Of New Life, War and Peace
"A mountain man tries to live with the country
In the first book in this series, we saw Thomas Samuel “Tree” Bell develop from a Kentucky-born young man of Tsalagi and Scottish heritage to a full-fledged man of the West. His original intention to become a mountain man changed when he was selected to become The Trader following the role established by those who came before him, the traders from the far south lands.
Establishing that he intends to pursue a course of peace throughout his travels, Tree sets that tone in his camp while saving a Pawnee boy, and he ensures that the Ponca and Arapaho guarantee safe passage for the boy, his father, and those who came with his father to find the boy. His travels continue and carry him into the lands of the Oglala where he picks up an unexpected pet, one of the camp dogs.
Although Tree wasn’t looking for a woman to share his life and had no intention of finding such a woman, an Ojibwe-French woman changed all that during his stay with the Oglala. Tree had discovered that he was unable to go on without her in his life, so as their love developed, he and Lizzie, who became known as Smiling Woman, “joined” as one while staying with the Cheyenne people for a short time. Traveling on to live with the Shoshone and sharing in their fall buffalo hunt, Tree found out, well into the winter months, that he was going to be a father. As we move from that point on in this book, we will follow what happens in the life of The Trader, his woman, child, and all his friends, both old and new.
I hope you enjoy my tale of The Trader as much as I have enjoyed developing it. Again, as I closed out the first book, I wish to apologize in advance for any failures and/or mistakes made in the names of the American Indian nations and individuals, locations, and adaptations of historical reference.
“Are you sure you’re not upset with me, Thomas?”
“No, I meant what I said, Lizzie. I can’t think of any way to explain how I feel right now other than to say what I already said. You have made me as happy as I have ever been. I just didn’t expect to become a father this soon, is all. Are you sure you’re pregnant?”
“Yes, Thomas, very sure.”
“Well, I suppose I’d better start making things ready for a baby, starting with cutting back on my trapline so I can be closer to you. That, and it will make things easier for me to take care of the furs, because I don’t want you doing any more than necessary for now.”
“Oh, don’t be silly, husband. I can still do everything I’ve always done. I’m pregnant, not crippled. And we’ll still need the meat as well as the furs, even though we still have plenty of buffalo left from the hunt. And this sickness I feel every morning won’t last much longer, I swear. There is just no need for you to change anything you’re doing for at least the next five months or so, and very little even after that.”
“That’s not how our women back home handle it, Lizzie.”
“Well, I don’t know about that, Thomas. All I know is that among the Oglala and the Cheyenne, the women work right up to the birthing time, and within hours they are back to work again. The Shoshone women are a little different, though, as they do take more time to rest the last few days before the birthing, as well as a few more days after. But they have so much to do they take little time off, and they even do some of the minor chores right through the birthing.”
“But you’re half French, and I know white women seem to have more trouble than Indian women.”
“It’s all in their heads, Thomas, trust me. For some reason they tend to expect to be pampered and have others do their work for them. Indian women simply are not like that. The men have so much to do to ensure the family survives that the women insist on doing their part.”
Having learned early on in life that it didn’t pay to argue with a woman or her logic, Tree decided to just let it go for now. “Well, Lizzie, if you’re sure, then I’ll just keep on hunting and trapping as though nothing has changed. But if you start to experience any trouble, just let me know, will you?”
“Yes, dear one, I will. Now, get out of here so I can do my work, will you?”
“Crow Hunter, I don’t think she wants us here this morning, do you? What say we go see what we can do outside? It wouldn’t hurt to bring back some wood for the fire, and we probably should go check on the horses and mules, make sure they can still get to the grass,” Tree said to the dog, who started wagging his tail the moment Tree mentioned his name. “We’ll be back later, Lizzie. Say, any chance you might know what day of the year it is?”
“No. I have never thought about such things, and though I have heard of something the whites use called calendars, I have never seen one. All I can tell you is, this is the middle of winter.”
“All right. Just thought I’d ask, as I’ve lost track of time since I left Kentucky, and I didn’t think to bring a calendar with me. Let’s get moving, dog,” Tree said, slipping on his buffalo coat to fend off the cold temperatures outside of the tipi. He was glad he did, for the wind had started to howl that morning, bringing a definite chill with it.
“Tree, I was just coming to find you,” Washakie said, as Tree straightened up after slipping through the opening to the tipi. “We need to think about moving the animals closer into the tree line to help them stay out of this wind and find more grass to eat. While we are in the trees, we might look for a downed tree or some of the dead brush for our fires.”
“I was just talking with Smiling Woman about that, my friend. Say, I’ve got an axe we can use to chop up the wood, at least get it down to a size we can handle to bring it in.”
“Good. Get your axe, and I’ll go back and find something to stretch out to make a travois to haul it back in with,” Washakie said as he stopped and turned back toward his tipi.
Tree stepped back inside to retrieve the woodsman’s axe he had gotten from Karl. It had only been just over a year since he had met and worked with the old trapper and cartographer, but it seemed like a lifetime ago to Thomas, and so far away. Checking the edge to make sure it was still sharp, he was satisfied that the last edge he had put on the axe was still good.
Back outside, he didn’t have to wait but a few minutes for Washakie to reappear, and he wasn’t at all surprised that his closest Shoshone friend had also donned a buffalo robe against the cold. Side by side, they strode the two hundred yards into the wind to where they had last seen their animals. Finding the horses and mules in two separate groups, each huddled together with their rumps to the wind, Tree was happy they hadn’t drifted with the wind as most other domesticated animals tended to do. He was even more glad that the tree line wasn’t far away, thus making the move with so many animals somewhat easier.
Trusting that the mules would stick close to one another, and that Billy, Zeke, and Lizzie’s horses would stay with the rest of the herd as they moved them, Tree set about removing all of their hobbles so they could walk unencumbered. Then he connected two of the hobbles together, tossed that over one of the mule’s necks, and started toward the tree line, letting Washakie take the lead.
Thirty minutes later, thanks to Crow Hunter staying behind them and keeping them moving together, they were standing well inside the tree line in a ten-acre meadow sheltered against the wind by the ridge above them. The meadow was covered with a light dusting of snow on the ground. Kicking the powder aside, Tree was pleased to see plenty of dried grass under the snow. Along the upper perimeter of the meadow was a stand of aspen with at least a half-dozen dead trees lying some twenty to thirty feet beyond the meadow’s edge. The wood would be perfect for use in their tipis, as it would burn slower and hotter than the pine they had been burning, not to mention that it was easier to start when dry than even pine with a lot of pitch.
Tree was impressed that there was a lot of new growth along the edge of the meadow, ensuring that there would be plenty of trees there in the future, although eventually they would completely take over the meadow. Fortunately, it would take several hundred years before that happened, and in the meantime, they had plenty of wood to cut and haul back to camp.
At the opposite side of the meadow, there were several downed pines of near-perfect length for use as travois poles, but they needed to get started cutting the aspen before deciding whether or not to create more than one travois. Tree hobbled all his animals quickly, trusting that he needn’t fasten them too tight as it didn’t appear that they would be moving too far away from this grass anytime soon.
After fastening the last hobble, he made his way to the fallen aspen and set about trimming off the branches and then cutting them down to a good length for the fire pit. That done, they had a good-sized pile, as Washakie had started clearing away all the unusable brush and stacking the cut pieces in a pile. While that would have been enough to last at least two weeks for both tipis, Tree wasn’t about to quit there. He started chopping the trunks down to shorter chunks, wishing he had brought along a good bucksaw from Kentucky to cut the trunks into the proper sizes, thus saving a lot of wasted wood.
Still, the dead and dry aspen was easy to chop and split, and after several hours, they had created a large pile of firewood. Tree was thankful Washakie had also brought along water and jerky, as he had gotten quite thirsty and more than a little hungry as they worked. After talking about it, it was decided they would use two or three of Tree’s mules to haul the wood back, as the mules could carry a larger load than any of the horses, other than Billy or Zeke.
Washakie set the first travois, and Tree tossed wood from the pile onto the bed of that travois while Washakie hooked up a second travois. It became obvious that they needed a third mule and travois, so Washakie quickly rigged up a third mule. After it was loaded, there was still some wood left in the pile, but not enough to fill a fourth travois, so they decided to come back in two days to cut up more of the fallen tree trunks and haul in more of the wood, skipping a day to give them time to run their traplines.
Rigging the three sets of hobbles to use as halters, Tree and Washakie started back for the village, causing Tree to think about bringing lead ropes and halters on their next trip out. Once again, Crow Hunter proved his worth by keeping the three mules lined up and tracking behind the men. Tree had already decided to bring the mules back early the next morning on his way out to where his traps were set, but it occurred to him that he could also bring in a load of wood the next day on his return from the trapline, even though it would take him a little out of his way both going and coming.
“Washakie, are there many people who are also in need of wood for their fires? I’m thinking of Kimana and Gray Fox, and others, like Boinaiv, who have no one to help them.”
“Yes, there are several. Many have been doing what they can to help them, but it is always most important to care for your own first, so they may not be getting all the help they need. Are you thinking we should share this wood with them?”
“Yes, that is exactly what I had in mind. We can give them the wood on the third travois, as what we have on the first two will hold us for at least a month.”
“I agree. You take two mules with you, unload one while I take the second one to my lodge and unload it. When you are finished, we will take the last mule to the center of the village and unload it. We will tell the people it is for those who are unable to gather wood or have no one to do it for them. Then those in need can take it if they are able, or those who are not able can have others bring some to them. If we do it any other way, there are those who will say we are picking out who will get help and who will suffer.”
“You are a wise man, Washakie. We help without being criticized for who we are helping. I will take my mules out to the meadow in the morning, along with the poles, halters, and lead ropes, drop them off, and load up what I can on my way back in from running my traps tomorrow. Then, the next day, we can cut up more logs and haul them in as well.”
“I don’t know about being wise, Tree. I just know my people and how to keep them from grumbling or feeling jealous over silly things. I have a funny-looking plate of steel with cutting edges along one side, but I have never been able to make it work. Lame Elk left it with me, even showing me how to work it, but I cannot. If I remember right, he called it some kind of a saw.”
“Yes, that is what he called it. Can you make it work?”
“Maybe, as long as it isn’t broken. I would like to stop and look at it on our way back from unloading the last mule. If it is in good condition, it will save us much time in cutting the trees to fit our fire pits.”
“I’m sure it is fine, as it is just like it was the day Karl gave it to me. I tried to use it once, the winter after he was gone, but I couldn’t remember what to do with it, and I didn’t want to destroy it, so I put it away. We will stop on the way back, but how about we meet in your lodge and drink some of your coffee?”
“That’s fine, Washakie. I could use some coffee myself,” Tree said with a chuckle at how Washakie had brought it up, and knowing that the Shoshone man would also want to smoke some trade tobacco instead of the kinnikinic he had been smoking. “I’ll make sure Smiling Woman has a fresh pot on the fire while we unload the third mule.”
It wasn’t long before Tree stopped outside his tipi to unload, and Washakie kept going toward his tipi. Stepping inside, Tree said, “We’re back. We have a travois full of firewood to unload here while Washakie does the same at his lodge, and a third load we are going to unload near the center of the village.” Seeing that Lizzie was getting ready to pour him a cup of coffee, Tree continued. “Hold that coffee until we return, Lizzie. Washakie seems to think he might have a saw we can use to cut up even more wood with, and he and I will come here once we unload the last of it.”
“This is the last cup in the pot, so I will make a fresh one for you two. Is it good wood?”
“Yes, I think so. It’s aspen, so it should be good for cooking and heating the tipi both. The meadow where we left the animals has a large stand of aspen on one end, and there are quite a few fallen trees there we can cut up. The wood we gathered today was just the branches off three trees and two trunks, and I saw at least five more fallen trees there. We should be able to make it through the winter with all that is down in just that one stand of trees.”
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