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. Printing a copy for reading at your leisure is allowed for those so inclined.

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."

Thanks to RC a note: "Saratoga wagons? Maybe you meant Conestoga wagons...." I was referring to the "covered wagons which are the Conestoga wagons.".

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. Please notice that I have a new e-mail address. richardl_1@charter.net.

Here is the next chapter of this historical story.

Chapter 8

Day followed day, seemingly without change. The scenery changed little as the wagon train crossed the prairie. Boredom set in, the novelty of the trip wore off completely. Bickering and complaining were common, even the animals it seemed were dissatisfied with their lot.

There had been no rain since they left Kansas City, and the Little Blue River which had been following was beginning to dry up as they traveled further North toward Fort Kearney, which took them twenty-two days to reach. They rested two days camped nearby the fort. Days spent reshoing their horses, repairing minor damage to some wagons, and in general relaxing.

They left Fort Kearney on May 14th, following closely when possible, the course of the South Platte River. Their next contact with civilization would be Fort Morgan in Colorado around the middle of June, and on to Fort Logan, by the end of the month, according to the estimate of Captain Hardy.

Their short stop brightened their spirits and they continued on with renewed determination. But it was short lived, for the weather turned hot, and had it not been for the river close to where they camped each night, they would never felt relief from the heat.

As they climbed higher and higher on the plateau, the terrain became more hilly and the ground strewn with more rocks. The wagons often had to drive around them to keep from tipping over, or severely jolting the contents and passengers.

Captain Hardy managed to keep their spirits alive, else no one would have wanted to continue, in fact several wagons of people had been talking about going back in spite of his coaxing. If he had not told them each day what day it was, and which day of the week, many would not have known, and few would have cared. He continued to reassure them that they were going the right direction, and that they were on schedule, and "Yes, you will make it."

When at last Fort Morgan appeared in the distance, they were once again cheered. But the fort was so small that it provided little in the way of enthusiasm for the group. They stopped but one day there, before continuing on.

Fort Logan, the Captain assured them, they would reach in another nine or ten days.

A strange sight greeted them two days later, while they were stopped for lunch. A huge cloud of dust appeared South of them, and seemed to be moving their direction. One of the scouts came riding hard from the same direction. He rode directly to where Captain Hardy was sitting.

They exchanged a few words, and the scout rode back in the same direction. The Captain called to the group, gathering them around him.

"That cloud you see is from a herd of Buffalo headed our way," he began. "It's both good and bad news for us. The good part is that we'll have a chance to get some fresh meat.

"The bad part is that the chance of running into an Indian hunting party which may very well be following it. This could mean trouble for us. So I want ten volunteers to ride out and be on the look out for signs of trouble." Hands went up through out the crowd, a signal of those who were willing.

"I said volunteers. And I pick the volunteers!" His bit of humor broke the tension, and as he looked about the crowd he began calling names. "Simpson, Kelly, James, Wentworth, Harper, Winton, Jones, Jefferson, Alexander, and Hampton. You men get your rifles and meet me here in five minutes. The rest of you get ready to move out. Make sure you're prepared for some rough riding."

The men whose names he'd called went back to their wagons, or as in the case of Byron, to their packs to pick up their gear. They re-tightened the cinches on their horses' saddle, put on the bridles to replace the halters used to allow for grazing, and rode to the head of the train.

Byron and Ty exchanged looks, but no words as he rode off to the meeting. Hampton's wife and James Patrick and his wife looked in horror as Nathan rode off behind Byron. James put his arms around both women trying to reassure them as well as himself that everything would be all right.

"You men have been chosen for two reasons. First you ride well, and second you're not hotheads. I don't want any trouble from Indians, if they're out there. My scouts will let them know that. Your job is to give us time to prepare for trouble, if it comes our way. You're not to open fire on the Indians unless you're given word to by one of the scouts. Then and only then will you fire at them, trying to delay them if possible, and frighten them away. Try to fire in unison, it's more frightening than single shots. If you have to open fire, stand your ground, fire, turn and ride away from them as you reload, stop turn and fire again. Follow the lead of the scouts, they'll instruct you on which way to ride.

"I don't think you'll have any problems, but if you do, good luck."

One of the scouts, who'd been standing in his saddle waiting as Hardy spoke, waved to the small group, and they rode off following him.

Captain Hardy motioned with his hand, and called "Wagon's Ho!" Slowly the wagons began to move out. "Keep it closed up!" He called to the wagon drivers, indicating that he didn't want them strung out like they usually were, but one right after the other. He rode off to the left of the trail of wagons to observe what he could of the activity taking place in the direction of the buffalo herd.

Ty rode beside the New Yorkers wagon with the tether between him and the three pack horses tied loosely about his saddle horn. The wagons rolled ponderously forward across the now brittle brush, a small cloud of dust forming as they passed.

Everyone kept an anxious eye on the cloud to their left. For a time they could see the riders who'd left the wagon train, but soon they were barely visible often merging on the horizon with the cloud. Finally there was no sign of them.

In voices barely audible over the creaking of the wagons, those left behind talked in hushed tones. Men and women alike trying to pretend, at least to the children, that there was nothing to worry about.

For two hours the wagons rolled on, and the cloud from the herd getting no closer. In fact, if anything the cloud appeared to be dissipating. An hour later the cloud was barely a haze on the horizon, and the group of riders returned to rejoin the wagons, at the front of the group.

One of the scouts spoke to the Captain in his native tongue as the riders listened quietly. The scout who'd spoken to Hardy and two other rode off quickly.

Hardy then spoke to the others. "As you saw, the herd has stopped and is grazing quietly. And you saw the band of Indians on the other side of the herd. It's just a hunting party, intent only on getting fresh meat.

"My scouts are going back to help them get what they want. After they've taken what animals they want, and the herd has moved on which ever direction it does, we'll be free to take a few for our own needs, provided the herd continues going West as it has been. If it goes any other directions, well, we'll have to wait for another to do any hunting. We can't afford to go after them.

"That'll be tomorrow though, as we want to give the Indians plenty of time to go back to their camps to the South.

"Thank you all for doing as I asked. I'm glad you didn't have to do more than just get more dusty. Now back to your wagons." With a wave of his hand he dismissed the small troop. The excitement was over.

As Hardy had indicated that it might, the herd changed directions, in all probability because the Indians struck from the West because of the favorable wind direction from the East. The wagons continued on their course toward the rising mountains now clearly visible with their brilliant snow capped peaks shining in the sun.

Ty had developed a limp now from a fall from his horse two weeks earlier, which had stumbled in a hole and thrown him. Fortunately, neither he nor the horse were seriously hurt, but his body was not healing itself as fast he was used to. His beard was beginning to bother him, even though he used a scissors to keep it trimmed somewhat. He still wasn't used to not shaving regularly.

He had kept Byron's hair and beard trimmed neatly, but since it wouldn't have been proper for Byron to trim his hair or beard, he was beginning to look quite rough. The almost constant film of dust on his hair made it look quite gray, and Byron had taken to calling him Grandpa, when they were quite alone, of course.

In truth, he felt old, much older than he'd ever felt before. Now with his newly acquired limp, he was beginning to wonder if he'd ever seen the end of their journey. Some days he didn't even care. Had it not been for Byron's tender words whispered in his ear at night, and the gentle caresses given with lips and fingers, he surely would have given up.

On late Friday they came upon the trail leading into the fort, and the ride became smoother. The soon saw signs of civilization again along the way. A wisp of smoke from a ranch house, a herd of cattle grazing peacefully on the scrub grass, riders sitting in their saddles watching this strange procession of wagons. They waved back as those in the wagons waved a greeting. A platoon of soldiers from the nearby fort rode passed them giving them wide berth. The Captain spoke to the commander of the troop briefly as they rode passed.

It was July 3rd when they saw Fort Logan in the distance. A great cheer went up from the gathering, and singing broke out. Suddenly everything had changed, the world was a good thing again, and well, it was great to be alive.

But now with Fort Logan a short distance away, his outlook brightened. He suddenly found the he was limping less. He, like everyone else, felt renewed and glad to be alive.

There was laughter and joviality among the wagons as they continued on the trail. They were all glad that at least this portion of the trip was over. If it was not the hardest part, at least it was the most wearisome. A day or so of rest before continuing on would be a welcome break for all.

And so early in the next day, the fourth of July, the wagons rode slowly to a stop outside the fort. The people did not seem eager or excited to see them, at least not in the same way that they were to see them, but they waved and shouted greetings none-the-less. By now such a sight had been common place. As many as ten wagon trains each summer passed this way, most of them during July. A few coming later would spend the winter there, camped outside of the fort. Often during the long harsh winter, a wagon would pull away from the group, leaving it forever, as those it carried decided to go no further and determined to settle there and make a life for themselves there rather than go on across the mountains. Some died in the cold of the fever and privations of the long winter. But most stuck it out, and eagerly began again the following spring when the snows had melted and the trails across the mountains were one again passable.

Captain Hardy's group drove past the fort, and made camp on the other side, in a clearing which seemed to have been used recently before. In fact it had. The train which had left a week before them, had just left the day before they arrived.

Some of the wagons needed repairs, but most had survived the journey in good shape. The animals fared better than the people, and the children better than the adults. But on the whole, everyone was well. Ty's hip had healed and his limp was nearly gone.


As easy as the last day to Fort Logan was, the first day out was difficult. But it was only a foretaste of the journey ahead. It had rained the night before their departure on the 10th of July. The trail was slippery and muddy. The terrain, while not as severe as it would get, was still more than they had been used to. Brakes on the great wagons were useless in the mud. Each wagon had to be braked on the downhill by horses hitched to the rear of the wagon and seemingly pulling in the wrong direction. In reality they were backing slowly down the hill as the wagon twisted trying to get away from them. On the uphill grades, two teams were required in places because a single team couldn't keep their footing well enough.

Progress was necessarily slow. And as they made camp for the night, they could still see the faint lights from Fort Logan in the distance. While they were disappointed with the slowness of their pace, they were grateful for the rest. When they asked the Captain about the rest of the trip that night, a few wanted at first, to return to the fort. The Captain knowing what lay ahead, encouraged those who wished to, to return. None gave up at this point, though many would wish later that they had.

At this point in the trip the Hamptons, Patricks, and Ty and Byron had become close friends. Byron found that they were right in their intuition regarding the group from New York. It wasn't, as everyone else assumed, two husbands traveling with their wives, but two couples traveling together, one couple male and the other couple female.

James and Nathan were lovers as were the two women posing as their wives, Julia Johnson and Margaret Brooks.

Ty was aghast when Byron told him that first night out of the fort, asking him in detail to explain how he knew.

Byron laughed saying that Nathan had told him, although he had suspected something like that from the start. Ty was relieved that nothing unseemly had occurred between Byron and either of the other two men.

"You're actually jealous?" Byron asked.

"No," Ty lied, "Not really, just concerned."

Byron could see it in his eyes which were misted and glistened in the moonlight which filtered through the tent opening.

"You dear, dear man," Byron said. "Don't you know that I cherish you more than life itself, and would never do anything to hurt you?"

"I hope," Ty wept, and could say no more. They clung together tenderly as sleep comforted them.

The next day Byron told the others that he had told Ty and Charles about their situation. They were glad now that they knew, as they had feared that they might find out, and somehow not approve. They like Byron had suspected the relationship between Ty and Byron was more than it appeared, and were eager to have allies in them. Nathan explained that he also suspected one of the other men was not the devoted husband that he appeared, and was not interested in any other man's wife either, but interested in Byron. They were going to have to be seriously on guard against his trying to do anything which might be upsetting to the six of them.

Paul Britton was a tall handsome man of some thirty years. His wife now pregnant with their second child, was finding the trip unpleasant. She was beginning to complain to Paul how much she hated the trip now that she was pregnant, and how uncomfortable she was.

All of this led to several quarrels between them, one of them loud enough for all to hear. Paul was embarrassed by this, and although he tried to laugh it off, owing to how she was with child and all. But he was starting to wish that he'd come on the trip alone.

He'd seen Byron that first day they had ridden into Kansas City. He'd seen how handsome he was and was immediately attracted to him. He'd since spent hours watching him whenever he had the chance. He secretly schemed to be alone with Byron in some remote spot along the way, more daydreaming than real plotting.

But now that his wife was beginning to get on his nerves, he began in earnest to try to devise a way to let Byron know how he felt, and to get together with him if possible. He did not, however, suspect that Ty and Byron were lovers, he only knew that he was certain that Byron was a dandy, as he referred to men of similar interests as his.

He'd come to marry his wife, quite by accident. She had been the daughter of a friend of his mother's. One summer while the woman was visiting his mother she brought the daughter along with her to Cleveland. The girl at once fall in love with Paul, and would not cease her chase of him, even after she went back to Pittsburgh where she lived. She wrote to him endlessly.

Paul's mother encouraged him to be kind to the girl, as she was the daughter of her good friend. When the holiday season rolled around that year, Brenda came with her mother again to visit. This time she meant to have Paul no matter what it took. She threw herself at him, and finally managed to get him into a compromising situation where they would be seen.

Paul's mother and the girl's mother when they discovered them together as the girl had intended, insisted that they be married as soon as possible. Paul protested, to his mother, but to no avail. The wedding was held on Valentine's Day. Brenda and Paul lived with his mother who had been a widow for several years. A year later when there had been no child, or signs of one on the way, Paul's mother became angry with Brenda for being so deceitful. It was then that Brenda decided that they should go to California to be as far away as possible from her.

Their first child was born later that year as they were making preparations to leave on the trip. Paul's mother suffered a stroke when she learned that Brenda was taking her Paul away, and she died the month that they were going to leave. The baby was healthy and beautiful, and for a while Paul took much interest in her. But as the trip wore on and Brenda once again became pregnant, his interest waned, and he ignored both his daughter and his wife.

He had to get together with Byron, if only for one time. He was determined and began seeking every way possible to achieve that goal. It was this attention to Byron that Nathan had first noticed shortly before their arrival in Fort Logan. Nathan told the others in his party and they all began watching for other signs of a disturbance which might be caused by such an incident. So far there had been nothing, and when they finally told Byron about it, they were pleased, though more worried now, that Byron was devoted to Ty.

Though worried now about the added danger, it too helped to bring the six of them together. It meant there were more eyes to watch for the signs, more minds to consider the alternatives in dealing with it. One of the first decisions to be made as a group was to decide that whatever the circumstance which might arise, that the leader, Captain Hardy would be the first one to be informed of a problem. Without his help in a crisis, they would surely all be lost.

As the days passed and nothing happened they began to relax, thinking perhaps that they had been wrong in their suspicions. The climb into the mountains took all their attention, energy, and strength to endure.

The sights which they saw as they wended their way into the mountains brought joy to their hearts. The beauty was beyond anything that many had ever seen. Most were farmers and never experience the sight of such peaks and valleys before. And those who had gave greater emphasis to scope of what the others were seeing, as these were indeed higher and broader and more beautiful than anything they too had seen in the East.

They encountered no danger from Indians since leaving Fort Logan, although the scouts told the Captain that there were signs. They were after three weeks of climbing, half way to the top of their climb. It was now the middle of August, and another month would mean that they could expect colder weather near the great pass through which they would have to go.

Higher and higher they climbed, in an endless climb it seemed, to reach the snow fields above. The Captain assured them that they would indeed see snow when they reached the summit, though it would be pleasant enough when they got there.

Several times each day they had to stop and make minor repairs and adjustments to the harnesses which were now worn and tattered at the strain of such stress. Wheels occasionally would have to be replaced as one might crack when it struck a rock when going through a narrow passage.

Longer rest periods were required during the day as they neared the peak. The air was thinner and the horses as well as the people tired more quickly. The abundance of game and fresh water made up for the other things that they lacked.

It was less and less often now that the wagons could maintain any semblance of a circle when they camped at night. Often they could barely see one another, much less be joined into a circle. One man or boy was set out to guard each wagon now, and often the same person would spend two watches each night. As often as possible, they would try to pull two, three, or even four wagons close together in a huddle for the night, thus eliminating some of the danger at night.

It was on one night when the New Yorker's wagon and the Britton wagon were alone, and last on the trail that Paul was determined to make his move.

Paul had agreed, in fact he insisted on taking the middle watch for Ty who had become ill after dinner. Paul had the first watch from eight until ten. Nathan the ten to midnight, with Byron scheduled for midnight till two. Paul was to then come back and take the two to four watch, with James taking the last, four to six.

Everyone had nearly forgotten the necessity for being on guard against Paul. His pleasantness and good humor, did much to allay their fears.

Ty slept fitfully because of his back, keeping Byron awake most of the time. He had just fallen asleep when Nathan came to the tent and awakened him. He pulled on his boots and heavy coat and climbed out of warmth of his bed.

He whispered good night to Nathan who crept carefully up to the wagon he shared with his friends. Byron stoked the fire which gave a little comfort against the cold and darkness, and walked away and climbed to a point where he could see the wagon he was watching and the wagons parked just ahead of them on the trail. He sat there for awhile, and then climbed down and walked back along the trail, once again climbing to a vantage point where he could see the outline of the wagon in the pale light of the flickering fire.

His watch was nearly over when he spotted some movement in the darkness. Someone was approaching him. He assumed that it was one of the scouts who roamed about at night, checking on all the sentries and wagons.

It was a scout, and he was relieved that he'd been right in assuming it was. He relaxed when he saw the familiar face. The man grunted a hello, and disappeared once again into the darkness.

Then he saw someone else moving toward him, it couldn't be the scout, as he had just left. Byron crept into the shadows where he watched in silence and some fear as the figure continued to approach. A few moments later he heard the familiar voice. It was Paul.

"Byron," Paul called softly. "Where are you?"

"Here, Paul," Byron called back just loud enough for Paul to hear. He then walked out of the shadow to meet Paul who was standing just a little ways away.

"What're you doing here?" Byron asked.

"Oh, I couldn't sleep, so I thought I keep you company as long as I had to come out soon anyway."

"That's great," Byron said, "It's sort of spooky out here tonight." They both talked in whispered so as not to wake the others.

For a long time neither said anything. Byron began to feel uneasy about Paul's being there. He suddenly recalled the reason for their previous vigilance. Paul sensing that Byron was about to do or say something that might bring his presence to the attention of others spoke.

"Byron," he began, "I've wanting to talk to you alone for a long time. There's so little chance for two people to be alone in this damn wagon train."

Byron's anxiety rose, "What was it, Paul, that you wanted to talk about?"

"First let me say something," he paused, "I'm fairly certain that you and I have certain interests in common. Interests which if known by others would bring discredit to us both.

"Having said that, what I really wanted to say is, that I want to be with you alone. I'm quite attracted to you, and I need to be with you that way."

"Wait," Byron spoke softly but firmly, "First let me say something. I've know for a long time that what you call certain interest we have in common, was true. Secondly, I also have known that you were interested in me. But what you propose, at least for the duration of this trip, is utterly out of the question.

"Whatever you may feel for me, and I for you, will have to wait until we have crossed these mountains, and the trip is over. I hope you understand what I'm saying. Because if you don't, you stand a good chance in getting us both in a lot of trouble, if not killed. These other people don't understand us, Paul. And they won't put up with us if they find out about us. It's just the way they are, they can't help it, anymore than we can help the way we are. Do you understand what I'm saying, Paul" Byron tried his best to be friendly and understanding in what he said to Paul, appealing to his better judgment and sense of propriety.

"I guess so, Byron. But it been so long since I've even thought of someone like you, much less touched someone, that it's driving me crazy. I just had to know that you knew, and understood how I feel."

"I do, Paul, I do understand. But it's got to wait." Byron pleaded with Paul to be reasonable, and it seemed to be working.

"I know, Byron, I know. But it's so hard to be patient," he paused and added, "But as long as I know you understand, and care what happens to me, I'll wait."

Byron had won, "Yes, Paul, we've got to wait."

"Thanks, Byron for being so understanding. I'm glad that we've talked. At least now I have something I can count on to look forward to. Something worth living for, working so damned hard for in these God forsaken mountains." Paul reached out and touched Byron's arm.

"Go get some sleep now, Byron," Paul said, "I know that your man kept you awake most of the night. It's time to change nearly anyway."

"Thanks, Paul," Byron said. "I appreciate what you've told me, it means a lot to know that someone cares."

"Good night," Paul said.

"Good night, Paul." Byron breathed a sigh of relief as he hurried back to his tent. Their worries were over for the time being, at least. Perhaps for the rest of the trip. He climbed quietly into the tent and fell easily to sleep.


With the problem regarding Paul resolved for the time being, a more relaxed feeling among the seven friends developed. Paul, even warmed in his feelings toward his little girl and his wife, and she complained less. The air of jubilation was developing as they were told that the peak was just a day a way.

It didn't mean that the work was over, just that from that time on, they were just weeks away from being at the end of their journey.

On the night they reached the summit, a celebration began. The train had found a spot that was relatively flat, and all the wagons were able to park, not in a circle but as a group in three rows.

That night Paul came over to the area where the New Yorkers' wagon was parked and where the trio had pitched their tent. He was in a good mood, and wanted share his feeling with them. They were all a bit concerned about his being there, considering his condition. He had gotten his good mood from a bottle of rum which he had been saving for just such an occasion.

"Come, my friends," he called, "Join me in a toast!"

Byron jumped up and shook his hand. "Come, Paul, sit with us." He was trying to quiet him down. It was also dark, and he feared that he might stumble and fall against a rock in his condition.

Paul and Byron sat on a rock nearby the fire chatting. James and Nathan came down from the wagon and stood nearby. Ty sat tending the food at the fire.

James walked over to Byron to see if everything was okay. As Nathan leaned over to say something to Byron, Paul stood up suddenly and began shouting.

"What are trying to do you Black bastard?"

Nathan stepped back prepared to defend himself. Byron stood up immediately as did Charles.

Byron grabbed Paul by his jacket, holding him tightly. "What's wrong with you Paul?" he shouted.

"I don't like no nigger butting in on my conversation!" Paul shouted back.

Byron pulled back his fist and was about to strike at Paul, when Captain Hardy grabbed his arm.

"I'll handle this," he said calmly. "Shut up, Paul!" he said firmly. Paul started to struggle to free himself from Byron's grip.

"Let me go, you nigger-loving," It was then that Captain Hardy doubled his fist and sharply struck him on the chin, knocking him out. He sagged in Byron's arms. Hardy rubbed his hand with his palm.

"I'll take him now," Hardy said. Byron released him as Hardy grabbed his collar and hoisted him to his shoulder. He started away with him, turning around and speaking to the group.

"I don't think we'll have a repeat of this anytime soon. Must have been the rum." Hardy winked and turned back the other way and carried Paul back to his wagon.

"What do you make of that?" Nathan asked, looking at Byron.

"Like the Captain said, it must have been the rum." Byron answered calmly.

"No, the wink, I mean," said Nathan.

"A member of the family?" Byron said as a question. As the Captain had said, there was no repeat of the incident. The following day at evening, Paul came back to where Byron was standing next to his friends.

"Mister Patrick, Mister Hampton, Mister Harper, Mister Jones, Mister Charles," he said nodding to them as he spoke their names. "I want to apologize most humbly for my crude and vulgar behavior last evening. I was drunk as you all know, but that is no excuse for what I said and did. I hope that you will all forgive me."

There was silence from the five men. Byron desperately wanted to say something, but dared not breath a word. His anger over the incident was still too close to the surface. Just as Paul was getting ready to turn, it was Nathan who broke the silence.

"Mister Britton, on behalf of my friends and myself, I accept your apology. We understand the strain you've been under with your wife's condition and all. Considering that you were drunk, and never before indicated any ill will against us, we will take it as a sign that you do mean what you have just said.

"We do not appreciate the term of reference which you used last evening. Its use offends us and our women folk. We will, however, take your gesture of repentance as a sign that you have nothing against us. And we will not hold it against you. It is not likely that we will ever be friends, but it does not mean that we should be enemies. Good evening, Sir." With that Nathan turned and walked back to his wagon. Byron was stunned and said nothing, and no one else spoke, but all turned away from him. Paul's head fell forward in shame, and he turned and walked slowly back to his wagon. The incident was closed, and no more problems between Paul and Byron could develop either. Nathan had shut the door on him forever.

Morning brought a mist falling lightly. Clouds so low they touched the tops of the wagons. Captain Hardy studied the weather as he climbed out of his tent. It was not yet dawn.

"We'll not be traveling today," he said. He made the rounds of the wagons, informing them of his decision, "But get up and have your breakfast now. It'll be raining soon."

Barely had he said the words at the last wagon, when the mist dissolved to rain, a light, almost gentle rain. People hurried to have their morning meals. A canvas was stretched across the cooking fires at an angle to keep the rain off.

At noon Captain Hardy rode westward away from camp, to have a look at the weather and land ahead. It was dark when he returned, and although the rain had not gotten worse, neither had it slackened.

"Gather 'round," he passed the word. When all had gathered to where he stood, he spoke. "Move your fires closer to your wagons. Set up canvas over them like you have not, but slope it down away from the wagons. Gather as much wood as you can and store it under the wagons. We're in for some more rain and most likely snow too.

"This is as good a spot as any to wait it out. So try to keep dry and warm." Many had already gathered wood and had piled it up. The process of moving the fires was not that difficult. Many simply began with a new pit, which they lined rock. Stringing the canvas from the tops of the wagons out over the fire pits was a bit more difficult. Often just where one would like to have put a post, rock prevented putting them more than a few inches into the ground. Tripods were made of branches and put at the corners and at the centers of the out lying edges to hold the canvas in place. Many worked well into the night gathering what wood they could reach easily.

Morning brought only the realization that the rain was not going to stop any time soon. The sound of chopping could be heard even before most were awake.

Byron, Ty, and Charles were out gathering wood for fires. They shared a fire with the New Yorkers, and their tent was at the outer edge of the canvas which spanned their fire. They were stacking the wood beneath the wagon, building up an ample supply. They had only their horses to feed, there were five. The New Yorkers had eight, six draft, two riding. These animals were tethered on the outside of the circle near the wagon. A corral, of sorts had been built all around the circle, a practice which began after they had started into the mountains, since a circle was often not possible.

By full light the rain had changed to snow. Only the younger children enjoyed it, the sound of the children laughing and singing as they played in it, cheered the others. Spirits were uplifted and soon everyone was in a good mood, in spite of the weather.

But by nightfall things had changed. The snow had continued all day, and now was falling at a rate of several inches in an hour. It was more than something to play in. At the edges of the corrals where no one had walked, the snow was two feet deep. The evening meal was simply more of what had been served in the morning, a porridge of meal and dried meat. The best that could be said of it, was that it was hot.

Droplets formed on the underside of the fire covers, and sputtered as they fell into the flames. Whereas when it was rain, it merely rain off the canvases, but now as snow it had to be encouraged to slid off. Being heavy and wet, it could not be allowed to accumulate as its weight would be enough to tear the canvases, some now aged by the burning sun, and weakened could even be torn by hand.

It had seemed dark and gloomy all day, but now it became night. Only the glow from the low burning fires reflected in the snow. Not many braved the wet and cold. Tending the fires, and keeping the snow from collapsing the canvas became the duty of the sentries.

Charles had developed a chill and fever. He was not alone in this condition. Captain Hardy counted twenty, almost half who had developed this condition. He lay bundled in the tent. He had refused to eat when Ty brought food earlier. Ty had brewed some tea from herbs he'd managed to bring along and save for occasions like this. It did little to Charles condition but warmed him some.

The New Yorkers had been in their wagon since dinner, and now Nathan joined Byron at the fire. They would take turns during the night keeping it burning at least a little. The others lay together huddle in the warmth of the wagon. Pieces of granite with wire handles were carried to the fire to be heated, then returned to the wagon to provide some warmth to those within. Those who had none, used flat rocks instead.

"How is Charles?" Nathan asked as he warmed his hands over the fire.

"'Bout the same," Byron said. He poured a cup of coffee and offered it to Nathan.

"And Ty?"

"He seems okay," Byron answered. "How is it in your wagon?"

"No one's got the fever at least," Nathan smiled,"Just wet and cold."

They fell silent as they watched the snow falling outside their shelter. Beyond they saw other groups, like themselves huddled about the glowing fires. Overhead they occasionally heard the soft sound of sliding snow, which they would assist in making it way to the ground.

Byron went to the tent to check on the others. Both Charles and Ty were asleep, huddled together. He closed the flap and returned to the fire.

"Asleep," he said quietly. He turned the wood drying at the fire, and Nathan retrieved the heating slab and hurried to the wagon with it.

Swirls of snow began blowing beneath the canvas, as the temperature starting dropping and the wind rose. Within an hour it was impossible to see across the tight circles of wagons. Nathan brought a small piece of canvas from the wagon and the two men draped it across them as they sat starring into the fire.

As the fire would begin to sputter and seemingly die, one of the two would lay a dry piece or two across the hot core of the fire, set more to drying at the edges. The new pieces would smolder a while, smoke would rise from around it, and then it too would burst into bright flames and give up its store of warmth to the air around it. Later it too would crumbled and glow for a while before reducing itself to ash and die.

As they watch, the whole cycle of life was being lived out before them, a strange miniature of their world, one which they could see all at a glance, a total picture, as it were, of what their life was all about.

Byron shuddered against the cold as he watched, wondering what it all meant. He felt Nathan's slim body next to his shiver too. He wished than somehow he could be closer to him, to share his warmth with him. His thoughts were interrupted as Nathan spoke.

"Do you wonder," Nathan said, "Whether what we're trying to do will be worth it?"

"Not so much," Byron answered, "whether it'll be worth it, but rather whether it means anything at all."

"Yeah," Nathan paused, "I guess that's the real question." He starred into the sizzling fire which flickered against the blowing snow.

"Nathan?" Byron asked, "You ever wish you'd never come on this trip?"

"Sometimes," Nathan answered without looking away from the fire, "Especially at times like this. When I compare this with being back in New York, I wonder why, wonder how I could have been so foolish as to think that this might be better. You?"

"Compared to this, what I had back in Charlotte was a dream. Just before I left, I found that I could stay and have everything I wanted. It was some bitterness against people who didn't mean a damn to me that caused me to leave.

"I guess there were other reasons too. Like being able to live as I wanted, with Ty as a lover, and Charles as a friend, and people like you too," Byron said, looking at Nathan.

"It won't always be like this," Nathan said. He stood up and walked to the fire, stirring the logs to increase the blaze. He watched it a moment then said, "Byron, go get some rest, I'll call you in a while. No need for both of us to freeze."

"You sure?" Byron hesitated.

"Yeah," Nathan looked at him, "I'm sure."

Byron handed him the piece of canvas which had covered them, and hurried off to the tent. He brushed as much of the snow off himself as he could before crawling inside. The inside was warm and in spite of the rain and snow remained dry for the most part.

It was about five feet high at the center of each end, and eight feet on the four sides. Ty had shown a canvas in the bottom on day while he rode in the wagon with the New Yorkers. The seams he waxed with pitch to keep the rain out, and this had kept them dry.

"How's he doing," Byron asked.

"'Bout the same," Ty answered, "Been asleep most the time."

"That's good," Byron said.

"How's the weather out?" Ty asked.

"Can't tell much it's blowing so hard," Byron dried his face with a towel, and lay back on top his blankets.

"Nathan out there?" Ty asked.

"Yes, he'll wake me in a while, he said." Byron closed his eyes. The tent was dark. Ty rolled back next to Charles, who moaned in his sleep. His body was damp with perspiration and Ty tried to ignore the wetness and mustiness which poured from his skin. He closed his eyes.

Meanwhile outside Nathan huddled under the canvas back against the wind and cold. His eyes burned from the smoke and lack of sleep. Occasionally he saw another figure moving in the distance, another soul braving the storm to keep a fire going for the next day. The storm increased its fury forcing even the bravest of souls back into the shelter of their wagons or tents, leaving the fires to smolder and die.

Nathan struggled back to the tent which now was nearly cover with snow. Only the entrance was visible and he carefully parted the opening and pushed his head inside.

He whispered, "Byron?" and waited.

"Yeah, Nathan?" came the reply from the darkness.

"It's really getting bad. I'm going inside the wagon for a while. I stoked the fire good. Maybe it'll last."

"Okay," Byron said, "Go ahead. I'll check it in a while." Nathan pulled back from the door and Byron could see the fire briefly. It blazed now. Nathan closed the flaps and hurried up to the wagon. Snow now had reached the axles on the huge wheels, and the driver's seat in front was covered with more than a foot of snow. He brushed it off and crawled over and made his way inside. The canvas flap which covered the doorway was stiff with frost and ice.

He couldn't see the others, but knew that they were all huddled toward the back. Everything which could be was piled on top of their sleeping blankets. A double layer of canvas closed off the back entrance. Even a table top had been placed between them to cut off the wind.

Nathan removed his boots and wet outer clothing. He shivered in the cold and darkness, and hurried felt his way back to where the group lay asleep. With a predetermined sleeping arrangement, he was able to find the spot where he knew he wanted to be, next to James. Then he slipped out of the remainder of his clothes.

James heard him moving about and had made room for him. Nathan slipped inside and began drawing the heat from James' warm body. Nathan pulled his dry inner clothing inside the blankets with him, pushing them along the outer wall of the wagon toward which he positioned his back. James pulled him closed sharing his warmth, and they slept.

Outside the snow continued to swirl and pile up. Byron had climbed back out into the night, and sat huddled under the canvas as close to the fire as he could. More of the wet, snow covered wood had been piled along side the fire. It burned hotly, the often still damp wood smoking and sizzling as it dried. The pit of stones beneath the fire was filling with water now, and steam rose from the water and ashes below. Thankfully they had piled an extra layer of rock above the depth of the pit so the fire sat above the mud which was forming below. Byron had shoveled snow from around the fire to keep more water from melting and running down into it.

He wondered what time it was. It seemed as though he'd been awake for days now. He heard a voice behind him.

"Harper? That you?" It was Captain Hardy.

Byron turned toward the voice, "Yes, Sir!" he called back above the roar of the wind.

"You ought to be inside!" Hardy cloaked in a buffalo robe over his waterproof slicker stepped close to the fire.

"Got to keep it going!" Byron answered him.

"It won't matter. It's near dawn now," Hardy said , "And you can't even see a hint of light. It won't let up any time soon."

"I kept hoping," Byron said.

"I did too, but now it looks like it'll be later today, maybe during the night before it'll let up. You might as well get in out of it." Hardy said, and he trudged off through the drifts of snow back to his shelter.

Byron sat for a while starring into the fire, then piled another batch of semi-dry logs onto the fire. He dug out more logs from under the wagon and placed them near the fire. Finally he crawled back into the tent. Out of the wind and snow, he felt warm.

He could hear nothing inside the tent over the howling wind, nor see anything in the darkness. Carefully he moved his hand over the bundled mass where he knew they were. There was movement and warmth, he felt better. He pulled the heavy quilt where he'd lain earlier over himself and closed his eyes.

Just as Hardy predicted, it was late that afternoon the raging storm began letting up, and by dawn the following morning, those who woke and dared to poke their faces out against the biting cold, saw results of the storm.

Drifts of snow had piled up to the tops of the great wheels on the wagons. Many of the fire canvases were down, burdened by the weight of the snow, or the force of the wind. No signs of the fires many had tried to keep going. Snow covered everything.

It was difficult to judge the depth of it until one tried to move about in it. One of the first out in it was, of course, Captain Hardy. He and his scouts had cleared their fire pit and soon had a cheerful fire and hot coffee.

Hardy made an inspection of the animals. Surprisingly, huddled against the wagons, outside the circle, they had survived quite well. Most of the chickens and geese had perished, and were frozen in their crates.

He knew that it would be several days before the toll in human life could be determined. Soon after he was joined by others. Slowly the train came back to life. The sound of shovels against the snow, occasionally striking some object buried in the snow could be heard.

Voices were raised in anger against the weather, and the God who permitted them to suffer so. There were tears of grief by those who woke to discover that one among them would never awaken from their sleep. One such was Brenda Britton who early in the storm had given birth to a son. In spite of all that they tried to do to keep him warm and dry, his frail body was ill equipped to deal with the cold. Paul brought the tiny bundle out from wagon, leaving her wailing inside.

All together that first morning four bodies were brought and placed together in the snow. They would be buried later when a place could be selected and the ground prepared.

Three others would join them before the train could once again begin its journey down from the mountain. Charles would be one of them.

Even Captain Hardy said that he'd never seen it so bad as it had been those four days.

Day by day the weather warmed, and the snow began to melt making the whole area into a mire of slush and mud. A warm breeze dried the soggy canvas and ground.

Graves were prepared and markers made for those who would not go on and the Captain made a list:

Name Born Died
Stephen Britton August 19, 1843 August 20, 1843
Clara Sullivan January 6, 1801 August 21, 1843
Bert Johnson September 4, 1832 August 20, 1843
Mildred Able June 6, 1808 August 22, 1843
Ralph Able August 14, 1805 August 23, 1843
Amy Betters May 8, 1840 August 22, 1843
Charles 1801 August 24, 1843

The Able children, John aged 19, James aged 10, and Cynthia aged 9 would continue. Captain Hardy spoke the words the others could not.

"Oh Lord," he said, "We give you thanks that we have survived thus far. Although we grieve for those we leave behind, we know that You shall watch over them as they sleep in this place so close to where Thy dwellest. Help us to continue in Thy ways, and to guide us as we go on to the end of our journey. Amen."

Ty and Byron stood silently next to the spot where Charles lay. They had grieved, and could grieve no more. The Able children stood near their parents' grave, tears streamed down their faces, but they stood tall and strong. The Johnsons looked to the earth where their youngest lay and wept. The Betters could not be consoled. Brenda and Paul stood silently, Paul holding their only child, wondering if this were the punishment for their transgressions. The others stood silent, thankful that they had not to grieve for.

At last a week after they'd become marooned on the mountain, and they once again heard the familiar, "Wagons Ho!" as the trek down from the summit began.

Each day it became warmer, and when at last they reached the Sacramento valley it was summer again. The temperature rose to eighty-five that September 23rd, the day they drove down the street of the little valley town.

Those who were intent on farming soon found the land they were looking for. Those who had other aims, soon found those as well. Everything was bustling in California.

Ty, Byron, and the New Yorkers headed South toward the city on the bay, with the name San Francisco. A booming seaport town. It was but ninety miles as the crow flies, but the lumbering wagon had to take the land route which made the trip nearly two hundred, even taking the ferry across two of the parts of the bay. It was the first of October when they finally arrived, and announced to each other that the trip was over.

To be continued ---

If you have any comments or suggestions, please send them to richardl_1@charter.net.