The following is Chapter Nineteen of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:
Fort Laramie at last! Our wagon party finally arrived at the fort sometime between three and four o'clock in the afternoon. And no one could be more happier than me by our arrival at the imposing stockade. Especially after being on the trail for so long.
Perhaps I should not have been so elated by our arrival at Laramie. After all, it was not our first major stop on the trail. But Fort Kearney seemed rather paltry in comparison to Laramie - nothing more than a collection of huts. On the other hand, Fort Laramie (or Fort John, as Mr. Wendell called it) seemed like a fortress in the wilderness - a citadel with strong adobe walls and four parapets that rose above the fort's four corners, allowing the inhabitants to view the terrain that stretched beyond it. It was located near the junction of the North Platte and Laramie Rivers and has been a major trading post for nearly two decades.
Nearly an entire village of Indian teepees and tents sprawled outside of the fort's gates. According to Mr. Wendell, many of the tribesmen are probably here to trade in furs and goods with the inhabitants. He also pointed out that due to the decline of the fur trade and the presence of Fort Bernard, a rival trading post southeast of here has contributed to the traders' decline in profits. Also present at the fort were three U.S. Army calvary companies. Their presence took Mr. Wendell by surprise. Benjamin suggested that the Army might be using the fort as some kind of headquarters for a military campaign against the natives. Mr. Wendell quickly dashed the idea, pointing out the number of Indians camped outside of the fort's gates. Much to my brother's embarrassment.
Wagon members such as Mr. James, Mr. and Mrs. Robbins, the Goodwins and the Gibsons were invited to dine inside the fort's private dining hall. Naturally, Benjamin, myself, Mr. Wendell and a few less respectful members of the wagon party were excluded.
June 23, 1849
We finally learned the reason behind the Army's presence at Fort Laramie. It has been a military fort for nearly a month, following the government's purchase of it for over $4,000 dollars, by a Lieutenant Woodberry. With the increasing traffic of westbound wagon trains headed for California and Oregon, the Army decided to purchase the fort to offer protection from the Indians along the trail. With many of the tribes dying from cholera this year, I do not see why the Army's presence was needed. However, the Indians are not the only ones dying from cholera. The epidemic has spread to this part of the Platte River Valley. Some trader named Ingram informed Mrs. Robbins, Mrs. Gibson and myself that a small wagon party had been discovered not far from Scott's Bluff nearly two weeks ago. With the exception of two survivors, all of the wagon's party members perished from cholera. Good heavens! And to think we had considered ourselves lucky with only John Cross's death, so far.
Later in the afternoon saw the arrival of a small party of mountain men at the fort. They turned out to be old friends of Mr. James and Mr. Wendell. My two companions and I witnessed a rather noisy reunion between the mountain men. The Goodwins had also witnessed the reunion. Judging from Mr. Wendell's familiarity with the newcomers, I can only hope they have finally realized the error of their belief that Mr. Wendell is a fugitive slave.
The entire wagon party ate supper around a camp fire, with the mountain men acting as our guests. After the Palmers entertained us with their jokes; the mountain men, along with Mr. James and Mr.Wendell regaled us with tales of their past adventures on the Plains and in the mountains. Adventures that included rendevouzes, narrow escapes from Indians, rival trappers, and Mother Nature. It turned out to be a most entertaining evening.
However, the evening was spoiled by an unpleasant discovery by Mrs. Robbins, the elder Mr. Palmer and myself. Mrs. Robbins had recruited us to search for her missing comb on the fort's grounds. Our search led to the stables. Not only did Mr. Palmer find Mrs. Robbins' comb, all of us came across Mr. Cross and Miss Watkins in an empty stall, half dress and en flagrante. It seemed like a nightmarish replay of our discovery at Ash Hollow. I believe I need not comment anymore on this subject.
End of Chapter Nineteen