A Trail West

Book II: A New Beginning

by: Richard

This is a work of fiction and in no way draws on the lives of any specific person or persons. If there is any similarity to any real persons or events it is entirely coincidental. Some license has been taken with places as well.

The work is copy righted (c) by the author and may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.

Thanks to Rob (in Atlanta) a note: "... In chapter 2, which is set in 1833, it mentions Atlanta. Atlanta did not exist, yet. It might have existed as a little railroad village called Terminus. In the 1840s, as it began to grow due to the railroads, it was named Marthasville. Later in the 1850s, it was renamed Atlanta. It wasn't much of a town until the 1850s. Even during the Civil War, it was smaller than Savannah."

I am sorry to be so long in getting this chapter loaded -- installed Windows XP. I want to thank all of you who have written to me about the story. Your comments are greatly appreciated. I hope that I haven't missed writing back to any of you. Here is the next chapter of this historical story.

Chapter 7

The next day Charles packed what things he wanted to take along, and they rode into Charlotte. Byron's first stop was the lawyer's office where he and Ty had stopped before.

"I assumed as much," The man said, when Byron explained what had transpired with the Perkins, Cynthia and her husband, he knew them well. "I'm glad you were able to reach an agreement with them. They really aren't all that bad, but like most folks hereabouts they don't understand about Black people and their feelings."

"It's been a real pleasure meeting and talking with you. As I said before, I really appreciate what you've done for us," Byron said.

"It's been my pleasure, I knew your father and your uncle well, they were my friends." The two men shook hands and Byron left the office and headed back to the hotel where they were staying.

On Friday, Byron met with Perkins' attorney and signed the sale papers for the land. The amount of money agreed to was transferred at the bank, from one account to the other.

They had to decide on how they were going to get to California now that they had made it their goal. The could go by ship, a slow and agonizing trip at best. None had traveled by ship and all were fearful of such a journey. No, by land was safer, they agreed.

Byron knew something of the geography involved in making the trek, and had seen maps showing the various trail used to cross the vastness of the great plains and mountains of the West. He knew that St. Louis was the usual starting point unless one used the Southern route starting in Dallas, a new and bustling cattle town in the Texas territory. Few chose this route, however, for two reasons: the great desert and the murderous Apache. He suggested that they travel by horseback from Charlotte to St. Louis and join up with a wagon train there. They could carry what they wanted on pack horses taking just what they needed for the long journey across the mountains between the two cities. Although resupplying in St. Louis would surely be more expensive, it would be preferable to taking everything from Charlotte.

Ty and Charles agreed, and thus the plans were made, and provisions purchased. At the bank sufficient gold and paper was secured from the accounts to stock them for the trip. The rest the bank agreed to send by ship and would be waiting for them when they got there. The bank was also handling the sale of the land for them.

Horses and equipment were purchased to carry the supplies they had bought. Maps were secured and routes checked. Their excitement was building day by day. When at last they were ready, early in the morning on a bright and sunny day the fourteenth of March, 1842 they set off across the hills of North Carolina toward St. Louis.

They reached Nashville in due course passing through Asheville North Carolina, by which time Charles was able to ride much faster than at first. They encountered no great difficulty along the way, although the climb out of North Carolina into Tennessee was still a challenge. Not wishing to cause any problem with the locals, they camped outside of town, going in the following day to re-supply their food provisions. The weather was warming now, and they had little problem sleeping out-of-doors. They were careful to camp in spots well out of the usual trails and roads, and thus avoid being spotted by the marauding bands of outlaws and thieves which roamed the countryside.

They followed the Nashville Road from Knoxville through Nashville, and then headed north to Montgomery. From there they went to Eddyville and up to Salem. From there they went to Paducah where they crossed the Ohio River and went to Vienna. Then they went to Brownsville and then on to Kaskaskia, then north to Belleville. It was just a short distance from there to St. Louis across the Mississippi.

They rode into St. Louis dusty and tired after their four week trek.

They watched the river boats loading and unloading. They came from all directions. Those coming from the Ohio were laden with coal and iron products. Those coming up the Mississippi carried furniture and coal from Birmingham and New Orleans. Some of these boats had stops further North at the port at St. Anthony Falls, others were reloaded and proceeded up to Minnesota Territory.

The bustling river town was sight they thought they'd never see. Men on horseback were everywhere. Wagons loaded with settlers traveling from all over the Ohio valley were streaming into the town. Springtime was the beginning of long journey across the great plains westward. From St. Louis it was on to Kansas City, the wild cattle town, and the starting point for most of the trains headed west.

It didn't take them long to find the leaders of several different wagon trains. The problem was to find the most reliable one. Byron went to several saloons to mingle with the crowds to listen and gather information. Ty and Charles meanwhile did some shopping for the few items which needed to be replaced, belts and straps. Boots, gloves, and pants had to be purchased to augment the items which were beginning to show signs of wear. Ty was careful not to show too much money when he was in the stores. He carried most of the cash as no one would suspect that an aging black would be carrying that kind of money.

They met at the hotel where Byron had secured their rooms for the night.

"How long before we leave?" Ty asked eagerly.

"Roughly a week, they say. We'll be traveling with Captain Hardy and his train," Byron said.

"And how long'll it take?"

"The Captain says we should arrive before the winter snows begin in the Rockies. Or, he says, we won't make it at all. Once you leave Fort Boise, you've got to go all the way, there's no stopping or turning back. And you've got to make Fort Boise before the first of September to have any chance at all of making it." Byron showed Ty the routed marked on the map.

The next few days were lazy days. There was little to do except to wander around the town.

The day of departure finally arrived. Two trains were leaving the same time, taking roughly the same route Westward across the prairie. Byron, Ty and Charles took their assigned place at the rear of the train, which they had been assigned to them.

That way they could help any stragglers who had problems. Excitement pervaded everyone, the men and women, the kids and dogs, horses and cattle. Even the poultry who were forced to ride in cages strapped along the sides of the great Saratoga wagons cackled and hissed.

The wagons began snaking their way across the grassy prairie. Captain Hardy would ride at the head of the caravan the first several days, as there was little else to do. There were no hazards for the first part of the trip. Later more caution would be used.

The wind, what there was, blew south across the trail, sending up a cloud which could be seen for miles. They would all soon learn where to ride to avoid this cloud as the days passed and the wind changed directions. Still they would find themselves covered in this dust by the end of the day. Byron was impatient with the slow progress of the ponderous wagons some drawn by the equally massive oxen, others by draft horses, the kind used for plowing and pulling farm equipment, not the sleek riding horses Byron was used to seeing. In that area of the South mules were most often used instead of the larger horses. The trip from Charlotte to Kansas City took just five weeks, a distance of about 850 miles. When Byron asked the Captain about the slowness, he said the same trip would have taken this train ten weeks, exactly twice as long.

The first night was an experience that no one with the train would ever forget. The Captain made all the wagons circle in a great loop end-to-end. The animals were herded inside and roped off in a sort of corral. The other inside area was reserved for the cooking fires. It looked like a giant picnic. There was no need for such an arrangement that night, but the Captain did it as a practice for the times when it would be essential for their survival.

Ty and Charles acting the part of servants, did all the chores required. They were two of only four black men in the train. The other two traveled with their wives in a wagon near the head of the train. These two couples had come from New York and were headed to California too. They had a chance to chat briefly with them that first night. They gave only the information that was necessary about themselves. They could hardly let on that they were partners with the man they served.

Ty and Byron had agreed that they'd not try to have any physical contact unless it were absolutely safe, and they both had to agree that it was before hand. They both realized the dangers involved if they were discovered, and so were in complete agreement on this. Of course the tension which would doubtlessly develop would be at time unbearable, and this they knew only too well would in itself prove dangerous. The first several days would be no problem because of the excitement, but after the boredom of the trip set in, they could become careless.

They had bought a tent to sleep in because of the probability of rain along the way. It afforded some privacy, but not enough for anything intimate. They attracted some attention at first because of the racial difference, a White man sleeping in the same tent as Black, but the Captain served notice that he would tolerate no disturbance on that account. It was perfectly natural that a man would want his servants close by, and that there was no need for two tents when one would do. Ty had purchased a spare tent, somewhat smaller in case it were necessary. After the first night no one took notice. They were careful to pitch their tent near the two Black couples' wagon. That seem to satisfy everyone.

And thus the first day of the great westward trek from Kansas City ended. The tension of the day relieved by a hot meal prepared over the open fire. As everyone started for bed at the urging of their leader, the tall, dark, and mustached Captain Hardy, the voice of a harmonica began to wail in the night, not loudly as it had earlier in the evening, but mournfully and soft more like a bird calling in the night. The Captain's tall, lanky figure could be seen moving from fire to fire, and the people dispersing to their beds, some on the ground in the open, others to the shelter of their wagons, and a few traveling without wagons, like Ty and Byron to their tents.

As practice for later nights in the trip dictated, sentries were posted at the four points of the compass, in watches of two hours each, the men took turns guarding the wagon train. It was not only from Indians that the guards sought to protect their charges, but outlaws, storms, fire, and animals which might be frightened in the night.

There were thirty wagons, with fifty-four men, and seven boys old enough to stand watch, not including the Captain. With five watches from eight in the evening until six in the morning, of two hours each, the sixty-one men would have watch roughly every three days, allowing for some slack due to illness or special circumstances. Lots had been drawn among them when they stopped for the evening and the twenty men selected for the first night. Names and wagon number were taken and duly noted in the log kept by the Captain. In the order drawn they served, the first drawn going first each evening, and so on. The practice would continue each night in rotation. Names would be called first, those who'd served most recently excused, the last set of names called would serve that night. After the third night no lots would be drawn, unless a post needed to be filled. Thereafter, names would be called just to remind you that it was your turn that night.

The Captain or one of his scouts would make rounds during the night, acting as a leader of the guards, making certain that each sentry was awake. Those found asleep would be flogged in full view of the company, ten lashes the first time, twice that the second time, the third time they would be dismissed from the train as unreliable. This punishment had been used a number of time, and was equivalent of a death sentence, as none so dismissed were ever seen again, alive.

None of the three had duty that first night, so they climbed eagerly into the tent to rest. Since they'd been traveling virtually in a similar fashion for more than a month now, they were used to the routine and the exercise. Then knew of the necessity of getting a good night's sleep each night, and thus lost no time in settling down in their blankets and dropping off to sleep.


Early the next morning they were awakened by the sentry passing their tent, whose loud voice was calling, "Time to get up!" They lost no time in pulling on their clothes and boots and crawling out in the near darkness of the early morning. There was much to do before they could be on their way. The horses had to be feed and harnessed, the fire built, breakfast made and eaten, the tent and provisions re-stored in their packs. The usual bodily functions had to be taken care of with as much haste as possible. The Captain even had a procedure for that. Separate facilities for men and women were prepared by the younger boys each night, and re-covered before leaving each campsite. Where cover was not available, a canvas screen was setup by each, to assure some degree of privacy.

All these things had to be done by full light so that everything and everybody was ready for the now familiar, "Wagon's Ho!" call from the Captain.

As the sun peeked out above the horizon to the east, the Captain could be seen riding about, giving a warning that he was about to get underway. This he did so that at least these first days, he'd have no stragglers to contend with.

Ty, Byron and Charles were more than ready, and stood talking quietly with their new neighbors, the Patricks and the Hamptons from New York. They were slightly amused by their accents, considering that they were all Blacks. They had no children, and were all young, the oldest being just twenty-five. They in turn were surprised to see a Black manservants and their young master from the South traveling together, seemingly friendly toward each other. They seen and heard stories of the Blacks in the South were treated.

The conversation was polite and cordial, if not friendly. The guise of servants-master was apparently working. They hoped that it would continue to do so.

Children could be seen running and playing while the adults tended their chores. Their time would come when the cattle were started on their way. Any child old enough to run and play was judge old enough to herd cattle, at least part of the day. The younger ones rode in the wagons all the time. Some boys rode horseback herding while most were on foot.

"Wagons Ho!" came the call at last, and the first wagons began to pull out and head away from the sun. As the train stretched out, the Captain assumed his position at the head of the train heading more Northerly it seemed than necessary, but no one called him on it.

Early in the day they met a troop of cavalry from Fort Leavenworth. The lieutenant in charge apparently knew Captain Hardy for they talked for a considerable period, not delaying the train however, as the wagons continued their North Westerly movement along the trail led by one of the scouts.

Captain Hardy did indeed know Lieutenant Billings. The Captain had retired from the army the year before, and had been at Fort Leavenworth when Billings transferred in from Fort Snelling. They had become good friends in the short six month before Hardy had retired, better friends than it was generally known. Both men were single and had shared living quarters. Many, if not most, officers were married, and as long as they were in secure areas, such as Leavenworth, most brought their wives to live with them.

Those officers without wives, or whose wives had not moved there, shared quarters with other officers. Sometimes as many as four sharing the larger family quarters, when they were available. Of course, the average soldier, even if he were married, was not accorded such privileges. The quarters at Leavenworth were not elegant, but they were better than quarters at places like Fort Kearney, Fort Morgan, and Fort Snelling, all on the frontier.

After their extended conversation, Hardy rode quickly back to the head of his train, just as the wagons were passing the Fort which sat on the trail they were taking. Fort Leavenworth looked down on the Missouri at a point where it made a small bend. It was the one of several military outposts which they would encounter along their trek, the next was Kearney, and after that Morgan.

Byron had seen the maps which showed the route they were taking, and now understood why the trail made the strange loop northward before dipping south toward Fort Morgan. The Captain knew the areas between the forts, and they were more secure in staying in those areas.

By the time the sun reach its highest point in the sky, everyone was ready for a break, both man and beast, for it was quite warm that day. Sweat soaked their clothing and stained their coats. A hasty lunch was eaten by all and soon the call came again to "Move Out!" There was no circling of the wagons at noon, but the scouts were out well away from the train on the lookout for any signs of trouble, as they were throughout the day. Each afternoon two men were selected to ride ahead with one of the scouts to prepare the campsite for the evening, once the site was selected, based on the rate of speed the train was moving, and the terrain, and with prior recommendations from the Captain. The tasks which were to performed involved setting up the latrine facilities, dig a shallow well if possible, collect firewood if available, and where practical build a corral. The fact that one was the only man in a wagon did not exempt him from this duty, as all women were expected to be able to handle their own wagon on the usual terrain. Some were reluctant at first to attempt it, but most were farm women, or had grown up on farms, and had at least some experience with driving with teams of animals. Those who hadn't the experience had to get it with their husband's instruction. These husbands spent many days of painful tutoring of their often terrified wives. One poor man had to get one of the older boys from one of the other wagons to drive his wagon when even after two weeks of instruction, his wife still could not manage the team and he was required to leave his wagon in the afternoon.

The scouts were both Whites and Indians, some a mixture of both. The Captain had chosen them as carefully as he had chosen his mount, for without a good scout, one could not hope to make safe passage across this hostile land anymore than one could do it with a poor horse.

Afternoon was hotter than the morning and they traveled until the sun was full in their faces sitting just above the horizon. And all were glad when they heard the call, "Circle Your Wagons!" It took a few minutes for the action to complete. With practice it would less time each time they did it. The first night the tail had turned the wrong way and it took twice as long to complete. But now it all went smoothly, and soon everyone was busy with their nighttime chores.

Smoke quickly rose from the cooking fires, the horses unsaddled and tethered to graze outside the circle for now. The cattle were milked, those the needed milking, and the rest corralled inside the circle. The cages for the chickens and ducks were set on the ground under the wagons. The children were sent scouring the area for anything burnable material for the fires. That which was used one night was saved for another when it might not be available.

Once again Ty, Charles and Byron were all free from sentry duty. The next night they would have it once again. The sunset was all coral and peach tinged with purple and red long after the fireball had disappeared beyond view in the West.

Their neighbors invited them to share the evening meal with them that night. They enjoyed the chance to mingle with the two couples with whom they had much in common. A strange comradeship was developing between them. It was much different from that between the other groupings within the wagon train. Most of those traveling in the group were farmers or shop keepers, but these four were in neither groups. They were entertainers. Ty suggested that this made them appear different, as indeed they were.

Charles sensed it first, but Ty and Byron were soon aware of it too. Whatever it was that made them different, also made them more interesting for the three, and the curiosity regarding them was soon forgotten.

The meal was delicious and welcome after the hard day's ride. Ty and Charles helped the women with the cooking and the cleanup so as to continue to give the appearance that they were tying to maintain. Byron sat about the fire chatting with the two men. They were neatly dressed, though in durable outdoor style clothing, obviously newly purchased for the trip. The two men looked enough a like to be brothers but weren't. They were pleasant enough, and seemed quite comfortable talking with Byron, less so with Ty and Charles. The laughed and joked with Byron telling tales of their experiences in New York.

Once again the Captain made his rounds, checking to see that everyone was sound and ready for the next day, urging to bed down early.

Darkness fell quickly, and soon the fires died as did the voices, and the prairie was quiet save the occasional call of coyote, or night bird. Sleep conquered all once again.

A week after leaving sight of Fort Leavenworth, a noontime rest came at the shore of Turtle Creek Lake, at the point where the Big Blue River and the Little Blue Rivers joined and flowed into the lake. It was well past noon. The Captain had driven them beyond their normal time for rest so that they could cross the rivers that day and make camp on the other side that night. He judged, and wisely so, that it would take all afternoon for everyone to make this first crossing. Not all due to lack of experience, but some to the height of the water this time of year. The items which might be total ruined by water, and those that could be carried on horseback were carried across that way. The rest were raised to the highest point possible in the wagons without making them top heavy. The with ropes tied to the irons going across their tops to stabilize them, one by one they were coaxed into the water. The draft animals were led by men on horseback, to keep them going in a straight line as much as possible.

In spite of the deep water from the spring runoff, there were no accidents, no wagons tipped. Several children in their eagerness to see what was happening fell into the water and had to be pulled out by riders, but only on the first two wagons did this happen. After the others had seen them fall in, they were more cautious.

After the wagons were circled, clothing was hung to dry while dinner was prepared. As much dry wood, and some green saplings were collected from the trees which grew in abundance along the river banks and lake shore.

The evening was spent in relaxing and story telling this night. Both Ty and Charles were on sentry duty having the first watch. While Byron had the last.

Byron crawled in early but did not really sleep until Ty and Charles came in near ten o'clock. Still Byron would get six hours sleep since wouldn't be awaken until nearly four. Their neighbors were quiet, somewhat subdued that night, as the men both had sentry duty that night as well.

"Mister Harper," Came the call, in a loud whisper accompanied by tapping on the side of the tent.

All three were instantly awake. Byron poked his head out of the opening of the tent.

"I'm awake," he whispered, "Be out in a minute."

"Alright, Sir," It was young Nathan Hampton. His dark face appeared even darker in the blackness of the night, barely visible at all. He straightened and continued on his rounds.

Inside the tent Byron was pulling on his heavy jacket and boots. He pulled the rifle from its case at the edge of the tent and crawled out into the brisk night air. The others rolled over and soon were once again asleep.

He hurried off to use the latrine. When he was finished he returned and caught up with Nathan and relieved him after Nathan showed him the section of the circle he was to guard.

Byron watched as Nathan climbed into the wagon which was right next to their tent. He thought he heard voices come from inside. Byron turned and began walking slowly along the edge of the circle which was his designated route. The sky was clear and the stars twinkled brightly, but there was no moon.

From between the wagons he could see the lone fire which was at the center. One of the scouts, one of whom was always on sentry duty, day or night, was filling tin cups with coffee. He carried two in each hand and distributed them to each sentry in turn.

When Byron tasted it, he found it strong and bitter, having been sitting at the edge of the fire most of the night, it had grown in strength steadily until now it was barely drinkable. Had it not been for its steamy hotness, Byron would have turned it down. But it warmed him greatly as he sipped the nasty brew. Presently he grew accustomed to the taste, and by the time he'd finished the cup, he was fully awake and feeling quite alert.

Occasionally Byron and one of the other sentries would meet at the edge of their respective territories. They greeted each other with a nod or a soft "Howdy." Conversation was forbidden, as it tended to disturb those who were sleeping.

As much as Byron hated to climb out of his warm blankets, he was glad he was up now that he was fully awake. It gave him a chance to think about what they were doing, a chance to make it clear in his mind what it was, that he wanted it to be when they arrived at their goal, The Golden West.

During the day the hustle and bustle of the activity left little time for thinking, and the nights passed so quickly in sleep, they also provided the necessary time. But the solitude of sentry duty was ideal. It was quiet and peaceful, and he was alone for the most part.

In the past years, Byron had grown in stature, not physically, but as a person. He'd left the plantation, a disillusioned young man, who'd lost all that he held dear to him. He wandered the hills and valleys of the Virginias and Carolinas living by the sweat of his brow and the cunning of his mind and arrived at Ty's cabin that summer day, still alone and disorganized, not really having a goal, save the vague idea that he wanted to go West, whatever that meant. He'd been tested in ways he hadn't thought of before, by having to do things he never had thought he might have to do. He found that he could work hard physically, and enjoy what he was doing. That was probably the thing he learned about himself most, that he was strong.

He like Charles, had a sort of sixth sense about people, men especially, and could tell when a person was interested, even in the slightest way, about him sexually. He was surprised to find out how many men were interested in him that way. Knowing it, and being able to do anything about it, were two quite different things.

Luckily for him, his tolerance for pain, both physical and mental, was high, for he had to endure at lot of it. What made it so bad was the fact that the point at which the pain began was so low. Everything hurt him, every unkind look or word hurt his feelings. But rarely did he ever display openly how he felt. Tears were rare, as was laughter.

That day at the stream when he discovered Ty lying naked drying himself in the sun, all that had changed. He discovered within himself a determination and a strength that never before had been tested. Laughter and tears now came easily, he felt things that he never before felt, rather let himself feel, since Jeffrey had died and he'd left the comfort of his home. He found that the love he felt for Ty was real, and that it was as real as that love he'd shared with Jeffrey. He also found out that love wasn't all about sex, although it certainly made things nicer. It was about trusting on honesty, caring and giving.

He found in Ty a gentleness and strength beyond anything he had seen in men or women before. Oh, he had seen strength and he had seen gentleness, not in such abundance in one person. It was these two things about Ty that attracted him to him.

Byron was suddenly awakened from his thoughts by the appearance of the scout-sentry from behind one of the wagons.

"More coffee?" the man whispered.

Byron handed him the cup he'd stuck on his belt. The man took it and disappeared without a sound. It was strange, he thought, you never heard them, and rarely saw them. It was only when they wanted to be seen or heard, that you could actual do it.

Presently the scout returned, appearing from between two wagons just as Byron was passing the narrow gap, again without a sound, and without Byron's having seen him until he showed himself as he stepped out of the opening.

Byron took the cup once more, and sipped the hot liquid. This time it was fresh coffee, flavorful and aromatic, tasting as if it had been brewed in the finest restaurant in Atlanta, the only large city with which he had any experience.

A short time later, the wake-up call began. The wagon train became a living thing once again, teaming with activity, alive with voices, and smells, and sights. The sun began breaking above the horizon, clean and golden, without a cloud to hide it from view. A new day was beginning.

To be continued ---

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