The following is Chapter Seventeen of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:
Chapter Seventeen – Respite at Ash Hollow
June 13, 1849
Two days had passed . . . two long days before Mr. Marcus Cross was deemed safe to join the wagon party. Personally, I felt outraged that he had been ostracized by the others for so long. One or two days seemed long enough for me. But four days? It is a miracle that the man did not go mad out of sheer loneliness. When Mr. Cross rejoined the train, resentment was practically stamped on his face. Between losing his kinsman and being "quarantined" by the rest of us seemed to have marred his temperament. One of Mr. Anderson's companions - Miss Mary Lee Watkins of the blond curls - tried to express her sympathy, but she was prevented from doing so by him. Perhaps her actions would have been in vain. Mr. Cross barely said a word to anyone for the rest of the day.
June 14, 1849
The wagon party crossed the South Platte River, a body of water not worth commenting upon. Not long after the river crossing, we came to a difficult part of the trail. First, the train had to climb up a nearly steep hill called . . . well, the California Hill. After traversing that difficult ground, the wagon party traveled across a wide tableland that stretched between the north and south branches of the Platte through most of the day. But California Hill proved to be nothing in compare to what laid ahead. Some time around four in the afternoon, we faced the difficult task of traveling down a steep hill that Mr. James called Windlass Hill. Our wagon guide and Mr. Wendell organized a dozen to guide each wagon, one by one, down the hill using ropes. Considering the difficulty we had from keeping our wagons from rolling down that hill in haphazardness fashion and landing in a heap, it seemed as if the wind were behind us. The only person who came close to losing his wagon was Mr. Anderson. Naturally.
From the moment I first saw him and his two “companions” back at Council’s Bluff, he seemed out of his element. First, he nearly caused the Crosses’ wagon to capsize, while crossing the Big Blue and now he seemed incapable of handling his wagon during this trip downhill. He was acting as the “brakeman” in this particular incident and unexpectedly let go of the ropes. Thankfully, Mr. Wendell took control of the ropes from Mr. Anderson and acted as the new “brakeman”. Thanks to him, the men managed to guide Mr. Anderson’s mules and wagon to the bottom of the hill without any mishap.
The bottom of the Windlass Hill led to an area called Ash Hollow. Mr. James announced that our wagon party will remain here for one full day to recover from the journey and fresh water. Something that I truly look forward to.
June 15, 1849
Ash Hollow proved to be a godsend. One, it is a beautiful wooded area with ash and cedar trees, a backdrop of limestone cliffs, a creek and springs that provided much needed and appreciated fresh water. A house made from sod had also been built near the edge of Windlass Hill. Mr. James pointed out that it is used by westbound emigrants and mountain men as a post office. Emigrants and other travelers usually left letters and money for postage at the house for relatives back in the East, in the hope that some eastward bound traveler would take it "back to the States" with them.
After eating breakfast and tending our stock, some of us spent the time exploring the area. Benjamin, Mr. Robbins, Mrs. Robbins and I took a stroll along the creek, admiring the woods and natural habitats. Mr. Robbins commented that Ash Hollow could prove to be an ideal spot to establish a farm of some kind. I suspect that the sod house near the hill’s edge gave him this idea. I do not know if I would agree with him. There seemed to be too many hills and cliffs in the area. And if the only way to approach this spot from the east is by traversing two steep hills . . . well, I would consider another spot to settle.
Following our late afternoon supper, Mrs. Robbins invited both Mrs. Gibson and I to accompany her for a tour of a nearby cave. Mr. James warned us not to travel too deep into the cave. A month earlier, I would have been surprised by Mrs. Gibson’s willingness to accept my presence in this expedition. Neither she nor her husband had bothered to make the acquaintance of Benjamin and myself when we first left Independence and Council Grove. Either the Gibsons have become used to our presence, or Mrs. Gibson has learned to tolerate me, due to my friendship with Mrs. Robbins, the wagon party’s only other respectable white woman.
The stroll proved to pleasant activity for us all. All three of us had candles, in case the caves proved to be too dark or night fell before our return to the campsite. However, the pleasure of our expedition turned sour when we . . . Oh dear. I do not know if I could recall that moment again without reliving the shock and revulsion I had felt. Perhaps I should simply state that what Mrs. Robbins, Mrs. Gibson and I came across something shocking. Very shocking. I might as well record it in this journal. About several feet into one of the caves' openings, we came across Mr. Cross and one of Mr. Anderson’s "companions" - Miss Mary Lee Watkins of the blond curls, I believe - in flagrante. Both were in a state of undress . . . and rutting like barnyard animals.
Mr. Cross and Miss Watkins never noticed us. Their attention was deeply focused upon each other. My two companions and I stared in shock, before Mrs. Robbins dragged us away. I felt so shocked and disgusted by the sight that I found myself speechless. Mrs. Gibson threatened to expose the couple's lustful activity to Mr. James. She also expressed suspicion that Miss Watkins might be "servicing" a couple. But Mrs. Robbins dismissed the idea, reminding us of the deep dislike between Mr. Cross and Mr. Anderson. She believed that Mr. Anderson would “rather chop off his right arm than allow one of his merchandise to provide any such pleasure to Mr. Cross. We decided to remain silent on the subject. But something tells me that none of us will ever forget it. I certainly will not.
End of Chapter Seventeen