The Homestead: Part Ten

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.

31 thoughts on “The Homestead: Part Ten

  1. In the diary kept by my great great grandmother in Minnesota in the 1860’s she writes scornfully of Indians in the same way. I think you have managed to get into the voice of Phineas in a very realistic way without anachronistic editing to make his character more palatable in 2020.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. (1) Jessie and Phin “saw armed men on horses.” Those with an especially long arm also wore badges. “The long arm of the law,” explained Jessie.
    (2a) Bad citation: “You will see their mud and grass huts outside town. The Indians are particularly proud of the one they call Taj Mahal.”
    (2b) Indians liked horses, just not the Iron Horse.
    (2c) Early on, Indians rode horses. Later they rode Indian motorcycles.
    (2d) “Well, they sat like that for what seemed like an awful long time.” The Indians were trying to start a fire to make smoke signals. The chief Indian scout was overhead to say: “We’re in the Flint Hills, Kiowasaki. Go find some flint, will ya? And ditch that motorcycle. It’s the wrong brand!”
    (3) Buffalo hunters soon learned that you can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd.
    (4) Ramshackle affairs were common in Kansas. Had the settlers spent more time and money on construction, husbands could have cheated on their wives in finer homes.
    (5) Bad citation: “Get on the Kansas Turnpike, and just keep heading south, past anything roped off or fenced. Be sure you have exact change for the toll booth.”
    (6) One day, Phin swam in the creek. An Indian mistook him for a shark.
    (7) Bad citation: “Looked like I was living in Texas now, some ten miles south of a place called Wichita Falls.” Seems they drove a bit too far south of Topeka…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s a Roger Miller song (“You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd”), which includes these lines:
        You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd
        You can’t take a shower in a parakeet cage
        You can’t change film with a kid on your back
        You can’t drive around with a tiger in your car
        You can’t go fishin’ in a watermelon patch

        Liked by 1 person

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