The following is Chapter Fifteen of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:
Chapter Fifteen – Fort Kearny
May 31, 1849
The wagon train finally arrived at Fort Kearny, during the late afternoon. Two weeks ago, I would have welcomed our arrival. But not now. Something disturbing has happened. Mr. Wendell has been detained, due to Mr. Goodwin's accusation that he was the fugitive slave.
Not long after our arrival, Mr. Goodwin approached the fort's commander, a Lieutenant Woodbury, and accused Mr. Wendell of being the fugitive slave wanted back in Franklin, Missouri. The odious man had kept a copy of the handbill with the fugitive's description. And it nearly described Mr. Wendell to a T.
Mr. James immediately protested against Mr. Goodwin's accusation, claiming that he has known Mr. Wendell for over a decade. Both Benjamin and Mr. Robbins backed him, recalling how the two men had greeted each other back in Missouri. Mr. James also added that when he had first met Mr. Wendell, the latter was already a freedman from Maryland. And he pointed out Mr. Wendell's knowledge of the Plains and the trail, something no Missouri slave would have any knowledge of. None of the members of our wagon train could deny this. But when Mr. Wendell produced a piece of paper, declaring his status as a free man from Maryland, the matter was settled. Lieutenant Woodbury dropped the matter, much to Mr. Goodwin's embarrassment.
June 1, 1849
Due to the late hour of our arrival, yesterday; my fellow travelers and I did not get a decent look at the fort until this morning. If I must be frank, Fort Kearny is a dismal affair. I had expected a citadel on the prairie. Instead, it turned out to be nothing more than a collection of adobe huts grouped together. Did the Army really expect Lieutenant Woodbury and his men to repel hordes of Indians from this place? Perhaps I had expected too much. After all, Fort Kearny has only been in existence for a year. And according to one of the troopers, its still being constructed.
Fort Kearny does have one thing in its favor. It has plenty of supplies for westbound emigrants . . . and at decent prices. According to Lieutenant Woodbury, our wagon train was the fourth one to arrive in the past three weeks. Benjamin and I purchased more cornmeal, coffee and other foodstuff for the journey.
I also noticed that both Mr. Wendell and Mr. James have been maintaining a cool distance from the Goodwins, especially the elder Mr. Goodwin. I cannot blame them, especially Mr. Wendell. But I still have questions about his strong resemblance to the fugitive slave that was being hunted . . . and why he had been wearing the very waistcoat that I first saw on one of the slave catchers.
End of Chapter Fifteen