"nooned at poketela [Pocatello] stat[i]on then traveld...
to fort hall...dune some trading hear for our fall's trap[p]ing and hunting"
24-25 July 1875
Our wagon train, what was left of it, pulled into Fort Hall just after sundown. July heat smothered the darkening desert. A cluster of tipis around the outer walls only increased my terror.
"She's just a child, poor thing," a woman's voice said. She was close to my face, looking by candlelight at my bandage. A cool hand touched my forehead as someone lifted me from the wagon bed and carried me to a pallet inside the fortress. Voices whispered.
"You're safe now," the woman said.
"Mother?" I tried to lift my head.
"Rest, my dear."
It was nearly a week before I could walk on my own. The sunlight almost blinded me when I stepped outside to the courtyard. It was noisy, with travelers shouting to one another as they carried crates or rolled huge wagon wheels through the gravel. Children sat in the shade, oiling harnesses. Yokes, cracked from dryness, were stacked near a carpenter's bench. Most emigrants rested just a day or two before continuing on the trail west to Oregon.
I recognized Mr. Hardy, one of our drivers, watering the mules. It looked like he'd be moving on soon, even though he was leaning on a crutch. Next to the corral was the open shed of the blacksmith, who was turning iron spikes in the fire. His beard was so long that he had tucked its tip into the belt at his waist. Log buildings lined the base of the walls; and high up on top, soldiers. Sun reflected off their coat buttons and the metal of their rifles.
Watching them walk back and forth made me feel safe, until I looked across the yard and saw the Indians. They were gathered around one of the cabins-trading, maybe. At least a dozen. I felt dizzy again.
I opened my eyes. Someone had tucked a quilt around me.
"Sweet child, can you hear me?" It was Mrs. Lander. She bent close enough to whisper. Her bonnet hid the men standing behind her.
"We're leaving first thing tomorrow, the rest of us are. Come with us, won't you, dear?" She squeezed my arm gently. "Your folks would've wanted it, I'm certain."
There was a stab in my stomach at the thought of returning to that prickly old trail, with babies crying all the time and dust turning to mud in my mouth. More weeks of coughing. More weeks of worrying about another ambush. I could still taste metal from the axle grease Mother had smeared on our lips.
Not too far back were the graves of my parents. Joey, Samuel, and baby Ivan were gone, too. To leave them behind would be worse than anything I could imagine. Worse even than what had put them there in the first place.
I turned my head to the wall.
"Still can't hardly get a word outta her." It was a man's voice outside the cabin wall. Sunlight speckled between the logs onto the quilt over my legs. "Fifteen's awful young to lose your whole family," he said.
"Well, she ain't gonna be happy here, Capt'n Putnam, not with ninety of your enlisted men trying to see through her skirts every blessed moment," said the voice I'd learned to recognize as Mr. Shilling's.
Mr. Shilling ran the trading post in the fort. Mrs. Lander told me he was licensed by the U.S. government, as long as he didn't sell alcohol to the Indians or ammunition if they were planning to go on the warpath. Guns for hunting, now-that was different. He could swap as many of their skins or blankets for guns as he wanted, just so long as they were shooting for food. But to me, an Indian with a rifle only meant something or somebody was destined for buckshot.
"Way I see it, Capt'n, is Miss Hill can do one of three things. Stay here and cook hotcakes for your boys, mend their sleeves, and such." Shilling hawked up a mouthful of phlegm and ptooied into the dirt.
"Two, she can hitch up with Hardy's bunch for the promised land, which she don't seem likely to favor. Or," he spit again, "there's the Englishman."
"I wouldn't be a bit surprised, nossir, I would not, if the wife don't need an extra hand with all those young'uns."
Next morning in the early chill, I packed. It was the quickest thing I ever did: one gingham dress and an underskirt, my journal, and the thick tortoiseshell comb Mrs. Lander had rescued from my mother's hair. I held up Mother's tiny looking glass, but when I saw the jagged gash across my forehead I threw it into the fireplace, where it bounced among the ashes.
"Excuse me, Miss Carrie," said a figure in the doorway. "It's time."
I was immediately embarrassed, for Miles Alexander was by far the most sturdy man I'd ever enjoyed watching. He was the fort's main carpenter-older than I, and tall. For two weeks we'd been glancing at each other, and every time he had smiled, my neck had grown hot.
The Englishman waited outside the gates with three mules loaded high and two Appaloosas. His hair was red as rust, with a beard to match. Sweat stains on his hat and down the front of his vest reminded me of the heat ahead of us, two days' worth. Freckles and blue eyes. He winked as he handed me the reins to the smaller horse.
"This 'ere's Billy Button." He was rolling my bundle into a gray blanket that he tied to the back of the saddle. "I gave 'im to my little son, William, last spring. Up, Missie," he said with a lift to my boot heel. His accent was the same as my father's had been.
"Off and away with a yay dilly yay." And with a happy shout, he began whistling. The mules followed, slowly, as if they were considering another plan. A few minutes later we reached the Snake River, which would lead us north to Henry's Fork and my new home. The galloping of a horse behind us interrupted the whistler, and we both turned to see Miles Alexander leaning forward in his saddle, dust kicking up around him.
"You forgot this!" he yelled, pulling alongside Billy Button. The mirror I'd left for dead now sparkled in the sun as he slipped it into the big pocket on my riding skirt. Then he put his hand over mine.
"Come fall, I'll be working out of Sand Hills; that's the post just south of Dick's place." He took a long breath. "Carrie, I'd be honored if you'd let me call on you." Our legs swayed into each other as the horses continued forward. His eyes were very blue.
"The honor would be mine."
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