Emerson Hough.

The Covered Wagon online

. (page 1 of 20)
Online LibraryEmerson HoughThe Covered Wagon → online text (page 1 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by Josephine Paolucci, Joshua Hutchinson and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team.









[Illustration]


[Illustration]


[Illustration: EMERSON HOUGH, THE AUTHOR, DRIVING A COVERED WAGON.]




THE

COVERED WAGON

BY

EMERSON HOUGH


AUTHOR OF

HEART'S DESIRE, ETC.

ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES FROM THE PHOTOPLAY

A PARAMOUNT PICTURE

NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS

Made in the United States of America


1922




CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I. - YOUTH MARCHES

II. - THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

III. - THE RENDEZVOUS

IV. - FEVER OF NEW FORTUNES

V. - THE BLACK SPANIARD

VI. - ISSUE JOINED

VII. - THE JUMP-OFF

VIII. - MAN AGAINST MAN

IX. - THE BRUTE

X. - OLE MISSOURY

XI. - WHEN ALL THE WORLD WAS YOUNG

XII. - THE DEAD MEN'S TALE

XIII. - WILD FIRE

XIV. - THE KISS

XV. - THE DIVISION

XVI. - THE PLAINS

XVII. - THE GREAT ENCAMPMENT

XVIII. - ARROW AND PLOW

XIX. - BANION OF DONIPHAN'S

XX. - THE BUFFALO

XXI. - THE QUICKSANDS

XXII. - A SECRET OF TWO

XXIII. - AN ARMISTICE

XXIV. - THE ROAD WEST

XXV. - OLD LARAMIE

XXVI. - THE FIRST GOLD

XXVII. - TWO WHO LOVED

XXVIII. - WHEN A MAID MARRIES

XXIX. - THE BROKEN WEDDING

XXX. - THE DANCE IN THE DESERT

XXXI. - HOW, COLA!

XXXII. - THE FIGHT AT THE FORD

XXXIII. - THE FAMILIES ARE COMING

XXXIV. - A MATTER OF FRIENDSHIP

XXXV. - GEE - WHOA - HAW!

XXXVI. - TWO LOVE LETTERS

XXXVII. - JIM BRIDGER FORGETS

XXXVIII. - WHEN THE ROCKIES FELL

XXXIX. - THE CROSSING

XL. - OREGON! OREGON!

XLI. - THE SECRETS OF THE SIERRAS

XLII. - KIT CARSON RIDES

XLIII. - THE KILLER KILLED

XLIV. - YET IF LOVE LACK

XLV. - THE LIGHT OF THE WHOLE WORLD




_The_

COVERED WAGON




CHAPTER I

YOUTH MARCHES


"Look at 'em come, Jesse! More and more! Must be forty or fifty
families."

Molly Wingate, middle-aged, portly, dark browed and strong, stood at the
door of the rude tent which for the time made her home. She was pointing
down the road which lay like an écru ribbon thrown down across the
prairie grass, bordered beyond by the timber-grown bluffs of the
Missouri.

Jesse Wingate allowed his team of harness-marked horses to continue
their eager drinking at the watering hole of the little stream near
which the camp was pitched until, their thirst quenched, they began
burying their muzzles and blowing into the water in sensuous enjoyment.
He stood, a strong and tall man of perhaps forty-five years, of keen
blue eye and short, close-matted, tawny beard. His garb was the loose
dress of the outlying settler of the Western lands three-quarters of a
century ago. A farmer he must have been back home.

Could this encampment, on the very front of the American civilization,
now be called a home? Beyond the prairie road could be seen a double
furrow of jet-black glistening sod, framing the green grass and its
spangling flowers, first browsing of the plow on virgin soil. It might
have been the opening of a farm. But if so, why the crude bivouac? Why
the gear of travelers? Why the massed arklike wagons, the scores of
morning fires lifting lazy blue wreaths of smoke against the morning
mists?

The truth was that Jesse Wingate, earlier and impatient on the front,
out of the very suppression of energy, had been trying his plow in the
first white furrows beyond the Missouri in the great year of 1848. Four
hundred other near-by plows alike were avid for the soil of Oregon; as
witness this long line of newcomers, late at the frontier rendezvous.

"It's the Liberty wagons from down river," said the campmaster at
length. "Missouri movers and settlers from lower Illinois. It's time. We
can't lie here much longer waiting for Missouri or Illinois, either. The
grass is up."

"Well, we'd have to wait for Molly to end her spring term, teaching in
Clay School, in Liberty," rejoined his wife, "else why'd we send her
there to graduate? Twelve dollars a month, cash money, ain't to be
sneezed at."

"No; nor is two thousand miles of trail between here and Oregon, before
snow, to be sneezed at, either. If Molly ain't with those wagons I'll
send Jed over for her to-day. If I'm going to be captain I can't hold
the people here on the river any longer, with May already begun."

"She'll be here to-day," asserted his wife. "She said she would.
Besides, I think that's her riding a little one side the road now. Not
that I know who all is with her. One young man - two. Well" - with
maternal pride - "Molly ain't never lacked for beaus!

"But look at the wagons come!" she added. "All the country's going West
this spring, it certainly seems like."

It was the spring gathering of the west-bound wagon-trains, stretching
from old Independence to Westport Landing, the spot where that very year
the new name of Kansas City was heard among the emigrants as the place
of the jump-off. It was now an hour by sun, as these Western people
would have said, and the low-lying valley mists had not yet fully risen,
so that the atmosphere for a great picture did not lack.

It was a great picture, a stirring panorama of an earlier day, which now
unfolded. Slow, swaying, stately, the ox teams came on, as though
impelled by and not compelling the fleet of white canvas sails. The
teams did not hasten, did not abate their speed, but moved in an
unagitated advance that gave the massed column something irresistibly
epochal in look.

The train, foreshortened to the watchers at the rendezvous, had a
well-spaced formation - twenty wagons, thirty, forty, forty-seven - as
Jesse Wingate mentally counted them. There were outriders; there were
clumps of driven cattle. Along the flanks walked tall men, who flung
over the low-headed cattle an admonitory lash whose keen report
presently could be heard, still faint and far off. A dull dust cloud
arose, softening the outlines of the prairie ships. The broad gestures
of arm and trunk, the monotonous soothing of commands to the
sophisticated kine as yet remained vague, so that still it was properly
a picture done on a vast canvas - that of the frontier in '48; a picture
of might, of inevitableness. Even the sober souls of these waiters rose
to it, felt some thrill they themselves had never analyzed.

A boy of twenty, tall, blond, tousled, rode up from the grove back of
the encampment of the Wingate family.

"You, Jed?" said his father. "Ride on out and see if Molly's there."

"Sure she is!" commented the youth, finding a plug in the pocket of his
jeans. "That's her. Two fellers, like usual."

"Sam Woodhull, of course," said the mother, still hand over eye. "He
hung around all winter, telling how him and Colonel Doniphan whipped all
Mexico and won the war. If Molly ain't in a wagon of her own, it ain't
his fault, anyways! I'll rest assured it's account of Molly's going out
to Oregon that he's going too! Well!" And again, "Well!"

"Who's the other fellow, though?" demanded Jed. "I can't place him this
far."

Jesse Wingate handed over his team to his son and stepped out into the
open road, moved his hat in an impatient signal, half of welcome, half
of command. It apparently was observed.

To their surprise, it was the unidentified rider who now set spur to his
horse and came on at a gallop ahead of the train. He rode carelessly
well, a born horseman. In no more than a few minutes he could be seen as
rather a gallant figure of the border cavalier - a border just then more
martial than it had been before '46 and the days of "Fifty-Four Forty or
Fight."

A shrewed man might have guessed this young man - he was no more than
twenty-eight - to have got some military air on a border opposite to that
of Oregon; the far Southwest, where Taylor and Scott and the less known
Doniphan and many another fighting man had been adding certain thousands
of leagues to the soil of this republic. He rode a compact,
short-coupled, cat-hammed steed, coal black and with a dashing forelock
reaching almost to his red nostrils - a horse never reared on the fat
Missouri corn lands. Neither did this heavy embossed saddle with its
silver concho decorations then seem familiar so far north; nor yet the
thin braided-leather bridle with its hair frontlet band and its mighty
bit; nor again the great spurs with jingling rowel bells. This rider's
mount and trappings spoke the far and new Southwest, just then coming
into our national ken.

The young man himself, however, was upon the face of his appearance
nothing of the swashbuckler. True, in his close-cut leather trousers,
his neat boots, his tidy gloves, his rather jaunty broad black hat of
felted beaver, he made a somewhat raffish figure of a man as he rode up,
weight on his under thigh, sidewise, and hand on his horse's quarters,
carelessly; but his clean cut, unsmiling features, his direct and grave
look out of dark eyes, spoke him a gentleman of his day and place, and
no mere spectacular pretender assuming a virtue though he had it not.

He swung easily out of saddle, his right hand on the tall, broad Spanish
horn as easily as though rising from a chair at presence of a lady, and
removed his beaver to this frontier woman before he accosted her
husband. His bridle he flung down over his horse's head, which seemingly
anchored the animal, spite of its loud whinnying challenge to these
near-by stolid creatures which showed harness rubs and not whitened
saddle hairs.

"Good morning, madam," said he in a pleasant, quiet voice. "Good
morning, sir. You are Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Wingate, I believe. Your
daughter yonder told me so."

"That's my name," said Jesse Wingate, eyeing the newcomer suspiciously,
but advancing with ungloved hand. "You're from the Liberty train?"

"Yes, sir. My name is Banion - William Banion. You may not know me. My
family were Kentuckians before my father came out to Franklin. I started
up in the law at old Liberty town yonder not so long ago, but I've been
away a great deal."

"The law, eh?" Jesse Wingate again looked disapproval of the young man's
rather pronouncedly neat turnout. "Then you're not going West?"

"Oh, yes, I am, if you please, sir. I've done little else all my life.
Two years ago I marched with all the others, with Doniphan, for Mexico.
Well, the war's over, and the treaty's likely signed. I thought it high
time to march back home. But you know how it is - the long trail's in my
blood now. I can't settle down."

Wingate nodded. The young man smilingly went on:

"I want to see how it is in Oregon. What with new titles and the
like - and a lot of fighting men cast in together out yonder, too - there
ought to be as much law out there as here, don't you think? So I'm going
to seek my fortune in the Far West. It's too close and tame in here now.
I'm" - he smiled just a bit more obviously and deprecatingly - "I'm
leading yonder _caballad_ of our neighbors, with a bunch of Illinois and
Indiana wagons. They call me Col. William Banion. It is not right - I was
no more than Will Banion, major under Doniphan. I am not that now."

A change, a shadow came over his face. He shook it off as though it were
tangible.

"So I'm at your service, sir. They tell me you've been elected captain
of the Oregon train. I wanted to throw in with you if I might, sir. I
know we're late - we should have been in last night. I rode in to explain
that. May we pull in just beside you, on this water?"

Molly Wingate, on whom the distinguished address of the stranger, his
easy manner and his courtesy had not failed to leave their impression,
answered before her husband.

"You certainly can, Major Banion."

"Mister Banion, please."

"Well then, Mister Banion. The water and grass is free. The day's young.
Drive in and light down. You said you saw our daughter, Molly - I know
you did, for that's her now."

The young man colored under his bronze of tan, suddenly shy.

"I did," said he. "The fact is, I met her earlier this spring at Clay
Seminary, where she taught. She told me you-all were moving West this
spring - said this was her last day. She asked if she might ride out
with our wagons to the rendezvous. Well - "

"That's a fine horse you got there," interrupted young Jed Wingate.
"Spanish?"

"Yes, sir."

"Wild?"

"Oh, no, not now; only of rather good spirit. Ride him if you like.
Gallop back, if you'd like to try him, and tell my people to come on and
park in here. I'd like a word or so with Mr. Wingate."

With a certain difficulty, yet insistent, Jed swung into the deep
saddle, sitting the restive, rearing horse well enough withal, and soon
was off at a fast pace down the trail. They saw him pull up at the head
of the caravan and motion, wide armed, to the riders, the train not
halting at all.

He joined the two equestrian figures on ahead, the girl and the young
man whom his mother had named as Sam Woodhull. They could see him
shaking hands, then doing a curvet or so to show off his newly borrowed
mount.

"He takes well to riding, your son," said the newcomer approvingly.

"He's been crazy to get West," assented the father. "Wants to get among
the buffalo."

"We all do," said Will Banion. "None left in Kentucky this generation
back; none now in Missouri. The Plains!" His eye gleamed.

"That's Sam Woodhull along," resumed Molly Wingate. "He was with
Doniphan."

"Yes."

Banion spoke so shortly that the good dame, owner of a sought-for
daughter, looked at him keenly.

"He lived at Liberty, too. I've known Molly to write of him."

"Yes?" suddenly and with vigor. "She knows him then?"

"Why, yes."

"So do I," said Banion simply. "He was in our regiment - captain and
adjutant, paymaster and quartermaster-chief, too, sometimes. The Army
Regulations never meant much with Doniphan's column. We did as we
liked - and did the best we could, even with paymasters and
quartermasters!"

He colored suddenly, and checked, sensitive to a possible charge of
jealousy before this keen-eyed mother of a girl whose beauty had been
the talk of the settlement now for more than a year.

The rumors of the charm of Molly Wingate - Little Molly, as her father
always called her to distinguish her from her mother - now soon were to
have actual and undeniable verification to the eye of any skeptic who
mayhap had doubted mere rumors of a woman's beauty. The three advance
figures - the girl, Woodhull, her brother Jed - broke away and raced over
the remaining few hundred yards, coming up abreast, laughing in the glee
of youth exhilarated by the feel of good horseflesh under knee and the
breath of a vital morning air.

As they flung off Will Banion scarce gave a look to his own excited
steed. He was first with a hand to Molly Wingate as she sprang lightly
down, anticipating her other cavalier, Woodhull, who frowned, none too
well pleased, as he dismounted.

Molly Wingate ran up and caught her mother in her strong young arms,
kissing her roundly, her eyes shining, her cheeks flushed in the
excitement of the hour, the additional excitement of the presence of
these young men. She must kiss someone.

Yes, the rumors were true, and more than true. The young school-teacher
could well carry her title as the belle of old Liberty town here on the
far frontier. A lovely lass of eighteen years or so, she was, blue of
eye and of abundant red-brown hair of that tint which ever has turned
the eyes and heads of men. Her mouth, smiling to show white, even teeth,
was wide enough for comfort in a kiss, and turned up strongly at the
corners, so that her face seemed always sunny and carefree, were it not
for the recurrent grave, almost somber look of the wide-set eyes in
moments of repose.

Above the middle height of woman's stature, she had none of the lank
irregularity of the typical frontier woman of the early ague lands; but
was round and well developed. Above the open collar of her brown riding
costume stood the flawless column of a fair and tall white throat. New
ripened into womanhood, wholly fit for love, gay of youth and its racing
veins, what wonder Molly Wingate could have chosen not from two but
twenty suitors of the best in all that countryside? Her conquests had
been many since the time when, as a young girl, and fulfilling her
parents' desire to educate their daughter, she had come all the way from
the Sangamon country of Illinois to the best school then existent so far
west - Clay Seminary, of quaint old Liberty.

The touch of dignity gained of the ancient traditions of the South,
never lost in two generations west of the Appalachians, remained about
the young girl now, so that she rather might have classed above her
parents. They, moving from Kentucky into Indiana, from Indiana into
Illinois, and now on to Oregon, never in all their toiling days had
forgotten their reverence for the gentlemen and ladies who once were
their ancestors east of the Blue Ridge. They valued education - felt that
it belonged to them, at least through their children.

Education, betterment, progress, advance - those things perhaps lay in
the vague ambitions of twice two hundred men who now lay in camp at the
border of our unknown empire. They were all Americans - second, third,
fourth generation Americans. Wild, uncouth, rude, unlettered, many or
most of them, none the less there stood among them now and again some
tall flower of that culture for which they ever hungered; for which
they fought; for which they now adventured yet again.

Surely American also were these two young men whose eyes now
unconsciously followed Molly Wingate in hot craving even of a morning
thus far breakfastless, for the young leader had ordered his wagons on
to the rendezvous before crack of day. Of the two, young Woodhull,
planter and man of means, mentioned by Molly's mother as open suitor,
himself at first sight had not seemed so ill a figure, either. Tall,
sinewy, well clad for the place and day, even more foppish than Banion
in boot and glove, he would have passed well among the damsels of any
courthouse day. The saddle and bridle of his mount also were a trace to
the elegant, and the horse itself, a classy chestnut that showed Blue
Grass blood, even then had cost a pretty penny somewhere, that was sure.

Sam Woodhull, now moving with a half dozen wagons of his own out to
Oregon, was reputed well to do; reputed also to be well skilled at
cards, at weapons and at women. Townsmen accorded him first place with
Molly Wingate, the beauty from east of the river, until Will Banion came
back from the wars. Since then had been another manner of war, that as
ancient as male and female.

That Banion had known Woodhull in the field in Mexico he already had let
slip. What had been the cause of his sudden pulling up of his starting
tongue? Would he have spoken too much of that acquaintance? Perhaps a
closer look at the loose lips, the high cheeks, the narrow, close-set
eyes of young Woodhull, his rather assertive air, his slight,
indefinable swagger, his slouch in standing, might have confirmed some
skeptic disposed to analysis who would have guessed him less than strong
of soul and character. For the most part, such skeptics lacked.

By this time the last belated unit of the Oregon caravan was at hand.
The feature of the dusty drivers could be seen. Unlike Wingate, the
newly chosen master of the train, who had horses and mules about him,
the young leader, Banion, captained only ox teams. They came now, slow
footed, steady, low headed, irresistible, indomitable, the same
locomotive power that carried the hordes of Asia into Eastern Europe
long ago. And as in the days of that invasion the conquerors carried
their households, their flocks and herds with them, so now did these
half-savage Saxon folk have with them their all.

Lean boys, brown, barefooted girls flanked the trail with driven stock.
Chickens clucked in coops at wagon side. Uncounted children thrust out
tousled heads from the openings of the canvas covers. Dogs beneath,
jostling the tar buckets, barked in hostile salutation. Women in slatted
sunbonnets turned impassive gaze from the high front seats, back of
which, swung to the bows by leather loops, hung the inevitable family
rifle in each wagon. And now, at the tail gate of every wagon, lashed
fast for its last long journey, hung also the family plow.

It was '48, and the grass was up. On to Oregon! The ark of our covenant
with progress was passing out. Almost it might have been said to have
held every living thing, like that other ark of old.

Banion hastened to one side, where a grassy level beyond the little
stream still offered stance. He raised a hand in gesture to the right. A
sudden note of command came into his voice, lingering from late military
days.

"By the right and left flank - wheel! March!"

With obvious training, the wagons broke apart, alternating right and
left, until two long columns were formed. Each of these advanced,
curving out, then drawing in, until a long ellipse, closed at front and
rear, was formed methodically and without break or flaw. It was the
barricade of the Plains, the moving fortresses of our soldiers of
fortune, going West, across the Plains, across the Rockies, across the
deserts that lay beyond. They did not know all these dangers, but they
thus were ready for any that might come.

"Look, mother!" Molly Wingate pointed with kindling eye to the wagon
maneuver. "We trained them all day yesterday, and long before. Perfect!"

Her gaze mayhap sought the tall figure of the young commander, chosen by
older men above his fellow townsman, Sam Woodhull, as captain of the
Liberty train. But he now had other duties in his own wagon group.

Ceased now the straining creak of gear and came rattle of yokes as the
pins were loosed. Cattle guards appeared and drove the work animals
apart to graze. Women clambered down from wagon seats. Sober-faced
children gathered their little arms full of wood for the belated
breakfast fires; boys came down for water at the stream.

The west-bound paused at the Missouri, as once they had paused at the
Don.

A voice arose, of some young man back among the wagons busy at his work,
paraphrasing an ante-bellum air:

_Oh, then, Susannah,
Don't you cry fer me!
I'm goin' out to Oregon,
With my banjo on my knee!_




CHAPTER II

THE EDGE OF THE WORLD


More than two thousand men, women and children waited on the Missouri
for the green fully to tinge the grasses of the prairies farther west.
The waning town of Independence had quadrupled its population in thirty
days. Boats discharged their customary western cargo at the newer
landing on the river, not far above that town; but it all was not
enough. Men of upper Missouri and lower Iowa had driven in herds of
oxen, horses, mules; but there were not enough of these. Rumors came
that a hundred wagons would take the Platte this year via the Council
Bluffs, higher up the Missouri; others would join on from St. Jo and
Leavenworth.

March had come, when the wild turkey gobbled and strutted resplendent in
the forest lands. April had passed, and the wild fowl had gone north.
May, and the upland plovers now were nesting all across the prairies.
But daily had more wagons come, and neighbors had waited for neighbors,
tardy at the great rendezvous. The encampment, scattered up and down the
river front, had become more and more congested. Men began to know one
another, families became acquainted, the gradual sifting and shifting in
social values began. Knots and groups began to talk of some sort of
accepted government for the common good.

They now were at the edge of the law. Organized society did not exist
this side of the provisional government of Oregon, devised as a _modus
vivendi_ during the joint occupancy of that vast region with Great
Britain - an arrangement terminated not longer than two years before.
There must be some sort of law and leadership between the Missouri and
the Columbia. Amid much bickering of petty politics, Jesse Wingate had
some four days ago been chosen for the thankless task of train captain.
Though that office had small authority and less means of enforcing its
commands, none the less the train leader must be a man of courage,
resource and decision. Those of the earlier arrivals who passed by his
well-organized camp of forty-odd wagons from the Sangamon country of
Illinois said that Wingate seemed to know the business of the trail. His
affairs ran smoothly, he was well equipped and seemed a man of means.
Some said he had three thousand in gold at the bottom of his cargo.
Moreover - and this appeared important among the Northern element, at
that time predominant in the rendezvous - he was not a Calhoun Secesh, or
even a Benton Democrat, but an out and out, antislavery, free-soil man.


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryEmerson HoughThe Covered Wagon → online text (page 1 of 20)