This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 885 words.
Losing the ox was a blow, but it meant we could push the horses faster. Even so, we had to be careful, as the trail had seen some action during the war, and some of the bridges across dry gullies and streams were still down. Daddy decided to avoid Springfield, and stayed south of that city on the plateau, still heading west for the Kansas Border. The journey had taken its toll on the wagon though. We had need of some new iron rims for the wheels, and daddy was almost out of grease for them too. Ethel was limping on and off, and there was nothing to be done but to find a blacksmith and get the horses shoed.
After long days of pushing across country, I was geting bored as hell too. We didn’t see many other people by staying off the main trail as much as we did, and daddy wasn’t much for idle chatter. On the map was a town called Carthage, and daddy was making for that place. He felt sure there would be a blacksmith there, and the chance to stock up on goods too. But we were still some ways off Carthage when we happened across what seemed to be a stockade up ahead. As we got closer, daddy said it looked like an old trading post. The sound of banging metal caught his attention, and he pulled off the trail and went through the the gap where big gates had probably once blocked the way.
Inside, there was a big general store, and a blacksmith working his forge under a wide canvas awning. Next to the store was a whiskey saloon, little more than a big wooden box of a building, with an old man sitting in a rocking chair out front. Daddy drove over to the burly blacksmith and asked if he could do what was needed with the horses and wheels. He nodded. “Get to you in a bit, mister. But I’ll need some help with the lever to get the wheels off the ground”. While we waited, we looked around the store. Daddy bought some of the food stuff we needed, as well as two bottles of good whiskey. And he bought me a straw hat too. The wool cap that momma had made me was getting too hot in the summer weather.
People were coming and going on horses and in carts too, but nobody paid us much mind. It took the rest of the day to get the work done on the wheels and horses, and the blacksmith started to get real chatty. “So you were headed for Carthage? That’s no good, mister. That town got tore up by the rebs during the war, almost nothing left of it. They started building again in places, but I reckon it’s gonna take years. Besides, ain’t no place near there to cross the Missouri. You gotta go north, for the steamboat. Forty miles, maybe more”. Daddy showed him the map, and he pointed at a spot well north of Carthage. “About there should do.” After daddy paid the man, we drove out, and camped further up the trail. Daddy said he didn’t want our goods to be a temptation to anyone spending the night in that other place.
It was further than the man had said, and took the rest of the week to get to the ferry crossing. Daddy had to ask a bunch of people along the way, but when we started to get stalled on the trail behind bigger wagons and groups of people on foot, it was obvious that we were heading the right way. The steamboat was big, with paddle wheels at the sides. But it wasn’t as big as the one we had used to cross the Mississippi. Daddy left me with the wagon, and walked past the line waiting to get on. He came back with a ticket, and told me it would be at least three or four hours before our turn. I watched the steamboat go back and forth that morning, and it seemed to not be troubled in the least by that fast river. We took the chance to feed and water the horses while we waited, and ignored the women walking up and down the line trying to sell us things. Including their own favours.
When we got almost to the front, one of the ferrymen said we should fold the canvas top down, and make sure to chock the wheels once we got up the ramp. He said we should stay with the wagon too, so the horses didn’t get spooked. Daddy had to urge the mares some to get them to pull us up the wide wooden ramp. But we ended up next to an open wagon full of lumber, right at the back of the boat. The trip across felt really fast, even quicker than when I had watched from the riverbank. Getting our wagon off wasn’t as easy as getting on. The horses started to back up, but didn’t like the weight of the wagon pulling them down the sloping ramp. It took some coaxing and calming before we got onto the muddy bank. I turned to daddy. “Are we in Kansas now?
He grinned, and shook his head. “We sure are”.