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Into the Long Dark Night
By Michael Phillips
Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLCCopyright © 1992 Michael Phillips
All rights reserved.
Getting Ready to Go East
Where you bound for, Miss?" a voice rasped beside me.
I glanced up nervously. "Oh ... the East Coast," I said. He must have gotten aboard at the last little town we stopped at. I hadn't even seen him sit down.
"Long ways for a young girl like yourself to be going," the man said. "You alone?"
I nodded. His question reminded me again just what an incredible thing this whole adventure was. I had ridden in the train around Sacramento a few times. But it was nothing compared to this huge, fast modern train and the locomotive pulling it.
I was about an hour east of St. Joseph, Missouri, now, and I was still pretty awestruck that I was halfway across the country and on my way to Washington, D.C.
It had been twenty-one days since I had left my family in Miracle Springs and boarded the Wells Fargo stagecoach bound for Salt Lake City. Then I changed to the Holladay Overland Mail and Stage. We mostly followed the Oregon and Mormon trails from there, over the Rockies and through Wyoming, down through Nebraska, and finally to the Missouri River and St. Joseph. After a night in a St. Joseph boardinghouse, this morning I had boarded the train to St. Louis.
I still couldn't believe it was actually happening. I was alone, on a train bound for St. Louis, Columbus, Ohio, through the Cumberland Gap of eastern Pennsylvania, and finally Washington, D.C, and the East Coast! And—the most unbelievable thing of all—in my bag I was carrying a letter from the President of the United States. Abraham Lincoln himself had invited me to visit the White House, and to help him with the war effort against the Confederacy.
For a long time I thought I was dreaming. But it was all real, and here I was!
It was a long way for me to be going alone—the man was right about that. I glanced over at him and smiled. He had a kind face and was well-dressed, although his raspy voice reminded me of Alkali Jones.
"Well, I work for the railroad, Miss," he said. "I'm not going far, just to the next stop. But if you have any trouble, or need anything, you be sure to talk to the conductor. We're here to help you any way we can."
I thanked him, and we chatted for a few minutes more. Then he excused himself and went to talk to the conductor.
I gazed out the window, listening to the rhythmic sound of the steel wheels thrumming underneath me, and thought about the months since receiving Mr. Lincoln's letter. That had been the week just before Christmas last year, after I'd come back from Sacramento. At first I was so mixed up about Cal—feeling angry, foolish, stupid, and immature. I wanted to go out and chase him down and get back the Union's money, and make sure he wasn't able to tell his uncle or anyone else something that would hurt the Northern cause. A lot of my initial thoughts weren't altogether rational!
But Pa soon talked some sense into me. It was winter, and I couldn't go just yet, not unless I wanted to risk getting snowed in somewhere on the stageline, and neither Pa nor Almeda liked that idea much. Not unless I wanted to take the Butterfield Overland stage that went through the South, as Cal had done. But I didn't want to travel through the Confederacy. There was a lot of fighting going on by now down in the region of the country the Butterfield went through—not so much during the winter months, but I didn't want to take any chances!
In the end we all decided it would be best for me to wait until spring and take the Wells Fargo and Holladay route. In the meantime, I wrote a letter to Mr. Lincoln, thanking him for his kindness and telling him I'd be proud to take him up on his offer to visit. I said I hoped to be there sometime in late June 1863.
Besides the weather, I also had to wait several months because the first book of my journals got published in January. The whole family was so excited—especially me!
Mr. Kemble had already talked by telegraph to Mr. MacPherson. In spite of all that was happening, there had already been considerable interest in the book in the East, and he wanted me to get started gathering up material from my journals to make into a second book.
None of us could believe it! I hardly had a chance to get used to the notion of being an author, and now Mr. Kemble and I had to get working on another book. I had enough stuff written in all my diaries and journals, that much was for sure. But I couldn't quite understand the idea of putting into a book what I'd written down just for myself—I still had a hard time figuring out why anyone would be interested in any of it. Of course the story of how the five of us kids got to California, and how we found Pa, might interest folks, especially because it happened in the middle of the gold rush. But the other, more personal, writing—well, I didn't know.
"What parts of my journals do you want?" I had asked Mr. Kemble. "There's nothing much that seems like it'd make a book."
"Your pa's trouble with Buck Krebbs and him writing back East for Katie and Becky getting kidnapped and rescued—you don't think that's plenty exciting?"
"Sure, I guess so," I answered. "I guess I was wondering more about my private thoughts."
"Put some of that in, too. It's all interesting. It's all interesting, Corrie."
With his help, we got it all written down in a form that he thought would make a good book, and sent it off to Mr. MacPherson in Chicago. Even while we were doing that, mail started coming to me from people who had read the first book about our trip west and finding Pa, and that encouraged me about the work Mr. Kemble and I were doing.
So for all these reasons, the first several months of 1863 were busy ones before I could be ready to leave for the East.
By the time I stepped onto that Wells Fargo stagecoach in the second week of May, one book about California with my name on it was being read, according to Mr. Kemble and some of the mail, all across the country, and another one was on the way. I found myself wondering if I'd someday write another book about what was happening now in the East for the people back in California.CHAPTER 2
Looking Back with Different Eyes
Even after the excitement of seeing the book get published and anticipating getting to visit Mr. Lincoln, still it might have been a foolhardy thing to do, heading across the country alone in the middle of all the fighting that was going on!
That just wasn't the kind of thing most ordinary young women did. But I don't suppose most folks would accuse me of being "ordinary"—in how I thought about things or in what I did.
Pa and Almeda both tried to talk me out of going more than once between Christmas and the middle of May when I left. I even talked myself out of it a time or two.
But they both had enough of the adventurer's blood in them to understand why I had to go. Pa and Uncle Nick had gotten into trouble, but they had their share of wanderlust when they were young, too. And after Mr. Parrish had died, Almeda had the drive and determination to do some things that other women didn't do, and to succeed at them no matter what all the men may have thought.
Ma, too, had been a mighty determined, headstrong lady before she died. The older I got the more I realized how extraordinary she must have been. Just bringing us all out across the country as she'd done was a pretty remarkable thing to do. And that was eleven years ago, when the prairie and plains were a lot less tame than they were now. And California wasn't tame, either!
Not until you grow up yourself can you see what was inside your ma and pa and other people around you. When you're young, you see their faces, but you don't know what they're thinking. You hear their words, but you don't understand why they said them. You see what they do, but don't know the motives causing them to do things. It takes growing up, doing a lot of thinking, and looking inside your own self, before you can understand all those inside things about your own ma and pa.
I was seeing that I had little bits of all of them inside me—lots of Pa and Ma, of course, but parts of Uncle Nick and Almeda, too. Sometimes I was scared, but another part of me wanted to go and see places and do things I'd never done before. I suppose I had a good share of Ma's and Almeda's strong wills, too. Maybe other women hadn't done some of the things I was trying to do before. But that didn't mean I couldn't try. I might fail, but I just might succeed, too!
Pa and Almeda had both left home when they were younger than I was now. I had just turned twenty-six, and if I wasn't ready to try something out on my own by now, I figured I never would be. Life in the West had been a lot rougher and more primitive when Almeda had come around by steamer to California and when Pa and Uncle Nick had come west. Now I had a nice bright Concord stagecoach to ride in halfway—a little bumpy, perhaps, but better than a wagon train!—and now a smooth, fast train coach for the rest of the journey. This was positively luxurious compared to how they had traveled, and how it was when Ma and the five of us kids had struck out in 1852.
The only thing to worry about was the war.
It was easy to forget about that sometimes—it seemed so distant and far away. I couldn't help wondering if it was really true that the country was torn apart, with the two sides hating each other, and that thousands of boys were getting killed.
I could see the anxiety in Pa's and Almeda's faces when they waved goodbye to me in Sacramento. But we had talked and prayed it all through, and I told them that if I heard about or saw any fighting within a hundred miles, I'd jump on the fastest horse I could find, and fly due north as fast as his legs would carry me, no matter where I was at the time.
"I'm going to see President Lincoln," I said, "and to write an article or two about the war—who knows, maybe even part of a book. But I don't figure on getting anywhere near it myself!"
"Just don't forget it," said Pa. He smiled, but he was serious.
"We want you back," added Almeda, giving me a tight squeeze.
"You know I've got to go?" I said.
They both nodded.
"When the President himself invites you for a visit, and even to help him, there isn't anything you can do but go!"
So I rode off eastward on the stage, and my family all got in the big buggy they'd brought me down in and headed back north to Miracle Springs.
Who could tell how long it would be until I saw them all again? I cried quite a bit between Sacramento and Carson City. But they weren't just tears of sadness. Though I would miss my family, I was excited about the adventure ahead of me.CHAPTER 3
An Interesting Journey
Stagecoach travel had to be the most intimate way imaginable of getting from one place to another. There was no escaping the close quarters. Whether you liked it or not, you were jammed in with people you didn't know for long hours every day.
Most of the Concord stagecoaches I had traveled in back in California were built to carry nine passengers—three facing forward, three to the rear, and three in a seat in the center. But between most of the stations on the trip across the country, they used smaller coaches that didn't have the middle seat. There was also room on top and beside the driver if needed. I'd read about a stage several years ago running between Sacramento and Shasta in the north of California that held thirty-five people—the largest coach I'd ever heard of. But I never saw it.
During my trip, there were between three and eight of us along various stretches of the route. When the six seats inside were filled, two other men sat on top, one beside the driver and guard, and the other on the very top with the luggage.
The seats were upholstered in nice leather and were reasonably comfortable, except where the roads were so rough that we bounced up and down all day long. Then we all got mighty sore in our hindquarters!
The most interesting fellow on the way was an Englishman by the name of Sir Jeremy Mawr. He sat opposite me all the way from Salt Lake City to St. Joseph. He spoke in the most wonderful accent and was really quite friendly, in a stuffed-up kind of way. He said he had come here to learn about the gold rush and see the West firsthand, and was now on his way back to England. For someone interested enough to have come all that way, he did a lot of complaining about how uncivilized and uncouth everything was, although even then he made it sound appealing and attractive. Something about the voice and the accent made everything sound educated and full of more meaning than if an ordinary person had said it. Every once in a while he'd mumble some comment about the appalling conditions and the lack of a first-class compartment for gentlemen to ride in. His attitude was pretty uppity, but I just enjoyed listening to him talk, and didn't say anything.
One of the other passengers, a gun dealer from Denver, didn't have much patience with him. After one of Sir Jeremy's comments about the dust and bumps, the dealer said right out, "Look here, Mawr ... if you don't like it, then get out and ride on top, or else hire yourself a horse and make the trip yourself. The West ain't for sissies, and maybe it ain't for high-falutin' Englishmen, neither!"
After that Sir Jeremy, and everyone else in the coach, too, was quiet for a spell. I think the rest of us were glad when Mr. Thackery, the gun dealer, got off. Sir Jeremy's funny ways were more pleasant than Mr. Thackery's loud jokes and rudeness.
After a while I had a long talk with Sir Jeremy, and found him to be a man I really liked. He even invited me to England to visit him on his estate. I don't know if he was just being polite or not, but I found myself thinking about it a lot afterward. And when I told him what I did and about my writing, and showed him the letter from Mr. Lincoln, then he started asking me a lot of questions, and pretty soon the others were as well. I had been a little shy during the first few days, getting used to being away from home and being mixed in with so many people I didn't know, people who were older than I was. But once we started to find out about each other, everyone got more friendly, and I found myself more and more comfortable. By the time we'd been on the road several days, we almost felt like family.
Every station stop was interesting in its own way. The terrain kept changing, of course, but all the people tending the stations had stories to tell that kept us entertained during meals and during the nights we'd spend at the overnight stops. Some of the men reminded me of Mr. Tavish, and had stagecoaching tales about robbers and Indians just as exciting as the Pony Express stories Tavish had told.
Excerpted from Into the Long Dark Night by Michael Phillips. Copyright © 1992 Michael Phillips. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
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