Copyright© 2020 by UtIdArWa
The travel from Boston to St. Louis was, as Dr. Paulson described, pleasant. Granted, things were primitive or at least seemed so to a young society lady fresh from an ivy league medical school. The food wasn’t up to Boston’s high standards, but it was cheap, tasted good, and was filling. Those times that I had to stay overnight, the accommodations were clean and comfortable.
It was when I arrived in St. Louis that things began to change.
Following Dr. Paulson’s advice, I had purchased a new traveling outfit. I opted for the new cotton denim fabric. According to the salesman, the material was highly recommended for the miners heading to the California goldfields. It was durable, easily cleaned, and mended. I bought two pairs that fit reasonably well. I also purchased two red plaid long-sleeved shirts. Named ‘Pendleton’ as a style and the brand name. Both the pants and shirts were made of cotton. A far superior material than the wool or canvas alternatives. I also purchased two sets of ‘long handles.’ these were the insulated underwear that Dr. Paulson insisted I would need. Indeed, I found out later that they were invaluable when the weather turned colder at night. My final purchase was a cotton duck jacket that had a removable liner. On a whim, I also purchased a wide-brimmed hat similar to what I had seen others wearing.
Once I had changed into my new clothing, and if I kept my mouth shut, I could easily be mistaken for a young male traveler. Maybe a farmer or a youngster headed to the minefields for my fortune. It tickled my vanity to fantasize that I was on a great adventure. Little did I know.
The following morning, I boarded the stage for the next leg of my journey. I was first to arrive and was able to choose my seat. Next on were a young lady and her 5-year-old son. She was the wife of an army officer stationed at a new posting in Colorado. She and her son were joining him there as family housing had just become available.
Next on board was a grizzled old-timer. A battered and patched felt hat on his head with what looked like a turkey feather extending out of it. He was wearing buckskin clothing that appeared to have been crudely hand sewn. Rather than boots, I was fascinated by the Indian moccasins he wore. He had a grey beard that, along with his hair, appeared to have been trimmed with the knife that was prominent on the left side of his belt. On the right side was a deadly looking and well-maintained pistol. He also carried a Spencer cartridge carbine and a short double-barreled shotgun.
There had been a disagreement between the old-timer and the driver about those weapons. The driver wanted them stored with the rest of the baggage either in the boot or up top with him and the shotgun rider. What started as a heated conversation changed to a quiet one-sided speech. I couldn’t hear what was said, but I did see several coins change hands.
The old-timer said that his name was Jedidiah Hess that he had been a trapper, a scout, and an Indian fighter since coming out west as a boy. He entertained our youngest passenger and myself with his thrilling tales of adventure.
The last passenger was a bit of a shock. He was a well-dressed middle-aged man. Well-dressed would be a generous term. He looked like any other eastern dude. His suit had that same shiny, oily look that his overly pomaded hair had. What set him apart was the sheriff escorting him. As the pair approached the coach, the dude could be heard alternately begging for a favor or insulting the sheriff and any bystanders. Eventually, the dude was installed in the coach. The sheriff looked at the army wife and me. “Ladies, don’t trust anything this snake tries to sell you. If I had my druthers, he’d be stretching a rope right now. But the judge says get him out of town. So be warned.”
He looked at the old-timer “Jed, no tears for this owl hoot. Send him ta hell if needed. I wouldn’t bother digging a grave either. Crows gotta eat.”
It was after we left behind the last of the buildings of St. Louis that I noticed that we had a rider following us. It was the sheriff that had escorted our companion. After about an hour, he rode closer and asked the driver to stop.
Riding up to the window next to the dude, he handed him a small chrome-plated pistol. “It’s unloaded, Nelson. I suggest you leave it that way. I also suggest you stay out of St. Louis from now on. Next time I see you, it’ll be boot hill and no warning.” he then pulled his horse around and started riding away. The driver whipped up the horses, and we resumed our journey.
The dude was quietly cursing to himself while he returned the pistol to a hideout shoulder holster. He looked up at the rest of us, and it seemed as if he was about to say something when he looked at the old-timer. He had his hand on his pistol and a cold look in his eyes. “Friend, I’d be grateful if you’d leave that piece empty while we’re on the road. If they’s any trouble, I’m sure that the shotgun and I can handle it. If not, well, I’ll let ya know.”
From there till we arrived at Fort Smith in Arkansas, we had no further problems with the dude. At Fort Smith, he debarked and disappeared into the background. The next day we continued on. But now it was with the old-timer riding up top with his arsenal. Later, I found out that we would be crossing Indian territory, and the stage driver felt better with the additional firepower up top.
In Santa Fe, we lost the army bride and her son. Their trip continued to the north. It was during the next leg that I had the coach to myself. With the reduced weight, we were able to make very good time. In Sparks, Nevada, the old-timer and I parted ways. During our travels, I had come to admire him and his wild tales. His calm and stoic demeanor was a comfort during a crisis, and there had been a few. We shook hands at our parting. On a whim, I kissed his cheek and rushed away. Afraid that my tears would cause him distress.
The next day we were once again traveling what seemed to have become a never-ending trail when I noticed a group of riders. They were about a mile off and didn’t seem to be approaching. They did, however, keep pace with us. I called up to the driver and shotgun, and they confirmed that they had also seen that group. And a similar group on the other side.
It was hard to tell at this distance, but they all seemed to be wearing the same clothing. I was confused because I had seen military patrols while on the road, and these were defiantly, not the same thing. The driver said that I shouldn’t worry. He knew who these riders were, and our travels had just gotten much safer.
At noon were came to a horse station. This is where we needed to change horses for a steep incline ahead. The driver told me that it would be at least 15 minutes. But if I wanted, the station master’s wife usually had a fresh pot of coffee on at about this time of day. I walked into the station house and was welcomed with the smell of fresh coffee and cherry pie. I introduced myself to Polly, the station master’s wife, and Joey, her son. And gratefully accepted her offer of coffee and pie.
We were joined shortly by the driver and his guard. The offer of coffee and pie also enticed them. Once we finished, we stepped outside to resume our journey.