Works in Progress
It seems I'm always working on something. These are some books that I have "finished" but not yet found a publisher for. You can scroll through the whole mess if you want, or jump to the title of interest by clicking on it.
Squanto: a biographical novel Read a sample
Not a Drop of Rain, a true-life novel Read a sample
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A True Life-Novel
by Charles Brashear
Samples of Squanto:
2. Some Sources
3. Chapter 1. A Batch of Peas
4. Chapter 2. Out Duty to Catch the Others
5. Chapter 3. Beyond Monhegan Island, 1605
In April 1621, when Squanto walked into Plymouth Plantation and said "Hello, English," he had already lived several years in England. He had crossed the Atlantic at least four times, had been to Spain twice, and to Newfoundland probably four times. He had explored with Captains John Smith and Thomas Dermer almost every nook and cranny of the New England coast from the Penobscot River to Virginia. He had suffered kidnaping, imprisonment, and loss of his entire village to some mysterious plague. He had been exploited as a slave and a servant among foreigners, and, when he was finally set free, he had no home to go to. Little wonder that when he decided to stay with the Pilgrims and help them to survive, he was a psychological mess.
Almost everything the Pilgrims told us about Squanto was wrong, because it was deformed by the warp of their Calvinistic minds. Though he was slightly older than William Bradford (31 in 1621), they insisted upon referring to him as a boy (British attitude toward servants), which led to the spate of misleading children's books that we, our children, and our school curricula have been cursed with. The Pilgrims were so eager to see Squanto as an agent of God, sent providentially to teach them to plant corn, catch fish, and act as their interpreter and ambassador to the Indian tribes of present-day Massachusetts, that they never honestly saw the man, nor his complexity.
The Disney Corporation, too, was extremely misleading with Squanto: A Warrior's Tale. They used a few real names, fragments of a half dozen actual happenings (and a war that never happened), many, many inventions of personality which do not in the least agree with historical records, and stirred it all into a hodge-podge that (to me) wasn't even an engaging story. Why couldn't they have just stuck to the facts? They make an exciting enough story.
Several men besides the Pilgrims knew, befriended, and wrote about Tisquantum, who came to be called Squanto, in his lifetime--James Rosier, Capt. John Smith, Thomas Dermer, and above all, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who led the effort from 1602 onward to colonize New England, especially Maine. From their accounts (along with those of the Pilgrim leaders, William Bradford and Edward Winslow), I have pieced together the story of Squanto's life. I have quoted passages from these men's writings occasionally and in epigraphs, to lend the story a tone of a TV documentary in the Ken Burns style. Admittedly, I have borrowed tints from other accounts of the times to fill in the outlines the documents give us, but by and large this is the story of Squanto's life and the forces that shaped his mind.
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Squanto: Some References
Adams, Charles Francis. Three Episodes of Massachusetts History. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co, 1892.
Arber, E. ed, Travels and Works of Captain John Smith. Edinburgh: J. Grant, 1910.
Baxter, James Phinney. Sir Ferdinando Gorges and his Province of Maine. (#131 Burt Franklin Research and Resource Works; #2 American Classics in History and Social Science) New York: Burt Franklin, 1890.
Bradford, William. Of Plimouth Plantation, 1620-1647, Originally published 1647; edition with notes and an intro by Samuel Eliot Morison, New York: Knopf, 1952.
Ceci, Lynn. "Squanto and the Pilgrims: On Planting Corn 'in the manner of the Indians.'" The Invented Indian: Cultural Fictions and Government Policies, ed. James A. Clifton. New Brunswick & London: Transaction Publishers, 1990, pp.71-90.
Cowie, Leonard. The Pilgrim Fathers. (Documentary) New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1972.
Dean, J.W. ed. Captain John Mason. Boston: the Prince Society, 1887.
Gorges, Sir Ferdinando. "A Brief Narration of the Originall Undertaking of the Advancement of Plantation into the Parts of America" (1637) and "A Briefe Relation of the Discovery & Plantations of New England" (1672) repr. in James Phinney Baxter, Sir Ferdinando Gorges and His Province of Maine.
Morison, Samuel E. "Squanto," in Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1935.
Mourt G. A Relation or Journall of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Setled at Plimouth in New England. London, 1622. A recent edition: New York: Corinth Books, 1963, ed. D.B. Heath.
Purchas, Samuel. Purchas His Pilgrimes. London, 1625; reprint in 20 volumes: New York: AMS Publishing, 1965.
Preston, Richard Arthur. Gorges of Plymouth Fort; a Life of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Captain of Plymouth Fort, Governor of New England, and Lord of the Province of Maine. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1953.
Rosier, James. "A True Relation of the Voyage of Captaine George Waymouth, 1605, In Early English and French Voyages, Chiefly from Hakluyt, 1534-1608, H.S. Burrage, ed. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932, pp.353-394.
Smith, John. "A Description of New England (1616)," Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, 6 (Series 3; 1836) 95-140; also in Collected Works of Captain John Smith.
Speck, Frank G. Territorial Subdivisions and Boundaries of the Wampanoag, Massachusetts, and Nauset Indians. New York: Museum of the American Indian (Heye Foundation), 1928.
Stoneman, John. "The Voyage of M. Henry Challons, intended for the North Plantation of Virginia, 1606...." Purchas His Pilgrimes. ed. Samuel Purchas, Originally published, London, 1625; reprint in 20 volumes: New York: AMS Publishing, 1965, V.19, pp.284-297.
Weeks, Alvin G. Massasoit of the Wampanoags. [Fall River, Mass.]: Privately Printed [The Plimpton Press], 1919.
Winslow, Edward. Good News from New England: Or, a Relation of things remarkable in the Plantation, London, 1623. Repr: Purchas His Pilgrimes, ed. Samuel Purchas, originally published, London, 1625; reprint in 20 volumes: New York: AMS Publishing, 1965, V.19, pp.344-394.
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Chapter 1. A Batch of Peas
"They sent one canoe with three men, one of which [Grand Chief Pow-da-we], when they came near unto us spoke in his language very loudly and very boldly; seeming as though he would know why we were there, and by pointing with his oar toward the sea, we conjectured he meant we should be gone.
"But when we showed them knives and their use, by cutting sticks, and gave them other trifles, [such] as combs and [looking] glasses, they came close to the ship, as if desirous to entertain our friendship." -- James Rosier, "A True Relation of the Voyage of Captaine George Waymouth, 1605"
Six men in two Passamaquoddy canoes approached the English ship cautiously in the mid-morning sun. It was bigger than a longhouse on the water, bigger than three houses. In one of the canoes, Tisquantum, hardly more than a boy, though well-muscled, held his basket of berries chest high to show that he did not have any weapons. He called out "Strawberries! Strawberries! Straw-aw-berries!" Most of the tribes had learned a few words of English from the fishermen who visited the New England coastal waters regularly.
Suddenly, a shot boomed from the ship, causing the paddlers in both canoes to stop.
"See? They want to kill us!" cried one of the Indians. For protection, he put his hand to the magic lightning bars painted on his face. "My uncle told me their noise kills people."
Tisquantum sat down in the canoe, touched the good luck symbol on his doeskin shirt, and reached for his paddle, frightened. Then he noticed that the gunsmoke was drifting off the bow of the ship and toward the little rocky islands that ringed St. George's Bay. He tossed his shoulders to shrug off the threat and stood up. "That was not for us," he said. "See, it goes the other way. They are not trying to kill us."
Tahanedo, the sagamore of Pemaquid, sat calmly in the middle of the other canoe. He was dressed in a wildcat-skin cape that was both his emblem of office and his means of keeping warm. The other men wore only breech clouts, but their bodies were painted and heavily greased to insulate them against the chill wind. Tisquantum wore buckskin leggings and a fringed shirt, his traditional Wampanoag clothes, for he was a captive from south of the Massachusetts tribe.
At sixteen, Tisquantum looked very young: his skin was smooth, his features small and fine. Touching the protective shell amulet that hung in his right ear-lobe, he boldly encouraged his companions in their own language, Abenaki. "Come on! Pick up your paddles, my friends. Don't you want to see what the white men are like?"
But the others were less anxious to meet the "yang-kaysh," the English.
"I suspect we'll know soon enough," said the most cautious of the group. Bold, red lightning bars on his face made his eyes seem especially strong. "Maybe even sooner than we want to."
"I'll bet two pair of new moccasins that, long before we need to know anything, we will know too much for our own good," said the timid, shifty-eyed one. His face was painted white, to protect him from evil. "Their fire-sticks kill people."
"Let's go back, Tahanedo," muttered the one with lightning bars on his face, addressing their leader in the other canoe. "Pow-da-we told us to stay away from them. At least, let's go back to the shore and let them come to us."
"I think I'll go to the ship with Assaquamet," announced Tahanedo, using the Passamaquoddy name they had given Tisquantum. Tahanedo's forehead was painted red, and he wore a necklace of sea-shell totems and two eagle feathers in his scalp lock to denote his rank. The feathers stuck up in a big "V" toward the sky, indicating he had been successful in battle. His glance was firm and unwavering, his nose and nostrils noticeably large.
"They are dangerous," said Skettowaroes, a huge man whose courage was not questioned. He was body guard to Tahanedo. His big face was painted the same as Tahanedo's, but he wore no feathers or necklace. "It is best to keep unnecessary danger at a distance."
"They come from across the big water," said Tisquantum. "Don't you want to know how they live, what they eat, what their houses look like?"
"I think Assaquamet is right," said Tahanedo, adjusting his cape and touching a protective totem in his necklace. "The white men mean us no harm. I'd like to see them up close. Besides, they gave Pow-da-we a big-bladed knife; maybe they will give me a knife, too."
As the Indians neared the ship, they saw several of the sailors leaning over the rail. Tisquantum had heard that many of the English had hair on their faces, but he was not prepared for the variety in size and color of their beards. Some had golden hair on their chins; some red; others, dark hair. Some were neatly trimmed; some scraggly; and everything in between. Their baggy shirts were bleached white. Their skins were almost as pale. Those who were marine soldiers wore breast-plates of heavy leather, with pieces of metal riveted to them.
"Heya, Yang-kaysh," called Tisquantum. "Trade?" He held up the basket of berries again.
Two of the sailors lowered a rope ladder with wooden rungs and motioned for the Indians to come aboard. Tisquantum from one canoe and Tahanedo from the other climbed the ladder to the deck of the ship. Ed Welsh, the second mate, called three marine soldiers to the ready: "Trust in fate," he said, "but keep your lances in your hands. At least till we see what the beggars want."
"Peas? Peas?" asked Tisquantum. The Passamaquoddies who had been on other ships before thought stewed English peas were delicious.
Welsh smiled, to think the Indians were so simple. "I reckon we can cook up a batch of peas," he said. The English had been eating fresh salmon and cod in order to save their dried peas for a time when they had no fresh food. "Come aboard, and we'll stoke up the fire. Those look like nice enough berries." He held his nose close, in order to smell them above the usual, coastal scent of rotting fish and sea-weed. He held back his gray linsey cape, to keep it from sweeping into the berry basket.
Tisquantum and Tahanedo did not understand the words, but they followed the motions and went with the mate to the galley, where the cook hung a pot of peas on the hook over the open fire. Welsh invited the Indians to sit at the mess table while the peas were cooking. He moved to a position where the odors of the cooking fire would drift toward him, so that it would disguise the smell of his guests, without his offending them.
Welsh was amused by the Indians' interest and wonder in the iron pot over the fire-pit, as well as the pewter dishes, utensils, cups, everything. Tahanedo tried his few words of French which the tribe had learned from the fishermen at Acadia and along the Quebec coast, but Welsh did not understand.
Before the food was cooked, one of the ship's longboats returned from the shore. James Rosier, the ship's officer of marines, who doubled as recorder of the voyage, stood in the prow of the longboat, his fowling piece cocked, loaded with pea gravel, and held at the ready. In addition to a thick leather body-shield, he wore a metal helmet and a bright red cape fastened to straps on his shoulder shields. His neatly trimmed and waxed beard gleamed red in the sunlight.
On the starboard side of the ship, he found two, large, birch-bark canoes floating in the mildly choppy water. Each could carry six or eight people. Two brightly painted natives sat in each canoe, waiting, watching, paddling only enough to keep themselves from drifting more than a few yards away from the ship.
Even before The Archangel dropped anchor in St. George's Bay, James Rosier had been collecting an Abenaki vocabulary in his journal. He had already learned a couple hundred words. "Welcome, friends," he called out in Abenaki. "Welcome to our big-water-canoe."
The Indians gazed at him askance and did not respond.
Rosier climbed the rope ladder and discovered that two natives were already on board, sitting beside the fire in the galley, eating English peas. "Excellent," exclaimed Rosier, "but didn't you invite the others aboard?"
"Aye, we did, Sir," said Thomas Cam, the first mate, "but the savages are exceedingly wary and will not approach."
"Any signs of treachery?"
"None that I noticed."
The first several days, the Englishmen's contact with the American natives had been ideal: without opposition, the Englishmen had erected a six-foot cross of discovery and possession on the rocky shore above the thin, sandy beach, as if the cross held some great power. They called the inlet St. George's Bay, in honor of the mythical saint of England. They had traded knives and bracelets for beaver and otter furs. Rosier was learning the language rapidly, for the Passamaquoddies, when they learned that he could repeat their words after writing them in his journal, came readily with more words than Rosier could easily understand.
Rosier talked with Tahanedo and Tisquantum, asking (with what words he had and what motions he could invent) more about their land and customs. They, too, were very curious about the foreigners.
"We come from England," Rosier told them, but they looked baffled. "England is a big island beyond Monhegan," he explained.
"Oh?" With difficulty and many repetitions, Tahanedo conveyed his astonishment and much more to Rosier. "An island? Beyond Monhegan? I have lived here all my life and know of no such island. Is it large?"
"Oh, quite large," said Rosier. "With thousands upon thousands of people."
"It would be good to be friends with so many," admitted Tahanedo, touching a protective totem in his necklace.
"Excellent! Excellent!" exclaimed Rosier. "We wish to be your friends. Won't your other men come up and eat some peas and make friends with us?"
"They are afraid of you," said Tahanedo simply, letting his wildcat skin cape hang casually over a forearm.
"Pshaw! We are nothing to be afraid of," said Rosier, adjusting his leather body-shield and red cape to let some air in, for the armor got very hot. "We have only your best interests at heart. Come, Mr. Welsh, bring up a platter of peas. Offer our friends on the water a bite of our hospitality."
"Aye, Sir," said the second mate.
"And bring some bread," added Rosier.
When the platter of peas and the bread were offered, the natives in the canoes accepted them readily, but paddled rapidly to the forested shore to eat them.
Presently the ship's captain, George Waymouth, returned in the ship's other longboat, loaded with firewood. He was a thin man, with drawn features and hard, penetrating eyes that made others mistrust him. He wore thigh-shields, a breast-plate, a helmet of polished metal, and a wide, purple cape with gold piping. He held one edge of the cape in front of him, like a shield.
Captain Waymouth had sailed for the New England coast on Easter Sunday, March 31st, 1605, in the employ of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Commandant of the Fort at Plymouth, England. His assignment was to search for a northwest passage to China, and, that failing, to catch fish to pay expenses of the voyage, trade with the natives for such beaver and buckskins as they had, and come away with as much knowledge as he could of their geography. His crew had caught a great deal of Atlantic Salmon, which they smoked or dried, and almost enough cod to fill the barrels in which they salted the fish for transport to England. He and Rosier had made rough maps of the coast and inlets nearby. He was anxious to sail for England while the astrological signs were with them and the summer winds were fair.
When Waymouth climbed the rope-ladder, Mr. Rosier introduced him to the natives: "Here is Captain Tahanedo, sagamore of Pemaquid."
Hoping no one noticed his hesitation, Tahanedo took the skinny Waymouth by the hand, which was the Indian way of greeting. He shifted to get the wind in his own face, because the white man's odor was so strong.
"And this is his servant, Assaquamet," added Rosier.
"No. No Assaquamet," interjected the other native, smiling good-naturedly. "Name: Tisquantum."
"Assaquamet," insisted Tahanedo, pointing his big nose at the younger man's chest. "My slave," he added in Abenaki.
"Tisquantum," repeated the younger man. By making many signs of the sun passing and motioning toward the horizon, he communicated to the Englishmen that he came from a tribe several days' journey to the south, and he actually managed a rudimentary English sentence: "Tahanedo take Tisquantum," grabbing his own neck in pantomime and dragging himself away. Thus, he made the Englishmen understand that he was a prisoner of war, who had been pressed into bondage as Tahanedo's servant.
"Tisquantum go Yangland?" asked the boy, from which Captain Waymouth surmised that Tisquantum was eager to travel with the English, possibly to escape his bondage to Tahanedo.
"Tisquantum know rivers?" asked Waymouth, waving a wiry arm toward the coast.
"No," admitted Tisquantum. "Tahanedo know rivers."
"Yes," said Tahanedo. "All my life, I have lived here. I have visited most of the rivers and islands along our coast."
"Well," said Waymouth, smiling to himself and Mr. Rosier, "would you fellows like to travel with us to England and tell us where the rivers lie, what towns lie upon them, how many warriors there are, and who are their sagamores?" He removed his metal helmet and accepted the wide-brimmed black hat with an ostrich feather, which the cabin-boy offered.
Tisquantum nodded rapidly, but Tahanedo shook his head slowly in the negative, silently touching his necklace.
Chapter 2. Our Duty to Catch the Others
"... we determined, so soon as we could, to take some of them [captive], lest (being suspicious we had discovered their plots) they should absent themselves from us." -- James Rosier, "A True Relation of the Voyage of Captaine George Waymouth, 1605"
Directly, Skettowaroes returned from the shore with the empty platter. Waymouth and Rosier talked with him a while and found him "of ready capacity and wit." A tall, broad-faced man, he decided to stay aboard with the other two, because his job was as Tahanedo's body guard. Rosier thought it was because, "they were receiving exceedingly kind usage at our hands and were therefore much delighted in our company."
"What a fortunate accident this must be counted," exclaimed Captain Waymouth, beaming. "Why, they may even know the passage to China." He rocked on the balls of his feet in self-satisfaction. "But 'tis our duty to catch the others," he added in an even voice. "Be ready when they come to fetch these fellows, and we'll grab 'em."
All the mid-day, the ship's longboats plied back and forth, bringing good firewood, drinking water, as well as fresh-water fish and newly-killed venison to the ship, but the natives did not return.
Late in the afternoon, Waymouth sent Rosier to the shore in a longboat with seven men in leather armor. Rosier, cape flowing in the wind, stood in the bow, carrying a platter of peas. He had a box of merchandise at his feet, as was his routine when he went to trade with the natives. Before they landed, the native with lightning bars on his face withdrew into the woods ("being so suspiciously fearful of his own good," as Rosier wrote in his report). Two others met the Englishmen on the shore to receive the peas.
With great show, the Englishmen laid aside their oars and weapons, thinking the gesture would comfort the natives. They went up the beach to the Indians' fire and sat down with them.
Using his vocabulary list, Rosier talked with them and learned that the furtive, white-faced one was called Amoret, the smiling one with ochre spots that covered smallpox scars on his face was Maneddo. He introduced himself. The natives were most interested in eating the peas, though they were wary of the Englishman's power and magic.
"Your Captain, Tahanedo, and the other two have decided to sail with us to our island called England," Rosier announced.
The two natives had great difficulty understanding, but finally unraveled the curious ideas and the fractured Abenaki of the Englishman.
"You fellows"-- he pointed to Amoret and Maneddo-- "would be welcome to sail with us."
Again, the natives had difficulty understanding what the Englishman was saying. And when they understood, they balked, saying they had relatives that depended upon their ability to hunt through the summer. Amoret made motions to indicate the ocean waves, his own unsteady stomach, and vomiting. Maneddo agreed with signs that he had no great love for oceans and voyages.
"We shall have to take them by force," Rosier told his men, keeping his voice neutral. "Get ready and, when I give the sign, seize them."
One of the sailors went up the beach to urinate behind a bush and, when he came back, positioned himself behind the two natives.
"Any idea how we can fetch old 'Lightning Bars'?" Rosier asked his men, but no one said anything. Swinging his cape back, Rosier opened the merchandise box. Thinking his broad gestures would banish the fear of 'Lightning Bars' in the woods and entice him to return, he presented a polished brass chain to spot-faced Maneddo. To white-faced Amoret, Rosier gave a cut-glass bauble on a strong leather thong. Both of the natives hung these trinkets about their necks, apparently very pleased with themselves and their good fortune. Rosier held up his largest bauble, such as he thought fitting for a super sagamore, and a piece of bread, but the third man did not come back.
Rosier closed the box, gave his men the signal, and said, "Take 'em. But be careful."
Three men grabbed at Maneddo and four at Amoret. The natives were so slick from the grease with which they insulated their naked bodies that they slipped free. One sailor clutched at the brass chain around Maneddo's neck and pulled him off balance. Rosier seized the long hair on Amoret, it being about the only hold Rosier could take, and ruined his footing. The other men were able to pick up his feet.
As soon as the men had the natives partly subdued, Rosier pushed aside their war axes and bows and arrows, not wanting to harm the Indians or give them a chance to harm his men.
One sailor had the white-faced native by the throat strap and was choking him down. "Careful not to hurt him," Rosier cautioned. "He would be no good to us dead." The man guffawed and shoved the savage's head so hard Rosier thought Amoret's neck would pop, but the Indian only cried out in pain.
In a few moments, the men had tied the savages' ankles with short cords, brought for the purpose. Spot-faced Maneddo's hands were tied with the brass chain Rosier had given him. Panting with the effort, the Englishmen took the captives away to the longboat and to the ship, thanking the good spirits who were on their side.
Rosier and two others carried away what weapons the natives had. They towed the two birch-bark canoes containing the Indians' pottery, leather pouches, capes, paddles, and weapons, thinking the souvenirs might prove useful in some way no one had yet conceived.
"Excellent, Mr. Rosier," exclaimed the Captain. "Excellent! You did well. Your Virgo must be rising. I secluded the others in the Mates' compartment; otherwise this show of force must certainly have disquieted all of our guests." He rocked on his heels and held the edge of his cape. "I think we are as well provisioned as we could hope for. Wood, water, a respectable cargo. And our stars in their good phases." To his First Mate, Thomas Cam, he said: "Hoist anchor, Mr. Cam. Set sail, and pray for a fair wind to England."
On scant winds, The Archangel was slow in getting out of St. George's harbor. Many a sailor secretly held an amulet or silently prayed for fairies to puff up their cheeks and fill the sails. The sea was not especially choppy, but neither was it cooperative. After about four hours, Waymouth finally found the current, and the ship picked up speed. With the course set and a fair wind in the sails, the crew was able to relax a bit.
"Maybe we ought to give our guests a breath, Sir," said Rosier. "They've been in that hold several hours and there's no porthole down there. We don't want them to suffocate before we find if they're useful or not."
"Quite right, Mr. Rosier. Bring the savages up."
Tahanedo and the four others were brought on deck, their hands still tied in front of them. When Tahanedo saw the sails bulging with wind, he touched his necklace and cried out, "They have captured us. They have taken us prisoners and will make us their slaves." He seized a corner of his wildcat-skin cape to hold it in place and turned, swinging it in every direction as if he could sweep away the annoyance; the thin, forested rim of land was diminishing behind them.
Tisquantum asked, "Waymut take Tahanedo?" and he pantomimed grabbing the sagamore by the neck.
"Oh, no, no," said Waymouth, waving "no" with his skinny hands, using Rosier as his interpreter. "We are your friends. You are our guests."
"Where is our land? Where are you taking us?" cried Tahanedo, running up the stair-ladder to the poop deck. His wrists were still tied, but he used his hands as a clamp together.
Thomas Cam and the helmsman turned to face him and put their right hands on the handles of their weapons.
But Tahanedo only ran to the rail to look at the distant strip of land and the reasonably calm water. Coming back, he lifted one corner of his wildcat cape to show Waymouth the emblem of his rank. "Give us our canoes, and we will paddle to our home shores."
But Waymouth chose to ignore him, saying, through Rosier, "We are taking you to meet the head man of our town."
"Beyond Monhegan Island?" asked Tahanedo.
"Yes, beyond Monhegan. It's a place called Plymouth."
"I have no business in Plymouth," said Tahanedo, meeting Waymouth's gaze.
"Oh, but you do," said Waymouth, looking away and wrapping his purple cloak around his shoulders. "The 'sagamore' of our town wants very much to meet and talk with the sagamore of Pemaquid. Our two towns will be friends. We will trade.... Nice things ... for useful things."
Ed Welsh stepped toward the bow of the ship, letting his gray cape flap in the wind freely. He inhaled deeply and exclaimed, "Take a whiff of that! The smell of the open sea!"
"We go England!" said Tisquantum, his voice a mixture of delight and dread.
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Chapter 3. Beyond Monhegan Island, 1605
This accident must be acknowledged the means, under God, of putting on foot and giving life to all our plantations. God has indeed smiled upon our designs.-- Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Brief Narration of the Originall Undertaking of the Advancement of Plantation into the Parts of America. (1637)
Homeward bound on the North Atlantic current and prevailing winds, the ship made good progress. Each day, the Indians were brought up on deck for air and exercise. One at a time, they were untied, so they could move their arms. They had to be taught to use the chamber pot, sling the refuse overboard, and rinse the pot with sea-water.
In rougher seas, Amoret and Maneddo, seeing the tilting horizon, regularly grabbed their stomachs with both hands and soon vomited. The sailors pulled up buckets of sea-water to slosh off the spume. Tisquantum was seasick the first few days, then found his sea-legs. Secretly, he attributed his adjustment to the shell amulet he wore in his right ear-lobe. Skettowaroes and Tahanedo, having had more experience with canoes in rough water, seemed immune to the discomfort.
Each sunny and warm day, James Rosier set up a table on the main deck, opened his journal, and interviewed the Indians, one at a time. He began trying to teach them a few words of English. Tahanedo was defiant and imposing: "I am a king in my own land! If you want to speak to me, you can learn my language." And he pulled his wildcat cloak in closer.
Maneddo followed his example and refused to learn, folding his arms before him. Amoret was too sea-sick to learn. Skettowaroes jumped into the task with gusto. "I am body-guard to my sagamore," he explained. "It is my duty to speak for him with other tribes."
Tisquantum was the best pupil. He seemed to delight in saying English words. He began bringing to Rosier questions about things that did not exist in either Wampanoag or Abenaki. He would pick up a rope and ask, "Wat?" Later, he would point to the sails-- "Wat dis?" As he got better at the language, he would indicate, for example, the pen and ink-- "What these?"
Rosier soon discovered that Tisquantum was not a good informant for Abenaki, because, as the boy said, "Tisquantum no Abenaki; Tisquantum Wampanoag." So he tried to dismiss the inquisitive young man. But Tisquantum would not permit it. He came with question after question, and he often remembered the answers, not always with the right pronunciation.
Tisquantum was curious about everything on the ship, but most about the galley in that part of the forecastle nearest the main mast, where the cook, the carpenter, the cooper, and the sail-maker had their berths and shops. The cook's pot hung over an open fire, built on a bed of stones and was flanked on both sides and the back by stone walls to keep the fire from spilling out during rough seas. There he cooked the peas and porridge, the hash made from dried meat, the soups made of sea-water and fresh fish.
The crew had adapted to a steady diet of hard-tack, but it soon constipated the Indians. Amoret was even feverish. Rosier and the cook prepared a physic of sassafras leaves, mullwort, and other herbs, which soon gave the Indians diarrhea.
Again, buckets of sea-water sloshed them clean, more or less. But without their protective coating of grease, the Indians were soon paralyzed with chill. They had to be dressed in sailor's shirts and pants.
"There's no end to it, and no middle ground," complained Rosier to Tisquantum. "Everything we do seems to upset you fellows in one way or another."
"Hands in rope much much," said Tisquantum, holding up his bound wrists.
"Well, I'm tired of being nursemaid!"
After a month's passage, they arrived at Plymouth Fort on the lands-end coast of England. On the 15th of July, 1605, Waymouth delivered his cargo of fish and the five American natives to Sir Ferdinando Gorges.
The family of Ferdinando Gorges had been in England for four generations and had gained wealth and position. Ferdinando had done creditable military service for Queen Elizabeth in her wars in France, for which he was knighted and made commander of the Fort at Plymouth, near Lands End. He carried a white, perfumed handkerchief at all times, his protection against offensive odors.
Sir Ferdinando was pleased with the quality of the salmon. He called his chef and had him slice bits of the smoked salmon and some of the dried cod and put them on thin slices of bread. Stuffing his handkerchief into a waistcoat pocket, Gorges took up the little open-faced sandwiches with a forefinger and thumb and slid them into his mouth. "Delightful!" he said, with great conviction. "In London, this will pay for the voyage."
After reserving a share of the salmon for his own use, he sent the rest with Waymouth and The Archangel to London, for the benefit of his fellow investors, especially Sir John Popham, the Lord Chief Justice of England, and John Slaney, the Treasurer of The New England Company for Exploration and Trade.
He was even more happy with the five Indian captives, who were brought in from their locked room. He was so enthusiastic that he gave each man of the crew an extra crown as bonus. "Welcome, Welcome, Captain Taneedo," he exclaimed, his eyes gleaming, as he put one foot forward to show a stockinged calf, waved his handkerchief, and made an elaborate, receding bow, the usual English method of greeting a person of quality.
In his comfort, he had taken to wearing pastel suits of shiny satin-- pale green waistcoats and knee-length pants with mauve stockings, cummerbund, and collars; and white lace at the cuffs. He avoided pink and the colors of royalty, but used almost every other color.
Tahanedo took Gorges by the hand... and held on. He glanced to see that Rosier was there to translate. "Take Tahanedo to Pemaquid. Now." He had to hold his breath unobtrusively, so foul was the powder and perfume of the white man.
"But you've just arrived! I want to visit with you, learn about your home. You must stay the winter."
"I am a KING in my land," shouted Tahanedo, his wrists still tied. "Take me home!"
"Yes, yes. I understand," said Gorges. "Come and show me where you live." On a table, he rolled out the map which Waymouth and Rosier had drawn during the voyage.
Gorges dreamed of establishing a plantation or colony in Maine and fortifying it, in order to exploit the fishing off Maine and Newfoundland and prevent the French, Dutch, and Spanish from invading what he saw as his private fishing waters. He had put a good part of his personal fortune into the project and had helped in organizing the "New England Company for Exploration and Trade."
Tisquantum recognized the line of the coast. He pointed to a place off the edge of the map. "Pemaquid," he said. "Tahanedo house."
Tahanedo glanced at the map and did not contradict him. Using sticks, the Indians frequently drew maps on smooth sand for each other. He, too, recognized the contour of the coast.
"This fellow is not Abenaki," said Rosier, indicating Tisquantum. "He's from another tribe. We're not certain yet just which one."
"My slave," said Tahanedo. "Assaquamet." And he took Tisquantum by the neck to pantomime the capture.
"As-a-comet. Tah-nay-doe," said Gorges. "I'll never learn to pronounce their names right." He waved his handkerchief, as if his mistakes were no great matter.
When Sir Ferdinando learned that the five Indians were from different families, he cried out, "Excellent! Excellent! That means they will have knowledge of many places and can make maps for us." And, though his family had been openly Protestant for two generations, he made the sign of the cross.
Gorges turned, waving his handkerchief in all directions, indicating all his household and command at Plymouth Fort. "Use these savages kindly. Help them to learn good English and be content with civilization. Teach them to make maps and understand words on paper."
"This accident must be acknowledged the means, under God, of putting on foot and giving life to all our plantations. God has indeed smiled upon our designs."
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Not a Drop of Rain
A True-Life Novel
Samples of Not a Drop of Rain:
Chapter 1. Forced to Move West
Chapter 2. Pushing a String
In 1916-1917, a severe drought devastated the prairies of west Texas. The crops failed, the grass dried up, the water tanks were completely depleted. The drought forced my grandfather, Jody Whitaker, to move his 102 cattle, 14 horses, and three span of mules west from his farm near Vincent, Texas to New Mexico, in search of grass and water.
No railroad was available, so my mother, twelve-year-old Sallie Whitaker, and her fourteen- and sixteen-year-old brothers, Fred and Ben, became drovers in a desperate trail drive. This story is based on what she, her sister, and my uncles told me about the experience, which lasted past the blizzard of 1918.
I followed the family story for the most part, even using some of the deeds, letters, poems, and other documents found in my grandfather's effects long after his death. I found his political tirades in long letters he wrote to family and friends in Tennessee.
But the book is fiction. Before some of my relatives start complaining that I got their part of the story all wrong, let me say here, up front, that I made up the details. If I slighted any of my uncles in any way, or puffed up my mother too much, I'm sorry. It was all done in innocence.
The Whitaker family near Vincent, Texas, is forced to move their 102 cattle, 14 horses, and three span of mules west, in search of water and grass. No railroad is available, so twelve-year-old Sallie Whitaker and her fourteen- and sixteen-year-old brothers, Fred and Ben, become drovers in a desperate trail drive.
The chuck wagon is driven by their father, Jody Whitaker, who is semi-invalid from a mule-training accident a few years back, which dislocated several vertebrae in his spine. He has to be helped in and out of the wagon. The women of the family are left at Vincent to take care of the milk cows and look after the farm.
At first they drive the cattle north-westerly, along the cap-rock rim of the High Plains, the Llano Estacado. Sallie and her brothers are called upon to act and work like grown men. In addition, Sallie is often called upon to make biscuits in their Dutch oven, prepare bacon, beans, and gravy for their most typical meal, and wash clothes when they come to a spring where the cattle can get water and the family can replenish their supply. The cattle soon get weary and thirsty. Sometimes, the Whitakers are forced to "hand-water" the herd--allowing each animal to drink a long quart of water from a hand-held bucket.
One day, the herd is left idle while Sallie, Fred, and Ben unsuccessfully fight a grass fire on the prairie. Another day, navigating by the sun across a barren featureless plain, they fail to find Buzzard Well, but do find the boggy draw below it where the cattle can drink from puddles. Crossing the sand dunes between Buzzard Draw and Mustang Draw, the cattle are stampeded by the sound of a flash flood caused by storms far to the west. Progress is delayed while Sallie and Fred hunt for lost cattle.
After some two weeks on the trail, the party comes to Seagraves, where they have relatives and where there is a railhead. It has rained a little recently in the west and new grass has sprouted. The Whitaker mules eat too much sand with the fresh grass and roots. Some of them get sand-colic and die.
After a short rest, the herd is shipped by rail to Taiban Junction in New Mexico, where Jody has found land on the western escarpment of the Llano Estacado, which various members of the family can file homestead claims on. The family has to live in a semi-dugout. Some of the women visit from Vincent from time to time in the family's 1914 Model-T touring car.
Cattle feed is short in New Mexico also. They have to buy feed from the Pecos Valley. Sallie has to collect prickly pear in baskets, sear off the spines in the cook stove, and feed the pads to the cattle. Though conditions are bad, most of the herd survives.
Then comes January 1918 and the worst blizzard on the plains since 1888-89. The Whitaker cattle bunch up at the fence rows and corners, where many of them freeze to death. Sallie and Fred go out in the blizzard with wire cutters to set the herd free to drift. Still, the Whitakers lose more than a third of their cattle.
But, with the blizzard, the drought is broken.
The spring rains revive the pastures back at home in Vincent. The older boys are
able to plant crops of corn, cotton, maize, and Kaffir Corn, as well as a
variety of kitchen vegetables. By early summer, it is possible to ship the
remnant of the herd back to Seagraves and to drive them home. By autumn,
conditions are back to near normal, and Sallie is permitted to be a child again
and go back to sixth grade at the grammar school in Vincent.
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Chapter 1. Forced to Move West
"Pa! Pa! Come quick!" I yelled, as I bolted into the dinner area, where Pa was playing his fiddle.
"Somebody's...." I was puffing and sweating. "Somebody's... somebody's cutting our fence... down by the water tank."
Pa stopped fiddling in the midst of "Haste to the Wedding." If it had been one of the boys, Pa would have cuffed his head, but I was the youngest daughter, twelve and slender. I hadn't yet filled out. Pa was always gentle with me.
"What?" Pa asked, not quite able to believe what he had heard.
"Yes, Sir," I said, out of breath. I felt my ears glowing, my face red with sweat and energy. "Somebody's snipping... the barbed wire ... and letting their cattle in to drink."
"Who is it?" asked Pa.
"I don't know... Some people on horses. I didn't recognize any of them."
He glared at me, then softened his frown. I think he was aware that he looked more irritated than he intended. "How many cattle?"
"A bunch," I said. "About as many as we got."
"Over a hundred," he muttered. Pa used the table as a cane to help him stand up, then lay his fiddle carefully in its case, loosened the hair in the bow, and put it away. I could see the worry in his face. Frank, my youngest brother, crowded up close; he was the only one of us children born here at this farm near Vincent, Texas.
"Frank," Pa said, "you go catch Meredith and hitch him to the buggy. I'll have to go down to the tank."
He looked up toward the kitchen where all of the women except me-- Ma, Aunt Mollie, Grandmother Mary-Adeline, my sister, Delphia-- had come to listen and watch. I could see they were all worried.
"Sallie," he said to me, "you go with Frank. He can't get the harness on all by himself."
I was barely big enough to harness a pony. Not tall enough, nor strong enough, to lift my saddle onto my own horse.
"Yes, Sir," I said, wiping my sweating palms on the flaps of my Jodhpurs, catching some of the tension in Pa's voice. Frank and I raced out to get the horse and buggy.
We owned a 1914 Model-T touring car, but Pa seldom used it, because he preferred the old ways-- the pony and buggy, or the buckboard.
While Frank caught Meredith and led him up to the barn door, I got out the buggy harness. The southwest wind was hot and dry; it kept blowing my hair into my face, because I had forgotten my hat. I had convinced Ma to cut my hair short, to be in style, the way the magazines showed, but it still blew in my face. Delphia said it made me look like a tomboy.
I had to do all the harnessing, because Frank really was too small to reach, but he did help by leading Meredith to the buggy and backing him into the shafts correctly.
By the time I had hooked up the shafts, Frank had climbed into the seat. I handed him the reins, glancing at his face. He looked worried and serious. Imitating Pa, he flicked the reins on Meredith's rump and clicked his tongue in the side of his mouth to make a chirking noise. Meredith started moving.
Taking a deep breath, I quickly mounted my horse, Dollie, who was still saddled from the morning's work. I had been riding through our herd, watching for sick animals, especially any that looked too weak to get to water by themselves.
Pa was shifting from one foot to the other by the back door when we brought up the horse and buggy. He was six feet tall, as straight as a wagon tongue, and lank in his bib overalls. He set his hat on his head, adjusted it for a stiff wind.
Pa had hurt his spine a few years back. A young team of mules he was training ran away, the wagon tongue rammed into a ditch, and catapulted him 60 feet ahead. He landed flat on his back, jarring loose several bones. He was now 57, half-crippled, and getting stiff the way old cowboys do.
Ma helped him get his boot up to the stirrup of the buggy. He lifted, while she pushed to get him into the seat. My second youngest brother, Hooks, jumped into the buggy and sat upright on the seat beside him.
Pa took the reins from Frank and chirked Meredith into motion. I rode "swing," beside and a little behind the buggy. The hot wind whipped sand up from our tracks.
* * *
When we got to the water tank, about a hundred cattle had drunk their fill and others were crowding forward. A woman, dressed in men's clothing, was letting her horse drink. She sat quietly in her saddle with a Winchester 94 resting casually across her lap and the pommel of her saddle.
"Elsa!" yelled Pa. "What's going on?"
"I'm watering my cattle," she yelled back. I realized then it was Elsa Marchbanks. I went to school with her daughter, Frieda. Elsa was as lank as Pa, but no more than average height.
"But that's my water!" Pa was standing up in the buggy now and gesturing with his hands.
"Water is water," she said, turning away to see how her cattle were doing. She had been a widow for several years; she rode, cussed, managed as well as any man.
"I don't hardly have enough for my own herd, Elsa," Pa yelled. "You can't just come in here and take my water. You're not our lying, thieving President, are you?"
"This is the only water within several miles," said Elsa. "And my cattle are ready to drop from thirst. I'm watering my herd here."
"Why don't you use your own water?" Awkwardly, Pa was trying to get down from the buggy, as if he could do more on the ground to stop the theft.
The last day of March and first day of April, 1916, it rained two days and nights and filled our tanks fourteen feet deep, but it had not rained in the sixteen months since. Our water supply had shrunk to a puddle, hardly three inches deep.
That first year of the drought, we gathered a pittance of the crops we expected. This year would be even leaner than the last, because there was nothing at all to harvest. Howard County had received less than half the normal rainfall, and some areas, like Vincent, had gotten none at all. Pa had borrowed money from Mr. Templeton, the banker in Big Spring, for us to live on until we could raise crops again.
"My tanks are all dry," Elsa said, reining her horse to approach Pa. "Windmills ain't pumping nothing but dust and wasp wings. We had a plague of grasshoppers over our way. They ate every stalk to the ground." She smiled at me, recognizing that I was a girl, out doing boy's work. Her hair was stuffed up into her hat. When she turned to look at Pa, a few sprigs of curly hair came out.
"Well, go rob somebody else," Pa went on. "The politicians and the banks have already robbed me! I don't have enough for my own use." He gave up trying to get out of the buggy without help and sat back heavily.
"That's the way it is all over the country, Jody. Nobody's got any water. I'm moving my herd out to the Pecos valley. I hear there's more water out there." Her cattle had pretty much finished drinking. Some of the cows were beginning to munch the tiny stubble of grass along the bank of the tank.
"Okay, boys," Elsa yelled, making a signal over her head with the rifle. "Head 'em up; move 'em out. Fix the fence behind you."
When her herd was back on the road and a couple of her cowboys had dismounted to put the fence back together, Elsa rode over to where Pa sat, powerless, in the buggy. She propped the butt of the Winchester 94 on her thigh, up near her pocket. The barrel was sticking up like a flagpole. The dry wind rippled her hat brim. A few sprigs of hair wrestled free.
"I'm sorry, Jody," she said, looking squarely at him. "This drought is making bad neighbors of us all. It hasn't rained a drop over my way in over seventeen months."
"Who ruined you, Elsa? You just ruined me."
"No, I didn't, Jody. One day's watering didn't break you." She made a vague gesture all around, taking in the wind, the blank sky, the empty horizon. "It was all these months and months without rain that ruined you. We'd better hope we don't get seven of these lean years."
"What 're we going to do, now, Elsa?"
"I don't know about you, but I'm moving my herd before they turn to dust and blow away. I figure I'll get to the rail junction at Coahoma on this watering, and there I'll buy these old cows a good feed and a watering. Then it's a train to Pecos. God! They'd better have water and grass out there!"
"I've heard it's better than here," Pa admitted.
She turned to go. Her herd was a hundred yards or so down the road. "I'm sorry, Jody. I'm sorry."
"Maybe I'll get a chance one of these days to return the favor," he yelled, as Elsa rode away, loping to catch up. "Maybe I'll get elected to public office and return the favor! Maybe I'll get elected to office and come collect your taxes!"
* * *
Pa sat and stared after Elsa Marchbanks until she and her herd were out of sight. Finally, Frank asked, "What 're we goin to do, Pa?"
Pa did not answer, but wheeled Meredith around almost in his own tracks and returned to the house.
I dismounted to help him get out of the buggy, guiding his boot to the buggy stirrup. His face was stiff and his body awkward. He stomped into the house without a word and went into the dinner room.
In a few moments, we all heard him tune his fiddle, then break into a contorted, angry version of "Devil's Dream."
I took the horses on to the barn, unhitched Meredith, and took off his harness. Then I took the saddle off Dollie, using the block and tackle my brother, Ben, had fixed for me.
Slowly, I put away the tack, pausing to savour the smell of leather, and rubbed down Dollie with an old potato sack, then Meredith. Dollie, especially, loved to have her back rubbed with something rough. I lingered, partly because I loved the feel and smell of horses and partly because I dreaded having to go to the house.
When I came out of the barn, the wind had lain for the day and, in the distance, doves were calling to one another. I heard Pa playing his fiddle, furiously.
I even heard our Edison telephone ring, but it was the Appleton's signal, not ours. Still, everyone on the party line would be listening in, except Pa. He never allowed us to eaves-drop. I could hear Pa's heel hitting the hollow, wooden floor even though I couldn't hear even half of the music.
Over to my left, in the cow lot, Aunt Mollie, Pa's sister, and Delphia were trudging toward the house with a bucket of fresh, warm milk in each hand. Somebody, probably me, would have to turn that darned old cream separator for an hour to get the cream to make butter. We sold butter and eggs in town to make kitchen money.
Over by the equipment pile, I saw my younger brother, Hooks, on a piece of machinery. He was pretending that something he had set up was a motorcycle, and he was speeding along the roads toward Big Spring.
Frank, my youngest brother, would be in the house, sitting in some quiet corner, peering out silently, inventing some machine to use on the farm.
My other brothers, Ben and Fred, were feeding the horses and mules over by the horse lot. They would probably be out until dark, because my older brothers were no longer at home to help.
Tom, my oldest surviving brother, had moved to Seagraves, out in the Texas Panhandle, and married Ola Hulsey, a school teacher there. He lived and farmed near Pa's cousin, Jim Whitaker. Fortunately for them, the drought wasn't so bad out there. Both of them made small crops last year and had moderately good gardens. Pa thought that being married and on his own was Tom's way of avoiding going to the war in France. Of course, if Tom had gone to the war, Pa would still not be happy.
John, the next son, had been conscripted a few months before he turned twenty-one-- which infuriated Pa. He thought the draft was unconstitutional. We had photos of John in his uniform in infantry training.
In the house, everyone tip-toed around and spoke in whispers, waiting for Pa to finish his fiddling in the dinner room. He sawed off chorus after chorus of "Sally Goodin," "Devil's Dream," "Tennessee Wagoner," "The Preacher's Lament," "Mason's Apron," "Johnny's Gone for a Soldier," and pieces we thought he was just making up as he went along.
As I had expected, I was "permitted" to turn the crank on the cream separator, while Aunt Mollie poured the half-buckets of milk into the upper hopper. Delphia went back to the cow-shed in the twilight to bring up the rest of the milk. She was already nineteen, so maybe she wasn't afraid of the dark.
Ben and Fred came in, dusting the chaff from their shoulders. Ma shuffled pots of food on the wood-burning stove and went now and then to peer into the dinner room, wondering when she could serve the meal that had been ready for almost an hour. It would probably be too dry to eat, I thought, so she'd better make some gravy to soften it up. Thank goodness, we had plenty of milk and flour to make white gravy with.
Aunt Mollie, then Ma, lit kerosene lamps. Softly, Delphia took one in and set it on the dinner table, so Pa could see-- if he needed to see. He acted like he didn't notice her, but reeled off another round of "Tennessee Saturday Night."
Delphia and I exchanged a knowing look when she came out. Pa usually worked things out in his head, then announced to the rest of us what we would do. I could pretty much guess what he was thinking about the drought.
He absolutely refused to apply for public relief, saying, "A hand-out is not a hand up. And who needs a hand-out, anyway? I've been able to take care of the family okay-- up till now.
"But this cursÚd drought! It changes all the rules. Hard work and clean living get you nowhere with the drought. No further than laziness and dissipation. Everyone is reduced to the same condition."
Now, as I looked into the dinner room, I saw his shoulders hunch up, as if asking, "Well, what can a person do?"
He had already sold most of the calves and as many of the yearlings as he dared.
I watched his fingers dancing on the fret-board like puppets that knew where to step. He watched his fingers, too. "Thank goodness," I could almost hear him saying to the puppets, "somebody in the world knows what his job is, and knows just how to do it. It's a rare man these days who knows as much."
He stopped fiddling in the midst of "Sally Goodin" and held the bow in the air over the strings, staring west, past his fingers.
He held the pose for a long moment, like a statue, then broke into another rendition of "Sally Goodin," and even we people waiting in the kitchen could hear that something was different. There was a lightness in the touch, a lilt in the melody, a decision in the bow.
When he finished the tune, he lay his fiddle in its case and loosened the hair in his bow. He looked up at the family, assembled at the kitchen door and spilling into the dinner room. Ma was touching her lips in worry.
"We're going to have to go west," he announced. "This farm can't support the stock that is on it. We'll rig a wagon with a chuckbox, and Hooks and I will take care of it. Ben, Fred, and Sallie will be our trail drivers, and John, if he can come home on furlough. The boys and I 'll go west, out toward Seagraves, looking for grass and water."
"Not toward Pecos?" I asked.
"No," he said. "In their letters, Tom and Cousin Jim say things out there are not as bad as here. We'll give that a try.""
He pushed himself up with the edge of the table, moving his fiddle and its case so the dinner could be served. The women all hesitated a moment, as if they didn't know what to do next.
"With the horses and cattle gone, the rest of you can make out okay here," Pa went on. "We'll have to get house-water from the Barr's windmill or the Joiners'. This place will have to take care of you, the milk cows and calves, and a few head of stock till it rains again."
Ma and Aunt Mollie looked blankly at each other, wondering, I suppose, how they would manage without a man on the farm. "Go west?" asked Ma, as if she were trying to understand the words. Grandmother Mary-Adeline held her hands in front of her waist and nodded her head, as if she were agreeing with something.
"Can I go, too, Pa?" asked Frank, hitching up his overalls, which were too short and showed his dirty, bare feet. "Can I? Hunh?"
"Think you're big enough, do you?" He tousled Frank's hair.
Frank nodded eagerly.
"Well, maybe-- for a part of the time anyway," said Pa. "We're all going to need as much energy as you think you got."
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Chapter 2. Pushing the String
I took off my hat and wiped my forehead with my sleeve. It came away muddy, because I had been sweating and riding in the cloud of dust at the rear of the herd. I pulled down the neckerchief I wore as a dust mask, coughed, and spat out a wad of muddy phlegm. I had the urge to turn around and go home. I'd tell them I couldn't stand the dirt, the heat, the exhaustion, the anxiety of not knowing what to do, and the doubt that I could do it. I wasn't supposed to be on a trail drive. I was a girl.
It was only mid-morning, but I wished for a little bit of afternoon breeze; even a scorching wind would be better than none at all. At least, it would evaporate my sweat and cool me a little that way. I fanned my face and neck with the brim of my hat. It felt good, but the top of my head was beginning to bake; so I put the neckerchief over my mouth again and my hat back on my head. My hair wasn't quite long enough to keep my neck from burning. Nothing I was doing seemed to turn out right.
In the distance, heat waves shimmered, and mirages winked at me, off and on, off and on, like clear, clean puddles three or four feet above the stark, level plain. Could the cattle see the mirages, too? They didn't act like they were fooled by these false invitations. Their constant bawling to find one another sounded like protests against the trail drive. I didn't have a way of bawling, and no one would hear me if I did.
Our 102 cattle were strung out for a quarter of a mile between the fences on either side of the road. They weren't moving very fast nor very willingly. They were pretty tired and probably hungry, and protesting steadily.
Ben and John -- John had come home in his army uniform, in the midst of our preparations. He had a month off, at the end of his training. Everyone had to admire his uniform, get out the Kodak and take a picture or two, catch up on their visiting. But, soon, John changed into his bib overalls and started working with the other boys.
Ben and John were half way toward the head of the herd, yelling and popping their ropes at the old cows to keep them moving. Fred was behind us all with the fourteen horses and two extra teams of mules. The yearling horses were doing all right, but the four and six month old horse colts were listlessly plodding along at their mothers' haunches.
Every time the herd paused in the lane, the colts would eagerly nurse for a few minutes, then flop down right in the middle of the road for a nap. Fred had dismounted twice to get them up and moving again. The mule colts were like the jackass which Pa kept to breed mares; no trouble at all-- they would even eat the browse off bushes.
I was like the horse colts; I needed some food and a quick nap. I needed time to cough all the dust out of my throat. My butt needed a rest. Even though I was used to riding a lot, my haunches felt flat and tired. This constant sitting in the saddle did that.
Usually, I would have to dismount to open a gate, fix a fence, or do something, so my butt didn't get so tired. My knees and thighs were beginning to feel cramped, too. I hoped Pa would let the herd stop for a good rest pretty soon. I could use a stretch and a time out of the saddle. And some food; I felt like my belly was buckled to my backbone.
* * *
Presently, Ben came back to the tail of the herd. Even before he got to where I was, I could see that his scars were almost glowing, they were so pink, and the black salve he used to soften them had worn off. He had long since grown used to the family, but among outsiders, even those who knew the family pretty well, he was shy and tended to keep his face averted. Poor Ben. Poor shy, gentle, good-hearted Benton, named for Pa's grand-uncle, Eli Benton, who was a Confederate General during the Civil War.
When Ben was a baby in Tennessee, Ma had placed him in a rocking chair in front of the fireplace. She set four-year-old John to watch him and rock the chair a little if Ben whimpered. John rocked the chair too hard and tumbled Ben out into the fire. He was burned all over, but especially on the face and arms. Parts of both nostrils were burned away, the left side of his smile, a good bit of his left cheek and eyelid.
Grandmother Mary-Adeline and Aunt Mollie had bathed him in butter and swaddled him in cheesecloth, expecting him to die. But he survived, with a disfigured face, one hand twisted, and scars all over his body. As he let his sorrel gelding fall in beside Dollie, I lay my hand on his shoulder a moment to tell him I loved him.
Ben turned and beamed his one-sided grin. "You go up to the point of the herd for a while," he said. "I'll work drag back here and eat the dust."
"I'm okay," I said. It was a very appealing idea, but I didn't want to seem like a sissy. "I can do what I'm supposed to do." I wanted to protect Ben. I wanted to do his work, to take the sun that shone on his face, to keep the dirt and sweat out of the cracks in his scars.
"That's just it," said Ben. "We're supposed to take turns at the dirty work, as well as the easy stuff. Go on up there and catch your breath." Like a robber in a movie, he pulled the neckerchief up over his mouth and face again, both to filter out the dust and keep the sun off his burn scars. His scars would crack and bleed if they got too much sun.
"Why don't you go and make the point speed up a little? I'm fine back here."
He doubled a short length of his rope, like a quirt, and flicked Dollie's rump, making her jump a little. "Go on, now," he said, trying to sound like Aunt Mollie when she was disciplining one of us children. "You get on up there and do what you're supposed to do. And watch out for rattlesnakes."
I smiled at his imitation of Aunt Mollie and touched his shoulder in a tiny hug.
"And tell Pa," Ben added, "that the cows need a little rest."
* * *
I rode forward and caught up with the lead steer. He was huge-- a lot bigger than the other steers, and about eight or ten years old. When he was out front, the cows near him acted calm and followed him, like they thought he knew what he was supposed to do. They depended on him to know what was next, to know what the dangers ahead were and how to avoid them. He acted like he was not scared of anything. I could see now why Pa kept him around.
Without him, driving a herd would be like trying to push a limp string. With him in the lead, the cattle followed as if they were being pulled along.
I rode over toward the chuck wagon, which was off to one side of the point of the herd. I have to admit, it looked pretty unusual. Before we left home, Pa had moved the wagon up close to the house, and the boys nearly filled it with boxes and crates of clothing and food, as well as bags of beans, flour, salt, everything we would need.
When I tried to carry a sack of flour to the wagon, the slick flour-dust on the sack made me lose my grip and the sack started sliding down my leg toward the ground. Fred came along just in time and hefted the flour onto his own shoulder. He didn't say anything to make me feel bad. I had plenty of that in my own mind.
Ma had the boys lay an extra springs and mattress on top of the supplies in the wagon for Pa. Someone stretched the patched wagon sheet over the hoops and tied it down. It bulged and billowed in the wind, like a sail. I could see why the pioneers crossing the country had called them Prairie Schooners.
In the forge, Ben and Fred fashioned iron straps to bind wooden, thirty-gallon oak barrels on each side of the wagon bed, then filled them with fresh water at the windmill. I tried to help by carrying buckets, but I wasn't tall enough to pour the water into the barrels. Neither of the boys said "get out of the way," but I could hear myself saying it.
On one side of the wagon, the boys attached a food safe-- a box of shelves, covered with two layers of chicken wire, sandwiched around burlap and positioned so that the water that sloshed out of the wooden barrel would wet the burlap. As the water evaporated, the butter and other foods in the safe would be cooled a little.
They disconnected the forge blower on its tripod and set it in the wagon, then collected enough stove pipe to make an emergency fire-box in the sand if we had to use it.
Wherever they could find a space, Ben, Fred, and John strapped on tools they thought we might need: shovels, axes, hammers, pry-bars, buckets, kerosene lanterns, a number-two galvanized tub, a chicken-wire rack to carry firewood, iron grates to put over a camp fire, a dutch oven for cooking biscuits or stews. When they were loading the kitchen stuff, I moved up close and asked, "What can I do to help?"
"It's okay, Sis," said Fred. "We've got it done."
When I caught up with the wagon, the mules were plodding along as usual, not showing any energy, but not showing any exhaustion either, just their slow, deliberate, constant way of covering ground. I'd have to learn to act like a mule, or a lead steer. Or maybe a combination of them. Pa seemed to have learned that ages ago.
Old Susie, our Jersey milk cow, was tethered with a halter to the back of the wagon and strolled as listlessly as the mules. That was me; I was being dragged along, whether I wanted to go or not. I'd have to learn to like it.
Pa sat upright on the wagon seat, his hat squarely on his head, the reins in one hand, The Appeal to Reason in the other. He had been reading. Just about everywhere he went, Pa stuffed The Appeal to Reason in the bib-pocket of his overalls. It was his favorite political tabloid, and he was always ready, at every fence post, to get into a political discussion.
We children had heard his tirades often enough, so he usually didn't preach to us. But if he caught an adult he could talk to, he wanted to be already wound up. "Damned Catholics are at it again," he said, slapping his tabloid against his knee. "Kaiser Wilson's making it easier and easier on the money interests."
The bankers, stock-brokers, mortgage lenders were all Catholics, or so The Appeal to Reason told him. We didn't know any Catholics in Vincent; I didn't even know what one looked like.
Frank sat bare-headed on the seat beside him, his eyes wide with adventure and new experience.
"Those old cows are getting pretty tired, Pa," I said. "Couldn't we stop and let them rest a while?"
"Yes," he admitted, folding the tabloid and stuffing it into his bib pocket. "We'll have to, pretty soon. I'd like to find a place where we could get them off the road."
"Where's Hooks?" I asked.
"He's over in back, taking a nap."
Hooks and Frank had begged to be allowed to sleep in the wagon and were permitted to-- "To guard the beans," Pa said. I could hear them giggling and scuffling, long into the night. Aunt Mollie had gone out to scold them; told them to get to sleep, because everyone was going to be on the road by five a.m.; but they still giggled for hours with the excitement.
"Seems these young wranglers were up half of the night," Pa said, "playing, instead of sleeping."
"We weren't, either," said Frank. "It's just that Hooks is lazy."
"Well," I said. "I slept pretty well, I think, but I sure could use a nap. The colts are falling asleep every time they get a chance to flop down in the road. And some of the weaker cows look like they're about to drop dead." I had in mind one older Brindled cow whose hocks knocked together as she walked. I felt like my ankles would knock together if I tried to walk.
"We'll stop pretty soon," Pa repeated.
I went back to encourage the lead steer to walk faster.
Last night, I went to bed early, as I was told, but I couldn't sleep. It wasn't the heat, because the wind had cooled off toward evening and wafted the window curtain pleasantly. Two Mocking Birds were dueling with their songs, each trying to outdo the other. A few crickets chirped, and I could hear a single coyote, yipping in the distance.
I felt valuable, then, and grown-up-- a cow-hand riding herd on the trail. I could see myself in a cloud of dust, like a cowboy in an old book, pulling up my neckerchief to make a dust mask and yelling "Yippee oh aye tie yay" to keep the cattle moving.
As my thoughts drifted last night, my imagination built images. The herd came to a river where the water was clear and sweet. Lush grass grew on the bottoms, where a few deer were already grazing among the cattle. There was just enough wind to stir the air, which tasted cool and moist when I breathed deeply. The smell of beans and bacon and cornbread beckoned from the chuck wagon. And when I lay down to sleep, there would be a million stars, each one winking at me-- at me alone, as if each one knew me and knew how much work I could do.
The prairie ahead was shimmering with heat waves and mirages. A hot, constant wind blew in my face, drying my eyes and nostrils. Trail driving wasn't anything like I had dreamed it would be.
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