In 1846, the Mississippi River was the blunt edge of the frontier. Further West, Kansas and Missouri were bleeding over slavery. In Nauvoo, those few Mormons not already driven West dwelt with bags half-packed, knowing it was only a matter of time.
It was September, and it was still hot for most of the year, but unseasonable rains soaked everything this year. When it wasn't raining, fog made it impossible to see the fingers at the end of your outstretched arm.
Emily Lamb was in the garden digging up beets. She knelt on an old burlap bag, but the damp still soaked through her apron and skirt. Despite her task, her mind wandered as she thought about the best way to describe the weather--when she heard something out of place. The kind of noise did not quite register. She pushed her red hair out of her eyes and looked into the light fog rising from the nearby Mississippi River. Dark forms lurked. Her heart was in her mouth. She knew now. She stood slowly, so she wouldn't let on that she had seen them. She walked to the back door of the two-story log house, her heart pumping hard. When she slid inside, she heard a horse snort.
"Papa, they're here again."
Her father's face grew whiter and grimmer. He looked up the stairs and then got his rifle. "Get your mother," he said.
Emily dropped the beets on the floor and ran up the stairs. She opened the door of her mother's sickroom to find her mother already dressed and struggling into her coat, although the day was warm.
"Mother, Papa said to get you. I think we can get away through the cellar."
Her mother's mouth was set in a stubborn line. "While he stays behind to be killed? I will not have that."
Emily helped her mother on with the coat, her hands shaking. "I think we can all get away, but we must be very careful. Those mobbers were at the back of the house. The cellar door is partly hidden by the shed. I think we can all make it."
Her mother turned slowly, her blue eyes glittering. "Make it where? Most of the other Saints have gone. The river is swollen with floods. All we have to cross with are a few rafts--and Emily, those men mean to kill us."
Then she heard her father's voice behind them. "Lettie, stop. She's only sixteen. Don't frighten her like that. If the Good Lord is meant to look after us, we will make it. And if not, we will soon be home again."
"Are we leaving forever?" Emily clenched her fist, then forced herself to unclench it.
"I believe we must. Get only what you can carry with you."
Emily ran to the little alcove that which served as her private space, and snatched up her pouch with her writing tools, notebook and the book given her by Mr. Emerson when she had lived next door to him. She stuffed a few linen rags inside for female problems and slung it over one shoulder. Then she neatly folded her quilt, so that her mother might have the bedding. When she returned to her parent's room, she saw that her father had made a bedroll and had added the Book of Mormon, his Bible, and a rolled up portrait of his parents.
"Ready?" he asked. Emily nodded and the three of them eased their way down the stairs and into the cellar. From there, they slowly moved toward the door behind the shed. They could hear horses, and men's voices. The sound of words never before uttered in that house echoed above them. Horror stories of what these same men had done in the recent past reverberated in Emily's mind. The massacre of the congregation at Haun's Mill, the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, and the driving of the other Saints out of Nauvoo--she mentally relived them all. She could hear footsteps clumping above her.
The cellar door was straight ahead of them now. Emily's father eased the door open. They held their breaths until they could see the horses gathered, dismounted, at their back door. They slipped out of the door and down, past the shed, into the street. From there they threaded their way to the Center of Nauvoo.
Halfway down the main street to the river they heard the riders. The sound of dozens of horses pursued them as they joined the crowd of Mormons running toward the rafts tied up at the docks. Emily turned to peek at them. They were all well-armed men wearing Grey shirts. A shiver went through her. These were the elite of the Anti-Mormon mobbers, the Greys.
As they ran, a commanding voice called out, "Fire!" and the bullets flew all around the little family running for the water. Emily reached for her mother's hand, trying to help the invalid woman move faster. Her mother jerked once, then again. Red patches formed on her dress as she fell to her knees.
"Mother! Get up!" Her father's strong hand gripped hers and pulled her away from her mother. When Emily looked at him, tears fell from his eyes as they ran. Her eyes were dry, although her throat hurt beyond anything she had ever felt before.
Somehow they made it to the water. The last remaining raft was covered with people like a bit of bread with ants. A man helped them on board, and they poled away into a swollen river moving far too fast. Whole trees rushed past them, just missing the rafts. They managed to bypass a snag, and many prayed aloud that they would make it to the other shore.
They were almost to the other side when a dead cow rammed the raft and it capsized. Emily knew she was going to die. The water was cold and the rocks and tree limbs bruised her as they rushed past . Somehow she was able to grasp one side of the overturned raft, but her father, just out of reach, struggled against the heavy current. He was a farmer, unused to the water, and he went under, his hands flailing. Emily prayed hard, and his head appeared above the raging river for just a second, then he went back under. She never saw him again. It was if someone had taken a knife and cut her heart and spirit apart. Emily's emotions stopped. She let go of the raft.
The icy waters were pulling her down, as the swift current swept her up. Her clothes wrapped themselves around her legs, and she stopped struggling, expecting to be re-united with her family soon. Then she saw a man swimming for her, with strong and sure strokes. The man's hands pulled her along, and up and out of the water. Then she looked into the face of her savior--a big, handsome fellow with blonde hair and strong features. Emily Lamb swallowed hard. "Thank you!" She stood and gazed back out over the river again. Then she remembered that her mother and father were both in a better place.
The man laid a hand on her shoulder and smiled. The smile looked sadder than Emily felt. Emily forced a smile back."Thank you. I only wish you might have saved Father too."
The man looked stricken, he closed his eyes and shivered. "Greedy river swallowed my wife too."
They stood and wept together for a spell, until an old woman dropped a quilt around his shoulders, saying, "Here, Ethan, you'll catch your death."
He glanced at Emily, and shared the quilt. The warmth enveloped her, and she stopped shaking. The woman handed Ethan, then Emily, mugs of warm honey water. The liquid flowed into her, thawing even the coldest places inside. It was obvious this family had crossed ahead of Emily's raft.
Emily looked at their camp, there on the Iowa shore. The fog was gone. Trees surrounded them, beginning to show their yellow leaves. The ground would have been muddy save for the gravel some forward-thinking traveler had spread there for those who followed.
"Where are your parents?" asked the old woman.
Emily tried to answer, but her throat was closed. She forced the words out. "They didn't make it."
The old woman's face softened. "We have all lost loved ones today. Thank the Good Lord that Ethan's children are alive."
"Amen," said Emily automatically.
They walked over to a fire that the old woman was using to cook a stew. Two little girls and boy slept under a quilt, shivering occasionally from the cold. Ethan slipped out of the quilt and casually took an axe and split some firewood, then laid it on so they all were warmer. Emily had no idea what to say, or where to go.
"I am Mother Waggoner, this is my grandson, Ethan, and his children, Jemma, Nathan and Susan are sleeping over there," said the old woman in a near whisper.
"My name is Emily Lamb."
Mother Waggoner smiled finally. "You sound like a Yankee. Massachusetts?"
"Concord. How did you know?"
"We are from Vermont. I've heard the Concord folks are well educated."
"We pride ourselves on it. But I was lucky, my neighbors took an interest in my education and made sure I read many of the books in their libraries." Thinking was a mistake because it made Emily think of home and family, and she broke down once again.
Ethan held her just as long as was proper, then he fixed her a place to sleep next to the fire, and spread the quilt over her shivering form. As she lay laid down, she felt a lump at her hip. Her face must have registered surprise, because Ethan was staring. Emily reached down, and touched the damp pouch she had filled that morning, and forgotten about until now. She hardly dared hope. She reached inside, and there, blessedly dry and thanks to her mother's insistence that she grease her pouch to waterproof it, were her books, papers, writing things and rags. Emily burst into grateful tears and her mind jumbled a relieved prayer to the Heavenly Father for this one boon in such a terrible day.
Her teeth were chattering when she woke up. The cold was invading every part of her. The fire was banked, but no real warmth emanated from it. She glanced over at the family she was sharing this campfire with. They were all piled together for warmth. The practical thing would have been to join them, but it was not the proper thing to do.
Emily stood, with the blanket around her shoulders, and looked at the woodpile. She recalled that they were in a place with plenty of wood, so she used what moonlight there was to locate the axe. She went off a ways, so as not to disturb her sleeping companions, and split enough wood to warm her from the work. She added the wood to the fire, and using her skirt, fanned the embers into flames. She was standing close to the fire, warming her back, when she saw little Jemma slip out of her bedroll to join her.
"I was really cold. Thanks for the fire," whispered the little girl.
"You are very welcome. I wonder what we are going to do next? Have you heard anyone talking?" asked Emily.
"Father says we are going as soon as we can find some oxen and wagons. Some people have them. And Father got away with a little money. He stayed to help finish the temple, not because we were poor."
Emily regretted hearing that tone from one so small. One of the things that had impressed her about the church was a feeling that rich and poor were no longer important ways to judge people. "I have nothing now. I am all alone." Emily felt a tiny bit of guilt at using her circumstances to chide the little girl for the attitude of her elders.
Jemma stared at her for an uncomfortably long time. "Grandma said that all poor people are that way because they are lazy. But you chopped all that wood to make a fire. Sometimes I wonder why grownups say the things they do." Jemma sighed. "I guess she just doesn't know what she's talking about."
And so it was that Emily joined the Saints, headed by whatever means they could find, to Winter Quarters, Nebraska. The group was organized and since Emily was already traveling with the Wagonners, she stayed with them.
Ethan was able to buy a team of oxen and a small wagon. It was just large enough to hold their food (barrels of flour and meal, bags of beans and rice) and their clothing. There was really no room for the people, and they would have to sit scrunched between barrels - except for anyone who might take sick.
Emily, old Mrs. Wagonner, and the children walked. The mud was both slippery and sticky. It coated their legs, making them heavier with each step. The children soon tired, and demanded to be carried. Emily picked up the smallest boy, while his grandmother held the other. Jemma was expected to walk.
They came to a stretch of road that was so deep in mud that the men stopped, and chopped saplings to lie lay, side by side, to form a corduroy road. The oxen teams were kept to the side of the road, where it was a bit drier. This was to protect their legs from breaking among the saplings. The wagons were eased onto the road, and everyone but the smallest children, pushed. Emily's shoulders and back burned with the effort. Her feet were cold. Just as she got the wagon she was pushing to move, the saplings shifted and her shoe was sucked down into the mud below.
Emily shouted to those behind her and looked frantically about for the precious shoe, but it was swallowed up into the depths of the earth, never to be seen again. Mother Wagonner reached into her pouch and handed Emily some rags.
"If you wrap your foot in these, it should help. That is what our brave soldiers did at Valley Forge, you know."
Emily smiled in gratitude, and wrapped her foot, mindful to keep any little pebbles out of the wrapping. When she walked, the moisture wicked up into her foot right away, but it protected her from the worst of the rocks, so she was happy to have it.
A day later, her foot was bleeding through the rags. All Emily could think of to do was to place the rags on her other foot, and change her shoe to the one most in need of protection. Wearing the shoe on the wrong foot felt uncomfortable, but it was a great relief compared with the pain from the rags. Someone kindly gave her clean rags to use, which lasted another week.
By the end of that week, Emily noticed that not only were her muscles sore every morning, but her skin was rubbed raw from the muddy, half-dried clothing she wore. She had nothing else. The women and children made sure to try to wash the mud off as best they could, but their clothing was either sopping wet, moldy or stiff as a sword. Each night they gathered round the fire, and cooked dinner. The men and children were fed first, and the women ate later. They were all immensely relieved that some of them, like Ethan, had the money to buy food, as any vegetation was ruined by the rain, and the animals had gone off in search of better eating.
Emily examined her rag-wrapped foot and was shocked to discover a growing white patch. She motioned to Mother Waggoner to take a look. The elderly woman frowned and shook her head.
"I haven't seen this before. You'd best keep it dry as possible..." She knit her brows at Emily's nervous laugh. "I know it's near impossible. If I had any of my medicinabels with me, I would make you up a salve, but the only thing I can think to do is to use vinegar on it."
"Emily winced. She knew it would burn fiercely. Gulping back her desire to turn down the offer, she nodded. The older woman went to the wagon, and opened the vinegar jug. She poured some into a tin cup and brought it to Emily. Emily gritted her teeth and held her breath as Mother Wagonner poured the burning fluid onto her sore foot. Tears filled her eyes, and her nose ran as the vinegar hit the white patch. They re-wrapped her foot as best they could, and Emily helped put the children to bed.
Exhausted as they all were, the boys demanded a bedtime story every night. Emily had read a lot of books, and had a vivid imagination, but their manly thirst for blood and thunder favored the stories their grandmother told of the Revolutionary War and of Indian captives. A particular favorite was the story of Mary Rowlandson and each time it was told, Emily found her tongue cleaving to the roof of her mouth. With little Jemma shivering at her side, the dreams of naked, dancing savages and poor captives lasted for days after each telling.
So far, this had been the most miserable day of her life. They had walked until her very bones ached, and both of Emily's feet burned. Her face was hot, and she knew she burned with fever, for she wanted to cast her mud-coated clothing off, and let the wind that was blowing the rain sideways cool her skin.
She was too sick and tired to think of how scandalous her thoughts were. She had a burning in her stomach and threw up her breakfast. The trail seemed to go on forever and forever. Before them was a hill covered in soft mud. Someone's wagon had already slid to the bottom, where it lay in a heap. The trail was cracked and rivulets ran through it. There were stout trees and brush along the sides.
Brother McGinny drew up next to her, and pushed the hat back on his head, revealing a white stripe under his sunburn. His white- blonde hair was damp with sweat and his light blue eyes full of concern.
"Wooee. That air some pile o mud thar."
His Southern accent was so thick that Emily could barely understand him. His sinewy body looked as tough as old oak roots. Ethan stared at the mud before them and nodded his agreement. Emily wondered how they would get the wagons and oxen to the top.
The men conferred briefly, and divided into work crews. Some chopped down saplings, which Emily assumed was for a corduroy road. Brother McGinny tied a stout rope to the back of his trousers, and took a long, long whip from his wagon. He grinned at Emily's curious look.
"I were a Cracker in Florida 'afore I joined up with the church in Carolina. I used to whump them steers accrost the back with this. Never touched em, but the noise made em go whenever they got a touch of the stubborns."
He grinned, and with a flourish, snapped the whip and caught a stout branch with it. The end wrapped around, and he pulled himself, hand over hand, to the tree. Hanging on by one arm, he repeated the process to the top. He untied the rope, and fastened it firmly around a huge maple tree, tugging it to test his knot.
He grinned down at them as the women and children started up the rope. Emily held the youngest boy at her hip as she grabbed the rope. His additional weight pushed her down, and her feet felt on fire as she struggled to the top. She wondered at the stamina of Mother Wagonner as she helped the other boy and Jemma up the rope. The rest of the hour was spent in making sure every one of the women and children were able to join them.
Below them, the men had laid the saplings down, and using the y-shaped branches of the saplings, pinned them into place like railroad ties. They sent another rope up to the top, and wrapped it around a tree so that the oxen below could pull the wagons up the hill. Emily could smell the sweat from their efforts. The final wagon was perched precariously on the top of the makeshift road when the rope snapped. The men ran for it, scattering for their lives. The wagon fell with a mighty crash, as wheels fell off and the side splintered. Brother McGinny shrugged. "Wahl, hit looks like the Lord wants me humble agin."
"Nonsense'" said Mother Wagonner, "I'm sure all of us will share what ever we have with you."
Ethan struggled up the rope. He stopped to catch his breath, and then spoke to Brother McGinny. "Naturally we'll spread your things between all the other wagons. I have the block and tackle from building the temple in my wagon. Do you think we can get the oxen up that way?"
Emily felt a touch at her sleeve. Mother Wagonner motioned to her to move to the built-in fire pits left there by the Saints gone before them.
"Everyone will be hungry. Let's start a stew and some bread."
Emily never got to see the oxen moved, since she was building fires, stirring and kneading and baking. When everyone was served, Emily walked back to the top of the hill and looked back. As the sun set, her heart lurched as she saw the campsite from the previous day less than a mile behind her.
Emily was too miserable to help with the cleanup, and when Mother Wagonner unwrapped her rags, she revealed a red line running up her calf. Emily was frozen with fear. She knew this meant infection, and that either her leg would have to be amputated, or she would die. Mother Wagonner walked away and conferred quietly with Ethan. There was no doctor among them, but Emily knew that one of the Brothers was a carpenter and he had a saw.
Two men had joined Ethan as they rushed back to examine Emily's leg. She could feel their rough hands trying hard to be gentle, but every touch seemed to ache to her bottom teeth. Tears were with her again. She knew it would not be long before the saw appeared, along with a torch to sear her stump closed. She wondered how she would walk. Prayer again escaped formlessly from her heart. Heavenly Father could sort it out, she knew. One of the men took a small bundle out of his pocket. He opened the leather, and then a bandana. Inside, was a handkerchief.
"This belonged to The Prophet. It is one of the ones he sent to heal those stricken with fever."
All three surrounded Emily, and placed their hands on her head, like a heavy cap. They prayed in turn for her healing, and touched her with the handkerchief. A tingle flowed down her body, and as it reached her feet, Emily watched in amazement as the red line receded, and white and red patches faded, and the swelling went down. Tears of joy sprang to her eyes now. She could feel the fever lift and the pain leave her body.
Although the rest of the trip was as mud-miserable as the rest, Emily felt energized and refreshed. She knew God was looking out for her. Finally, they arrived at Winter Quarters, and Emily's heart plummeted again. In the valley, tents made of whatever could be found, wagons with families living in them, scattered campfires, and squalid groups of people huddled under anything dry, dotted a sea of mud. And In the hills behind, holes bored into every available space. Blankets, straw mats, or canvas covered the holes, and people moved in and out of them. People were living in the make- shift caves.
As they pulled into Winter Quarters, they were met by a small woman with the most determined face Emily had ever seen. Two boys followed the woman. One appeared to be only a few years younger than she was. Emily noticed how clean they were. She looked down at her mud caked clothes, her single shoe and rag-wrapped foot and winced.
"Welcome to Winter Quarters. There is room for those wagons over there," she indicated with a wave of her hand, "And you can clean up in the river where it's shallow. Please show them Joseph."
The younger of the children smiled at them and walked toward a shallow river bend. Emily longed to go clean off. She noticed the woman notice her lack of a shoe.
"I want the clothing barrel. John, get one of the girls to help you with it, please." The older boy winced, as if concerned that Emily might think him a weakling, but took off at a trot without a word. "I'm Sister Smith." At that the woman stuck out her hand and shook with the leaders of their little group. The name, Smith, confirmed Emily's suspicion this might be the widow of Hyrum Smith. The English accent matched, as well as a description she had once heard.
Sister Smith now looked at Emily. No, the words, "looked at" were too mild for this, as she seemed to see inside Emily's very soul. Speaking just to Emily, she smiled and asked, "Would you like to stay with me and my family? I need some help, as it's a rather large one..."
"How many?"interrupted Mother Wagonner.
"Eighteen, at last count."
Emily was not going to turn down this opportunity to get to know this remarkable woman. She smiled back and nodded. Sister Smith placed an arm around Emily's shoulders and hugged her. When Emily turned to thank the Wagonners for their kindness, they were already walking away.
"Stealing her out from under our noses. How rude."
Emily ran to catch up with them.
"I wanted to thank you for being so very kind to me and including me with your family," said Emily.
"Oh, you're welcome, Emily. We'll be seeing you around camp," and Ethan walked away while a part of her left with him.
When John returned with the clothing barrel, a younger girl was helping him. The barrel was large, and filled almost to overflowing with clothing. The girl smiled at Emily shyly.
"Hello, I'm Jerusha Smith."
Emily smiled back. She liked the girl immediately.
"Please, Emily, take as much as you need to replace your clothing, and I know I have seen shoes in there," said Sister Smith as her children went off a way to give her some privacy. It wouldn't do for a young man to look on while a young lady chose clothing, especially underthings.
Emily wiped her grimy hands on her dress and gingerly picked through the clean clothing. She found a skirt her size, and a blouse that was only a little too big for her. There were also some stockings that would fit her, and then she pulled out a funny pair of pantaloons, made so they opened with a slit between the legs. Emily raised an eyebrow at that.
"Those are made for the trail. Women who have gone before us have said the slit makes it easy to do your necessaries out in the open. All you do, I'm told, is hop to spread your skirts, and there you are. I suggest you get a change of clothing for Sunday."
Emily felt like Christmas just then. She had another dress back in New England, but their circumstances had been vastly reduced in Nauvoo, and it had been a long time. She grinned, showing her gratitude to Sister Smith, and chose another skirt and blouse, an apron, another pair of stockings, and one more of the practical pantaloons. To her joy, she located a pair of shoes that fit at the bottom of the barrel.
The next pleasure was a bath in the river. Yes, the water was cold, but Emily was finally able to be clean. She used some of her rags to dry herself, and dressed in her new clothing. She washed her old as best she could, but the color would always be overdyed with mud. She wrung it out and walked over to where Jerusha waited for her.
"I think you can just hang those over that bush. Lot's of women use them to dry their laundry," said Jerusha.
Emily laid her clothes out and they continued on their way.
"Jerusha is a pretty name."
"I'm named for my first mother. She died when I was a year old. Mary is our mother now. I like her a lot."
"I'm sorry you lost your father," said Emily, thinking of his tragic death.
"So am I. Are your parents...?"
"They died at Nauvoo."
They gave each other a long look of understanding, as the ten-year-old and the sixteen-year-old touched each other's souls.
So Emily was added to Mary Fielding Smith's makeshift family of eighteen, which included her own five children, several old and infirm people, and Emily. As she eased into the routine in their dugout, Emily discovered that helping Sister Smith meant not only with family and the elderly people her soft-hearted husband had taken into their home, but working with the Relief Society to care for nearly everyone in the camp. She was excited to meet Eliza R. Snow, since she greatly admired the woman's poetry, but she was surprised to discover that she warmed most to the friendship of Vilate Kimball, a lively woman with a mobile face that went from pensive to amused with the speed of lightning.
The other surprise was how much leisure time she had. Time to write in her journal and to visit the Wagonners. She was also amused by the antics of Joseph, who had developed a deep affection for the oxen they had kept for the trip West. The family had raised them from calves. His especial favorite was Thom, a confidant and friend. Emily often would see the eight-year-old hugging the huge horned beast, and telling him secrets.
Another item that occupied her mind was their mysterious benefactor, who dropped game at their door in the wee hours of the morning. It became a sport for the children and Emily to try to catch the hunter. So far, none had succeeded. One morning, Emily was has unable to sleep after an especially productive night writing. Sister Snow had kindly provided Emily with foolscap paper and ink. She was just waiting for the ink to dry when she heard something drop onto the ground outside the blanket which served as the door to their dugout. Emily darted to the door, and jerked it open. She caught sight of someone tall, with black hair, but it was a dark morning, and the person disappeared before she was able to catch a closer look. Outside the door was a field-dressed deer.
Later that month, fever raged through the camp. Mother Wagonner was felled by the fever, and Emily spent every free hour caring for the old lady. She was sad to see this strong woman finally weakened. She cooled her forehead with river water, and listened as Mother Wagonner muttered nonsense and invectives against those she thought had wronged her. When the fever broke, the woman was as feeble as Emily's own mother had been.
Emily had a short bout with illness, and found herself the center of attention from the Relief Society sisters. When she recovered, she was distressed to discover a fever had broken out among the old people. But now Sister Smith had so many to look after, and things were in such an uproar that Emily was exiled for her own safety. After all, no one had yet been able to talk Sister Smith into or out of anything once her mind was made up.
Emily sat in the middle of the Camp that was Winter Quarters, on a chunk of upended firewood, feeling sorry for herself. Emily squared her shoulders. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she should have been looking for a place to sleep. Part of her chafed to help Sister Smith with the sick. Part of her was worried since she had often been in delicate health and the cold and rain would do nothing to bolster it. As she debated with herself, she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. She looked up into Sister Snow's face and smiled.
"Hello. It's good to see you again, Emily," she said.
"Hello. I am banned from our dugout until the fever passes. Is there anything I can help with?", asked Emily.
"You have exquisite timing. Sister Phelps is about to have her baby. Would you like to help?"
Would she! Emily was on her feet in an instant. It was raining harder now, but she didn't care. Somehow it balanced things out, as her mother and father left this life; the new baby was coming in. "Yes. Where is she?"
And they wandered through the makeshift camp that was Winter Quarters in 1846. The ground was slippery with the mud of early spring, and tents made from bits of canvas, and blankets and stacked barrels and what have you that were people's homes. They finally got to a leaky quilt laid over a woman in the throes of giving birth. The rain poured down now, and while Sisters Snow and Willard helped with the birthing, Emily held a pot over her face to keep off the rain. Soon they began to sing hymns, and shouted with joy as the baby emerged. Sister Snow called it, "Rejoicing in the mud." One of the other sisters found Emily a tattered copy of the Book of Mormon and a corner under a box. It was a cold place, and damp, but it was the best that anybody could do, so Emily slept there.
Somehow, as time passed, Emily missed being in the wagon trains. She didn't have anything; not a wagon, oxen, food or nor money. While everyone kept her fed and clothed, she was now a woman without a family. Sure, Sister Smith had tried to squeeze her into her wagon, but she was at odds with the wagon train master as it was, and he really put his foot down at including Emily. So, she waited.
She was seventeen now, and Bishop Martin found her washing clothes in the stream. He looked excited. Maybe he had a way for her to get out West. She put her laundry on a big limestone rock and sat back to listen. It was a hot day, and she was really happy to stop working.
"Sister Lamb? I have gotten a message from Salt Lake City. There is a brother who is willing to take you as his second wife. You will have a roof over your head, and a loving husband to care for you when you arrive in the valley."
Relief warred with rebellion. She was going West. She would be at the Gathering of the Saints in Zion. She didn't even know this man--or his wife. She thought of her family before they had taken off on this mad quest - from debating with Emerson and Alcott, to what? But she believed in this new faith with all her heart. What to do? Was God testing her?
"Thank you, Bishop. I am willing to go wherever God sends me."
His smile was radiant. He took her hand and helped her to her feet."I have been able to make special arrangements for you to get there. I spoke with Brother Rockwell."
"Bro-bro-ther Rockwell? Brother Joseph's personal bodyguard? The man with all the guns? The sharpshooter?" she asked. The bishop grinned.
"Yes, that brother Rockwell. He knows someone who is willing to take you to the valley. Someone who wants to go now."
And so she followed him to the other edge of the camp, leaving her laundry because she knew it wouldn't be stolen. They came to a grassy area where a group of men and youths were playing at Pull Up Sticks, a popular frontier game where a stout stick was placed between the boot soles of two men, and each held both ends while trying to stand up first. The payoff was to see your opponent sprawled on the ground. The game was very much a favorite in camp. Emily watched as a tall youth dressed in homespun took on a challenger. Long, black hair stuck out under his hat.
Then her eyes widened as a man walked toward her. He was big, and dark haired. His eyes were like lightning. His boots were heavy. He wore a homespun shirt, army trousers, and those boots. His beard made his look really fierce, but not as fierce as the two pistols in his belt and the rifle resting in the crook of his arm. This could only be one person.
"Brother Rockwell?" Emily extended her hand. Brother Rockwell took it rather gently and then let go.
"I understand you want to get to the valley. My niece wants to go too, and she is prepared to go now."
"Your niece? Two women alone on the trail? That isn't safe, is it?" said the Bishop.
Brother Rockwell just smiled. He looked over at the group playing Pull Up Sticks and waited while the tall youth dumped his challenger on the ground. "Sariah," he called.
Emily smiled at the name. The only woman named in the Book of Mormon was Sariah. She had always thought of it as so feminine. Then the youth turned around and Emily saw that he was a she. Sariah was nearly six feet tall, with hair as black as a crow's wing and eyes as brown as cinnamon bark. She hid her classic beauty under a slouch hat, a rough homespun shirt, trousers and big boots. The handle of a butcher knife stood out from inside one boot. She paused, and leaned down to the ground, picking up two pistols and putting them in her belt, then a Bowie knife in its sheath, and finally a rifle slid into the holster on her back. She frowned a little, then walked toward them. Emily noticed the Bishop force a smile. She almost giggled at that. There was something so sad about Sariah that Emily wanted to comfort her without knowing why.
"Uncle Orrin. Bishop Martin." Sariah looked at Emily and paused.
"I'm Emily Lamb."
"Hullo, Emily," she said. "So you want to get to the Valley."
"Yes. I want to join the Saints there and my husband to be."
A funny look crossed Sariah's face. She nodded once. "I just want to get us both there in one piece-okay?" and her voice brooked no nonsense.
"I'm just grateful the Lord sent this opportunity to me," said Emily.
A little smile quirked at the corner of Sariah's mouth. Something told Emily that this was a Jack Mormon -- someone who would defend the church to the death, but didn't want to attend.
The bishop shifted his weight to one foot, then forced another smile. "Well, I have to get back now," he said.
"Thank you, Bishop," said Emily.
Sariah was silent. Brother Rockwell clapped Sariah on her shoulder and grinned at her. "I trust you completely. You know the way to Fort Bridger, and I got you a map to the valley. You should talk to Emily about what she'll need to take," he said.
Emily blushed violently. "I don't have anything, just a change of clothing, a few books, my journal and a quilt."
"Good," said Sariah. "I travel light. I need to get some food for us and load up, 'Buddy'. She's my horse."
They walked to a lean-to where a big, white mare with dark spots scattered like snowflakes across her rump was tethered. It looked at her with intelligent eyes then appeared to close its mind, as if it didn't like her. Well, the feeling was mutual. Emily had not really liked horses since the day Mr. Emerson's draft horse had chased her out of his drive. It had not helped her dignity that Mr. Alcott had nearly laughed his head off to see his favorite babysitter go running down the hill with that animal after her.
"I have to see to my laundry. It wouldn't do to let it mildew," said Emily.
Sariah raised one eyebrow and looked extremely doubtful."You don't care for Buddy? You'd best learn. We'll have to depend on each other for months. There might be some life and death situations ahead of us," she said.
"I know that. I almost died crossing the Mississippi. I lost my dear father to that greedy river."
Sariah's face was unreadable, but Emily watched in wonder as her countenance darkened. It was such a strange sight. Sariah's skin color remained exactly the same, but the spirit under her face went dark. Emily shivered. She reached out with her heart, and asked the Holy Ghost to help her to know the truth. A warm glow enveloped her. She knew that Sariah was a good person inside.
Sariah stared at the little New Englander. She was a stubborn one--and proud. She was going to cross a continent to marry a man whose name she hadn't even bothered to ask. Well, marriage was something Sariah had best just forget all about. Anger flared up, and she tamped it down. "Just think supplies," she reminded herself.
"What things do you think we should take with us?" she asked, by way of a test.
"The list said flour, cornmeal, beans, salt pork . . . "
"What do you say?"
"I eat a lot of fruit, meat, greens, I hate cornmeal, but I do like rice. Beans are practical, but I'm not sure how nice it will be to travel with each other. I suppose dried fruit would be good, if we can get it. We can gather wild greens in season, hunt or set traps--maybe fish. We could fill up on rice or bread made in a Dutch oven," said Emily.
"You sound as if you can cook," said Sariah.
"You look as if you can hunt," said Emily. And they smiled at each other because they had found common ground--or maybe it was that each could contribute to the trek West.
"Well, my laundry calls," said Emily. "When shall we meet?"
"Tomorrow--early," said Sariah.
And they parted to do their tasks in preparation for the long journey ahead.
Sariah went off to get the supplies she needed, fully aware that only certain merchants would even let her in their stores. Some barred her simply for being a Mormon. Others had no quarrel with the Saints--or at least what money they had, but had a hearty dislike of her family, and her decidedly unladylike ways. Too bad. She clumped across the wooden porch of the one store in Winter Quarters that welcomed her. As a matter of fact, they owed her money for furs she had trapped last winter. Now was time to collect. Sariah knew this fellow would try to draw her out. She also knew that if he let it slip that the niece of the infamous Orrin Porter Rockwell was headed West with only a little girl beside her, every Grey in the area would hunt her down with glee. Greys were everywhere in those days: Missouri Greys, Carthage Greys, like the ones who had killed Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, and various other self-styled saviors of the American Way of Life.
"Yeah, right," she thought. "If slavery, wife beating and child . . . "She caught sight of a grey shirt and froze. His back was to her, and she could have just backed out of the store and waited until this"Grey" had gone. She decided she didn't feel like it. She made her boots clump so that they echoed on the wooden floor. The man turned. His greasy hair and beard were showing, blond and matted. His face was flushed with some sort of rotgut. All she needed was a drunk Grey in her way. She glared at him, narrowing her eyes to slits, the way her uncle had taught her.
He backed up a step, then grinned at her. "What have we got here?" he asked thickly.
"We have a customer here, who is going to spend some money," said Sariah.
"Saucy little gal, ain't she?" And he reached out to her. Sariah's stomach contracted. She remembered the rule.
"Let your enemy come at you three times. The first two times, ignore him unless he's trying to hurt or kill you. The third time, git him, cause no one will blame you."
"Don't touch me," she warned.
The Grey looked at her in surprise. He changed the direction of his hand and reached to stroke her hair. Sariah let her eyes bore into his. His hand faltered. Then he broke into a cruel grin and clamped his hand around the back of her head, pulling her in for a kiss. He never saw it coming. Sariah cocked her fist and swung in a swift upper cut to his jaw. He fell backward and crashed into the pickle barrel, caroming it across the floor into the wall. As he sat up, then crouched to spring at her, he found himself looking into the barrel of her pistol. "I was only playing. Jesus Christ, you women take things so serious."
Still cussing under his breath, he took himself out of the store. The storekeeper shot her an anxious look. His bald head was gleaming with sweat. Sariah figured it didn't have much to do with the humidity either.
"Oh great. Now I'll have them back, 'protecting' me. But you did say something about spending some money," he said.
"Actually, I want to spend my credits from last winter."
The storekeeper reached behind the counter and opened his account accounts book. He whistled softly. "I'd forgotten how much it was. Are you still looking at a new rifle?"
"Nope. I'm helping outfit somebody who's going West. I need traveling supplies," said Sariah.
"Depends on if the price is higher, or lower."
And she grinned to show she was almost joking. He smiled back at her. His eyes were honest. Uncle Orrin said she had the gift of discernment. She knew when people could be trusted. Like Emily. She was a good woman. Sariah liked her. She liked the storekeeper.
"The usual beans, flour, cornmeal package?"
"Naw. You know I wouldn't go for that. What kind of dried fruit do you have?"
That night Sariah and her uncle Orrin were having their last meal in their snug little cabin together. He had cooked. Her uncertain skills in that department were a standing joke between them. The stew was flavorless to Sariah. She was unhappy to be going in so many ways. They sat in the high backed benches on either side of the table, then after cleaning up from their meal, retired out of habit to the chairs before the fireplace, where they had so oft retreated from winter's blast.
It was summer now, and only the lingering warmth from the cooking fire wafted from the fireplace. It was hard to say goodbye to her Uncle Orrin. Sariah was grateful to him for raising her from a scared little thing who shook when strangers spoke to her. And now, he had helped her find her beloved Grandfather, comforted her when age and alcohol had claimed the old man, and taught her how to survive in the wilderness.
Sariah always had trouble saying the feelings in her heart, and sure enough, they were stuck in her throat once again. Her brown eyes looked into his black ones and every kind thing he had ever done for her came rushing back. She stuck out her hand, then pushed back a lock of his unruly hair. He grinned, and gently placed his huge hand over hers.
"Are you sure you don't want me to stay? I worry about you," said Sariah.
"And I worry about you too. I'll be fine. I just don't want you in the middle when things explode here. I know you. You'll want to fight, and I don't want you hurt-or worse."
"I owe you so much. I should stay and help you."
"You owe yourself more. Go. Who knows, maybe the Good Lord has something in mind for you."
Sariah hung her head. "Yeah, right."
His hand was under her chin, raising her face to look at his.
"You are as much a child of God as any other woman. You never did anything wrong. Don't you forget that. Now, let me tell you about the first time I saw you, Miss Sass. You were such a little thing, skin and bones . . . "
The hot and sticky Iowa night had drawn Emily outside to sleep, but the mosquitoes had feasted on her unprotected body, so she had wrapped herself in her quilt to fend them off. Finally she had dropped off to sleep. Emily was still wrapped in her quilt, sound asleep, when she felt someone shaking her shoulder. She turned over, mumbling something about just a bit longer when a low voice cut into her sleep.
"I said be ready to go early. This is not all that early. Are you even packed?"
Emily opened one eye. She was looking right into Buddy's face. She scrunched back, then rolled over and stood up. Sariah showed her displeasure on her face. Brown eyes traveled through Emily's to prick her very soul. She rolled up her quilt quickly, then faced Sarah. "I didn't eat yet. I'm sorry I overslept. May I eat a little something before we go?"
Emily looked so contrite that Sariah felt herself going soft. She tried to close her heart, and failed. "Okay. But don't take forever. Show me your stuff and I'll help you pack."
Emily blushed again, and handed Sariah a shoulder bag. Sarah opened it. There was a blouse and shirt, some under drawers, a few linen rags, a Bible, a Book of Mormon, a book called "Self-Reliance," and a journal, along with two pens, a few nibs and a bottle of ink wrapped carefully in a rag.
"You do travel light," said Sariah.
"It's all I have except for the quilt," said Emily.
Sariah stuck her hand inside her own shoulder bag, and drew out a plum and a bit of bread. She handled them to Emily along with her own water bag. She watched Emily eat and drink; wondering how this little thing would make it to Zion. 'Hell, when did I start calling it that?' she wondered to herself. 'Careful, you might actually turn out to be a real Mormon after all.'
Sariah took a quick peek at Emily's shoes. If they were very careful, she would arrive in the valley with the soles still in one piece. She wondered if Emily's bishop could find something better for her. "Emily, did you ever think to ask your Bishop what your husband-to-be's name is?"
Emily's eyes went wide. "Oh no, how could I be so careless? I can see us making this whole trip, I arrive in Salt Lake, and say, 'Hello, I'm looking for my future husband, uh, uh . . . what's his name?'" said Emily.
Sariah laughed. This was perfect. "I'll find out for you while you eat," said Sariah. "Where can I find him?"
Sariah followed Emily's directions to locate Bishop Martin. She found him cooking gruel for some little boys.
"Hullo, Bishop Martin," she said.
He frowned, then smiled. "Hello Sister Rockwell."
"I'm sorry, it's not Rockwell, it's Porter. Sariah Porter, and please don't call me Sister. It makes me nervous."
With a quick glance at her various guns, he nodded. "We don't want you to be nervous, do we?" he said.
"I need the name of the man Emily is going to marry, and another little favor as well," said Sariah.
The bishop looked mildly suspicious, but hid it. He wasn't a bad sort; just overburdened with worry about all those folks he was responsible for, decided Sariah. He located a note written on a bedraggled piece of paper and handed it to her. She glanced at it.
"Richard Purdy?" she asked.
"Yes. And what was the other little favor?"
"I don't think Emily's shoes will hold up to the journey. Do you know where I can find something for her?"
Without a word, he pulled his own boots off and handed them to her.
"I'll find some more. I always do," he said.
It was one of those hot days, where cicadas buzz and the heat rises out of the ground like steam over a kettle. This was tall grass country. Too many places for people to hide tended to make Sariah nervous. She was walking beside Buddy, trying to give her ears a rest. When Emily walked, she talked. She expounded on women's suffrage. She was for it. She declaimed on slavery. She was against it. She recited her own poetry. It was good. By now Sariah's head ached a bit. She was used to frontiersmen who were quiet because they were: fishing, hunting, working hard, or asleep. Sariah looked at Buddy, who appeared to commiserate.
" Were you here for the King Follett Discourse? I would have loved to have heard Brother Joseph speak. I think the ideas he introduced were so, so, magnificent. Do you think we lived before?" asked Emily.
"I don't know," said Sariah.
"Haven't you ever just met someone and felt you had known them your whole life?"
"Have you felt a spiritual connection? Like we had lived with Heavenly Father before we came here?" said Emily.
"You know, I would just almost swear on the Bible I had known you before. "
Sariah turned slowly, her eyes opening wider. She fixed Emily with a look. "Me too," she said, and you still talk too much."
A stricken look crossed Emily's face and she looked down at the ground. Guilt tore at Sariah's heart. She looked Emily in the eye and smiled to show she really meant no harm. When Emily smiled back, it was as if the sun came out from behind a cloud. Emily gave her shoulders a little shake and the two began to walk again. Blessed silence reigned for almost five minutes. Sariah could actually hear birdsong and the crunch of their feet in the trail. Then Emily took a breath.
"Do you think we'll meet any Indians? I've never seen an Indian before. I've read about them, how they would capture and torture people, and how evil they were in the Book of Mormon," said Emily.
Sariah whipped around and glared at Emily."Just once, I'd like one of you new converts to finish reading the Book of Mormon before you make speeches about Indians."
"Um, Sariah, how did you know I haven't finished?"
"Because by the end, the Lamanites, the ones who turned into the Indians, were saved from destruction because they were not as wicked as the Nephites," said Sariah
"Really? I had always thought the Nephites were the righteous ones. I mean, God didn't give them a different skin color..."
"Skin color isn't why they were unrighteous. They made mistakes. They learned. The Nephites didn't. So God let the Nephites get wiped out because they deserved it."
"I'll have to finish the book. Yes, I promise to do that before we get to the Valley. And Sariah, how do you know so much? I mean, I have to admit, I thought I really knew the gospel."
"Two things. It helps if you've have Brother Joseph as a dinner guest a few times. And I have what you might call a vested interest."
"You had Joseph Smith as a dinner guest? Oh, I suppose you would have--because of your Uncle. So, what's your vested interest?" asked Emily.
"My grandfather was a Creek Indian."
Sariah turned, looking steadily ahead as her words sunk in. She was actually amused, but didn't want Emily to see. So Sariah had another few minutes of quiet. Then she sensed something up ahead. She turned to Emily with her finger to her lips. They waited a second while her ears picked up movement in the tall grass just off the trail. "You can come out now," said Sariah.
And from the grasses emerged a small Indian boy, aged about ten. Sariah smiled in welcome. She could see his eyes wander to the frozen form of Emily behind her, then back to her. His eyes flicked from fear to mischief, and as he emerged, she could see he was wearing trousers, a shirt, boots and a roundabout jacket. He also was favoring his right foot. "Hullo Josiah, Would you like something to eat?" said Sariah.
"Are you going to tell on me?" he asked.
"I think you are already in enough trouble. Does the school know you run off?"
"I didn't want to miss Indian Christmas," he said, half defiantly.
Emily wondered if that was the whole story, but Sariah said nothing and since she appeared to know him, Emily decided to let her handle things.
They walked as they talked until they came to a campsite. Here the grass was trampled flat. There was a fire pit already dug and used by countless people going West. Emily was handed a canteen and pointed toward a creek. Sariah and Josiah took off hunting. Emily filled the canteen, and carried it to the fire pit. She thought she might as well make herself useful, so she gathered some firewood. She thought about starting the fire herself, but didn't like the look of all that tall prairie grass. So, she waited. She took out her Book of Mormon, read, and half listened to the noises around her. There were three cracks from a rifle, then a sharp whistle, and silence. Soon after, she heard, then saw Sariah and Josiah walk up with three fat--well, they looked like ground squirrels, sort of. "We found a Prairie Dog town. I love Prairie Dog," said Josiah.
Sariah said nothing; she just built a fire, and cleaned and spitted the Prairie Dogs. As they cooked, Josiah made faces at her until she laughed, playfully tossing a handful of grass at him.
"That meat smells really good," said Emily.
"Uh huh," said Josiah.
"Uh huh," said Sariah.
"Okay," said Josiah, with a laugh.
Emily furrowed her brow, wondering what this was all about.
"Sariah, have you learned any other new words?" said Josiah.
"Hombidah, okhombidah, ooeewa, momin...momin..."
"Some vocabulary. I know more French," said Josiah. Emily felt ready to die from curiosity. She leaned forward.
"What are you two talking about?"
"We're talking Indian," said Josiah.
"But you started with, "Uh huh" and "okay", and those are both slang, that's all," said Emily knowing she sounded like her schoolmaster.
"Uh huh" is Cherokee for, "yes", "Okay" is used the same way it is in English. It's a Choctaw word," said Sariah.
"But the my schoolmaster said, "Okay" comes from, 'Oll Kerect',a misspelling that President Jackson often used." said Emily, beginning to suspect that Schoolmaster Holmes hadn't been quite the expert she had thought.
There was sudden and complete silence. The cousins looked at each other as if Emily had blasphemed. Sariah lowed her head slightly, then unclenched her jaw. "Can't have people using an Indian word. Nope, not at all," said Sariah. Then she gave one of her crooked smiles and went to check on the meat. It was done, so they ate in silence. Then Josiah took the bones and grizzle out, away from the campsite while Emily and Sariah packed up.
"That kid is going to land in trouble one of these days. He's just too bright. Folks won't stand for it," said Sariah.
"What's going on really? I don't mean to pry, but he was limping and he looked scared until he saw you," said Emily.
Sariah gave her a sidelong look and smiled slowly. "I like that you're smart like that. He run off because them missionaries been beatin' the word of the Lord into him."
"That's terrible! What can we do for him?"
"The best thing he can do is go home and let his own people try to hide him. He's goin' the same way we are for a bit. We can help him for a ways."
Josiah came back just then. Sariah stood tall, looking intimidating. He looked slightly suspicious.
"You got company for a ways."
Josiah looked relieved. "Okay. I'll scout ahead" and he was off in full warrior mode. He could move much more quickly than they could, and was soon out of sight.
"How do you know him, Sariah? asked Emily.
"He's some sort of relation. The cousin of my grandfather's nephew or something like that. He's always after me to visit more often. I've been neglectful. Now it's too late, so I'm glad I saw him."
"Do you feel--I don't know how to say this--any part of their world?" said Emily.
"Not enough. I loved my grandfather. He was nice. Can't say that about my father," said Sariah.
"How can you say that? I'd give anything to have my own dear father with me again," said Emily. Sariah looked away from her, and stuffed her anger way down inside. Then she wished she had been born Emily's sister.
They moved down the trail again in silence. The heat was oppressive. Sariah wished for a little breeze, but nothing came of it. She concentrated on watching for danger and putting one step in front of another. She stopped. There was a sound down the trail. A cry, and horses, then a shot. Sariah checked her rifle, and then pulled her revolver from her belt. Emily stared at the peculiar weapon--a brand new invention from the Sam Colt factory. There were six cartridges right where they belonged. Sariah apparently was a firm believer in reloading.
"Emily, I hear trouble up ahead. If I signal, run into the tall grass and disappear. Don't come out until I call you, okay?"
"Yes, Sariah," said Emily, her voice quavering only a little.
They approached carefully. In the middle of the trail was a knot of about six men on horses, wearing grey. Sariah's mouth went dry. She slid her rifle into its holster, and wrapped her fingers around the revolver. Emily and Buddy followed. As they got closer, they could see why the Greys were gathered. In the dust was the small body of Josiah.
Sariah felt her temper begin to erupt. They continued their walk. The Greys parted, looking at the two women with interest. "You're the one who gave me trouble in the store," said a familiar voice. Sariah looked at the blonde man and glared.
"Mighty brave of you six to gang up on a little kid. What would you have done if he had a rifle?"
"This," said the blonde man as he aimed his pistol at Sariah and fired. Sariah dropped and rolled.
Fortunately Emily took this as her signal to run. Sariah caught her escape out of the corner of her eye as she aimed and fired at the blonde man. He fell dead. Now the others were firing. She rolled and fired. Some shots hit their targets while others misfired. Out of six shots, four hit. Then she drew her pistol. As she aimed at her last opponents, another horse road up the trail with Emily draped over the saddle. Sariah looked up into the new rider's face and froze. It was her father.
Sariah stood in the trail, her pistol aimed at her father's head. His blue eyes locked with hers. Sweat trickled down her face. A slow grin crossed his face.
"Sariah?" he asked, "Is that you?"
Sariah said nothing. She couldn't move and her mind screamed at her. 'Move, move --pull the trigger. You and Emily are going to die!' And another part of her mind screamed just as loud, "You can't kill him--he's your father." Unable to swallow, unable to blink, Sariah stood facing the man who had done everything in his power to take her soul into Hell with him. He rode closer, staring into the open neck of her shirt.
"My, you have grown up into a woman, now. And just think, you're all mine." He licked his lips and Sariah shuddered. She could feel his hands on her, his foul breath in her mouth. She wanted to spit, even though these were all memories, including the pain--this man had taken that which was most precious to her without a single thought. And now she would never be able to marry, to have children, to enter the highest part of the Celestial Kingdom when she died. She tried to snap herself out of it. She needed to protect Emily.
"I will kill you, if I have to," she said.
"You have no rights. I took you a virgin." His eyes were wild as a beast.
" I took you a virgin," he repeated. His mouth showed flecks of spittle. " I took you a virgin. It was my right." Now he was screaming, his face was purple and his veins stood out like blue chords.
His men looked at him, moving uncomfortably. "Uh, Captain, maybe we ought to go?" said a raw-boned man with missing teeth.
"We go when I say we go. Respect me--or else," he shouted. Then he casually cocked his pistol and aimed it at Sariah. He started to hum, showing off. It was a stupid ditty about horse racing. Sariah was so close to pulling the trigger.
The sound of horses approaching broke their deadlock. A tall man with distinguished features and expensive clothes rode up followed by his manservant. The servant was a big man, with a quick eye, and a hunter's aura about him. "That's enough," he said, and backed up the statement with the barrel of his Hawken Rifle pointed at Sariah's father.
"It's none of your business," said Sariah's father.
"Four men assaulting two women? I think it is. Let the lady down, and move along, now." Emily climbed down off the horse and ran to Sariah. Now her traitor body relaxed, and she put her pistol down, uncocked it, and put it in her belt.
"Now get out of here."
The five Greys rode off, raising a big cloud of dust. Sariah looked at the stranger and smiled. "Thank you, sir," she said.
Emily looked from the man to his servant and back. "Is he your slave?" she asked.
"His name is Elijah. And my name is Manlove Cranor. I'm glad to be of service to you ladies. Besides, I can't stand Jayhawkers."
Emily opened her mouth and somehow Sariah knew she was about to unleash a tirade on the evils of slavery. She turned to Emily and smiled.
"Emily, we don't need to seem ungrateful. Just thank the nice men for helping us." Emily turned red, took a deep breath and then stood still.
"Thank you both," she said.
Then Cranor looked down at Josiah's body. He frowned. "They had a busy day. Poor kid. I guess we can take the time to give him a decent burial."
Emily watched, fascinated, as Sariah rushed over to Josiah's crumpled body, and examined his hands and wrists. Emily couldn't imagine what she was looking for because they both knew he was already dead. Sariah shook her head and then pulled out her flint and steel. She took dry grass, twisting it tightly and lit it, blowing it into a flame, and then pushing the glowing ember against Josiah's skin at his wrist. The smell of burned grass and flesh merged, then faded. The others stared.
Sariah said nothing as she silently prayed over his body. She placed her hands in front of her, palms up, and then pushed the empty air up towards the sky. Then she stood. Her eyes were dry, but Emily noticed she staggered a bit as she stood. It was then that Emily figured out it must be some sort of Indian custom.
So Manlove Cranor, Elijah, Emily and Sariah set about burying Josiah. Sariah and Emily found a nice spot under a tree. Elijah dug the hole and Cranor gently lifted the boy and carried him to his grave. He laid Josiah in the ground, then surprised Sariah and Emily by giving a funeral oration--nice and simple. They each took a handful of dust to scatter on his grave and Sariah added a small bag made of fine buckskin. She stood over the grave scattering a bit of tobacco and praying quietly. When she was finished, a hawk circled over her head. Elijah covered the grave with dirt as Cranor talked with Sariah and Emily.
"Are you ladies headed West?"
"Yes. It will be nice to get there," said Emily.
"Lot's of folks are leaving. They can feel it in the air. There's a war coming, North against South with Missouri and Kansas caught in the middle. The smart ones leave. Or the ones it's easy to pick on, like the Mormons," he said.
"You knew," said Sariah.
"I knew. Besides, that Captain Porter fellow is a well-known Apostate Mormon He spends half his life hating Mormons and the other half hating Abolitionists. Nobody can hate like someone who used to belong. I've run into him before. He and his bunch like to terrorize the local folks on general principles. They set my sister's barn on fire. She was in it at the time."
Emily's eyes grew round, almost as if she were a sponge absorbing knowledge instead of water. "I'm so sorry. What a terrible thing. Did she escape?"
"Those men are just plain evil. I had thought Greys only hunted Mormons. But they don't. They go after, well, it sounds like, almost anyone they can," she said. Cranor nodded. "Anybody who stands up to them, at least. But if no one fights back, they win, and decent folks everywhere lose. I like to think of myself as a decent man. I'm ashamed of how much power these men have."
"These are hard times," said Sariah. "And those are hard men. Their hearts are made of flint."
She took a slip of paper and a pencil out of her possible bag, writing a short note, and signing, then handing it to Manlove Cranor. "Can you get this to Josiah's folks? They live in the Creek village. Name's Harjo. They live by the crick."
"I sure will."
Then he looked at Sariah, examining her face closely.
"How does the Captain know you?" he asked. Sariah's face closed. She stiffened, and then shrugged.
"He's been around," she said.
"Just stirring folks up no doubt. Yep, there'll be a war. I'm certain of it," he said. He tucked the note Sariah had written to Josiah's parents into his hunting pouch, and gave Sariah and Emily a courteous bow. With that, he climbed into the saddle and prepared to ride off with Elijah. Then he half turned, and smiled at the women.
"By the way, I didn't vote for Governor Boggs," he said. His laugh floated back to them as he rode off. As Sariah got Buddy, and Emily began to walk with them again, they turned to each other with a grin.
"What a nice man. I don't think he was joking about not voting for Boggs. He just didn't seem the type who would support a man calling for the extermination of all Mormons in Missouri," said Emily.
"Oh, I believe him. He is right about the war, you know. Brother Joseph already said it would happen. He even said it would start with the rebellion of South Carolina. I'll be glad to get out of here," said Sariah.
"How did that horrible man know you? He said your name, and such strange and, well, insane things. He really frightened me. I can't believe you kept your pistol on him the whole time. You are so brave," said Emily.
"No, I'm not," said Sariah. "I don't want to talk about it."
"It might make you feel better."
"No, it won't," said Sariah. "Not by a long shot." She looked at her hands and shivered.
Emily was silent for all of a minute, and then she started to sing,
"Come, come ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you, the journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
'Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this and joy your hearts will swell,
All is well, All is well."
Sariah let Brother Clayton's words wash over her, reaching out to God and hoping beyond hope that her father wasn't following them. Emily had a lot of faith. Sariah had tried to, and failed. She had met prophets, supped with Seers, and watched as others were brought miracles, and yet her heart was empty. Maybe this little New Englander could teach her something about it. That would be her miracle. If she could get them both safely to Salt Lake Valley, maybe along the way she could learn to love God. Then a voice whispered in her ear, "murderer."
"Sariah, how long does it take to get to the Valley?"
Now Sariah smiled indulgently. Her thoughts were black enough. This time she welcomed the interruption. She thought back to the trip she had taken with her uncle and his friends. "About three months, give or take."
"Give or take what?"
"Cyclones, dust storms, floods, early snow storms...."
"It's July. Where would it snow in Early October?", said Emily.
"In the Rocky Mountains. We'll be going over the Continental Divide."
"The Continental Divide, when the rivers all run from West to East, or East to West, depending on which side of the divide they happen to start at," said Sariah. Emily gave a little skip, while the corners of her mouth turned up.
"Oh, I do want to see that."
"Unless its under 12 feet of snow, don't worry, you'll see it."
"Okay," said Emily.
"In honor of our fallen comrade. I'll even say, "uh huh", if you like," said Emily.
Sariah fought back the sudden tightening of her throat. Leave it to Emily to find a perfect way to remember Josiah. They walked until dusk, camping in a little spot under some willows. Emily gathered firewood and actually started a fire, after nearly wearing her arm off trying to strike a spark with Sariah's flint and steel set.
Sariah caught a hare for dinner, while Emily made bread, and they finished the last of the fresh fruit. Then Sariah cleaned, oiled and reloaded her rifle and pistols. She checked her knives to be sure their edge was razor sharp. Then they laid down their bedrolls, and as Emily wrote in her journal, Sariah checked on Buddy. She had plenty to eat, was happy to have the burden off her back, and looked glad to see Sariah. She had brushed Buddy, and checked her feet already, so Sariah patted her, feeling the silent bond of mutual trust.
She looked back at Emily, writing in her journal, then reading in her Book of Mormon. She had taken up Sariah's challenge without an angry word. Sariah smiled to herself. Lots of folks could learn from her. She waited a bit, and then wandered back to the campfire. She leaned against as tree as she sat, careful of knotting up her long legs.
Emily looked up and smiled. That smile lit up her whole face. She closed the book and carefully put it away, like a rich man handles rare treasures. Then she faced Sariah.
"I'm in the habit of praying before I retire for the night. Won't you join me?"
"After what I did? I don't think God wants to hear from me," said Sariah.
"What are you talking about?"
"Emily, I killed four men. And then I couldn't honor them, so I just left them in the trail to rot. Seems to me I have blood on my hands, and I might as well forget about even trying to impress God by praying."
"Is that what you think it is?"
"Well, I don't know--maybe."
"I need a father, mine is dead and I miss him. I miss my mother too, so I like to think about Heavenly Mother too, when I pray."
Sariah remembered her own cowardly mother. She set her jaw and walked away, leaving Emily to her fantasies.
The blue eyes bored into hers. She was cold and shaking. His voice carried like thunder. "You have killed. Congratulations, now you are mine for all eternity, for I have beaten down Cain, and taken the kingdom he stole from Satan."
"No. Oh no." Sariah's voice sounded so small to her ears--like a little girl. She was looking for her pistol, her rifle, anything to use as a weapon, to defend herself and Emily.
"You think you can protect that innocent young thing? You are as foul as any woman who ever lived. You have lost your virtue and your hands are stained with the blood of my men," he said.
As Sariah looked at her hands, they were bright red and slimy with blood. She looked back to see Emily standing under a tree. The thunder was louder and a bolt of lightning jumped from the sky and split the tree, leaving a smoking ruin behind. Emily was gone. "Oh my God! Emily! Emily!"
Emily heard Sariah cry out from across the camp. She could see Sariah with the light of the full moon, twitching and rolling in her bedroll. Then Emily heard her name. 'Nightmare' she thought. She got up and went to Sariah's side. She knew to be careful. Those having a nightmare might do anything before completely waking. "Sariah...Sariah, wake up. It's a nightmare. Sariah," said Emily.
The frontierswoman only fought harder. Emily knew it was a big risk, but she gently reached out and touched Sariah's shoulder. Sariah sat up with a start, and delivered a roundhouse punch that knocked Emily flat. The pain was incredible, as her teeth ground together and her neck was whipped sideways.
Then Sariah opened her eyes and saw Emily lying on the ground beside her bedroll. It didn't take a genius to figure out what happened. Sariah felt a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Her father was right. She was foul. She had hurt this innocent girl she was charged with protecting for three months. Would she kill her before they got to the valley?
"Emily, oh, Emily, I'm so sorry. I never meant to hurt you."
Emily looked up, still a bit stunned. Her eyes filled with tears. Sariah didn't blame her. She probably would be better off going back to Winter Quarters and waiting for someone more stable to escort her West.
"I know you didn't. You were dreaming." Her voice was muffled as her jaw began to swell. Sariah knew what to do, so she stood and went to the saddlebags to get her herbs. She put a tin cup into the embers of their campfire and stirred them up with a long stick. Then she found the Shepherd's Purse. As they waited for the water to heat up, Sariah poured water on a rag and gently placed it against Emily's jaw.
"Yeah, I was dreaming. Emily, do you think God might forgive me for killing those men?"
"You did it to save our lives. Sariah, the people in the Bible and the Book of Mormon fought to defend themselves and their families. I think that as we cross the plains together, we are family--at least for now," said Emily.
Sariah couldn't breathe for a second. Then she took a deep breath and expelled it. "I thought you wouldn't want to travel with me anymore. I hit you, after all. And I've been pretty impossible on the trail. I'm sorry," said Sariah.
Emily tried to smile, but winced with the pain. "Yes, we both have. It takes a while to get to know someone. Just the growing pains of a friendship, okay?"
"I'd like you to be my friend. Thank you." And a warm feeling started to fill the emptiness inside Sariah.
Emily rested the whole night next to Sariah's bedroll, as Sariah plied her with Shepherd's Purse tea and cool compresses. By morning, Emily looked like Hell. Sariah walked around the campsite, looking for food. Since Emily should rest today, they may as well accomplish something.
She felt him before she saw him. He looked at her from across the grasslands, his brown eyes fixed on her. She reached out to the magnificent buck with her soul, and felt his in exchange. "Are you willing?" she asked silently.
"I am. But when you die, it is your turn to be food for the plants," he thought.
"I know. Mvto (Thank you)," she thought. Then she raised her rifle. He held perfectly still. She aimed and fired. The rifle miss-fired. The dull sound caused her anger to rise; she tamped it down and fired again. The cartridge was good. The deer fell. Sariah went to it, said a prayer of thanks and field dressed it, burying it's innards with a prayer. Then she dragged the deer into camp.
Emily nearly fainted. Sariah came into camp dragging the biggest buck she had ever seen. She knew they had a lot of work ahead of them. They tied the deer and hung his body to cool. Sariah made racks of the willows growing half a mile away. Then they skinned the deer, and cut the meat into strips. Sariah showed Emily how to cut along the grain of the meat so the strips would hang properly on the racks. When they finished, Sariah prepared the hide to use as rawhide while Emily slept. Emily drifted off, watching Sariah's long arms ripple with muscles as she worked the fur off the hide. She was so beautiful.
Sariah had made a log into a ramp by ramming one end into the ground and propping the other end up with boulders. She draped the hide over it and got out the special knife she used for this job. She smiled as she remembered making the knife with her uncle.
She had been twelve, and it was the end of the first year he had taken her from her parents to live with him. He never asked what had gone on in that house. He didn't need to. Somehow he knew. He didn't know how to raise a girl, so he raised her as his son. It was good enough for Sariah. She'd had adventures no woman she knew had even dreamed of and she had learned to take care of herself, something she wanted more than anything. Whatever else happened, she knew she would survive.
After hours of scraping, Sariah had cleaned the fur and fat off the hide. What was left would dry hard, so she rolled it to a compact shape they could carry with them. She would be able to make containers, or rope, or repair her saddle. Then she set off to find some greens. She had been craving them, and knew her body was telling her what to eat.
Sariah rubbed her arms to relieve her aching muscles. Then Emily woke up. They shared some hardtack and the boiled pigweed Sariah had been able to gather. Poor Emily couldn't chew the hardtack, so Sariah broke it into her bowl of pigweed, and the potlicker softened it so that she could eat.
After their lunch, Sariah took Emily to the little creek where she had found the willows. Emily used the cool water as a compress on her bruised jaw, while Sariah cut willow bark to use with her other medicines. Emily was such a brave little thing, Sariah thought to herself. And so beautiful, despite the ugly bruise on her jaw.
Sariah took advantage of the water to take her boots off and clean herself and her clothes in one operation. It felt so good to get the trail dust off. She washed her hair clean, then stood. Emily suddenly flushed bright red as her eyes burned. Sariah hurried to her side, feeling her forehead. She was too warm. Her breathing has shallow and her pulse was too fast. "Musta worked her too hard today," she thought.
Sariah quickly took water in her cupped hands and gently poured it down Emily's face. The flush faded. Emily's breathing returned to normal, but her heart was still beating too fast. Sariah sat Emily down under some willows. "How do you feel?" she asked.
"I was dizzy. I don't know why. Maybe I worked too hard this morning. I couldn't catch my breath. I'm sorry."
"Don't be. You just scared me a bit," said Sariah.
"I scared me a bit too. I've never felt so odd before. I wonder if I'm coming down with something."
"Why don't I put you to bed now?" said Sariah as they climbed out of the creek. She wrung out her clothes while still wearing them, put on her boots, and escorted Emily to their camp. Sariah laid their bedrolls together, so she could keep an eye on Emily. Then Emily prayed and Sariah watched. With an exchanged glance that filled her heart, Sariah drifted off to sleep.
During the night, Emily awakened to the sound of something moving. The something rustled slightly in the bushes. Then made its way to the meat racks. Then, as the moonlight hit the small, furry body, she saw that it was a raccoon--no, a mother raccoon leading her two babies. She looked over at Sariah's bedroll. It was empty. Then she saw Sariah kneeling on the ground with a pistol aimed at the bold bandits. Her mind knew that they were stealing their food. That raccoons were food in some parts of the country, but they were so cute. Her heart ached at the thought of watching them get their heads blown off.
The mother raccoon pulled a strip of meat off with her teeth. The two youngsters tried to follow suit, but had to use their paws to help tug the leathery meat free. There was the sound of the pistol being cocked, then a blast. Light came from the pistol as the cartridge exploded. Then all three raccoons ran for their lives, still hanging on to the meat.
Now Emily began to giggle. The raccoons had gotten away. Sariah would be mad, but Emily was happy. That was when she heard Sariah's throaty chuckle. She thought it was funny too. "Hey, wait a minute. You are a sharpshooter. You missed on purpose," said Emily.
"I simply asked little Mother Raccoon if she was willing to be our next meal, and she decided that she would rather not," said Sariah.
"So you scared her instead."
"Okay." said Emily. And then she smiled to herself. Sariah might try to cover her more feminine feelings, but they were there. It was nice to know she wasn't the only one with a sentimental streak.
Sariah put the pistol away, and climbed into her bedroll, with Emily beside her. Then Emily took all her courage in her hands, and gently laid her hand on Sariah's. They looked into each other's eyes, and the tenderness of spirit warmed them both, as a sweet feeling neither had ever felt swelled their bosoms. Sariah gave Emily her crooked smile, and rolled over. Emily took the hint, and turned away also, but a small piece of her heart remained behind.
They were on the trail once more. The land had flattened out and yet, as they walked, the sky made cloud productions that rivaled anything the Nauvoo Theater had ever thought of. They could see clouds shaped like the Greek gods of old, like fierce monsters, or like deep, craggy canyons. The wildlife was plentiful. They saw so many small animals they lost count. Birds abounded because the grassy lands provided both food and shelter.
'This country is rich,' thought Sariah. Her eyes flicked over to Emily again. The bruise was nearly healed. Only a shadow of it remained. Emily caught her look and smiled. She came closer, and Sariah felt the warmth of her spirit. So sweet. Sariah felt so privileged to share this journey with such a good woman.
"Oh Sariah, look," whispered Emily. Sariah peered the direction Emily was looking and froze. Buffalo. Now she could see the herd. She relaxed. They were ambling along, grazing. "Have you ever seen a buffalo before?"
"No. They are majestic beasts. And there are so many. Why, the whole area is covered with them. When they move, its like waves in the ocean."
"Emily, they may be majestic and they may be good food, but if anything spooks them and they begin to run--they are a terrible danger. They don't move for anything in their path and that includes you and me--and Buddy. If you hear any sound, or something like thunder, we need to find something to hide behind. And out here . . . well, it's a rare thing. You might want to pray on it."
Emily opened her mouth and then closed it. She gave the buffalo an astonished look, then came even closer to Sariah. Sariah knew she was afraid. Her warning had been too effective. Sariah longed to put an arm around her for comfort, but something held her back. "I meant to be careful, not to stop breathing."
"Okay. So I can still talk?"
"I don't think anything could stop you. I consider it another force of nature." Emily smiled again. She was beginning to understand Sariah's sense of humor.
They came to a field of sunflowers. The stalks were well over their heads and the seeds huge and ripe. They stopped to gather some, by cutting down the heads and extracting the seeds with their thumbs. It was then that Sariah noticed the marker. The pile of stones was topped by a wooden stake with a single streamer of yellow cloth tied around it. She remembered the marker from her last journey West.
"Emily, do you see that marker?"
"Yes. What is it?"
"That marks the beginning of Omaha Territory. We need to show our respect and wait for someone to show up here, so we can ask permission to cross their lands."
"I thought there was a treaty with all the Indians so we could cross."
"I don't understand. I thought that's what Lewis and Clark did," said Emily.
"They got permission to cross various people's lands, but not for anybody but themselves."
"Do you mean that all the people going West are just crossing these lands because we think it's okay? Why didn't anybody tell us?"
"Because politicians are all crooked," said Sariah.
"Well, I can't always believe the worst of people. I just have to believe most of them have good intentions."
"If they are all so wonderful, why do you want to vote?", asked Sariah. Emily was silent, thinking. "I guess I think women will care more about the future, of a better world for our children, and making sure our humanity doesn't get lost with our progress." Sariah couldn't stop herself. She reached up, and put her hand on Emily's shoulder, looking into her eyes.
"You should be President," she said.
Emily giggled. Sariah removed her hand and looked at it. She felt so awkward. Why did she want to touch Emily so much? Sure, most women were very open about touching their friends, but Sariah wasn't like most women. Was she turning more feminine? Emily was watching her now.
She got back to work shucking the sunflower seeds. The rough, spongy head and the hard seeds popping out felt good.
"Sariah, have you ever thought about getting married?"
"No. Yes. I can't . . . I mean, I'd like to, but there's problems."
"What do you mean?"
Sariah looked away and concentrated on shucking seeds. "I don't want to go into this," she said.
"Is it because you're afraid you're not feminine enough?"
"That's a small part of it."
"Is it because you killed those men?", said Emily.
"Yeah. Who would want me now?", said Sariah.
"I think as a third wife, maybe. Oh Sariah, I think you are such a good person and I hate to see you miss out on a Celestial Marriage. If the man I'm to marry would take you too, we could be together for all eternity."
Joy leapt into Sariah's heart. The solution was so wonderful--except. Her heart sank. Even as a fifth or sixth wife, who would want her? And how many men would be willing to take on that many wives? Most had one or two. How would Richard Purdy react to the idea of a third wife who had lost her virtue and killed? No, her original plan would have to do. She was just about to explain when a lone rider rode up.
He was tall, with a long head and elegant neck. His nose was aristocratic and his long, black hair streamed over his shoulders. He was a good color, like mahogany. His breechclout and leather leggings were decorated with bright and intricate quillwork, hard soled moccasins covered his feet, while a bone breastplate covered his chest. He looked good and he knew it. Sariah stood to greet him, as did Emily. He remained on his horse, looking down, then his eyes flicked over Buddy, and he lifted his eyebrows in admiration.
"Hers'ce," said Sariah. A look of respect flashed across his face. He launched into rapid Omaha. Sariah felt her heart sink. She understood nothing. She made the sign for greetings. He made it back, asking what they were doing there. Sariah signed back that they were waiting for permission to cross their land. He nodded and rode off. Emily turned to Sariah.
"Now what do we do?", she asked.
"We wait," said Sariah.
They had the sunflower seeds all packed up and had taken a break for a meal when the rider returned. He made a sign for them to follow and they trailed him into the Omaha camp, which was in a small copse of trees. The tepees were arranged in a circle. The camp was very neat in appearance, Emily noted. The horses were tethered in two groups, and guarded by young men. The tepees themselves were cone-shaped, and elegant, with paintings on the outside of the buffalo hide, which hung so tightly from the long poles, that there was not a wrinkle to be seen. Extra poles controlled smoke flaps, so that on a cold night, the family inside could sleep in comfort. But it was a hot day. Many tepees had a side rolled up to catch the breeze.
Cooking was being done outside, and good smells wafted from each cooking fire as women prepared a meal. The women were dressed in light calico dresses, but of an Indian design, with sleeves left open to the air, yet tied below to keep them out of the way. They reminded Emily of butterflies. Their moccasins were also hard soled, and they too sported quillwork. Children were running everywhere, joyful in their play--but they seemed to be quiet and obedient. The smallest of them ran naked, which made Emily blush.
Their guide stopped and bade them wait. Soon a magnificent man with a solemn face strode up to them. Sariah smiled, and nodded her head. Emily did the same. Maybe this was the Chief. He circled them as they stood, then came back and looked at them. He made a sign to Sariah. Then they sat outside on a buffalo robe. "Welcome," he said. Emily caught her breath. He spoke English. This was good.
"I remember you," he said to Sariah. "You came through with your uncle last year."
"That's right. How are you and your people?"
"We had a good year. Plenty of buffalo, not so many people passing through," he said.
"We came to ask permission to pass through your land," said Sariah.
"I will think on it. Meanwhile, you may enter the sweat lodge, not in a holy way but to clean and refresh yourselves."
A huge smile crossed Sariah's face. She looked at Emily, then back at the chief. "Thank you. This is a good thing you do for us."
A woman came up to them. Her face exuded light, and there was something about her that made Emily happy just to see her. Her hair was held back behind her head with a quilted leather tube cleverly fixed so that not one hair escaped. She wore a blue butterfly dress and moccasins. The woman led them to a hut made of saplings bent and lashed together. They were covered in buffalo hides. A fire burned outside, as rocks were heated. The woman and Sariah doffed their clothes. Emily blushed furiously. She had never been naked in front of anyone before."
"Emily, do you bathe with your clothes on?" asked Sariah gently.
"I just never--I mean, not front of anyone.
"It's just us women here," said Sariah.
So Emily carefully took off her dress and her underdrawers, her socks and her shoes. A strange feeling came over her as a breeze hit her skin. She felt free, somehow. The three women entered the hut. A pit for the stones was dug in the middle of the floor. A tall woman brought them some hot stones, carried in an antler rake and put them in the pit. The woman with the light countenance took a container of water and a dipper. She poured water over the rocks and steam began to rise.
Emily was fine until she closed the flap over the door. The room was plunged into a profound darkness. Now the heat was hotter than anything Emily had ever experienced. It was getting harder to breathe. Emily was close to fainting. The woman reached past Emily and lifted the hide up just enough to let in some air. Emily gave a grateful sigh and then felt her body break out into a sweat. After two more pourings of water on the rocks, they came out exhausted and dripping with sweat.
The woman led them to a little creek, where they cupped their hands and poured the icy cold water over their skin. Then she gave them some cloth to dry off with. Emily knew her clothes were smelly by now, so she wore them just long enough to change into her others. Sariah noticed the condition of her own clothing, as she held them out at arms length. The woman laughed and went into a tipi. She came out with a red butterfly dress and Indian underthings. She handed them to Sariah, who put them on with a smile. Emily was fascinated with the strange underclothing and their complicated ties and loopings. Sariah just matter-of-factly pulled the long leather strip under the belt around her waist, through her legs and tucked it over the belt in back. The leather leggings tied onto the belt from each side. Finally Sariah added the red dress. Emily was surprised at how beautiful Sariah looked in a dress. She was really a lovely woman, as a group of Omaha swains also discovered.
The women walked past them with their newly washed laundry. As they draped it in the trees to dry, four men circled Sariah, looking her up and down. A flash of anger crossed her face and then it went calm. Now the men were making comments in Omaha, even drawing womanly shapes in the air with their hands. Sariah stood taller. Then one put his hands on her, feeling her muscles. Emily's mouth was dry. She knew Sariah's temper. She watched for the darkness to appear under Sariah's face, but just as she saw a flash of it, one of the men opened Sariah's mouth and examined her teeth.
Then Emily saw a look of comprehension in Sariah's eyes. Her mouth quirked into a smile, and she began to laugh. The men who had been teasing her joined in, then everyone in camp. Emily even started to giggle. The light woman grinned at her. Emily watched Sariah run off with her new friends to their horses, where they showed off for one another riding bareback.
It was then that Emily noticed she was surrounded. A collection of wide-eyed children and women were all looking at her, as if waiting for something. The light woman explained, "They want to touch your hair."
"You speak English?", asked Emily.
"I never said I didn't," she explained, shrugging. "My name is Ooiltownah."
"Why would they want to touch my hair?"
"They have never seen hair the color of sunset before," she said.
"Oh, in that case, sure," said Emily who then stood patiently as each woman felt her hair and exclaimed at its feel. Since the children were shorter, Emily squatted down to their level. When the last child had run his fingers through, Emily stood.
Suddenly a woman was before her with embroidery scissors in hand. Her countenance was dark and Emily shivered. She did not like this woman. She shook her head, "no." The woman reached for her hair anyway. Emily pushed her hands away. Ooiltownah said something to her. She gave them both a furious look and then stomped away.
"I'm sorry," said Emily.
"You did right. She would have tried to use your hair to harm you. Her heart is not right. She is an angry person."
And Emily was faced with another Indian custom. She really wanted to understand. The two women sat under a tree on a trade blanket. "How could she harm me with my hair? Was she trying to cut it all off? Those scissors didn't look as if they would do the job very well," said Emily.
"She would put bad medicine on it and that could make you sick." Emily didn't really believe in such things, but she shivered nonetheless. It was hard to imagine such anger in another human being.
"Why is she so angry?"
"Her son was stolen from her. She is angry because she wants him back."
"Who stole him?" asked Emily.
"White people like you."
"Oh. But she doesn't seem to be after Sariah, and she's White too," said Emily.
"No, she's just another kind of Indian," said Ooiltownah. "Like I am. I am Kiowa, but I married Nuungaththez because he is a good man.
"But Sariah's mostly White," said Emily.
"Her heart is Indian. That is what counts. But you are not like other White people. You listen with your heart. You take time."
"I'm sorry you have not met other White people like me. Most of us are rather nice," said Emily. Ooiltownah smiled, patting her hand. "It is good that Sariah has such a friend."
"I want to ask you about something else, it you don't mind. When a friend of Sariah's died, she looked at his hands and then took some grass and lit it so she could burn his hand, but he was already dead. Why did she do that?", asked Emily.
"That must be the way of her people. We are many Nations and we have many ways. Have you asked her?"
"She didn't seem to want to talk about it."
"Ah, then it is probably sacred," she said. "Your friend is trying to live in two worlds. One is trying to kill the other, and if not the body; they want to kill the spirit. That is one reason she is so sad."
Emily sat and pondered Ooiltownah's words, watched the children play and Sariah and the young men doing riding tricks. She thought how at home Sariah seemed, and yet wondered if maybe Sariah would ever want to leave her family and live here, among a doomed people. Emily excused herself and found her ink, pen and journal. She put the pen together, dipped it, and touched it to the rag, then began to write.
"What is that you are doing?", asked Ooiltownah.
"I'm writing my thoughts and ideas down so I can remember them better," said Emily.
"And those marks that look like horses leaping, they help you remember?"
"You must have a bad memory," she said.
"I do," said Emily.
About an hour later, Sariah had finished showing off and came back to Emily. She glanced at her journal and at the woman sitting next to her. She nodded at the woman respectfully. "Hullo. What are you writing?"
"A poem. Want to hear it?"
Sariah curled her long legs under her so that she was sitting on the blanket. "Yes, please," she said.
Like the waves of the ocean,
And the surf's thunderous roar,
The mighty bison herd,
Shook the earth to its core.
The brown waves made dust rise,
Instead of the foam,
And covered the wide prairie,
The buffalo's home.
"That's mighty good," said Sariah. "I could see it."
"You have a gift to tell such stories," said Ooiltownah.
"Well, It doesn't quite scan," said Emily.
That night they feasted on good stew made of buffalo meat and root vegetables Emily couldn't identify, but they were sweet and filling. Then, as they prepared for bed, Ooiltownah invited Sariah and Emily into her tipi. As Emily poked her head inside the big opening and stepped over the strip of hide serving as a threshold, she could see inside at last. She had been intensely curious about these cone-shaped tents. The poles rose gracefully on all sides and met well over her head. The area from her feet to her shoulders was lined with an inner layer of buffalo hide, stretched tight. The floor was covered with woven mats and trade blankets over buffalo robes. It was hot, so they were neatly laid out to pad the ground. Pretty backrests made of willow were arranged around the inside, as well as rocks lining the place where a fire was kept going for warmth in winter. The fire circle was cold now that summer was in full heat. They were shown where they might take a bed. Emily stifled a yawn. She bowed her head, said her prayers, then looked up at Sariah. "I would really be pleased if you could join me in prayer sometime. It might ease your heart a little," said Emily.
Sariah ignored her. She wasn't about to get into an argument as a guest in someone's home. Ooiltownah put her hand on Sariah's back, looking her in the eyes.
"Is there nothing to thank the Great Spirit for?" she asked.
Now Sariah was shamed. She looked at her feet, then at Emily.
"Yes," said Sariah.
"Then just speak what is in your heart."
"Creator, I want to thank you that I have gotten to go West. I thank you that I got supplies and can hunt, and for all those animals who agreed to be our food. I thank you that we have good water so far, and that we are healthy. I especially thank you that I have Emily for a friend. I never had a real friend before. Mvto." Sariah could see Emily blink tears out of her eyes. She was touched. She bent down and laid a hand over Emily's shoulder then dropped it, and lay down to sleep.
It was dark. Sariah sat up with a start. Was that lightning striking? Thunder? She heard Emily whimper, then cry out, "Johnny." Sariah now could feel the ground shake.
"Stampede!" Sariah called out, so everyone could hear.
"Stampede!" The rumble of thousands of hooves grew closer. Nuungaththez and Ooiltownah bolted outside. Sariah pulled Emily upright and carried her from the tipi.
The camp was in frenzy. Elders were placed in the thickest part of the trees, while people ran after children and those women who were with child. Sariah saw three men run by with a red blanket, and knew they were going to try to turn the herd. Sariah realized she was wearing red and ran after them. The herd was still not there yet. Sariah knew they had to head then off before the buffalo got to the camp. The four people were about a quarter mile from the camp, when two men held up the red blanket so it was open. The third man took up a position on the left of the blanket and Sariah took the right. She could see better now as the sun turned the sky the color of blood. The ground was shaking hard now and dust was in her mouth. She could see the frightened beasts running straight for them.
They all began to shout and wave their arms. Sariah whistled as loud as she could and still the herd plunged toward them. Then as the lead animals came so close Sariah could feel their hot breath on her skin, they shied and turned, half to the left, half to the right. Here was another thing to thank the Creator for.
Emily took a second to wake up enough to orient herself, and then helped gather children into the safest place between the trees. It was then that she could see a child running toward them, her short legs moving fast, but not fast enough to escape a single cow that had broken loose from the herd and was fast bearing down on her. Emily ran for her, pushed her down, and rolled with her just missing the cow's hooves.
Continued in Part 2.