Prologue: This essay is a chapter from an historical novel I am writing about the Oregon Trail. The essay was inspired by the book and passions of Captain John Stedman (1744-1797). He was part of a volunteer expeditionary force sent to Surinam from Holland; the expedition was an attempt to suppress a mulatto uprising, an uprising that was never quelled, his personal deployment spanned five years. Captain Stedman’s entries and drawings provided the basis for the publication, ‘Narrative of a Five Years’ in 1796. It recorded the expedition’s campaigns against the Black Slaves who were in revolt against their Slave masters in Guiana, off the Atlantic coast of South America.
The book and its art work became an inspiration for abolitionists and helped hasten the end of slavery in most of the world. Unfortunately, slavery is still a part of the culture in several countries in the Middle East; although, in modern times it exists not for labor, but almost exclusively for sexual gratification. Slavery was outlawed in Holland and Surinam in 1863: A year after Lincoln’s initial Executive Order giving slaves the right to a free living within the states involved in the rebellion. On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued another Executive Order giving slaves their freedom within the Confederacy, but not within the territories.
Captain Stedman found himself in the unique, but not unusual predicament of falling in love with a beautiful slave, a Quadroon, the product of the union of a white and a Mulatto, named Joanna. Stedman could not afford to buy her freedom and eventually he left Surinam without his true love. He left her with his son, and later married another woman in Europe. Eventually, his true love was freed but died early in life; Joanna’s and Captain Stedman’s son was accepted and welcomed by his new wife in Europe, and raised to adulthood by Stedman and his wife in Europe.
Stedman had strong feelings against the casual application of torture for slaves and believed there should be racial equality. A few of his prints will be dispersed throughout this article. If you have an appreciation of art, you may recognize some of the drawings and prints.
“Till this time, I had been chiefly Joanna’s friend; but now I began to feel that I was her captive. I renewed my wild proposals of purchasing, educating, and transporting her to Europe; but though these offers were made with the most perfect sincerity, she once more rejected them, with the following humble declaration:
Joanna:’I am born a low, contemptible slave. Were you to treat me with too much attention, you must degrade yourself with all your friends and relations. The purchase of my freedom is apparently impossible; it certainly will prove difficult and expensive. Yet though I am a slave, I hope I have a soul not inferior to Europeans. I do not blush to avow the great regard I have for one, who has distinguished me so much above others of my unhappy birth. You have, sir, pitied me; and now, independent of every other thought, I have pride in throwing myself at your feet, till fate shall part us, or my conduct become such as to give you cause to banish me from your presence.’
Captain Stedman: She uttered this with a timid, downcast look, and the tears fell fast upon her heaving bosom, while she held her companion by the hand. From that moment this excellent creature was mine; nor had I ever any cause to repent of the step I had taken.”
Captain Stedman and Joanna represent one of the common tragedies that have afflicted man since he first tried to rise above barbarism, falling in love in a situation that can only end in tragedy.
On the banks of the Kentucky River, pre-Civil War
Thaddeus and Orville Husk were brothers and best friends, Thaddeus was nineteen and Orville was seventeen. They were sired by Breaker Husk, a man who broke horses and women’s hearts with ease. Their mother, Louisa, had died of broken dreams a few years earlier and their father had been shot and killed by a jealous husband, two months earlier. They inherited a sixty acre tobacco and corn farm on the banks of the Kentucky River, a piece of ground that was in the process of being foreclosed on. The tobacco was a cash crop and the corn was used for making whiskey. Breaker Husk was said to make the best Kentucky Bourbon in the world, but the world was a myopic place for the boys, they had never been farther than Lexington. Breaker had been a rounder his whole life; he had made enough money to be wealthy, but gambling, drinking, and whores had consumed all the money he earned from the tobacco, horses, and whiskey.
Their mother was considered the most beautiful woman in Kentucky, but as often happens with women who can choose among many impassioned suitors, they often choose the worst of the lot. Breaker was fun and charming to be around and he rode horses with daring and a special God given talent; however, when men of talent are prone to gambling and excessive drinking, they invariably destroy not only themselves, but those they love as well.
Louisa and Breaker were given the farm, free and clear, by her parents, and it only took Breaker twelve years to have the farm so heavily mortgaged, they could never pay it off and yet, there was never enough money for his family.
Like many men who are prisoners of their own passions, they often pay for their indiscretions with their life.
The boys heard vague stories of how George Washington, at the insistence of Northeastern distillers who became increasingly concerned with the ever improving whiskey being packed in on horses and mules from the western frontier, had started the Whiskey War to collect revenue taxes on the shine, causing their forefathers to leave the rich farmlands of Ohio and head for the limestone rich waters of Kanetuckee and Tennessee. Like many unforeseen circumstances that accompany tyrannical and biased legislation and politics, the areas of kentucky and Tennessee produced a far superior product because of the limestone rich water.
It was all precipitated by a twist of fate; the moonshiners couldn’t get their grain up stream on the Ohio because the flatboats and keelboats were without power. They could ride the drift boats downstream and leave their families defenseless to the savages on the frontier and sell their goods in St Louis, Vicksburg, Natchez, or New Orleans. Hopefully, they would make enough money to buy a horse or mule and ride it back by following one of the trails of the Natchez Trace; unfortunately, the Natchez Trace was so dangerous to travel, because of bands of cut throat brigands, it wasn’t practical to float down stream, unless you planned to stay downstream. But the resourceful Scots and Irish weren’t ones to sit idle and watch their grain rot; they fermented the grains and distilled the mash to make fine sipping whiskey that could be transported to the Eastern Markets by pack horse and mule.
When their frontier stills began to eat into the profits of the major spirit distillers, who claimed these backwoods distillers weren’t paying their fair share of the whiskey tax, they demanded Georg Washington descend on these interlopers and collect the Whiskey tax. The general succeeded in driving the moonshiners deep into the wilderness of Kaintuckee and Tennessee, where they found they could distill a far better product without interference from revenuers and haul their goods through the Cumberland Gap, a safer and easier route to the more lucrative markets of the Eastern Seaboard. Thus the world famous whiskey of Kentucky and Tennessee was born.
Tobacco was a good cash crop, but it was labor intensive. Uncle Cable, a slave that was allowed to hire out his services with a third share of his wages going to his master and owner, was a favorite of the boys, but he was the one with the necessary skills for getting the tobacco ready for market. He also helped the boys with the still, he had often covered for Breaker if had been tasting the product a little too aggressively.
Uncle Cable was born and raised in Virginia and had been brought down the Ohio on a flatboat and had seen many wondrous sights. His stories about rich plantations and the beautiful women in brightly colored fancy dresses had the boys spellbound and unable to sleep on many occasions.
The boys were facing foreclosure, thus their plan to recoup their rightful inheritance consisted of building a flatboat in a thicket on the bank of the river and to leave Kentucky with several barrels of whiskey and this year’s tobacco crop. It was built without plans and measured forty feet long and twenty feet wide, the sides were three feet high. There was an eight by twelve cabin in the center with three bunks built in a vertical stack. There was a small cookstove and a table. It was built on log rails angled downward to facilitate the launching of the flatboat. They planned to launch just before sunrise.
This was the last crop for them, if they waited too long, Breaker’s creditors would be demanding the whiskey and the tobacco. They had worked through the nights of the last three weeks to get everything ready.
They pleaded at length to get Uncle Cable to throw in with them, for they were going to Oregon, where each of them would be entitled to a quarter section of free land. They figured, together they could have 320 and if Uncle Cable came along, they would have 480 acres, since there were no slaves in the far west.
Uncle Cable was 48 years old; he was considered ancient for a slave, but he was robust and in excellent health; he had a good life as a slave. He wandered around like a free Black and worked for wages, but he was owned by another man, to whom he paid a portion of all his earned income.
He figured it was time to strike out for his freedom and it would be much safer to travel with the two boys. If he made it across the Ohio he could be free; unfortunately, Black Freemen were often kidnapped and sold back into slavery from the “free” border states. He figured he would be safe in Oregon, where ever it was.
The flatboat and keelboat as drifters became obsolete, when the first steam boat cruised up river in 1815; although, drift boats were still on the river until the end of the Nineteenth Century. The drifters were much cheaper for a farmer to get his goods down river and he could always hire a steamboat to haul his flatboat upstream with manufactured goods as a barge towed or he could dismantle the flat boat and sell the lumber.
The river became a vibrant highway for commerce, with agricultural products and manufactured goods traveling upstream and downstream. The boys had nearly sixty dollars, but once they sold the whiskey and tobacco, they expected to have several thousand dollars. It was their inheritance and they were leaving Kentucky forever. Uncle Cable was taken on as a full partner, for better or worse.
Uncle Cable saw the influence of their mother in the boys; they were handsome lads and had sweet trusting dispositions. Orville was bolder than Thad, he had the wild reckless courage of his father and rode wild race horses with hardly a care or thought of his own safety: Thad was more cautious and had a kinder disposition, he could ride the race horses, but instead of jumping on and riding the buck out of them to see what they had in them, he would make friends with them and ride away with the animal’s trust. That was the difference between the two boys and the difference held true in all aspects of their personalities. Uncle Cable trusted the boys; actually, he was willing to trust them with his life and his future freedom. He had a good life for a slave in the Bluegrass Country in the mid-Nineteenth Century; he was owned by Captain Tarleton, who had fought with Andy Jackson in the Indian Wars and against the British in the War of 1812. The Captain was nearly 80 years old now and enjoyed the money he received by letting Uncle Cable hire himself out to work. They were friends and there was no sign of the traditional master slave relationship except for the one-third share of wages that the Captain felt was his; since he owned Uncle Cable and was legally entitled to all the proceeds of his labor.
Uncle Cable didn’t resent giving the Captain his share, he had become a fairly wealthy man, and when the Captain died, if he failed to give Uncle Cable manumission in his will, he knew he could buy his freedom from his new owner. He could buy his freedom now, but he knew nothing of freedom and he was living a good life. He had almost no expenses and everyone he worked for fed him and gave him a dry place to sleep. He had over two thousand dollars in a money belt around his waist and he could maybe buy a small farm when the Captain died and hopefully gave him manumission. He didn’t tell the boys about his money. His value would go up as they floated downstream, and sometimes, temptation overcomes good intentions. The boys were White and Whites had the power to sell you into slavery, if they ran out of money and options, he could become a valuable commodity and even though his hair was gray, he had mechanical knowledge and he was still strong; on the cotton and rice plantations of the deep South, slaves were needed to work under conditions that were a death sentence, within a few years, from disease and exhaustion. He would probably be worth four to five thousand dollars at the slave auction in Natchez or New Orleans, from a buyer who expected him to last two to three years before he was dead. Although he trusted the brothers, there was always the temptation for them. Down river, he was worth more than the tobacco and whiskey the boys were planning to sell.
On the afternoon before they planned to launch, Selma wandered into the thicket and saw the men finishing the flat boat and preparing the arch and gin pole they would use to load the tobacco bales and whiskey. She knew what the story was immediately.
They had been discovered.
Selma was a red-haired orphan that had always had a crush on Thad since she arrived at her Aunt’s place to be raised as a White slave by step parents who hated her. She had been in virtual slavery for over ten years and coming over to visit with Thad was the only bright spot in her life of misery. She knew Breaker’s creditors were ready to descend on the farm and take everything; when she saw the flatboat, it was obvious the boys were going to try and salvage a stake in life.
The boys had a problem, if the sixteen year old girl told anyone about their plans, all their work would be for nothing.
“Ruadh gu brath!” – Scots Gaelic for “Red heads forever!”
Orville had always teased Thad about the homely red-haired girl who started coming to visit Thad nearly ten years ago. It was embarrassing for Thad to have the barefoot girl dressed in rags to be always trying to hold his hand and wanting to go fishing and hunting with the boys, but he was too kind hearted to tell her no.
Now, she stood there with shiny red hair that had been brushed for thirty minutes before coming to visit and her ample feminine charms were obvious under the faded and ripped dress that barely concealed the secrets of her femininity. Even with her uncle’s worn out and oversized workboots on, it was obvious Selma was no longer a homely little girl with a bad case of puppy love; she was a beautiful young woman with the power to ruin their plans.
The men looked at each other and nodded yes to each other before Orville spoke out, “You are working for wages; you are not a partner, get up to the house and get the cooking gear and enough crockery for the four of us. You can pack the coffee, beans, and bacon and any other grub in the fruit boxes and load them before we launch, you can make several trips with the wheel barrow. You have an hour, get moving girl. Wait a minute, will your aunt and uncle get worried when you don’t come home tonight?”
Selma answered, “They’re in Frankfort tonight. They won’t be home until tomorrow, it is perfect timing.” Selma jumped in the air, clapped her hands once and took off for the cabin at a run with a big grin on her face.
The men prepared to knock the chocks away and let their boat slide into the water. Uncle Cable said in a serious voice, “I wish we were as happy about the trip as Miss Selma.”
The men didn’t say a word and launched the boat after Selma had loaded the kitchen supplies. It took three hours to load the whiskey and tobacco. The four emigrants left the cabin the boys were born in with a sense of melancholy, they would never again be able to visit their mother’s grave and they would never again visit the farm sight they grew up on. It disappeared forever at the first bend in the river.
No one slept the first night, they were too nervous about being discovered. They used poles and the light of the moon to navigate the river, it was faster than they anticipated, but not nearly as fast as a horse. They could only hope to have a few days head start to outrun their creditors and the law.
The float down river on the Kentucky is mainly north and they floated into the Ohio at night. It was an enormous river, close to a mile wide, with a strong current. They maneuvered close to the Northern shore and lighted an oil lantern to keep from being run over by a steamship.
The plan was to stop at New Albany and sell some whiskey and buy more supplies and look for goods to take on the Oregon trail. Their mules and wagon were sound enough, but they had very little food for close to a year on the trail. Selma would need clothes and they all needed winter gear.
They sold a bale of tobacco and two barrels of whiskey in New Albany, Indiana. Selma and Uncle Cable stayed at the wharf with the boat, while the boys bought a Hawken rifle, a horse pistol made in Hartford Connecticut in 1847, and a Navy Colt. They bought clothes for everyone and enough food to make the trip twice. They felt they had made good purchases, since supplies were supposedly outrageous in Cairo, Illinois and even more expensive in Saint Louis and Independence.
When they were loading their new supplies, a small steamer named the Natchez Trace pulled up close to them. A man hailed the Kentuckians and asked to parley. He had a group of slaves on board and they were all shackled. Uncle Cable said under his breath, “Slave traders, scum of the earth, be careful”. Orville noticed one of the passengers on the Natchez Trace, a beautiful High Yeller and the two of them stared into each other’s eyes. The two brothers met the owners of the Natchez Trace, Bill Wilde and John Lawless at the end of their gangplank.
They asked if the tobacco and Whiskey was for sale. Orville said, “It’s all for sale for the right price,” he quoted an exorbitant price and the man countered with a slightly lower price and Orville said, “Sold.”
The man paid cash and counted out the money and asked if the old buck was for sale, Orville answered with a quiet but firm,”No way, he’s not for sale.”
He then asked if the red headed wench was for sale. Orville became very suspicious and told the men they didn’t deal in people. The men laughed and asked if they wanted to be towed to Cairo with them and relax the rest of the trip.
One of the men said they might negotiate on the High Yeller, but she would be priced high, cause some plantation owner would want her for a house servant and for more personal needs on cool evenings. Orville said he wanted to discus the matter with his partner. Thad and Uncle Cable wanted to head for St Louis with the wagon on dry land, but Orville wanted to buy the High Yellow for a wife. Thad told him he didn’t think it was legal to buy a wife and his brother laughed at him and asked why they should all of a sudden worry about things being legal.
The slave traders said they could ride down to Evansville or Cairo over night and see if they could settle on a price for the yellow wench. They wouldn’t need the flat boat and maybe they could use the boat as part of the trade.
Later that night, after Orville had bargained and drank with the two slave traders, they had reached a deal. Uncle Cable knew the slave traders were up to no good, he tied a rope around an empty twenty gallon barrel and waited in the stern of the flat boat. Later that night he saw the traders enter the cabin on the flat boat and hit the boys with saps, knocking them unconscious. Uncle cable slipped silently overboard and heard the men talking, “Where’s that old gray haired buck.”
“Slap that red haired bitch, till she shuts up, but don’t damage the merchandise.”
Uncle Cable was scared of the water and worried about being sold down river, but when he heard the bodies splash into the river, he swam the best he could to the unconscious boys and picked their heads up out of the water so they could breathe, and allowed the current to take him and the boys downstream until his feet touched bottom. It was mid-October and he was shivering from the cold water with the cold night air, but the brothers still seemed to be alive. He pulled them up on the muddy bank and hoped they would all still be alive in the morning.
The next morning, the boys woke shivering from the cold with knots on their head and with the realization they had been swindled out of everything they owned in this world. They followed the river down stream on foot for several hours and came to Evansville, Indiana. They told the police their story, but the police told them there was nothing they could do, the steamboat was surely at Cairo by now and the next steamboat wasn’t due until tomorrow morning.
Now the boys realized they had no money to eat, let alone for paying for passage on a steamer. That’s when Uncle Cable told them he had two thousand dollars. He would help them and let them go downstream at Cairo, where the Ohio met the Mississippi. They could try to get their money and Selma back, but he was headed for Saint Louis. He would wait for them till spring, if they didn’t show up he would assume they were dead.
The boys bought pistols, knives, and jackets, and realized how much they were indebted to this former slave.
Early the next morning, the Delta Queen docked and began unloading and loading. The three of them bought passage and Uncle Cable told them, since they were partners, he was going with them to get the money back. They booked all the way to Natchez and found out all the information they could learn about Wilde and Lawless. Apparently, they were not only slave traders, but they ran a bordello in Natchez. They specialized in beautiful slaves, that way they didn’t need to share the profits with the women. They liked to trap young girls of any race, specializing in those with no where to go, and hold them prisoner in the sporting house. They also sold slaves at the auction in the Natchez Below the Hill, a den of iniquity without equal.
They needed a plan and Uncle Cable came up with a bold one: they would get a small independent steamer and have it standing by ready to go, while the three of them persuaded the Wilde and Lawless duo to give the money back, during the wee morning hours. They would buy a wagon with mules, and they would have two fast horses outside the sporting house to get them to the steamer. They would make a dash up river and unload at some point on the West side of the river and head for Oregon.
The brothers liked the plan and upon arriving in Natchez, they realized that after their purchases, they only had a thousand dollars for the steamer, but they promised the skeptical owner of a small steamer another two thousand upon arrival at a point up river. It was a small steamer, but it was fairly new. The Captain was more than a little skeptical of not having a specific place to land, but the money was good and with only a wagon and mules with a couple of riding horses it was an easy trip.
The brothers and Uncle Cable slipped into the Bayou Sports Club, just before closing time. They found Selma in the parlor and told her to get ready to leave with any women who wanted a fresh start, they found out where the office was and who the bouncer was. Orville waited until the bouncer, walked outside to relieve himself and hit him from behind with the blunt edge of a splitting ax, just above the right temple. The bouncer staggered to his knees with his hand over the bloody wound, Orville hit him again on top of the head, with the sharp blade, and split his skull; the man was out cold and probably dead. Uncle Cable ran over and applied a gag in the man’s mouth and Orville tied his hands behind him and his feet together. Uncle Cable dragged him into some trees and tied him to a tree and followed Orville into the bordello.
Orville woke up Lawless by pressing a pistol to his forehead and Thad did the same with Wilde. They took both men to the office and told them to open the safe, they refused. Orville reached up in one motion and cut the neck of Lawless and then hit him in the face above the eyes with the sharp edge of the ax. Lawless fell to the floor gurgling a death rattle and died a few seconds later. Wilde, Thad, and Uncle Cable watched Orville do his bloody work in disbelief, but before Orville could walk over to Wilde, the safe was already open. There was over ten thousand in the safe, Orville said in a low but menacing voice, “Take it all.”
They tied and gagged Wilde, and Orville gave him a tap with the blunt edge of the ax, before they locked the door and left. Outside, they found the Quadroon, Sally with another Black girl, two China girls, Selma and a dark haired girl, they were all sitting in the wagon with Selma holding onto the reins. It was less than a mile to the steamer and the women hid under a tarp except for Selma, who was now wearing a felt hat and a winter jacket. They drove the wagon over the ramp and onto the steamer, without incident, but the horse Uncle Cable was riding refused to get on the steamer. The brothers told him to forget the horse and walk on. He got off the horse and the horse spun and took off. The deck hands thought it was a strange way to behave and voiced their opinions while they were raising the ramp, but Orville tipped them both a ten dollar gold piece and they figured the passengers could do whatever they wanted.
There was a glow in town as the steamer headed up stream, Uncle Cable remembered Orville lighting a match as they left the office; he probably dropped dropped it in the trash on the way out. Wilde and Lawless would never again be kidnapping, slave trading, and robbing on the rivers. He made a mental note to never get on the bad side of Orville; he was a stone cold killer, and showed no remorse for his crimes.
It took three and a half days to reach Saint Louis and the group of emigrants were ready to get off the river. They figured to buy supplies and maybe another wagon in Saint Louis. Selma was no longer the exuberant smiling girl she once was; she tried to stay near Thad and only spoke on rare occasions. Thad didn’t really want to be tied down with a woman, but it was as if Selma depended on him for her very existence, and since he blamed himself for her abduction, he vowed to protect her and to love her to the best of his ability.
They kept the women under the wagon tarp, as much as possible, to keep from bringing unwanted attention to their party.
Orville and Uncle Cable found two wagons for sale with well trained teams of oxen. They were both the result of women turning back after their husbands died of cholera. The women couldn’t handle the oxen and realized their situations were hopeless. Orville paid them well and managed to buy some clothing from the women.
Uncle Cable had developed an intimate relationship with the Black girl from the bordello, who elected to leave with Selma and the High Yellow girl. She seemed to be happy all the time and looked upon Uncle Cable as her savior. Uncle Cable moved with more spring in his step and whistled while doing his chores.
The group was more comfortable with three wagons, they had excellent supplies, warm clothing, and blankets; the little necessities made life on the trail much more bearable. They passed through Independence without slowing down. Increasing the distance between Natchez and their wagons was foremost on their minds. There were many Indians in Independence and many more west of Independence. Most of them seemed docile, but others had the look of someone who was looking for trouble and had the ability to finish an argument.
Orville became smitten with the quadroon girl and made every effort to be close to her. She was decidedly uninterested in Orville, but on at least one occasion, she gave-in to his advances and allowed him between her blankets. The next morning the quadroon girl was even less impressed with Orville and he was hopelessly overwhelmed with desire.
The awkward situation was obvious to everyone in camp, everyone except Orville. He was lost to the rest of the world because of being consumed by his passion for the quadroon, who was becoming more and irritated with the unwanted attention. Because of Orville’s indifference to violence and bloodshed, his brother and Uncle Cable were reluctant to talk to him about his hopeless love affair, for fear of a violent reaction. Consequently, the situation was strained and becoming worse with the passing of each day.
A week after leaving independence, a group of seven mounted warriors rode up beside the wagons and walked their horses alongside for a few miles. The men kept a wary eye on the warriors, but the quadroon was flirting with the leader. He was a tall handsome brute and well muscled. He rode his horse away from the wagons at a full gallop, wheeled around and rode toward the wagons at full speed. He would jump off one side and when his feet hit the ground he positioned himself so that he was thrown up and on the horses back. He slid off the horse’s back and hung on as he slid under the horse and up on the other side. The women, except for Selma, screamed in glee at the exhibition, and the rider was encouraged to perform even more daring tricks.
The Quadroon was thrilled with the exhibition and did nothing to hide her feelings. The warrior rode back to the wagons and made a simple gesture to invite the quadroon to join him on the back of his horse. She stepped out over the wagon and sat on the back of his horse. She wrapped her arms around the warrior and to caress his chest in a sensuous way with her outstretched fingers and laid her cheek against his back as she closed her eyes. He took off at a gallop and she held on tightly to stay on the fast horse. One of the China girls jumped onto the back of another indian’s horse and Orville said, “I’ve had enough of this bullshit” and pulled his rifle from beneath the seat and rushed up to one of the saddled horses tied to the back of his wagon.
He mounted his horse and took off at a hard gallop in pursuit. When the two warriors realized they were being chased, they turned their horses. The one with the quadroon, who was obviously a leader, swung the woman to the ground and made a signal for the other warrior to stay with the women. He untied his lance and charged the fast closing Orville at full speed.
Orville raised his rifle to fire, but when he took aim, the warrior was nowhere to be seen. The young chief had ducked down along side near side of his horse and angled his horse slightly to his left, so that he wasn’t visible at this terrific speed. With his right heel locked over the horse’s back and by holding on to his horse’s mane with his left hand, his right hand was free to work the reins and hold the sharp flint tipped lance. The horses began to close and while Orville was scanning the ground looking for the Indian to be hiding behind a rock or a bush. Just before the two horses nearly collided, the indian swung up on his horse and let the momentum of the horses bury his lance into Orville’s belly and out through his back.
Orville howled in pain and continued to howl as he fell backwards off his horse and writhed in agony on the ground.
Thad grabbed a rifle, but Uncle Cable grabbed his arm with the iron grip of a man who had worked hard manual labor his whole life and said to Thad, “If you go out there you will die, Let me take care of this.”
Uncle Cable picked up a shovel and put a Navy Colt revolver in his belt.
The chief took Orville’s scalp and his rifle, and left him moaning in the dirt. When the other indian saw Uncle Cable walking toward his chief with a shovel, he handed him a bow with three arrows.
Uncle Cable looked at the grievously wounded Orville with portions of his shredded organs still attached to the stone lance point he said, “Lord have mercy on this young lad and forgive me for what I am about to do.” He then pulled the revolver and shot Orville through the heart, killing him instantly. The chief drew an arrow and aimed at Uncle Cable, but he ignored the chief and began digging a grave for Orville.
The chief relaxed and brought the bow down while watching this strange dark man digging a grave. While Orville labored, the chief rode up behind him and slapped Uncle Cable’s back with the bow. He then let out a war whoop, for he had just counted coup on this strange Black man with the hair of a buffalo bull, an armed man who was fearless. He would be able to recount this bizarre story around the council fires in the presence of many warriors for years to come, for it is far braver to touch a live armed enemy than to kill one.
The indians left, they were happy with the strange women, the scalp, and most importantly the coup on the strange Black man who killed his friend and buried him without fear.
Selma put her hand on Thad’s shoulder and told him things will get better as Uncle Cable walked slowly back to the wagons.
It was a solemn procession that started back on the trail. Uncle Cable had killed one of the boys that had shown him kindness and respect. Orville was a wild one, that was for sure, and he probably would have met up with an untimely end: it was a mercy killing, no one could argue that point, but it was a terrible thing to do to your friend.
Thad was in a deep depression. He had watched the murder of his brother and had done nothing. Now, he could never avenge his brother’s death. Was it cowardice that prevented him from acting or a bit of logic that told him it was hopeless to engage these warriors in personal combat. The question would haunt him the rest of his life. The sweet smile was gone from Thad’s face and would never return.
Selma’s innocence and hope for the future had been stolen by the brothel clients and its pimps, the only hope she had for life itself was her childhood sweetheart, Thad, who now seemed to be a broken man.
Epilogue: These were the Americans who formed this great country. They weren’t perfect: some were rough, crude, cruel, and dishonest, but they were our forefathers. We have learned from their mistakes and we continue to try and reform our country to make us a better people. If we want to dwell in the past, progress will be much slower. We weren’t perfect back then and we aren’t perfect now, but if we can learn from our past, instead of always blaming others, we will continue to build this great country and culture. Stereotyping people or allowing yourself to fulfill the destiny of someone else’s perception, negates the spirit and qualities of the individual and prevents the realization of potential. America is one of the few countries that allows an individual to realize his potential. We should celebrate this freedom and not dwell in unrealistic stereotypes of the past.