He had a reputation for being stubborn, but he always thought that was what got his wagon trains through with every wagon making it all the way to California. Nowadays, most trains headed for Oregon, but he stuck to what he knew best, which was the safest way to Sacramento. Jasper Samuelson wasn't stubborn, he was smart!
He had two rules for his trains that set him apart: every wagon had at least one breech-loading, double barreled shotgun with 500 shells, and no horses pulling wagons. He'd settle for mules, but he really preferred oxen.
Jasper insisted on a shotgun for several very good reasons. First and foremost was that you didn't have to be a good shooter to hit what you pointed a shotgun at. Most of the folks in a wagon train couldn't hit dooly with a musket and not much more with a rifle, but they usually could become pretty competent with a shotgun in short order. Furthermore, you could get shells for a shotgun which meant that you didn't have to measure powder for each shot and handle umpteen different things just to get a shot off. Most folks could get off two shots, reload, and get off two more shots while they were still fumbling to load a musket or rifle. Oh, sure, there were paper cartridges for muskets and rifles, but you still had to be sure to do everything just so or your could screw up so bad that you were better off with a cutlass. Jasper didn't care how many rifles, muskets, or pistols you wanted to carry, but you better have a shotgun if you wanted to be in his train!
He was the same way about horses. You could ride your milk cow for all he cared, but you better not try to sneak a horse team in on him. He really wanted his people to have four stout oxen to pull their wagon, but six mules would get you by. Sure, you didn't need that much pulling power on the flat plains of Missouri, or Kansas, or Nebraska, but you'll wish you had more when you get to the mountains of Wyoming and west of that.
Jasper liked to smooth things out, so 10 to 12 miles a day was about all he expected to make. That meant traveling on Sunday, just like any other day. If you couldn't stomach that, you better find yourself another wagon master. Some "holy rollers" had nearly gotten him killed on his first trip west as an assistant to the wagon master because they wouldn't travel on Sunday. They got trapped by a snow storm in the mountains and it was purest luck that anybody escaped before they all starved to death. All the "holy rollers" died because the first clear day after the storm was a Sunday and they refused to move. By this time, the wagon master was dead and Jasper was in charge of the train. He left the religious fanatics to die, but he saved everyone else! That taught Jasper a lesson he never forgot.
It was getting toward Spring of 1862 in Independence, MO, and he still hadn't gotten a train lined up. It looked like he was going to have to hunt for a wagon train if he wanted to eat regularly next Winter. The last two years, people had come to him, but things were kind of slow for the California run this year. So, he started making the rounds of the usual saloons where the more affluent travelers could be found. If that didn't pan out within a couple of weeks, he would have to go around among the parked wagons asking who wanted to go to California. Customers found that way didn't usually pay as well nor have as much money to put into supplies for the trip. Jasper could live with that, but the trip was a might more comfortable if you had a little money for luxuries like coffee and tobacco. Well, he'd see what he could find.
The third day of his scouting through the saloons produced one lead which he followed up. It turned out to be a bunch of English aristocrats on holiday trekking across "The Great American Desert" as an escape from the ennui of daily life on their estates. These people were a disaster looking for a place to happen. Jasper would go hungry before he'd take a chance with them.
Noting else turned up, so he started a systematic pattern of searching through the parked wagons asking the people their intentions. This was how he found his wagon train core. There were four families from southern Ohio who were trying to escape the war, not because they were pacifists, but because they thought the whole thing was stupid and unnecessary. He was attracted to them because he felt exactly the same way. They had enough money to pay their way and they were willing to listen to good advice. Their wagons were of the best quality and they were not adverse to using oxen. Jasper advised them to sell their horse teams and buy oxen before the best animals were taken. They agreed with him on the use of shotguns and were willing to buy the ammunition he recommended.
He had these people help him look for other likely prospects for the trip and, over the next two weeks, they found 47 wagons of people who would fit Jasper's specifications. This was actually more wagons than he had expected to have in his train, but there was considerable strength in numbers and they could be needed even before they got through Missouri.
Jasper collected all his people together in one big camp and explained the facts of life on the trail to them. He went over the usual sanitation and safety rules and warned them about carrying too much strong liquor. He then warned them about the bands of thieves posing as guerrillas that they would probably meet in Nebraska and Kansas.
He said that he planned to hire two assistants, a scout, and four guards. All these men would answer to him and should be treated with the respect due to professionals. There would be four wagons added to the train to carry their goods and he needed to hire some workers as drivers for these wagons and for miscellaneous other jobs. He preferred to hire them from within the train, so he wanted to hear from the people, especially teen aged boys, who wanted jobs. He would talk to them after the meeting.
Now, they needed to elect a captain for the train. He explained that the captain was the one who settled disputes within the train and was the go-between for Jasper and the rest of the train, since Jasper wouldn't have much time for personal contact with most of the people. The captain should be someone they could all trust to be fair, but firm.
Jasper gave them half an hour to discuss possible candidates and then they would have the election. He had deliberately set a short time for politicking so that nobody would have time to strong-arm a candidate through the process. One of the core people, Johnathon Smith, responsible for recruiting the train was elected as captain; Jasper thought that he was a good choice.
Jasper then introduced his two assistants, Jeb Warren and Nickolas Holden, and the chief of the guards, Andrew Jones. These three men would help him tomorrow as they practiced getting the wagons into the defensive rings he wanted to use. This would be their mobile fort and their main line of defense whenever they were camped for the night.
Jasper wanted to form an inner ring of 10 wagons and an outer ring of the remaining 41 wagons. The women and children would shelter in the inner ring out of effective range of most fire which would be directed at the outer ring where the fighting men would be stationed. This scheme had worked for him before and he planned to stick with it.
The next day started out with an example of chaos raised to an art form. Most of the men were not used to driving oxen and they tended to get impatient. This confused the oxen even more, so they just stopped moving while the situation was smoothed out. Jasper had selected the wagons he wanted for the inner circle and was working the most with them. Warren and Holden were directing the formation of the outer ring and not doing any better. Meanwhile, the guards weren't helping the situation: they were doubled over with laughter! Jones fixed that by having his guards help direct the oxen into their proper places. I took all morning, but Jasper was finally satisfied with the ring.
They broke for lunch and were disgusted to hear Jasper order them to do the whole exercise again, and to keep on doing it, until they got it right the first try. As the saying goes, the third time was the charm! That night after supper, Jasper congratulated them on doing a fine job, now they were ready. Tomorrow was a day of rest and preparation, for they would start out the next day afterwards.
The women were particularly busy making sure that their household goods they "just couldn't live without" were properly stowed and the things needed every day were close to hand. Husbands were sent off to purchase last minute items forgotten in the hurly-burly of preparing for the trip and children were again reminded not to go wandering off during the journey. Jasper made a last minute inspection of each wagon to be sure the essentials were there and nothing stupid had been done during the packing. Finally, Jasper sat down with a cigar to relax and rest for the remainder of the day.
The camp was roused before dawn by the sound of a bugle playing an approximation of reveille. The women fixed breakfast and the men hitched the oxen to the wagons. The great adventure was beginning!
Seth Lawson, the scout, had already left for his inspection of the first leg of their trek and to lay claim to their first campground. Jasper wanted to be sure that there were no "guerrillas" waiting to rob them before they even got to Kansas, and to be sure they had a place to camp on their first night. Seth saw no sign of trouble on the way out and was able to stake his claim to the campground for that night. On the way back toward the train, he did see some sign of a rider skulking in among the trees, but he thought it was probably a boy playing at being a guerrilla.
When Seth returned to the train, it was nearly noon and the wagons were being circled in preparation for the pause for lunch. Jasper knew that Seth would have warned him of any danger, but wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to practice the defensive maneuver. To Seth's surprise, the train had made nearly five miles that morning, which was very good for the first day of travel. He could tell that Jasper was pleased.
After lunch, Jasper had Jeb blow his bugle again to signal everybody to get ready to move out. As Jasper expected, there was some fumbling around getting stuff back into the wagons, but they were ready to leave in a reasonable time. Jasper smiled and rode to the first wagon. "OK, let's go!"
They made it to the campground without incident before dark and were able to form their defensive circles with a minimum of fuss. The men, who had been walking all day, lazed around while the women, who had been riding most of the time, fixed supper.
Jasper took this opportunity to make a point. He visited each man who was lolling around and asked, in a quiet voice, "Where's your shotgun? What would you do if we were attacked right now?"
Most of the men he questioned had no idea where they had left their shotguns. The idea of needing to fight to protect the camp had completely slipped their minds! They sheepishly got up and found their shotguns, swearing to themselves not to be embarrassed like that, again.
After supper, Jasper went around to the women and asked, "Where are your children? They could be seriously injured or killed if they wander away from the campground. There are bears and lions (cougars) in these woods." This produced the same kind of reaction as had his question to the men about their shotguns. Jasper was pleased with the results of his little reminder.
Andrew posted his guards for the night and the camp settled in for a well earned rest. About midnight, there was a shotgun blast and a scream of mortal pain from a horse. This was followed by a fusillade of pistol shots and another shotgun blast. Then quiet from that sector.
Andrew ran to investigate and Jeb blew some screeches on his trumpet. Jasper called for everyone to wake up and the men to get to their defensive positions. The women grabbed their children and ran to the inner circle of wagons.
Andrew ran back to fetch Jasper and they returned to the guard's post. The guard was lying on the ground with blood dribbling from his mouth and a hole in his chest. It was obvious that they couldn't help him and he would die within the half hour. Andrew said, "Don't worry, Sammy, I'll get word to your mama. Just lie quiet and it won't hurt so much."
Andrew turned to Jasper and said, "Sammy, here, just saved I don't know how many lives. All by hisself, he run off a passel of raiders. There's a dead one over there with his horse and another dead one over there. From the tracks I can see from here, there had to be at least 20 of them bastards trying to sneak up on us. Shit! Sammy done a damned fine job of saving us all! God damn it all! I hate this job! Sammy was my nephew!" Andrew began to cry.
Jasper patted Andrew on the back and walked to one side to keep anyone from disturbing Andrew and Sammy. Andrew stopped crying in a few minutes and Jasper signaled him to stay with Sammy.
Jasper went toward the middle of the camp and called everybody to him. "There was an attempted attack tonight. One of our guards killed two of the attackers and was mortally wounded in the fight. He's not dead yet, but he will be soon. He was shot in the lung and there ain't a thing we can do for him. I hope you all take me seriously, now, when I tell you to keep your guns handy. If it wasn't for that boy's bravery, we could all be dead by now! Pray for him! We'll bury him tomorrow. That's all."
Jasper returned to Andrew and Sammy and kept vigil until morning. They buried Sammy on a knoll just out of camp where his grave wouldn't be disturbed by the next group of campers to come through. They marked his grave with a wooden cross and left on the next stage of their journey.
At the noon meal stop, Jasper and Andrew were sitting in the shade smoking cigars when a young man came up and took off his hat. "Mr. Jones, Mr. Samuelson, my name is Eddy Johnson. I know you lost a guard last night and I wonder ifen I can have the job. My folks need the money real bad and I'll do a good job. I'm experienced with a shotgun. I used to do a lot of hunting with one."
Andrew said, "There ain't no doubt that we need a new man for the job. OK, Eddy, ye're hired. Ye can start working right now. I'll get Sammy's gun and other guard stuff for ye afore we leave this place."
Andrew introduced Eddy to the other two guards, Silas Wimple and Bill Thomas, and gave him the shotgun and bandoleer of shells. Eddy showed his experience by checking to see if the shotgun was loaded before doing anything else. He loaded the gun and carried it with it broken open; that way it was impossible to fire it accidentally.
By now, they were in Kansas, so they had to be on the lookout for a different set of bandits. They were bandits pretending to be guerrillas, but they were still bandits. The difference was that the Kansas bandits pretended to be Union guerrillas and the Missouri bandits pretended to be Confederates. But you were just as dead, no matter which one shot you.
Seth kept a sharp eye out but he didn't see any sign of bandits. It was late in the next day when he saw the first Jayhawkers, as the bandits called themselves. He was about 25 miles into Kansas when he encountered three men wearing red gaiters.
The waved him down and asked, "What you doing here, boy?"
"I'm a scout for the Samuelson wagon train about 2 miles behind me. I don't want no trouble and neither does anybody on the train. But, we'll fight ifen we have to. We've already had a run in with some Bushwhackers back in Missouri."
"We don't want no fight, neither, but we do collect a toll of $10 a wagon for going through Kansas."
Seth laughed, "I'll bet ye have trouble collecting that much from folks. Hell, there probably ain't that much cash money in our whole train."
"We aim to collect our toll!"
"I should tell ye that we got 51 wagons in our train and over 75 fighting fools with them. Every one is armed and eager to kill any bastard what gives us a hard time. So, I think you better ride a wide arc around our train."
"Shit! I don't believe ye!"
"Maybe not, but ye better be careful ifen ye come too close to our train. Jasper Samuelson ain't one to mess around. We've already killed two Bushwhackers and we ain't too keen on Jayhawkers. Now, get out of my way. I've got important business to tend to. I can already hear the first elements of the train." Seth was counting on that last lie to get him away from the bandits alive and unwounded!
He turned his horse and rode at a casual lope toward the wagon train, hoping not to be shot in the back. Damn! He got away with it! Once he was sure he was out of sight of the three Jayhawkers, he picked up speed to warn Jasper as soon as possible.
When he reached the train, he rode up to Jasper. "Jasper, we got trouble. I just got away from three Jayhawkers who claim they want us to pay a toll of $10 a wagon. I told them no. I don't know how many there are, but I doubt more than 25. What should I do?"
"Let's talk to Andrew afore we decide. There he is! HEY, ANDREW! OVER HERE, IFEN YOU PLEASE!"
"Hello, Jasper, Seth. What can I do for ye?"
"Seth says we're headed for trouble. There's some Jayhawkers up ahead what want to collect a ridiculous toll from us. Of course, we ain't paying. What's the best way to discourage them?"
"My guess is a show of force. They ain't likely to hit the middle of the train. Ye and Seth ride at the front with Jeb and Nickolas. I'll give ye Eddy Johnson, too. Me and the other two guards can cover the back of the train. With all of us carrying shotguns, I think that they'll steer clear of us. Have Johnathon Smith ride the length of the train telling everybody what's going on and have them keep their shotguns handy."
"Sounds good to me. Let's do it!" Jasper and his group rode toward the front of the train while Andrew went to collect the guards and assign their positions.
It was about an hour later that six Jayhawkers rode toward the wagon train. Jasper was relieved that they finally showed up. He was getting tired of waiting and he was sure the others felt the same way. One man rode up while the other five hung back. "We're here to collect the toll for crossing Kansas territory. We believe that you have 51 wagons, so we want $510."
Jasper looked at him for a moment, and then burst into laughter. Around his laughter, he asked, "Are ye serious? Do ye really expect us to pay ye that much cash money to do what free Americans can do any time they want to? Ye must be crazy!"
The bandit leader said, "I have a strong force and can take it away from ye ifen I have to. Ye'd be much better off to pay up and save yourself some grief!"
"It's ye who'll be feeling the grief if ye don't get your asses out of me sight, forthwith. I don't hold with robbery, and I don't mean to stand for it." Jasper directed his shotgun at the bandit and cocked the hammers. "Now, get out of me way afore I put a lot of holes through your ugly hide!"
One of the men in the rear of the group must have been particularly stupid. He tried to pull a revolver from his belt, but Eddy blew his head to Hell and back. When the shot went off, Jasper reflexively fired both barrels of his own shotgun and blew the bandit leader nearly into two pieces. With this, the rest of Jasper's group fired and eliminated the rest of the extortionists.
Jasper said, "I wish we hadn't done that. Now we don't know whether we have eliminated a threat or just changed its direction. Nickolas, go find Johnathon Smith and tell him what happened and to tell the train so they will know where we stand. Jeb, go tell Andrew the story and warn him to be extra careful until we're well away from here. We'll leave these bastards where they lie; no need to dirty our hands with them. Eddy, gather up these horses and add them to our stock. Now, we'll just have to wait and see what happens."