When Fred returned that night the dog was still at large on the streets of Garnett. Its absence, however, was welcomed by a local raccoon which raided the camp searching for likely acquisitions, sniffing and rooting and scratching and rustling and in everyway waking the sleepers to its intrusion until boredom at last sent it scurrying to the outer darkness. No sooner had the weary sojourners returned to their slumber than the night was shattered by the dog-cries of geese wending their way southward across the starry skies. Summer was gone and the great migrations begun, and they were as much a part of it as the geese, the warblers and the flycatchers aloft so high above them.
And here was something of a mystery: where were the other dogs? At the outset Charles and Goldie Jewell had a puppy—luckless, it might be said, having immediately been crushed beneath a wagon wheel and again in downtown Wamego where it apparently suffered only minor injuries. The puppy is never mentioned again nor is Charles Chambers’ dog which also got ran over in Wamego. “Our dog is still alive,” Sadie cryptically wrote that evening, and I wondered then as I wonder now if the same could not be said for Chambers’ dog. Their own dog developed a foot injury which Fred bandaged, and now wandered alone in the bowels of an unfamiliar town. The loss must have been grievous.
It was not a propitious day. Warm, yes, “a fine day,” in Sadie’s words, but it might have seemed that the dog was merely the first of a series of losses that would plague them in the coming days.
The road from Garnett climbs from the South Fork of Pottawatomie Creek basin to higher ground defined as a series of low rolling hills. Roughly six miles south the creek meanders in from the southeast jumbling the terrain into folds and ravines and cuestas. Once past that stretch the elevation stabilized and began slowly inching downward into a flatter plain. Natural obstacles were few; they made up for the rest.
Sometime after setting out Goldie Jewell realized she’d left her laundry on a fence. Her husband was dispatched to retrieve the clothing while the others loitered, and upon his successful return they started out again.
Then Sadie’s hats went missing. Several members of the party turned back to scout their track, Goldie Jewell this time finding the items along the road. They had probably been jostled from the wagon on the approaches to the creek, but the lost was found (again) and all was well, the horses and mules making good time, the afternoon advancing, and Charles Chambers warming to the conclusion that he was not exempt from the group’s woes, nor was his milk can among his possessions.
A halt was called. Was the can among the others’ belongings? Wagons were searched; it was not. There must have been some grumbling, some head-shaking and grousing as they were faced with another delay, another backtrack, and tight-lipped questions all around concerning the nature of their inexplicable spate of bad luck.
And so the dispatching of another search party, now including Sadie and Fred who eventually crossed paths with the can, duly hoisted to the saddle pommel and restored to its rightful owner, at which time it’s not inconceivable to surmise that each party took the opportunity to bind, moor, strap, stow, fetter, wedge, lash, chain, jam and otherwise encase their belongings so stringently and thoroughly that the reverse procedure that evening and all the evenings to come would be all but impossible. Then, and only then, did they snap the reins to commence their inconstant pace.
Dusk found them north and west of Kincaid. Conversations around the fire must have been lively if not terse, primarily being along the lines of “Let’s not have another day like this one.”
As Lori and I retraced their route it was difficult to decipher how far they traveled that day. My suspicion (strengthened by the following day’s early start) was that the miles were many only not in a forward direction. Their bumbling amateurishness was glaringly at odds with the lessons they’d learned through sweat and hard toil. Maybe they were tired or lulled by weariness into complacency. Maybe they inwardly grieved over the lost dog (or dogs), their thoughts cut adrift from their present circumstances. Whatever the reasons, they must have vowed to one another to be more aware, more careful, more conscious of the unpredictability of their fortunes. Simply put, they couldn’t afford to make mistakes.
(To be continued)