Boone - the Early Years
Copyright© 2016 by Ernest Bywater
The Road to Columbus
Bright and early on Monday July 1st, 1861 the doors to the barn are opened, and the four wagons move out. Yesterday afternoon was spent cleaning up the barn and stables, and now they’re leaving after several weeks of living there while getting ready to go west. Three of the wagons are fully loaded, and the fourth is mostly loaded, they’ll finish loading it when they reach Columbus, Ohio, where they plan to buy a great deal of salt. Nellie is at the reins of the lead wagon pair with Heidi in charge of the team pulling the second pair of wagons. Boone is riding as the scout, Olive is riding beside the lead wagon, Sam is riding Nellie’s second mount beside the second wagon, Mary is riding Olive’s spare mount at the back of the last wagon, and Lee is sitting beside Nellie.
The small wagon-train moves through the early morning streets of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, while the bulk of the town’s residents are still in bed or sitting down to breakfast. The sun is still on the horizon when they reach the covered bridge, pay their toll, and start across it.
Boone is a little worried, because the fastest way west is to go south-west back down the valley for about thirty miles before they can turn due west and head for Bedford, Pennsylvania. The reports of fighting to the south, just over the border, is a worry for them all, but to go further north means additional weeks on the road. Thus, for the two days they go south they worry, and Boone is extremely thorough in his scouting. They breath a lot easier after they’re on the road to Bedford, Pennsylvania, for a full day, and know they’re now heading away from the known areas of fighting between the soldiers.
The travelers keep to the better roads while they move west. Where they can do so they camp for the night well off the road for safety. When they go through Bedford, Pennsylvania, there’s news about brigands taking advantage of the current political confusion to attack travelers, so they take all the care they can while traveling and setting up camp.
The roads are in a reasonable condition, and they make good time, but they do have to travel over hills and mountains as well as cross the many rivers and streams along the way. When they get close to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the best road goes north-west to the city while they take a lower quality road going more due west to pass many miles south of the city on a more direct line to the town of Washington, Pennsylvania.
Two weeks out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Boone figures they must be near Pennsylvania’s western border. A little later he spots men hiding in the trees up ahead. He turns Morgan around, and races for the wagons at the same time as signaling for them to close up for trouble. The distance he rides ahead varies with the country, because he stays within sight of the wagons. Thus he’s only a bit over a mile ahead of the wagons when he gives the alert. Nellie moves to the left side of the road while Mary moves up on the right side of the road to stop beside her with just a few feet between the wagons. Sam and Olive move from riding the wings to be between the wagons, dismount, tie their horses to the wagons, and take up their positions on the wagons.
Boone has a half mile lead when the brigands ride out of the trees to chase him down, because they can see the wagons are stopping away from their ambush site. Boone rides down the side of the wagons to check the ladies are set, and the doors on the rear wagons are locked shut. He turns to ride back between the wagons, and dismounts. He drops the reins so Morgan will ground tie here, grabs his shotgun, rifle, and bag of extra shells, then races to kneel a bit in front of the two teams of mules to bring fire to bear to his front and sides.
Nellie and Olive are behind the seat of Number 1 Wagon with their guns ready while Sam waits to load for them with extra guns on hand. Mary, Heidi, and Lee are in a similar position in Number 3 Wagon. At the moment they all have rifles in hand, and are waiting to shoot.
Boone looks around, and yells, “You can’t expect to aim at and hit a man on a fast moving horse with a rifle. But while they’re coming right at us we can aim at the pack to get a few with the rifles. Be ready to switch to pistols when they get close, and shotguns when they’re right up to us. Open fire!“
All five adults take aim at the large group of men, and fire. Four of them fall off their horses, with one being blown out of the saddle. They lever in another round, and fire again, for a similar result. The men now spread out a bit, so the third rifle round only drops another two, but that’s now ten less men than the brigands started with. Boone puts his rifle down, and pulls out his shoulder pistols. He takes aim, and fires with his left hand, and a man drops from his horse. Boone aims the gun in his right hand, and fires to get another. The ladies fire another rifle shot, and switch to their pistols, using both hands to aim and fire. By the time the men close in on the wagons there’s a long string of bodies on the road, with only ten of them left astride a horse. Boone puts his pistols down to grab his shotgun. He waits, lifts the gun up, fires one shot at the nearest man on his right, turns, and shoots the nearest man on his left. The two men are blown off their horses, and the last eight men split up to have four go down each side of the wagons. The ladies aim and fire their shotguns twice, and only riderless horses pass the wagons.
Boone reloads his guns, then walks back to put the shotgun in its boot on Morgan, he moves between the wagons to check the four men on the right side. Clearly dead. A check on those on the left for the same result. The shotguns really make a sure kill at close range, and a mess. Boone starts walking down the road while saying, “Sam, Lee, mount up and catch their horses. Heidi, check to make sure no one is hurt.”
When he reaches each of the shot brigands Boone checks if they’re dead. One tries to draw a pistol when Boone nears him, but a rifle shot to the man’s groin has him screaming instead. When he reaches the end of the dead men Boone turns back to the wagons, but stops to strip each of the dead of anything useful. He meets Mary and Nellie doing the same when he’s halfway back to the wagons. He looks up, Olive has a bandage on her arm while moving one wagon pair forward to the side of the road, and Heidi is moving the other wagon pair up in her wake. Sam is tying the reins of a horse to each dead while Lee collects gear.
Boone says, “Damn, we’re organized. What’s with Olive’s arm?”
Nellie says, “Heidi says it’s a minor crease, a little further out and it would’ve been a clean miss. The ball is somewhere in the wagon. I took Morgan off ground hitch, and told him to stay with the wagons, too.”
“Glad it’s only minor. We have to make sure she doesn’t get an infection. I’ll go load up the dead, then I best check out the trees.” The two ladies nod to him while collecting the booty from those near them.
Boone walks back to where the dead are with a horse beside them, he lifts one up, puts him across the saddle of a horse, and ties him in place. He notices the saddlebags and roll are gone, glances at the other horses, and sees it’s the same there. He ties a lead from the first horse to the saddle horn of the second horse, and repeats the procedure. He also takes a moment to collect the fired shell cases from their guns. About half an hour after the attack started he’s back with the wagons to load the last of the brigands onto one of their new horses. He’s shocked to find they killed thirty-five brigands in the short engagement.
He takes a moment to store the fired shell cases in a wagon, and to get some more for his bag before he mounts Morgan. A little later Boone dismounts, and walks through the tree area where the brigands started from. He finds their tracks, and follows them back to an empty camp area. There’s no pack-horses or anything, so he wonders if there was another brigand who’s made off with their pack-horses.
About an hour after starting out again they come to a small town. It’s so small it doesn’t even have a local law officer. Boone gives a report of the attack to the owner of the mercantile store. The man comes out to look at the dead, swears, and says, “That’s a militia troop that came into town from the west yesterday. Why’d you go and shoot them for?”
Boone looks at the man, and says, “When someone hides in the trees and comes out shooting while I try to ride away I’ll always shoot the thieving scum down. I don’t care what they claim to be. When they act like thieves, I’ll treat them like thieves. Now what do you want to do with them?”
“We haven’t got an undertaker, so you’ll have to dig graves for them yourselves. There’s a spot marked off as a cemetery to the west of town.”
By now Boone is upset at the man and his attitude, so he says, “If you want them buried, then I’ll drop them at the cemetery so you can go dig their graves. Otherwise, I’ll drop them in a gully to rot.”
They argue for a few minutes before the man finally agrees he’ll have the graves dug, because he wants to have them buried. When the wagons pass the cemetery Boone stops to dump the dead just inside the fenced area for the cemetery.
Nineteen days after leaving Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, they reach Wheeling, Virginia, in the middle of the day. They’re a little concerned to be back in Virginia, but all of the fighting is much further east and south of this area, so they feel it’s safe enough for a quick transit of the area. None of the stablemen here want to buy any of the extra horses or tack, so they continue on their way. A couple of the stablemen seem upset when Boone doesn’t buy any hay or grain from them. They cross the Ohio River, and pass through Bridgeport, Ohio, while they continue heading west. Shortly before dusk Boone rides into a farm to ask the farmer, “Do you mind if we camp in your field?”
The man looks him over, and says, “I do mind. But you can camp beside the barn, if you want.”
“Thanks. Got any hay or feed you want to sell?”
“Sure do. Got almost two wagon loads of hay to take to town, but only one wagon to take it in with.” They haggle for a while, and Boone pays for half a wagon load of hay. He gives the man less than what the men in town want, but more than what they pay the farmer. Boone needs the extra hay because the extra horses are eating a lot of what they have. Boone also pays the man five dollars for letting them stay the night.
The next morning they leave the farm. Seven days later they enter Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, July 29th, 1861.
They’re still moving through the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio, when an Army sergeant holds up a hand for Boone to stop to speak to him. Not wanting to split the party he has the wagons stop too. The Sergeant says, “You’ve got a good string of horses there, Mister, What do you intend to do with them?”
Mary and Heidi are driving the wagon while Boone, Nellie, Olive, Lee, and Sam are riding their original horses. So only the captured horses are on a line behind the wagons. So Boone smiles, and says, “See the horses on the long line?” The Sergeant nods yes, “Well, they’re for sale. If you want them all, I’ll do you a good deal. I’ve also got tack if you want it too. But you don’t have to buy the tack if you don’t want it.”
The Sergeant grins, and says, “Let me have a look at them.”
Boone waves his hand while saying, “Go for it. But don’t take too long. We’ve got to find a place to establish camp.”
Ten minutes later the Sergeant is signing a note for the horses while the four troopers with him are leading them away. They settled on a price a little below the current market rate for the city, so the Sergeant is very happy with the purchase. He even gives Boone a lead on where he can sell the saddles and tack, as well as a place to camp.
They spend a week in Columbus while taking their time to clean up, restock, and purchase the salt they want. In the end they fill the area under the bed in Number 2 Wagon with salt in cloth sacks, each bag with fifty pounds of salt. By the time they’ve the sacks in and neatly stacked it’s not quite the entire space, but the purchase of blankets is able to fill the remaining gap to ensure there’s no way for the sacks to move. They also have another two dozen sacks just lying on the bed, because it’s one they don’t use. Mary and Heidi use Number 3 Wagon while Olive, Nellie, and Boone use Number 1 Wagon, with Number 4 Wagon being the nominal residence of Sam and Lee. However, Sam and Lee end up in one of the other wagons on most nights, because they want to be with their other family members now they’ve a family again.
Moving Right Along
On the morning of Monday August 5th, 1861 they’re moving out on their way further west. After talking to people, and checking the news reports, Boone decides to head due west through Indianapolis, Indiana, then turn north-west for Peoria, Illinois, and on to cross the Mississippi River at Rock Island, Illinois. Boone knows his family can fight well, but he sees no need to go looking for trouble. So the many reports of fighting between troops and raiders in Kansas and Missouri have him wanting to stay well north of them to minimize the risk of running into any of the troops or the raiders. He feels sure some of the raiders are legitimate operations in support of the side they support in the conflict, but he’s also sure the majority of them are just thieves using the opportunity to prey on people. If he meets any he’ll deal with them, but he thinks it better to avoid as many as he can, so his family is safer.
The basic strategy seems to work well, because they have no issues with bandits or military for many days. The only military they see are eastbound Union forces, most are US Army while a few are militia units.
On August 17th they reach Indianapolis, Indiana, and take a day off for hot baths and to restock some of the perishable foods. They leave on the morning of August 19th. Although they aren’t pushing the mules they’re making good time, because they’ve got extra mules in each team so the strain isn’t as heavy on them as it could be with the minimum number of mules. The rule of thumb is one mule per three thousand pounds, so their ten mule teams should be able to pull a load of up to thirty thousand pound. However, if their figures are right each wagon pair weighs only twenty thousand pounds of wagon and freight together.
On the ninth day out of Indianapolis the group is about to enter a small town when there’s shooting in the town followed by four men racing out of the town bank to get on horses. When the shooting starts Boone immediately moves Morgan into a gallop to see what’s happening while the lead wagon pair stops and the other pulls up beside it, ready to defend themselves against an attack.
On seeing the men race out of the bank Boone draws a pistol from one of the shoulder holsters with his right hand, and draws the shotgun with his left hand. He stands up in the stirrups with his legs flexed to minimize the movement caused by Morgan, takes aim with the pistol, and fires at the last of the robbers mounting his horse. The man is hit in the chest, and falls back from his horse. Townspeople are coming out of the stores on the other side of the bank with guns in their hands, so the robbers turn to go by Boone, because there’s only the one of him. Boone takes aim at one of the robbers coming straight at him, and fires. The man is hit in the chest, and he’s knocked out of the saddle. They’re now getting much closer, so Boone drops back into the saddle, and lies down along Morgan’s neck. He takes aim with the shotgun held out to his left while using his knees to direct Morgan to his right so he’ll have the robbers on his left. This has two advantages: first, the robbers have their guns in their right hands and now have to aim across their bodies at him, spoiling their aim; and second, he need only point the shotgun out to his left. They’re almost up to each other when Boone points the shotgun at the lead robber, but angled up to miss the horse, he hopes. The blast turns the man into a headless corpse. The other robber is splashed with blood and gore, which disrupts his actions. Then Boone fires the other shotgun barrel to hit the last robber in the chest and blow him out of the saddle. With the shooting over the wagons move forward again, going to the side of the road to avoid the bodies.
With the action over Boone slows, turns Morgan, chases the horses, grabs their reins, and brings them back to where the dead are. He stops to load a dead robber onto each horse, and he also picks up the guns they dropped when they died. Once all the dead are on horses he leads them into the town, and stops in front of the bank.
The Town Marshal and the bank manager both thank Boone for his help while he removes the two saddlebags he saw put on the horses, and hands them to the manager to take back into the bank. Nellie and Olive get down to help Boone strip the four dead. In moments they’ve got all of the clothes they want off the men, their pocket contents, the belts, gun-belts, hats, boots, socks, and the contents of the other saddlebags. While passing it all up to Mary to go through Boone says, “Marshal, since the bank has their money back I think the bank or the town can pay to bury this lot after you check them against your handbills.”
The Marshal replies, “Yep, they can. I’ll go get the handbills. You’ll be able to sell most of the gear to the shopkeepers, but don’t expect top dollar for anything except the horses. With the Army buying all of the horses they can, we’re short on them.”
“Thanks, Marshal.” Boone turns to Olive to say, “Have Sam help you take the horses to the livery and sell them.” A quick nod yes is all he gets as a reply before the two are gathering the reins of the four horses, and walking down the street. Heidi and Nellie take the wagons further down the street to stop in front of the mercantile store while Boone stands by the dead to see what the handbills have to offer.
Three of the men match handbills, and the Marshal says, “I’ll write you a note to take into the county seat in Pekin to claim the bounty. I’m sure the fourth is the fourth man in this set, but without a face we can’t be sure, so you miss out on that one.”
Boone laughs, and says, “It’s all ‘found money,’ so I’m not too upset about it. I understand why you’re not sure. Plus, it’s my fault he’s the way he is. I aimed high to avoid hurting the horse.”
“In your place I would’ve probably done the same. Come down to the jail, and I’ll fill in that note for you.” Fifteen minutes later Boone has the note, and is joining his family for a hot meal in the town’s one restaurant which is attached to the town’s only hotel.
Olive says, “The saddles and tack weren’t worth much, but we did get a good price on the horses and guns, Boone.”
He replies, “I bet the townspeople are happy we arrived when we did. The loss from a bank robbery would hurt them real bad.”
A voice behind him says, “You’re right about that, Mister. Thanks for the help. I’m sure some changes will be made at the bank to make it harder to rob. But the report of the failed robbery will go a long way to keep many would be robbers away from here.”
Boone turns around to see the speaker is the woman delivering his meal, so he just nods his agreement before paying attention to the hot meal Olive ordered for him when she ordered her own. An hour after arriving in the town they’re on their way again.
Minor Change in Plans
The plan had been to go north-west at Mackinaw, Illinois, to cross the river at Peoria, Illinois, but now they go west-north-west to Pekin, Illinois, where they collect the bounty, and they cross the river. They reach Peoria, Illinois, on September 9th, 1861, another Monday. While he rides into town Boone thinks, On the road we lose track of the days, yet we seem to arrive or leave an important place on a Monday, most of the time, despite us not caring what day of the week it is.
After a two day break in Peoria, Illinois, to rest and restock they get on the road again on September 11th, 1861. When they leave the town Boone is riding beside the lead wagon, and says, “In the newspaper they had a list of all the fighting over the last few months. The military have fought seven battles in Missouri. I’m not sure where they relate to the trail west from Saint Louis, but it means armed troops are all over the state. There was also lots of reports of raiders for both sides hitting places in both Missouri and Kansas. I’m glad we decided to go well to the north of all that. As it is, we’ve seen a lot of shooting.”
Nellie says, “I don’t know about that, Boone. But I do know these wagons are a lot more comfortable to ride in than any other wagon I’ve been in. I have to wonder how sore I’d be from spending all this time on the seat of a normal wagon. The cushions we made to sit on help, but the big help is the springs taking a lot of the small bumps out of the ride.”
He grins, and says, “When I saw how they did that for the buggies I knew we could do it for the wagons, but I wasn’t sure how big to make them. One of their engineers knew what size to make them.”
They chat for another ten minutes before they’re far enough out of the town Boone has to move further ahead to scout the trail.
On Wednesday September 18th, 1861 they reach Rock Island, Illinois, on the shore of the Mississippi River, and take the ferry across the river to Davenport, Iowa. Due to the fort in the river there’s a lot of soldiers in the town, so it’s safe, and they stay for the afternoon to buy perishable supplies then move out the next morning.
Des Moines, Iowa
They arrive in Des Moines, Iowa, on September 30th, 1861, another Monday, which amuses Boone due to his thoughts on Mondays in Peoria, Illinois. Due to the town being a significant city there are quite a few Army troops around, but there doesn’t seem as many as there were in Davenport, Iowa. The news of more fighting in Missouri is a concern for some, but not for Boone, because he’s not going that way.
When they find a suitable place they establish their camp, and Boone says, “I want to stay here for a day or two while I ask about the way ahead. The roads to here have been reasonable, and most of the time the weather has been good. However, I know there are no real roads once we cross the river at Council Bluffs, and I’m worried about how far we’ll get before the weather turns. We have to be somewhere we can stay for the winter before the winter sets in properly.”
Mary says, “The almanac says we’ll be in for a few bad storms this winter, with a couple being early storms. So we need to plan ahead.”
They all take time to sort out and repack part of each wagon. Boone is able to find out a lot more about what lies ahead, but he doesn’t get all of the information or answers he needs. Thus, on the morning of October 3rd, 1861 they’re once more on the road to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where Boone hopes to learn more about what lies ahead of them.
Council Bluffs, Iowa
Mid-afternoon on October 17th, 1861 they enter Council Bluffs, Iowa, after a long and tiring trip. This is the slowest section of their trip so far. They had to stop and set out the extra canvas covers to weather a bad rainstorm that lasted for over two days. Boone wonders how many of the stock they’d have lost if they hadn’t been able to create the protected area between the wagons to keep the stock out of the weather. It also gave them a dry place to do their cooking, so they had hot meals. As a result of the experience Boone decides to load up more cut firewood to take with them, instead of the very small supplies they’ve been carrying until now.
A two day layover in Council Bluffs, Iowa, helps them to get all their dirty clothes washed and dried. They could wash, but it’s not easy to dry clothes in the rain. While the ladies do the washing Boone is out selling some of their trade goods for double what they paid for them. He also asks about the way ahead, and he learns they need to establish camp for the winter somewhere soon. The most important information is about the main route west being along the Platte River because it’s close to water for most of it. However, there is a faster trail along the Elkhorn River then west across the northern edge of the dry prairie. Although two weeks shorter to travel few people take it, because there’s very little water once they leave the Elkhorn River, so you have to carry all you need for the trip. The last settlement along the Elkhorn is the town of West Point, Nebraska Territory. The town is only a few years old, and only four or five days travel away to the north-west. They don’t want to stay in a big town for the winter, so the little town sounds like a good place to them.
On Sunday October 20th, 1861 they attend church at Council Bluffs, Iowa, break camp, ferry across the river, and travel toward West Point, Nebraska Territory. More storms cause slow travel and delays, but they reach the town in the afternoon of October 26th, 1861. Two hours later Boone speaks with Mr Dale, the owner of a large barn that isn’t being used, and Boone rents his barn for them to live in for the winter. After describing what he wants to do Boone is given permission to build some additions, with him providing the labor and half the costs.
They make camp in the building, and settle in for the night.
The next morning they attend the local church service. While there Boone is able to hire a few of the older boys to help him with some of the work. The rest of the day is spent getting set up in the barn.
Immediately after Monday’s breakfast Boone gets out tools ready for when his helpers arrive. A few questions to find out where the winds usually come from, and he starts work by handing the boys the tools to use today. On the side of the barn which is opposite the prevailing winds Boone sets out an area that’s six feet by six feet, then he paces off fifteen feet, marks an area about ten feet round, and tells the boys, “I want a hole dug here about twenty feet deep and ten feet across.” They all nod their understanding, and get to work digging. Boone starts to work digging a trench from the pit to the other area he marked out. It’s a sunny day, but cool, so the hard work keeps them all warm. Mary calls them for lunch, and they stop at dinnertime. The trench is done, the pit is over half done, and Boone has a nice hole at the barn end of the trench.
The next day the boys are back to work on the pit while Boone is at the mercantile store to make the purchase of the other parts he needs for the job. He pays his half, and the shop owner knows to bill the owner of the barn for the rest. Boone also pays to have the items delivered to the site. Then he spends the rest of the day digging post holes around the area he marked out beside the barn.
On Wednesday Boone has the boys use the barn owner’s wagon to collect a load of river rocks to fill the bottom half of the pit they’ve dug while he builds a sturdy frame and water tank over the other area.
After dinner that night Boone builds up their fire, and sets a tin pan on the fire. The round pan is thirty inches across with twelve inch high sides. When the bottom of the pan is hot enough Boone hits it with a hammer to cause the bottom to bow downward. After two hours he has a decent bow in the bottom of the pan, and he stops working on it.
Thursday morning Boone sets two of the boys to work cutting a six foot length of tin pipe in half along its length for five feet. The others are put to work to finish building the water tank Boone started to build the previous day while he works on the pan from last night by cutting a hole in the middle of the bottom, and attaching a fitting to it.