Boone - the Early Years
Copyright© 2016 by Ernest Bywater
Time and Tide
Following the talks in December 1859 Mary, Heidi, and Boone start their preparations to leave Virginia. Materials and things are bought, and put aside, for now. The tensions and troubles increase with each passing month of 1860. Mary, Heidi, and Boone become more worried with each rise in the tensions between the two major political forces.
Boone uses his father’s drawings left with Mary to start building a wagon like his father made. They don’t have a farm wagon, so he builds two of the large wagons, since it’s easier to do it twice than to design a smaller version. It’s also cheaper to build them himself than to have a custom wagon built by another person. Each night the three of them work on the covers for the wagons so they’ll be ready, too. They make them in the same three-layer style as Ken did, for the same reasons. But their covers are shorter on the sides due to having higher wagon sides.
There are a few changes Boone makes so the wagons better suit their needs, but the changes are very easy to do after he builds the wagons. They buy four water barrels three feet high, and put them in the back corners of the wagons, one on each side, then Boone builds a four foot high frame to hold them in place with a cabinet between them to store things they’ll need on the trail most days, such as the cooking gear, and axes, etc. These will be accessed by opening the wagon’s tailgate. They won’t fill these barrels with water until they’re about to leave. Due to the cost of steel bows Boone spends the extra time and work to make curved wood bows for the wagon tops. He also buys extra boards to extend the side-boards for a full coverage of the wagon sides as extra protection. He makes a raised floor for their beds in both of the wagons, as well.
In May of 1860 Mr Chambers, the teacher Boone likes, comes to visit Boone at the house to tell him, “Boone, I don’t like how things are going on the political scene. Way too many rich and powerful men in the Southern States have got their reputations too tied up in pushing an agenda of federal approval and expansion of slavery. Both they and the ones who oppose them are getting more stubborn each day. With all of the classes over for the year I’m going home to Maine. So this is goodbye, my young friend. I’ve enjoyed our many talks, over the years. Take care, and try to stay alive if things get as bad I think they will.”
They chat for a little while before Boone says, “I’ve enjoyed our talks too. I’ve one last favor to ask of you. We’re preparing to leave to go to Oregon next year, and we know we’ll need guns. But we don’t know what are the best guns for us to get. Can you please advise us, Sir?”
“Not right now. I don’t know too much about them, myself. But I’ve a cousin who’s a gunsmith in New Haven, Connecticut. I have to go by there to reach home in Portland, Maine, so I’ll ask him, then I’ll write you with what he tells me.” Boone agrees, and they soon part company. In the next few months they exchange a few letters, but never see each other again. (Many years later Boone learns he died in the war, at Gettysburg.)
A month later a letter arrives for Boone, from Connecticut, with some information about the new revolvers and rifles available, the latest gun developments, plus their prices and the prices of 12 gauge coach-guns.
The talk that night is of guns, more about how many of what they should get than which guns. They asked for expert advice, so they accept it. Mary writes back to the gunsmith in New Haven to ask how much to buy three Greener 12 gauge eighteen inch barrel coach-guns, three of the new lever-action 1860 Henry Repeating Rifles in .44 caliber Henry Rimfire, seven of the latest of the Remington Model 1858 Revolvers converted for use with the 1856 Beaumont-Adams double action plus the 1855 Rollin White rear loading system in .44 caliber Henry Rimfire cartridges, seven extra cylinders for the guns, plus two cases of ammunition for the guns. To minimize the ammunition to buy and carry they want the rifles and handguns to use the same ammunition.
A month later they receive his reply with the costs to buy and ship it all to them. The final total is staggering to Boone, but Mary and Heidi just sigh, and start talking about organizing the money to be sent north. It’s a good thing all three have been saving most of their money for over ten years, because this one purchase is taking a lot of the money. Three quarters of their savings are spent on the purchases to date, with the guns and the wagons being the two most expensive ones.
After the guns arrive another of their preparation activities is to practice shooting accurately with them. One of the VMI staff who sees Boone practicing with the pistol says to him, “Boone, I’ve a cousin who lives in Texas, and one of the things he told me about was the need to be fast and accurate when shooting a pistol at something close, like a mountain lion in the rocks. He told me how he uses a saddle-gun, because he got used to it while in the cavalry fighting the Mexicans. The important thing, for him, was by the time it was out of the holster it was level and already being pulled across to shoot at what’s in front of him.”
Boone nods his understanding, and responds, “That makes sense, Sir, but not much use on foot or on the seat of a wagon.”
The man smiles, and adds, “When I was in the Army few officers had a handgun, and most of those who did had it in a holster on their right hip with their sword on their left hip. I did see a few who had a gun in a holster on their left hip in front of where they carried their sword. They had it with the handle to the right and the gun angled so it was a lot easier to grab by reaching across their stomach. When I asked them about it most of them told me it was a lot easier to draw while on a horse. You can do something similar, and get used to drawing it in all situations.”
“Thank you, Sir. I’ll have to see how I can practice that, to see how it goes.” They talk about guns for a little longer while they practice their shooting, then they both go their own ways for the rest of the day.
Later Boone speaks to Mary and Heidi about the talk at the range, and they agree it needs to be looked at. Two days later Heidi hands an old cavalry holster to Boone to experiment with. The leather is old and rotting, which is probably why she got it cheap or free; she doesn’t say.
The Remington doesn’t fit into the holster due to it being a different size. So the first change is to cut the flap off, along with a cut-away for the cylinder of the gun, because the cylinder is a lot bigger than the cylinder on the gun the holster was made for. Once he has it so the gun can slide in and out easily Boone cuts two slots in the back to feed a belt through at a different angle to the belt-loops already on the holster. Boone soon finds the new angle makes the gun easier to draw from his left side with his right hand. He cuts more slots for the belt to have the gun held at different angles. After two weeks of experimenting he has the holster holding the gun with the barrel just a little below level, and the handle is close to the center of his stomach. This means once the gun is out of the holster he can turn his wrist to have it level and aimed at anything in front of him real fast. So he starts to practice shooting at targets at close range with the pistols held at his waist. One odd aspect to arise from the practice is Boone finds when holding a gun at his waist he’s very accurate with both of his hands when shooting a pistol at close range.
Two weeks later Mary hands Boone a gun holster while saying, “Try this one, Boone.” He looks it over, and slips a Remington into it. The bulk of the gun fits in the holster with the trigger guard going into a slot in the holster, and the hand-grip is left outside of the holster. There’s a strip of leather Mary shows him how to put on the small hook on the holster near the hammer. The strip goes behind the hammer to help hold the gun in place. He feeds his belt through the belt-loops to hang the gun from his belt. The gun sits with the hammer just above the top of his belt and the front of the barrel is just below his belt. He slips the leather strap off, and finds the gun sits there. Mary says, “Make sure you have that strap on when you move around, or it may fall out. Also, take the strap off if you think there may be trouble. It shouldn’t slow you down to undo it when you need to, but you never know.”
Boone tries a few draws with it, and smiles while saying, “Thanks, Gran. This feels just right. I’ll try it out today.” He does find the holster much easier to carry, and to draw from. But he does discuss one more change with his grandmother. So she makes another one for his left hand with the strip of leather cut away from the top of the holster above the gun so only the end inch or so of the gun’s barrel is in the holster. This means once Boone starts to draw it back he can lift it up and start to turn it a lot sooner, and thus he’ll be faster to get on target.
After some practice with the new left-hand holster they notice it starts to lose its shape, so they talk to a saddler in town. He shows them how to use a little shaped steel to help the leather keep its shape. A piece of steel is added to the holsters as part of the belt-loop, and placed just in front of the trigger guard. The steel looks like a warped ‘X’ with a hook. There’s a hook over the belt as part of the belt loop which goes down to bend up to hold the gun just in front of the cylinder, with two strips coming off this to run just under the cylinder. The steel takes the bulk of the weight of the gun, and transfers it to the belt via the steel belt-loop section.
After a bit of practice with both guns on the belt at once Boone moves the two guns to the center of his waist, so they have their hand-grips just in front of his hips with the two barrels almost touching in front of his stomach, moving each one closer to the hand to use it. He’s soon very fast at slipping the loops off then drawing the guns, and to turn them as soon as the barrel tips clear the holster. When firing the Remingtons from the hip Boone is very accurate with either hand up to about twenty yards.
The next week Mary has another holster for Boone to try using. The main part of the holster is the same as his current two, but the belt loops have it hang low on his right thigh with the hand-grip tipped back at a slight angle. It has a tie to go around his leg just above his knee to hold the bottom of the holster and gun in place when he moves, and a front flap to make it look like other holsters. He always wondered why they got seven guns instead of just six for two each, and now he knows they want him to carry three guns. After some practice Boone is fast with the thigh gun, but not as fast as he is with the two guns at his waist.
Mary, Heidi, and Boone work faster on their arrangements for leaving Virginia when the political trouble and tensions increase a lot during the Presidential Election. While loading the wagons they focus on food for the trip as well as things they can sell along the way, and at the other end. They don’t intend to carry much in the way of money, but to buy things in the east they can sell or trade for a lot more later. Mary is sure they’ll get more for manufactured goods as barter than they will for gold coins. So they plan to go north to buy the manufactured goods before they go west. In Virginia they buy the long-lasting food items they can buy at low prices, and they’ll buy the manufactured goods to sell when they reach Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They know it’s out of their way, but it is a major center where they know they can buy a lot of manufactured goods at low prices. Anyway, the trip to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is a simple journey up the Shenandoah Valley before they go west to Columbus, Ohio, where they plan to buy a lot of salt. From there to Council Bluffs, Iowa, to join the Oregon Trail for the way west. With mules to pull the wagons ten to fifteen miles a day, and weather delays, they figure on over a year of traveling to get to Oregon due to the detour. So they’ll have to stop to winter over somewhere for one winter, or maybe two winters. A lot will depend on the weather and the terrain they go through.
After the November 1860 Presidential Election the tempo speeds up. For much of December all three are practicing how fast they can draw a gun. The ladies now have a waist gun-holster for their right hand made the same as the one Boone has. While his are on display both ladies have a holster hidden by their dress with a flap of cloth over it so no one can see she’s armed, but they can still get at it and draw it very quickly.
For Christmas that year Boone is given a strong leather harness that goes over his shoulders with straps in an ‘X’ across his back, a belt across his chest, a belt around his waist, and holders for four extra cylinders. Low on each side of his chest is a holster for a pistol at a slight angle, so he can draw them with either hand and start to raise it soon after he grabs it. The belt loops of the other three holsters fit the harness well, and it has ties to hold them in place. Once he puts the other holsters on the harness he simply slips his arms into it, shrugs it into place, then does up the chest and waist straps. It’s very quick and easy to put on and take off.
Another present he’s given is a tan travel coat. It comes down to his upper thighs, and covers the waist guns, even while seated. It has flaps in the sides that overlap while looking like a seam, but they give him free and fast access to all of his guns. A few well placed weights at chest level have it hanging nicely while two small magnets at his mid-chest keep the top closed. With this on the only visible gun is the one low on his thigh while he has fast access to them all, and the light coat doesn’t hinder his use of the guns at all. The coat is two layers of light linen with the outer layer boiled in linseed oil to make it waterproof. Both Mary and Heidi feel a lot happier with Boone being well armed, but not obviously so.
Boone needs a good horse to ride for hunting and scouting, so he starts looking to buy a horse. Mrs Gray, a local breeder of quality horses and a good friend he often works for in the summer, asks him to visit her ranch. Boone visits her out of respect for her, despite not being able to afford to buy one of the horses Mrs Gray breeds. She’s been running the ranch since her husband died a year ago. Boone knows all her children. Also, her eldest son graduated from VMI three years ago, and the next eldest is in the senior class due to graduate this spring.
Mid-week of the first week of January Boone walks over to visit Mrs Gray. When he arrives there she takes him down to the corral where all of the three year-old horses are, and says, “Boone, I hear you’re heading north to Pennsylvania before you go to Oregon soon. Is that true?”
He wonders why she’s asking while he nods yes while saying, “We’re going to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to buy manufactured goods to take west, because we think they’ll be better to bargain with than gold coin when we get on the Oregon Trail.”
“Good. I want you to take our best breeding stock and the rest of my family to my brother-in-law who lives just outside of Harrisburg. If I can sell the ranch before you leave I’ll go with you. Otherwise I’ll follow you. I want the family and the best stock away from here as soon as possible. Like you, I’ve concerns about the extremists on the issues of State’s Rights and slavery. I can’t pay you much in cash, but I am prepared to pay you with a good colt. If you’ll agree to do this you can select any of these horses, and stay here for a few weeks to work with the colt.” He turns to look at her, because the horses are worth much more than what the work she’s asked for is worth. “I want you mounted on a good horse while you look after my children and their future livelihood.”
Boone slowly nods his understanding while he thinks, and then says, “I need to talk to Gran and Heidi before I can give you an answer.”
Mrs Gray smiles, and replies, “Select a colt, and take him for a ride so you can see if you like him. Riding over to speak to them will be a lot faster than walking over and back.”
A smiling Boone nods his agreement while he climbs through the corral fence. He slowly makes his way toward the twenty colts. The horses are standing in a group in the middle of the corral, so he walks up to them while he speaks softly. He stops to let each horse sniff his hand, then he strokes their neck while he looks them over. He really likes the look of the fifth colt, but he turns away to check the next one while thinking, It’ll need to be a dang good horse to be better than this one. However, he doesn’t get to look at the sixth horse, because the fifth horse moves over to nudge him aside, then it stands between him and the next horse. Boone is a bit surprised, and he turns to face the horse. The colt bumps Boone on the chest with his head. Boone looks the horse in the eyes, and says, “If you want me to take you, then you best follow me back to the gate.” He turns, walks back to the gate to the corral, and stops. The colt stops just beside him, making Boone smile. He looks at Mrs Gray, and says, “I do believe this smart fellow wants me to take him with me.”
Mrs Gray grins, and says, “That’s Morgan, and he’s as smart as his sire, Brownie, and as fast as any horse I ever saw at his age. His dam is Wind Rider, the fastest mare we’ve seen in this area. He’s a good choice, especially since he likes you. I’ve been working with him, and he’s fully trained. He’ll ground tie, and is trained to respond to voice commands as well as knee pressure. With him I use a bridle without a bit that’s more of a halter with reins on it. He’s also trained to not shy away at gunfire.” She turns, and talks to one of her workers, who nods yes, and goes to the tack room.
When the man returns with the tack Boone can see what she means about the bridle. It looks like a halter with no tie ring at the bottom, but with a tie ring on each side where the reins are attached. It only takes a moment for Boone to have the harness and a saddle on Morgan. Acting on an impulse Boone places the reins on Morgan’s neck, says, “Follow me, Morgan,” and opens the gate. He walks through it, and Morgan walks out behind him. When Boone turns to close the gate Morgan stops, and stands still. The ranch hand stands there slowly shaking his head at how Morgan responds to Boone. In a moment Boone is astride Morgan, and riding off to talk to his grandmother and Heidi about taking the extra people and horses going with them to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They agree, and all is soon arranged for the expanded group to travel north.
Due to having done some work with all of the horses in the past Boone knows them, but he does spend two weeks living on the ranch and working with all of the horses there so they’ll know him better and respond well on the trip north. He does spend more time with Morgan than any other horse, so they get to know each other better. Boone also learns a lot more about the care and training of horses on top of all he’s learned while working there over the summers for some years. Plus he trains Morgan to respond to some extra commands, but he uses German words for the commands so Morgan won’t confuse them with normal words in a conversation, because they’re words that can come up in a conversation. This is the first time Boone has found the German he was taught by Heidi to be useful to him.
Boone also becomes reacquainted with the Gray children, especially Olive and Nellie. It seems like one or the other or both of them are right behind him every time he turns around. He finds it a little disconcerting, most of the time. One odd thing he notices is when he asks Nellie to do something she won’t always do it, but when he orders her to do it she smiles, and does it right away. He wonders why this is.
Mrs Gray is also happy to use Boone’s knowledge and experience from packing their wagons in getting her own wagons ready to travel. She has four wagons to carry her goods, feed for the horses, and family, as well as a chuck wagon to feed the staff going with her. Some of her staff want to go north while some want to leave to go south, and a few will stay with the new owner. Thus, only those wanting to go to the North with them will be working the stock on their move to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
They plan to leave Lexington, Virginia, in early June. By late March all is ready to go, except for the final loading of personal effects and some food items. Many large quantities of food stuffs they want for trade and use are already purchased and loaded, because they’re long lasting foods like coffee, flour, and sugar. Both groups are now at the point they can finish their loading in a few days, if they need to leave in a rush.
Boone will wear his five gun harness every day after they leave VMI.
Wait for No Man
Within a few days of Fort Sumter being attacked on April 12th, 1861 the group of travelers decides it’s time to leave before things get a lot worse. Mary, Heidi, and Boone speak with the Commandant of the Virginia Military Institute, and they’re given permission to leave as of the first of May. Mrs Gray quickly settles the sale of her ranch with over half her stock by accepting the last offer made to her. All of the people going with them hasten to finish their arrangements. They arrange to meet on the road a few miles north of the town by mid-morning on May 1st.
The VMI trio wake up early on the first of May, have breakfast, and quickly pack the last few items not packed the day before. When they mount up to leave they’re joined by one of the staff with over a dozen of the students who are also going to the North. They leave VMI with Boone riding point position to lead the way.
A little later they meet up with Mrs Gray. Her wagons are lined up on the side of the road with her herd of horses in a field nearby. Boone is surprised to see a dozen or so other families with pack-horses as well as four more families with wagons, all waiting to go to the North with them.
When the ten mules pulling Boone’s double wagons pass by Mrs Gray leads her wagons onto the road behind them, and they’re followed by the other wagons. The people on horses with pack-horses join the line, and last to move out is the herd of Mrs Gray’s horses. It’s a lot smaller than it once was, because the sale included more than half of the mature horses, but she has the main breeding stock with the colts and fillies.