Thursday, September 20, 2007

WILDERNESS CONFLICT Chapter 4

Journey Back
Matty jogged along at a steady pace on a Eastern course for two hours without stopping since leaving Boone. The musket was heavy and it was becoming an effort to carry. He would switch it from right to his left hand while moving through the woods. The British issue musket weighed three times that of the much sought after Pennsylvania or Kentucky long rifles. It was only half the length of a long rifle but fired a projectile twice the size of the .31 caliber ball of the more preferred weapon. Muskets were designed to be utilized in volley firing. It was desirable to throw as much led toward the lines of enemy soldiers as possible. It's use was incorporated primarily in the European theater of battle where combatants fought in a gentlemanly fashion. Here, in the Americas, accuracy was of prime concern. Nothing was as accurate as the Kentucky or Pennsylvania long rifle. These weapons contained rifling in the barrels. When the powder charge in the breach of the rifle was ignited, the patched ball would rotate down the barrel due to contact between the patch and the rifling's in the barrel. The result would be a rotating projectile that would exit the muzzle. The concentricity of the mass would result in a highly accurate shot out to 150 yards. The British musket in comparison was primarily a fifty yard weapon with a ten to twelve inch impact zone at that distance. A long rifle in the hands of an expert frontiersman could consistently hold to a half inch impact area at a hundred yards. Lighter weight and the most accurate shoulder weapons in existence at the time make these rifles the most sought after possessions by the American Frontiersman and Colonial Skirmishers. They were designed for the very light .31 caliber ball; but were useful, due to their accuracy, in shooting any wild game on the Eastern frontier, including humans.
Matty slowed to a stop at a small waterfall. He laid the heavy musket down and on hands and knees, leaned down and drank heavily from the cold stream. Rising up and sitting on his haunches; he surveyed his surroundings. He was certain no enemy could get close to him without the sounds of moving brush and leaves. It was very dense with foliage here. He was uneasy though. He remembered the occurrences of the morning. Then he had Boone as a companion. He would be self reliant now. It would be prudent to show care in his travels. The stream flowed South and East much in the direction he wished to go. He stepped into the icy water and proceeded to walk briskly down the stream. He would continue in this fashion until the stream meandered in a non desirable direction. He travelled in the very shallow stream for an hour. Suddenly the little rivulet made a sharp right turn against a sandstone wall and tumbled down over a twenty foot fall. Matty stepped out of the water upon a fallen log and walked the length of it for thirty feet. He then stepped off the log onto a boulder and jumped from one huge stone to another until he had moved about fifty yards from the stream. Upon standing on forest soil once again, he grasped the musket in his right hand, arm extended straight down, and assumed the frontiersman's gate that would carry him to nightfall.
Matty did not follow the trail but there was a natural strip of low grass that grew out of a depression in the ground that he had been following in a Southerly direction for miles. It was a now dry stream bed that had grown up in bright green grass. "Probably hasn't seen nuf water in two years to run full", he said out loud. If Matty chose this path for it's ease of travel, then someone else could do as well. There were other streams near by that ran full with clean, crystal water that would be good to camp along. But to be found at the side of one of them asleep would be a death sentence. It was nearly dark and Matty stepped onto a log that had fallen across the dry stream bed and carefully walked off his path to the tree's uprooted trunk. The land climbed rapidly at that point and Matty decided to walk up the steep hill side. After forty feet he had to grasp hold of saplings with his free hand so that his feet would not bear his entire weight and slip on the near vertical ground. Just then a ledge appeared that cut back into the hillside nearly twenty feet. It would be here that Matty would spend the night. He didn't even unroll his blanket. He laid the blanket roll on the ground against the bank farthest away from the edge of the hill and flopped down onto the earth unceremoniously and put his head on the rolled wool bundle and instantly fell asleep.
Matty opened his eyes and glared into a bright moon. The white orb appeared to hang from the stubby, rotten limb on an old hickory snag that was clinging to the hillside above him. Something had stirred him from his sound sleep. There it was again. Talking. There were men below him and they were speaking French. An occasional muttering of unintelligible gibberish would chime in between the French from time to time confirming that Indians were also present. They were camped on the spot where Matty had started up the hillside. It had to be night time when they arrived so they hadn't discovered any earth scars he may have made while precipitating the climb up the hillside. Morning's light, however, may offer the French and Indians proof of his passing. They may send a scout to try and overtake him while the rest continue on in their intended direction. He must leave well before day break. He would carefully move horizontally around the steep hill he was on until he could go up over the top where it would be flat. There he could resume his speed and put distance between himself and the French. The French and Indians should be asleep in an hour or so and he could slip away. A piece of good luck occurred as Matty prepared to leave his ledge. The sky became cloudy and the moon was nearly covered in a cloak of darkness. A drizzle of cold rain began to fall. These were perfect conditions for Matty to get away undetected. He slung his roll over his shoulder and grabbed the big gun up in his right hand and inched over to the edge of his ledge to peer at the visitors below. He saw nothing but darkness. They had no fires. But they were there. He moved out across the side of the hill as quietly as he could. The going was slow. He could not afford to slip and cause any noise. When he figured he had gone a hundred yards; he turned straight up the hill until he went over the top. It was flat there and sparsely populated with huge trees. He fell into the mile eating gate that would carry him further away from his enemies.
Just before sun up the French and Indian camp had awakened. The morning necessaries were administered to and weapons were gathered. The entire group of twenty French and Nine Seneca Indians were ready to move out in less than ten minutes. The Sun was coming up fast though. As the French hefted shoulder packs and aligned themselves in single file on this dry stream bed, the Indians appeared to arbitrarily position themselves on the sides, front and rear of the French. Two Senecas rapidly ran ahead of the group before it started moving. Those Indians were scouts for the formation. As the French finally started to move the column; an Indian ran quickly toward a French Lieutenant who appeared to be giving direction to the Indian contingent. At his arrival, he spoke rapidly and pointed to the hill side where they camped. Then they both trotted over to the site to inspect it. The Lieutenant motioned to two savages who were approaching and pointed to the ground. Each of the two Indians looked up the hill momentarily and started the ascent. The rest fell in with the French. It looks like Matty would be followed.
Matty's trail was easy to follow. The two Senecas had no trouble seeing the places where Matty's feet slid on the steep bank. They were expert trackers and were travelling almost as fast as Matty was. They both carried French muskets, a horn full of rifle powder and another smaller horn filled with fine flash powder. The taller of the two Indians had a wicked tomahawk held to his deer skin leggings with a length of rawhide. A trades knife was tucked into the waistband of his breech clout. His partner was well muscled but with shorter legs. When running it appeared his legs were moving twice as fast as his taller peer. Occasionally they would slow or stop to inspect some bit of information that pertained to their prey. After brief discussions they would be off again on their mission.
Matty ran on until eleven o clock. His course lead him out onto a triangular promontory that offered a view of a large valley far below. He sat down to catch his breath and allowed his eyes to scan the valley in front of him. He noticed clearings here and there and wondered if they were the work of farmers. They were sparse, but they were there. He was not certain if he was in Pennsylvania or Cumberland territory. He thought he assuredly would be in or very near Cumberland. He had travelled South East and then South for most of the morning. He must work his way down off this plateau to the valley floor where he could really make good travel time. He was hearing a strange tick, tick off in the distance. It didn't sound anything like he had ever heard. The sounds weren't constant. They were sporadic. He didn't give them much thought. Standing up, he carefully looked about him, then set out on a slower run down the mountain toward the valley. The mountain side became very steep. Matty slowed to a walk and clung to trees and boulders as he carefully chose his foot placement. The tick, ticks were louder now. It was obvious it was gun fire Matty heard. That much gunfire on the frontier could only mean someone was in a struggle for their life. Matty was already heading toward the direction of the sounds. He picked up his pace to a sort of half jog, half run and began paying close attention to his immediate surroundings. He soon came to the edge of a cleared field. Someone made an attempt to plow it but must have given up. The broken wooden plow sat at the far edge of the little clearing; a testimonial to the very rocky soil. The gun fire was coming from just beyond a narrow tree line just on the other side of the clearing. Matty thrust himself out into the open and ran at top speed past the broken plow and into the thicket beyond. He lay on his stomach and pulled himself forward on his elbows to just behind a rotten stump. A cabin was sitting well in the center of a clearing. It had to be a one room affair due to its small size. Rifles were protruding through the front windows. Occasionally a white puff of smoke could be seen and then a sharp report. Then the second gun would fire. Neither weapon fired simultaneously as they would both be empty at the same time. On the ground in front of the cabin lay two bodies. One a female and the other a male. White puffs of smoke would appear from just inside the tree line at the edge of the clearing. Matty guessed there were no more than two or maybe three of the enemy. A scream was heard emanating from the cabin. Then another. Matty noted only one rifle was firing from the cabin now. If there were only one rifle firing, all the heathen had to do was wait for that rifle to fire and move quickly toward the cabin before a reload could be accomplished. No one came into the clearing. They were being cautious. Matty carefully crawled toward the cabin keeping a line of boulders and rocks between him and the people in the woods. He stopped when he reached a position that placed him directly between the woods and the cabin but still in the cover of the trees at the edge of the clearing. A shot was taken at the cabin from the combatants in the woods and a return shot emitted from the cabin. Matty saw a naked savage run out of the woods directly toward the cabin. The Indian carried only a tomahawk. He ran silently to the porch and stood with his back against the log wall beside the door. Matty laid the musket across the top of a boulder and opened the fritz en. He blew out the prime powder and poured fresh flakes of the fine black dust into the flash pan. It was a fifty yard shot. The musket should prove accurate. Matty knew that there was still one miscreant in the thicket. He had hoped he could reload before the savage could determine the origin of his shot. Just then the second savage ran from the woods toward the cabin. A puff of white smoke and sharp "crack!" came from the window nearest the Indian on the porch. That Indian reached out and grabbed the muzzle of the rifle and pulled it through the window. All the while the second savage was nearing the front porch. Matty carefully gazed across the sights. He lead the Indian by a good foot and squeezed the heavy trigger. The big gun exploded and white smoke obliterated the view. Matty was on his feet and running toward the cabin before he knew if his shot was true or not. He had pulled the knife from its sheath in his belt before his feet touched the clearing. A third body lay on the ground beside the previous two. Someone was screaming in the cabin. Pottery was breaking and a woman was crying. Without slowing down, Matty threw his weight onto the front door with his shoulder. It flew from its leather hinges and landed flat onto the floor and Matty tripped and fell onto it. He bent his body forward and rolled upon hitting the floor and came to his feet just before slamming into the cabin wall. A savage stood to his left holding a girl by the throat with his left hand. His right held a French trades knife. He was attempting to slice through the deer hide lacing's that closed the neck of the lady's dress. His head snapped around and icy, dark, cold eyes glared into Matty's. The savage tossed the girl aside and she struck her head against a wooden water keg and lay quiet. Matty shoved a heavy circular table across the seven foot of floor into the Seneca's legs. The big Indian fell forward onto the table with his back exposed. Matty's knife entered the savages back between his shoulder blades. The Indian's entire body twitched violently. He tried to lift his head up to look at Matty and to spit upon him. But his spittle only fell to the table. And in a few short seconds he spat blood. And then he lay still. Matty slowly approached the Indian and slapped him on the back of the head a few times to guarantee that his was dead. He then grasped the knife handle, withdrew the blade and wiped it on the Indian's breach clout. He inserted the knife into its sheath and stepped to the rifle that lay on the floor. He promptly reloaded it. When he was satisfied the gun was ready, he knelled down and pulled the hair back away from the face of a young girl. She was gently pulled to a sitting position with her back against the cabin wall. Matty tore off a piece of her dress from the bottom edge, dipped it in a water bucket and lay it against the girl's forehead. Her eyes fluttered open and then closed again. He laid her back down on the floor and placed a coat that was hanging on a wall peg under her head. He had an insatiable urge to be on the move away from here. He couldn't leave the girl, and he wouldn't. There was a body lying just under the far window on the floor. It was a young boy of no more than fourteen or fifteen. There was blood on his shirt near his heart. His eyes were partially open and glazed. Beside the boy lay a rifle. Matty's eyes opened wide. He reached down and picked it up. A fine long rifle of superb quality. It may have been finer even than Boone's. It was a full stock Pennsylvania long rifle of .31 caliber. The wood was chestnut and the stock flowed past the working parts up and under the barrel clear to the muzzle. Barrel and forearm were joined at the muzzle by a brass bezel. It had two triggers. The rear trigger or set trigger, would allow the front trigger to contact the sear. When the front trigger was squeezed the sear would trip the mainspring which would drive the hammer that held the flint into the fritz en. This would create a spark that would ignite the flash powder in the flash pan and send a spark through the touch hole and into the main charge of powder behind the patched ball. It was a beautiful rifle. There was a pouch of led balls for it lying on the floor. Matty tucked the pouch in his deer skin shirt after removing one of the balls. He then loaded and primed the rifle.
A soft moan came from the girl on the floor. Matty quickly returned to her, bent down and cupped his hands behind her head. She seemed none the worse for wear other than the nasty lump on the side of her forehead she received when her head hit the wall. Matty said "can you hear me?" "Please, wake up." "We need to git away from here." "Who, who are you?", the girl said feebly. "Matty Solomon's my name." "I just happened by and tried to lend a hand." She lifted her head and looked around the room. Then she saw the boy. "Tommy!" "Tommy!" "Oh No!" She wept wildly. Matty could do nothing but hold her head against his leg. She grasped his hand in both her's and pushed her face against it. Matty knew they needed to move and move now. "They're all dead mam." "All of em." "Git it through yer head!". "Theres time nuff fer mornin when I git you to Ft Cumberland." "What's yer name?", Matty asked. "Hanna." "Hanna McGiven." "Hanna, we got to git goin and now." "I know this is hard fer ya, but we gotta go." "Father; Mother!" "They're in the front by the porch mam". Matty knew the next question. "Could we bury them?" "No Hanna, we can't." "We don't have time." Then Matty thought of something. He helped Hanna outside then went back in and grabbed some clothes that looked like her's. He then walked to the edge of the clearing and made her comfortable. "I'll be back quick." Matty ran back toward the cabin, went inside and tore all the blankets and sheets off the beds and piled them against the cabin wall. He picked up a coal oil lantern and emptied it on the pile. With flint, steel and scraps of paper, he started embers burning. These he tossed onto the saturated blankets. They smoldered and smoked and finally flashed into flame. Turning, he dashed outside to the bodies of Hanna's father and mother. One by one he took them inside and laid them on the top of the burning blankets. He walked out of the room. Any heathen coming this way would not find a white body to hack to pieces. They would find two dead indian attackers and figure there were more who completed the murderous ambush. If Matty and Hanna were lucky, their trail away from the cabin would be overlooked. Matty could not know that two pair of eyes were watching the scene below from the ledge atop the mountain; the very ledge Matty decended to the valley from. The two savages looked briefly at each other and a sardonic smile appeared on the face of the bigger man. They watched in silence as Matty and Hanna dissappeared into the forest on the South side of the little clearing the cabin sat upon. At the edge of the forest the new companions both turned and looked briefly at the cabin. Flames were shooting through the roof. Hanna was crying hard. "Git yer self together girl." "We need our wits about us." "Ya can cry when we git ta Fort Cumberland." "Come on now." Matty practically dragged Hanna. She was devastated and seemed to have lost her will to go on. But they were moving; not as fast as Matty would like; but they were moving toward the South.
Two near naked figures silently slipped down the mountain side toward the burning cabin.