Tuesday, August 28, 2007

WILDERNESS CONFLICT - CHAPTER 2

Matty was 6 foot tall and weighed 195 pounds at 19 years of age. He worked hard on his fathers farm since he was ten years old. Every pound of him was solid muscle. His family did not have much worldly worth and lived in a one room log cabin affair that his father and mother, together, hastily constructed on a tract of land in North Cumberland, Maryland. His father started the farm with two oxen, seven chickens , two pigs and a cow. The cabin had to be erected quickly because the land had to be cleared and tilled for crop planting. In the early years, at age 6, Matty would sit astride one of the two oxen as his father plowed the soil in preparation for seeding. At age 7, Matty walked behind the plow. His mother did her best to educate Matty in the evenings after chores, but Matty was usually exhausted and showed little interest in reading, writing and arithmetic. When he had time to himself he would spend it in the forests. This was usually on Sundays. He was intensely interested in all animals and plant life of the woods. He would watch deer, elk, otter and was especially curious about eagles and hawks. Those high flying, soaring birds fascinated him. He soon became a part of this wild environment. Matty took only what he needed from it to live. He respected the natural world and always was amazed by it. Everything seemed dependent on something else. All things, plant and animal, were interwoven together to form a circle of life.

Matty knew that the farm could not hold him. He was 19 years old and wasn't really sure what he wanted. But he was certain it wasn't the plow. He needed to leave. The forest pulled him with the strength of an oxen. He could wait no longer. It would be Sunday in three more days and he would leave then.

"What will you do and where will you go", his mother said. "Your father and I have built this farm knowing that someday you and yours would family here." "How can you just leave?" "Emily, the boy is his own master." "He can do as he pleases." "We came to this land to escape the lords who all but enslaved us into labor." "We are free to work the soil, to raise children, and to assume wealth, little that it is." "Matty is my son and I'll not be forcing him to a life he does not want." "Son, go yer own way." "But set the path back to yer mother and me well in yer head." His father's eyes were glassy and a tear trickled down from the corner of his left eye. He extended his right hand out to his son. When Matty grasped his fathers hand, the old man leaped to his feet pulling Matty toward him, released the hand shake grip and threw both arms around Matty's back and held his son tight to him. He whispered in Matty's ear, "I'm proud of you son." "Follow yer dream." "And remember the path home." Matty's mother sat in a stick chair, sobbing. She seemed small and frail all of a sudden to Matty. Matty walked over to his mother and embraced her. "I'll be back mother." "I'll not be gone forever." "Maybe in the Spring." "Yes, the Spring." "I'll return in the Spring; no later than May." "I'll have lots of stories to tell you both." Sunday finally came. The sun slowly began it's climb from the East, Matty had collected a few necessaries, laid them on an open wool blanket and rolled the blanket over them into a tight cylindrical shape. A four foot piece of rawhide was tied to both ends of the blanket. The rawhide was just long enough to sling the travel roll over his shoulder. At 7:00 AM Sunday morning, Matty hugged his mother on the cabin porch. He used light but firm pressure to hold her against him. His father came onto the porch carrying a package wrapped in heavy paper saturated in bear grease. The bear grease would make it water proof. The package was tied together with a single piece of rawhide. "Something for your journey". "No need to open it now." "Wait till tonight." Matty embraced his father and then his mother. He stood back away from the porch and gave them both a long endearing stair. He then turned and walked down the path and entered the woods at the South side of the farm. He didn't look back. If he did he might lose his resolve to leave. No, he would hold his course South. He was on his own.

By night fall he had happened onto a small stream that flowed North to South at the base of the Allegheny foot hills. Up until now the going had been easy. The ground was flat and lightly forested with tall, slender pines. In short, he made good time travelling more than 23 miles since sun up. He would camp here for the night under a huge hemlock that towered above the tallest tree in view. He unrolled his blanket and spread it on the ground and laid down upon his back. He looked up through the tree, his eyes searching through the branches. It was interesting how the limbs all seemed to grow straight out from the trunk then slope downward and out at an Angle. When viewed altogether as a whole, the traditional pine tree shape was created. Round tree, larger at the bottom, and tapering to a point on top. "Amazing," he thought! He rolled onto his right side and noticed the box his father had given him. His eyes came alive. Reaching out with his right hand, he hooked his index finger under the rawhide tie and pulled the box to him. While untying the package, his thoughts returned to his mother and father. Both had tried to be strong and sympathetic with his wishes to leave home. But he saw through their charade. His mother constantly blotted tears from her cheeks with the bottom edge of her apron and his father often looked past Matty's head to avoid eye contact while concurring with his reasons for his leaving home. The package had a heft to it. The opening had a flap that was held closed by a narrow rawhide strip twisted around a wooden dowel that pushed through the box from the inside. The dowel protruded through a hole in the flap thereby holding the flap closed. He turned the box upside down dumbing the contents out onto the ground. There were five pieces of jagged flint and a six inch long, 1/2 inch diameter piece of iron stock. This was perfect for fire starting. An old, worn wet stone tumbled out followed by a small tin of whale oil. There was something heavy that was wedged tightly against the sides of the interior. It would not fall out. When he turned the box over and looked inside, he saw a knife and a leather sheath. His eyes grew very wide, and he sat up to inspect this find. The blade was a good seven inches Long with a stag bone handle. The top of the blade was thick and two inches from the tip was sharpened like a razor and sloped down and slightly up again to a needle point. The bottom edge was sharpened from the hilt all the way to the blade's tip. That edge gently curved upward to the point of the knife. A very wicked piece of craftsmanship he thought. It was of heavy steel with impeccable craftsmanship and contained a finish as smooth and bright as a mirror. An inscription was etched on the left side of the blade. It read; Solomon 1750. Solomon - Father - Did his father make this blade? He must have. But when and where? It had to be back in England. Father only had Coopers tools good only for making barrel hoops and wagon wheel bands. Could his father have created this fine crafted knife with a hammer and anvil? He must have. It was a fine gift. He clutched it in both hands and pulled it to his chest as he lay on the blanket on his side and fell soundly asleep.

He awakened at sun up, rolled onto his back, yawned and stretched and stood up. He reached down and picked up the wicked looking knife and the leather sheath. The sheathed knife was inserted behind his pant belt on his right side. All seemed right with the world. He felt more complete and somehow, more secure with the knife at his disposal. He gathered up his belongings and moved on toward the South at a brisk pace.

Matty would stop at small homesteads and villages along his path and work at odd labor for meals and at times meals and a few shillings. After three months he found his way to Fort Cumberland in Maryland. Fort Cumberland was located on Wills Creek in Maryland near the Potomac River. The Fort was built as a depot to house and stock pile supplies on the South side of the Potomac River. As the French and English relationship deteriorated on the frontier, there became a need for a military presence in those territories. The old depot was expanded and a formidable defensible fortification was created. It was here, at Fort Cumberland, that Matty Soloman wandered into on July 3, 1755.

"Yo, yo, hold up." "Wait." Matty grabbed hold of the brake arm of the wagon and pulled himself up over the side and onto the seat of the wagon. The driver a boy of 19 yelled "what happened?" "How close are they?" He meant the French and Indians. "There must be over a thousand of em to make the red coats turn tail like this," Matty replied. The wagon driver spoke in a loud voice; "we can't cover ground fast enough with all these soldiers all over the road." He would whip the two horses with his buggy whip only to yell "whoa" when a group of red coats would step in front of the wagon. Matty and the wagon driver could hear the rifle cracks behind them. They were about an eighth of a mile back, but that was too close for Matty. "What's your name?" "Boone, Daniel Boone."

Boone was all of 6'3". He was dressed head to toe in dirty deer skin garments. The deer skin over shirt was worn on the outside of the pant. On his feet were leather moccasins. His hands were large. His left hand held the traces that controlled the team and his right held the buggy whip. Boone's head was bare, but a colonial tri corner hat lay in the bed of the wagon. His skin appeared weathered and sun tanned to the darkest brown. Boone wore a trusting face and his gray eyes were constantly moving, constantly searching the woods trying to penetrate deep inside the tree lined perimeter.

"Here; take this." Boone's eyes fell to the rifle that leaned against his right side. Matty grasped the rifle and laid it across his knees. "She's primed and all set to touch off," Boone said. It was a beautiful long rifle of Kentucky make and origins with double set triggers. The shoulder strap of a powder horn and shot pouch were wrapped around the rifle stock. Matty had fired his father's musket but never a weapon such as this. Boon reached over toward Matty, touched the shot pouch and told him "reload without the patch." "Its quicker loaden and the shooten will be close range, if there is any." "Probably won't need to be dead on for long shooten." Matty couldn't believe what he was hearing. This man in buckskin was talking about killing human beings as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. Matty looked down at the rile again and allowed his gaze to wander over the length of the weapon. It was constructed as a full stock rifle with the stock flowing on past the trigger guard and quickly tapering down to form a forearm (under barrel support) that extended below the barrel to the end. He noted the calibre to be .36. The inscription was on the lock plate. Someday he would own such a rifle.

Boone drove the team at a steady pace. Actually it was a snail's pace. The path was congested with panic stricken soldiers and terrified women. The women followed along with the supply wagons well behind the advance force. Most of them were entrepreneurs of the battlefields. Many of them had followed other military engagements and were familiar with roaming the battle field for spoils. Those battles were fought in the traditional European style of warfare. Battles on European soil saw regiments and companies of combatants align themselves parallel with each other, stand and fire into the ranks. They would be torn with rifle ball and grape shot until one side called retreat. The women would appear for the treasures that lay about amongst the fallen. They would rifle each fallen man's garments for loot. It didn't matter which side was the victor. Spoils of war were spoils of war. However, the fighting here in the Americas on this frontier was vastly different. The Indian's and the French did not line up in ranks to be decimated. They would take positions of relative safety where they could lay down fire without being seen. They fought crafty skirmishes for the most part. A new style of warfare had come of age. Guerrilla fighting. The British were slow to take note. The Colonials, however, knew no other way of fighting. The Indians were the teachers to all.

The sharp crack of distant rifles could be heard from behind them. The Indian's were murdering the wounded lobster backs. Those who could not keep up were left to their own fate. A loud shriek off to the right caused Boone and Matty to both snap their heads in unison in that direction. A naked savage broke out of the forest and was running full out toward four wounded red coats who were limping along the road. The easy prey must have proven too enticing for him. He brandished a war club in his right hand. An awesome weapon! It had a two foot long handle with a round stone the size of a grape fruit bound to the business end of it. He raised the club above shoulder height as he ran down a gentle slope, jumped high over the trunk of a fallen tree screaming at the top of his lungs. He was heading for a wounded Scott's Guardsman who was leaning on the butt of his rifle, muzzle to the ground. He was stationary. Blood covered his right leg which he had lifted and bent at the knee. Matty was spell bound as he watched the painted savage charging the soldier in kilts. He snapped out of it when he heard Boone yell "shoot, shoot now!" "Hurry, now!" Matty acted dumb founded. He appeared at a loss for action. He felt Boone snatch the long rifle out of his hands. When he glanced over at his companion, Boone had just settled the stock of the weapon to his shoulder, pointed it and the weapon cracked loudly. The Indian shrieked, and fell forward and lay still, flat on his stomach, face down. A gentle zephyr blew away the white smoke from the fritzen and the muzzle blast. The wagon slowed near the injured red coats and Matty jumped out to assist them into the wagon box. He then climbed back up next to Boone on the driver's seat. "Why didn't you shoot?" "I never shot at a man." "These men will kill you if you don't shoot first." " And there methods ain't christian if they ketch ya." Boone had a disgusted look on his face when he told Matty, "don't think of em as men right off." "Think of em as vermin." "Later, when ya git used to killen em, you can think of em as enemy men." Matty felt embarrassed. He did not act quickly. He didn't act at all. Boone did it all. He handled the wagon team, shot the savage and saved the red coat. And even now he was reloading his long rifle and handling the leads to the horses at the same time. He had just pushed the ball home with the ram rod and slid it back into the thimbles. Then Boone sat the rifle, butt first, onto the wagon box floor so that it was propped beside him within easy reach. Matty's hand gripped the handle of his knife and he felt more secure. The knife now represented something more than just a sentimental gift. It was a survival tool. It was necessary to his existence on the frontier. And so would a rifle be. Some way, some how, he would own a rifle. After witnessing Boones's handling of his rifle, Matty realized it was mandatory he acquire one of his own. One like Boone's.

They drove till night fall. The main contingent of French and Canadians had left the battle field and returned toward Ft Duquesne. Some indians still followed along keeping well hidden far back in the woods. An occasional shriek or whoop would sound just to keep the British and colonials nervous. The guards were posted heavy around the encampment. Boone and Matty struck out before sun up in hopes of being in the front of the weakened column thereby avoiding the congestion of foot soldiers, wagons and civilian women on the path. There were already dead and dying British soldiers who pushed on past last night's encampment due to terror. One of the horses went lame after only six miles. Boone jumped down to inspect the lame horse's hoof. A large stone was embedded in the pulpy part of the hoof. If allowed to continue the horse would lose its ability to walk. Boon walked to the front of the horses and stood between their shoulders grasping the harness at their jaws. He walked them off the trail a short ways into the woods, wagon and all. He withdrew his trades knife and took a step toward the animal to his left. Matty was observing the scene and immediately understood Boon's intention. "No, wait!" Matty yelled. Boone glanced his way and waited as Matty strode up to him. " "Cut them loose," Matty exclaimed. "Their capture will not win or lose this conflict." Boone replied "its our duty to deprive the enemy of supplies." "These two horses are to be killed. " "We will go on foot." "No!" Matty replied. "Turn em loose now!" "I can't let you kill them." Boone took another step toward the horse and Matty grasped his knife in his clenched fist and struck Boone from behind as Boone was walking past him. By clutching the knife handle tightly in his fist, his fingers became hard against the knife handle creating a more solid fist - and a harder hitting fist. When Matty hit Boone on the back of his head, Boone fell to the ground stunned. Matty lead both animals a little further into the forest and removed the rest of the harnesses. Then he swatted the rump of the white horse and repeated the action with the brown one. Both horses moved out of sight back into the woods. They were safe from Boone. Passing ladies and more wounded men helped the four Britts climb down out of the wagon. Matty grasped Boone under his shoulders and hoisted him to his knees. Boone stared at the ground with unclear eyes and inquired "what the hell happened?" I couldn't let you kill them horses, Danel." "Like I say, their lives won't lose or win this fight." "I'll have to keep my eye on you from now on Matty Soloman" Boone replied., Boone slowly brought his right foot up under himself and raised to a standing position. Matty took two steps back away from him not knowing what to expect. Matty reached down and picked up Boone's knife. "Here you dropped this," and handed it handle first to his friend. Without a word, Boone walked to the wagon and picked up his rifle and possibles. "Guess we may as well hi tail it outa here on foot," Boone exclaimed. "Agreed." There were many soldiers sitting and lying about while the two worked out the disposition of the horses. Most were badly wounded. Some were dying. As the two started off, Boone noticed a red coat sitting with his back against the fence. A large hole was in his red coat just above his heart and the white blouse beneath the coat was soaked with his blood. Boone walked over to him and discovered he was dead. Across his knees lay a Kings Army issue 54 Calibre musket. The accessories to this gun would be in the pack lying beside the fallen man. "Matty, here's your gun." "This one won't be needen it no more." Sporadic rifle cracks could be heard, and not too far away. Occasionally a zinging sound could be heard from a ricochet ball. Sometimes the rifle balls could be heard passing through tree limbs and stopping with a thud in a thicker piece of tree wood. The indians were playing their harassment game. They would follow the retreating army and snipe at them from far back in the darkness. "Lets get goin", Matty said rather urgently. Boone lead the way and instantly fell into a sort of trot holding the rifle in his right hand straight down. Frontiersmen can keep this pace up morning till night covering as much as fourty to fifty miles in a single day. Matty fell in stride behind Boone. He continuously twisted his head from side to side searching the shadows under the trees for their adversaries. At a small creek Boone stopped and they drank. Boone exclaimed "We'll stop for the night just over the crown of that hill there in front of us". As they topped the small hill, both stopped simultaenously. There before them stood a small fort in the center of a meadow. Fog surrounded it and gave the old stockade a macab appearance. It was constructed simply by stripping the limbs from four to eight inch diameter trees, cutting the trees to eight foot lengths and inserting them in a dug ditch so that the cut lengths of wood stood vertical. A circle about 40 feet in diameter was created by the poles. In the center of the circle was a small one room cabin. Mounds of dirt were created thirty feet from the stockade to provide troops protection while they fired on the enemy. The meadow itself was protection as anyone attacking the small stockade would have to come out of the woods and cross the open expance of ground between forest and stockade. This was Great Meadows better known as Fort Necessity. It was constructed quickly out of dire necessity. George Washington and two companies of Colonials hastilly threw this little fort together in winter two years ago when they discovered a large contingent of French and indians closing in on them. The French laid seige to the fort but could not break the will of its inhabitants. They finally sued for terms of surrender and Coloonel Washington and his men were allowed to depart with weapons and colors. Matty and Boone entered the stockade and decided the old cabin would do them for the night.