Chapter Seventeen: Owen Journeys West/Providential Meetings
Late February 1832
“He won’t survive on his own!” Diana’s tone was sharp with worry.
“Chadwick is a smart man, dear,” the deeper voice of her husband answered. “He’s traveled those lands most of his life; he will find his way back.”
“But injured? Without an eye, and—and his letters give me cause to fear he has developed a sickness of the mind as well, being alone for so long. How…how can we leave him to his fate?” Her voice broke. “It’s already been more than a month since his last letter. What has happened to him? I-I fear I will never see him again.”
Soft sobs came from behind the partially closed bedroom door, and the rustling sounds of Tyler drawing her into his arms. “I know, dear Diana, I fear it as well. But we must have hope. We thought he was dead these two years already. And now that we know he survived on his own by the greatest stroke of Providence, can we not also trust that same divine hand to bring him all the way home again?”
Silence persisted for a moment, during which the young man who had been quietly listening in the hallway assumed that Diana had nodded in resignation.
He gritted his teeth as he soundlessly stepped away, leaving Diana and Tyler to their commiserations. They may be able to leave matters to the whims of Providence, but he wasn’t so ready to acquiesce. He was a man of action, and right now, Uncle Chadwick needed his help.
March 15, 1832
Dear Ma and Pa,
I know that you must be thinking the worst of me right now, but I will not apologize for doing what I feel I must, as I’m sure you would do the same. I only write you now to beg you to stop worrying or searching for me, and to assure you that I am well and will see you as soon as I have found Uncle Chadwick and brought him home with me safe and sound.
I came across a troupe of traveling booksellers while on the road south, a husband and wife with their daughter, and two other men. They took me in after I explained the purpose of my journey and have been uncommonly kind to me, sharing their food and resources. When they heard that I also am in the book trade, they pressed upon me to join them in their travels permanently and assist in buying and printing new books for their inventory. I confess I was drawn to the idea, but the thought of Uncle Chadwick’s plight draws me stronger still, and so I explained that to them, much to their distress. I do believe they have designs of matching me with their daughter. She is a delightful fairy of a girl, but I know I cannot get caught up in romantic fantasies as yet.
The peddlers mean to go all the way to New Orleans via steamboat, and so I shall be traveling with them for much of their journey, since I presume Uncle Chadwick to be wandering somewhere between Nashville and the grand Mississippi River.
I will write again when I have more news of significance to report. Until then, I ask you to stay healthy and rested, Ma, if not for yourself, for the sake of my baby brother.
I do hope you will not be too angry with me.
Your loving son,
April 10, 1832
Dearest Ma and Pa,
Alas, my circumstances have changed much since I last wrote you. The Perrys, the book peddlers I had been traveling with, with their two men Rolfe and Taggart and myself, had been sailing down the Ohio River in our stout riverboat a short while yet, with plans to board a steamer heading to New Orleans as soon as we reached the Mississippi, when we were put upon by a band of Indians. I know not from which tribe they hailed.
It surprised us all, as we had been given to understand that river travel has been peaceful in these last few years, but we could not entertain our shock for long. Mr. Perry ushered the women down into the hold for safety and then distributed the muskets to myself and the two other men. We attempted our best at defense, but none of us were well skilled in musketry or combat—after all, we are simple booksellers and printers—and we quickly succumbed to the greater expertise of the Indian warriors. Poor Mr. Perry was shot clean through the throat mere minutes after the advent of the attack, Taggart also cut down soon after. Oh, how I wish I had trained in fighting tactics and defense when Uncle Chadwick offered to teach me when I was a younger lad. Well might it have altered the course of this incident. As it was, I was no match for one brave who gave me a good knock on the head, and the last thing I knew were the deep cold waters of the Ohio.
When I awoke, it was night and I had washed ashore on an unknown bank. I saw not a hint of the boat, the battle, or my companions—I fear what has become of Mrs. Perry and young Lavinia.
I do not know what might have become of myself, had I not been found by an unusually tall young man who helped me to his camp. He was traveling home after taking a load of cargo to New Orleans, and I learned from him that I had drifted onto the north shore of the Ohio on the border of Illinois. I hardly desired to delay my journey any longer, but I felt it was my best chance to go with him to his hometown where I could regroup, procure more supplies, and plot my next move.
And so, that is what I have done. My new companion makes for intriguing company; somewhat gangly and few of words, but seems a wise, honest, and well-spoken sort of chap, and when he opens his mouth one is sure to enjoy a sharp wit and keen perception on life. Lincoln is his name.
I must wrap up this letter before the post arrives. My deepest love to you all.
Your devoted son,
Diary of Owen Kincade
April 13, 1832. We have arrived in New Salem, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln’s hometown. He has kindly given me temporary accommodations at his home. I struggle to know what to do next, seeing that all my funds and resources were washed down the Ohio.
This Lincoln fellow is quite the orator and politician. We have discussed topics of importance ranging from policies of the Jackson Administration to matters of slavery and the future of the Black Man in America. I believe Lincoln and I coincide in our opinions in those respects.
He has put in his candidacy for the Illinois House of Representatives, but in the meantime he has promised to lend his services to the militia fighting against the Indian leader Black Hawk. He urges me to go with him, and I think I will, if nothing else than to collect the small pension promised to every man who volunteers. That, and I feel beholden to Lincoln for all he has done for me.
April 15, 1832. It is a rough sort of folk here in New Salem, those good at heart who have unwillingly seen the darker side of life. I suspect by the time I find my way out of here I will have gained my own kind of worldly education on this serendipitous trip.
Lincoln and I plan to ride soon for Beardstown to be sworn into the militia there. I find myself at odds with my own mind. We go to fight for our lands and property against the Indians, but I cannot forget that the right to that land belongs to them first. We deprive them of their livelihood and they are only doing what all good men do when their homes and families are threatened. Is America committing a terrible wrong against these native peoples in forcing them out? I inevitably think of my own dear Aunt Rosie and Uncle Peter, himself a Native man, and my heart says yes, though my head is irrevocably sealed in loyalty toward my own nation. The West is certainly a different place from my easy life back in New York City.
April 29, 1832. We have been training with our regiment for the past week now. Lincoln has been commissioned as our captain, and a darn good one he is at that. We have procured what supplies and weapons we can, and will march to Rushville tomorrow in preparation for battle. I feel much more prepared for the fighting we may encounter there than I was a month ago. I constantly think of Uncle Chadwick and what has become of him. Ah, dear Uncle, I have not forgotten about you, but this is the hand dealt to me and I feel I must see it through ’ere I find you. I know you will understand.
May 16, 1832. Our company still has yet to see actual combat, though we have encountered the gruesome effects of this war. Last night we came across a company of militia at Stillman’s Run, all dead, bestowed with the unique treatment the Indians so enjoy to confer upon their enemies. I do not feel the need to elaborate on it. We honored and buried the dead this morning.
June 14, 1832. These past few weeks have been filled with marching, planning, and reconnoitering, but still no fighting. I am beginning to second-guess my decision to come on this hitherto fruitless endeavor.
We did have a bit of excitement today, however. An Indian of the Potawatami tribe wandered into our camp. Most of the men were suspicious and assumed him a spy, wanting to string him up or shoot him straightaway. Before the riled men could act upon it, Capt. Lincoln threw himself before the hapless Indian, knocking their weapons aside and defending the man with his own body. Lincoln would not be moved until the men had backed off.
I confess this incident caused what respect I already had for Lincoln to swell into great awe and pride for this man. I feel he is destined for great things. He has the makings of a leader, wise and just. The leader of a country, perhaps? Only God knows.
July 10, 1832. Lincoln and I have been mustered out of Army service, no longer needed for this Black Hawk War, and I am glad for it. Having collected our pensions and departed the company, Lincoln and I parted at the junction of the road leading north and south; he, returning north to resume his political duties, and I, to continue down the river toward New Orleans. Lincoln fixed me up with a man needing help taking a load of cargo south. It will pay my way until I reach my destination. I’m not yet certain where that will be.
Roselyn and Peter Kincade sat at the open door of their tent in Arkansas Territory, situated near the western banks of the Mississippi. The sun was nearly set, and the low calling of birds and buzzing of cicadas and crickets were in full force as they began their nightly ritual of song.
Nearby, the larger camp where Peter’s tribe had been living for the past few months stirred in preparation for sleep. Since the fateful news of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, the group had been steadily making their way west, and Peter, though it wasn’t required, had felt compelled to join them out of loyalty. Of course, Rosie went with him. He was her home now.
Peter stoically cleaned his gun while Roselyn stared out past their campfire into the deepening shadows waiting to glimpse the first flash of the lightening bugs.
Sighing, she picked up the letter she’d reread countless times, her eyes focusing on the somber lines Diana had written several weeks before.
“…our darling little Chad took ill with cholera…did everything we could, but with his small body already sickly from his early and complicated birth, he faded away so quickly we barely had a chance to say our goodbyes…buried him in a cemetery near the park, where I go daily to weep and pray…I am so tired, dear Rosie, so dreadfully tired…the city is in a panic with this fearful disease…how long will this epidemic persist?...and with Chadwick still missing, I am at a loss how to keep on living. What has happened to him? I can only assume the worst. Owen says that despite not finding his uncle, he has found a new purpose down in Texas, but I miss my boy so dearly. Our family is scattered into the four winds and I feel so alone, except for Tyler’s comforting presence…I do not know how much more I can take…”
A tear escaped from Rosie’s eye, even though she’d wept her eyes dry many times already. She grieved for her sister, as any kin would, but the grief she bore was one of particular acuteness.
A small cry came from inside the tent. Roselyn moved to get up, but her husband was quicker on his feet. Before she could say a word, Peter had brought the baby out and laid it in her arms. Rosie gratefully sent him a weak smile and he smiled in reply.
They both stared at this little miraculous treasure she held.
“She has grown,” Peter remarked in a low voice.
“Yes.” She had Peter’s dark hair and Roselyn’s brilliant blue eyes. A rarity. Peter’s people called her “Blue-Eyed Fawn.” Her parents called her Lily.
Rosie’s heart swelled with love for this little life, as much as it ached for the one who didn’t make it. She’d experienced a difficult labor, and no sooner had she realized that she was expecting twins than the devastation of losing their baby boy had hit her. He’d never even drawn a single breath, their native midwife had said.
Rosie ached for her sister, and she pleaded with God to lighten Diana’s burden in whatever way possible. No mother should have to feel this pain. Rosie knew it intimately; she had suffered her share of grief and despair, but she still had a baby to nurse and cuddle. Diana was utterly bereft, and Rosie feared what it might do to her sister if she could not bear through it.
A blip of light in the corner of her eye distracted her from her thoughts, and Rosie glanced up at the dancing bugs that glowed in the meadow, reminding her of the woodland fairies in a book her mother read to her as a young girl. At times, this wild, raw Arkansas territory felt like a fairytale. She loved to listen to the old storytellers around the main campfire; the aged men and women who’d seen the better part of a century would weave enchanting tales of their lives intermingled with native history and legends of ancient, magical times. Freer times. Times that seemed to fade with every passing year.
A distant call came from beyond the trees, and Peter tensed instinctively. They exchanged speculative glances—it sounded like a woman or child. In tandem, they rose to their feet. The sound came again, louder.
“It’s coming from the river,” Rosie said. “Someone needs our help.”
Peter grabbed a lantern and they started forward, reaching the trees guarding the banks of the Mississippi in minutes.
“Help! Help us,” a child’s voice called.
“Over there,” Peter pointed.
When they rushed to the dark shapes huddled on the shore, two figures emerged in the light of the lamp, a boy and a man.
Peter aimed the light more directly, illuminating a familiar male face.
“It—it’s Chadwick,” Roselyn breathed. “How—?”
“Please, will you help my father?” the boy asked again.
“Yes. My name is James, and I came across my father lying on the beach half-drowned. I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”
Roselyn and Peter were nearly frozen with shock. Here was their lost brother, after so many months. And James, her runaway nephew who she had never met, nearly a young man now.
Here was a mystery that begged to be unraveled.
Several weeks later
“It’s a fantastic story, utterly unbelievable! Amnesia, being rescued by a friendly tribe of Indians and—and becoming one of them? Then somehow regaining his memory and finally departing to rejoin his family…I can’t believe it. Can you, Will?”
Flower was in a tizzy as she read Roselyn’s letter aloud—for the third time today—to no one in particular.
“Hardly, dear,” came Will’s slightly preoccupied voice as he pored over his captain’s log, pen and ink in hand.
“Simply fantastic, Ma,” agreed Hope, sipping from a mug of spiced cider. She was a thoughtful young woman of seventeen now. Her fourteen-year-old twin brothers, Willy and Randy, paid little attention as they busily constructed models of the ships their father had commanded.
The sound of a nearby train whistle startled Flower out of her thoughts, and she shook her head. It would be a while before she got used to that sound.
The railroad was the newest thing around here. Some of her husband’s retired shipmates had ventured into the industry and struck it rich. They attempted to persuade Will, but he was committed to his ship.
She sighed. It was just as well. The speculating business was a risky thing; more often than not, speculators lost a considerable deal in the process and rarely, if ever, made a profit.
She turned back to Rosie’s letter. “She says he’ll be coming around for a visit with his family at Christmastime. Won’t that be marvelous?”
“Merry Christmas to us,” Willy remarked out of the blue, holding a tiny black cannon up to the light.
Flower grinned. “Yes, I do believe it will be.”