(Wherein Sally writes a letter to a friend, to be carried by a traveler going east – from California to the States…)

The trail turned harder after we left from Fort Laramie; no more the easy travel across the open sea of grass that it had been in the first weeks. But rough hauling over rockier ground slowed us down; the oxen had to pull much harder, and sometimes there was danger for them from pools of bad water – alkali water, Choctaw Joe told us. Warned about this, we tried to keep the oxen from drinking at those springs, because such was pure poison. One of Mr. Herlihy’s oxen got sick from it, but Pa and Mr. Herlihy doctored that ox by forcing it to swallow a big wad of salt pork. I didn’t know why it should be such a cure, but Ma explained that likely the fat bacon coated all it’s stomachs, and let the poison pass all the way through.

Ma also collected up some of the white alkali powder from a poison spring that had dried up – and told us that Choctaw Joe said that it was as good as saleratus for making biscuits, although we were at first in two minds about eating them! But Ma’s biscuits tasted as good as they always did.  Ma gathered up some more of that white dust, saving it in an empty tin against the day when we ran out of soda. Ma and I had also discovered a patch of pea vines growing in abundance near a natural spring of sweet water – we had picked a good apron-full, and when we stopped to make camp for the night, Ma and I would shell them for supper; green garden vegetables was something that we missed very much – gleaning wild fruit and greens from beside  the trail hardly made up for it.

The very day that Ma and I found the wild pea patch, we encountered a small party of travelers coming east. Mr. Glennie and Oscar encountered them first, as they were scouting ahead of the party, looking for a spot with sweet water, plenty of wood and pasturage for the oxen. Jon and I were walking along with Pa – Jon was holding Pa’s ox whip and trying out his command of the team, for all that he barely came up to Star’s nose.

“They’re camped about three miles ahead,” Mr. Glennie reported to Pa. “I know we wanted to make another five miles today … but I believe that we would find it to our advantage to consult with the gentlemen; a Mr. Clyman and Mr. Greenwood – both old hands as regarding the trail. They have come from the Sacramento settlements in California, returning east by way of Fort Hall with a mule pack train and a couple of wagons, to visit kin and friends back in the States. And …” Mr. Glennie added, with a significant look. “They have come from Sacramento in company with Mr. Lansford Hastings, assaying the difficulty of his recommended shortcut from the established trail. Mr. Hastings has come east, expecting to personally guide any companies willing to travel by his new route.”

“Indeed,” Pa replied, “Indeed, I would very much like to hear what these folk have to say … not only about the situation in California, but what advice they have to offer us regarding the trail.”

Mr. Glennie nodded, his expression one of relieved agreement. “I judge it would be worth a couple of miles, listening to what Mr. Clyman has to tell us. Not only has he come across from California just this season, but he has spent many years in the mountains.”

“Joe Bayless may vouch for him, in that case,” Pa’s own expression brightened. “Any friend of Choctaw Joe is a friend of ours.”

“We can spare the time to consult with Mr. Clyman and Mr. Greenwood,” Mr. Glennie agreed. “Mr. Clyman says there are only three companies on the trail in advance of us … less’n they have taken another trail.” Mr. Glennie hesitated, before he added. “He is making a count of all the travelers on the trail this year, as a matter of natural curiosity, I suppose. But Mr. Clyman is also well acquainted with Captain Sutter – a Dutchman long-settled in California. Captain Sutter encourages all men with an urge to prosper, especially if they are of good character and stable trade, to come and settle in the valley of the Sacramento. He has asked Mr. Clyman to encourage any Oregon-bound parties which he might encounter along the way, to come to California instead – and paid him a small retainer to do so.”

“Sounds like a man hoping to be the big man in those parts,” Pa scratched his jaw. I think that he forgot that Jon and I were there and listening to this exchange, as quiet as mice. “Well, I’ll talk with both gentlemen tonight. Thank’ee kindly, Glennie. If I hear anything of substance, you and the other men will know of if it within the hour.”

“Good,” Mr. Glennie saluted Pa with a touch to the brim of his hat and rode off. In the meantime, a thought occurred to me.

“Pa,” I asked, and Pa seemed a bit startled out of his thought. “Do you suppose I could ask Mr. Clyman for a favor? As he is traveling east on the trail?”

“Depends on the favor, Sugar-Plum. What favor would you ask of him?”

“Would he carry a letter for me – to my friend Ginny? She and her family are traveling with a company somewhere behind us on the trail. I’m certain that if Mr. Clyman can take my letter with him, he will encounter Ginny’s family! Their home wagon was biggest that I had ever seen; it took six yokes to draw it, Ginny told me! I do not think anyone could miss that wagon. They intended to travel to California too – they could not be more than two or three weeks behind us.”

“Sure, Sugar-Plum! Write your letter and ask Mr. Clyman. I am certain he will oblige. A letter doesn’t weight very much, and if he is making a count of all the companies along the way.”

I was heartened by the thought of writing to Ginny; we had only been together as friends for those few days at Independence. I really did miss having a friend of my own age in the wagon company; Shiboone McCarty was almost grown and had almost nothing in common with me. All the other children in our party were either boys or very much younger, almost babies, really.

“Of course you should write a letter,” Ma said, warmly, when I asked her, as we set up camp early that day. “It will be excellent penmanship practice for you.” Her writing desk was wrapped in a heavy quilt underneath the wagon set; Ma had written letters at Fort Laramie and intended to write more when we reached Fort Hall, so had kept her paper and ink handy. I would have time to write, since we had stopped so early in the afternoon, Ma would not need my help in fixing supper for some hours.

Dear Ginny; Pa says that Mr. Clyman will carry my letter to you. We are nearly to Independence Rock, which Mr. Bayless, our guide, tells us is a notable monument, where all who pass by write their names. My brother and I will write ours, so Mr. Bayless promises. I hope that this finds you and Patty in good health, just as we are.

There has been much to see along the way. We did part from Major Clayton’s party, just before we crossed the Kansas River. They wished to shoot all the dogs and to travel on Sundays, and of course many in the company objected. So we separated from that company, and our Pa was elected captain. Since when we have gotten on tolerably well. Henry S. and his father are still with us – you will recall Henry from that day of gathering wood by the river.

There are many interesting sights to be seen along the trail. The Chimney Rock is to be seen for many days but do be warned that it is not as close to the trail as you might think. Mr.  Bayless said that it was once much taller. We also saw an enormous gathering of buffalo. They passed among our wagons for many hours, one day – buffalo by the hundreds of thousands. Ma traded with some Sioux women at Laramie Fort for a pair of buffalo robes. They are so comfortable and warm to sleep under, since it is now quite cold at night. Mr. Bayless says this is because we are higher into the mountains, and there it is cold, even at midsummer. There is even snow to be seen on the highest mountains!

I wish that you were with us; I have missed your company all these weeks. I hope that we can meet again in California.

All my best wishes to you and Patty and your family.

Yours in affection,

Sarah Elizabeth Kettering

(The Ketterings and their wagon company are at Fort Laramie – the women are relishing a chance to do laundry … and perchance, trade a little with the friendly Indians.)

In a very few minutes, we had spread out all the damp laundry over the grass and the mountain sage bushes; the day was so warm and the mountain air so thin and arid that I thought it would not take very long for even the heaviest flannel to dry thoroughly. Ma and Mrs. Glennie and Mrs. Herlihy had already hurried from our collection of tubs, the fire and kettles – back to our wagon camp, to meet Choctaw Joe and the small party of Sioux women wading through the grass towards us.

There were three of them, the youngest of about Shiboone’s age. She was leading a pony by a bridle, the pony drawing a sort of frame – two long poles crossed over it’s back, with the ends trailing on the ground, and a large bundle tied to a woven panel of cane and leather bands lashed between the trailing ends of those poles. Much later, I learned that the contraption of poles and cane was called a travois, since the Indians knew nothing of making wheels and using carts. The other women were older than the girl – and their leather dresses appeared to be more elaborately trimmed. I envied those Sioux women on account of their hair, which was long and dark, bound up into braids as thick as my wrist. Such long braids, whereas my own hair made a pair of measly little plaits, which barely came to my shoulders.

As we came, panting from the effort of running in the thin mountain air, Choctaw Joe was saying, by way of introduction,

“This is Han-tay-wi, her sister, Kimmi-Mila, and daughter Eh-hawee – they have come to offer goods to trade.”

“Tell the ladies that we are most pleased to make their acquaintance,” That was Mrs. Glennie, most regally formal, as if she were receiving them in her own parlor, and not in the space of trampled grass between our wagon, and the Glennie’s wagons and tent. “I do not know if we have any such goods as might please them, and that we can spare…”

“You’d be surprised,” Choctaw Joe replied. Meanwhile, the younger woman was untying the cords which bound together the big bundle and spreading out the contents; three or four enormous robes of buffalo hide, with the thick wooly brown fur still on, a stack of painted hide boxes full of some crumbly brown stuff – pemmican, and six pair of moccasins, all trimmed with fancy colored stuff, and elaborate fringe. It wasn’t beadwork, I learned, much later – but flattened and dyed porcupine quills. Two of them were large, to fit a man, but the others were smaller. There were some other things – pouches and sheaths for knives, all made of leather, and trimmed with fringe, beadwork, feathers and porcupine quills.

“Oh, my!” Ma whispered, upon seeing the buffalo robes and the moccasins. Although it was only June and at the height of summer – we had felt the cold as we traveled higher into the mountains. “Those things certainly look as if they would be warm at night!”

“Yes, ma’am,” Choctaw Joe looked as if he were hiding a grin, even as he cast an assessing eye over the robes. “Nothing better, softer or warmer to sleep on than a prime buffler robe. These are tanned and softened up real nice, too. You can’t go wrong with one of them, Miz Kettering.”

“Then let me look in the wagon, for what we can spare,” Ma had a determined look on her face. Mrs. Glennie and Mrs. Herlihy were also eyeing the robes, with an acquisitive expression on their faces. I was looking at the next-to-smallest pair of moccasins and thinking that they would just about fit me, and the smallest would be perfect for Jon.

But that was a frivolous thing, and up to Ma to decide, anyway. I think the oldest Indian woman saw me looking at the moccasins, though, with longing for them all over my face. So did Choctaw Joe.

Ma emerged from our wagon, with a bundle in her hand – one of our store-bought blankets that came from the east, and some other things – a campfire turning fork with a busted tine, her needlework basket and a small iron kettle which we had hardly ever used on the journey so far.

“These,” she announced calmly. “And three good steel needles and a paper of new pins. For two of those robes.”

“I want one of those robes, too,” Mrs. Glennie looked enviously on Ma, as Choctaw Joe relayed Ma’s offer to the three Sioux women in their language.

Choctaw Joe listened to the response that the oldest woman made to him, and grinned. “A generous bid indeed, Miz Kettering. Very generous. For that, Han-tay-wi will add in a parfleche of good pemmican, and two pair of moccasins – she is an honorable woman and does not want the white folks to think she is taking unfair advantage.”

“I appreciate Mrs. Han-tay-wi’s sense of honor and generosity,” Ma replied, as Choctaw Joe looked in my direction and winked. I was thrilled beyond words – my own pair of moccasins, and another for Jon, too!

Although the pemmican looked perfectly disgusting. Choctaw Joe later explained how it had been made from buffalo meat, dried and then pounded to powder, and mixed with dried berries and made into bricks with the addition of melted bear fat. It was what sustained the wild Indians during winters, when they couldn’t hunt. I don’t know how anyone could relish eating it. I said so to Pa, later on, and Pa laughed, and told us about scrapple that the Dutch folk made, back in the east.

“If you’re hungry enough, Sugar-Plum, just about anything that won’t bite you back tastes good.”

Mrs. Glennie emerged from the Glennie’s tent with a blanket and a shawl hanging over her arm – the shawl was a pretty printed challis one, with a long silk fringe. She  wanted a buffalo robe in exchange for the shawl and the blanket, and two pair of the moccasins, and one of the fancy leather pouches with beadwork on it. I could see Han-tay-wi’s eyes light up, when Mrs. Glennie spread it out for them to examine closer. The three Indian women bent over the shawl, talking to each other as they stroked the fringe.

“Yessirree bob, you’ve got them something rare, there,” Choctaw Joe murmured, and Mrs. Glennie came close to laughing. “I have never favored that shawl – it was a gift from Mr. Glennie’s sister Althea Murchison, and dear Althea deliberately chose it in colors which I find to be quite ugly – and she knew that very well! But it was so very expensive that I had to thank her for her generosity and exquisite taste every time we encountered her …”

“You don’t care for your sister-in-law then,” Mrs. Herlihy ventured, knowingly.

“She is a woman of many extremely dislikable virtues,” Mrs. Glennie replied, and I could see that Ma was trying to hold back laughter.

Mrs. Glennie did get her buffalo robe, and some other interesting Sioux pretties. I wondered if the Sioux women spent their parlor hours, knitting and crocheting, making embroidered and Berlin wool-work and tatted lace, just as Ma and Aunt Rachael and their other woman friends back in Ohio, to keep their hands busy and to show off to their friends. Mrs. Herlihy had nothing much to offer, but some fine steel needles, and a box of odd bits of scrap metal from Mr. Herlihy’s forge works, but she got the last buffalo robe in exchange for it, as well as three or four of the hide boxes of pemmican.

“They’ll make arrow heads from it,” Choctaw Joe commented, knowledgeably. “Better than from obsidian – don’t break and shatter so bad. And you’ll be right glad of that there pemmican, Miz Herlihy, if we come to camping cold in the mountains with our supplies running low.”

“Oh, it won’t come to that, I’m certain,” Mrs. Herlihy chuckled comfortably. “Himself says that we’re moving briskly enough that we should be well over the mountains and into California before the first snow falls. As for the pemmy-whatever, the lads eat as if starving at every single meal. I could stand by the fire and put food into them with Himself’s forge shovel, they eat so much and never bother to taste before swallowing it … the great hungry lumps that they are!”

The three Sioux women seemed very pleased with their takings from the session of trade, but not half as pleased as Jon and I were, that night, with that heavy buffalo robe drawn over us, against the chill of the night … or I was, later on when I grew out of my shoes, and they rubbed such blisters on my feet that Ma said I could wear my Indian moccasins.

But all that came later, when we were crossing the great barren desert.


19. April 2024 · Comments Off on From “West Toward the Sunset” · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

Another snippet of the current W-I-P, wherein Sally and her little brother Jon have become lost on the prairie while gathering buffalo chips …

It was at that moment that I nearly jumped out of my own skin. A party of Indians appeared, as if out of the very air – not a sound, not a warning. At least a dozen of them, all men – on horses with unshod hoofs. They didn’t make a sound on the battered grass where a big wagon party had passed with a passel of loose cattle. The Indians were just suddenly there. Jon didn’t make a sound, for which I was grateful, but he pressed close against me, and I put my arm around his shoulders.

“Hello,” I said, although I was quite certain that they wouldn’t understand me – but it was polite to say, and Ma always insisted on good manners to strangers, even Red Indians.

And that was the curious part; the two who stood closest to us, after they all slid down from their ponies – were really red. Half of their faces, anyway; painted with red paint. They had also shaved their eyebrows and the hair on their heads nearly bald, save for a scalp-lock at the top. One had adorned the top of his head with a crest of stiff horsehair, dyed red and yellow. That one Indian man, who seemed like he was the leader, stepped closer to me and held up his hand. He said something that I couldn’t understand, guttural and harsh sounding, and waggled his fingers. I said ‘Hello,” again, as politely as I could.

I was glad that my voice didn’t shake. We were mortal afraid of Indians, then – especially being alone as Jon and I were. Although the Indians that we had seen in Independence, and those who ran the ferry over the Kansas River crossing hadn’t seemed that much off from the ordinary. They were just people, although considerably more browned from the sun and much more skimpily dressed than most.

And I saw that half of the Indian party were really boys – just about my age, and perhaps a bit younger – skinny, half-naked and … really not all that dangerous-looking. Were Jon and I supposed to be mortally afraid of boys hardly as old as I was? They seemed as curious about us as I would have been – that is, if Pa and Mr. Herlihy or Mr. Glennie had been with us. Indeed, one of the boys came up really close to us, as the older ones talked among themselves over our heads. That one boy reached out and touched Jon’s hair, feeling it with his fingers in one hand as he reached for the little wood-hilted knife hanging from the string that held the little flap of cloth around his middle to hide his male parts. It was as if that Indian boy were considering a bit of scalp-taking, and Jon flinched.

That was it, for me – no one had the right to scare my little brother out of his skin! I was so angry that I shoved that Indian boy so hard – so hard that he fell backwards on his behind.

“You let my brother alone!” I yelled at him, as fierce as if I were chasing off Aunt Rachael’s bully goose, who used to chase Jon and the other children something fierce. The boy glared at me, but he didn’t dare come any closer. He crawled away rapidly, before he got to his feet again. I was a bit taller than he was, and I must have been at least as strong. All the grown-up Indian men laughed. They said things to the boy that sounded as if they were making fun of him; he looked abashed and embarrassed. I put my arm around Jon and pulled him even closer to me.

“Don’t worry, Jon,” I whispered. “We’ll be all right. We’re close to camp, and they don’t really seem to want to hurt us.”

Jon’s lips wobbled. “Is Pa gonna come for us soon?”

“I hope so,” I whispered back. I had just about decided that I should chance our luck. The Indians didn’t seem all that inclined to take us prisoner – before or after scalping both of us. I thought I should just say goodbye and stride off confidently in the direction that I thought that our camp should be in.

After all – they hadn’t tried to hurt us or take us officially captive, yet. I reasoned that if they hadn’t done Jon or I any harm … maybe they would allow us to just go our way.

Whichever way that might be – which I didn’t know, but no one had to really know that, least of all these Indians.

Just as I had made up my mind to do this, I heard the jingling of harness, and the steady dull clip-clopping of shod hooves. The Indians – they all turned, alert in every bone. Half of them slid from their horses and vanished. It was like a trick from a traveling magician; one minute they were there, and the next they were gone, melted into the remains of tall grass, or shallow hollows in the ground.

“Well, well … what do we have here, Deacon?” drawled the man holding the reins of a wagon drawn by half a dozen mules, hitched two and two and two. He was a dark man, with grizzled hair, dressed almost like an Indian himself. He halted the mules and regarded us all – Jon and I, and the remaining visible Indians with great interest.

The other man stood up in the wagon, with a big black book clutched to his chest. He was older – I mean, I think they both were about the same age as Grandpa Reverend, but the dark man driving the wagon looked somehow fitter. Spry. He was dressed in a fringed leather hunting coat that looked somewhat like the Indians wore, and a long knife at his belt. The man called Deacon just looked old, with white hair down to his shoulders, like the picture of a prophet in the Old Testament – but he looked happy, not thunderously angry, as Grandpa Reverend always allowed that the prophets were, given that they were sent to chastise sinners.

“Children, Mr. Bayless – and the heathen that I was sent to redeem!” Deacon exclaimed, waving his free hand, and the other man – Mr. Bayless heaved a great sigh and seemed to roll his eyes in exasperation. “It is a heavenly sign, indeed! Tell them that I mean no harm! I have come to bring them the good news!” his eye finally fell upon Jon and I. “Children … are you of the Kettering party? I was told that such a company was on the trail, and we were desirous of joining such a godly company…”

Meanwhile, Mr. Bayless was making peculiar sweeping gestures with his hands, and venturing some words – words which the red-painted Indian with the horsehair crest to his scalp-lock and the others all appeared to understand – from the rapt manner in which they all paid mind. The Indian leader then responded with similar. Sign-talk, I think they called it. A simple manner to speak with another tribe if there was no language in common. It was a curious thing – that the Indian tribes in the wild lands beyond the Mississippi River had no single language between them, other than this signing-talk.

The other Indians – the ones who had hidden – emerged silently from wherever they had concealed themselves. They stood around, watching the signing-talk, listening to Mr. Bayless and the horse-hair-crested Indian leader, and talking among each other.

12. April 2024 · Comments Off on From – West Towards the Sunset, the new W-I-P · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

(This will be a young adult adventure, about a family going west on the California trail in 1846.)

I think it must have been two weeks after leaving the big company that Jon and I became lost on the prairie late one afternoon. We were gathering buffalo chips, while Pa and the other men made camp, and Ma and the other women sorted out what they were going to cook for supper, especially if the menfolk had managed to hunt some fresh meat and as soon as we brought more chips – and wood for the fire, assuming that we were able to find any.

Jon and I walked away from camp that afternoon, each of us with an empty pair of big tow sacks. We were with some of the others at first – the Herlihy boys and Shiboone. It was one of those days with a clear blue sky arching overhead, spotted only with little shreds of cloud, like bits of rag and clumps of lint torn or scraped from some larger fabric. The rolling prairie stretched out all around, almost completely featureless, save for the distant thread of the Platte River and the range of low bluffs that ringed it. The trail at this point meandered along parallel to the river, but not really close to it. It seemed hardly any time at all before we had wandered farther and farther from camp, deeper and deeper into the grasslands. I can’t recall why – only that the air seemed clear and fresh, the wind stirring the grass at the tops of the low rise, and I wanted to see what I could beyond. Then there was a good, well-dried spread of buffalo chips, and another higher hill that promised a better view, the grass waving in the light breeze as the sun slid father down in the west … and Jon suddenly looked around and said, tremulously,

“Sally … where’s the camp?”

We were well out of sight of the wagons, I realized with a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach. That feeling sank even farther when I realized that I didn’t know which direction to go. I could not hear – as hard as I listened – the clamor of our company setting up camp. The clank of harness chains, the men calling to each other, Boomer and the other dogs barking, the cattle lowing to each other as they grazed … nothing, only the whispering rustle of the wind in the tall grass.

But I knew better than to panic. I couldn’t let it show that I was nearly frightened to death, all alone on the wild and trackless prairie with my little brother.

“We have to sit down and think,” I said finally. “And not run as if we were being chased by wolves…”

“Are there wolves here, Sally?” Jon’s lips trembled. I was afraid that he was going to cry and I wished that I hadn’t mentioned wolves.

“There are, I think – but they only hunt at night … and it’s still daylight,” I said – and that was the first thing that gave me a notion. “See … there is the sun, in the west. If we keep it to our left as we walk… then we aren’t going in a circle. If we walk in a straight line, Jon, I think that we’ll come to the river. But before then, we should see the trail.”

“All right,” Jon answered. He already sounded reassured. I didn’t tell him that if we found the trail … we should have to examine it very carefully, to see if our party had passed over it, or were the tracks from one ahead of us? Would we walk to the west … or back along the tracks and hope to find our company, before it got dark. If night came … I didn’t want to think about that. I hoped that Pa, or Mr. Glennie and Oscar would be sent out on horseback to find us, but as Grandpa Reverend always said, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ I couldn’t build a plan on hoping that someone would find us. I had gotten us lost – and it was up to me to get us un-lost. I hoped that we could find our camp before Ma would begin to fear that she would lose us the way that Aunt Rachael had lost our Cousin Matty. I took Jon’s hand, hoisted our two sacks of buffalo chips in my other hand, and we set out walking. I tried to set our path in as straight a way as was possible, hoping that every moment we would see the thread of smoke from our campfires rising into the air, and then the pale canvas wagon covers.

Straight as a rule, we walked, although it did take us a tiresome way, up the side of a low hill, and down the other. I didn’t see anything but more of the same rolling prairie grasses – but reassuringly, the line of bluffs, far and away on the far side of the river. So – at least, we were walking the right direction.

How had we managed to walk so far? It was as if everything had been swallowed up by the sheer vastness of it all. Jon and I walked up another rise, down the far side, up another … and then I was reassured of the value of my own good sense. We finally came upon the trampled tracks of a cattle herd, scored briefly here and there by the deep ruts of wagon wheels – a track that went towards the setting sun.

“Look here, Jon,” I said to my brother. “I think this must be the trail. Whether it was made by our company or another … I can’t really tell. Look around – and do you think we came this way, today?”

Jon frowned and shook his head. “It all looks the same to me, Sally. The same hills and grass. Nothing – all the same. It’s not like back in Ohio, with different trees, different hills.”

I sighed. “Let me think, Jon – about whether to go east or west. There might be a party ahead of us. I just can’t tell how old the marks are. I think … I hope that we have crossed our own track, and everyone is towards the west of us. I just don’t know…”

It was at that moment that I nearly jumped out of my own skin. A party of Indians appeared, as if out of the very air – not a sound, not a warning. At least a dozen of them, all men – on horses with unshod hoofs. They didn’t make a sound on the battered grass where a wagon party had passed. The Indians were just suddenly there.

A half a chapter from the latest work, the YA adventure now tentatively titled West Towards the Sunset.

As Ma predicted, the meeting was not done in twenty minutes. Ma looked impatiently toward the Clayton wagon, and the gathering of men around it, and said,

“Go fetch your father, Jon. I’m about to feed his share of dinner to Boomer.”

Jon went off at a run, as Ma finished filling Pa’s plate with cold biscuits and some slices of ham from our stores, and a scoop of apple crumble that Ma had made from dried apples the night before. I was hungry, impatient for sitting down and eating. But within a minute or two, Jon returned, breathless and tearful.

“Ma, Sally – come quick! They’re talking about shooting all the dogs!”

“Oh, my dear Lord!” Ma exclaimed. She flung off her apron; we had already lost any appetite for food, after hearing this.

“Pa wouldn’t let them shoot Boomer, would be?” Jon demanded tearfully and Ma replied,

“No more than he would let someone shoot one of you!” which seemed to comfort Jon at least a little, and he loved Boomer so very much. But I recollected how Major Clayton disliked dogs – and he was the captain of the company, and would Pa have any voice in a decision that the men of the wagon company had voted on?

It turned out that Pa had more voice than I had thought at first, as well as more respect among the men of the company generally. When Ma and Jon and I came running to where the men were at the meeting that Major Clayton had called – it had already gotten fractious and angry. Mr. Herlihy the Irish blacksmith was already shouting, so angry that his face was nearly as red as his hair and wiry beard, his powerful hands knotted into fists.

“God blast you for a treacherous, murdering salpeen!” He bellowed into Major Clayton’s face. “Murther me own dogs, you say! In hell you will be, before ye and your bully-boys harm a hair on the back of them!” And he went on, the Irish in him coming out so thick that we didn’t rightly understand more than one word in five.

“I will not stand for being addressed in this disrespectful manner!” Major Clayton shouted back, when Mr. Herlihy had run out of breath and before anyone else could get in a word by turning it to the thin side and wedging it in.

“Then you had better sit down for it!” Mr. Herlihy roared, and the shouting from all the men present burst out like the whistle from a steamboat. In the meantime, Mrs. Bishop, the poor invalid woman had her little spotted spaniel in her arms, hugged to her as she wept torrents and her husband had her arm around her, trying to talk reason and not being heard by anyone. We stood next to Mr. Steitler and Henry, at the edge of the crowd and Ma asked him what had happened to bring about all this ruckus.

“The lad’s dog,” Mr. Steitler replied. “Our commander of wagons has put it to a vote that all the dogs should be shot as a hazard to the company, since he blames the dog for panicking Herr Martindale’s cattle and breaking the wagon-tongue. All the dogs are a danger. Putting the wagon-train at the risk of harm, he says.”

“Surely the men have not approved this…” Ma replied, and Mr. Steitler shrugged.

“The majority voted so – that the dogs are a risk to all. I did not agree, but since I am a foreigner…”

This was appalling. We could not allow this, not Boomer. What would Pa do, now? Ma had said that Pa would as much countenance someone shooting Boomer as Jon or I … but this was the company, and we were out on the wagon trail, a week-long journey from where there was any settled law.

Meanwhile, Mr. Herlihy had taken a breath and resumed shouting at Major Clayton – and he had such a powerful bellow that he could be heard over the clamor.

“Before God, I swear I will leave the company and set off on me own, and what say ye to that, ye thrice-damned pismire! The de’il will make a ladder o’ your spine, afore ye murder my dogs!”

“You’ll be murdered yourself by the Indian savages before you get a day farther!” Major Clayton roared back, and suddenly, there was Pa, stepping up on the wheel of the Major’s wagon, where he could be seen above the heads of the men gathered. Pa put two fingers in his mouth and whistled – a shrill blast that cut through the babble, and such was Pa’s manner of resolute command, after the anger in Mr. Herlihy and the others, that there was a momentary silence – likely out of sheer surprise – into which Pa said, calmly,

“And I’ll take my own wagon and go with Herlihy, here. We voted to form a company, boys; we can vote to un-make it. Who’s with us, then?”

“I am!” That was Mr. Bishop, with his arm around his distraught wife, still weeping over the little spotted pup cradled in her arms. Mr. Bishop looked around, as if he was looking for support in his indignation. Three of the five German boys chorused,

“Ja! Ja – yes, we go mit Herr Kettering! Aber naturlich!” It seemed that they were indignant over their dog being blamed by the Major, in spite of doing all they could to help mend Mr. Martindale’s wagon to make up for it. Mr. Steitler also nodded, in vigorous agreement.

“Mir auch! We go, also mit Herr Kettering!”

At that, nearly a dozen other men called out their own dissent with Major Clayton’s captaincy; some had dogs, others had not, but I guess had been unhappy with how the Major exempted himself and his cronies from taking a turn at guard at night and for traveling on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. The Major looked fit to be tied, almost white with rage at being defied.

“Then leave and be damned to you all!” He shouted – and some of those men and boys who had decided to break from his company jeered scornfully, calling him a tyrannical old windbag and other names that at the time I did not know the meaning of.

Pa, still perched above the crowd, put two fingers in his mouth and whistled again for attention.

“Lads – we’ll move on in ten minutes, all of those who want to leave with me.” He jumped down, and extended his hand to the Major, who refused it and glared. “No hard feelings, sir? We just can’t countenance your latest order. Best that we go our own way, then.”

Major Clayton looked as if he would spit on Pa. “You be damned, sir! You and all the rest of you vile, selfish ingrates!”

“I can not say that it has been a pure pleasure traveling with you,” Pa replied. He seemed unruffled, although Mr. Herlihy glowered, scowling as if he would like to strangle Major Clayton with his bare hands, once Major Clayton had taken a moment and untangled the real intent of what Pa had told him. “Good day to you, sir.” Pa looked past the Major, at the remaining crowd. “Any of the rest of you are welcome to join us and form a new company. Ten minutes, boys. We’ll roll out in ten minutes.”

And that was it – the breaking up of the company. There were eleven wagons following ours and the Herlihy’s two, away from that nooning place. Mr. Martindale and his family followed a little later, rejoining us that evening, at the place where Pa and Mr. Steitler decided to camp, as the sun slid down into the west that evening.