Sunday, April 3, 2016
"EL DORADO WEST" [PG] - Chapter Seven
The following is Chapter Seven of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:
Chapter Seven – Missouri Plains
April 16, 1849
Traveling through Missouri, I finally received my first glimpse of what a prairie looked like. I had imagined flatter land with no grass . . . not this rolling land filled with long tufts of grass. “You should see this land in full bloom in about a month from now,” Mr. James commented. “The grass becomes just as high as your knees.”
No wonder most emigrant guides insist that wagon trains depart at least by early May. Judging from the amount of prairie grass that now grows, I could see that it was not enough to sustain teams of oxen and mules during a 2,000-mile trek . . . let alone 200 miles.
Mr. James decided that it would be best for us to follow the Missouri River along the bluffs just north of it. Since it happened to be early spring, the river would be subjected to floods, which could be deadly due to its fast currents. Casting my eyes upon the Missouri below, I spotted a steamboat with a stern wheel churning westward. A brief longing to be aboard that boat rose within me. I still long to reach Independence as soon as possible, and finally begin the journey across the continent. Oh, the impatience of youth!
April 19, 1849
The wagon company experienced a chilling moment, early this afternoon. A group of riders appeared from the south and interrupted our small procession at a crossroads. Judging from their hostile expressions, along with the shackles and ropes they carried; a suspicion came to me that these men might be bounty riders or even worse. Unfortunately, I proved to be right. The riders had turned out to be a group of lawmen and slave catchers searching for a black fugitive. One fellow, a swarthy creature with black whiskers, demanded a search of our wagons. And considering that he and his companions were better armed than us, we had no choice but to comply.
It came to no surprise that the slave catchers had lingered around our wagon longer than the others. That same bewhiskered gentleman who led the bunch demanded to see Alice’s and my papers. Mr. James’ face turned red and insisted that we were free people of color. “And how would you know that for sure, Mister?” our tormentor demanded. “How long have you known these nigras?”
“Almost two weeks,” Mr. James replied. “They happen to be from Ohio.” The whiskered man shot back, “They could have said that. Maybe they’re lying.” This did not bode well for Alice and myself.
Fortunately, Mr. James never relented in his defense of us. “And how would you know?” he replied scathingly. “Can you recognize an Ohio accent when you hear it? And why are you harassing these two? Surely, you know who you’re looking for?”
I saw flashes of anger, resentment and sheer embarrassment in the slaver’s dark eyes. He murmured a quick oath and walked away. The other men continued their search through our wagons with no success. The fugitive could not be found. With no reason to delay us any further, the search party allowed us to continue our journey. However, our caravan had not traveled five miles when Alice noticed a figure in a thicket to our right – a lone rider.
“He looks like one of those slave catchers,” my sister commented. I squinted for a closer look. Sure enough, there was Mr. Whiskers riding by himself. Following our wagon party. If the fellow was so determined to capture this slave, he was surely barking up the wrong tree. Or was he merely determined to prove that we were slave stealers? If so, I pray that his fugitive never seek refuge with our group . . . at least until we manage to put Missouri and slave catchers behind us for good.
End of Chapter Seven