2015 by Ernest Bywater
On the Road Again
The trip to Santa Fe isn’t easy, but the biggest trouble they have is cutting down a few trees for the wagons to pass by tight spots, some of the wood is loaded into the wagons for firewood and the rest is set aside for collecting later. They go to the Bill Williams River, along that to the Santa Maria River, then north-east through valleys until they pass Black Mountain, turn north, and travel on fair terrain until they reach Beale’s Wagon Road. It’s on the BWR they meet the first people: a cavalry troop heading west. They stay on the road until they reach the Rio Grandé then they turn north to Santa Fe and they cross the river at Albuquerque.
Just outside of Santa Fe they find a camping area with five wagons so they set up their camp there. Will’s teepee is erected and the ladies move into it while the men set up the wagons to create a small corral for the horses. A large fire with a cauldron of stew finishes the camp set up. It’s mid-afternoon when they arrive so they rest for the remainder of the day. Members of the other camp visit and they chat a lot about what they’re doing. The five wagons are all friends from Kentucky who sold their farms and are heading west to avoid what they see as the coming war. This leads to a lot of talk about current events and the coming federal election. Will explains his concerns, and many agree with him. Although Will’s men agree with him eleven of the single men ask to be paid off so they can return to their family homes to the east because of their fears about the coming war. Will approves their requests to leave.
Despite the cost of buying Will’s guns off him they still end up with a decent amount of cash from their months of working for him. On his advice they deposit most of it in the Wells Fargo bank and they take just enough cash in their pockets to travel with. They’re soon on their way. Of the twenty men Will brought along on the trip to handle their six wagons he’s now left with two drivers, three guards, four scouts, and his family members. He’ll have to look at hiring more people before they can go home.
The next morning Will and Ginny go into Santa Fe to see about the trading of their goods. After visiting various stores with samples of the blankets, to see if they’re interested, they return to one of the stores with a bigger range of goods because they’d offered the best prices for them. They do a deal and they make arrangements to deal on the furs as well. But the big shock is when Will mentions he has hundreds of the latest Colt rifles and pistols for sale. The owner, Joe, wants to immediately look at them and he offers a good price for them. Will and Ginny head back to have lunch before taking the cargo wagons to the man’s storehouse.
Will, Joe, and Joe’s two eldest sons are checking the furs and talking prices while Ginny and Joe’s third son, he’s sixteen, supervise the unloading and counting of the blankets and the guns. Everything is soon unloaded and sold for a good price, except for fifteen of each gun and forty-five spare cylinders Will wants to keep.
Joe often looks over at Ginny and his son. At one point he asks, “Do you need any ranch hands?” Will turns to look a question at him, and he adds, “My son, Don, wants to be a rancher or farmer, and he seems to like young Ginny. I wondered if you could offer him a job.”
After watching them for a few minutes Will says, “I do need to hire some people. I can offer him a job and see how things go. If they don’t work out I can see he gets to Fort Yuma, but that’s all.”
“He’s old enough to strike out on his own. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out, but he’ll have had some good experience. Thanks.”
After unloading the wagons Will and Joe leave Ginny and Don in charge of the wagons while they go down the street to work a three-way deal with the sawmill and lumber yard. A deal is made and the wagons are moved down to load five layers of beams in the bottom of each wagon before they fill four of the wagons with boards. Then it’s back to the storehouse to load up the flour, coffee, salt, roofing iron, cloth, wool, canvas, seed, and nails Will buys. Don and Ginny are supervising the loading and counting. Once a wagon is fully loaded it’s tied down well and the cover secured for travel because they won’t be opened until they get back to the ranch.
It’s late in the afternoon before everything is loaded and tied down, so Will sends the wagons back to camp with Ginny in charge while he and Joe walk through the storehouse to finalise the paperwork and payments. Despite the cost of all the goods bought he still has money owing to him because the guns sold real well.
Near the front of the storehouse Will sees a couple of items he didn’t know the store sold. He stops to check them, and they talk prices. At one point Will says, “It’s a shame I didn’t see these before we loaded up as I don’t have the room for them now!”
Joe smiles and says, “If you take a full wagon load of the gear I’ll provide the wagon to carry it and Don’s gear. He’ll need a wagon of his own, regardless of how things work out.”
Will grins, nods, and says, “OK! I want both those stoves, three of the big bathtubs, plus all of the stove pipe and all the six inch galvanised iron pipe we can load on without overloading the wagon.” Due to the way Joe smiles Will is sure Joe just made enough profit to pay for the wagon.
They continue through to the main store to finalise everything. Joe will load the wagon tonight. He’ll have Don take it out tomorrow when Will pays what he owes after he gets the money from the bank.
Just before he leaves Will walks over to where Don is working and asks, “I need ranch hands, want a three month trial for the job?”
Don smiles, nods yes, and asks, “Did Dad tell you I don’t want to be a storekeeper because I want to work outside?”
“Yes, he did. It’s good, too. Yesterday I had eleven men leave to go home so I need to hire some replacements. Do you know of any people who may want to either work on a ranch or farm out near Fort Yuma or just get paid as guards and wagon drivers while heading that way?”
“Yes, I do know of half a dozen or so people I can talk to tonight.”
“Good! I’ll be back mid-morning or lunchtime tomorrow. They can meet me here or come out to my camp after lunch. I hope to be organised and going in the next few days.” After a bit more chatting Will leaves.
That night the camp talk is about how well the trading went today and what’s left to do before they leave. After the evening meal Will is surprised when the families from the other wagons walk over to talk to him, the man who seems to be the leader of the group says, “Mister March, our women have been talking to Big Fawn today and they spoke to us, and... , “ he trails off as if not sure what to say. After a deep breath he adds, “Would you mind if we went west with you and set up farms near where you are?”
Not expecting this Will is caught short. He glances at Big Fawn for not warning him, but he decides she may not have worked out what they were after when they were talking earlier. He waves for them to sit down while he thinks about it for a moment. After a few sips of coffee he looks up and says, “I hadn’t thought about having neighbours before, but I’ve got no problems with the general idea. I do have an issue with some aspects. I chose my ranch location to be well out of the way and not easily found by wandering bandits or rogue Indians when the war back east draws the troops out of the area. I also want some space around me. What say you come with us to look the place over. If we can agree on where you’ll set up your houses then we can organise some sort of share-cropper arrangement of one tenth of the crop for ten years and you then own the land.”
“That seems fair, better than what we’ve seen before. But what if we can’t come to an agreement on where to set up?”
“Then I’ll see you get safely to Fort Yuma. Most of the dangers are between here and there. You can head to California from there. Talk it over and let me know tomorrow night. I’ve more business in town to do in the morning.” They all nod yes and move back to their camp to talk.
After breakfast Will and Ginny head back into town. First stop is the Government Land Office to register a claim for the land Will wants: a twenty mile by fifteen mile block of land out in the middle of nowhere. The per acre cost is very low because the land is listed as useless, but there’s so much of it. The staff at the Land Office take the claim and give him a price. Will goes to the Wells Fargo bank and arranges for the payment to be telegraphed from his San Francisco bank account. He almost empties the account with this and what he owes Joe. He sends instructions for the last of his money with the Hibernia bank to be transferred to Wells Fargo to make it easier to get at out here. Will takes the two bank drafts and a Wells Fargo staff member when he leaves the bank. The draft is accepted by the Land Office and Will gets his deed to the land while the Wells Fargo man ends up with the draft and a deposit form for the Land Office. The same happens with Joe’s bill. In a way it’s funny for Will to have two large payments made from his bank in San Francisco and it ends up in the local bank office he uses.
Joe has the wagon loaded with all of the gear Will wants and he’s happy to see the bank draft. There’s still some space in the wagon despite the extra gear Don has loaded for himself, so the shopping list of food and other supplies wanted for the trip are added to the load then they’re paid for in coin from Will’s saddlebags.
While Ginny supervises the buying and loading of supplies Will has a talk with the six young men wanting to go west with him. He likes them and he hires them as drivers and helpers because they don’t have the skills to be good guards yet, but he’ll train them on the way.
Going back into the camp Will notices a new group of about forty or fifty wagons have arrived and are set up between the town and his camp. Also a group of soldiers: it looks to be two troops with two chuck wagons plus two supply wagons. He wonders what that’s about while passing them. Then he notices a Sergeant standing to the side who’s giving his camp a good look over, the Sergeant also turns to look at Will when he goes by. He’s almost past him when Will turns to talk to the Sergeant because Will can now see him well enough to recognises him. The soldier looks at Will, smiles and says, “How are you, today, Mister March? What brings you up here?”
“I’m doing well, Sergeant Larkins. I was about to ask you the same question. I’ve made a claim for land a few days out from Fort Yuma, paid for it, and bought a lot of supplies. We’ll be leaving tomorrow.”
“Good to know you’ll be staying on. I’m part of a patrol providing security for some Army dependants on the move due to postings.” The two chat for a few more minutes then they go their own ways for lunch.
Later Will is checking the wagons of the other families when loud voices reach him from his camp. All his men have the afternoon off and are in Santa Fe doing some personal buying, with a lot of it at a saloon. With only Big Fawn and Ginny in camp there should be no shouting, so he turns and heads over. When clear of the wagons he sees an Army officer with two soldiers confronting Big Fawn with Ginny behind her, both have their shotguns in hand and the shouting is from the officer.
A few more words are exchanged before Will gets close enough to understand the words, then he hears, “ ... hand over those guns, you’re under arrest for having them.”
Moving closer Will shouts out, “Stand your ground, ladies, and if this idiot tries anything, shoot him.”
The officer turns around to look at Will, and shouts, “You’re under arrest as well. You can’t tell people to shoot Army officers.”
Will is now close enough not to have to shout, but he continues to do so because he can see a lot of the civilians and some of the soldiers are now aware of the situation and are coming over to see what’s going on. He says, “The law is the same for everyone! Be they civilian, sheriff, or soldier. People are allowed to defend themselves against attack, be it by a thief or a kidnapper. Making an unlawful arrest is kidnapping. You have no legal grounds to steal my people’s guns, nor to arrest them.”
“Indians aren’t allowed to have guns, so they’re under arrest for that, and for refusing to hand them over.”
He’s now close enough to make out the fool’s rank, so Will says, “I don’t know where you heard that piece of fiction, Lieutenant, but there is no law stopping Indians from having guns or weapons of any sort. I have heard some fort commanders have a local rule about only Army people going armed inside their forts, but that’s all. Also, the girl has no Indian blood at all, so you’re even further off the mark there. Now go away before I have to shoot you so I can get on with my work.”
The officer opens his mouth to speak, but he’s overridden by another voice saying, “Get back to camp, Lieutenant, and read up on the law.” Both the Lieutenant and Will turn to see a Major standing there with Sergeant Larkins beside him. The Lieutenant goes a deep red, salutes, and stomps off to the camp with the two soldiers following him. The Major turns to Will, “Mister March, please accept my apologies for Lieutenant Davis’ rude behaviour. May I speak to you for a moment?”
“Major Harris,” Will knows the man’s name from his earlier talk with Larkins, “you don’t need to apologise for that fool, you just need to teach him how to behave like an officer and a gentleman. It seems the academy he went through failed to do that.”
“I suspect the academy involved did teach him, but failed to properly identify to him what constitutes a lady or a civilian. He went to one in Virginia, and many of them have some odd views on non-white people.”
Harris and Larkins join Will, and they move into the camp while the crowd breaks up to go on about their business. Ginny gets them all a cup of coffee each before she goes back to packing things to move out soon.
Once the crowd is well away Harris says, “I hear you’re heading back to the Fort Yuma area in the morning. Can you add some more wagons to your train and you see they get to the fort?”
“What’s up, Major?”
“The general is re-organising all of the troops under his command so all of the married men and their dependants are in the units stationed at the major forts. That will make things easier if he has to order a camp or minor fort to be abandoned. I’ve got the families for Fort Yuma and Fort Mohave, you may know it as Camp Colorado, to get to the forts. I need to split them up and to send the Fort Yuma group south, but there are reports of large bandit groups attacking people in the Santa Anna area so I want them to have more protection, if I can arrange it.”
Will turns to Ginny and says, “Get my map of the territory, please.” She goes to do that while he says to Harris, “Major, I’ve land I bought for a ranch I’ve started that’s a few days north-east of Fort Yuma. I’ll be going there first, but after a couple of days at the ranch I can take your people the rest of the way to the fort. Also, we’re using a trail that goes south from the Beale’s Wagon Road so we can travel together that far and provide extra security to both groups. I will insist we travel and camp as two groups so it’ll be easier to split off when we have to.” Ginny hands Will the map so he points out the rough location of his path after leaving the road, and the rough area of his ranch while saying, “I’ve taken wagons on both of these trails, so I know they’ll be OK.”
Harris studies the map and smiles, “You should miss all of the bandits because you’re well north of where the reports are from, and the terrain between isn’t that nice for the bandits to cross. Good. I’ve a half a troop assigned to protect the families all the way to the fort, and to stay there. I was going to send Davis along as well, but now I think Sergeant Larkins will be in charge of the detachment, and I know he’ll work in with you.”
“Yes, I know Larkins, he’s a good man. So is Captain Walker.”
“I’ll have a few other things to entrust to you to take to the fort. Mail hasn’t been getting through, so there’s a few bags of official mail. One of the items is Walker’s promotion to Major and the fort commander. I’ve also got a few strongboxes with the fort’s pay I’d like you to take care of. The Sergeant will have the keys and you’ll have the boxes, so they should be OK. The Army will be happy with that arrangement.”
Will turns to point at his non-cargo wagon while saying, “We’ll put the mail and pay in my family’s wagon so we can keep an eye on them.”
The Major nods his agreement while saying, “I’ll have the dependants going with you move their wagons over so you can get organised.”
“I’ll have a few more wagons joining us as well, so now I’ll not leave tomorrow. I’ll take a day or two getting the wagons organised. I also want to check and make sure every wagon is up to the trip. Some may need work. I’ll let you know when we’ll be ready to go.”
“Can you check all of our wagons as well? We’ve no one who knows what to look for, apart from the obvious issues.” Will nods yes and they finish their coffee while talking on matters in general before going back to their individual work for the day.
A couple of hours later Will finishes inspecting the wagons of the Kentucky group and he’s directing some minor work to be done, nothing big, and all of it can be done by the people on hand. He tells them to move up to his camp when they get the work done so he can have everyone in the one spot. Walking back to his teepee he can see four wagons coming his way from the city and some wagons moving over from the Army camp, along with some troops leading their horses. The rest of the day is busy with Will directing traffic to organise his camp with all of the extra wagons and people. Although he has them as one camp he does have them gathered in their groups so they’ll travel with those they know.
Will introduces Big Fawn to the Army’s cook who’s feeding all of the dependants as well as the troops and Will arranges for the ladies from the other wagons to work with him to feed everyone. That’ll simplify meals. He also instructs the scouts to bring their hunting kills to the chuck wagon each day so all of them can get some fresh meat.
During the confusion created by the movements of the wagons and people the chuck wagon is set up beside Will’s family wagon so the transfer of the Army pay strongboxes goes unnoticed by the others.
It’s a bit late to check over the new wagons so Will puts that off to the next day. The wagons from the city are the one with Don and three are with the other new hires. Four of the young men have their wives with them. It seems having jobs and leaving prompted a few people to get around to approving a couple of quick marriages, which is a very simple process in the territory at that time. The three wagons have the personal effects of the new people, some supplies, and some gear for setting up house later. Their cooking arrangements are explained and merged too.
Will shakes his head when he realises his little train of six wagons is now one of forty-five wagons, including the Army supply wagons.
The next morning Will examines all of the wagons, and he organises for a wainwright to visit to fix a few significant items while the others on hand fix the minor items. When he breaks for lunch Will notices the Major has people checking every wagon in his group. The examinations and work take all of that day and the next one, partly because Will chats with the people to get to know them while he examines their wagon. That evening Will gathers them all together to go over the rules on how the wagon-train will operate, who has what responsibilities, and how they’ll respond if attacked. The day after the repairs are finished they all practice changing from the travel formation to the defence formations of a circle - if there’s enough space, or to two abreast with each driver looking outward as this one shortens the defensive line for the rest of the men and the troops.
The Trip West
They start the trip west by heading south with the Major’s group in the lead and a one hundred and fifty foot gap between the two groups. When they’re out of sight of the city Will nods at his four scouts. Each has a packhorse on a long lead and they’re all waiting for the nod from Will. When they get it they’re fast to move off to the side and into the scrub before speeding up to get on with their scouting. The Army has a number of scouts out in front and to the sides, but they’re only out half a mile or less. However, Will’s men have food for a week and three are to move out about a day ahead of the wagon-trains while the fourth is to drop behind them for about half a day’s travel. They’re to be off the road to watch out for bandits and any other rude surprises that may be in the area. They’ll report back when they see something, or on Sunday when the wagons stop for a rest day.
All goes well until they’re a day west of Albuquerque and they stop to have the next day as a rest day. The scouts all report back that night and the one covering the area to the left of the road reports a group of about eighty men camped by the road about half a day’s travel for the wagons away from where they are today. The group has people watching the road. He also reports two men from that camp are watching the wagon-train at the moment.
Just before dawn Will and the scout concerned move out to check if men are still watching the wagon-train. They are, but with the train on a rest day Will moves on to check the camp the men are from. While they watch the camp one of their watchers reports back. Will isn’t in close enough to hear what’s said, but the leader is obviously not happy about the wagon-train taking a rest day.
About midday several men leave the bandit camp to head toward the road. Will and the scout follow, and they watch while the men check out some traps they’ve set up at the road to help with their attack on the wagon-train. Will waits until the men return to their camp then he and the scout move in to disable the traps while setting up some of their own for those moving to the ambush locations the other men checked out. Then Will and the scout return to their camp.
The next morning Will has his scouts leave their pack-horses with the wagons when he has them load up with extra rifles before they move out, two on either side of the road. They’ve orders to get close to the ambushers and to wait for the shooting to start before they join in. Will also loads up extra rifles and he puts on a side bag he made ready last night: it has two dozen home-made gunpowder hand-bombs with short fuses in them. He has four cigars in his pocket and he lights a fifth one from the last camp-fire just before the fire is doused.
The wagon-train forms up then Will rides down it’s length warning everyone to be ready for trouble and to have the children lie down in the wagons. Will moves out to take the point scout position with the soldier assigned to it after he has a short talk with the Major. Once in the usual advance position Will waits until they’re a couple of miles down the road before moving further ahead, and taking the soldier with him.
Will and the soldier are a bit over a two miles ahead of the wagons when they near the ambush site as Will knows the location. Their bandit scouts report the wagon-train is moving out as per usual, so they leave getting into place until just before they expect the wagons to arrive. Some of the ambushers are swearing when they run into the traps Will set yesterday, and the traps slows them more. Thus Will is at the spot well ahead of when the ambushers expect the wagon-train scouts to be there.
A group of about twenty men are walking across the road when Will and the soldier top a rise just before the ambush site and he sees them. The men also see the two scouts because the blue Army uniform is a bit hard to miss in the desert. Two of the ambushers turn then they shoot at Will and the soldier, so Will says, “Race back to tell the Major there’s a group of bandits here to ambush us. I’ll keep them busy.” The soldier nods yes, spins his horse around, and races off back toward the wagons. He’s happy to be leaving the ambush site with so many bandits there.
Will pulls out his long rifle and fires at the group crossing the road while he moves off the road into the scrub. He’s not aiming at any one person, just at the group as a whole, but he does manage to hit three men with the four shots he fires. Two are left lying on the road, dead or dying.
After moving Pegasus behind some rocks Will takes all of his rifles to set up in a good spot with a thick tree in front of him and another a little to his left a bit nearer to the road. He uses his monocular to check the scrub to locate the waiting enemy, then he takes careful aim with his rifle. He shoots six and he stops to replace the cylinder before firing again. This is to get them thinking he has only one six shot rifle.
When he stops to change cylinders again a group of twenty men charges out of the scrub on the other side of the road a third of the way between him and the main ambush point where the people he’s shooting are. Will is quick to change rifles to open fire on the group of attackers. His scouts also open fire on them from both sides. The result is the whole group is soon lying in the middle of the road and dying. That’s a significant cut in the enemy numbers, but it also lets them know they’ve now got four more people to deal with. The shooting stops for a moment, so Will changes the cylinders in his two empty rifles while he gets ready to move the fight to the enemy.
He becomes aware the cigar he’s got needs to be replaced, and that reminds him of why he has it. With a big grin he lights a new cigar from the old one, takes a hand-bomb out of the bag, stands, lights the fuse, and tosses it as far as he can into the scrub amongst the enemy. For the next minute he peppers the ambush area with the hand bombs. When he runs out he puts the cigar out, picks up his rifles, and he races across the road.
Once on the other side he’s joined by the two scouts there and they move toward the enemy camp. Several minutes later they find the camp to see about half of the ambushers are busy organising their horses to leave, it appears they broke camp earlier and they left the horses here.
Without any warning Will and the two scouts with him open up on the ambushers in rapid fire, taking aim at those on the horses first. The bandits are wanting to get away so they don’t return fire. Twenty-five or so of the bandits ride off into the scrub, some of them are wounded but they stay on their horses. They’re heading south and are going fast.
The three of them check to make sure the dead are really dead, and they take care while they work their way back to the road. In the process they find five dead and three wounded bandits before they reach the road ambush site. They meet the other two scouts on the road, they’ve just finished checking all they can find on the other side of the road. The wounded are tied up and under the guard of Will and one of the scouts while the other three go to work dragging the dead out onto the road.
Will is squatting beside the leader checking his pockets when they hear the sound of horses. A look up the road confirms it’s half the Army detachment under the command of Lieutenant Davis come to see what’s happening. They slow down and spread out. Will looks up and says, “About twenty-five of them escaped to the south on horses, but there may be a few more in hiding around here, so be careful. My scouts are to the south of the road bringing in the horses of the dead bandits and the bandits who died in the scrub. We’ve three we captured alive. Lieutenant, can you please have your men take the prisoners back to the Major for treatment and interrogation? I’m sure he and you are much better at that than I am.”
Davis isn’t happy it’s all over, and his orders don’t allow him to go off to the south after the others. Nor does he want to get involved in the clean-up, so he details two squads to stay with Will as guards, another squad to get the prisoners, turns, and he heads back to the wagon-train.
As soon as the Lieutenant is out of sight Will asks the soldiers to help him strip the dead and to dump them in a gully just to the north of the road. They soon have a growing pile of pocket contents, boots, belts, hats, and guns on the side of the road. Plus a nice herd of horses waiting beside the road on long lines ready to go when the wagons reach them.
Major Harris stops to talk to Will about the ambush. He’s surprised when told Will and his four men dealt with and disposed of fifty-two of the bandits but they’ve fifty-eight horses, which indicates there are six of the bandits still in hiding in the area, or dead and can’t be found.
When they stop for camp that night everyone is allowed to pick over the boots, caps, and guns to swap for better gear than they have. The Major is very happy to issue Will with a receipt for the horses and tack. The next morning Will’s scouts head out to their usual advance places.
There aren’t any other issues on the rest of the trip. Just before they have to pull off the road Will tells the Major they’ll be leaving the road soon, then he drops back to widen the gap between his two groups of wagons and the main Army wagon-train. Once they’re off the road Will stops the last wagon of the group he’s leading to tie some cut brush to the back of it to erase their trail. He also uses a bush to erase the trail where they leave the road.
Despite the weather getting colder there’s no trouble on the way to the ranch valley. Autumn is over and they’re a few weeks into winter when they reach home, but all are happy to take a break.
A day of rest is called for the day after they arrive back at the caves. The day after that the Army dependants check their wagons while the families thinking of staying in the valley check out the area. Will and his staff get busy unloading all of his wagons.
On to Fort Yuma
Those continuing on are ready to leave on the morning of the fourth day after getting back. This time the travel group consists of the Army group, the five families from Kentucky, Will’s last hired single men, Light Fawn, Little Fawn, and Will. The rest are all married or about to be married and are staying to plan where they want to set up their farms. Also Don and Ginny have reached an agreement on their joint future.
Will leaves his big wagons behind and has two pack-horses with two of the horse-wagons so he can travel faster on the return trip. He has a lot of trade goods loaded in his wagons, along with the deliveries for the fort. The reduced wagon-train moves out in mid-morning.
Ten days later they stop in the town of Arizona to unload the trade goods Will has for sale and to allow those going to California to buy the food and things they want. Then they all move on to Fort Yuma.
When they reach the fort the dependants are all very happy to stop to greet their husbands and fathers. Will stops to pay off his men who promptly accept work to travel with the families who are moving on. It’s too late for them to head out today so they set up camp as they plan to leave in the morning.
Captain Walker thanks Will for seeing to his wife’s safe arrival, and Will says, “Captain, I’ve got some other things for you as well. There’s a few bags of official mail to unload and I’ve also got some strongboxes with your people’s pay to hand over. Sergeant Larkins has the keys.”
Walker smiles and issues orders for a work detail to form. In a few minutes the men are happy to stagger under the weight of the heavy boxes with their pay when they carry them into the secure room. The keys are obtained and the contents checked against the list the Sergeant has. All of it is there, so they’re all happy.
Little Fawn sets up Will’s teepee and they stay the night. In the morning those going further west leave early and Will’s party crosses the river to go into town to buy things now the wagons are empty.
Will’s ladies are very busy buying the various foods and materials wanted, including gunpowder and fuses. Will is very busy packing it all into the two wagons. He has one wagon full and the other half full when the Wilson families arrive in town for their regular shopping trip.
Life at the Wilson ranch has had a few problems over the summer so they don’t have much to trade. However, Will has the large receipt from the Major he’s having a problem spending, so he talks them into using his remaining credit once his ladies have all they can load up. Both wagons are full, the pack-horses are loaded, and they’ve large packs on all of their horses. They can’t carry an extra thing. After a few handshakes and hugs the March family leaves for their home with full loads of needed supplies thanks to Will’s credit from the Army receipt.
Back to their Ranch
The small group of three people, five horses, and two small wagons make very good time on the return trip, right up to the point Will detours to the last place they found gold on the Colorado River. It was still producing well when they cut their work short, so he wants to spend a couple of days panning to have some gold to fall back on for later. As per his usual process Will uses a few bushes on the back of the wagons to erase their trail.
It’s a good spot for gold, because in just two days they pan and pack away an estimated fifty pounds of gold dust and flakes. This is a very rich spot. It’s a good thing they’ve eaten a lot of the supplies getting to the spot and while they work there, because they now have room to pack the gold on the horses when they pack up to head back to their ranch. Will waits until they’re a few miles away from the river before he replaces the bushes he uses to erase their tracks.
When they reach some very memorable rocks Will stops to set some gunpowder from his new supply to change the shape of the rocks to make it harder for any of those he just left in Fort Yuma to back track to their ranch. He uses long fuses so they’re almost a mile away when the distinctive rock formation becomes a pile of rocks over a wider area. He does this to another two distinctive formations as well.
On two occasions they stop to hide in the brush while they watch small groups of people moving south through the area.
In due course they arrive back at the caves and unload the wagons into the top cave. Everyone is glad they arrive back safe and sound. Their timing couldn’t have been better, because a few days later they have the first winter storm. It’s not an issue because all of the animals and the wagons are safely stored in the barn cave while all of the goods are in the living quarters caves.
While he was away they moved the two new stoves into the caves without a stove so each cave is now fully equipped.
Will checks the stone hearths with the installation of the two new stoves in the other two caves. He has to make a few changes to get them the way he wants them so they’re easy and safe to use. The men move the cattle and extra horses into the side valley with the best protection against the weather which also has good grazing. Each of the valleys has a small stream so they all have water. While he was away the others put in the beams and joists to have all of the caves ready for floors. Now the ladies are busy nailing the new boards in place to complete the floor of the second cave before moving onto the other two caves.
A ten foot wide circle is marked seven feet downhill and out into the valley from each outhouse, and the men instructed to dig down about twenty feet. With all of the men and boys, except Will, digging they get the holes dug in the two and a bit days before the first storm hits. While they dig Will measures and uses chalk to mark the doorways he wants cut through the cave walls. He also marks where he thinks they’ll come out on the other side. Will uses a hammer and rock chisel to mark out the rough shape on the wall of the starting cave. When the storm hits everyone is confined to the caves for several days, so they take turns using the hammers and rock chisels to cut into the rock for the outline of the doors. All three living caves now have people living in them.
The storm breaks so the older men take the boys and younger men out to hunt to replenish the larders. Will continues to work on the rock walls between his checks on how quickly the water filled holes dry out.
On the next day the men and boys are sent out to bring in more trees to store in the caves for use as firewood and building materials. Will continues to work on the doorway from the fourth cave to the third cave. He wants to get the bottom cut for each door finished first.
The day after that the men take the wagons out to load them up with all the rocks they can find in the areas where they want to plant crops or graze stock. Will has them stack the rocks near the three holes and he also has them use the heavy hammers to break the bigger ones up. Each day some of them take a break from rock hauling to bring in more wood for building and firewood. Will has the boys carry the chipped rock out of the caves to place with the rock piles as well.
Four days after the storm Will checks how solid the bottom of the three holes are. They’re sound, so he has the men drop the larger rocks into each hole and they then toss in more rocks until the holes are half full. At that point he sends them off with one of the wagons to get a load of small river stones which he divides up to drop into the holes. By now some of the men think he’s crazy to dig a hole and fill it with rocks, but they only talk amongst themselves and their women. When the holes are half full of rocks he sets two men in each hole to dig a tunnel upward from the hole toward the nearest outhouse. The tunnel starts about nine feet from the top of the hole, angles up at forty-five degrees, and is about five inches in diameter. After the first morning of digging with the post hole shovels Will has them measuring how far they’ve dug every hour or so. When they reach a certain length in the tunnel he has them stop the digging and go back to collecting wood.