Thursday, February 27, 2014

"EL DORADO WEST" [PG] - Chapter Five

The following is Chapter Five of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849: 

Chapter Five – Rollin’ on the River

April 1, 1849
Our journey down the Ohio River seems more like a pleasure cruise than a difficult journey. And I must add that the river must be one of the most beautiful bodies of water I have ever laid eyes upon, save Lake Erie.

Alice and I have claimed a spot for our wagon on the SIMPSON’s main deck, along with other westbound travelers with covered wagons. Other passengers on this deck include farmers, slave coffles (I fear I might be becoming familiar with the sight), livestock, mountain men and other ordinary folk. The topic on everyone’s lips seem to be gold in California. 

A fellow emigrant from Pennsylvania expressed fear that all of the gold may have already been picked. After all, nearly fifteen months had passed since that fellow, James Marshall, had discovered that gold nugget. Another emigrant – a red-haired man who happened to be a fellow Ohioan – dismissed the idea. ”California was a vast land,” he said. Plenty of gold left for those who have yet to arrive.

April 3, 1849
We have finally reached Cairo, a small river port at the tip of Southern Illinois. And I cannot think of any other place I would rather not be. There is nothing wrong with the town’s physical appearance. Frankly, I found it very pleasant. Somewhat. It does seem slightly diminished. I had expected it to be slightly bigger. There is an unpleasant side to Cairo that I had learned from one of the boat’s deckhands. The city, like the rest of Illinois, has a reputation for hostility toward Negroes. In fact, the entire state does not encourage free Negroes to live within its borders. And those who do are subjected to a level of harassment not even known throughout the rest of the North. I suggested to Alice that we remain aboard the ALBERT P. SIMPSON.

Because of its position at the junction of both the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers, Cairo has become an important river port. Many folks bound south for Memphis, Natchez and New Orleans were forced to disembark. In their place, the ALBERT P. SIMPSON acquired new passengers. Many were, like us, bound for St. Louis or further west. And now the main deck is filled with more covered wagons and emigrants.

The Mississippi River is not at all like the Ohio. Its majestic view is somewhat dimmed by its muddy coloring. Brown and thick, it is truly an ugly river. Alice and I have also learned that the Mississippi River Valley has been struck by a cholera epidemic. I am not that surprised. The river strikes me as the perfect breeding ground for diseases of all sorts. From New Orleans to St. Louis, folks have been dropping like flies. Two passengers have died since our departure from Cairo. Their bodies were dumped overboard and into the river. This whole matter does not bode well for Alice and myself. For the first time, I am wondering if I had been wise to leave Cleveland.

End of Chapter Five

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