Church Across the River: A Trading Post Story
Traveling through the wilderness with someone you get to know each other pretty well. The preacher and I were worlds apart on our beliefs but we started to understand each other and worked pretty well together. We left the area where we helped a young woman and her brother deal with some river pirates. We turned the pirates over to a law officer but in a new territory it is hard to know how they will be dealt with. We may run into them again and they’re not the forgiving type.
Since we had been down by the Mississippi River we decided to follow it as the preacher had a church on his circuit near the river shore. A lay minister by the name of Eli Franklin was in charge of the church. In fact, he had built it himself with the help of his followers. Well, from Isaiah’s telling of it the church had a stone foundation the congregation made from rocks left when the river was low.
Since we were following the river, I asked him why we hadn’t taken a boat or canoe on the water. “How would we have gotten back?” he asked. Once he pointed it out, it seemed obvious. The river flows strongly in one direction. Going down river it carries you along, going back would be to fight the current. Trying to paddle up river would be pretty tough work, even for someone like my friend Frenchy, a riverboat man. Thinking about it I should know that from living by the Trading Post of my sister. There was a lot of lumber left there from rafts and boats left there by traders who would take a load downriver, abandon the boat and find other ways back, such as a passenger steamboat.
“Eli’s church is on flatland. We should be able to spot it soon,” Isaiah said.
Finding the church
We continued on but there didn’t appear to be any church around. I noticed my shadow going ahead of me. Odd. The sun was behind us. That meant we were traveling west, the river runs south. Looking across the river, I saw a white building that might have a steeple on top. I pointed it out to the preacher.
“Does that look like the church you’re looking for?”
“From what we can see from here it does bear a resemblance,” he answered.
“Well, it looks like a distance across the river. I think we need a boat or something to get across.”
“Let’s go and see if we can find any neighbors or folks that know how the church got over there.”
“Lead the way,” I said.
I followed him until we met two rather burley men, apparently trappers, working on some animal hides. Preacher seemed to know them. They talked with a lot of gestures and pointing in the direction we were heading.
“The men say that everyone woke up one day and found that the river had changed direction and some folks that lived in the territory found they were on the other side of the river and no longer in the United States. If we head straight down the trail a few miles there’s a trading post and the river’s not so wide. We might as well head to it and see what we can find out.”
The Trading Post
When we got to the trading post it turned out to be a small cabin with shelves of goods inside, much like a country store. Much smaller than what my sister Megan and her husband were running. Still, I imagine it served the people who used it well. There would be several such posts along the trade route. It was a place for settlers, traders, hunters and all to get supplies and sell some of the own goods. Like Megan’s post some people hung around to trade news and stories. There were a couple of men who might be river men playing a game of checkers. Outside, in back of the store there was a small fireplace that was being used to cook up some steaks which were most likely venison. Preacher Jones knew several of the people from previous visits and introduced me to a few of them.
He told them about my skill at throwing a hatchet and breaking up some whiskey kegs being used to get friendly Indians drunk and cheat them of their goods. Suddenly I found myself engaged in a throwing contest. Since it is not a skill that I practice regularly the trappers outscored me most of the time. “That’s O.K.” a trapper named Henri said. “You not do bad for a preacher.”
As we got to talking, I told them about the church we were looking for. They were pretty sure that the church and the minister were doing fine. I asked how we could get across the river. Henri said he wouldn’t advise trying to ford the river. The current is swift and it’s a long way across he told me. Your best bet is to get a river man to take you across. I was sort of familiar with the men who worked the river, their boats and rafts. I had traveled down the river some time ago to get to my sisters trading post. I even became friends with some river men, like a riverboat man called Frenchy. These men practically lived on the river. Henri introduced me to a riverman who was planning a trip downriver a few miles. “Could you get two of us and our horses across the river?” I asked.
Resupplying the journey
“With cargo and all I don’t think the boat will hold both men and horses. Maybe one man and one horse.”
Truth be told, the preacher and I were running short of supplies and cash. We had given most of the supplies we brought with us to help out pioneers along the way. I figured it would be a good time to let the preacher go call on his flock by himself and see if I could do something about our supply situation. Since coming to the territory I had worked in the trading post for my sister and her husband and had acquired some experience as a trader and storekeeper.
Actually, Lester, the proprietor of the trading post was impressed with my background in trading. He had heard of the trading post that Megan and Gater ran. Everyone praised it for being well managed and honest. He said he could use the extra help and I agreed to start as soon as I saw my companion on his way. I told Isaiah, the preacher about the arrangement. I could help us with more supplies while he visited his followers across the river. He hesitated at first until I explained that this arrangement would allow us to go on without having to live entirely off the land. Otherwise we would have to take time out somewhere to get what we need. I saw him off. The river man had introduced me to another keelboat man who could watch for a signal and pick the preacher up when he came back.
I rather enjoyed the break in the travel and had a chance to get to know some of the local people. There seemed to be a mix of local Indians, white Americans. Also some French and a few Spanish people who never left when the territory changed from control by one country or another. “Who knows, the river might change course again and put us under another countries rule,” the owner said. Word got around that I had studied to be a priest and I was flooded with requests to baptize children, make common law marriages good for the church. I made it clear that I could do some things like have a prayer service, but not say mass because I had not been fully ordained. I wasn’t going to be idle here.
Block and tackle
About the second day working at the store I went down to the storage room which Lester told me was full of junk. “Maybe you can sort out what is useful and what we should clear out of here,” he said.
For some reason I rather enjoy trying to find useful uses for junk. I was getting the space pretty well organized when I ran across a bit of mechanical equipment that I was puzzled by. I asked the owner what it was. “By golly, where did that come from? It looks like a block and tackle from a sailing boat.” Now I remembered seeing some river men raising sails and the pulley system they used.
“If we could find another one of these,” I said “we could put one on each side of the river and maybe someone could use it to pull a raft or a skiff across the river. Do that and we just might have us a ferry boat.”
Lester looked at the equipment and then at me. “If you don’t mind he said. I’d like to use this and start a ferry service as part of the trading post. There are abandoned rafts and boats here, just like you probably get them at the trading post your family has. We could find a keelboat, if we are lucky, or a raft to restore.
As luck would have it, I did find another block and tackle in the storeroom. Amongst all the abandoned rafts and such we found a fairly large raft and built railing around it, converting it into a flatboat. The railings would make it easier to bring horses and other animals aboard.
By the time Isaiah came back from visiting his flock he was greeted by a ferry boat and a comfortable way back. With the block and tackle the boatman could pull the flatboat across the river with ropes.
“Well John,” he said. “We work pretty well together, but even better apart. The Rev. Franklin said he didn't mind being across the river but was worried about being separated from his flock. Appears you solved his problem.”
Copyright 2013 Don Hoglund
© 2013 Don A. Hoglund
More by this Author
This is a fictional western short story told by an anonymous narrator about the publisher of the town newspaper. It starts with a local business being vandalized and she investigates.
John Cassidy, not yet a priest, has taken a trip to the frontier where his sister has a trading post. It is a reunion with family and a man searching his faith and the new land he is observing.
- 21History of American Towns & Cities Many Named For American Indian Heroes, Historical Events or Tribe Names
Many towns have foreign names, many bear names of Indians and Indian tribes, and some are named for their founders. Whatever the names, I believe the names of towns all have a story behind them.