Authors: Marie Caron
Published by Liquid Silver Books, imprint of Atlantic Bridge Publishing, 10509 Sedgegrass Dr, Indianapolis, Indiana 46235. Copyright © Published 2014, Marie Caron. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Liquid Silver Books
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.
She never expected to find lust and love on a wagon train through the wilderness, but she had never met a man like John O’Hara before. Tall and tan, the half-breed scout’s body was as taut as a bowstring and as strong as a bear. Together they scorched the prairie grasses with their passion. Would her love for him be enough, or would he leave her for the mountains that were a part of his soul?
This book is dedicated to all my fan-fiction readers whose encouraging reviews inspired me to get published. Thank you!
Many thanks to my good friend Pauline Fitzsimmons for her faith in my ability and her constant prodding to write more stories.
Two of my grandchildren sit on the floor at my feet and a third sleeps in my arms as I begin the tale of how I came to live in the beautiful Sacramento River Valley. Now that my memories are all I have left of that time, I relish every chance I get to recount what transpired on that long, sometimes treacherous, journey west. Though they’ve heard the story before, the two older children sit motionless as I begin to tell my tale.
“My thoughts must, of course, turn to my late father, your great grandfather General Jacob Collins, for he was the one who brought me here in 1855. By then my mother had already been gone for twenty years. When he spoke of her, Papa always got a certain look in his eyes, and I knew that he had loved her immeasurably. He always said there was never another like her…like his fine Southern belle, Ariana. She had been but sixteen years of age when they’d first met, and for him, it had been love at first sight. A thirty-year-old confirmed bachelor, he had declared himself ready and willing to give up his freedom in order to marry her, and due to his stellar military record and endorsements from his commanding officers in Washington, DC, it was with no qualms that my grandparents gave Papa permission to wed their only daughter.”
“But you weren’t borned in the East, were you?” my granddaughter Millicent asked around the thumb in her mouth. She already knew the answer. Her question was meant to keep me talking. Though she was just six and still unwilling to give up her thumb and baby blanket, she was as smart as a whip and knew how to manipulate me. I hid my smile as she gave her thumb a noisy suck, followed by a rub of the soft blanket against the side of her nose. I didn’t mind, for telling the story of how I’d come to this great state was something I truly enjoyed.
“No, I wasn’t. I was born the following year at a new outpost called Jefferson Barracks on the great Mississippi River. My father had been sent there to serve as second in command under Colonel Braddock. Mine was a difficult birth under any circumstances, and afterward, my poor mother was unable to have other children. They named me Samantha Louise after my grandmothers. I was only three years old when Mama died of consumption, and I have very few memories of her. Papa never remarried, and though raising me on his own must have been hard on him, to his credit, he never complained, nor did he neglect me. Out of necessity, we became very close, so much so that I had resigned myself to never having a family of my own. I really didn’t mind so much, but my dear father had other plans for me.”
“What did he do, Gram?” William, the nine-year-old, asked, and then his mouth opened wide in a yawn. He knew the story just as well as his sister, and though I knew the sandman wasn’t far off, I continued.
“Well, in the early spring of the year I turned twenty-three, my father and I set out to change our future. Or I should say he became determined to change
future. He intended to find me a husband before he died, and though I was loathe to leave Papa alone…even to become a wife…I was also curious to see the land west of the Rocky Mountains. Up until that time, we had lived at one army post after another from the Ohio to the Mississippi, depending on where Papa’s military career had taken him. I hadn’t really minded moving around so much. It was interesting to see different parts of the country, and I enjoyed making new friends, but when my father announced he was retiring so that we could move to the new state of California, to seek our fortunes as it were, I was more than willing to say good-bye to the life I had led thus far.”
“Why, Gram? Weren’t you afraid?”
“I guess I was a little. But being raised on military outposts had had its drawbacks. I’d had more
than any one girl needed,” I told them with a chuckle. “And the opportunities for purchasing the latest clothing and
as Papa called the hats I loved so much, were severely limited. Also, except for the yearly Christmas dance and the occasional award ceremony or funeral, not much happened. Quite frankly, I was eager to see what else life had to offer. However, I was not eager to wed some man I didn’t know. You see, Papa was certain he had found a husband for me here in Sacramento.”
“What was it like here back in the olden days?” my little grandson asked, his question followed by a jaw-spreading yawn.
“The town wasn’t very big back then. But it was a brand-new town with new brick buildings and real sidewalks, and I was very excited to see it.”
Millie yawned, and William rubbed his eyes. I could see that the day we’d spent together at the park had worn them out. “I think that’s enough for tonight,” I told them. I rang the bell, alerting my housekeeper, Amy, to the fact that she was needed to put my youngest grandchild, John, down for the night. My husband had insisted on hiring Amy to help me with the chores and so I wouldn’t be alone while he was away. Though I had protested at first, there were times like this when my old bones appreciated her help.
“Aw, Gram, you’re just getting started,” William complained, his dark eyes shining with the hope that I would change my mind. In that instant, he looked so much like his grandfather that I had to take a deep breath to keep from crying out. I quickly recovered my wits and patted William on the shoulder.
“I promise I’ll finish the story tomorrow before your parents come to fetch you. Now off to bed with you,” I said as sternly as I could.
They rose, and I gave them each a heartfelt kiss on their rosy lips. Then I watched them leave my room, William’s dark hair still mussed from his earlier bath. Millie’s blanket trailed along behind her like the train of a ball gown, her long blonde braid hanging down her back. With her big blue eyes and fair hair, she looked much as I had at her age. I kissed little John on his downy head before Amy took him from my arms and carried him out. It had been a long day, and I was tired too. But, even so, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep right away. I couldn’t help thinking about the man I had married and the intimacies and experiences we’d shared. There were still many things my grandchildren were too young to hear…memories I held in my heart, memories that would keep me awake long into the night.
With our new wagon loaded down with everything we owned, we arrived in good spirits and without incident at the Missouri trailhead. Now that we had reached Independence, Missouri, finding a wagon train to join would not be difficult, as one or two departed almost every week. Traveling with us was my father’s good friend, Retired Colonel William Hudson, his wife, Esther, and their unmarried niece, Clara. The Hudsons were a childless couple hoping to start a boarding house in Sacramento. My father and I planned to live in their establishment until we could find a house of our own. It wasn’t long before we began to meet our fellow travelers, as other wagons arrived to join our party. We spent our first two evenings together around a central campfire, getting to know one another, while our days were spent purchasing food and other supplies and adding them to our already overflowing wagons.
In the past six years since the discovery of gold on the American River, a whole passel of stores had cropped up next to the trailhead in western Missouri, most of them catering to the needs of the miners who were hoping to strike it rich. The stores were nothing more than canvas tents, but they sold everything the people passing through could possibly want. From these opportunistic entrepreneurs, Papa and I purchased the staples—flour, cornmeal, beans, salt, and coffee—necessary for our trip. These would be supplemented with fresh meat, venison, rabbit, wild turkey, and whatever else the men killed along the way. We also bought oxen to pull our wagon. Although we were reluctant to part with our horses, which we had brought with us all the way from Fort Leavenworth, it made sense to use oxen, which were hardier even than mules. The big, lumbering animals might be slow, but they were very strong, and they could get enough to eat simply by grazing on whatever they found along the way. And we were warned that the horses would be easier pickings for wolves, a worry I certainly didn’t need on such a long, arduous journey. I was worried enough about my father. He had been very sick the previous winter, and though his cough still lingered, he insisted he was strong enough for the journey. Not wanting to see him disappointed, as much as not wanting to let go of the dream for myself, I allowed myself to be encouraged by his enthusiasm.
Thus, on the cold, clear day of April 12, 1855, our wagon was stocked with provisions for the five-to-six-month trek, and the only thing left was to meet the men who would be taking us on this great adventure.
* * * *
Our first group meeting was held that evening around the campfire, and it began with Captain Jedediah Baker, the man who would lead us, describing the route we would take. Baker, a robust man of about fifty years of age, talked slowly with a slight Southern drawl. I wondered where he was from and if he had a family waiting for him somewhere. Pushing aside my natural curiosity, I forced myself to concentrate on his words and the information he was imparting. He said the route would take us from just outside the bustling town of Independence, where we were currently camped, to the Rocky Mountains, along what was called the Mormon Trail. Before reaching the Colorado Rockies, we would meet up with what was aptly named the California Trail. And, if all went well, we would arrive at the point where that trail crossed the Great Divide before the first big winter snowfall. If not…well, then we could all perish.
“I won’t lie to you; this trip will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. It will be long and dangerous, and there will be times when you wished you’d stayed back in Ohio or Virginia or wherever it is you came from.” At that point there was some quiet chatter and hushed complaints. Unfazed, Captain Baker continued, “I promise to do my best to get you to California in one piece if you’ll just promise to do what I say.”
Just then I heard the soft
of a horse and looked up to see a man riding out of the darkness toward Captain Baker. He came to a halt in front of the assembled travelers, but unlike the captain, he didn’t dismount. Everyone, even the children, stared at him; he was that different from the rest of us.
“This here is Mister O’Hara. He’ll get us to where we want to go,” Baker said, lifting his head to look up at the tall man on horseback.
Leaning forward over the pommel of his saddle, the man kept his eyes at some point above our heads, as though we meant nothing to him as individuals. I couldn’t help but wonder what the man was thinking, and even though I was brought up not to stare or to judge a person by their appearance, my eyes soaked him in, and a chill ran down my spine. He looked like no one I’d ever seen before. He was dressed in buckskin and had a swarthy complexion that told of many hours in the sun. His face, though handsome, was as hard to read as granite. I was immediately terrified and intrigued at the same time.
“Mister O’Hara here is gonna be our trail guide. He’s been over this route dozens of times, knows it like the back of his hand. He’ll scout ahead, determine where to ford rivers and streams, decide where to camp for the night, that sort of thing. And he’ll parlay with the Indians, should we meet up with any,” Captain Baker informed us, obviously hoping to garner our trust. From the rumbling I heard from my fellow travelers, I wasn’t sure he was succeeding. I wasn’t surprised when one of them finally spoke up.
“How do you know we can trust him?” one man asked as he gave Mr. O’Hara a suspicious look. The mountain man did indeed look fearsome and wild, dressed as he was in all leather, much like the Indians I had read about in the dime novels I loved so much. I’d seen a few Indians in person too, at Fort Leavenworth where Papa had spent his last assignment, but they had dressed like white men. This was the first time I’d seen a white man who dressed like an Indian, and I was therefore intrigued.