Early in the morning of August 21, 1863 William Clarke Quantrell and his band of Missouri ruffians sacked and burned the city of Lawrence, Kansas and changed my life forever. Amost all of the city was destroyed including the Lawrence Journal newspaper, where I worked, and the Eldridge House Hotel, where I lived. Fortunately I was in Topeka on that day, covering the newly-formed and very contentious Kansas Legislature. In a matter of a few hours I was out of a job and with no place to live, literally at loose ends. I rode horseback the 30 some miles from Topeka to Lawrence, surveyed the damage and pondered my future. I soon learned that all my meager possessions had been destroyed in the fire, save for the clothes and personal papers that I had taken with me to Topeka.
I decided that I had had quite enough of "bleeding Kansas" and all of it's travails with it's pro-slavery Missouri neighbors and decided to, in the words of Horace Greeley, go west. To expedite that I first had to go east, about 40 miles to Westport Landing, just across the Missouri River, near the state line. Westport Landing was the embarkation point for both the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails and was a bustling metropolis.
I rode all day and arrived in Westport Landing in the late afternoon. I stopped at the local newspaper and inquired about the possibility of wagon trains still forming for the trek west.
"It's late in the year for wagon trains," said the gentleman who answered my inquiries, "but I believe there is one still forming just north of town. Ride down the main street and look for the wagons and ask for Mr. McCurdy.
I thanked him and swung wearily back up into the saddle and rode north. I soon saw a cluster of Overland Wagons, as they were called and was directed toward a lean, hard looking man.
"That would be me. Who are you."
"Jerome Baxter is my name. I just lost almost everything I own in the big raid down in Lawrence and I'd like to go west."
"Well, Mr. Baxter, these folks I'm shepherding are not too keen on taking single men, although you look old enough and harmless enough that they might make an exception. Do you have a wagon and provisions."
"What I have, sir, is what you see. I lost everything in the fire."
He paused for a moment and then called to a man standing close by, "Jake, you still got any copies of that flyer that lawyer fellow was handing out the other day?"
Jake rummaged around in his saddle bag and brought out a well worn piece of newsprint and handed it to the trail wagon master. McCurdy scanned it briefly and handed it to me. "Look this over. I don't know if they've found anybody yet but it don't hurt to ask."
I thanked him and eagerly read the flyer. The message was brief - Wanted - a respectable, God-fearing Christian gentleman to accompany a widow on the trip to Oregon. Must be of good character with references. Must own a rifle, side arm and Bible and be familiar with all. Provisions and transportation will be provided for the man chosen. Interviews will be conducted on 22 and 23 August at 1 pm at the office of John Preston, Esquire, Attorney at Law at 414 South Main Street, Westport Landing.
I realized that there was still a chance - if the job hadn't already been filled. I had the weapons, I could find a bible and although God-fearing Christian was a bit of a stretch I figured I could fake that. My ex-wife was the daughter of a Baptist preacher and I had been exposed to years of the good book and even had a letter of recommendation written by the old man in my personal papers. She had left me, running away with a traveling Bible salesman. She took with her big breasts, a compact butt and a mean disposition. She was not missed.
I rode back to town and checked into a hotel. In my room I quickly went through my papers, found several letters of recommendation that I had saved from past job interviews - thank God I'd not removed them from my valise, and walked downstairs to the hotel desk. I inquired about a place to take a bath and a good place to eat dinner and was sent along my way. I luxuriated in a hot bath - at least their definition of one, devoured a good dinner, smoked a cigar, drank a glass of French brandy and went back to my hotel room and into bed. In a few moments I fell sound asleep.
I awoke shortly after dawn to the normal sounds of a hotel in a frontier town, got quickly dressed and walked back to the restaurant where I had eaten the night before. Several cups of hot strong coffee, bacon, eggs, biscuits and fired potatoes soon had me back in the game. I started to walk back to my hotel room and then remembered one of the important items I needed for the interview that afternoon. Surely there would be somewhere in this bustling burg that I could beg, borrow or steal a bible. Looking around I saw a church. A small sign at the door said, First Baptist Church. Reverend Hiram Hopewell, Pastor. All Good Souls Welcome.
"Humph," I thought to myself, "All good souls - assuming they are white and willing to tithe."
The door was unlocked and I walked in. Church doors were usually unlocked in that day. The sanctuary was empty but the door to the church office was open and I tapped lightly on the door frame.
A middle-aged man looked up from his Bible and said, "May I be of service?"
"I'm looking for Reverend Hopewell."
He stood up and shook my hand vigorously, grabbing my right arm firmly with his left hand. Ministers do so love to press the flesh. "You have found him, pilgrim. What can I do for you?"
I quickly told him my name and occupation and recounted the story of the Lawrence raid. He commiserated and than asked, "Are you looking for a church home?"
"No sir," I replied, "I'm looking for a Bible. Mine, I regret to say, was destroyed in the fire."
"You should have had it with you."
"I, uh, forgot it when I packed to go to Topeka and didn't think the men at the legislature would require it."
"More's the pity," he said and began rummaging in a bookcase behind him. "Here," he said and handed me a well-worn copy of the good book. "King James version," he said. "No more beautiful words have ever been put on paper."
I thanked him profusely and, standing up to leave, I said, "Perhaps you know my father-in-law, Reverend Hill."
He laughed, "Give 'em Hell, Hill? I went to seminary with him in Louisville. You say he's your father-in-law?"
"Yes sir I am, uh, was married to his daughter Becky."
He frowned slightly and said, "I think I heard something about that. She always was a willful girl. Much too pretty for her own good. It's a shame when a woman goes astray, especially the daughter of a man of the cloth. I'm sorry for your loss."
I thanked him again and began walking back to my hotel, thinking "I'm glad somebody's sorry but it's certainly not me."
I retired to my room and spent the rest of the morning thumbing through the well-worn pages of the scripture. I ate a light lunch, checked my appearance one more time in the fading bathroom mirror, grabbed rifle, pistol and bible and walked down Main Street to the office of Lawyer Preston. A fetching young woman looked at me with an inquiring expression and I said, "I'm here about the interview for a traveling companion."
"Have a seat," she said. "Mr. Preston is seeing someone now. I'll put you on the list."
I gave her my name and sat down. Several other men were sitting around the room. A couple appeared to be cowboys and one was a gentleman even older than I. Over the course of the next hour or so each of them were ushered into the inner sanctum and then left. Finally it was my turn.
"Mr. Preston will see you now, Mr. Baxter."
I thanked and went into his office. It was typical of a frontier lawyer. A few signed diplomas on the wall, several rotogravures of local politicians and dignitaries and a bookcase of what appeared to be legal textbooks. Behind him was a door to another room which stood slightly ajar.
"Have a seat." He looked me over carefully. 'How old are you, Mr. Baxter."
"You appear to be in good health. Let me see your references."
I handed them to him and sat waiting, patiently, while he read them.
"Most impressive," he said. "Why do you wish to go west?"
I recounted, for the third or fourth time my recent history.
"I see you brought a bible. Very good."
I nodded, smiling pleasantly.
"You are familiar with the scriptures?"
"I try to read the word of the Lord every day but I don't believe that mere mortal man can ever truly fathom the deep mysteries of this troubled universe."
He thought for a moment and then said, "I see you brought your weapons. Are you equally familiar with them?"
"Familiar enough, " I replied. "Although being a journalist I've always subscribed to the belief that the pen is mightier than the sword."
"Well spoken, sir, Well spoken. Let me describe your duties, should we offer, and you accept this position. My client wishes to join her son and his family in Oregon. They went west several years ago to become established and she and her husband were to join them. Unfortunately her husband was stricken with cholera and, even more unfortunately, cast aside this mortal coil about a month ago. Your duties would be to drive the wagon, look after her well-being and see her safely to Oregon. In exchange she will provide food for you and your horse, if you have one and when you arrive in Oregon you will be given $100. Any questions."
"None that I can think of."
"You're not interested in her age or her appearance?"
"I don't believe that's germane to our conversation. I assume she is of good enough health to survive the journey. I feat that my nursing skills are rather limited."
He looked at me and said, "Well said, Sir, well said. Most of the men we have interviewed were keenly interested in how old she was and how she looked. It speaks highly of you that you refrained. Now, I would ask you to retire to my waiting room for a few moments."
I nodded and walked out, closing the door behind me. I sat down and the young woman at the receptionists desk said, "He asked you to stay?"
"Indeed he did."
"Interesting, most interesting," she said with a smile.
I sat down and began to thumb through a copy of Harper's Weekly, reading the distressing news from the Civil War battlefields and grimacing at Mr. Brady's very grim photographs of same. I was heartened a bit by the Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg and hoped that the dreadful war would soon be over. Through the closed door to Lawyer Preston's office I could hear a man's and a woman's voice. After a few moments the door opened and the lawyer said, "Please come back in."
I walked back into his office and immediately noticed a woman seated beside his desk. She appeared to be in her early 50s. She was wearing a black dress, mourning clothes I assumed, and she had a full head of dark hair, turning grey, wrapped in a bun behind her head. She looked pleasingly plump with a pair of magnificent breasts beneath her dress and, from what I could see, shapely legs. She had a round and pleasant face with bright blue eyes and she smiled at me and nodded.
"Mr. Baxter, this is Mrs. Spaulding," the lawyer said.
I walked over toward her and lightly shook her hand.
"Thee may call me Clara, if thee wishes."
My eyebrows raised at the word 'thee' and she laughed and said, "I am a Quaker."
"You, uh thee, may call me Jerome or, perhaps, Jerry."
She laughed and said, "Don't trouble yourself with my vernacular, Jerry. I am pleased to meet you."
"And I, madame, am pleased to meet you."
"Please sit down, Mr. Baxter. Mrs. Spaulding and I have discussed you. She has read your resume and, if you are willing, the uh, job, is yours."
"Thank you," I said. "Assuming the terms are as you described them, I gladly accept."
"Good," he said, "I'm glad that's settled. We had, frankly, despaired of finding a suitable traveling companion for Mrs. Spaulding and we feared that she would have to delay her trip until next spring until you appeared."
I smiled and nodded and he went on, "You will drive the wagon, Mrs. Spaulding will provide and prepare the meals. You will be available to help her as she requires. She will sleep under the wagon. You will sleep under the stars although close enough to be of assistance should she require it. Do we have an understanding?"
"I understand you perfectly, Sir and will do my utmost to provide any assistance the dear lady requires."
"Then we are in agreement. The wagon train leaves tomorrow at dawn. I trust that will not be an inconvenience?"
"Not at all," I said and, turning to Clara I said, "thank you for putting your trust in me. I shall strive not to disappoint you."
She smiled and, self-consciously, reached down to straighten her dress.
Early the next morning I met them at the wagon train. She had what appeared to be the latest model of what was known as the Overland Wagon, referred to by many as a Prairie Schooner. It contained a few pieces of well-made and well-kept furniture, bedding and cooking equipment, sacks of flour, coffee, beans, sugar, salt and a number of slabs of bacon and cured hams and a large trunk which obviously contained Mrs. Spaulding's clothing. There was a little space at the back of the wagon. Clara gestured at it and said, "I'm afraid there's not my space for thy things."
"I don't have many things," I said.
"What you have appears to be enough for me," she said with a shy smile.
Hitched to the front of the wagon were four magnificent oxen standing placidly.
"They recommend oxen instead of horses or mules," Lawyer Preston said. "They can graze more efficiently on the sparse grasslands you'll be traveling through."
I put my saddle, my bedroll, my precious valise and my bundle of clothes in the back of the wagon and hitched my horse behind using a rope provided by one of the handlers. I shook hands with the lawyer, climbed up onto the seat and, stretching out my hand to Clara, I said, "Allow me."
"Thank thee, kind sir." She took my hand and I pulled her up and she settled herself beside me.
The lawyer gave us a nod and said, "God speed."
I laughed and said, "Oxen speed is more like it but I trust that God will be with us."
Our first day on the journey was uneventful. We shared our life stories and became generally better acquainted. She was a delightful traveling companion, ready to laugh and easy to laugh with. We camped for the night. She spread her bed roll beneath the wagon and I put mine a respectable distance away.
"Goodnight, Jerry. Sleep well."
"And you too," I replied.
The next morning I awoke at dawn after a good night's sleep, surprisingly good for sleeping on the ground. She arose and went into the wagon and emerged after a bit wearing not the black that she had been wearing but a brightly colored light blue summer dress which made her blue eyes sparkle.
"You look different today," I said.
"Well," she said. "I'm tired of wearing widow's weeds. Black is much too hot to travel in and I can't mourn my dear dead husband forever. I'm, we're, off on a new adventure and I hope to enjoy the trip."
We continued along our way, heading west from Westport Landing and angling north toward Nebraska. She was a good, if not gourmet cook and the wagon was well provisioned. We were becoming more and more comfortable with each other and, it seemed to me that she sat closer to me on the wagon seat as we went along. We camped that night on the prairie and sat, drinking our coffee, admiring the sunset.
She looked at me and said, "A penny for thy thoughts."
I smiled at her and said, "I'm a journalist and a penny per thought is probably appropriate." She laughed and I continued, "This is so very pleasant, Not at all what one would suppose for a trip to the wild, wild west The scenery is magnificent, the setting is serene and the company is exceptional."
"Oh, Jerry, thou are a poet."
"Nope, just a scribbler but I do have my moments."
We went our separate ways to bed. She beneath the wagon, me nearby beneath the stars. We could see storm clouds gathering in the west. I don't know how long I slept but I jerked suddenly awake as a bolt of lightning struck on a distant hill and a heavy rain began to pour down. I drew my bedroll around me and than I heard her voice.
"Jerry. Come here and get out of the rain. Thee will catch thy death."
I stood up and quickly moved under the wagon, thankful to be out of the rain which was now coming down in torrents.
"It's really raining hard," she said.
"As we used to say in Kansas, like a cow pissing on a flat rock," I said. She laughed and said, "It will be dryer here."
"And much nicer," I replied.
She touched my bedroll and said, "This is wet and probably uncomfortable but mine is big enough for two."
"Thank you," I said, and moved closer to her. She was still in her nightshirt and I in my underwear. She made room for me and said, "Now, behave thyself."
"Say no more," I said.
We closed our eyes and soon went to sleep, listening to the thunder and the rain falling on the covered wagon above us. I awoke at first light and discovered that during the night we had moved closer together. Both of us were on our sides in the time-honored spoon position. Her body was very warm and comforting with her ass pressed closely to my crotch. As if my penis had a mind of it's own it began to respond. I fought the urge to press closer to her and to reach around her and touch her breasts. She seemed to stir and did not pull away but stayed where she was. I knew she could feel my erect cock pressing against her ass. She murmured sleepily, "Thank thee, Jerry, for keeping me warm and making me feel protected. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me," she said, with a chuckle. I laughed and a new day began.
We moved further into Nebraska, making our usual 10 to 15 miles a day. The rain overnight had freshened the air. It was now September and the nights were growing cooler. Again we drank our coffee after dinner and admired the sunset. This time there were no threatening clouds.
"It doesn't look like it will rain tonight," she said.
"Yes," I said. "I'm afraid you're right" and I put my arm around her drawing her closer to me.
She looked at me and said, "Thee may find me bold and brazen but if thee would like to lay beside me I would not mind. After all, one never knows when a sudden shower could begin."
I smiled and said, "It would be my pleasure."
She went into the wagon and I walked away from the fading campfire and stripped down to my underwear. She emerged from the wagon wearing her nightshirt and crawled under the Prairie Schooner. I laid down beside her and gave her a tender touch upon her face.
"Good night, Clara," I said.
"Thee may kiss me goodnight, if thee wishes."
"Thy wish is my command," I said and gave her a tender kiss. She sighed and kissed me back and this time her tongue darted briefly into my mouth.
"I am so wicked," she said.
"No," I replied. "You are so wonderful."
We snuggled close and soon went to sleep. The next morning I awoke and felt her body close to mine just like the morning before. She moved her ass closer to my erect cock and this time she took my hand and brought it tentatively to her breast. I placed my hand upon her and gave her a gentle squeeze. I could feel her nipple hardening beneath my touch.
"Thee are a gentle man and a wonderful discovery," she said with a sleepy sigh.
"I'm glad you think so," I said and slowly caressed her nipple. She sighed again and pulled my hand closer to her bosom. We could hear the sounds of the camp stirring around us so I reluctantly pulled my hand away and said, "Time to get up. We've miles to go before we sleep and promises to keep."