Billy Oldham's War
Billy doctored Maria's wound by pouring cheap whiskey over it and bandaging it with a piece of clean cloth. Meanwhile, he praised the women over the fine job that they had done in the fight. Now that the humans were taken care of, it was time to check on the mules and Billy's horse.
None of their animals were injured, but several of the horses belonging to the bushwhackers had to be killed because of wounds or broken bones. They still had 11 horses to sell and a stack of tack as well.
Again, they were almost overloaded with the number of guns they collected. They saved the Colt Navy revolvers for themselves, but the others were set aside to be sold, along with the knives, etc. They managed to pick up over $400 from the various moneybelts, but that was not as much as one would expect to come from a band of successful bushwhackers. They probably had hidden most of their wealth somewhere, but it would have been impossible to guess where. Well, Billy's family was taking in money, all of it gold and silver, at a rate far greater than they spent it. Billy had stumbled onto a money making hobby!
It took them nearly two hours to clean up after the fight, so it was late enough in the day to start looking for a place to spend the night. None of them were familiar with the country on this side of the river, so they were going to have to find a suitable camping place by exploring.
Billy stayed with the wagon at this time because they were not looking for any more excitement on this day. When they came to a stream that looked promising, Billy followed it on both sides of the road to see what he could find. It was getting late by the time they came to the fourth stream for Billy to investigate. He went north at first, but didn't find a suitable camping place; however, when he went south toward the river, he stumbled across a clearing in front of a cave. He looked into the cave and saw that it had recently been occupied by a number of people, but none of them were around.
The cave had not been improved, so he figured that whoever had last used it would not mind if he and the women used it for the night. He went back to the road and led the wagon to the cave. The women took one look at the place and announced that it had most recently been occupied by a bunch of men who did not clean up after themselves very well. The women were correct—there was litter everywhere.
Well, that was neither here nor there. It was now late enough that they had to spend the night here. Billy took care of the animals, and there were a lot of them. He used the rope corral that was already in place, so he was quickly finished with his share of the chores. The women started preparing supper while Billy took a lantern and explored some of the cave.
This cave was not as extensive as the one he had claimed on the other side of the river. There was one passage leading away from the main cavern, so Billy followed that. He came to a second chamber which was much smaller than the one out front, but the most interesting thing about this chamber was that there was a strongbox resting against the wall. The chest had a built in lock with no separate padlock holding the lid closed. There was a key hanging from a hook driven into the wall, but the key would not turn when it was inserted into the obvious keyhole.
This did not surprise Billy at all. His experience with strongboxes was that the real lock was not the obvious one. The strongbox seemed inordinately heavy, so he figured that it was full of gold—what else was a strongbox for? He fiddled around with the decorative fittings on the box until he found one that would move. Further experimentation finally opened a little door which exposed another keyhole in the lid of the box. Billy inserted the key into this hole and found that he could unlock the lid with a hefty twist of the key.
Billy opened the lid and found that the strongbox was nearly half filled with gold, silver, watches, and jewelry. If this wasn't bushwhacker loot, Billy was unable to think of what it could be. There was a fortune in that box! He was going to surprise his wives with it. He took a couple of pieces of jewelery from the box, closed and locked it, and returned the key to its hook. Billy dropped the jewelery into his pocket and went back to talk to his wives.
Supper was about ready, so Billy did not mention the treasure. They ate the usual excellent supper that the women fixed and cleaned up afterward. They sat beside the fire and sipped coffee. Billy said, "Ladies, I have a surprise for y'all. Look what I found farther back in the cave."
He took out the jewelery and gave a piece to each of the women. They were thrilled with the gifts, and Billy was smothered in hugs and kisses. After the excitement died down a little, Ann asked, "Wait a minute! Where did ya find this stuff, an' is there any more?"
Billy laughed and said, "I wondered how long it would take y'all ta think of that. Come on an' let me show y'all what I found." They adjourned to the other, smaller cavern, and Billy opened the strongbox. The women were absolutely stunned at the sight of all that money and valuables.
Maria was the first to recover and said, "That has to be bushwhacker loot. Nobody else would have so many watches."
"That's what I figured. I say that it's all ours now. I'll bet that it belonged ta the Bartlett gang, an' they ain't likely ta claim it from us. Let's count it. I'd like ta know how much it is."
He got wholehearted agreement with that, so they dragged the chest into the larger cavern where it would be more convenient to work on the counting. The table in there would be a lot more convenient than sitting on the floor. It took over four hours to complete the count, since most of the money was in $5 and $10 gold coins. There was a lot of silver, too, but they set that aside until later.
When they finished, they found that they had recovered $243,779 in all, and that did not include the value of the watches and the jewelery. They figured that this much money had to include the loot from bank robberies and such, but there was no way of knowing exactly where it had come from. Therefore, for practical purposes, it all belonged to them.
Billy suggested that they load all of the loot into the wagon and return home. This was too much in riches to be hauled around the countryside. They put the empty strongbox into the wagon and transferred all of the treasure back to it. They also dumped in the stuff that they had personally collected over the past weeks. The wagon made noticeably deeper tracks when the box was refilled.
The trip home was uneventful, and Josh was glad to see them. He had gotten a little lonesome spending two weeks alone, even when he had all of that fishing time. In fact, he announced that he was about fished out, and he wanted to go on the next patrol. That would complicate things a little, but not so much that he could not be accommodated. Josh was skilled enough with both the pistol and the rifle to be an asset in a fight.
Josh was flabbergasted at the sight of the treasure they had found. Hell, there was enough money there, combined with what Billy already had, for them all to live in high style when they got tired of chasing bushwhackers. Furthermore, with the kind of luck that they had been having, they could expect to add to their treasure hoard as long as they kept at it.
They spent a few days at the cave getting ready for their next patrol. Billy wanted to make a trip to Kansas City to find a blacksmith who could make them a chest similar to this strongbox, but one that was large enough to store Mississippi rifles. His plan was to mount that chest on one side of the wagon and the current strongbox on the other side. They would store their rifles in the large chest and their Colts in the smaller chest when they were not actually on patrol. That would make it more convenient for them to spend the night in a hotel and to eat in a restaurant without worrying about their weapons being stolen. Billy had another idea about the rifles, but he needed to talk to a competent gunsmith before he said anything about that.
They now had eight Mississippi rifles and 37 Colt Navy revolvers, so they were well armed, but that represented a lot of money if somebody stole and sold them. On the other hand, that was too many guns to carry around. The weight, alone, was approximately 200 pounds, which meant 50 pounds per person, and that was ridiculous!
Anyway, they set out for Kansas City prepared to spend a lot of money. Josh estimated that the rifle case would cost around $150. Billy had hopes for his idea, but that could run $800-1,000, so he loaded four money belts with $400 each, hoping that they could cover expenses with that much money. After all, they were going to be living in the city for a few days, and that would be expensive.
The trip was uneventful, but they had hurried and not made any effort to attract bushwhackers. Two heavily armed men did not make an attractive target, even with two young women along. They found a hotel and got busy the next day. The women were sent to look through the stores to see what more they wanted to make the cave home more liveable. Josh went to search out a blacksmith to make the rifle case and an egg-crate affair to hold the Colts in the other box.