This is the tenth part of a fiction serial, in 720 words.
Outside Topeka, we passed by the railroad camp. It was alive with activity, wagons coming and going, and many tents set out in rows. Along the lines, we saw armed men on horses, holding their rifles ready to use. I was about to ask daddy why they had so many guards, when the reason dropped into my brain. Injuns. They didn’t like the railroad. Not only was it running across territory they considered to be theirs, the need to feed all the men working on it meant that the buffalo herds were being hunted real heavy like.
We carried on in a westerly direction for a day or two, then headed south until we found the bank of the Arkansas River. On the third day, we thought we might see some kind of town ahead, but there was nothing. As we settled down to camp in the late afternoon, a group of men on horseback appeared on the rise to our left. Daddy raised a hand, squinting, but my young eyes could see better. They were injuns, sure enough, and I counted seven. One was wearing a Yankee uniform jacket and cap, but the third one in the line was carrying some kind of lance. I spoke real quiet. “Them’s injuns, daddy”. He stayed still. “Don’t do nothing, Phin. If they ride on down, just stay calm”.
Well, they sat like that for what seemed like an awful long time. Then they just turned their horses, and were gone. I was nervy. “Do you think we should press on, daddy?” He shook his head. “Reckon if they want us, they would find us”. I couldn’t settle well that night, feeling jumpy at every sound, and sure those injuns would come and cut our throats in the night, and steal Ethel and Mary. Daddy had to shake me at first light. “Up you get boy, let’s get going before it gets too hot”.
Just after midday, we saw signs of life up ahead; hugging the bank of the river, and extending a ways inland across the trail too. Big tents, smoke from fires, and small boats on the river. As we got closer, some wooden buildings could be seen, mostly ramshackle affairs. Daddy turned to me. “This must be what the reverend spoke of. Let’s go on in and see what it’s like”.
The main building was a large trading post. It had a loading bay, and livery stables, as well as a busy blacksmith working outside. There were lots of tame-looking injuns around, as well as a few negroes who seemed to be working hard. The tents seem to mostly house settler families, and there was some sign of them growing stuff around too. But the biggest two tents were being used as a whiskey saloon, and a gambling house.
People paid no mind to us as we drove in. As an affable-looking man in a plaid shirt walked past the wagon, daddy called out to him. “Say mister, who do we see about buying land here?” The man smiled and shook his head. “Buying land? Just keep heading south, past anything roped off or fenced. Ten, maybe twelve miles, then you can pick anywhere you like”.
Daddy seemed perplexed. “What about the injuns though? They trouble?” He shook his head in reply. “Not since Chisholm built this here trading post. Now they get anything they need by trading with him. You will see their mud and grass huts outside town. Don’t reckon they will bother you none, mister”. Daddy touched his hat to thank him, and we carried on driving.
As dusk approached, daddy followed a small creek off to the left, and discovered a good clearing surrounded by trees. “This looks as good a place as any, Phin. Let’s get settled for the night, and tomorrow I’m gonna rope off some land”.
It all seemed too easy, to my young mind. Didn’t seem to me to be any reason why someone couldn’t just come along, cut down our ropes, and drive us off. But I knew better than to be contrary, and did as he bidded.
When I woke up the next morning, daddy was already unloading tools from the wagon.
Looked like I was living in Kansas now, some ten miles south of a place called Wichita.