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For The Strength of Youth

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

Chapter 29

The company saw no Indians that night. As the days grew shorter, the elevation higher, and the temperatures lower, hunger and cold quickly replaced Indians as the top concerns in the emigrants' minds. Steve had never experienced such hunger. The pound of flour he received each day combined with beef every few days could never fill him. It just touched the most urgent pains. Now as the weather cooled and his appetite naturally increased, he was on the constant lookout for more food, as were all in the company.

It was definitely fall. The days were beautiful--not too hot and not too cold--but the nights were brisk and some times downright cold. Steve was beginning to see a little ice form on the sides of creeks as he washed up each morning and the thought of what was coming sent more shivers through him than the ice cold water he splashed on his face.

So far Steve's families seemed to be holding up well, though Steve was beginning to worry about Aaron. He was a tireless worker and Steve could sense that the cold, the work and the lack of nutrition were beginning to wear on him. Steve tried to help whenever he could, but there were many to help.

His hunger, concern for his families, and his growing relationship with Annie distracted Steve from his quest to understand why he was there. It still gnawed at him when he had time to daydream, but the quest to survive was taking more of his efforts. More importantly, though not as easy to hold on to, he had found a peace as he intensely read the Book of Mormon and tried to finally learn what he should have learned so many years before. He often thought how strange it was that he had no logical reason in the world to feel at peace. He was in a place and time that weren't his, had no idea how to get back to his time, was nearly starving to death, and was certain that disaster lay ahead, yet he could not deny that he felt peace. He was grateful for it. He couldn't always hold on to it, but each time he put forth the effort to seek God the peace returned. And so he walked on.

"Look!" The first carts in the train had just topped out on yet another bluff and were excitedly pointing off to the west. Steve was again helping Aaron and Elizabeth when he heard the cries. They had just started up the incline. Anxious to see what all the commotion was about, he picked up the pace. His sudden push caught Elizabeth and Aaron off guard and they stumbled a little but picked up quickly. They had nearly passed Samuel and his family by the time they got to the top of the bluff. Steve slapped Samuel on the back as they staggered away from the carts.

"Nearly caught you there buddy!" He wheezed and then bent over and put his hands on his knees to breath. "What is all the commotion about up here?" He looked up at Sam who was staring off to the west with the rest of the saints.

"It's a mountain! Look at the mountain." Samuel was now pointing.

"Look how big it is Elder!" Annie, whose cart was ahead of Samuel's walked up beside Steve. The pioneers had taken an impromptu break and were staring in awe at the mountain ahead. Steve was still a little perplexed at their fascination.

"Get used to it folks, you are going to see a lot more where we are heading."

A number of worried faces turned toward Steve after hearing his comment. One of them voiced what was on most of their minds. "That big? How can we possibly get over them?"

Steve was about to reply when the captain did it for him. "We don't go over them. We go around them and between them. The good news is that the plains are behind us. We're getting closer every day. That's Laramie Peak which means, if we get back on the trail we should reach Ft. Laramie by sun down." The captain's last words were said with some emphasis and the pioneers slowly made their way back to their carts.

"So Elder, are all the mountains that big?" Annie asked Steve as they made their way back to their carts. Steve looked again at the mountain. It was still quite a ways off, but it was obvious that it was good size. Maybe even as tall as Timp, the mountain he used to see everyday from his home.

"Bigger." He replied to Annie. "Maybe not much taller, but there are lots of them that line up end to end like a big wall. When you live up close to them they look even bigger."

"What if they fall on you?" Asked Samuel who was walking along with them.

"What?" Steve replied incredulously.

"Living up close to them. Don't you worry they will fall on you?" Samuel asked again.

"Haven't you ever been up close to a mountain before?" Steve asked.

"Elder, where would we have ever seen a mountain before?" Annie cut in trying to help Samuel who was looking a little worried.

Steve thought for a minute. "Not even in a photo--I mean drawing?" He didn't wait for an answer, but slapped Samuel on the arm and added. "We don't have to worry about them falling on us Sam. They've been there for hundreds or even thousands of years and haven't gone anywhere."

Samuel looked less than assured. They had reached their carts and began taking their places. Steve decided to help the sisters for a spell and joined Annie pushing. Samuel stepped into the pull bar of his family cart and they started down the trail.

"You'll learn to love the mountains Sam." Steve said loud enough for Samuel to hear behind him. Sam just smiled.

"I'm not going to lie you." Steve continued. "Mountains are great. In the summer my family always goes camping and fishing. In the fall we go into the mountains to see the leaves that have turned colors. We used to go this place we called Fruit Loop canyon because it looked like a big bowl of colorful cold cereal."

"Your cereal is colorful?" It was Annie's turn to again be incredulous.

"Well, yeah." Steve said a little embarrassed. "My parents ate the old brown stuff, but we liked Fruit Loops that were all different colors. Brian liked the chocolate stuff like Count Chocula and Cocoa Pebbles. Mostly we ate it for breakfast, but it was like the favorite meal. Especially when mom wasn't around to make us something to eat." Annie looked at him with a confused look on her face.

"It was really easy to eat." Steve tried to explain. "It comes in a box. All you do is put it in a bowl and then pour milk on it. Bry and I used to grab a bowl full and watch cartoons every day after school."

"Sounds good." Samuel said from behind them. "Where do you get it?"

"At the grocery store." Steve nearly choked on the last word. The thought of a fully stocked grocery store was almost more than he could bear. Even knowing that talking about it would make it worse; he couldn't resist describing the wonders of the modern grocery store to his half-starved friends. He was just explaining how there was always fresh fruit and vegetables no matter what time of year it was when Sam's little six-year old brother, Richard, came walking back down the train toward them. Steve would have just kept talking but he noticed the boy was chewing on a big wad of something.

"Yo, Richard whatcha eatin' there Dawg?" He called to him.

Richard smiled a big gooey smile and orange saliva dribbled out the corner of his mouth. He wiped it away with the back of his hand. Richard pointed back to the front of the train. "sweetmeats."

"Sweetmeats? Where did you get sweetmeats?" demanded Samuel.

"Two dragons." Richard replied and pointed to the front of the train again as he munched away.

"Dragons?" Steve asked with a laugh.

"Yep! Two of them."

"What did they look like?"

"They were blue with big swords." Richard said wiping the saliva from his chin again as he gulped down the sweet mass he was chewing on. "See, there they go." He pointed to the horizon as two soldiers on horseback road away.

"Oh dragoons!" Samuel exclaimed with sudden recognition. "He meant dragoons, the soldiers on horseback."

"Yeah, that's what I said." Richard said. "They were from the fort and had a bag full of sweetmeats." Richard was now licking his hands.

"What are sweetmeats?" Steve asked.

"Certainly they have sweetmeats in your fabulous grocery stores Elder." Annie chided him with just a bit of sarcasm.

"Never heard of them." Steve replied. "Sweetmeat just sounds wrong, but right now I'd eat about anything. What is it?"

"Pieces of fruit rolled in sugar and dried." Samuel couldn't help licking his lips as he said it.

"Ah!" Steve said. "I take it back. Sweetmeats sound great! Is there any left on your hands Richard? I'll take a lick." Steve let go of the back of the cart and started to chase Richard. He giggled and ran around behind the cart where his mom was pushing.

A few minutes later, word came to setup camp. They were within a mile of Fort Laramie. Word also came for all tent captains to gather for a meeting with Captain Martin as soon as possible. Steve helped his carts to a good level camping spot then set off to find Captain Martin and the rest of the tent captains. They weren't hard to find. Steve couldn't help but notice how different they now looked after a few months of hard work on the trail. Not only were they trail hardened but most of them looked worn out. There was certainly no energy being wasted as they greeted each other and found places to sit near where the captain was standing.

Steve looked quickly for his old friend O'Malley who was sitting on the ground at the edge of the circle with his back up against the wheel of one of the carts. Steve made his way over to him.

"Is this seat taken?" He asked as he sat down next to him.

O'Malley opened his eyes and looked wearily at Steve. A smile crossed his face. "Been saving it fer the likes of you laddie!" He pushed over a little so that Steve could lean up against the wagon wheel as well.

"How's mother O'Malley and the boys?" Steve asked.

"Fit as a fiddle. And yer people Elder?"

"They're good. Hungry, but then who isn't?"

O'Malley just nodded his head. "And the lass? Annie? How is Annie, Elder?"

Steve rolled his eyes. "You too O'Malley?"

"Not fer me Elder. Fer me wife. Nary a day goes by what she doesn't ask me how the Elder and Annie be doing. I be asking purely fer me wife."

Steve rolled his eyes again but answered. "You can tell Mother O'Malley that we're good. We're good."

"Brethren!" The captain's voice interrupted Steve and O'Malley's conversation.

"Brethren as you can see we are within a mile of Ft Laramie." The captain turned and pointed behind him. Steve hadn't noticed before but a cluster of buildings could be seen on the horizon to the west. "As you can also see, we are no longer on the prairies." This time the captain pointed to the mountain peak beyond the fort. "I don't think I have to point out to anyone that fall is upon us. As we continue our journey into the mountains the temperatures will continue to fall. I'm still hopeful that God will control the elements and we will safely arrive in Salt Lake City but I don't believe he will do for us what we can do for ourselves. We will only remain here at the fort for one day. We must pick up our pace. The dragoons that came out this afternoon said they have some supplies at the fort with which we can replenish our stores at a fair price. Please let your people know they can go to the fort tomorrow to trade for supplies if they wish. The soldiers also said that Elder Richards purchased 100 buffalo hides for us when he passed through several weeks ago. We will pick those up tomorrow and distribute them to those with the greatest need. If you have people that you think need one please let me know."

The captain paused for minute and looked around at the faces that surrounded him. Steve could tell he was thinking carefully about what he should say next. Finally he proceeded.

"Brethren, this is the last real outpost before we cross the mountains--the hardest part of our journey. We are very late in the season. Our supplies are running low and we are all tired." There were several nods. "But--we are on the Lord's errand. We are taking our families to Zion and the Lord has blessed us. He protected us from the Indians. Though there were atrocities before, and behind we came through unscathed. Will he continue to still the elements that we might pass through unhindered? I certainly hope so. But if not, this I know: he will strengthen us to bear whatever we must suffer." His voice trailed off and he was silent for a time. Then he continued, "Brethren, let us be united. Our cause is great, let us have the faith to match it."

With that the meeting closed and the tent captains made their way back to their tents.

As they ate dinner that night Steve shared what the captain had said with his people. It was agreed that those that wanted to go would rise early in the morning and walk up to the fort. With the thought of more food constantly dominating their thoughts many, including Steve, began to look for anything of any value that they owned which could be traded for food at the fort in the morning. As he climbed into bed that night Steve pulled out his canvas bag and reached inside to the inner pocket. Good. They were still there: two U.S. dollars. How many sweetmeats would that buy?

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