Into the Great Unknown: The Final Chapter
All Things Must Come to an End
I feel bad for the characters in this series of short stories. They deserved better by me. They really deserved a book, but I doubt that will happen.
Thanks for hanging with me on this journey. Joshua and Laura thank you as well.
Their new home is right around the next bend, so let’s watch and listen.
Fourteen Straight Days
Fourteen straight days of it.
Mud up to our knees. Trees blotting out what light there was. Brush and vines clinging to us, hindering us, making it damned near impossible to move forward, the trail blocked by fallen trees, our clothes soaked, no chance of drying them, all of us shivering, me feeling just horrible for putting my family through the ordeal, wondering if we could survive the trip, knowing we had to survive the trip, no way, after two-thousand miles, we were dying this close to the end.
The trail followed a river for awhile, raging black water, then the river was gone, small streams at times, more raging water, some overflowing their banks, the ground saturated, the sky pressing down, making it impossible to tell where sky began, a constant gray blanket, good God almighty, would the rain ever stop, please dear God, deliver my children to safety, and through it all Laura by my side, encouraging me, telling me we would make it, our children deserved a better life, she said, she just knew this was the right decision, she said, and when the log walls of the fort came into view it was Laura who first hollered in joy and Laura who first cried, so great was her relief.
William Tomie was his name, the manager of Fort Nisqually, a gentle man who welcomed us, told us he was expecting us, and apologized for the weather, as though it was his fault the rains were relentless.
“Your land isn’t far from here, folks, but you’re in no shape to head to it now. We have room for your families here at the fort. Please, be our guests for a few days, dry out and eat well. Once you are rested and in good spirits, you can go out to your new property and begin building a shelter for the winter. I can even spare a few men to go with you and help you in that endeavor. Now, if there is nothing else, my second-in-charge, Mister McAllister, will show you to your lodgings.”
I remember very little of that first night at Nisqually. The warmth of the fire, the satisfaction of a cooked meal, stew and venison, and the inviting cot sent me off to sleep shortly after we arrived. When we awoke ten hours later we found Tomie in the trading post store. There was all manner of pelts lining the walls of the post along with barrels of cooking necessities. Tomie assured us that everything we would need for the winter would be available to us.
“There’s still time to stock up on game before winter settles in, and you’ll find the local tribes friendly and willing to help. Fish are plentiful in these parts, and the Indians will show you how to smoke it so it keeps over winter. You’ll be fine, just fine, once we get those shelters built for your families. Good thing you got here when you did, though. Time is running out on the decent weather.”
I looked out the window of the post store at the incessant rain. I wondered what qualified as indecent weather.
“We appreciate the welcoming, Mister Tolmie,” I told him. “Your manner of kindness and gentility are unexpected, but we’re very grateful.”
“Think nothing of it, folks! We are all in this together, according to my way of thinking. We help you, you help us, and sooner, rather than later, this country will be conquered and fit for others to settle down in. Schools, churches, towns, that’s our goal and that, by God, is what we’ll have here on the Puget Sound. Will it be England’s land, or the United States? I don’t concern myself with those things, and neither should you. Out here in the wilderness, we are all from the same country.”
And so It Was
Three days later we were standing on our own land, six-hundred and forty-acres with two streams flowing through it, and a natural pasture on the northeast corner of it. We chose high ground for our cabin. Men from the fort helped us cut down fir trees, cut off the limbs, trim them down to twelve foot logs, and stack them one on top of the other, six high, for that first cabin. Within a week we had it built. It weren’t much to look at but it was dry and warm thanks to a cooking stove we purchased from the fort. By the end of the next week we had George’s cabin built on the property next to ours, and a road cleared from his cabin to ours.
The Indians were, in fact, friendly, eager to teach us how to smoke fish and gather roots and berries. I even shot my first deer, a fine buck. Days consisted of clearing land for planting the following spring, dawn to dusk, one tree after another, cut them down, buck them, and haul them away, back-breaking work for sure, and the blasted stumps, those were bastards, testing my patience and endurance, with God as my witness this country will test a man’s mettle and more often than not find him lacking.
A Prayer of Thanks
We all gathered at the fort in early November for a meal of thanks. It was a rare day of sunshine, the air brittle with the fickle kiss of winter upon it. The local tribal leaders were present. All told we probably had thirty people at the meal, a grand occasion for sure, much laughter, long discussions about the upcoming winter, and plans for the spring. For one day we all forgot where we were, the sacrifices which had been made, the losses suffered, and found gratitude in the closeness of fellow survivors.
There was talk of a school opening the following summer. Several mills had been opened further north, and that prompted talk of starting regular shipments of lumber to San Francisco and other points south, but mostly we just enjoyed the company of each other and cemented bonds forged by commonality.
“It’s a hard land, Joshua,” Laura said at one point.
“It is that, wife, but not so hard as to defeat us.”
She looked around the large table at the strange gathering.
“This time last year we were with family enjoying a fine harvest on the farm, surrounded by love and comfort.”
I reached over, squeezed her hand, and smiled.
“It would seem, then, that not much has changed, Laura.”
Thanks so Much for Following Along
I have no frame of reference to help me understand what the early settlers went through to settle this land we now call the Pacific Northwest. The daily struggles to simply survive were monumental. Building a home without modern machinery is something I can’t fathom. Trusting in complete strangers for protection is something I find hard to grasp. Fear must have been a constant companion. Uncertainty and doubt were most definitely daily bedfellows.
Me? I get pissed when the cable goes out and I miss The Voice!
Thanks for joining Laura and Joshua on their journey!
2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)