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Riding the circuit: a trading post story
It was a long, lingering winter. Snow was still on the ground in the middle of March and it was possible we would get more flurries. The preacher wanted to see as many of his lay ministers as he could before Easter. We agreed to the idea of my riding his circuit with him. Everyone calls him the preacher, his name is Isaiah Jones and the circuit is territory that he serves as a minister. It is far too vast for him to see any of his followers on a regular basis, so he has appointed lay ministers who are allowed to preach and hold somewhat informal services. Since my purpose is to learn what the circumstances of religion are, not just my own, in the Louisiana Territory, I asked to go along just to observe. We followed trails on horseback and occasionally had to go afoot and lead the horses where it was hard to follow the trail. We had an additional horse we used to pack supplies and pull a triangular frame with webbing which held more supplies. Thus we made an odd pair of horsemen, a protestant minister and a Roman Catholic man, who was not quite a priest.
I am not as used to riding horseback as the preacher is. Generally, back in Baltimore, I would get around in a buggy or a public conveyance. However, horseback was the only way our here. We had to follow paths which had been made by animals or by Indians and trappers. There were no roads. It’s hard to imagine the immensity of the forestland we were riding through. The tall pine trees were immense. On occasions when we were on a high point, like a river bluff, the trees stretched out as far as we could see.
We wanted to see as many people as we could before Easter. It was early spring but winter weather was not leaving easily. We’d had a blizzard in the middle of March and the snow had not yet left.
The preacher and I have become friends of sorts because of the circumstances in which we met. I had saved his life during a fire, because I happened to be in the right place at the right time. That’s not really important. The fact is that I had studied to be a priest in Baltimore and was near taking my final vows to be ordained when I felt that something was missing in my belief. I requested to put off ordination to visit my sister at the trading post in the Louisiana Territory. Since I had been a candidate to work for the bishop I agreed to send reports to him about the territory regarding things that pertain to religion. My name is John Cassidy.
Everywhere we went people gathered to hear the preacher. His sermons were well phrased and well delivered. I felt they were stronger on emotion than on Christian doctrine. Whether we stopped at an isolated cabin or a small settlement, the people were always friendly and provided us with food and shelter. It was early springtime and the air was still a bit chilly, so it was good to get in where there was warm food and a warm fire.
Despite the fact that I agreed to act as a bystander only, I was often induced to minister to some settlers myself. Not everyone was of the preacher’s persuasion. There were some who were from a variety of backgrounds and origins. I couldn’t perform all of the rites of the religion since I was not ordained but I did find myself presiding over baptisms and weddings.
A Cabin in the clearing
After spending a few days riding and visiting various individual settlers, hunters and small settlements we came to a small cabin in an area where the trees had been cleared for possible farming. The cabin looked almost deserted. There was snow around it but no sign of clearing any of it. There were tracks to a woodpile and smoke from the chimney. As we approached the house I could see the rifle barrel poking out of a slit in the window frame. I hailed the house.
“Who are you?’ I heard from the house.
“Preacher Jones and John Cassidy,” I shouted.
“What do you want?” the voice answered.
“We would like to talk to you and get in out of the cold.”
“Come closer. Slowly.”
The voice sounded female. It might explain the extreme caution.
“Alright,” she said.” Go to the woodpile and both of you bring in an armload of wood.”
I figured the speaker was a woman and that if there were a man in the cabin he was disabled or he would have done the talking. She was cleaver to have us haul in the wood because it would keep us disarmed temporarily. We did as she requested and went into the cabin where there was a fireplace with a somewhat feeble fire. I went over to it, put down the wood and fed it some small sticks and a couple of logs. The preacher helped to get it going.
I was right in figuring the occupant of the cabin was a woman. A rather young woman, maybe in her mid-twenties. She held a breech loading rifle but relaxed her grip on it when she apparently determined we weren’t dangerous. She was actually rather fetching despite the work clothes she wore. She had brown eyes, and light brown hair, which was partially covered by a brown and tan bonnet. “Cassidy, quit staring at the young lady,” the preacher said.
“Sorry, miss. One doesn’t expect to see such an attractive lass out in the wilderness here.”
“Ah,” she said. “You must be Irish with that line of malarkey.”
“That I am and at your service. It is wise that you were cautious to let in strangers, but might I ask what danger you might have been expecting?”
“Since the weather warmed up some and the ice started breaking up on the river, there have been roving bands of river pirates who have been robbing the settlers...”
“Pardon my saying so, but it does not appear that you have much to steal here,” I says.
“We don’t really. My brother and I have been planting and hunting some for food and pelts to sell since our parents died. The pirates took the pelts we had and took my brother away. They seemed to think he has a stash of furs hidden somewhere.”
The pirates had just about cleaned out the provisions in the cabin as well as the furs. The preacher brought in some of the food we had brought to help out the needy along the trail. Now that a good fire was going, we made some coffee and heated up some beans and bacon. We introduced ourselves and found that her name was Emily and her brother was David.
I told her that the preacher and I could try to find her brother but she wanted to come along. The preacher and I debated the wisdom of taking the young woman on the trail with us. She in turn argued that she knew the area better than we did. Since neither the preacher nor I were expert trackers we gave in to her request. We had some pistols and rifles in our packs that we had brought for hunting and protection and decided we had better arm ourselves. Since the bandits had taken the horses from the little farm, we let Emily ride our pack horse and took a chance on leaving our supplies at the cabin.
Cave in the Rock
Tracking the bandits
With myself having a sister like Megan, I don’t know why I would doubt the ability of this young lass to be able to handle herself on the trail. She was the first to spot sign Indeed either the bandits were not very smart at covering their trail or they figured there was no need to. Probably didn’t expect anyone to follow or expected the snow to hide the sign. Emily brought our attention to a broken tree limb and then to a turned over rock. It appears that her brother was marking a trail. We were lucky that some recent melting also revealed some signs of horses passing by. Not necessarily the ones we wanted, but possibly.
We followed to what appeared to be a cave in the side of a steep hill. The preacher thought he could try drawing them out and then I could get a chance to capture them when they came out. He and Emily got on their horses and started sing hymns. As they passed the cave he said loudly. “See the cave yonder. It looks much like the one our Lord was buried in. Let us lead our flock to it.”
“Yes, Yes, it does,” Emily shouted.
They started singing again. Somehow they picked a place where the echo from the hills made it seem louder. I added my own voice to it.
I saw a head and shoulder’s inch out of the cave. I eased up close and grabbed the man and clapped a hand over his mouth to keep him from making a warning. I relieved hi of his weapons and motioned him to lie down on his belly. The next one came out looking for him while the preacher and Emily kept up the singing and shouting. The next one that came out, I laid a pistol barrel to his neck and asked how many more were in there. He told me there was only one more and a captive.
“Call your friend to come out.”
When he came out, I went cautiously in to release David. The brother and sister were happy to see each other.
After the bandits were delivered to the nearest law officer the preacher invited the brother and sister to gather their friends and have a worship meeting. “If David sings as well as you do, we must have some hymns,” he said.
Copyright 2013 Don Hoglund
© 2013 Don A. Hoglund