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The sight I saw stirred my soul. I knew at that moment, I was destined to relocate out West.
A few minutes before sundown, we spotted a crystal clear mountain spring and set up camp nearby. While I was starting the fire, Jake brought water from the spring for our coffee. The awesome view of the box canyon must've put us in a somber mood. As I prepared cornbread and fried bacon, Uncle Jake set on a log, leaned back against a tree, and just sat studying me. After a time he finally spoke;
"Well Red, it looks like this awesome country now has you hooked. It's in your blood."
"I think you're right Jake, do you think I can convince the rest of the Montgomerie clan as to the beauty of this here place?"
He replied, "I can't see why not. You don't realize it, but many in our clan already look to you as our up and coming leader in the making. Now that your Dad has nearly completed his design and proto type revolver for the Remington Arms Company, I bet he'd like the challenge and adventure to relocate out West."
There wasn't much more talk that evening, I sat by the fire in deep thought. The following day we circled the rim around to the south and entered the valley about 15 miles further to the south. As we meandered through the valley, we located several additional small clear creeks that couldn't be seen from the ridge above. We spent three days exploring the valley, and an additional few days surveying the box canyon.
Approximately one mile after we entered the beautiful box canyon, as we rode along the north rim wall, we encountered a very secluded three sided smaller box canyon. The entrance was about 200 ft. wide. It opened in to a 20 to 25 acre meadow surrounded by very impressive vertical Canyon walls that appeared like they had been carved by the hand of some ancient god. There was two strong springs bubbling out of the northwest wall. The very large trees nearby lead us to the conclusion that they were strong year round spring. This small spot looked liked it would make a very safe and defendable Ranch Headquarters.
Game was plentiful in both the large box canyon and the vast valley below. The creeks and streams had at least two types of large fish; one was some type of trout. There was more than ample lush grass throughout the area. The location of the Box Canyon was approximately 35 miles west of the Chama Pass in the New Mexico territory. The Pass was 35 to 40 miles northwest of Santa Fe. By my calculations a trip by wagon train from Cleveland, Tennessee would take at least six to seven months and cover approximately 1600 miles.
Our trading expedition was nearing an end. It was time to start our journey home; I thought it would be wise to stop off at Santa Fe, New Mexico. Uncle Jake agreed with that. It would be wise to check on the availability of supplies and livestock. I was hopeful that there would be a United States surveyor in Santa Fe, just in case I could convince the clan to relocate to this area.
We returned through the pass and headed south to Santa Fe. We gave the horses their heads and struck out, covering the last 35 miles in less than six hours. I was pleased to find that there was a surveyor and that we found him in his office. His name was Al and he assured us that he would be available upon our return.
In a mood to celebrate, Uncle Jake invited the surveyor to one of the local saloons and quickly proceeded to get him drunk, thus assuring us quick service upon our return.
While Uncle Jake and the surveyor were at the saloon, I decided to visit the downtown area. A small wagon train full of trading goods had just arrived from the south. The local Mexican merchants were lining up to make their purchases. The streets were full of farmers, ranchers, mountain men, trappers, wagon masters, trail bosses and riffraff of all kind. There was plenty of flashing eyed Mexican girls on the sidewalks taking everything in. The Mexican Vaqueros on their beautiful horses were parading around showing off trying to catch the eyes of the pretty Senoritas. I decided to visit one of the smaller saloons a half of a block off the Main Street Plaza.
To my surprise the adobe walls kept the place cool during the noon day heat. I sauntered up to the bar and ordered a beer. After bringing me my beer, the bartender insisted I try a drink called tequila. After two beers and three shots of tequila I left the saloon. To my surprise, I was staggering down the street in search of Uncle Jake. That tequila had quite a kick.
After finding Uncle Jake, he informed me that the surveyor had already gone home; but, Jake assured me we would receive special treatment if we ever had need of him. We decided to go get a hot bath and shave. Forty-five minutes later I was feeling and smelling a lot better. We found a large and prosperous looking General Store whose prices were fairly reasonable. We bought the supplies necessary for our return trip to Cleveland, Tennessee and the trade goods to sell back east.
Jake suggested we return to the large saloon, he had noticed that they served large portions of food. He said, "I'm sick and tired of your cooking! I want to buy a huge steak, bowl of beans, green chilies and a big stack of Mexican tortillas."
I told Jake, "That sounds awful good to me." He didn't know that I was just as tired of my own cooking as he was.
We spent several days in Santa Fe to acquaint ourselves with the local customs and familiarize ourselves with the town. We visited with several merchants and inquired about the availability of tools and miscellaneous supplies. The owner of the livery introduced us to a local Mexican rancher by the name of Felipe Perez; he was what was referred to as a Spanish Don.
His family had lived in the area for several generations. The information he gave us was invaluable. We discussed weather patterns, rainfall and approximate dates of the spring thaw, as well as the first frost of the winter. The rain fall, (the majority came in the spring and early summer, April through early July, was approximately 18 inches). The fall rains were in late September and October. Fall rains usually amounted to approximately eight inches. The snow fall averaged one to three feet during the winter. Felipe told us that the cattle and horse market seemed to be good, with the demand exceeding the supply.
After our stay, we packed to leave Santa Fe, loaded with information and supplies. I had decided that we would take the Santa Fe Trail back to Independence, Missouri. It would be the route we would use for our return trip to the New Mexico territory, that is to say, if we could convince the 'Montgomerie clan' to relocate.
As we prepared to leave Jake asked, "Have you decided which of the Santa Fe Trail route to take, the southern Cimarron route or northern Mountain route?"
I told him that a respected Mexican Merchant had told me that the southern route had very little water for livestock. There was a higher risk of Indian attack and a deadly danger from rattlesnakes. So I thought it best to check out the northern route. The mountain route through the Raton pass had very rough and the steep terrain for the first 70 or so miles. The grades were even hard on the horses, but all in all it was the safest route for a wagon train full of men and women if we did relocate.
After leaving the mountains we encountered several late wagon trains on the Prairie during our month long return trip to Independence Missouri. To our dismay, most were ill-equipped to face the hardships they were encountering along the way. On several occasions we stopped and camped overnight with a wagon train. We sat around their campfires to listen and learn from their trail experiences.
We encountered wagon trains of various sizes. It was obvious that there were advantages and disadvantages no matter the size. It was clear that the larger wagon trains were safer from Indian attack, but one of the problems they encountered was the lack of grass for the livestock. Another problem that we observed was that regardless of the size of the wagon train, most families didn't know one another, causing jealousy and distrust. Tensions often erupted into fights causing daily delays.
We came to the conclusion the choice of draft animals to pull a person's wagon was of upmost importance. Horses lacked the strength, and mules had terrible dispositions. The oxen were both strong and had a good temperament. But the drawback to the use of oxen was they were much slower; they could pull a load two miles an hour, covering on average of ten to twelve miles a day.
When a group of families are thrown together to form a wagon train, they oftentimes had different types of beast of burden. As a result, the wagons traveled at different speeds. This, in turn, caused the wagon train to get strung out during the day, creating confusion, disarray and unsafe conditions, thus causing tempers to flare.
One of the most serious problems was that in most cases they had little or no knowledge of the West. Wagons full of town folk with little or no hunting and camping experiences invited hardship and disaster. Some lacked hunting skills, thus making it very hard for them to forage for game. They were forced to rely on their guides and scout. Those guys didn't always have the knowledge that they professed to have about the western frontier.
The bad weather that could be encountered in the spring time on the plains appeared to be one of the things that the travelers basically overlooked. Shelter from the rain was very important. A person needed a place to dry off and warm-up during spring storms. The travelers told us some hair rising stories about the wet and miserable weather.
I knew that I'd need to prepare for this type of bad weather, if I was to lead my family and friends safely to the New Mexico territory. This would take some thought and careful planning.
One small wagon train we met had been attacked by Indians. They had lost some of the livestock and two of the men had been killed. They appeared disorganized and it was obvious they didn't have enough armed men to protect their wagon train. Several of the men were armed with the old style smooth bore muskets that weren't very accurate to say the least. Their fate looked precarious, at best. It was clear no matter what the size of the group; the trip would be a grueling and dangerous undertaking.
As we approached Independence, Missouri, from the West, we encountered all types and sizes of household items that had been discarded by those who had headed west. It was obvious that most of the men had overestimated the weight that could be pulled by their draft animals. This was another example of the pioneers headed West being ill-informed.
It was mid-September and the weather was turning cooler. We stopped and spent the night at Mr. Kelly's Mercantile located on the outskirts of Independence, Missouri. We told Mr. Kelly (an old acquaintance of Uncle Jake's) about our possible move out West. I asked if he would be able to restock us prior to our heading further west.
Mr. Kelly asked, "When?"
"The middle of April 1860"
"I'm sure that I'll be able to restock you in April. There's no problem having enough supplies that time of the year."
I asked Mr. Kelly, "Is it true that most of the wagon trains all leave heading West at approximately the same time in the spring?"
"Yep, there'll be wagons far as the eye can see."
"Would you have two or three freight wagons with teams that I could hire for three to four weeks on our return trip?"
"Sure, but why will you need them?"
"That's how I intend to get a jump on the other wagon trains. I'll have you sell me three wagons loads of feed for the livestock. The 12,000 pounds of grain, corn and oat, would allow me to leave three weeks before the grass sprouts in the spring, giving us an earlier start than the rest of the pioneers heading westward. After we've used up the feed or the grass sprouts I'll send your three wagons back to you.
"Wow! What an idea, I'll be ready for your bunch when they arrive."
As we left, I told Mr. Kelly "Keep our plan under your hat. I don't want word to get out."
"Don't fret Red I'll keep a lid on it!"
We decided to map out the best route back to Cleveland, Tennessee. Some of the roads were very bad. The route we chose would require four ferry river crossings, five regular river crossings and at least 15 to 20 creek or stream crossings. The crossing of the Mississippi River at St. Louis, Missouri, would be the most costly. They would charge about $7 per wagon and $.50 for each loose animal. The two Tennessee River ferry crossings would take two days, but cost less. Most of the trip from Cleveland to Independence would be on fairly good roads, winding from trading post to trading post and town to town.
As we made our way back East, Uncle Jake insisted on staying the night at McKenna's Trading Post and Ferry Landing, on the Tennessee River. After being served a meal, McKenna brought out a bottle of corn whiskey. As usual, Uncle Jake was full of himself, boasting about our trip out West. The three other men that were staying the night took offense to his boasting and let him know in no uncertain terms. Jake continued with his tall tales, it seemed as if he wanted to press the point.
I noticed that we all had left our rifles leaning against the same wall, and it appeared that if a brawl broke out the guns wouldn't come in to play. McKenna was sitting in front of the guns, in his rocking chair. It was unlikely anybody would attempt to retrieve their guns if a fight did break out, at least I hoped so. Jake acted as if he was unaware of the tension in the room, but I knew it was coming and I would be ready when it started.
These Mississippi boys looked like they were a tough lot. The tall lanky one suddenly jumped Uncle Jake, and before you could blink, he had cut him across the shoulder. I took the nearest one out by hitting him at the base of his neck with my left fist. He went down and out like he'd been hit by a pole axe, but the other one drew his Arkansas toothpick. I had no choice but to draw my own knife. The lessons of self-defense that Uncle Jake had taught me would now have to save my life. As the man lunged forward and stabbed, I felt fire in my hip. Turning sharply to the right, I plunged my knife to the hilt under his arm in to his rib cage. He went limp and fell to the floor. I knew at that point he was through and probably would die. Jake's assailant laid sprawled, unconscious, on the floor and the man I had knocked out was just coming too, but still down. The fight was over. Uncle Jake saw that I had turned pale. He took a look at the dead man and knew I needed air to clear my head.
He insisted I go outside, stating "Everything's under control."
Both of our knife wounds appeared to be minor.
McKenna took control of the situation. He let things cool off. Then, he insisted everybody help clean up the room. After heated exchanges and arm twisting by McKenna, the two remaining Mississippi boys decided not to try and press charges, they knew the local Law would most likely side with us. We watched as they buried their dead partner. The burial chore took two hours. They insisted on keeping his horse, pack mule and personal belongings, including his rifle, Jake and I said nothing.
They left that night and never looked back. This wasn't a good day. I had recovered from my light-headedness and my knife cut required only a small bandage. We didn't trust the Mississippi boys. I thought they might try to ambush us, so we decided to layup an extra day, hoping they would grow impatient and leave the area.
The following evening, as we sat around the fire, McKenna told Jake that he owed $4 for our half of the damage done to the furniture.
Jake laughed and said, "No problem," And tossed him four silver dollars.
McKinnon asked, "Do you guys need a drink?"
Excerpted from THE JOURNEY WEST by Stephen C. Montgomery Copyright © 2011 by Stephen C. Montgomery. 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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