Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"EL DORADO WEST" [PG] - Chapter Thirty-One


The following is Chapter Thirty-One of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849: 

Chapter Thirty-One - Tragedy on the Trail

August 28, 1849
At last! We have finally reached the eastern edge of the Humboldt River. The last week-and-a-half of traveling through this basin has been somewhat of a trial. Tensions within the wagon party has been high for quite some time. During our noon halt, yesterday, I overheard some of the wagon members plotting a mutiny against Mr. James. Led by Mr. Goodwin, who has not forgiven Mr. James for the death of his son; the conspirators plan to confront our wagon captain about the future course of this train. They want to break away from the main trail and use a cutoff that is supposed to take us directly to the California goldfields . . . in a shorter period of time. Recalling Mr. James' feelings about shortcuts, I have no idea how this impending conflict will be resolved.

August 29, 1849
The Humboldt River has proven to be something of a problem. It is bad enough that the wagon party is traveling across some of the most arid and flat terrain we have ever encountered on this long journey. There seemed to be a minimal grass along the riverbank to feed the stock. And there are no real trees to provide shade from this relentless sun. As for the Humboldt itself . . . it is a disappointing affair. The water is brakish and tastes odd. Mr. James suggested that we boil the water before using it for cooking or drinking it. We did as he had suggested. Personally, it did not help much, as far as taste was concerned. But I supposed we will all have to get used to it. Mr. James also added that we best appreciate it. Once we leave the Humboldt behind, we will have to endure something called the Forty Mile Desert. God help us all!

August 31, 1849
Dear God! I cannot believe what has happened! Dear God! So many deaths . . . and one fellow emigrant seriously wounded. How can I begin?

It all began during the noon halt. While we were preparing our midday meals, Miss Watkins vomited again. Just as Mrs. Robbins and I had earlier assumed that Miss Watkins was ill, so did the rest of the wagon party. Mr. James nearly ordered her, Mr. Anderson and Miss Miss Guilbert to remain behind, until she either died or recover. Mr. Anderson nearly had a fit, until Mrs. Gibson let the cat out of the bag and revealed Miss Watkins' condition. I do not know how she found out. At first, I suspected that Mrs. Robbins had revealed Miss Watkins' condition to Mrs. Gibson. But the surprised expression on her face said otherwise. Perhaps Mrs. Gibson simply guessed, due to being a mother herself.

Needless to say, Mr. Anderson did not take the news very well. He brutally demanded that Miss Watkins name the father. He was so rough with her that Mr. Bryant had to wrest him away from the poor woman. Miss Watkins finally broke into tears and confessed that Mr. Cross was the father of her unborn child. At first, I thought Mr. Anderson would attack the man he had been at cross purposes with for the past three months. Instead, he demanded that Mr. Cross . . . pay for the services that he enjoyed with Miss Watkins. Mr. Cross coldly refused, claiming that he enjoyed her company on her own free time.

I noticed that Mr. Gibson forced his children back inside their wagon. Just as well. Children should not witness such sordid business. Meanwhile, Mr. Anderson again demanded payment from Mr. Cross, who continued to refuse with a few insulting words. I shall not repeat them. Matters quickly turned into a rather horrible melodrama, when Mr. Anderson pulled a pistol and shot Mr. Cross in the chest. Miss Watkins' screams filled the air. So did the sound of a gunshot. Seconds later, Mr. Anderson dropped to the ground, dead. Apparently, Mr. James had killed him, seconds - or minutes, I have no idea - after he had shot Mr. Cross. Miss Watkins' screams soon turned to whimpers. Miss Guilbert looked upon the whole scene in horror. We all did. The children in the Gibson wagon began to cry. And then . . . dear God. Miss Watkins fell upon the ground near Mr. Anderson's body, still whimpering. Before any of us knew what was happening, she killed herself. Shot herself in the heart with Mr. Anderson's pistol.

Burial services were held for the two dead people. And a seriously wounded Mr. Cross was placed inside his wagon, before Mr. James volunteered his services to drive it. I suspect he will be guiding that wagon all the way to California. No one believes that Mr. Cross will survive the next day or two.

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