Prairie Schooner Days...

by Dag123

Copyright© 2008 by Dag123

Western Story: Prairie Schooners! An Indian Attack! A Young Man's Friendship with a legendary Gunman! A Covered Wagon Train heading Westward! Through adversity, friendships are formed that will last a lifetime. A Romance that only blossoms at the end of the Trail.

Tags: Historical  

Early Spring...

The twilight and evening shadows were falling fast. It'll be dark soon, the man thought, as he watched his wife and little daughter wandering through the large patch of colorful wild flowers that grew in beautiful profusion just outside their garden gate.

This was his favorite time of the evening—just before dark, when the daylight slowly faded into the comforting evening shadows. Twilight has got to be the most beautiful time of the day, he thought. So peaceful...

A few minutes later, he felt such a sense of being completed, when he was joined on the comfortable old porch by the two people dearest to him—His quiet attractive wife, Sarah and their gentle little daughter, Lorrie.

"Here daddy, I brought you some flowers," his little daughter said. "Do you like them?"

"Of course," he said, lifting her up into his lap. "Does Daddy get a hug to go with these flowers?"

"Okay," the auburn haired little girl said, as her warm little arms encircling his neck. Just 7 years old, Lorrie was the pride of the Hardin family and the apple of her father's adoring eyes.

"Is daddy going to get fed pretty soon?" he asked, smiling in the direction of his wife Sarah. "I'm famished."

A while later with supper completed the three of them lingered around the table. Lighting his pipe, Frank Hardin leaned back in his chair, the picture of contentment.

"Honey, you know, I'll be going over to the Kincaids tomorrow. I promised Kate I would help her sew curtains for her living room," Sarah said, reminding him.

"In that case... , Lorrie, how would you like to come spend some time at the Hardware store with daddy, tomorrow?"

"Can I stay for the whole day?" she asked.

"Sure. Okay, Mommy?" he said, looking over at the smile of amusement on his wife's face.

"Can I help count the money?"

Both Frank and Sarah laughed.

"Well, I guess there's little doubt who'll be taking over Hardin Hardware store in a few years," Sarah laughed.

"How 'bout I let you count the nickels?" he said, laughing at his daughter's inquisitive nature.

"Okay," the little girl said.

A month later summer came to the Ohio River Valley. The warm summer winds blew and life for the Hardin family was rich and good.

However, for Frank Hardin, that Golden Summer turned out to be a Winter of Death. The 1850 epidemic of Cholera had descended upon the Valley. One of its first victims was their little daughter, Lorrie.

Brokenhearted, in their grief, Frank and Sarah clung to each other like survivors cling to a life raft.

They buried their little daughter right in the center of the wild flowers that she had loved.

A scant two weeks later Sarah fell ill and was washed away by the same epidemic tide that had continued to devastate the Valley.

He started digging Sarah's grave in the early afternoon. He placed her right next to Lorrie. By midnight, he was finished. Tamping the earth down around the newly dug grave, a heartbroken husband and father said his final goodbye to the two people that were now gone from him like Autumn leaves blown away by the wind.

Frank Hardin buried his wife and little daughter directly in the center of the patch of colorful wild flowers they had both loved. Within a couple months, their graves will be covered with flowers, he thought, as tears coursed down his cheeks dimming his eyes.

Mounting his beautiful saddle horse, and leading a pack animal, he rode off in the direction of town. I guess it really is true, he thought, as he rode slowly through the darkness of the early morning... life is like a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away...

Stopping by his hardware store for the last time at one o'clock that same morning, Frank Hardin selected all the things he knew he would be needing for the long trail that would soon stretch out endlessly in front of him.

Just before he left, he selecting a soft piece of lumber and with his knife he scratched out the words.

Goodbye. Gone to the West.

He was several miles out of town by the time the sun come up riding slowly. I guess there's not much reason to hurry, he thought. I have the rest of my life to get to wherever it is I'm going.

That night lying under a starry sky, his head resting on his saddle, his ears filled with the sounds of the crickets, Frank for the first time in his life felt all alone in the Universe. As the heat of the day slowly faded away to the coolness of the evening shadows, in his mind Frank turned life's page.

I can't bring Sarah and Lorrie back to me, he thought. They're forever gone. But... , if there is a next life, I'll be with them once again.

Next morning Frank was up and on his way early. Day followed day and a month later, Frank Hardin having made good time, was nearing the jumping off point where the people preparing for the long trek westward were forming wagon trains.

At this time of the year, the prairie flowers were in full bloom. They daily served as a poignant reminder to him of a happier time. They became his constant companions on his solitary journey for the next several weeks as he rode further into the rich primitive country.

Occasionally he would see other riders on horseback off in the distance, but having no desire for companionship, he made no effort to meet them.

Then one day through the hot summer haze, he spotted a group of little white objects far off in the distance. As he drew closer, he realized what he was seeing was his first wagon train. After so many weeks on the trail, he was seized with a sudden desire, almost a yearning, to be with people once again.

Frank caught up to the wagon train around sunset late that evening. For safety, he could see the wagons had been placed in a huge circle. Seeing two of the wagons were further apart than the others, he slowed his horse and rode in through the opening between the two wagons. Once inside the circle of prairie schooners and Conestoga wagons, he could see men with rifles had been posted on guard.

Looking around as he rode into the evening encampment, Frank estimated there was between 40 and 50 wagons in the train. It's like a small town, he thought, as he glanced at the people bustling about the busy encampment.

"Get down, Stranger," a big burly man said. "You're just in time for supper."

"Thank you," Frank said, "Whatever you're cooking, it sure smells good."

"The name's Jed Baxter. I'm the Wagon Master of this here train. And who might you be?" the man asked, with a friendly smile.

My name's Frank Hardin. I'm going in the same direction as you folks—heading West."

"Well, Sir, I don't know if you know it or not, but you've been in Indian country for the last couple of days. It's not safe to be traveling through this stretch of country alone. You're welcome to throw in with us. We could sure use another able bodied man."

"Here, let me take your saddle horse," one of the men said, who had walked up while Frank and Jed Baxter were talking.

"Come over here and git yourself some grub. It's nothing fancy but it'll fill the belly," another man said, who had come up to also check out the new Stranger.

"I'm sure it'll taste mighty good to me," Frank said, " ... besides, I left my manners back home. All I have with me, at the moment, is my appetite."

Everyone laughed.

The Wagon Train...

Frank strolled over toward the fire where the women were ladling out plates of food. Looking around he guessed that each of the wagons in the circle belonged to a separate family.

Gratefully accepting his plate of hot food, Frank made his way over to a grassy knoll. From his vantage point, he could look over the entire encampment.

What he saw reminded him once more of his loss. Yet, somehow, watching the little children playing around the wagons gave him a bittersweet feeling of happiness, a feeling of wanting to belong. He looked up from his eating to see a young man about his age standing in front of him.

"Howdy, Stranger, my name is Jack Richardson. My woman and I would be honored if you'd come on over and sit with us."

"Thank you. I'm Frank Hardin. It would be my pleasure."

Seeing a pretty young woman smiling pleasantly in their direction he thought. She must be his wife. As they drew closer, Frank could see that in spite of the rigors of the trail, June Richardson's beauty would have stood the test of time anywhere. Jack Richardson was indeed—a lucky man.

"June, this here's Frank Hardin," Jack said. "Frank... , this is my wife June and these are our two children, Jimmy and Sarah."

"Children, move over closer to me so Mr. Hardin will have room to sit down and join us," Mrs. Richardson said, smiling in Frank's direction.

"Mr. Hardin, we hope you're going to decide to join the train and travel with us," she said, giving Frank a radiant smile.

"Well... , the Wagon Master, Mr. Baxter did ask me. He tells me it's not safe to be traveling through this country alone."

"Mr. Hardin, we do hope that you will decide to stay with us—don't we children?" she said, looking over at them.

Jimmy and Sarah were to busy examining the Stranger with their eyes to even bother to acknowledge.

As night drew on Frank met many of the other families traveling with the wagon train. Finding himself in such pleasant and congenial company, long before he unrolled his bedroll for the night, he had already decided to accept Jed Baxter's kind invitation and join the wagon train.

The next several weeks drifted by pleasantly. Frank found his spirits lifted. He counted himself lucky to have been accepted by such a wonderful group of people.

The Richardson's, Jack, June, Jimmy and little Sarah from the first evening had practically adopted him into their family. He in turn reciprocated by returning their friendship. While he found himself becoming quite fond of Jack and June Richardson, it was the children Jimmy and little Sarah that he loved.

His strong sturdy saddle horse, Blaze could easily carry two so to relieve the children's boredom, and give their mother a break; he spent much of each day with either Jimmy or little Sarah up in the saddle riding with him.

He came to envy Jack Richardson his happiness—but in a good way.

Under attack...

The Sioux attacked just after dawn. Within minutes, a large group of Sioux Warriors was encircling the embattled train. The wagon train had just gotten underway for the day when the advanced scouts had spotted the Sioux Warriors in time to warn the train. Jed Baxter immediately circled his wagons and prepared to fight.

By ten that morning the attack still raged. Frank, although he admired their bravery, joined the other men to beat back wave after wave of Sioux Warriors.

Then a shout went up. "Rider coming in! Don't anybody shoot him!"

Frank watched as the rider rode in low in the saddle. Coming at a fast gallup, he approached the circled wagons. Two Indian Braves were in hot pursuit! A moment later, the huge Roan he was riding leaped the wagon tongue and skidded to a halt inside the circle.

Quickly dismounting, a moment later the slender lanky Stranger dressed in black threw himself down alongside Frank Hardin.

"I shore thought I was a goner!" he said, laughing in spite of the gravity of the situation they faced.

"Stranger, I'll shoot the ones on the right, you shoot the ones on the left," he said.

Although Frank Hardin had always considered himself to be pretty good with a rifle, he quickly realized he was in the presence of a Master Marksman.

Faced with withering firepower, a short time later the Indians collected their wounded and rode away to the South.

Once the attackers were beaten back, Frank Hardin turned toward the Stranger.

"Howdy, my name's Frank Hardin and I'd be mighty proud to shake your hand. Where did you ever learn to shoot like that?"

"Wa'll... , it ain't nothing fancy but it gets the job done," the lanky Stranger drawled, with a friendly smile.

"By the way, I'm Emmet Lacey late out of Texas."

"I'm Frank Hardin."

"Any relation to John Wesley Hardin?"

"No... , not that I'm aware of," Frank said. "Who is he, anyway?"

"He's a Gunfighter out of Texas. Be glad you're not related," he said, with a chuckle.

Since time immemorial, men have met and once in a while, sometimes even immediately, they become aware that they have met another Kindred Spirit.

Although Frank realized from the start that Emmet Lacey was different in a mysterious sort of way, and that he probably was a man with a past, he couldn't help taking a liking to him.

However, some of the other men on the wagon train, who had traveled throughout the West, quickly identified Emmet Lacey for just what he was—A very dangerous man—A gunfighter.

When even Jeb Baxter had questioned whether Emmet Lacey should be allowed to remain with the wagon train, Frank had vouched for him, pointing out his skills with a rifle and pistol, and how he had been responsible for helping to beat back the recent Sioux Indian attack. So, to Frank's great delight, Emmet Lacey was allowed to stay and travel with the train.

The two unlikely men become friends and continued to spend considerable time in the other's company. Riding alongside each other during the day, they would sit talking late into the night near the dying embers of the campfire that was started every evening.

To put the icing on the cake, as they had with Frank—the Richardson family inducted one more member into their extended family—Emmet Lacey.

As June Richardson had said, with a laugh, when the other women had started teasing her about now having three men to take care of her.

"I'm sure no woman has ever been safer. Why... , when I see Mr. Lacey playing with Jimmy and Sarah it's hard for me to believe he's as dangerous as most folks say he is," she added.

Yet, even June couldn't help noting that she had never known any one who wore his guns in quite the way Emmet Lacey did. When her thoughts would dwell on him in that way, she would often feel a chill, like the cold winter wind that blows through a graveyard. But, she reasoned, her children Jimmy and Sarah adored him, He can't be all that bad, if the children love him so much, she thought. He's so gentle with them.

Then one day, with most of the men gone to repair a Wagon that had broken down several miles back, four rough looking men rode up to the encampment mounted on three horses. Two of the men were riding double. Being wise to the type of men they probably were, Jeb Baxter met them as they dismounted.

"You the Wagon Master?"

"That's right. My name's Jed Baxter."

"We're going to need one of your horses."

"We don't have any spare horses."

June Richardson watched fearfully from the inside of her wagon as the four harden men approached Jeb Baxter—who stood facing them calmly, his hand resting lightly on his gun which was still in his holster.

"Wa'll, there's one of you, and four of us. We're going to take one of your horses unless you plan to try to stop us."

"I plan to stop you," Jeb replied grimly.

"Who are you Mister-," one of the men said, looking past the Wagon Master at a man that had just stepped from behind one of the wagons."

"I'm a friend of Jeb Baxter..." Emmet Lacey drawled. "Like Mr. Baxter told you—we don't have any extra horses."

At that moment, June Richardson understood the kind of man Emmet Lacey was as he faced down the four men without ever drawing his gun.

"You look familiar Stranger," one of the men stammered, now obviously uncertain.

"The name's Emmet Lacey."

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