The Trail West
Copyright© 2010 by woodmanone
It had been almost two weeks since Joshua Kelly rode south from his family home in southeastern Missouri; leading his pack horse he was deep in thought. He had left the only home he had ever known because his father and mother didn't want him to become involved in the Bushwhackers Gang or the great Civil War that was raging across the country. It was especially dangerous to the families living in the border states of Missouri and Kansas.
His father William, his mother Molly, and younger brother Samuel had run off a guerilla band calling themselves the Bushwhackers. Led by John Fogerty, the group had come to their farm looking to recruit Josh into their ranks; recruit wasn't the proper term, force, draft, or kidnap was closer to the truth. That was the whole reason for his trip; his folks also wanted to avoid Josh being drawn into the war because the family wanted to stay neutral in the conflict. For this reason it was decided by his parents that he should head south to stay as far away from the troubles in Kansas as possible.
Josh's final destination was Colorado or Wyoming, he hadn't decided yet. The most direct route was across Missouri northwest to Joplin and then northwest again through Kansas to Colorado City. By riding south through Arkansas he had added many miles to the journey. Time wasn't that important because he was just waiting for the war to end, but avoiding the guerilla gangs, the Jayhawkers in Kansas, and the soldiers from both sides of the war was important; that's why he road south.
He had arrived in Fort Smith, Arkansas two days previously and was now going to the saloon to meet the master of a wagon train of families that was going to travel the Santé Fe Trail across Oklahoma and part of Texas to New Mexico. Josh hoped to catch on with this wagon train as a horse wrangler and/or a guard; but any job would do.
He could have made better time and more miles per day by riding alone but it was a long and dangerous trip. Josh was confident in his ability to take care of himself but there was no need to put himself or his horses at any more risk than he had to; and he wasn't in any hurry. His first night on the trail after leaving home, he had gotten a grim reminder of why it was necessary that he leave.
Josh had to hold up and hide for a night on his trek south; he had caught up to Fogerty and his Bushwhackers who were camped on the road to Neelyville, Missouri. He found a grove of trees and set up a cold camp; Josh had to spend the night and part of the next day waiting for the outlaws to move on.
The group had apparently "recruited" some farm boys recently and Josh watched from hiding as Fogerty indoctrinated these new members into the gang. The indoctrination consisted of beating the hell out of the boys until they would jump when given an order. The next day the guerillas turned north and Josh continued on his way south to Fort Smith.
Josh entered the saloon, walked to the bar, and ordered a beer laying his Henry rifle on the bar next to him. Because he was taller than the average man at 6' 1" with 185 pounds on his big frame, no one questioned if he was old enough to drink in the saloon; Josh had turned 18 on the trail. He had been in town for a couple of days and the way he handled himself with a quiet confidence lead people to believe he was older than he was.
As he waited for Mr. Hobart the wagon master, he reflected on the journey so far. He had made good time without having to use his horses too hard and was pleased that he got to Fort Smith as fast as he did. When he arrived he had sent a short telegram to his parents to let them know where he was and that he was okay so far. In it he promised to post a letter to them before he left Fort Smith with more detail about his trip.
Josh looked up as a man came into the saloon; it could only be Mr. Hobart, he thought. The man was shorter than Josh at about 5' 7" with bowed legs from spending years on the back of a horse. He looked to be about 50 years old with a ruddy, leather like face from being out in the weather and had the beginnings of a pot belly. The man wore a pistol strapped to one hip and a large knife on the other and carried a Spencer Rifle. This was obviously not a store keeper Josh thought.
It wasn't unusual to see a man well armed in Fort Smith. Although it had a population of almost two thousand civilians and was controlled by the Confederate Army, the town's nickname was "Hell on the Border". Most of the men in Fort Smith were armed
"Josh Kelly?" The man inquired walking up to Josh. When Josh nodded he said, "I'm Clint Hobart. I heared you're lookin to sign on with my wagon train, that right?"
"Yes sir, I'm going to Santé Fe too and thought it might be a little safer traveling with a group," Josh responded.
"Afraid to travel alone are you?" Hobart asked looking hard at the youngster; the last thing he needed was a wet behind the ears youngster that was scared to death.
"No sir, but there's no need to be stupid about it. I can make the trip by myself and will if I don't catch on with a wagon train or freight company in the next couple of days. I'm thinkin' it makes more sense to travel with others and maybe make a little money doin' it," Josh explained his reasoning.
Hobart smiled at the young man and offered his hand, "Makes good sense. What can you do? Do you have any skills I can use?"
Josh smiled back and answered, "I'm a better than an average hand with horses and can handle a wagon and team. I'm not afraid of hard work, and I don't drink much. I can promise you a fair day's work for my pay and I will stay with the wagon train until we get to Santé Fe."
"Would you have a problem riding as an armed guard? Can you shoot and will you if necessary, I mean at other men?"
"I'm not braggin but back home I did all the hunting for my family. I usually brought home meat when I went out. As far as shooting at men, I've never had to but don't think it would cause me any worry if it was to defend the wagons," Josh meant what he said.
"Okay son, you've convinced me. The trip will take about 60 days if we can average 15 miles a day. Some days we'll do better but some we'll do worse; depends on the weather and the condition of the trail. I'll pay you $2 dollars a day, $3 dollars a day for every day over 65. I'll provide food, supplies, and a wagon to sleep in if you've a mind to. How's that sound Josh?"
"Sounds fine to me. What's my job?" Josh asked.
"Whatever I tell you," Hobart answered with a grin. "I plan on using you wranglin the horse herd and extra draft animals, and sometimes I'll have you spell the outriders who guard the wagon train; maybe have you help with some huntin a few times. Still want the job?"
"I can handle that but I have one question." Hobart nodded for Josh to go ahead. "Can I switch off to a mount from the remuda once in a while? I aim to head for Colorado when we get to Santa Fe and would like to rest my horses as much as I can," Josh explained.
"Sure can, in fact ride one of the remuda every day if ya want. If you're taking care of them you should be able to use them. Just check with the owners before you ride any horses that don't belong to me. Come out to our camp for supper tonight, get acquainted, and see what supplies you'll need. We pull out day after tomorrow at dawn. See you tonight Josh." With that Hobart stomped out of the saloon and headed to the general store across the way.
That evening he joined Hobart and some of the families for supper. Josh was introduced to several people that evening; there were too many to remember but he would learn their names during the trip. Before supper Hobart took him away from the camp a little ways to show him the animals that Josh would be herding sometimes.
The remuda consisted of riding horses, draft horses, mules, and even four pair of oxen. Josh was surprised at the different type of animals and questioned Hobart about the strange mix.
Hobart scratched his head and chuckled. "The different families in the train got advice from different people on what type of animals they should use to pull their wagons. Some got good advice and some didn't which led to our "Noah's Ark" of draft teams." He laughed a little and continued.
"If they'd asked me I would have suggested mules to pull the wagons and a couple of riding stock for each wagon. But the choices had already been made before the families contacted me. So we have this mishmash to deal with."
"There's certainly a mix, that's for sure," Josh remarked. "Why mules?"
"Mules can pull as fast as horses, they're studier, and are stronger so you don't have to have as many per wagon. They can work longer before having to rest and they can get by with less food and water if necessary. The draft horses are better than the normal horses. Again they're bigger and stronger than the normal horse but they take more care and feeding than mules." Hobart answered.
"What about the oxen?"
"Oxen are strong, stronger than the mules, and they are almost as hardy. But they're slow and out here that can cause a problem if you need to move in a hurry. Back east they might be fine because the distances to travel aren't very far. Hell it's only 900 miles from Philadelphia to St. Louis. We'll travel that far to Santa Fe and there's another thousand miles on to California." Hobart stared at the herd for a few seconds and said, "But that's what we got Josh and we'll just have to deal with it. Or maybe I should say you'll have to deal with it."
On the way back to camp Hobart led Josh over to the temporary corral where the horses were kept.
"See that big bay?" Hobart said pointing out the horse. "That's Diablo; I bought that horse on his looks as he stood at the back of a corral; I should have gotten a closer look. They sure named him right, he's the devil on hoofs; he's broke to lead but no one can get near him with a saddle. I don't know how much training he has, if any. If I can't get him gentled down, I'll have to leave him and lose the 40 dollars I paid for him. Think you can do anything with him?"
"I'll take a look at him Mr. Hobart and see what can be done. Will it wait until after supper, I don't want to be rushed?" Hobart nodded and they went back to camp and had supper.
When they finished eating, Josh grabbed a couple of apples and headed for the corral. Along the way he sliced the apples into quarters. The big bay moved to the back of the corral as Josh walked up to the fence. He put his hand out with a piece of the apple and one of the other horses timidly came over and took it off his palm.
Josh attracted the attention of another horse and fed it another piece of apple. By this time, Diablo was watching him and the other horses intently. The big horse, Josh guessed that he was 17 hands at the shoulder, took a few steps toward him and Josh turned his back on Diablo and leaned against the fence. He seemed to be ignoring the animal.
After about five minutes, Josh felt the horse behind him; he was only about 3 or 4 feet away. Josh took a piece of apple and laid it on the rail next to him; talking softly and gently to the horse. Diablo gingerly took the piece of apple; Josh turned around and held out another piece. When the horse reached for it, Josh pulled it back and rested his hand on the top rail.
Diablo stretched his neck out and took the apple, still watching Josh carefully. Josh held another piece closer to his body and waited. Diablo couldn't stand it; he took a few steps and stood against the rails of the corral. He finally reached his neck over the top rail and took the apple from Josh's hand. Josh gave Diablo the remaining pieces of apple, softly talking to him the whole time. When the horse finished Jose turned and walked back toward the camp fire. He had taken about ten steps when Diablo neighed at him, as if to say goodbye.
Hobart was waiting for him and said, "That's the closest anyone's been able to get to that devil. How'd you do it?"
Josh smiled and chuckled, "It's what I do Mr. Hobart. Diablo's a good horse but he's been mistreated. His mouth has scars from someone with a heavy hand sawing at the bit and his flanks have marks showing someone used those big Mexican spurs on him. It's no wonder he doesn't trust people. I'll work with him as we travel, it will take a little time but he'll be a fine animal."
He slept under a wagon that night and the next day went back to town for some personal supplies. He wouldn't need much but there were some things he thought of after talking to the people during supper. Hobart even suggested a few things to make Josh's life a little more comfortable along the way. He told Josh that he wouldn't have to worry about weight with the wagon train like he did traveling by horse. He makes sense Josh thought, this opens up some possibilities I never figured on.
Josh went to the general store and purchased a few items that he might have trouble finding on the trail including some denim pants, a couple of shirts, a pair of boots and a wide brimmed Stetson. The next stop was the gun smith to get some more cartridges for the Henry Repeater his father had given him; it never hurts to be prepared he thought.
He looked at a couple of handguns but their high cost put him off, Josh didn't want to use too much of the money his father had given him. Maybe when I get paid in Santa Fe I'll get a handgun, Josh thought. It was early afternoon as he left the gun smith's when he met Clint Hobart who was also doing some personal shopping.
"See you took my advice about getting some personal things. Come on Josh, I'll buy you a whiskey before I head back to camp."
"Don't drink whiskey much, but I would have a beer with you Mr. Hobart," Josh replied.
Finishing their drinks at the saloon Hobart asked, "You coming out to camp tonight or spending your last night in town? Sort of one last fling before heading west, don't you know.
"I'll come out tonight; don't see a need to spend another night in town. Besides it'll be easier to start at dawn if I'm already at the camp," Josh answered. As they left the saloon they bumped into a man standing by his belongings stacked on the ground.
He was a big man, even taller than Josh, with a full beard and long hair. There weren't many men taller than him so Josh inspected the man with a little more interest than he would have normally. The man wore what Josh now knew were buckskins, the shirt was fringed with decorative bead work across the front. He wore Indian moccasins but Josh notice a pair of heavy boots with the man's gear.
The stranger looked to be anywhere between 40 and 70; it was hard to judge his age because his face was aged and weathered from being outside.
"Johnny, Johnny Burrows? Is that you? Hobart asked.
"Hello Clint, ain't seen you for about three years. How you doin you old horse thief?" It was obvious that the two men knew each other well.
"Doing good Johnny; running wagon trains to Santa Fe and sometimes to California," Hobart said.
"You always were one to keep moving around. Don't look like you've been missing many meals though," Burrows said laughing as he patted Hobart's middle.
"Still trappin in the high country or did you decide to come down and get civilized?" Hobart was kidding with Burrows; he knew that his friend didn't like towns and would probably die out on the plains or up in the mountains
"Naw gave up trappin quite awhile back; the market for beaver pelts don't make it worthwhile anymore. The dandies that used to wear beaver hats are now wearing silk and that killed the market. I been hiring out as a guide and hunter for folks headin west."
"Looking for a job? I could take you on if you need work," Hobart offered.
"Nope, just waitin to meet up with a group headed for Oregon. Thought I might stay up there a spell; it sure is pretty and there's not too many people yet. Supposed to meet them in four days and leave the day after. If we get out of here in less than a week it'll be a miracle; don't you just love tenderfeet?" Burrows said laughing.
Johnny motioned at a squad of soldiers going past and asked, "I miss another war while I was up in the high country?
"Didn't miss much far as I'm concerned," Hobart answered. "Don't tell me you haven't heard about the" War Between the States",
"Yeah, I heard some such foolishness but thought it was liquor talking. Never thought folks could be that stupid," Burrows answered.
"Damn forgot my manners. Johnny this is Josh Kelly my new wrangler, Josh this is Johnny Burrows; a real by god mountain man," Hobart introduced the men.
Josh was in awe of Burrows; he had read about the mountain men when he was younger but had never seen or met one before. "It's an honor to meet you sir," Josh said.
Burrows offered his hand and asked, "This your first time at the rodeo son? Where bouts you from?"
"Yes sir, this is my first time with Mr. Hobart. I'm from Missouri, near a little town called Poplar Bluff," Josh answered.
"Was there a lot of years ago. Met a William Kelly there, let's see that was more'n 20 years ago."
"My Pa's name is William," Josh said.
"Tall man, lean with big hands he was. Courting a pretty young thing with long almost black hair; Molly was her name as I recall," Burrows continued.
"That's my Ma's name and she's got dark hair. Those are my parents, Mr. Burrows," Josh informed him, excited that the man knew his parents.
"Well I'll be damned, ain't that something? Now that I look at you I can see the resemblance. I met your Pa when he was about your age or maybe a little older; you're the spitting image of him, except for your hair color."
"How'd y'all meet, if you don't mind my asking Mr. Burrows?"
"Name's Johnny son. Would you believe the three of us met up at a church social?" Johnny laughed about him being at a church social.
Josh and Hobart both waited for Burrows to continue the story. "Throat's dry, let's get a drink and I'll tell you all about it boys," Burrows suggested.