The following is Chapter Twelve of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:
Chapter Twelve – On the Trail
May 12, 1849
Tension has permeated the wagon company since Marcus Cross nearly fell into the Kanzas River, two days ago. Mr. Anderson has been trying to put an end to their feud by offering his apologies since the noon break, yesterday. But the Cross cousins maintained their distance. As far as they were concerned, the Louisiana emigrant had been careless.
The Delaware cousins’ hostile silence finally cracked during supper, today. After Marcus Cross rebuked another one of Mr. Anderson’s apologies, the latter turned away, mumbling complaints about ”bad” manners. It turned out to be the last straw for the Delaware native. Mr. Cross grabbed Mr. Anderson by the lapels of the his coat and punched him in the jaw. Intervention by Mr. John Cross, Mr. James and Mr. Wendell prevented the younger Cross cousin from committing further assault.
“I want that bastard hanged!” Mr. Anderson had cried. “That man tried to kill me!” His cries came to naught, for most of the company did not want to get involved in the feud between and the Cross cousins – even if most of them sympathized with the Delaware men.
Whatever feelings most of the company possessed, everyone’s main concern seemed to be that the two feuding men should remain apart. According to Mr. James, there was nothing more destructive to a wagon train than dissention among the emigrants. While the Cross cousins traveled behind the Robbins wagon, Mr. Anderson and his companions traveled at the rear.
May 18, 1849
Nearly two weeks had passed since our departure from Westport. By this time, a daily pattern had emerged for our trek west. The company usually started the day around five in the morning. While a handful of men tended to the stock, other emigrants – both men and women – gathered wood and water for breakfast. Mr. James refuses to allow any of the women to wander off alone. The women usually finished preparing breakfast by six-thirty, which was eaten by seven o’clock. After the company hitched up the wagons, another day’s journey would commence.
Around noon, the wagon train usually formed a circle to guard against marauding Indians (which we have yet to encounter) and prevent the stock from wandering. Only water was usually gathered for the midday meals. Mr. James had suggested we eat cold dinners around this time of the day and save the next hot meal for suppers. The noon halt usually lasted an hour before we set out on the road again.
The second half of a day’s journey usually ended around six o’clock. Mr. James informed us that when the days began to get shorter by September, the company’s evening halt would begin an hour earlier. September? That is four months away. How long will it take us to reach California?
Again, the men gathered water and wood. The women prepared the meals and we all ate supper. It was usually around this time when Mr. James would entertain us with one of his tales about the West or the Palmer brothers would engage in their outrageous sense of humor. One of our Tennesseeans, the younger Mr. Goodwin, seemed slightly perplexed by the New Englanders’ humor.
“What’s wrong with our humor?” Warren Palmer demanded in a more sober mood.
Jonas Goodwin admitted that he found them entertaining. “It’s just that I always thought you Yankees were a serious lot. You know – religious and penny pinching. With no sense of humor.”
Both Palmers broke into laughter. “Ah, the very image of Brother Jonathan himself,” Richard Palmer said with a twinkle in his eyes. “I reckon there are a good number of such men in our part of the country. Since traveling cross country, I’ve noticed that they seemed to be all over. Maybe even in Tennessee?”
The elder Mr. Goodwin spoke up in defense of his son and state. “Now, I would not exactly say that, sir. True, we have a lot of God fearing folk in Tennessee. But I don’t know about penny pinchers.”
“I’m from Kentucky,” Mr. Robbins said. “And I have certainly encountered a good number of Brother Jonathan types there. And in Virginia. I’ll tell you what. How many of you have encountered these Brother Jonathan types back home? With no sense of humor?”
Nearly everyone raised their hands, save the Goodwins and Mr. Anderson. The latter shot warning looks at his female companions. But they refused to be intimidated and raised their hands. “This is nonsense!” The younger Mr. Goodwin cried out. “But all of y’all are Yankees!”
Elias Wendell revealed that he was from Maryland. The Crosses mentioned that Delaware was a border state. Each of Mr. Anderson’s female companions stated that their birthplaces were Augusta, Georgia and Baton Rouge, Louisiana respectively. Mr. James added, “Although I’ve been living in Ohio these past two decades, I’m originally from North Carolina. Just goes to show you, Mr. Goodwin, it don’t do to judge a book by its cover. A fine old adage to follow, if you ask me.”
Unable to support his earlier belief, young Mr. Goodwin acknowledged defeat . . . with good grace, I might add. However, Mr. Anderson seemed annoyed by the whole matter. Some people simply do not want to learn.
End of Chapter Twelve