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~ The Early Years ~

All rights reserved © 2016 by Ernest Bywater

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. All rights are reserved by the author, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

Product names, brands, and other trademarks referred to within this book are the property of their respective trademark holders. Unless otherwise specified there is no association between the author and any trademark holder is expressed or implied. Nor does it express any endorsement by them, or of them. Use of a term in this book should not be regarded as affecting the validity of any trademark, service mark, or registered trademark.

Cover Art

The images are Original Henry.jpg from Henry Repeating Arms (is used with their permission), CoachGun.jpg by Commander Zulu (is used with his permission), and Convertremwib.jpg by Michael E. Cumpston (placed in the public domain by him). The adding of text, manipulation, and merging is done by Ernest Bywater.

2 December 2019 version
Published by Ernest Bywater
E-book ISBN: 978-1-387-27568-7


This story is written in US English.

The titles in use are a Chapter, a Sub-chapter, and a section.

Table of Contents

More Trouble
Passing Time
Other Work
Time and Tide
Wait for No Man
On the Road to Harrisburg
Interesting Information
More Family
The Wagons
The Road to Columbus
Moving Right Along
West Point
The Trip to Town
Council Bluffs
Christmas and the New Year
The Trip to Fort Laramie
Meeting the Locals
On the Trail Again
Fort Laramie
On the Trail to California
San Bernardino
Bank Robbers
More Robbers
San Francisco
Arizona Bound
Fort Yuma, California
Black Horse's Village
Checking the Area
Santa Fe Trip
Camp Activities
A New Home



This story is a bit different to what I usually write. It's written in US English spelling because all of the characters, and thus the narrator too, are US born characters. It's set in the mid 1800s, but I'm not going to use the slang and speech style of the period, mainly due to the story covering a number of dialect areas where I've not the knowledge or the experience to get them all correct. Rather than get it all wrong I think it's better to just write it using today's English, and to warn you all about it first.

There is one chapter I expect some people will be upset about what I have to say in it. Part of it is from the information in original source documents of the time, and part of it is from the analysis of the source records by later historians. Some parts are a rephrasing of the opinions of people from that time, or later, as stated in the documents written by them. There are a few straight forward facts, and they're presented as facts in some of the story dialogue of those discussing the events of the time. Over the years these facts have been interpreted in many ways by a lot of different people, usually their interpretation is biased toward their personal belief. The way I present them is my opinion of how they should be interpreted, and it is as valid as any other interpretation. So, please, if you disagree with some of the points made about the old politics in the story don't send me an email claiming I'm wrong. Just accept it's my opinion and you disagree with it.

The reason for including the political discussion is to provide a solid background for how some of the characters think and act in a way different to how some people would expect them to. It's there to tell you why some act one way and some act another, due to the depth of their feelings about the differences of their opinions on those matters. It's also there because the politics shaped the way events happened at that time.

The story starts in Lexington, Virginia, USA, and it stays there until they move to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, while on the way to go west. Then the story moves west. I've made a point to include the states when I mention most towns because one of my editors had some confusion as to what states the characters were in due to towns of similar names in a number of different states, so the state is in the narrative with the town.

Cowboys and Guns

There's a lot of authenticated information about how people lived and worked in what most people call the 'Old West' and the 'Wild West,' the names for the states and territories between the USA Rocky Mountain and Appalachian Mountain ranges during the nineteenth century. But most people only know what's in the books and films about the era.

The majority of what you see in the Hollywood shows and films on Cowboys and the Wild West relates to a couple of episodes in limited areas and small time-frames of the nineteenth century USA. There were some hired guns and fast guns, but not many. Violence did occur from time to time, usually with robbers attacking travelers, stagecoaches, and the local small town banks - not the government recognized banks in cities. In the towns and cities few people wore guns, and outside of them most people had guns handy. People were armed with knives, shotguns, or rifles for use against dangerous animals and bandits. A lot of the people who spent most of their time on horseback did carry handguns, usually it was in a holster on the saddle in the same way a rifle is carried. Thus the rider was able to quickly draw the handgun to shoot something nearby while on horseback when attacked by wildlife, the main reason for having the gun. Usually it's an older pistol because older guns were much cheaper than new ones, and all guns were expensive. A rifle for hunting was where the people spent the most money on new guns. Some towns had local laws against people wearing handguns within the town limits, and most of the people obeyed the laws. Thus the shootouts we see in books and films were very rare in real life while roadside robberies were much more common events. A lot of law officers of the era carried shotguns to intimidate people, which they did. The few people who wore a handgun in a belt holster were most often criminals or lawmen or hired guards, because few honest men had a reason to carry a handgun on them all of the time. A few people did go armed for their own protection, and many such men had previously worked as hired guards or lawmen, but not all of them. Most people of wealth also went armed, but they usually carried a smaller caliber concealed handgun or a knife.

This story unfolds against this background and not the Hollywood version of the era. Here most armed crime happened outside of towns.



Kenneth 'Ken' Nichols has a good farm in Virginia that's doing well. However, a very strong thunderstorm in the summer of 1848 changes everything for Ken and his family. Lightning starts a fire on the edge of the next property, but the strong wind blows toward Ken's farm and sets his crops on fire. Most of the good crops he started harvesting a few days before are now a blazing ruin. The whole family and all of the neighbors are out working to contain the fire to save what they can of the crops, but it's too late for most of Ken's crops before they can get ready to properly fight the fire. For five hours they fight the fire, grudgingly giving up the ground when the strong winds blow burning debris past them and they have to pull back further or risk being trapped and killed by the fire.

Into the night they continue to fight the blaze with little effect on the fire. However, a couple of hours after sunset the wind dies down and a heavy rain starts. The rain extinguishes the fire, so most of the people go home. Ken and his three oldest sons stay out in the rain walking the fields to make sure all of the fire is out before they go home for a meal.

The full extent of the damage is known the next day. One neighbor lost half of the field the fire started in, two others lost part of their first fields beside the Nichols farm when the fire spread sideways. But the bulk of the damage is to the Nichols farm with all the fields destroyed, except for the two fields already harvested and one field beside them. Not all is lost, but far more is lost than the farm can afford to lose. All they can get from the harvest will see them get through the winter, but they'll not have grain to use for next year's planting. Just when Ken was able to put a little aside from last year's crops the fire destroys the farm.


The next day Ken and his family work hard to harvest what they've got left of their crop. When they finish the harvesting they work on the burnt out fields to plow the ashes under while hoping something will grow in what's left of the season to provide some grazing or fodder for their few animals. Although the farm is mostly a crop farm they do have a few cattle as well as the horses and mules they use to work the farm.

While he works Ken thinks about his situation. To plant crops next year he'll need seed, and to buy seed he'll need to borrow money from the bank in Lexington, Virginia. Once he does that any other problem will likely see them lose the farm. It's a bleak future he sees. Then he remembers a talk with Mr James, the owner of the mercantile store. Mr James spoke about the new lands being opened up in the west and he said something about 'free land' for new settlers who go there. Ken didn't think much of it at the time, but he now thinks it's worth looking into.

On the Wednesday two weeks after the fire Ken is in town to get some supplies. When he pays for them from his small savings he asks, “Mister James, do you still have the newspaper articles about the land in the west you spoke about last month?”

Mr James smiles as he replies, “Yes, I do, Mister Nichols. I kept the articles aside when I used the rest of the papers. I'll get them for you.”

A few minutes later Ken is reading about being able to claim six hundred and forty acres of land in the Oregon Territory just by going there. Reading further into the article he sees his eldest son can also claim the same amount of land. Between them they'll have about triple the land they currently own and work. Another article tells about the Oregon Trail with some of the problems in getting to the west from the east. From the article it's clear the trip isn't impossible, but you do have to be prepared for it and be ready to work hard to get there. It also makes it clear you need to leave early in the spring to make the trip with safety.

Ken thanks Mr James when he hands the articles back. That night Ken talks to his family about moving to Oregon. It's a long evening of talking.


There's very little to do on the farm now there's no crops to harvest, so Ken and his boys get out the timber Ken stored in the back of the barn to build extensions on the house and barn. The trees he cleared two years ago are properly dried out and seasoned to be of use too. First is to cut the wood into the sizes needed to build some decent wagons strong enough to make the trip to Oregon. Ken was taught how to build wagons by his grandfather and father, so he knows what to do. He left where he grew up to become a farmer because he wasn't needed in the family wagon business run by his three oldest uncles and their sons.

Although the wagons aren't exactly the Conestoga style they're close enough to be called Conestoga Wagons. The wagons are built in the same manner with the same basic shape and sizes, but they've a few changes: a driver's seat at the wagon's front, they're a little wider, have a hitch at the back to pull another wagon, while the more upright back has less of an angle on it, plus the four wheels are all the same size and are a lot wider than usual. When Ken finishes the two new wagons he works on the two farm wagons to make them stronger and more suited for the long journey. He attaches high arched bows to put a cover on each of the wagons and he changes the tongues of the farm wagons to attach to the rear of the new wagons. This way he can have four wagons pulled by two slightly larger than normal mule teams. All four of the wagons are well caulked and tarred to make them as waterproof as they can be.

The last task to ready the wagons is to make the canvas covers for all four of them. Most people make a single canvas cover for each wagon, but Ken knows, from the articles he read, he needs to be ready for any weather that can occur. So he spends some of his savings to buy materials to make multi-layered covers for all of the wagons. A canvas layer is measured, cut to fit, and sewn together. Then a cover of cotton boiled in linseed oil is made of the same size but with the seams at different points to the canvas cover. Last is another canvas cover of the same size with the seams in a third spot, and the three are sewn together along their edges. A set of front and back covers of overlapping sections are made in the same way for each wagon. Once placed on the wagons each wagon is very waterproof with flaps people can slip through when they need to, and the flaps have cords to tie them together against the weather.

Ken and all his sons work on the wagons during the day, while in the evenings the whole family is involved in many talks about what to take. The plan is for the two large wagons to be loaded with the heavy items then left that way for the full length of the trip while the two light wagons will be loaded with their clothes, food, water, and other lighter items. Extra guns and munitions are the first items on the list of items to purchase, due to the many listed dangers on the trail. But first they finish making a list of everything they're taking from the farm.

Once they work out what they're taking they start to load the bulk of the gear they're taking from the farm into the wagons. At that point Ken decides to make cover boards for the front and back of the new wagons, and the back of one of the converted farm wagons. By putting boards in they can stack things better and higher in the new wagons, they just have to make sure what goes up high isn't heavy. They start by packing the farm equipment and tools into the lower part of the two new wagons, tie them down well, and pack around them with whatever they can to fill the gaps to minimize the chances of anything shifting. Winter is nearly over when that's done, and now they need to wait until the weather improves before they pack any more of their gear and supplies.

While waiting for the weather to improve Ken visits his neighbors to sell most of his stock and to buy other stock he needs for the journey, as well as asking if anyone wants to buy his farm. Deals are made, and soon all the stock he has left is sixteen mules with four horses. He only needs twelve mules at six for each wagon pair, but he thinks having two more mules for each wagon will make the work easier on them while giving him a few extras if there's any trouble on the trail. The neighbor where the fire started buys the farm and remaining gear from him at a fair price.

Ken uses the money from the sale of the farm to start buying the extra things they'll need for the journey, or at the other end of it. Most of the journey use items go into the back of the first farm wagon. Now the only things left to buy are the extra food items then they can load the remaining furniture they're taking and the last of their personal gear.

More Trouble

Right near the end of winter there's a sudden late heavy rain. Ken's youngest son, six-year-old Boone, is caught out in it while away from the house. He gets home, dries off, and puts on clean dry clothes. The next day he isn't feeling well, and that night he has a high fever. The following morning his mother, Martha, takes Boone in to see the doctor.

Not sure what the illness is the doctor advises bed rest and fluids until he's better. When asked, he's unable to say how long the fever will last or even if Boone will survive the illness.

For the next three days Boone lies in his bed tossing and turning in the fever. While his grandmother, Mary White, tends to Boone the rest of the family is busy packing the furniture and other household items into the four wagons. When a wagon is fully loaded with everything in it and tied down the canvas cover is put on then tied down very tight as well.

A week after the rainstorm all is ready for them to leave, except Boone is still in a raging fever and any movement hurts him. Ken and Mary are in a quandary as this is the day they have to leave to travel the Oregon Trail in good weather but they can't, due to Boone's illness. The matter comes to a head when the doctor calls to see Boone.

After his examination the doctor tells the parents, “I don't know what's wrong with the boy. I've no idea how long the fever will last or if he'll live through it.” All who hear him are shocked and saddened by the last part. “I've not heard of anyone being in a high fever this long and living through it. I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do for him.”

After the doctor leaves Mary says, “Ken, you need to get the family on the road. Help me get my bags and Boone's bag out of the wagon. I'll stay and nurse him. Send me a letter to tell me where you end up, and we'll be along after he recovers enough to travel. When you go through town buy me supplies for two weeks and have someone bring them out to me.” They talk for a few minutes more, but end up doing as Mary tells them to. A little later Mary's three bags and Boone's single bag are sitting on the floor in the main room with two beds, two plates, two cups, two forks, two knives, two spoons, a skillet, a pot, a cooking spoon, and an ax.

Mary sees the family off then she goes inside to sort things out. Both the remaining beds, the worst two of them, are set in front of the fire in the main room with their things beside them. The rest of the house is an empty shell, even the nice cook stove is packed on one of the wagons. Mary will have to do their cooking over the fire in the fireplace.

Four hours later Mr Davis, the new owner, arrives at the farm with the supplies from town for Mary and Boone bought by Ken. Mr Davis was buying his own supplies when Ken went through town and told him about the situation, so Mr Davis brought the purchases for Mary out to her. He says, “Mary, I don't need this house yet. But I will by the time spring ends because I need to get it ready for my Jim and his Betty for their wedding in June. I'll let you stay here until then.”

While taking the box of supplies from him Mary says, “Thank you, Mister Davis. One way or the other, we should be out of here well before then. By then Boone will either be dead or he'll have recovered enough for us to go somewhere else.”

“I know he isn't contagious, or so the doctor said, but why didn't you just load him up and take him in the wagon?”

“Every time he moves he screams in pain.” She walks over to lift the blanket covering the boy and she points at his legs, “See how his legs are all tied up in knots! Whatever is wrong with him makes it too painful to shift him, let alone ride in a wagon all day long.”

Damn! Poor mite. I'll have someone drop around to check with you every day or two. If you need them to go and get you supplies just tell them what you want and give them the money. I can spare them for a few hours to get the supplies for you.”

“Thank you, Mister Davis. We should be right for the next two weeks. There should be enough here in what you brought, and there's enough cut wood out the back to last that long. It should all be over, one way or the other, before we run out of either.” Mr Davis nods his agreement then he takes his leave of the pair.

Passing Time

For several more days Boone lies in the bed with the high fever, and Mary spoons broth into him whenever she can. She keeps the pot on the side of the fire so she has it warm for him whenever she feels it's safe to give him some. Mr Davis, or one of his workers, visits every other day to see how Mary and Boone are. Their supplies are almost finished when Mr Davis and his daughter-in-law to be arrive to look at the house. Betty soon has her future father-in-law going to town with the money and list of supplies Mary has ready, then the young woman asks Mary about the house. By the time Mr Davis is back Mary is hired by Betty to give the house a very thorough cleaning and to help make some curtains for the windows from the cloth Betty will supply.

The days pass and the fever finally breaks, then Boone's health starts to improve. Two weeks after the fever breaks he's able to get up and move about well enough to help with scrubbing all the floors during the day as part of the cleaning of the house. In the evening he helps with the sewing of the curtains, after Mary teaches him how to sew properly.

During spring letters arrive from Martha telling Mary where they are and how the journey has gone so far. They receive a letter about every other week, at first. Then they get fewer with longer gaps due to the distances between places where they can post letters.

The day before the wedding of Jim and Betty the house is ready with everything set up for them. Mary and Boone turn to look at the house for one last time. They're sitting in a wagon on loan from Mr Davis to move their few things to the house they'll be living in from now on. Mary has a job helping to cook and clean at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia, and part of the arrangement is to share a house with one of the other ladies who helps with the cooking and cleaning at VMI.

Boone's health continues to improve after the fever passes, but he's left with a mild limp due to the damage done to his left leg muscles while he was in the fever. He exercises and works hard to build up his strength and stamina. At VMI he does work around the house they live in, like chopping firewood and helping to clean the house. When Boone gets older he does paid work running errands for the staff at VMI.

Life Moves On

Martha's letters turn up at times, and, from the contents, Mary knows some letters have gone astray on their way east due to Martha touching on things told in earlier letters not in the letters they received. At first the mail is forwarded to them by Betty. After Martha, Ken, and Boone's five siblings get to Oregon and choose land to settle on they're able to give Mary the address of the store in the nearest town as a place to send mail for them. So Mary sends them the new address for Boone and herself. Ken and Martha are able to claim land for themselves and both of their eldest sons when they reached Oregon. They're lucky to be some of the last few to claim land under the old local system because the system is reported to be changing soon. They now have three of the six hundred and forty acre claims to work. Working as a team they're able to prove all three of the claims and to quickly obtain the full titles to all of the land.

It's a few years before Mary declares Boone to be well enough to go on the trip to Oregon, but now neither wants to go. So they write to his parents with their decision to stay in Virginia. Both households send a letter each way every month or two as they settle into their new lives on both sides of the continent.

Boone continues to grow healthier and stronger while learning a lot of things from Mary and Heidi, the other cook / cleaner they share the house with. Both of the ladies teach Boone how to cook, make and mend clothes, and everything else they can think of, like speaking German.

After Mary teaches Boone how to read he's allowed to read the books in the VMI library. Whenever he has spare time from other tasks Boone is allowed to sit in the back of the classrooms to listen to what's being taught. However, he's to remain silent while in the classrooms and isn't allowed to speak, nor to ask questions. Although he gets no formal recognition of what he learns he does learn a lot on a wide range of general subjects and the military training they give to the official students. Between the classes, the library reading, plus hearing what the students and staff talk about Boone gets to know the subjects well as he's there for many years - more than double the years of the cadets!


cut to print book page 36

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.

Mary and Heidi both have a hard time suppressing their laughter at the expression on Boone's face when he realizes he's the wagon-master and trail boss of this motley crew at nineteen years of age. The shock for him is most of them are older than he is, but they now defer to him on this trip because he's the one who arranged the core group while they just tacked themselves onto the end. They only make about twelve miles on the first day because Boone wants them to get used to making camp in daylight before they have to make camp in the dark, so he stops when he finds a big enough place to stop for the night with water close to hand.


cut to print book page 52

More Family

It's a short walk from the livery where the buggy belongs to the Telegraph Office then back to the barn, so Boone doesn't take Morgan for the trip. Thus he's walking back along the boardwalk. Just in front of him is a group of four men walking four abreast while they talk. Boone falls into step about a pace behind them because he can't be bothered to step out onto the dusty road to go around them.

A couple of shops later they're passing the front of a mercantile store where a nine or ten year old kid is sweeping the boardwalk in front of the shop. Instead of moving over a little to walk around the kid the one on the outside gives the kid a shove toward the street. The kid staggers and spins before falling backward into a horse trough of water in front of the store. Boone is angered by the man so he makes a quick long stride to shove the man in the middle of the back before reaching down to pull the kid out of the trough.

The kid's arms and legs are waving because their head is under the water and their shoulders are stuck in the trough. Boone grabs a good hold of the kid's pants at the waist and pulls straight up to lift the kid out of the water at the same time the man staggers and turns the way the kid did. The only difference is the man manages to spin all the way around to be facing into the street when he falls over to land face first in a horse apple: a horse shit dropping for those who aren't familiar with the term.

While he's standing the kid on the boardwalk Boone reaches under his coat with his left hand to loosen the strap on his left-hand gun and to cock the hammer. As soon as he lets go of the kid he uses his right hand to do the same with the right-hand gun.

The three men laugh when their friend pushes the kid into the water, then they stop laughing when the man falls into the street. Suspecting he was shoved they turn around to see Boone busy drying his hand on his pants after lifting the kid out of the water. Some of the bystanders laugh at the man in the street face first in the horse shit. The man rolls over, gets up, washes his face in the trough, looks up at Boone, and says, “I'm going to kill you for that, shithead!”

Boone grins while saying, “The Good Book says, 'Cast your bread upon the waters and it'll be returned to you ten fold.' You cast this kid on the waters and you got free fertilizer in return.” The bystanders laugh.

The man steps back up onto the boardwalk and his friends stand at his side. Boone gives the kid a mild push to make the kid move aside and the kid darts into the store. One of them men says, “Ten dollars to the one whose bullet is closest to his heart.” The others all smile while they lower their hands to their guns. The one who spoke says, “Now,” and all four grab their guns.

Boone moves at the same command. His hands fly up under his coat at the side split to grab his two waist pistols. He pulls them back the inch needed to clear the ends of the holsters. He lifts them and turns the barrels out at the same time. The gun barrels push the front of his coat apart and he has a gun aimed at each of the middle two men while they're still drawing their guns out of their holsters. Boone's hands stop for the fraction of time he needs to pull the triggers then his hands move the guns further apart to aim at the other two at the moment their guns clear their holsters and he fires again. He returns both guns to their holsters while the last two men are still falling to the boardwalk. The only evidence he fired a gun is the small cloud of gun-smoke in front of him.

He spins around when he hears a voice behind him say, “I saw it all. They said they were going to kill you and went for their guns first. So it's self-defense. All they have on them and their horses are now all yours, Mister. But you have to pay to clean it up and to have them buried. Who are you?”

It's hard for Boone to keep his last meal down because this is the first time he's shot someone, but he does, just. He gives a small grimace and says, “Boone Nichols. I'm in town for a short break and to arrange a few things prior to heading west,” while looking over the man in the doorway of the barber shop beside the mercantile shop. The man has a small sheet over his chest and soap on half his face. It's clear he was having a shave when he got up to see what was happening.

“You the guy in the freight barn who got married yesterday?” Boone nods yes. “Clean this up. Young Sam can get the undertaker for you.”

The kid says, “Sure thing, Marshal,” and takes off running.

Realizing the man is the Town Marshal it makes sense to Boone the man knows a lot about him. So he asks, “Marshal, do you know which are their horses?”

“Sure. I saw them ride in earlier. The four horses tied up in front of that gunsmith shop are theirs. Now pick 'em clean if you want what they have on them. The undertaker will take it if you don't.”

Boone shrugs and says, “Thanks for the advice, Marshal.” He turns to the dead, takes off their coats, shirts, hats, boots, socks, gun-belts, and belts before he starts going through their pockets. Most of it he puts in a stack beside the men with the small pocket stuff going into the hats after he stacks the hats up. The loose money goes into his pants pockets while the two money-belts he finds go into the hats as well.

Sam returns with the undertaker and Boone says, “Sam, those four horses in front of the gunsmith are now mine. Will you please get them and bring them here for me?” Sam nods yes and goes for the horses. Boone turns to the undertaker while asking, “How much to dig one big hole to toss the four in without any boxes or fanfare?”

The man looks at them and says, “Ten dollars.” Boone digs out one of the ten dollar Gold Eagles he just took from the dead and tosses it to the undertaker. The man catches it, puts it in his pocket, and starts to drag the dead up onto the back of the wagon he arrived on.

When Sam returns with the horses Boone dumps the loose gear into one of the saddlebags, rolls up the belts and gun-belts, and shoves them into the saddlebags, then stuffs the clothes into the bags until he has the bags stuffed with everything except the boots and hats put away. He loops a hat around the horn of each saddle, ties the laces of the boots together, and hangs them from the saddle-horn on the side opposite to the hat. Boone turns to Sam, hands over a silver dollar, and says, “I'll wait here while you get changed into dry clothes then I need your help to get these horses to where I'm living.”

Sam reaches for the reins to two of the horses while saying, “These are all I got. They'll dry while we walk.”

Before moving off Boone takes a moment to get each gun out and reload it from the loose rounds he carries in his pocket. On the walk to the barn Boone learns Sam is a ten year-old orphan who has a seven year old sibling to care for. The owner of the mercantile store feeds them both breakfast and dinner while letting them sleep in a shed at the back of the store in return for them doing various jobs around the shop.

At the barn Boone tells the ladies about the four horses while he takes the saddlebags and saddles off of the four horses. He also tells his wives and his grandmother about Sam's situation and sibling. So when he's done with putting these horses with their other horses he's not surprised to see Heidi and he are the only two in the barn. Shrugging his shoulders he gets busy sorting out the booty from the men.

He's surprised to find five thousand dollars in Gold Eagles in one of the saddlebags with another five hundred dollars in each money-belt. The coats are worth keeping, so are the boots, belts, hats, money, and guns, but nothing else is worth keeping. He decides to keep the blankets because they can be used to help pad things, and two of the saddles too. He'll give the other clothes to the church and sell the rest. With the things sorted he goes back to working on the wheels.

Boone thinks about the incident while working. At the time he reacted without thinking about what was happening. He accepts he had to kill them to protect himself from them, but it takes him quite a while to be comfortable about the decision, his actions, and the outcomes. He now knows he can kill if he has to, and he suspects these won't be the only ones he'll have to kill during his life.

When the ladies return they've Sam, another kid, and two small bags of things. The other kid is introduced as Lee. Olive says, “The man who owns the mercantile wasn't happy about letting Sam and Lee leave until I asked if he wanted me to send you around to talk to him.” They all laugh at the image that brings to mind.

Boone asks, “Sam, who're the best people to sell the horses, saddles, and guns to?”

Sam grins at being asked for information and says, “Mister Johns, the gunsmith the horses were in front of, is the best place to sell or buy guns. Mister Barnes will give the best price on the saddles. If you want the best price for the horses wait two weeks for the horse sale. If you want a quick sale there's an Army man with three stripes buying every horse he can. He has a corral about five streets away. He signs papers you take to the bank for the money.”

“OK. Let's get the saddles on the horses to take them over to Mister Barnes, we can stop to sell the guns on the way then see the Army man on the way back.” He turns to the ladies while pointing at the pile of clothes as he says, “I don't think they're worth keeping. I was thinking of giving them to the church, unless one of you has a better idea.” They all smile and move to the clothes while Boone and Sam go for the horses.

It only takes Boone, Sam, and Lee a few minutes to put the saddles on two of the horses and to do them up properly. The ladies are still going through the small pile of clothes when the three mount up and ride out with the kids on one horse while Boone and Sam each lead a horse. The guns are soon sold for a fair price, so are the saddles. When they get to the Army sergeant there's an issue. He likes the horses but he's hesitant to buy them all. Boone says, “Look, Sergeant, you like the horses. You set the price on what they're worth. What's the problem here?”

The man sighs and says, “I'd like to buy them all. But I'm on a budget as to how much I can spend each month. I can only pay for three of the horses, which is why I don't want to buy the fourth one. I don't have the money for it.”

Boone laughs and says, “Is that all? Write the note for how much you can pay and take all the four for the price of three. I want them gone.” The man smiles and writes a note for the amount he can while Boone writes a bill of sale for the four horses. He shows the valuation set by the Sergeant and lists a twenty-five percent discount for the Army. That shows the real value and makes the Sergeant look good to his officer.

On the walk back to the barn Boone stops at another mercantile store to ask the wife of the owner to help him outfit the two kids with four sets of clothes for traveling, including long-johns, boots, and a hat each.

He also buys some new clothes for himself. The last purchase is a bag of candy. When they reach a bathhouse he leads them in and pays for a hot bath for each of them. Sam and Lee are hesitant when they're shown into a room with three tubs in it. After a moment Sam shrugs and starts to undress while saying, “Sam is short for Samantha. I dress like a boy because it's safer and I can get more work.”

Boone laughs and says, “Well, you had me fooled. Do you know how to wash your hair well?”

Sam replies, “Yes. Both my sister and I do.”

“Good. I'll leave you to it. Wash real well in one tub each then rinse off in the third tub. Call me when you're done.” He turns and leaves the room. Back at the counter he says, “I decided those two are so dirty they need a third tub to rinse off in. So I need a fourth bath of hot water.” The man smiles while taking his money before showing Boone to another room and tub. A moment for the staff to fill this tub then Boone has a quick, thorough wash while making sure to wash his hair too.

He's the first one back out the front. The owner looks at him and Boone says, “They've got a lot of dirt to scrub off and I think this is the first hot bath they've had.” The man smiles and goes back to work. When the two girls walk out dressed like boys Boone almost doesn't recognize them, mostly because their hair is a lot lighter than it was earlier.

The bathhouse owner looks at their hair and says, “I see what you mean about having a lot of dirt to scrub off.”

Sam says, “Boone, the first two tubs are very dirty now. Sorry.”

Boone turns to the owner and asks, “Who'll be cleaning them?” The man points at a girl. Boone gets out a silver one dollar coin and hands it to her while saying, “Sorry about the extra hard work.” She looks at the coin, her eyes go wide, she smiles, and thanks him for the tip.

The owner says, “We get a lot of real dirty tubs here. But that's the first time anyone's tipped her for the extra work. Thanks.”

When they pass the bank Boone cashes the Army note and pockets the money.

Back at the barn he tells the ladies where they washed up, and then he laughs when they all grab clean clothes and walk out for a bath of their own. Boone is smart enough to make sure he gives them enough money for them all to wash up and to tip the staff too.

They go through the old clothes Sam and Lee have, and he adds them to the pile for the church. It's too late to do much else so the three get busy cooking tonight's dinner.

After the others return, and while they're eating, Boone mentions having exchanged some telegraph messages with the gunsmith. Orders for twenty-five new Remington pistols modified the way they want them, along with twenty-five spare cylinders, twenty-five Henry Repeating Rifles, plus twenty cases of cartridges along with two reloading kits for them. But the big item is twenty-five new coach guns in twelve gauge that are break-action weapons using a brass cartridge of the same style as the Henry Rifles, along with two thousand shells, and two reloading kits for them. When the new gear arrives they'll be able to switch over to the newer shotguns. The shipment will also include a lot of the primers for both cartridges, kegs of black powder for them, shot, and lead for making the bullets for the rifles and revolvers.

Heidi asks, “Why so many guns, Boone?”

He smiles and says, “First, to make sure we can outgun anyone who causes us trouble along the way west. Later we can always sell off any we don't need, and we'll also make a good profit when we do.”

The talk moves onto what else they can buy here to take with them. One item that surprises the others is when Boone says, “I was speaking to one of the shopkeepers and he says all of the freight companies ship the short four foot tin baths west because the six foot ones take up too much space. I think we can buy and cart fifty of the six foot baths. If we stack them inside each other with a wooden brace between them they'll travel well and we can pack smaller items like scissors and needles in the spaces beside the braces. That way we'll be able to load the baths up with a lot of other items.”

Some of the other items listed for taking are treadle sewing machines boxed in kits, razors, mirrors, cooking gear, spoons, forks, knives for all uses, canvas, cloth of all sorts, thread, wool, axes, hatchets, mill stones, and other machined metal tools. The talk goes on into the night.


The next day Boone is working on the wagons while Olive works with Mary. At one point Olive turns and asks, “Mary, how come Boone isn't upset about killing those men yesterday?”

Mary says, “He was, I could tell that when he got back. But not as upset as some people would expect. You have to remember both of us were living and working at the Virginia Military Institute before he was seven years old. Since then he's been hearing people he respects talk a lot about killing people in war, the best ways to kill them, how to kill the most, and why you should kill them. He's also heard all the war stories plus the reports on people killing people in Kansas and elsewhere. He doesn't like killing but he accepts it as a part of the way things are in this world. Another aspect is why we're going west to avoid the fighting. He, like many others, believes in how important his state and its government is, but he doesn't believe the state government deserves his support when they're doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. However, he also doesn't want to get involved in shooting at kin or friends who believe they should support their state government no matter what they do. Not wanting to be on either side of the shooting he's getting away from it. Heidi and I agree with him, and I suspect your mother does too.”

“I think you're right. I've heard mother say she doesn't hold with having slaves, but she doesn't support the slave owners being forced to give up their slaves and all they've invested in them either. So she wants to keep well out of this issue. Thanks for telling me about this.”


cut to print book page 92

The Trip to Fort Laramie

They're ready to go on February 16th, 1862 when Heidi insists they go to church today and leave in the morning. When he starts to laugh the others look at Boone as if he's crazy. When he calms down he says, “We were about two thirds of the way here when I realized most of the times we arrived at or left a town it was a Monday. We don't plan it that way, but that's how it's been going. So, when you want to wait for the Monday to leave I think it's funny we're finally intentionally leaving on a Monday.” The others laugh as well, now it's been explained to them.

Using the information the people from Fort Laramie gave them they travel beside the Elkhorn River. The wagons are heavier than they have been, but they're still well within what the mule teams can pull. They don't push the mules, especially while they still have water and good grazing on hand. They may push them a bit more when it looks like a lot drier and they'll have to worry about having enough water. For the first seven days they're in the river valley and they can see the hills on each side of them, but during day eight the hills on their left gradually give way to open prairie. Two days later the hills on their right also turn into open prairie. However, there's still good water in the river bed.

They continue to follow the course of the river bed in a north-west direction. Three days later they turn due west while still following the water course. During the day they know they must be on the right trail because the Fort Laramie resupply wagon-train is in sight behind them. On finding a good campsite they stop early and wait for the other wagons to join them at the camp for the night.

Both groups camp close to each other, but as two separate groups and each has their own cooking fire. After the evening meal Boone goes over to talk to the leader of the resupply train and says, “Hello, my name's Boone. Can you spare someone who knows the trail and Indian sign language to be our guide the rest of the way to Fort Laramie?”

The man looks at Boone for a moment, then he replies, “I'm Ned. Why the concern about the Indians now?”

“Back in West Point I was told the Indians around here are friendly and shouldn't be any trouble at all. However, for the last two days I've noticed a number of Indians watching us from well out on the prairie. They're almost at the limit of sight but I can just see them out there while they watch what we do and follow us. I'd hate to have something bad happen because of a misunderstanding and things getting out of hand.”

“Most of the Indians you'll see around here are Pawnee and they're friendly. They don't mind you crossing their land, but they may get real upset if you pick a spot to homestead where they don't want you to stay. It's also customary to give them a gift for them letting you cross the land and to hunt the game for food.”

“We won't be setting up along here. We were heading to Oregon, but due to recent news we're now thinking of going to California or along the Colorado River to live. We'll find out more when we get closer to California and know more about the places. Then we'll decide what we'll do, based on the current information of the situation there.”

“That's good. I'm sorry, but I can't spare anyone. When we reach the fort I'll ask if anyone wants to come back to guide you in. But if you just follow our tracks you should be right. I've a spare rough map of the trail I'll give you. With the Indians, just smile without showing your teeth and offer them a gift if they approach you. If they've been following you I half expect them to speak to us both in the morning. They're good at staying unseen, so either they want you to see them or you're very good at keeping an eye out for what's around you.” They talk a bit longer before retiring for the night after Ned hands over the spare map.

Meeting the Locals

Five Indians ride into camp while they're having breakfast. They first talk with Ned then he leads them over to talk to Boone. Ned says, “Boone, I'm not sure if you want to get involved with this deal or not. None of these braves speak English, but if you give them something they like they'll take you to their village camped up on the Niobrara River to talk with their chief. He has people who speak English and he may trade one of them to you.”

Boone asks, “Just exactly what do you mean by 'trade one to me'?”

“Some of them are captives taken during wars or raids and are now slaves. The chief may agree to trade one, but no promises. You'll have to work out that trade.”

“OK. I understand the situation, now. I'm not happy with having a slave, but I can always make them a free person once I trade for them. What do I need to give these braves for them to lead me there?”

“Got any trade goods you can give him? Don't give away anything you need for later.”

Boone laughs, “Most of what we have are trade goods or food. Since we weren't sure what we'd do at the other end, or where, we loaded up with things we thought we could get good deals on in the west.”

Ned laughs and asks, “What sort of things?”

“We've got a lot of corn flour and wheat flour, but also have knives, gunpowder, balls, lead, blankets, nails, sewing things, and even baths.”

“Damn, that's a good mix. Well, Running Horse here is the leader of this group and they all have old rifles in fifty caliber. If you give him a poke of balls in that size with a poke of gunpowder he'll share them around and they'll all be your best friends. With the braves gun powder and balls are the best items, guns are too, but the authorities don't like that. With the chief a decent knife is a good idea while things like flour and salt for the whole village are good too.”

“Right. Give me a moment while I get some and you can explain to him what's going on when I hand them over.” Ned nods yes, so Boone goes to the wagon where they have some of the trade goods set for easy access. He puts together a pouch of suitable rifle balls and a half pound pouch of gunpowder.

In a few minutes Boone is back with two pokes which he hands to the brave while Ned explains what the gifts are for. The brave opens the pokes, looks inside, smiles, nods yes, and talks to the other braves. After a moment Ned says, “He'll lead the way and hunt for game, but you'll have to provide the cooked food each night. I explained you're in no big hurry so he should go the way with the best water and grazing.”

“Thanks, Ned. Tell him I got a deer yesterday and I'll leave it up to him when and what he hunts for.”

Ned laughs and says, “He already knows that, so I'll leave it be. Just accept and deal with whatever he brings in. Also, just follow or go where he points. He won't lead you astray because he knows you'll be seeing me later and they don't want to get the trading post angry with them. Oh, have you got any whiskey in your goods?”

Boone notices the braves come alert at the word whiskey, so he also shakes his head no when he says, “No. We didn't bring any alcohol at all. But we do have some grain if you want to make your own.”

“That's good. You'd be surprised how many fools think it's easier and cheaper to trade alcohol to the Indians. Many end up dead when the drunks go on a killing spree.” They talk for a little longer before Ned goes back to get his group rolling now they've packed up after breakfast. Boone does the same with his family and wagons.

Mary drives Wagon 1 with Lee on her left wing, Heidi drives Wagon 3 with Olive on her right wing, Nellie drives Wagon 5 with Sam on her left wing, while Boone rides scout a mile in front of them. The Pawnee braves are much further out with one just in sight on each side, another well back behind them, and one well ahead of them. The two groups of wagons are on diverging paths with Boone's group going more north.

Indian Giver

In the mid-afternoon of two days later they top a low rise to see a large Indian village camped beside the Niobrara River. The lead scout rides ahead to the village while the one Boone thinks of as their leader rides back to Boone and he points to a spot beside the village, so it's clear that's where he wants Boone's group to make camp. About an hour later they've their camp established, most of the animals are hobbled in a good area of grass, and the ladies are busy organizing the evening meal.

Some of the Indians watch Sam, Lee, and Boone care for the animals, and they pay special attention to the way Boone combs and cares for Morgan. When they finish the lead brave waves for Boone to join him to go to the main village. Boone holds up his hand and he speaks to Lee. She races off, and soon returns with a bag Boone prepared when they stopped for the first night after leaving Ned's group. He smiles at the brave while he slips the shoulder strap of the bag over his right shoulder as he starts to walk to the village. The brave grins and gets in front to lead the way. Very soon they're outside the entrance to a lodge with several of the Pawnee outside the lodge as if waiting for them. There's a man and woman who appear to be in their late forties, a young man in his twenties with a woman of a similar age, two late teen girls, and a mid-teen white girl. The brave says something to the group then he leaves.

Boone turns to face the older couple and waits. After a moment they both smile and the man says something. The white girl says, “Why do you wish to trade for someone who speaks the Pawnee tongue?”

“I tried to hire white men who spoke the Pawnee tongue or knew the sign language but none were available at this time as they were all committed to other work. I had made a mistake in not trying to find a person to do this earlier because I'd been told many people here spoke Pawnee. At a camp with a group of men from the trading post at Fort Laramie one of the men spoke with the brave who brought me here. The brave said I may be able to trade for a slave who knows the tongues of both the Pawnee and the white man. I'm here to see if I can make a trade. I do not wish to have any trouble start because of a misunderstanding, so I want a person who can speak both tongues.”

The girl speaks to the couple and they all talk for a few minutes. When the girl turns back to him Boone says, “Before we get to talking trade I wish to make a gift to the leaders of this village for letting us cross their lands and to camp by their village.” He reaches into the bag to take out two knives. He holds them out while saying, “The thin one is a knife for skinning animals and the thick one is a hunting knife. Please present these to them for me.”

The girl glances at the couple, then walks over, takes the two knives, goes to the couple, then she presents the skinning knife to the woman and the other knife to the man. Both of them take their knife out of its sheath to look it over before nodding their acceptance of them. Boone says, “The big knife is what they call a Bowie Knife.” He notices the man smiles at this before the girl can translate it, so Boone thinks, I wonder if they speak English but go through the girl so I don't know that for sure.

The girl asks Boone, “What can you offer in trade for me? They need to know to work out how much to ask for me because I've been with them for many years.”

“I have a few more knives like those, but they are very expensive. I also have a lot of flour from wheat and maize, sugar, blankets, balls, gunpowder, hand axes, and long axes for trading with. If we go back to my wagons I can put out examples to look at.” Boone notices one of the late teen Pawnee girls also looks up at what he says.

The girl talks to the older couple, then everyone is on their way back to Boone's camp. When he clears the village he makes some signals to Sam, who speaks to Olive, who climbs into one of the wagons. By the time the group reaches the wagons Olive has samples of everything to trade here put out on one of the round tables they set up.

While going through the small number of items set out on display the Pawnee girls talk and giggle while the older couple talk about the items. They test the quality of the ground flour and the blankets. One of the teen girls speaks with the woman for a while then the woman has a long talk with the translator.

Olive slides over and softly says, “I'd worry about what the older girls are up to, if I were you, Boone.”

He glances at her and is about to speak when the young teen girl says to Boone, “Gray Eagle isn't happy with the proposed trade, but High Dove says for the two Indian ponies you have, ten skinning knives, a large bag of each flour, ten blankets, a keg of gunpowder, and a bar of lead you can have two who speak Pawnee, Cheyenne, Lakota, and the white man's tongue as well as the two young whites we found out on the prairie beside a wagon of people dead of a sickness. The two white girls rarely speak, and when they do it is in a strange tongue.”

Boone is about to argue the price when he sees a Pawnee woman with two young white girls walking toward them. The girls are about the same ages as Lee and Sam. He asks, “How long have the two girls been with the village?”

“They were found just after the start of this last snow time.”

Mary is nearby listening to all this and she says, “Tell them to add in two sets of buckskin clothes and moccasins for all in our camp and we have a deal.”

The girl glances at Boone and he simply says, “My grandmother is the leader of our lodge and she has spoken. Tell them!” However, he saw the older Pawnee woman look up at what he said, so he's now sure they all understand what he says. The trade is soon agreed to.

While Mary and Olive set the blankets, flour, and knives out on the table Sam gets the two ponies and Boone gets the keg of powder and a bar of lead for making balls. It's all checked by the Pawnee women before they pick it all up and carry it back to the village. The two young white girls are left with them and the other two girls will collect their things before coming back to the wagons.

Olive is talking to the two girls and getting only blank stares. Boone tries the French he learned at VMI, more blank stares. Then Heidi hits her leg on the side of the wagon and says a few rude words in German, which gets giggles from the girls.

Boone immediately calls her to him, “Heidi, komm bitte her.” The eyes of both the young girls go wide and they start to chatter away in German. Heidi has a huge smile when she hears them, and the three are soon chattering to each other in German. Boone looks at Mary and says, “I think Heidi just adopted two more grandchildren to teach English to.”

Mary and Heidi vanish to make changes to the sleeping areas of the wagons. So Boone, as the only other German speaker, is left to talk to the girls and to get their story. He's still chatting with them when a group of Pawnee arrive. The two translators have their things and he's not surprised to see one of them is the older teen Pawnee girl. The other Pawnee women have treated hides and what they need to make the sets of buckskins for them. They're all amazed to see Boone chattering away to the girls in their strange tongue.

Boone is the first they measure then some of the Pawnee women get busy trimming and sewing the clothes to fit him while the rest measure the others, starting with Olive. He turns to the older Pawnee teen and asks, “What are your names? What should I offer as trade for an extra set of buckskins and moccasins for each of us?”

The older teen says, “I'm Dark Fawn and White Fawn is the one who did all the talking earlier. If you offer the women a large bag of the flour for them to share between them they'll make the buckskins.”

Mary says, “Get a bag of each and a bag of sugar, Boone. I want us all to have three pairs of moccasins and four sets of buckskins. Tell them so, please, Dark Fawn.” The five women making the clothes are happy to make the trade for the extra clothes.

Dark Fawn asks, “Boone, is it true what Dark Buffalo heard in the traders' camp when he visited them?”

“Tell me what he heard and I'll tell you if it's true or not.”

“They said you are known in Council Bluffs for killing many bad men. A lot of the bad men keep away from you so they don't die.”

“In our travels we've been attacked by a lot of bad men and I've killed a lot of them. The last two groups were near Council Bluffs so I took their bodies there to let those in authority know about it. Why is it important you know this?”

“Strong Horse wants me as his own woman but he is violent with women so I don't want him as my mate. Mother agrees with me. Two other braves have asked to pay my bride price and they died while out hunting with Strong Horse. When mother heard you kill bad men she included my bride price of two ponies and two blankets in the trade so I'm with you and not part of the village now. Strong Horse can no longer keep asking for me as his bride. But he may try to kill you for taking me.”

Mary, Olive, and Nellie are all nearby and they hear this. They start to laugh, so Dark Fawn asks, “Why do they laugh?”

“My two wives and my grandmother think it very funny I paid your bride price without knowing what it was for.” This makes Dark Fawn laugh as well, and when she tells the other Pawnee women they laugh too. Boone simply shrugs his shoulders at being the butt of their joke.

Boone asks, “Dark Fawn, I need to hunt tomorrow, is there a herd of buffalo close by?”

“Now we have more balls and gunpowder the men can load their guns to hunt the buffalo. So they will hunt tomorrow. We need ten or more because we are out of meat. But we'll be lucky to get four or five before all the buffalo run away.”

Boone turns to Mary and says, “If we use the tent as the portable smokehouse we should be able to stay here for a couple of days to see the meat properly smoked. Should we ask about it, Gran?”

“You go and ask, Boone. We'll get the tent out and collect plenty of wood to do the smoking with. I'd like a few buffalo hides too.”

“Right, Dark Fawn, we've got our orders. Let's go talk to your father about a trade related to hunting.” She smiles and leads the way.


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