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JIMAbandoned In Tall Grass
By Ronald Lee Weagley
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Ronald Lee Weagley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSoft Shoe
In the crisp spring that awaited the advent of the summer in 1890, Mr. Horatio Forrest Morris and his wife Emma Jean Simms-Morris concluded final plans for their exodus. The Morris clan had decided to flee their native Pennsylvania home in search of a better life. Each family member had felt filled with despair to a saturation level that overflowed into discontent. The towering mountain surrounding their home created an atmosphere that captured a sagacity of confinement fueled and fed by a sense of constraint. Natural catastrophes constantly set upon them in Pennsylvania. However, the exodus was not only a flight away from geographical misery but also an inspiring adventure attraction enabled by their falsely inflated expectations acquired via rumors, gossip, and national lies in propaganda printed matter.
Each time the Morris family tried to face the winds of fate in their mountain home, a life reality storm crashed upon them with dark clouds framed literally in lightening and thunder. Factually, there were repeated floods, annual blustering blizzards, and a growing calamitous civil unrest that not only frightened them but also stymied their confidence in hope for progress in place. They feared not only for their children's immediate options but also for their long-range family future. Consummately, both during and after the horrible 1887-88 winter that sealed the deal for an escape, they devised a scheme to breakout to freedom early in the 1890 summer.
Mother and father Morris along with their eighteen-member brood loaded multiple Conestoga fashioned wagons, the prize mode of large family transportation in the 19th century. They weighted heavy the transport vehicles with a few valuable memories and far too many perceived to be essential necessities taken from the hills of western Pennsylvania near the apex of the great seven-mountain Allegheny range.
The area lay adjacent to the Kishacoquillas Creek that emptied into the Juniata River that subsequently drained into the Susquehanna River on a relentless downhill wash toward the Atlantic Ocean that left the valleys deep, the ridges sharp, and the mountains through which it passed: tall, firm, and fortified with formidable cliffs.
Relentlessly and repeatedly, harsh winters spawned frequent floods, bone-biting weather, and hostile history sagas that nourished their desire to flee. The family embarked for the wooly west convinced to absolute certainty that their future lay elsewhere, most specifically, in the state of California defined not only as a geographical territory but also as a mythical concept such as that portrayed in the fantasy literature of the day.
Diligence allowed the Morris family to be familiar with the paths and passes over, around, and through the local mountain ranges that lay toward their destination. However, the subsequent California, Mormon, and Bozeman highway trails confused them when it came to a track selection west beyond Nebraska. The main route offered the presumed comfort of a shared hardship experience with other pilgrims, not alone. The Northwest Trail wilderness of the Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming territories dictated that travelers exercise extreme caution when confronting the natural obstacles: rivers, ruts, rocks, and ridges. In addition, the inherent hardship of the movement of a large number of people on metal-rimmed wooden wheels that supported a relatively small tarp-protected area while carrying an enormous load was an added uncomfortable bouncing benefit not always appreciated or accurately accepted as inevitable until the time came to ford a less than friendly river.
With the benefits of an established trail came known hardships and some subtle unknown consequences. The adventure direction offered paths inherent with well-worn and rutted routes as well as opportunities and challenges that could develop the Morris character, so they assumed.
The trip offered fluctuating weather conditions and hostile inhabitants as well, most only superciliously noted prior to their mission launch. The indigenous occupiers resented to the excess not only foreign passage through what they deemed to be their private territory but also the occasional occupancy of a favored section of their land by a tired, disoriented, disabled, or delinquent wanderer who meandered from stop-to-stop and decided eventually to stop and plop. The harsh labor requirements inherent in pioneer logistic support solutions perplexed and subsequently prevailed over many well-meaning explorers.
In the summer of 1890, the youngest of the eighteen Morris children was less than a year in age. His exact birth date evaporated due to the complex circumstances. Dates became victims of misfortune, as did participants. Only his mother held the date of his birth in her memory. Jay Simms Morris cuddled in a destiny designed by fate in order to become a living tragedy in time. He withstood the consequences of travel and victimization of innocent enthusiasm with extenuating consequences for both the involved and any uninitiated fellow passengers.
When the wagon master barked and bellowed the command for a forward motion, he expected that all would follow without a delay, regardless.
Once the procession started forward, a reversal was out of the question. Stopping only caused unnecessary collateral hardships for everyone. If an exiting wagon or wagons desired to change direction, that wagon or wagons, needed to depart the caravan, wait, and turn around in order to venture out on their own, alone after the parade passed. If they chose to wait, they could reenter onto the trail at the end of the column or subsequently catch-up.
The Wagon Master, captain of the meandering wagon python in pilgrimage, declared that any reentry into the convoy was a tail-end catch-up effort. If anyone was foolish enough to attempt such an adjustment in risk conditions either because of personal equipment failure or because of an inclination attack of remorse, they were to do so without assistance from other wagon trail members.
While the family prepared for the Wagon Master's forward instruction, young Jay Simms Morris, who was learning to stretch his legs, wandered into the wilderness beyond the sight of the family. He laid his tired frame on the soft green grass. He lay hidden from the trail. He stroked the blades of long grass in rhythm. No eyes could see him from the caravan as the bellowing voice of the mounted horseback Wagon Master issued the abrupt command, "WAGONS, FORWARD HOOOOOOOOOOO!"
Disorder reigned the day in the Morris wagons as it did in most wagons. The children pushed and shoved constantly. They argued over space and toys that would occupy their time. They sought the prime seating positions that allowed for a glimpse of distant sights although generally barely visible through the dust of the caravan, the stark glare of the sun, or the torrent of the torrential rainfalls.
While Jay Simms Morris dozed, slept, and played in the warm sunlight that cascaded over the tall green Nebraska grass, normal confusion ruled the day in the Morris Conestoga wagons.
Everyone in the Morris family thought Jay was with another person, namely the one assigned his or her duty that day, whoever had the lot or whoever forgot to assign the lot, whichever. It had happened before with other children. Unfortunately, a female sister forgot, thinking her duty-day assignment was tomorrow-hence, not the current moment.
Wheels screeched, thumped, and rolled methodically giving a mesmerizing trance to those driving and a dozing sleep to those watching. The Morris' were underway, once again moving toward their dream. The wheels of their wagons grinded steadily forward while silence reigned where Jay lay asleep in the tall grass miles away.
Their adventure of faith entertained the macabre in the darkness of that infamous day that greeted the twilight and turned to night, suddenly. A search for Jay began, amid lantern lights and screaming of his name. The family searched and scurried about in the crevices of companion wagons but Jay remained lost and alone unaware of the distant tears and wails of his mother.
Meanwhile, the silence and the same drift of daylight changing to dusk that showered upon the Morris clan brewed and gave Jay a delayed and deferred stir in the grass. His unaddressed pangs of hunger barked increasingly louder and each twinge of his body offered such discomfort that tears developed. Mother's milk was gone. While his face dampened and the tears flowed over his cheeks in torrents, he wandered, sometimes stumbling, sometimes staggering, and always forlornly screaming while looking for the familiar sight, smell, and touch of a mother's breast and the sounds of a lullaby mixed with the familiar voices of loved ones.
Jay, alone and abandoned in the tall grass, approximately one year of age, nonverbal, and frightened, trembled into spasms.
Suddenly, a hand grabbed him. He leaped in a jerk of surprise, suspended by a flood of colors cascading upon his vision: red feathers, white bands, black paints, and tan hides, each color mated with accented yellow streaks of gold flawed with variegated white spots.
A gallant natural brave lifted Jay to the sky. He held him securely but gently. A slight lifting toss and a caress in the cradle hollow of the giant warriors elbow that swayed as if in pace with the breeze silenced Jay to a whimper that supported his awaited grin. A visual survey scan of the surroundings from an aloft position revealed other colors and forms along with additional voices to support his fascination, all humming as if petting a disturbed critter into submission.
"Who are you little one ...," came the muffled but reassuring voice of the lifting giant, "... someone left you by mistake? Come Soft Breeze; let's find whether it is a boy or a girl."
"Red River, you may be the brother of the great Guiyatle, Chief Geronimo; but when it comes to little children, you are little more than a fool with a spear, knife, and rifle." A grinning Soft Breeze, wife of Red River, chief of the great Apache nation Jicarilla tribe uncovered her breast in order to pacify into silence and to feed the frail white sunburned victim.
The tribe Jicarilla was attempting to escape discovery by foes. Since the capture of their famous warrior brother Geronimo, each trek they managed into the mountain areas needed negotiation with extreme caution. Care balanced against reality served the tribe best when practiced constantly. Their colloquial mantra truth was clear, "Look before you step or risk tripping over a snake."
Soft Breeze was correct in her maternal judgment of Red River. For years, his concentration remained primarily focused on survival by avoidance of the enemy. His archenemy was the white man who lied repeatedly while occupying their lands, stealing their treaty bounty, and belittling their people. Red River's hate festered but the sight of an infant, one exposed to the elements and abandoned, regardless of color, caused him to tremble in his rage. He held in his hands a white child stranded alone in a wilderness. Most survivors manage weather with special attentions given to the severity of the scene. However, this child could do little more than cry his pain and trust that relief would arrive from somewhere, even if in a red arm cradle.
The verbal instruction to Soft Breeze was gruff and quick as Red River handed the child into Soft Breeze's care, "See to it. Protect the child and then we will see who can teach him to survive in the struggle for life." That which was unspoken but clear and concise when communicated in an arm gesture provided a recap of the personal history of Soft Breeze and Red River. They had lost in death an infant child recently to the reservation sickness of the white man. Their failed attempts to produce a child after the death of their beloved infant haunted them. Their moods were easily aggravated whether in any reference, spoken direct or coincidental, implicit or explicit, regardless.
The tribe continued upon their trek into the mountains for the winter. Signs flashed of a harsh wintry chill and an early arrival. By tradition, the Apache, hunter-gatherers who moved over the vastness of the Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri plains and into the recesses of the mountains of Nebraska, Colorado, and Iowa, constantly gathered berries, fruits, nuts, and basic food supplies. They killed the large creatures, the great buffalo and the monster elk, as well as the delicate smaller deer that they trapped along with the smaller more frail critters, each serving their needs for food and warmth. Natural fur coats and tough hides were prizes.
The government-promised reservation supplies for the Jicarilla naturals brought fevers and dysentery that spread among those committed to confinement and those who trafficked as visitors under the shield of clandestine darkness at night for rations.
The Jicarilla tribe chose to abandon the false and trite promises of the reservation. In their rascal posture, they left the confines and by doing such, they represented a threat to the white control of the territory. Consequently, as if a phantom trophy, the scoundrel Apache became game for the government hunt as if the rogue dissident were a buffalo, elk, or deer.
As a brother of the great warrior Chief Geronimo, the tribe and the government officials allowed Red River to exercise privileges as well as bear the burden complicit with his rank. He chose to affiliate with what the reservation leadership called, "Conservative Coyote Apache" as opposed to the more compliant and progressive "Quaker Apache" as identified by some observers.
Red River perceived himself to be a fierce warrior, as a rogue who would fight to his death, never submitting voluntarily to extinction. As a belligerent warrior, he elected to move constantly in concentric circles that shifted the tribe slowly to the north. The geography swing allowed winter shelters beneath the forest branches. Some naturals such as the Chiricahua and the Arapaho Apache chose the circles that drifted south to climates less restrictive in the late months of fall as those climates produced renewed gatherable foods.
Jay Morris became Soft Shoe, and he lived with his new adopted parents along with additional children, as his new mother Soft Breeze put it, "By the visit of the spirit in Soft Shoe." Remarkably, Big Blow, Bright Dawn, Meadow Mist, and Gentle Water, a total of one brother and three sisters, appeared in the tent of Red River and Soft Breeze over the subsequent years following the arrival of Soft Shoe. Their presence gave Soft Shoe companionship, responsibility, and a tacky pleasure in the power that mixed with the restrictive limitations of an eldest sibling, especially a white one.
Fatherhood stood silent in the eyes of Red River when forced to choose between daily survival and future potential needs. Nevertheless, the village always incorporated the children as an important component of the family. Each child learned to hunt and to kill with the knife, the spear, and the gun. Emphasis on the need to kill for food and fur, not in reckless abandonment, stood foremost in the instruction. Soft Shoe had an uncanny hand to eye coordination that surfaced early in his youth, remained constant, and served as repeatable. He could throw a stone and strike a target at fifty yards, repeatedly, and continuously while moving both the target and his positions, alone or simultaneously. The senior warriors extended time and patience to cultivate what they hoped would prove beneficial for the tribe family in the future. Skills in the hunt came to Soft Shoe quickly. His hearing amplified the most distance of sounds and his touch was super sensitive so much so that he could feel the earth move as the buffalo herded, the elk stumbled, and the deer darted bouncing into the protection of wooded areas.
The years in an Apache tent proved beneficial for Soft Shoe. Peer respect, confidence in family challenges, and personal physical growth abounded. He exceeded the average in most tents. His brown-blonde hair marked him for potential ill in the white hate that festered beneath the surface of the naturals, but Soft Shoe rose above the moment. Soft Breeze sheltered a fear that he might hate himself along with the tribal hate for whites. "You are different," she lectured. "Heed your skills, mark your talents, and protect the innocent from harm without regard for their skin. You are white in skin but you are red in your heart! More importantly, you are a man. Remember the lessons we taught you as you remember also that men can be both good and bad, regardless of color. You must choose the good. You must always choose the good, regardless of the consequences!"
Excerpted from JIM by Ronald Lee Weagley Copyright © 2011 by Ronald Lee Weagley. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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