Friday, August 6, 2010

Travels by the Rails . I

The wagon wheels groaned and screeched as they rolled over the ruts. The grease bucket had been almost empty until a couple of days ago. The wheels were squealing then and they were using the grease very sparingly. They came upon a buffalo carcass that had been skinned. The cut the tallow out and started a fire to render it and get some more grease. They also got some oil to use in their lantern at night. The trip had been long and testing. It had been 6 weeks since they had left St Louis. Today they were crossing in to Colorado Territory. In a couple of weeks they would be in Denver, their goal.

The wagon rolled along side by side or staggered abreast depending on the wind. Each morning the men would round up the Oxen and horses and milk the cows. It was a routine they had refined as the trip ground on. The pig would stay with the animals and the chickens were content in their cages. With the cows there was fresh milk for breakfast and pancakes to go with the eggs. There was bacon, dried meat, fruits and potatoes. The women had a small section of a wagon set aside to cook from. It was real easy to set up a cook site when they made camp.

It was three brothers and a sister plus their spouses and children moving west. Behind them was a store they had grown up in. The oldest brother had traveled out to Denver a couple of years earlier to Denver. When he returned to St. Louis, it was decided by the family they should start a store in Denver. There were reports of more gold discoveries and more people were heading to the mountains of Colorado to seek their fortune. Their father would stay with the store in St. Louis and take care of getting supplies to them in Denver.

The year was 1872 and they followed along beside the railroad tracks. A train would pass them each day going east and at night they would hear the west bound. They decided to ship part of their supplies by wagon because they would need the wagons when they got to Denver to make the deliveries. One of the wagons had mining tools, drills hammers, shovels and dynamite. That wagon was on the wing as they traveled and the brothers took turns driving it. There were also some gold seekers traveling with them, two brothers and in the other was wagon were some miners from Pennsylvania who wanted to go west and dig in some dirt that wasn't black. The prospectors stayed to themselves, only necessary conversation. There were still Indians along the trail and there were bandits that robbed unsuspecting travelers by themselves. Traveling in group like this there was less possibility of trouble.

They had fixed up two of the wagons with hoops and canvas for the children to ride in and provide some shade. Most of the party walked on the right side of these wagons for the shade unless the dust was real bad and the wind was blowing it over them. The sun was relentless. Each morning was a clear sky. At first light it was cool and this is when camp would break and the stock would be rounded up and hitched up. Traveling in the cool of the morning was easy on them and the animals. Following the sand creek there was the occasional trees to provide some shade and during the heat of the afternoon they would stop in one of these small groves for a rest. In the late afternoon the air would start to cool and they could travel on, walking on the right side of the wagons, sometimes 6 abreast rather than single file.

The morning had been a clear blue sky and no breeze. The travelers were expecting a hot day in the blistering sun. The stock was gathered up and the Oxen hooked to the wagons, horses hooked behind the wagons. The two cows and pig were herded by the two teen age boys. On the far horizon there was a ridge, at the last station where they had camped they were told that when they crossed the ridge they would get a view of the Rocky Mountains. With everything stowed the group headed toward the ridge. The sun had been up for a couple of hours. The Oxen were straining against the yokes as they worked their way across the ridge, ever so slow climbing the hill. As they cleared on ridge there was another in front of them. A few miles further they would be climbing again. It had been a slow morning but the crest of the ridge was just ahead and the sun was about at its zenith. When they got to the top of the hill they would stop for a lunch break.

As they began their ascent of the hill they could see clouds boiling up. They were frosty white piles of cotton reaching into the high air. The climb along the ridge of the hill to the crest was taking its toll on them and the animals. The closer they got to the ridge the stranger the animals were acting. The horses were snorting and the cattle wanted to head south. One of the brothers got on a horse and lassoed a cow and brought her back and had her tied to a wagon. He went off and got the other cow and led her to another wagon to be tied off also. The pig was snorting and the oxen were wheezing. The other horses were already tied to the wagons. They crested the ridge and then seen why the animals were acting funny. In the distance were squads of black clouds shooting off lightening. The storm appeared to be moving towards them and to the south. The animals were secured and everybody got ready for the storm.

Climbing to a small ledge they gathered the wagons around and tied off a tarp to the wagons to make some shelter. The rain was coming down in large drops as they worked. The faster they worked on getting prepared the harder the rain came down. Soon it was sheets, they had been able to look out and see the sand creek nearby. The rain had obliterated everything from view. The canvas was secure over the wagons affording some relief from the rain. Their companions were just above them and had pulled their wagons up next to each other and had crawled underneath the wagons for protection. Huddled under the wagons one of the brothers was sitting on the edge so he could look out and see what the sky looked.

He had just ducked his head back in when a roar of all roars was heard over the pounding of the rain. They looked at each other is disbelief and huddled closer together. The roar of the wind was becoming louder and the rain was no longer coming down, it was going sideways. Swirling around the corner of the canvas to fly underneath. The ground started to shake, eyes became wider and loaded with questions. The sound was almost deafening now, there was hail pelting the canvas now and the wind was trying to rip the canvas off the wagons. The animals had been real noisy were now suddenly silent. Then like that the roar was gone and the pelt of the rain on the tarp was a gentle tap.

Evan slowly moved to the edge of the tarp and looked off to the west, a patch of blue sky was on the horizon, the rain was an occasional drop. They were on a slope and trickles of water were rolling around them towards the sand creek. To the right was a small gulley rolling towards the creek and it was now dribbling muddy water. One of the gold seekers hollered, "Look at the Crick." Startled they glanced downwards, what had once been dry sand was now a muddy roily river. A roar rolled at them and turning to look upstream they all saw it. A wall of water tearing at everything that got in its way. It smashed into the bank they were on throwing water up in the air, tearing out part of the bank. They stood in amazement, now they understood why so, many travelers told them to stay on higher ground and not follow the creek bed. If they had been closer to the creek they would now be handed for Kansas.

Below them raged a torrent, even in the spring when the Missouri flooded, it was nothing like this. Nothing stood in the way of the water, waves five and six feet tall rolled over everything. There was the occasional animal Caracas come flying by. So entranced they were they forgot where they were. They had been several hundred yards from the crick now it was just a few feet. More of the sand bank caved in and went downstream. This startled them and brought them back.

The rain had made the ground so soggy that they were waking in soup and the mud was sticking to their boots making things awkward. With the collapse of the bank it brought them back to their situation. They were far enough back from the edge to be safe if there were some more collapses. The little gully beside them was filling up with water quickly and almost beside them. In the mud nothing could be moved. They could only sit and hope for the best. The animals could be tended to. The oxen were released to graze and the horses were on picket. The cows stood nearby looking at things and the hog, well it was being a pig..

The sun was growing brighter and the rainbows were shimmering in the sky. The water level in the gully beside had dropped some and the rivulets among them were becoming puddles. Till the ground dried some they were stuck there. Some dry kindling was tied under the wagons and when they got a fire going the buffalo chips would dry real quick. Evening was a while yet but there was some work to do on the gear and rigs..
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