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Submitted by Dave Free on 18 January 2007 - 7:16pm.

Chapter 27

Steve had driven across the U.S. once before with his family. He remembered always anticipating the next stop, playing the alphabet game for hours, and trying to fall asleep so that they would “hurry up and get there.” He did remember being amazed by the miles and miles of cornfields they drove past but it was nothing compared to the prairie. The grass and rolling hills went on forever. There were no trees to be seen anywhere. In fact, for the past several weeks they had been gathering buffalo chips to burn because there was no wood.

The smell of burning buffalo chips was less than pleasant, but they did give off heat and they were certainly plentiful in most places. So far the company hadn’t come into close contact with any buffalo but they had sited massive herds two or three miles in the distant.

On the 21st of September the company didn’t get on the trail until 2:00 pm due to a drizzling rain. They camped at 7 :00, but there was no wood and the chips were wet so they went to bed that night without any cooking. The next morning dawned clear and bright and they were back on the trail at 8:00 am and made good time until they came to another river crossing.

Steve hadn’t realized it at first, but the company was following a river, the Platte River, in a generally western direction. The trail would leave the side of the river and make it’s way across open prairie, but it always seemed to come back to the Platte. Many times the trail would cross from one side of the river to the other. Today’s crossing place was wide and shallow. Steve estimated it at about a half a football field wide and at its deepest it came just above his knees. The saints had become experts in river crossing, but as the weather cooled and the temperature of the water dropped the crossings became less fun and something to endure. Steve was glad as he made his way across that the bottom was sandy--much easier to walk across than river stones. The captain called for camp as soon as all the carts were across. That night they danced a little in camp and Steve learned a few new steps from both Sister O’Malley and Annie.

The next day the company was pulling and pushing through deep sand again. Every step required immense effort. Progress was slow and painful. Steve spent most of the day helping Aaron and Elizabeth. He had noticed they were having a hard time keeping pace and so he tried to help out as much as possible. He enjoyed playing with their children as he walked along. Martha was seven, Mary was four and little Aaron was only two. He wasn’t talking much yet and spent most of his time riding in the handcart. He and Steve had developed a little game. When Steve was pushing from behind Aaron would crawl over the bundles to where Steve was and pound with his little fists on one of Steve’s hands until Steve moved it somewhere else. Just like his little sister Jess and the sock game, little Aaron never seemed to tire of it. For Steve it helped pass the time.

The dinner stop came a little earlier than normal that day due to the heavy going all morning. At noon the captain called the carts to a stop. Steve’s carts were nearly at the end of the train that day and Aaron and Elizabeth’s cart were behind the others so most of the rest of the company was already settled down and working on meal preparation when they rolled into camp.

Steve lifted little Aaron down off the cart, gave him one last tickle, and sent him trotting off towards his mom. He waved good-bye to Elizabeth and made sure she saw her toddler coming towards her before he set off to find his gear on the single sisters’ cart.

The sisters were already seated near their cart making a lunch of leftover biscuits from that morning. Steve said his hellos, grabbed his cup from his bag and headed for the nearest bucket of water. He was just raising the cups to his lips when a cry went up.

“Captain! Captain! Come Quick!” One of the brethren from the company that Steve didn’t know very well was a hundred or so yards off the trail on the top of a bluff yelling and waving his arms. Steve drank the water in his cup, scooped another cupful and decided to go see what the brother was so excited about. A good number of the saints must have had the same thought. By the time Steve and the captain reached the bluff where the brother had been yelling, several dozen others had as well. The brother was now farther away on yet another bluff.

“I wonder what he is up to.” The captain murmured as they set off at jog down the incline. They reached the brother in a few minutes and were about to ask what he was so excited about when he pointed down the backside of the hill he was on. All eyes focused where he was pointing. There was about a fifteen-foot circle of burned prairie grass. In the middle of circle were the remains of a burned out buggy. As they walked closer Steve could make out a couple of wagon wheels, the big metal springs from the buggy and parts of a harness.

“I wonder what happened?” Steve asked the question that everybody was thinking. They were now walking in the burnt grass. The captain bent over and examined the harness pieces that were still left.

“Looks like Indians to me.” He said.

“Right.” Steve laughed and then looked at the captain to see if he was really serious. He was.

“You’re kidding right?” He asked incredulously.

“I wish I was.” The captain replied and walked over to look at the springs and the wheels. “We’ve seen these wheels recently.” Now everybody turned to look at the captain.

“These are the remains of Almon Babbit’s buggy.” He said without any hesitation.

“Are you sure?” Several asked at the same time.

“I was admiring his buggy when he came through camp. Not many wheels like those out west. I’m sure they are his.” The captain answered.

“So what happened to Almon?” Steve asked. The captain just shrugged.

“Are there tracks or anything? Can’t we follow the tracks and see where he is?” Steve asked remembering all the westerns he’d seen.

The captain kicked the blackened grass. “Fire’s been cold for days Elder. It’s also rained several times. There is nothing left to follow. We best get back to our carts and get on the trail. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover before we sleep tonight.” He turned and headed for the carts. Most of the others followed him. Steve stayed put. As comfortable as he had become with these saints, some things still blew him away. Indians? He’d just been talking with Almon a few days ago. What a crazy world.

Samuel and his little brother had stayed back with Steve. Samuel now said, “C’mon Elder, we better get going or we’ll get left.”

Steve looked up not realizing anyone else was still there. Seeing Samuel and Robert he replied, “Yeah, you’re right. Just seems crazy that’s all.” Steve kicked one of the springs. It fell over. “You know,” he hesitated, “We could make a killer four-wheeler with these springs.” He looked from Samuel to his brother. They both smiled. Steve and Sam each grabbed a spring and they set off back toward the carts.

The captain’s hunch about Almon was confirmed just few hours later. The company came upon three men with horses bent over the carcass of a recently killed buffalo. Because Steve’s carts were still at the rear of the train it took them some time to get to where the commotion was.

“No different than I-15 at home.” Steve muttered. He had been helping the sisters with their cart since noon. He figured they deserved his help since one of the springs he and Samuel had rescued was nestled safely under their belongings.

“Should I ask what I-15 at home is Elder?” Annie asked Steve as their walk slowed to a complete stop.

“I-15 is the name of the Freeway that runs north and south through Utah.”

“Freeway?”

“Sorry, it’s a road, a big road with enough lanes for three or four cars or carriages to go both ways at the same time. Freeways are supposed to be fast, but when too many cars get on them everybody slows down. Especially when there is an accident or something. Just like this.” Steve waved at the carts ahead of them.

“Hey Sam, is it spring up there yet?” He yelled two or three carts ahead to where Samuel’s family cart was on the trail. Samuel looked back at Steve and put his finger to his lips. Steve laughed. He knew that Samuel had slipped the spring in his cart without his mother knowing.

“I love spring!” Steve yelled again. Samuel’s little brother was laughing. Samuel, on the other hand, was still trying to get Steve to be quiet.

“How fast do carriages go in your day Elder?” Annie asked Steve.

“Well, they can go over 200 miles an hour, but on the Freeways the speed limit is usually 75 miles an hour.”

“Seventy five miles and hour?” Annie asked incredulously. Steve nodded.

“Elder, on a good day we go twenty or twenty-five miles. That’s on a good day!”

“I know.” Steve said.

“So where do you go?” Annie asked.

“When?”

“I don’t know, anytime. Going that fast you must be able to see lot’s of exciting things.”

“Well, my family would usually go on a vacation each summer. One year we went to Disneyland, we’ve been to Yellowstone, we did the Grand Canyon once. Places like that. My little sisters always got carsick at least once and would throw-up. We used to...” Steve trailed off and was lost in his thoughts. Annie waited for a few minutes before trying to get his attention again.

“Elder are you alright?” She asked quietly. Steve’s eyes suddenly focused again and he looked at Annie and smiled.

“Uh? Oh yeah, I’m fine. I was just wondering where my family went this summer on vacation--without me.”

Annie put her arm around his back and gave him a squeeze. “I’m sorry Elder. I’m sure they miss you dearly.” Steve nodded and smiled a little.

“Yeah, I’m sure my dad misses me telling him to drive faster and my little brother and sister miss me telling them to shut up so I could hear my music.”

“You were singing?” Annie asked, grateful for an opportunity to get Steve thinking about something other than his family.

“No?” Steve wasn‘t sure what she meant and said it more like a question.

“You said you couldn’t hear your music. Who was singing?”

The carts in front of them had begun to move again slowly and Annie and Steve followed. “So, have you ever heard of a guy named Thomas Edison?” Steve attempted to respond to Annie’s last question.

“No, I don’t think so.” Annie responded.

“Well you will. I’m not sure when he will do it, but, if I remember right, he was one of the first guys to figure out how to record a sound and then play it back. By 2006 we have little things about the size of a big button that can hold a thousand or so songs. You carry it around with you and can listen to any song you want, any time.”

“Must be very noisy.” Annie said, trying hard to understand.

“Huh? Oh no, you don’t listen out loud. We have ear buds--little things you stick in your ears so that only you can hear.” Annie looked at him with disbelief on her face.

“It’s true--and it makes it sound like you are right there with the band.”

“Keep moving folks! Keep moving!” The captain’s voice cut into their conversation. Steve and Annie looked up to see the captain standing by the trail waving his arms and encouraging the saints to keep moving rather than stopping to look at the huge buffalo being skinned behind him. Three saddled horses were casually grazing on prairie grass not far from the carcass. Three men that Steve didn’t recognize were working on the skin, pulling and cutting to coax it off the hulking shoulders of the beast. When the captain saw Steve he called to him.

“Elder! Elder! Would you mind having your families pull off here and help?” Steve didn’t have a chance to respond. All four carts that he was responsible for were already pulling off the trail and making their way toward the buffalo. Captain Martin waved the rest of the carts on up the trail and then came over to where Steve and the others were gathering around the butchering.

“Elder, I don’t know if you met Captain Hodgett back in Iowa City. He is leading one of the covered wagon trains that is a few days ahead of us.” One of the men working on the buffalo looked up from his work and said, “Howdy!”

Steve returned the gesture and the captain proceeded to introduce the other two. “This is Brother Cluff and Brother Porter. They came upon some buffalo this morning and killed one for their train and then were nice enough to run this one down for us.”

“Cool!” Was all Steve could muster. He was amazed by the size of the buffalo and the knives being expertly wielded to dress it out.

“Mind grabbing hold here?” Captain Hodgett motioned to Steve and pointed at a big roll of skin. Steve jumped in and grabbed a hold with both hands.

“OK, pull!”

Steve and the other two men began pulling while the captain cut the hide away from the flesh. Slowly they peeled it back toward the tail. Captain Martin spoke again.

“Elder, I need to catch back up with our company. Will you and your folks please help get the meat cut up and bring it into camp on your carts?”

Steve looked over at “his folks.” They all nodded. He then turned to the captain. “Sure, we’ll be happy to do it.”

“Thank you. Please be careful and don’t delay any more than necessary to get the meat on your carts. Then come directly to camp.” The captain paused waiting for a commitment from Steve. Steve thought it a little odd but agreed.

“Sure, we’ll come as quick as we can.”

“Thank you.” Then he turned to the other men, “Captain Hodgett, thanks again for thinking of us. The meat will be much enjoyed.”

“Not a problem at all. Happy to do it.” Before Hodgett had finished his reply Captain Martin turned and set off at a jog to catch up with the other handcarts. Steve looked up from his work to watch him go.

“Boy, he sure seems to be nervous about something,” he said to no one in particular.

“Don’t blame him much, with all the Indian activity. Soon as we get this hide off we’ll be on our way ourselves. Like to be back with our families before dark.” He looked up at the sun in the western sky and then went back to work with his knife.

“Indian activity?” Steve asked. John, Aaron and Samuel had now joined him and were pulling back the hide while captain Hodgett and the other two men worked quickly with their knives to separate it from the flesh.

“Cheyenne.” The captain said matter of factly. “You see Babbit’s rig back down the trail?” He asked Steve.

“We saw it.” Steve replied groaning a little as he pulled for all he was worth on the hide. “Did Indians do it?”

“That and the Margetts party as well.”

“Margetts?” Steve asked.

“A few miles further west.” The captain lifted his head from his work to nod toward the west. “Two families from what I understand. Stopped to do some buffalo hunting and never got to go a step further. Killed both a woman and a child.”

No one standing around the buffalo said anything. Those that weren’t working on the buffalo nervously scanned the horizon in all directions. Mothers made sure their children were close by. The hide was now down to the haunches and was coming off nicely. During a break in the pulling, Steve turned to the sisters. “Sisters would you mind making some space in each of the carts for the meat? We’ll cut it into quarters and try to get a quarter on each cart.”

Within a few minutes the hide was off. One of Hodgett’s men had a sharp hatchet and the carcass was quickly quartered. Hodgett and his men then wasted no time getting into their saddles and galloping off to the west. Steve was anxious to follow them and so was everyone else in his party. There was no argument when the springs from Babbit’s buggy were discovered and thrown off the carts. Somehow they no longer seemed important. Even the children who normally found some kind of game to run and play were subdued and anxious to get back on the trail.

It took all four of the men, including Samuel, to get the quarters hefted into the carts. The little carts groaned and cracked at the added weight but didn’t collapse. Steve scanned the area to make sure they hadn’t left anything and then said, “Let’s go.”

He didn’t have to ask twice. The sisters pulled out first followed by Aaron and his family, then Samuel’s family and finally John and Elizabeth. The extra weight was very noticeable, but so was the fear-induced adrenaline. Nobody wanted to think about still being on the trail, alone, when the sun went down. They made very good time for several miles and Steve began to think they would catch up with the main company just over the “next bluff” but bluff after bluff came and went with no sign of the others. To make matters worse, just as Captain Hodgett had described, they came upon what must have been the Margett’s party. Feathers were strewn about in the prairie grass; Steve caught a glimpse of a small skull and what appeared to be a bloodstained shirt. No one said a word and the pace quickened once again.

The sun had set and the eastern sky was beginning to lose light when Steve’s little caravan of four overloaded handcarts were finally pushed and pulled into the main camp. The saints that saw them approaching cheered their arrival and soon most of the camp was gathered around to greet the buffalo meat. The Captain quickly thanked Steve and his families and got the meat divided and handed out.

Steve nearly forgot about the Indian concerns once they were back with the main company. His mind quickly turned to the thought of a big slab of buffalo roasting over the fire. He wasn’t disappointed. Though coarser than beef, Steve thoroughly enjoyed the buffalo steak he ate that night and was just thinking about hitting the sack when a call went out for all men to meet the captain on the outskirts of camp.

“I wonder what this is all about” Samuel said to Steve as they made their way to the gathering place. Steve just shrugged.

The captain wasted no time getting to the point. “Brethren, as we’ve seen on the trail today, the Indians are carrying out deprivations on every hand. Some in our company have reported seeing Indians not far from camp. I’d like to ask each of you to stand guard tonight. We’ll form a line around the camp to protect our loved ones. Please take with you any weapon you may have. Make sure you can see and hear the brother to your left and right throughout the night. Any questions?”

No one said a thing. “Ok, please go quickly. Let’s be in position in five minutes.”



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