This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 845 words.
My daddy was as good as his word. While the horses grazed in the clearing, he started to pace out a good distance, and strung rope between some small wooden marker posts. They extended along the creek, and well into the wooded areas too. He had told me to search around for firewood while he was busy, and after scouting round the land past the clearing, I had to admit he had picked a right nice place. That night around the fire, he smoked his pipe and told me his plans.
“First off, we need to make us a smokestack, a chimney of some kind. No point building a homestead first, then trying to add that later. We can make some mud bricks, and set them out to dry before Fall. You can start to cut down some of the small trees and strip the branches. I will show you how to pick ones that ain’t too heavy to move after. Meantime, I reckon we ought to go back into the settlement, and try to buy us one of them old army tents. Can’t be living under the wagon all the time it takes to build our new home”.
Despite the time of year, the season hadn’t changed much at all, and it was sure a lot warmer than it would have been back home. I was wondering if the Kansas winter to come might be as hard as some in Virginia. I didn’t like the idea of sleeping in a tent in the snow, and hoped it wouldn’t take my daddy too long to get building our cabin. Before we left for the settlement, we had to pack everything back into the wagon. Daddy wouldn’t chance losing anything he left just lying around.
It was pretty quiet there that morning. Just as we arrived, a cavalry patrol was leaving, and I could see their pennant bobbing around up ahead, obscured by the dust kicked up by their mounts. Daddy went into the trading post to ask about the tent, so I had to stay with the wagon. I was daydreaming, when a familiar voice made me jump and turn around. “Young Fuller? It’s you, I’m sure”. I saw the gray hat with the big feather, but I already knew it was Delacroix. His voice was as gentle and friendly as before. “So you found your way to Wichita? Are you pressing on, or settling here?” I looked around, but there was no sign of daddy. Delacroix got down off his horse, and tied it to the wagon.
“Reckon we are settling here, sir. Daddy roped off some land some ten miles south, and aims to build a homestead there”. He nodded, and flashed a big smile. I don’t know why I said it, but I suddenly felt the need to ask someone. “How come we can do that, Mister Delacroix? What’s to stop us getting run off, or someone else saying we are on their land?” I hadn’t wanted to ask daddy, but had a notion this fella would know. All I understood about land was that we had owned the small farm in Virginia, and had papers saying so. The handsome man chuckled. “Why the Homestead Act, young man. Your daddy must know about that”. I had never heard that mentioned by my daddy, so decided to speak up. “Could you tell my daddy about that, sir? I don’t reckon he knows”.
Not long after, daddy appeared from the side of the trading post, followed by two men carrying a big heavy canvas tent, folded in a roll. He was holding a wooden box full of pegs and ties. He nodded at Delacroix, probably still vexed that the man had told us to head to Lawrence. “Mister Delacroix, we meet again sir”. After the men loaded the tent in the back, and daddy put the box in with it, Delacroix walked over and nodded at the whiskey saloon tent. “What say you and I go and have a drink, Jessie? Your boy tells me you need to hear about the Homestead Act”. I chipped in, enthusiastically. “You go, daddy, I am fine here with our wagon”. I wanted to know.
They were in there for a good while, and daddy came out alone, smelling of whiskey, and smiling. On the way back, he told me what Delacroix had said. “Seems like Abe Lincoln made a new law, back in sixty-two. Any settler can claim one hundred and sixty acres, free and clear. You have to live on the land, and make it good for farming, or other uses. Once you have been there for five years or before if you want, you have to register the land, and you get a deed. Anyone over twenty-one can do it, even women and negroes who were slaves There’s a big catch though. It don’t apply to anyone who fought for the Confederates. So if anyone asks, I never joined up, never left the farm. Y’hear?” I nodded.
Seemed like the man in the plaid shirt had been right all along.