BEFORE I WAS RAVENOUS

LETTERS PART 4


December 7th, 1846

Dear Family,

God's blessings have carried us through. We have been stationed at Fort Yukon for three days now, retaining the much needed rest and nourishment that we needed. As I sit on the wooden planks outside the Colonel's office, I watch a few of the settler children frolicking about with their hound.

The soldiers have been very generous to our train. Even Emmet, one of the farmers who's yoke was lost, has been given a new one from the stable keeper.

Everything is peaceful now, and we'll be staying put till winter calms. But our coming here was the utmost difficult of tasks. At times, I doubted any of us would make the forty miles that led us here.

Another blizzard came and went before our arrival at Fort Yukon; and in the snow we were blind but desperate. Against my counseling, the settlers were determined to carry on in the snow, anxious to find the Fort where they could feed the starving children. But the snow was so deep until they were forced to stay put, despite their efforts and rebellions.

We shivered in the snow, the soldiers and I. The settlers bunked up in their empty wagons. All their belongings, save the blankets and quilts, were put out for the making of extra room in the Conestogas.

There were times when I thought, that if I didn't do so myself, one of my men would surely freeze over to death and I couldn't bear losing any of them.

When the snow storm passed us by in it's forgiveness, we were relieved, but it was a struggle to pull the wagons and the animals out of their snow pits in which they were buried. And to add to our little list of dilemmas, we found that one of the elders and two young children had been stricken with fever.

We weren't delayed by the ill-fated news, and we moved on. Staying behind and trying to tend illness with unskilled hands would be futile and there was better hope in reaching Fort Yukon for doctoring.

We trailed on for four days until we reached the woods. There we rested and luck returned to our side in small quantity with the gathering of timber for the fires and the killing of a stag. Our meager meal of deer meat was accepted by all of us with gratitude, and one of the mothers brewed some deer stew over the fire for the sick ones.

That night we caught no sleep. Wolves crowded round us in the foothills of the woods, smelling the carcass remains of the stag, though we carried it far off, and growing curious of our camp. I held my rifle close, keeping my eyes open, tired as they were, and listening out for wolf-mischief.

The next day came not a moment too soon, but in a manner we would not welcome. We discovered, from news of Emmet, that his wife, the mother of the ill little ones, had caught fever as well and that the children and the elderly lady were only getting sicker.

We settled her into the comfort of the wagon along with the other sick ones, and we started back on the trail not a moment too soon. We didn't take the time to settle out what few rations of food we had. We figured we'd eat on the way.

Ten days came, another child fell ill and I was coming to worry that our train would not last another week with the ill tidings of fever it brought us. The following day, Emmet had made some soup for the sick, and when he brought it to them he came blundering out of the wagon screaming; "Miss Lucy's dead! Miss Lucy's dead!"

We gave the old woman as best a funeral as we could; and afterwards we moved on with heavy hearts. We knew the possibilities at hand and I could only imagine the fear that Emmet felt for his sick-ridden family.

In the days that followed Miss Lucy's death, my soldiers and I and the other strong bodied settlers hunted like scavengers, returning only with small foul or vermin if anything at all. The food just wasn't enough to sustain us all.

We were getting weary along the trail. Five days passed us again and we were moving slow. Everyone was getting ravenous and it made me uneasy.

"What about the cow? We don't need her!" shouted one of the hungry men.

"We need her milk!" Protested a woman who cradled a baby in her arms.

The old Jersey was all we had left of the livestock and I wasn't about to let the horses or oxen fall victim to hungry humans. They were all we had to pull the wagons through the snow.

Despite the whimpering woman with the baby, the men butchered the poor cow and roasted her remains on the flame.

I strayed off into the woods during the event, keeping my horse close at my side. I couldn't bear the sight of blood that was yet to come. The blood made me ill in my mind as did the cow's cries.

Night came and went and I watched the stars till they disappeared. As I readied myself for the new day, I caught sight of a small number of horsemen headed our way from the dale. With the gathering of my men, we rode out to meet them and to our relief, they came from Fort Yukon.

The soldiers followed us back to the wagon encampment, and helped ready the settlers. It was a three day's journey but we made there in time.

The children and Emmet's wife are still under the doctor's watch and from what I understand, are doing well despite their raspy coughs.

Last night the Colonel told me that he'd like to meet with me in his office tonight. He said he had news concerning the war against Mexico that he wanted to share with me. I'll be going to speak with him in about an hour.

I'll close for now.

- Your John.