Tales of Mandy, Part 5
Texas, a New World?
They had been on the road for twenty days now. It had taken them ten days to reach Texas after they left Little Rock. Since Mandy was traveling with him now they had a wagon of supplies and that had limited the route they could take south and made the trip longer. They had crossed the Red River nine days ago now and the land had begun to level out more and more. James told her they were in the Pine thickets of the Republic now but soon would be in the coastal plains if they continued south or if they turned west the Hill Country. Mandy marveled at the changing scenery around her each day. They had not stopped at either of the small settlements they had passed through and she had not seen many farms along this part of the journey. Still the pines and the streams reminded her a little of home back in Georgia. James had told her that they were headed for his land grant on the GuadalupeRiver near the coast. He had received the grant for fighting in the war against the Mexicans. Already though the heat was beginning to slow them down each day and it was only early May.
Mockingbirds chirping, if I didn’t know any better I would swear that I was back home in Georgia. Mandy stretched open her eyes. Why it has to be at least an hour past sunup, where is James? Why hasn’t he wakened me? Mandy pulled on her shirt and jumped out of the wagon. Only the old slave Eb was to be seen and he was harnessing up the team for the wagon. “Eb, where is Mr. James?” Did she sound as frightened as she was? She suddenly realized that she was counting on James loving her as much as she loved him and not just using her. She had put herself into his care and she had once said that would never happen. She would never depend on a man. She had, had she been wrong?
“Master, rode ahead to check on the creeks, if the water is low we can cross the creeks about 3 miles from here and be at the homestead by tomorrow night. I is to have things ready to go as soon as he gets back, was told to let you sleep in, Mistress.” The black man bowed to her and continued on with his job.
I have to trust that James does love me that there are men in this world that have honor and truth. Rubin did; but Rubin was still a boy. No Rubin was a man, young but a man. Could I have been so lucky as to have found two such men in my life? Stop doubting your instincts. You know that James is honorable and will do right by you. Mandy smiled as she lectured herself and washed her face in the stream that flowed a few steps from the campsite. When she walked back into camp she heard a horse approaching from the south and turned to see James riding up with a big grin on his face.
“ The creeks are low, no high waters so we can cross them. And then we should be home by tomorrow night, my darling Mrs. Morgan!” He was almost like a kid, his smile and laugh infectious.
Mandy ran into his arms as he dismounted from his horse. He picked her up and swung her around and then setting her down, swatted her on her rump and laughed. “On to the wagon,lazy bones! Let’s go home!” He lifted her into the wagon and then swung up behind her and took the lines and clucked to the horses and they were on their way.
The next afternoon they arrived on the land. Several creeks ran through it and a mile or so away into the GuadalupeRiver itself. As they looked over the land, James told her that sometimes in the rainy seasons they river overflowed into the creeks and the whole bottom became a raging river, so they did not want to build too near the river or even the larger creeks. They camped over night on a small hill overlooking a junction of the two larger creeks. The next morning after breakfast, James and Mandy went for a walk. The land was ever bit as beautiful and rich as James had said it was. A little sandy perhaps but plants seemed to thrive in the soil and there were willows on the creeks and oak trees. “I think this hill might be a good place to build. What do you think, Mandy?” They were right back at the camp, standing under a very old looking oak tree. “The water lines on the trees from the floods don’t get this high so I think we would safe from flooding here.”
Mandy turned slowly around and surveyed the land, their land. Her new home, Yes, this would do nicely! “I love it! When can we get started building?” she threw her arms around him and kissed him passionately.
“Not for a very long time, if you keep this up.” James laughed and mockingly pushed her away and then pulled her backed and kissed her hard and long. “ I have to go into Victoria and see if I can hire some help. There was a couple that befriended my father and I when we were here before and perhaps I can hire them to help out on the place. The wife can help you and Eb and I can use an extra hand this summer I am sure. I’ll saddle up and go into Victoria this afternoon. Would you like to ride with me?”
“James, I love you dearly but I have been on a horse or riding on a wagon seat for almost two months can I just sit here and watch the water and the rest? Please” I sound like an old woman already what is wrong with me?
“Of course, I shouldn’t have even suggested it. There will be plenty of time to go to town after you have rested. It is only about an hour southeast of here. Another day my love. I’ll be back before dark and with any luck some help for you.” He bent and kissed her and then walked toward the horses that were tied to a line beneath the trees.
Mandy spent the day wandering around the land. She wanted to devour it all, to take it in and savor it. The smell, the sight, the very taste of the air, she loved this place already and wanted to become one with it as she had not been since she had left her own land in George. She climbed down into the creeks and watched the fish swim and the crawfish scurry for the banks. It was in the creek closest to the hill that she found what she had been looking for or so it seemed when her eyes found it. A willow tree draped over the edge of the bank and the roots had been washed clear of dirt in the creek, but as she looked at it Mandy remembered her cave in Georgia and filed away the location of this place. Always have a place to hide or to hide valuables, who had told her that why was it so ingrained into her? This would work as the safe place. She continued on her journey around the land and saw deer, turkey, quail, cattle and strange little black pigs. There was plenty of food here and she would get a garden in as soon as she could get the ground turned and the seed she had brought unpacked. She would be happy here. She was home!
That evening just after dark, James returned home with news that he had hired a couple who would be there early the next day. James and Eb were up at dawn and felling trees for the cabin. Shorthly before midmorning a wagon pulled into the clearing drawn by two oxen. On the wagon seat sat a middle aged Mexican woman and a man who could have been Mexican but was a lot darker than the woman. James stopped his working to go to the wagon and help the woman down, turning to introduce her to Mandy. “Mandy, this is Maria and her husband. Juan Gracia.”
Maria bowed slightly to Mandy and Juan doffed his sombero and bowed deeply to her. “Senora, it with pleasure that Maria and myself come into your service.”
“Si, gracias.” Maria was already unloading the wagon to a spot under a nearby tree. “ I will make feast for the night meal.” She seemed a small bee, bussing about doing so much and never seeming to stop for even a moment. Mandy watched her in amazement. Maria could not have been more than five feet and Mandy doubted that. She reminded Mandy of the small birds she had seen hovering among the wild flowers by the creek. Always busy. The rest of the morning was spent skinning the logs and dragging them up to the cabin site. Mandy worked with the men while Maria worked at making a campsite for herself and Juan and cooking the feast she had promised for the evening. In the heat of the day Maria came and announced that it was time for siesta. She presented each of them with a small roll of bread wrapped around some kind of filling. Mandy was hungry and ate, it was amazingly good, spicy but good. They all washed down the meal with cool water and then settled back in the shade to rest. James explained to her that this was one of the customs of the Mexicans that made sense. Work early and rest during the hottest part of the day and then work in the afternoon when it was cooling off again. After the lunch she had just eaten it made perfect sense to Mandy, she fell asleep next to James with visions of tiny colorful birds weaving nest out twigs.
It took them two weeks to build the cabin and then they built a smaller one room cabin for Juan and Maria. Next was the barn and in it a room was added for Eb. All of this was done by the middle of July. A garden had been planted by Mandy and Maria and they had begun putting up berries and other wild fruits that they had come across on the land. Maria had shown her how to use the pears from the cactus and how she could make jellies and preserves from the wild grapes that grew along the streams.
The end of July James decided to go to Galveston to see about buying a few supplies that they could not get in Victoria. One of the things he wanted to go there for was the slave auction. He had said that they would need a few slaves if they were to clear the land and use it to the best advantage, also he wanted to see about buying some of the cattle that he had heard was being shipped in from Scotland to the coast. Perhaps a bull and a cow or two he had told Mandy, that would upgrade the wild stock they had and make them more cost efficient. The decision was made that both Juan and Eb would go with him. Mandy assured him that Maria and she could handle anything until their return. After all they would only be gone three weeks or so. If Mandy needed help she knew how to get to Victoria, it was only a couple of hours by horseback. James was still uneasy about leaving the two women alone but Maria assured him that she and the senora would be just fine. So on July 30th, the three men left for Galveston.
Mandy was washing some clothes on the creek down hill from the cabin. What the devil is she running like a scared chicken for? She looked in disbelief at Maria as she ran toward her flapping her arms. “Senora,senora Run! Run! Hide!” Maria fell into her arms and both of them almost landed in the creek. She was in a panic and fighting to keep her composure. “Senora, Indians and they are killing. I saw them kill the men working down by the river. Muy mucho, es muy mucho!” in her fright she was lapsing back into Spanish which Mandy could not understand.
“Maria, calm down. What are you saying. There hasn’t been any hostility around here since before we arrived” Mandy shook the older woman slightly to make her come back to her senses.
“Si, but they are how you say hostile. And there are many many of them. They are headed this way, so please senora go hide!” Maria was pushing her away and sobbing again.
“No! You come with me. “Mandy pulled her into the creek and downstream a few hundred feet, there was her secret. “Alright Maria you get in there and don’t come out until I come back for you.” She shoved Maria under the root tangle and then pulled a vine back down to cover it even more.
“But, senora, where will you hide?” Maria was whispering now.
“Don’t worry Maria. Just not another word and I will be back for you later. Just stay still and quiet.” Mandy waded back to where she had been washing, gathered the clothes and took off for the cabin. Just as she reached the cabin she heard horses coming into the barn yard behind the house. She rushed in and threw the clothes into a corner and garbed a knife from the table and stuck it into her boot. She was wearing her hair braided and pinned on top of her head. She pulled the pins out and let the braids fall down. Then she took a deep breathe and turned to face the figure that was approaching the door of her cabin. Thank the gods she had listened to Osas and the “old woman” and had learned a little of her mother’s tongue. In Cherokee she asked in as indignant a tone as she could muster, “What? Do you enter the house of all this way? Without an invite? You insult your mother and those that taught you better!” The warrior spoke to her in a haughty tone but the language she did not understand. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her outside to where several warriors were waiting on their war ponies. The warrior took her to his horse and slung her across the ponies back and then jumped up himself and they rode off. From her position hanging across the ponies back she could see others going into her cabin and the other buildings. They rode hard all night, about noon of the nest day they came into a camp. She saw other women some like herself prisoners, others part of the party it seemed. There were also children in the group and there were what seemed hundreds of horses and mules, some loaded with goods they had evidently plundered in their raiding. Mandy was unceremoniously dumped on the ground in front of a bunch of women. Some of them were captives, a few were their guards it seemed. Mandy sized up her fellow captives, the women were all fairly young, which meant that the Indians were going to keep them or else sell them to other tribes, she had heard of this back in Arkansas. She had already reasoned out that these were Comanche. This was the biggest encampment, she had seen since the Trail west. Mandy shook her head not wanting to cloud it with the sorrows that that trip had caused her. No, she needed a clear head to get out of this. One of the women was just a little older than herself, there was a black woman with a small boy, there were two girls in their early teens, a couple of women in their twenties, both Mexican and several children both boys and girls. The woman about her age, looked up and nodded, “I’m Juliet and we have been with them for four days now, they feed us only enough to keep us alive and other than that ignore us. I fear we will not make it to ever see our homes or loved ones again.” She sounded almost lost, her voice was a monotone but yet, Mandy heard deep within it a spark of fight. Here was an ally if she could give her a reason to fight, this Juliet would.
“Miss Juliet, I’m Mandy Morgan.” Mandy lay on the blanket she was offered and tried to sleep, wondering if poor little Maria was still hidden in the creek. The next morning Mandy woke to a flurry of activity, pack mules were being loaded and captives were being divided among the warriors. The Comanche women were taking the children but the females were being given to the warriors who were mounting them on horses that were tied to their own. Mandy and Juliet were given to two young bucks that Mandy thought were probably brothers. Just as they begin to leave the campsite a rain of bullets came down and warriors and squaws alike began to drop. Mandy reached in her boot and pulled her knife and cut the ropes that held her to the horse and jumped down and grabbed Juliet’s horse and cut her loose. Both of the young women made a wild dash for the direction of the firing and cover in the bushes. Just as they reached the cover Mandy felt Juliet fall into her. She turned and pulled Juliet with her into the undergrowth. An arrow protruded from her back, but there was no blood. Mandy waited until she was sure there were no Indians around to hear if Juliet screamed and then gave the arrow a yank. It wouldn’t budge. Juliet snickered then, “I’m alright. It’s just a scratch, really. Break it off. It’s in my corset and just barely nicked me.”
Mandy broke the arrow shaft and handed it to Juliet. “I’m glad to know they are good for something besides torture. Come on lets get out of here!” The young women crept to their feet and ran toward where they could now see settlers firing on the fleeing Comanche. Of the captives only a handful escaped, most were killed so that they would not slow the retreat and the youngest were taken, many to never be seen again. Juliet survived with only a small cut from the tip of the arrow where it had penetrated her corset and she and Mandy were friends for the rest of their lives. The black woman was killed her, child was not found, neither were the young Parker girls.
Three days later Mandy rode back onto her property with a string of horses. She had stayed to help round up the horses and supplies that the retreating Indians had left. The settlers had allowed her to keep the unbranded ones that she had caught. She had also commandeered two pack mules loaded with supplies. The supplies Juliet had told her were almost assuredly from her husband’s warehouse in Linnville. She told Mandy to take them for her husband had been killed and she knew nothing of the management of the warehouse. Mandy rode into the yard and swung down from the pony. “Maria, Maria!” She certainly hoped that Maria had stayed hidden until it was safe.
“Senora! Madre Mia, you are back! I thought I would never see you again!” The tiny woman wrapped her arms around the larger girl and hugged her until Mandy thought she would pass out from lack of breathe.
“Maria, I’m fine! Really I’m alright. Look I brought home some horses and supplies. Yards of material and household goods and… Oh, Maria!” Mandy collapsed onto the ground suddenly aware of what she had just been through and feeling totally helpless all at once.
Maria pulled her to her feet and took her into the cabin and helped her to the bed. “I will go put the horses in the corral and then come back and draw you a warm bath, senora. You need to rest. You will rest, bathe and eat and then we will talk.” Maria turned and left the room and Mandy heard the horses moving to the back of the cabin toward the barn and corrals. She fell back on the bed and closed her eyes and knew nothing until Maria shook her awake and led her to the tub of warm water and helped her undress and ease into the water, then she slept again. Maria was trying to wake her and left her from the tub when Mandy opened her eyes. For a moment she was not sure where she was or who had hold of her arm. Aunt Kat? Osa? Opal? No, it was Maria, faithful and determined little Maria. ”Senora, wake up you will slip to far and drown. Then what will I tell
“Alright Maria, what do we have for supper? I could eat a whole cow by myself!” Mandy walked over and began pulling on a long camisole and then pulled a skirt over it that Maria had somehow found time to make for her.
“You need to be more careful now, Senora. You do not want to loose the nino that you are carrying.”
“Nino? That means baby boy doesn’t it? I’m not going to have a child. I can’t. I.” Mandy stopped and thought for a moment. When had she had her last monthly time, wasn’t she tiring easier, always hungry, tender breast. Oh, NO! Not now. It just wasn’t the right time. What if she had gotten killed? What if she had gotten hurt so bad that she would loose this child? What if? Ok, I am with child so as of today I start acting like a responsible mother. I eat and do what I need to have a healthy child. Mandy smiled to herself and rested a hand on her stomach. What a surprise for James when he got home; a barn full of horses and a child on the way.
The rest of August passed by slowly. The heat was almost unbearable. Mandy and Maria spent a great deal of the day down by the creek. Early mornings they worked the garden and gathered the ripe vegetables and fruits and then in the cooler afternoons they put them up for the winter. During the heat of the day they both rested with their feet in the cool water of the creek. Toward the end of the month Mandy began watching the horizon for James.
Mandy was dosing under her favorite tree feet dangling in the cool waters, when she was suddenly shaken awake by Maria. “Senora, Senora Mandy, they are back! They are back!” Maria turned and ran toward the cabin and looking back over her shoulder shouted, ”They are back, Senora!”
Mandy was only a step or two behind her and quickly outdistanced her, reaching the two horsemen as they swung to the ground.
James grabbed her and held her close, “We got back as soon as we could. I am so sorry that we were not here. I will never leave you alone with no protection again. Are you alright?” He was holding her back and looking her over from head to toe, as if counting to make sure she was all there and that she was really his Mandy.
“Yes, I am alright. We are fine. Really we are.” Mandy kissed him and then just settled into his arms. To be held again was so wonderful.
“Si, Senora as soon as we heard of the attacks we rode all night.” Juan was holding Maria and looking about the yard, taking inventory of all the buildings. “They did not burn you out? We heard that the Comanche went through burning and killing everyone in their path. Did they miss the ranchero?”
Maria spoke, “the senora was so brave, she hid me in the creek and then let them take her. She was only gone a few days and came back with a fine ramada. She saved me and the ranchero.”
Mandy and James then set down on the steps leading into the cabin and she told him the entire story. When she was finished Juan knelt before her and kissed her hand, “My Lady I am forever in your debt. You saved my Maria from sure death at the hands the Comanche, I will never forget that. Gracias, Senora, gracias.”
James pulled her closer and kissed her. “My brave Mandy!” He was beaming with pride as he looked into her eyes.
Maria began bustling about fixing a feast for the returned men. “You had better make sure there is enough there for Eb and four others. They should be here within the hour. Juan and I will ride back out to meet them and be back shortly.” James left the stoop and swung back onto his horse, followed by Juan.
The men returned an hour or so later with two wagons, a bull and two heifers and three black men and a black woman heavy with child from the looks of it. On the wagons were coups filled with chickens and other goods that were hard to come by in this outpost of civilization. The men were all shackled together so that they could not run away but the woman was riding on the front wagon with Eb.
Mandy bristled at the iron shackles on the men. “James, do they have to wear those horrible things?”
James shook his head, “Only for the trip. Eb, remove them and tell the men that they will be taken care of and well fed for a good days work here. The woman I bought as a good investment, a male child from her will be a field worker and a female child will be someone you and Maria can train for the house.” He turned and went to unload the wagons. “Juan, first thing you and Eb need to do is set the help to building a proper chicken yard. One the weasels can’t get into and the chickens can’t get out of.”
Maria was looking over the woman, from head to foot. She seemed to be fairly young. “Eb, does she speak spanish or English?” It was Mandy asking as she approached the woman.
“She speaks a little pigin, a form of slave talk and English, they pick up from traders. She say her name is Naombi and that she is a chiefs wife in her village. A very important person, only her village is no more and her people are all now sold. She will need watching, Mistress.” In a quiter voice so that Naombi could not hear him, “She is no runner but a trouble maker, I think.” He went back to talking in the language of the men as he removed the shackles.
Mandy reached for the woman’s hand and held it gently in her own. “Naombi, when is your child to arrive?”
Naombi looked at her with eyes that were brown deep pools of mud, but Mandy recognized in them a spark of defiance and courage. Naombi might be a slave now but she was still an independent soul. Mandy squeezed her hand and dropped it. “You will have your own cabin, for you and the child. I shall see to it.”
Naombi lowered her eyes as she spoke, “in two moons.”
Mandy turned and left her to Maria and walked over to James. “She will need her own cabin James.”
James nodded and added the cabin for the slave woman to his list.
The next year passed fast. Naombi gave birth to a daughter and seemed to settle in just fine. Her English was improving and she seemed genuinely to like Maria and Mandy. Mandy also gave birth to a son, James Houston Morgan. The small compound had grown with two slave houses one shared by the men and one for Naombi, a larger barn and more corrals, a chicken yard and now in the second year of their living here a new house was being planned for James and Mandy. It was something that they had not really thought about until Mandy realized that Jimmy had a little brother or sister on the way. Maria had remarked that the rabbits were not as fertile as the Morgans and then ran out of Mandy’s range as Naombi laughed at them both. Two years later, 1843 found Twin Creeks Farm a prosperous operation. The main house had a hall way down the middle with three large rooms on either side. The kitchen was a separate building behind the house. A large porch went all the way across the front and back of the house. Mandy had given birth to another boy in 1842. This one she named Samuel Rubin. James never ask where or why she chose that name. She would have told him then about Rubin, but he never asked. Their lives were good and they were happy. Mandy had a miscarriage in the fall of that year, James blamed himself, because he had asked her to go to Galveston with him and now he reasoned that the trip had been too hard on her. Mandy never spoke of this child again. There were now three not spoken of. 1845 began with another addition to the family, twin girls, Kathryn and Ann Marie. Now with four children Mandy found her life full and joyous if not entertaining.
Jimmy was four, Rubin was three and the girls were just barely five months old when Mandy saw a sight that sent chills to her very bones, a sight she had all but forgotten. She was picking wild grapes along the creek when she looked up and saw a young boy on the other side. He looked dirty and thin, so thin. His blond hair was matted and the clothes torn. Mandy waded across to him. “Where are your parents? Are you lost? My gods, what has happened to you?’
The child spoke in a language that Mandy did not understand but gestured back to the woods behind him.
Mandy followed and that is when she came upon the nightmare of her past. There lying beside the large man who seemed to be dead was a woman and two small children. They were not in much better shape than the man. Mandy bent over and touched the man, he moved ever so slightly. Good, he wasn’t dead at least not yet. “Stay here I will go for help. Do you understand me?” She looked at the woman and the young boy, motioned with her hands to stay.
“Hilfe,ehemann.” The woman held the man’s hand and tears fell. “Wir kommen aus Deutschland.Hilfe.”
The boy answered her now in broken English, “we with Baron Von Meusebach. Go to our new home. Sick,no food.”
Mandy turned and ran toward the house, “I will be right back with help. Stay!”
As she reached the house Mandy spotted Maria and Naombi in the back yard. “Maria! Naombi! Quick I need help!” Both women came running and as they followed Mandy back toward the creek she explained what she had found. When they reached the family Maria crossed herself and back away from them. “No, Madre mia! Senora, they have the fever! We can not help them without bringing it on ourselves.”
Mandy looked at them and realized now that what Maria spoke was in all probability true. “We can’t just let them die with no help! That is not right! We have to at least feed them and offer some help. They need a shelter and food and warmth. Alright, you two have not been that close to them yet, stay there. I have, I will stay here and nurse them as best I can. Go and get the men to built a shelter that will keep the rain off of them, there by that tree. I can move them there. Bring me some chicken broth and other food, some sulfur and some herbs from my garden, blankets and clean clothing. And do not let anyone else, especially the children come here. Understand?”
Maria shook her head, “Mi dio! Senora! You are putting yourself in danger. Senor James will not hear of this! Please let me do this?”
“No, Maria. I am already exposed. No one else needs to be. Now go and send the things I need back by the men that are building the shed. And tell them to leave it over there by the shed. When they finish they are not to come back here. And you will leave me food and supplies by the creek. Understand? I want no one else exposed to this.”
As dusk fell James came into the clearing. “My darling wife, what do you think you are doing? I get home and I find that you are nursing a group of German immigrants with cholera. Did you not think of your children?”
“James, I was exposed before I realized what it was and there was no need to put anyone else in my place. I am strong and healthy and I will do fine.” Then to change the subject, “So, that is who they are. Do you by any chance speak their language?” Mandy smiled and hopped that he could at least hear the smile in her voice if he couldn’t see it.
“A little,not much. Mandy, I love you, but this is insane! I am coming back with some more blankets and I am staying with you. You can’t even talk to them! And there will be no sending me away, understand? I am here as long as you are.”
A month passed, James and Mandy had buried the father and one of the little girls. The mother, the boy and his little sister had grown stronger with each day and now they were well. They had managed to span the language gap and they were learning English as Mandy was picking up some German. The boy’s name was Otto and his sister was Hilda, the mother was Gretchen. The day that they returned to the farm house was a day of joy. Then within a week Jimmy was ill. Before the month was done Mandy had buried her oldest son and husband and she knew with a certainty that it was her fault they were dead. She had insisted on nursing the immigrants and because of that she had buried her son and James. She sat on the porch and rocked and looked but saw nothing. Her tears fogged her eyes and her sorrow clouded her brain. Maria and Naombi and Gretchen took care of the household and children while Eb and Juan saw to the running of Twin Creeks. For intent and purpose Mandy had been buried with James that hot July day.