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And the provisional constitution of Oregon, devised by thinking men of
two great nations, had said that Oregon should be free soil forever.

Already there were mutterings in 1848 of the coming conflict which a
certain lank young lawyer of Springfield, in the Sangamon
country - Lincoln, his name was - two years ago among his personal friends
had predicted as inevitable. In a personnel made up of bold souls from
both sides the Ohio, politics could not be avoided even on the trail;
nor were these men the sort to avoid politics. Sometimes at their camp
fire, after the caravan election, Wingate and his wife, their son Jed,
would compare notes, in a day when personal politics and national
geography meant more than they do to-day.

"Listen, son," Wingate one time concluded. "All that talk of a railroad
across this country to Oregon is silly, of course. But it's all going to
be one country. The talk is that the treaty with Mexico must give us a,
slice of land from Texas to the Pacific, and a big one; all of it was
taken for the sake of slavery. Not so Oregon - that's free forever. This
talk of splitting this country, North and South, don't go with me. The
Alleghanies didn't divide it. Burr couldn't divide it. The Mississippi
hasn't divided it, or the Missouri, so rest assured the Ohio can't. No,
nor the Rockies can't! A railroad? No, of course not. But all the same,
a practical wagon road from free soil to free soil - I reckon that was my
platform, like enough. It made me captain."

"No, 'twasn't that, Jesse," said his wife. "That ain't what put you in
for train captain. It was your blamed impatience. Some of them lower
Ioway men, them that first nominated you in the train meeting - town
meeting - what you call it, they seen where you'd been plowing along here
just to keep your hand in. One of them says to me, 'Plowing, hey? Can't
wait? Well, that's what we're going out for, ain't it - to plow?' says
he. 'That's the clean quill,' says he. So they 'lected you, Jesse. And
the Lord ha' mercy on your soul!"

Now the arrival of so large a new contingent as this of the Liberty
train under young Banion made some sort of post-election ratification
necessary, so that Wingate felt it incumbent to call the head men of the
late comers into consultation if for no better than reasons of courtesy.
He dispatched his son Jed to the Banion park to ask the attendance of
Banion, Woodhull and such of his associates as he liked to bring, at any
suiting hour. Word came back that the Liberty men would join the Wingate
conference around eleven of that morning, at which time the hour of the
jump-off could be set.




CHAPTER III

THE RENDEZVOUS


As to the start of the great wagon train, little time, indeed, remained.
For days, in some instances for weeks, the units of the train had lain
here on the border, and the men were growing restless. Some had come a
thousand miles and now were keen to start out for more than two thousand
miles additional. The grass was up. The men from Illinois, Indiana,
Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas fretted on the leash.

All along the crooked river front, on both sides from Independence to
the river landing at Westport, the great spring caravan lay encamped, or
housed in town. Now, on the last days of the rendezvous, a sort of
hysteria seized the multitude. The sound of rifle fire was like that of
a battle - every man was sighting-in his rifle. Singing and shouting went
on everywhere. Someone fresh from the Mexican War had brought a drum,
another a bugle. Without instructions, these began to sound their
summons and continued all day long, at such times as the performers
could spare from drink.

The Indians of the friendly tribes - Otos, Kaws, Osages - come in to
trade, looked on in wonder at the revelings of the whites. The
straggling street of each of the near-by river towns was full of massed
wagons. The treble line of white tops, end to end, lay like a vast
serpent, curving, ahead to the West. Rivalry for the head of the column
began. The sounds of the bugle set a thousand uncoördinated wheels
spasmodically in motion. Organization, system were as yet unknown in
this rude and dominant democracy. Need was therefore for this final
meeting in the interest of law, order and authority. Already some wagons
had broken camp and moved on out into the main traveled road, which lay
plain enough on westward, among the groves and glades of the valley of
the Kaw. Each man wanted to be first to Oregon, no man wished to take
the dust of his neighbor's wagon.

Wingate brought up all these matters at the train meeting of some three
score men which assembled under the trees of his own encampment at
eleven of the last morning. Most of the men he knew. Banion
unobtrusively took a seat well to the rear of those who squatted on
their heels or lolled full length on the grass.

After the fashion of the immemorial American town meeting, the beginning
of all our government, Wingate called the meeting to order and stated
its purposes. He then set forth his own ideas of the best manner for
handling the trail work.

His plan, as he explained, was one long earlier perfected in the convoys
of the old Santa Fé Trail. The wagons were to travel in close order.
Four parallel columns, separated by not too great spaces, were to be
maintained as much as possible, more especially toward nightfall. Of
these, the outer two were to draw in together when camp was made, the
other two to angle out, wagon lapping wagon, front and rear, thus making
an oblong corral of the wagons, into which, through a gap, the work oxen
were to be driven every night after they had fed. The tents and fires
were to be outside of the corral unless in case of an Indian alarm, when
the corral would represent a fortress.

The transport animals were to be hobbled each night. A guard, posted
entirely around the corral and camp, was to be put out each night. Each
man and each boy above fourteen was to be subject to guard duty under
the ancient common law of the Plains, and from this duty no man might
hope excuse unless actually too ill to walk; nor could any man offer to
procure any substitute for himself. The watches were to be set as eight,
each to stand guard one-fourth part of alternate nights, so that each
man would get every other night undisturbed.

There were to be lieutenants, one for each of the four parallel
divisions of the train; also eight sergeants of the guard, each of whom
was to select and handle the men of the watch under him. No wagon might
change its own place in the train after the start, dust or no dust.

When Wingate ended his exposition and looked around for approval it was
obvious that many of these regulations met with disfavor at the start.
The democracy of the train was one in which each man wanted his own way.
Leaning head to head, speaking low, men grumbled at all this fuss and
feathers and Army stuff. Some of these were friends and backers in the
late election. Nettled by their silence, or by their murmured comments,
Wingate arose again.

"Well, you have heard my plan, men," said he. "The Santa Fé men worked
it up, and used it for years, as you all know. They always got through.
If there's anyone here knows a better way, and one that's got more
experience back of it, I'd like to have him get up and say so."

Silence for a time greeted this also. The Northern men, Wingate's
partisans, looked uncomfortably one to the other. It was young Woodhull,
of the Liberty contingent, who rose at length.

"What Cap'n Wingate has said sounds all right to me," said he. "He's a
new friend of mine - I never saw him till two-three hours ago - but I know
about him. What he says about the Santa Fé fashion I know for true. As
some of you know, I was out that way, up the Arkansas, with Doniphan,
for the Stars and Stripes. Talk about wagon travel - you got to have a
regular system or you have everything in a mess. This here, now, is a
lot like so many volunteers enlisting for war. There's always a sort of
preliminary election of officers; sort of shaking down and shaping up.
I wasn't here when Cap'n Wingate was elected - our wagons were some
late - but speaking for our men, I'd move to ratify his choosing, and
that means to ratify his regulations. I'm wondering if I don't get a
second for that?"

Some of the bewhiskered men who sat about him stirred, but cast their
eyes toward their own captain, young Banion, whose function as their
spokesman had thus been usurped by his defeated rival, Woodhull. Perhaps
few of them suspected the _argumentum ad hominem_ - or rather _ad
feminam_ - in Woodhull's speech.

Banion alone knew this favor-currying when he saw it, and knew well
enough the real reason. It was Molly! Rivals indeed they were, these
two, and in more ways than one. But Banion held his peace until one
quiet father of a family spoke up.

"I reckon our own train captain, that we elected in case we didn't throw
in with the big train, had ought to say what he thinks about it all."

Will Banion now rose composedly and bowed to the leader.

"I'm glad to second Mr. Woodhull's motion to throw our vote and our
train for Captain Wingate and the big train," said he. "We'll ratify his
captaincy, won't we?"

The nods of his associates now showed assent, and Wingate needed no more
confirmation.

"In general, too, I would ratify Captain Wingate's scheme. But might I
make a few suggestions?"

"Surely - go on." Wingate half rose.

"Well then, I'd like to point out that we've got twice as far to go as
the Santa Fé traders, and over a very different country - more dangerous,
less known, harder to travel. We've many times more wagons than any
Santa Fé train ever had, and we've hundreds of loose cattle along. That
means a sweeping off of the grass at every stop, and grass we've got to
have or the train stops.

"Besides our own call on grass, I know there'll be five thousand Mormons
at least on the trail ahead of us this spring - they've crossed the river
from here to the Bluffs, and they're out on the Platte right now. We
take what grass they leave us.

"What I'm trying to get at, captain, is this: We might have to break
into smaller detachments now and again. We could not possibly always
keep alignment in four columns."

"And then we'd be open to any Indian attack," interrupted Woodhull.

"We might have to fight some of the time, yes," rejoined Banion; "but
we'll have to travel all the time, and we'll have to graze our stock all
the time. On that one basic condition our safety rests - grass and plenty
of it. We're on a long journey.

"You see, gentlemen," he added, smiling, "I was with Doniphan also. We
learned a good many things. For instance, I'd rather see each horse on
a thirty-foot picket rope, anchored safe each night, than to trust to
any hobbles. A homesick horse can travel miles, hobbled, in a night.
Horses are a lot of trouble.

"Now, I see that about a fourth of our people, including Captain
Wingate, have horses and mules and not ox transport. I wish they all
could trade for oxen before they start. Oxen last longer and fare
better. They are easier to herd. They can be used for food in the hard
first year out in Oregon. The Indians don't steal oxen - they like
buffalo better - but they'll take any chance to run off horses or even
mules. If they do, that means your women and children are on foot. You
know the story of the Donner party, two years ago - on foot, in the snow.
They died, and worse than died, just this side of California."

Men of Iowa, of Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, began to nod to one another,
approving the words of this young man.

"He talks sense," said a voice aloud.

"Well, I'm talking a whole lot, I know," said Banion gravely, "but this
is the time and place for our talking. I'm for throwing in with the
Wingate train, as I've said. But will Captain Wingate let me add even
just a few words more?

"For instance, I would suggest that we ought to have a record of all our
personnel. Each man ought to be required to give his own name and late
residence, and the names of all in his party. He should be obliged to
show that his wagon is in good condition, with spare bolts, yokes,
tires, bows and axles, and extra shoes for the stock. Each wagon ought
to be required to carry anyhow half a side of rawhide, and the usual
tools of the farm and the trail, as well as proper weapons and abundance
of ammunition.

"No man ought to be allowed to start with this caravan with less
supplies, for each mouth of his wagon, than one hundred pounds of flour.
One hundred and fifty or even two hundred would be much better - there is
loss and shrinkage. At least half as much of bacon, twenty pounds of
coffee, fifty of sugar would not be too much in my own belief. About
double the pro rata of the Santa Fé caravans is little enough, and those
whose transport power will let them carry more supplies ought to start
full loaded, for no man can tell the actual duration of this journey, or
what food may be needed before we get across. One may have to help
another."

Even Wingate joined in the outspoken approval of this, and Banion,
encouraged, went on:

"Some other things, men, since you have asked each man to speak freely.
We're not hunters, but home makers. Each family, I suppose, has a plow
and seed for the first crop. We ought, too, to find out all our
blacksmiths, for I promise you we'll need them. We ought to have a half
dozen forges and as many anvils, and a lot of irons for the wagons.

"I suppose, too, you've located all your doctors; also all your
preachers - you needn't camp them all together. Personally I believe in
Sunday rest and Sunday services. We're taking church and state and home
and law along with us, day by day, men, and we're not just trappers and
adventurers. The fur trade's gone.

"I even think we ought to find out our musicians - it's good to have a
bugler, if you can. And at night, when the people are tired and
disheartened, music is good to help them pull together."

The bearded men who listened nodded yet again.

"About schools, now - the other trains that went out, the Applegates in
1843, the Donners of 1846, each train, I believe, had regular schools
along, with hours each day.

"Do you think I'm right about all this? I'm sure I don't want Captain
Wingate to be offended. I'm not dividing his power. I'm only trying to
stiffen it."

Woodhull arose, a sneer on his face, but a hand pushed him down. A tall
Missourian stood before him.

"Right ye air, Will!" said he. "Ye've an old head, an' we kin trust hit.
Ef hit wasn't Cap'n Wingate is more older than you, an' already done
elected, I'd be for choosin' ye fer cap'n o' this here hull train right
now. Seein' hit's the way hit is, I move we vote to do what Will Banion
has said is fitten. An' I move we-uns throw in with the big train, with
Jess Wingate for cap'n. An' I move we allow one more day to git in
supplies an' fixin's, an' trade hosses an' mules an' oxens, an' then we
start day atter to-morrow mornin' when the bugle blows. Then hooray fer
Oregon!"

There were cheers and a general rising, as though after finished
business, which greeted this. Jesse Wingate, somewhat crestfallen and
chagrined over the forward ways of this young man, of whom he never had
heard till that very morning, put a perfunctory motion or so, asked
loyalty and allegiance, and so forth.

But what they remembered was that he appointed as his wagon-column
captains Sam Woodhull, of Missouri; Caleb Price, an Ohio man of
substance; Simon Hall, an Indiana merchant, and a farmer by name of
Kelsey, from Kentucky. To Will Banion the trainmaster assigned the most
difficult and thankless task of the train, the captaincy of the cow
column; that is to say, the leadership of the boys and men whose
families were obliged to drive the loose stock of the train.

There were sullen mutterings over this in the Liberty column. Men
whispered they would not follow Woodhull. As for Banion, he made no
complaint, but smiled and shook hands with Wingate and all his
lieutenants and declared his own loyalty and that of his men; then left
for his own little adventure of a half dozen wagons which he was
freighting out to Laramie - bacon, flour and sugar, for the most part;
each wagon driven by a neighbor or a neighbor's son. Among these already
arose open murmurs of discontent over the way their own contingent had
been treated. Banion had to mend a potential split before the first
wheel had rolled westward up the Kaw.

The men of the meeting passed back among their neighbors and families,
and spoke with more seriousness than hitherto. The rifle firing ended,
the hilarity lessened that afternoon. In the old times the keel-boatmen
bound west started out singing. The pack-train men of the fur trade went
shouting and shooting, and the confident hilarity of the Santa Fé wagon
caravans was a proverb. But now, here in the great Oregon train, matters
were quite otherwise. There were women and children along. An unsmiling
gravity marked them all. When the dusky velvet of the prairie night
settled on almost the last day of the rendezvous it brought a general
feeling of anxiety, dread, uneasiness, fear. Now, indeed, and at last,
all these realized what was the thing that they had undertaken.

To add yet more to the natural apprehensions of men and women embarking
on so stupendous an adventure, all manner of rumors now continually
passed from one company to another. It was said that five thousand
Mormons, armed to the teeth, had crossed the river at St. Joseph and
were lying in wait on the Platte, determined to take revenge for the
persecutions they had suffered in Missouri and Illinois. Another story
said that the Kaw Indians, hitherto friendly, had banded together for
robbery and were only waiting for the train to appear. A still more
popular story had it that a party of several Englishmen had hurried
ahead on the trail to excite all the savages to waylay and destroy the
caravans, thus to wreak the vengeance of England upon the Yankees for
the loss of Oregon. Much unrest arose over reports, hard to trace, to
the effect that it was all a mistake about Oregon; that in reality it
was a truly horrible country, unfit for human occupancy, and sure to
prove the grave of any lucky enough to survive the horrors of the trail,
which never yet had been truthfully reported. Some returned travelers
from the West beyond the Rockies, who were hanging about the landing at
the river, made it all worse by relating what purported to be actual
experiences.

"If you ever get through to Oregon," they said, "you'll be ten years
older than you are now. Your hair will be white, but not by age."

The Great Dipper showed clear and close that night, as if one might
almost pick off by hand the familiar stars of the traveler's
constellation. Overhead countless brilliant points of lesser light
enameled the night mantle, matching the many camp fires of the great
gathering. The wind blew soft and low. Night on the prairie is always
solemn, and to-night the tense anxiety, the strained anticipation of
more than two thousand souls invoked a brooding melancholy which it
seemed even the stars must feel.

A dog, ominous, lifted his voice in a long, mournful howl which made
mothers put out their hands to their babes. In answer a coyote in the
grass raised a high, quavering cry, wild and desolate, the voice of the
Far West.




CHAPTER IV

FEVER OF NEW FORTUNES


The notes of a bugle, high and clear, sang reveille at dawn. Now came
hurried activities of those who had delayed. The streets of the two
frontier settlements were packed with ox teams, horses, wagons, cattle
driven through. The frontier stores were stripped of their last
supplies. One more day, and then on to Oregon!

Wingate broke his own camp early in the morning and moved out to the
open country west of the landing, making a last bivouac at what would be
the head of the train. He had asked his four lieutenants to join him
there. Hall, Price, and Kelsey headed in with straggling wagons to form
the nucleuses of their columns; but the morning wore on and the
Missourians, now under Woodhull, had not yet broken park. Wingate waited
moodily.

Now at the edge of affairs human apprehensions began to assert
themselves, especially among the womenfolk. Even stout Molly Wingate
gave way to doubt and fears. Her husband caught her, apron to eyes,
sitting on the wagon tongue at ten in the morning, with her pots and
pans unpacked.

"What?" he exclaimed. "You're not weakening? Haven't you as much
courage as those Mormon women on ahead? Some of them pushing carts, I've
heard."

"They've done it for religion, Jess. Oregon ain't no religion for me."

"Yet it has music for a man's ears, Molly."

"Hush! I've heard it all for the last two years. What happened to the
Donners two years back? And four years ago it was the Applegates left
home in old Missouri to move to Oregon. Who will ever know where their
bones are laid? Look at our land we left - rich - black and rich as any in
the world. What corn, what wheat - why, everything grew well in
Illinois!"

"Yes, and cholera below us wiping out the people, and the trouble over
slave-holding working up the river more and more, and the sun blazing in
the summer, while in the wintertime we froze!"

"Well, as for food, we never saw any part of Kentucky with half so much
grass. We had no turkeys at all there, and where we left you could kill
one any gobbling time. The pigeons roosted not four miles from us. In
the woods along the river even a woman could kill coons and squirrels,
all we'd need - no need for us to eat rabbits like the Mormons. Our
chicken yard was fifty miles across. The young ones'd be flying by
roasting-ear time - and in fall the sloughs was black with ducks and
geese. Enough and to spare we had; and our land opening; and Molly
teaching the school, with twelve dollars a month cash for it, and Ted
learning his blacksmith trade before he was eighteen. How could we ask
more? What better will we do in Oregon?"

"You always throw the wet blanket on Oregon, Molly."

"It is so far!"

"How do we know it is far? We know men and women have crossed, and we
know the land is rich. Wheat grows fifty bushels to the acre, the trees
are big as the spires on meeting houses, the fish run by millions in the
streams. Yet the winters have little snow. A man can live there and not
slave out a life.

"Besides" - and the frontier now spoke in him - "this country is too old,
too long settled. My father killed his elk and his buffalo, too, in
Kentucky; but that was before my day. I want the buffalo. I crave to see
the Plains, Molly. What real American does not?"

Mrs. Wingate threw her apron over her face.

"The Oregon fever has witched you, Jesse!" she exclaimed between dry
sobs.

Wingate was silent for a time.

"Corn ought to grow in Oregon," he said at last.

"Yes, but does it?"

"I never heard it didn't. The soil is rich, and you can file on six
hundred and forty acres. There's your donation claim, four times bigger
than any land you can file on here. We sold out at ten dollars an
acre - more'n our land really was worth, or ever is going to be worth.
It's just the speculators says any different. Let 'em have it, and us
move on. That's the way money's made, and always has been made, all
across the United States."

"Huh! You talk like a land speculator your own self!"

"Well, if it ain't the movers make a country, what does? If we don't
settle Oregon, how long'll we hold it? The preachers went through to
Oregon with horses. Like as not even the Applegates got their wagons
across. Like enough they got through. I want to see the country before
it gets too late for a good chance, Molly. First thing you know
buffalo'll be getting scarce out West, too, like deer was getting
scarcer on the Sangamon. We ought to give our children as good a chance
as we had ourselves."

"As good a chance! Haven't they had as good a chance as we ever had?
Didn't our land more'n thribble, from a dollar and a quarter? It may
thribble again, time they're old as we are now."

"That's a long time to wait."

"It's a long time to live a life-time, but everybody's got to live it."

She stood, looking at him.

"Look at all the good land right in here! Here we got walnut and hickory
and oak - worlds of it. We got sassafras and pawpaw and hazel brush. We
get all the hickory nuts and pecans we like any fall. The wild plums is
better'n any in Kentucky; and as for grapes, they're big as your thumb,
and thousands, on the river. Wait till you see the plum and grape jell I


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