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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Dave Free on 18 January 2007 - 7:19pm.

Chapter 30

Just as Ft. Kearny had been, Ft Laramie was a bit of disappointment to Steve. It was certainly bigger than Ft. Kearny, but it didn't look like any of the forts he had seen in western movies. Where were the big walls made out of logs with the lookout towers on the top and the gates that get shut when the Indians are coming? Ft. Laramie was a collection of buildings haphazardly gathered around a makeshift central square. One of the buildings was an old adobe structure that actually looked a little like the forts Steve had imagined. At one time it looked like it must have had four outer walls with a big opening on one side and a courtyard in the middle. But only three of the walls were still standing and one of them looked like it would go at any time. There were two or three other two-story buildings that were made of wood and the rest of the structures were all small adobe buildings.

As Steve and his group made their way between the buildings toward the central square several soldiers greeted them kindly. Steve asked one of them where they could trade for supplies.

"Well, you've got yourself two options." The soldier drawled. "The sutler's store is over yonder." He pointed at an adobe and stone building a little to the north. "He's got the good stuff, sure enough. But you'll be paying for it for years."

"And the other option?" Steve asked.

"Well I just saw the commandant go into Old Bedlam there. If he approves it, you can get your supplies from the military stores. Not as fancy as the sutler's stuff, but it's edible and it's a whole lot cheaper."

Steve thanked the soldier who tipped his hat at the sisters and went his way.

"I'll go check with the commandant." Steve said, "You are welcome to go on over to the sutler place and look around if you want to." Most of the saints liked the idea and headed toward the adobe and stone building. Steve headed for the building the soldier had called Old Bedlam. It was one of the two-story wooden buildings. It had a covered porch on both the ground level and the second story and was whitewashed a bright white. Steve didn't have to look long for the commandant. As he was approaching the building a group of three men in uniforms came out the main door and down the steps toward him. By the way everyone was saluting, Steve had no doubt one of them was the commander. Unsure if was supposed to salute, Steve held out his hand.

"Sorry to bother you sir, I'm with the handcart company. We're looking for supplies."

The commander took his hand and smiled. "Good to meet you. We've been expecting you. I guess you know, you are very late in the season." It wasn't as much of a question as a statement. Steve nodded any way.

"Well we will do what we can to help. Our supplies are limited, but what we can spare we will sell to you at fair prices. You'll find the military stores there on the other side of the parade grounds." He pointed at a building across the central square. "Talk to Lieutenant Miller. I've already given him orders."

"Thanks." Steve said.

"No problem." The commander replied, "and best of luck." With that he turned and walked away.

Steve met up with the rest of his party at the sutler’s store. Annie was coming out the door, as Steve was about to go in.

"The soldier was right." She said, "Just like one of your grocery stores in there, but at mountain prices."

They gathered the rest of their group and headed to the military stores. Other pioneers were now arriving at the fort and Steve and his group pointed out both the sutler and the military stores. By the time they reached the stores there was quite a group of them. The Lieutenant must have seen them coming because he stepped out onto the porch of the building as they approached. He was was a jovial, rather short and round man.

"Howdy folks! The commander said you would be coming. We'll give you all we can afford. We can only take money here. If you have things to trade, go over to the sutler’s and trade them for coin then come back here. Biscuits are 15 and 1/2 cents, bacon is 15 cents, and we have some rice at 17 cents. Just let me know what you'll be needing and we'll get you taken care of."

"What about sweetmeats?" Steve called out. He'd had dreams about the sweet flavor of dried fruit ever since he saw Richard chomping the day before.

"Sorry! Only the sutler has got the sweets. You'll have to get them there."

"I was afraid he'd say that." Steve turned to Annie. "What should we buy?" He asked her.

"I've no money Elder."

"Well, I do!" Steve pulled out the two gold coins and showed them to her. Not waiting for her next question he explained that they had been in the bag with his clothes. "C'mon, I'm buying. What do you want?"

Annie hesitated. "Oh, Elder I couldn't."

"Why not? Hey, have you ever been on a date?"

"A date?"

"Yeah. You know a guy asks you to go out to dinner or to a movie--well not a movie, maybe to a dance or something? You are sixteen right?"

"I'm eighteen Elder. And if it is courting you are talking about--well I don't think that is any of your business."

Steve tried to recover quickly. "Don't get mad. I didn't do a very good job of it, but I was actually trying to ask you out on a date--to court you I mean."

Annie blushed and Steve was glad the rest of the pioneers had headed off to the Sutler’s to trade or were busy giving their orders to the Lieutenant. Annie responded without anger.

"Elder, as much as I would like to, I don't think this is the time or the place."

"Why not. C'mon I can't think of better time or place. The company is not moving today. We've got two 1856 Indian head dollars and a place to spend them. It'll be fun. Besides, who knows when we'll ever have another chance? I could be gone tomorrow."

"Don't say that Elder."

"But it's true and you know it. C'mon when was the last time you just had fun?"

"Life is not about just having fun, Elder!"

"I know that, but I also know it helps. We're doing this."

"But Elder, we can't waste the money. We need the supplies. We've still got a long way to go."

"I'll tell you what," Steve's mind was more determined than ever. "Let's use $1.50 on supplies and we'll figure out a 50 cent date."

"Fifty cents! Elder that is way too much. Ten cents for the date--as you call it."

"Twenty-five cents." Steve responded.

Annie sighed and closed her eyes. She opened them with a slight smile. "Ok, twenty-five cents Elder."

"Great! It's a date. I'll pick you up at,” Steve looked down at his wrist as if to look at a wristwatch then realizing he didn't have one looked up at the sun that was about halfway up the eastern sky. "I'll pick you up when the sun is about there." He pointed straight up.

"What do you mean by you'll 'pick me up?'"

"That's how dates work Annie. The boy goes and picks up the girl at her house. So let's decide what supplies we need. I'll get John to take them and you back to camp. I've got some things to do to get ready for the date and then I will come to camp and pick you up."

"When the sun is about there." Annie said and pointed straight up in the sky.

"Right. C'mon what supplies do we want?" Steve took Annie by the arm and pulled her toward the stairs of the military stores. They ended up with four pounds of bacon and seven of the biscuits. Steve made quick arrangements with John to get Annie and the supplies back to camp then went to find Samuel. He found him with the rest of his family at the sutler’s store. They were just coming out and from the looks of it were enjoying sweetmeats. Steve ran up to them.

"Hey!" He said to all of them in greeting, and then not waiting for a response turned to Samuel. "Sam, I need your help. I've got a date!"

"We got apricot." Sam replied.

"What?" Sam pointed to the bulge in one of his cheeks. "Apricot." He repeated.

"Oh nice." Steve said impatiently. "Listen I asked Annie to go out with me. I'm going to take her out to lunch but I need your help."

"Elder are you courting?" Samuel's eleven-year-old sister, Isabella was quicker on the uptake than Samuel.

Steve nodded. "Yes!"

"How can we help Elder?" Samuel's mom asked.

Steve laid out his plan for them. They all agreed to help. He gave them fifteen of his precious cents and then turned and ran toward the stables he had seen on the other end of the parade grounds. It took his eyes a few minutes to adjust to the darkness inside the stables. When they finally adjusted he saw a long row of box stalls, most of them filled with horses. Some one was singing as they cleaned out one of the stalls. Steve made his way to the stall.

"Excuse me?" He said leaning over the edge of the stall. A young man in a military uniform stood up and looked back at him.

"You talking to me?" He asked, slinging a shovel full of manure out the gate.

"Yeah, who do I talk to about renting a horse?" Steve asked.

"Not sure what you mean be renting," the young soldier replied. "But you'll find the sarge, down there--bald guy with the big mustache." He pointed his manure-covered shovel down the row of stalls. Steve thanked him and ran the direction he pointed.

The sarge was sitting behind a desk that had been set up in near the center of the barn. He was chewing on on something.

"Excuse me sir?" Steve asked as he approached the desk.

The sarge looked up at him without a smile. "Military stores is thata way." The sarge said pointing out the door.

"No sir. I'm not looking for the stores. I need a horse."

"None of ums for sale." The officer replied.

"No, I don't want to buy one, I just want to borrow one for a few hours."

"Borrow one? You think I have feathers for brains boy? None of 'ems available for borrowing either."

Steve wasn't sure what smelled worse, the horses or the sergeant. He tried to be as pleasant as possible. "Does anyone else in the fort have any horses?"

"Nope. We keeps 'em all in here to keep 'em safe from the Indians--and the emigrants." The sergeant spit a big brown wad of tobacco juice into the corner. An old bucket was there, but the walls behind it seemed to have more tobacco on them than the bucket had in it.

"Look," Steve tried again. "There's this girl I really like. I really need a horse to just take her to lunch. It will only take a few hours. I can pay you as well."

"Oh now ain't that sweet?" The sarge said sarcastically.

"Isn't what sweet sergeant?" A woman's voice came from the direction of the barn door. The sergeant jumped up from his chair.

"Nothing ma’am. Nothing. Here let me get your horse for you." The sergeant came out from behind his desk and quickly went to the woman who was dressed sharply in a riding habit. She handed the reins to the sergeant and patted the horse's neck and said something Steve couldn't hear to the horse. She then turned to the sergeant.

"Now sergeant please make sure she gets properly cooled down this morning and tell me what you and this young man were talking about."

"Weren’t nothing mam. He's with them handcart pioneers and he wanted to borrow a horse to take his girl fer a ride. I told him we don't have no harses fer borrowin. That's all."

The lady now walked over to Steve and held out her hand that still had a riding glove on it. "I'm Mrs. Elliott. My husband is the commander of this god forsaken outpost."

Steve took her hand and replied. "It is good to meet you. My name is Steve. We're heading to Utah. We've had a long walk and still have a long way to go. I was just trying to do something nice for somebody I care about. I thought a horse ride and a picnic would be nice."

The woman looked at Steve for a moment and then said, "That is the sweetest thing I have ever heard. In fact it is the only sweet thing I have heard since we arrived here." She turned to the sergeant. "Sergeant, see to it that this young man has a horse for his picnic."

"But..." the sergeant began to protest.

"Please don't make me have to take this matter up with my husband."

"Yes, ma’amm. I'll see to it." He turned to the soldier that was still mucking out the stall and told him to get "Nellie" saddled and ready to ride.

Mrs. Elliott turned and winked at Steve and then added, "If you follow the river west about a half a mile, there is a beautiful little meadow right on the bank that I've often thought would make a wonderful place for a picnic."

"Thank you ma’am, thank you very much. I have a little money, I can pay." Steve held out his coins.

Mrs. Elliott smiled and shook her head. "Buy something nice for your friend. What is her name?"

"Annie."

"Yes, buy something nice for Annie."

"Thank you." Steve said as she turned and walked away.

Steve's vision of galloping up on a well-groomed stallion to sweep Annie off her feet was short lived. He didn't know a lot about horses, but Nellie was not at all impressive. When the soldier brought her out, saddled and ready to go, Steve had to stifle a giggle. She wasn't much bigger than a pony to start with and her back was very swayed. The stirrups nearly dragged on the ground once they were extended to match the length of Steve's leg.

The young soldier handed Steve the reins and said, "Don't let old Nellie's looks worry you none. She don't go fast, but she don't spook easy and she just keeps on going. Got her from the Indians."

"That right?"

"Yup. Some hot head soldier stole one of the captain's prize stallions and made a run for it. Captain didn't even chase him. Knew he wouldn't get far. Sure enough, a few days later he come riding back in on old Nellie here. He wasn't wearing a stitch a clothes neither. Guess the Indians did some "trading" with him." At that the soldier chuckled. Then added, "Indians won't bother you none on Nellie. They don't want her."

"I can see why." Steve said with a smile. He patted Nellie on the neck. "Well old girl. Let's go have some fun."

The soldier asked Steve if he'd like a leg up. Steve thanked him but said, "No, I'll just walk her over to the sutler’s. Want to save her strength." He took the reins in his hand and started across the parade ground. The sergeant came to the barn door and yelled, "If yer not back before sundown, I'll send a patrol out after ya!" Steve didn't look back. Just waved his free hand.

There was a hitching rail in front of the sutler’s. Steve tried flipping the reins over the rail to get them to wrap around and stay in place like he'd seen a few times in western movies. After the third try he gave up and tied a knot the old fashioned way. The sun was nearing the straight up position and he still had ten cents he wanted to spend on Annie.

As he climbed the steps onto the boardwalk, Samuel's family came out the door. Richard was the first to speak.

"Elder, is that your horse?"

"For the next four hours." Steve replied.

"You're going to need four hours to get that thing out to camp and back." Samuel said looking critically at Nellie.

"Very funny." Steve slugged Sam's shoulder just as Sam's mom and sister came out the door.

"Elder, we got everything you wanted. Some lovely dried meats, a little cheese and some sweetmeats. They even had a little gingham we were able to buy. See!" Isabella pulled some red checked cloth out of one of the paper wrapped packages she was holding.

"Great." Steve said, "Thanks for your help. I've got to buy one more thing then I will be on my way. Oh, I almost forgot. I ran into the commander's wife in the stable. She said there is a very nice place for a picnic about a half mile west, right on the river."

"Don't worry Elder, we'll take care of it." said Samuel. "You just worry about getting Annie and that horse there."

Steve went for his shoulder again but Sam jumped off the boardwalk with a laugh. Steve thanked Isabella and her mom again and went in the door.

As Steve entered he looked around quickly, not exactly sure what he was looking for. There was a long counter across the back of the store with shelves up the wall behind it. There were several wooden barrels and white sacks stacked to make aisles throughout the store. The smell was an odd mixture of leather, spices, sawdust and even a little sweet perfume. Steve was still taking it all in when a voice called out from behind the counter.

"Whatcha' looking for young fella? Need to do a trade? We've done plenty of trading today."

Steve hesitated a little still looking around "Nope, not looking for a trade." He finally responded and began to make his way back to the counter and the voice. "Actually looking to buy something."

"Well, that's music to my ears today. Never had so many come through my doors and buy so little! You with the Mormon cart company?"

Steve was now standing in front of the counter admiring the row of jars filled with what were obviously candies of the time. He nodded his head in response to the last question. "I am."

"So what is it you are looking to buy?"

The question pulled Steve from his admiration of the jars and he finally looked up at the owner of the voice. He was a middle-aged man. His hair was parted in the straightest line Steve had ever seen. It was greased down and every hair seemed to know exactly where it should be. The man was shorter than Steve by a full foot. Every thing about him was thin and precise, including his mustache and his manners. Steve again hesitated, still not exactly sure what he wanted. "I--I'm looking for something. I don't know, maybe some kind of jewelry?"

The shopkeeper's eyebrows lifted, but only slightly, and then fell back into perfect position. "For a young lady?" He asked.

Steve nodded, his eyes again scanning the shelves behind the shopkeeper looking for some kind of inspiration.

"And what amount would you be planning to pay for this piece of jewelry you are looking for?"

Steve looked at the man again. Pulled the ten cents from his pocket and put it on the counter. "Ten cents." He said, not sure exactly how far it would get him. He wasn't left to wonder long. The shopkeeper coughed but quickly regained his composure.

"Young man for ten cents your best option might be to go to the blacksmith's and have them bend a nail into a ring for you." The shopkeeper's thin lips turned up slightly at the ends but quickly returned to their original position leaving Steve wondering if it was a joke or a serious suggestion.

"Are you sure you don't have anything? I don't have very much time--just some thing small?"

The shopkeeper lifted his left hand to the end of his thin mustache, gave the mustache a twist and seemed to be thinking. Without any emotion he said, "There might be something. If I can remember where I put it." He walked to the far end of the counter, pulled a small wooden box from under the counter and then came back to Steve. Without a word, he dumped the contents on the counter and then began to move them about on the countertop. They were mostly buttons, a few thimbles, a wooden marble rolled towards Steve. He put out his hand and stopped it before it rolled off the edge of the counter. As he picked it up to examine it, the storekeeper called out, "Here it is!" He held up a small golden heart with a ring at the top. There was no chain through the ring and the heart itself was no bigger than Steve's thumbnail. "I took this one in earlier this summer. I could probably get a dollar for it in Chicago, but we're not in Chicago are we?"

"Don't worry, EBay is coming." Steve said as he placed the wooden marble in the pile of buttons where it couldn't roll and held out his hand. The shopkeeper laid the heart on his palm. Steve took one look at it and said, "It's perfect. Can you wrap it for me?"



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