Note: This draft is a writing exercise, from the past; these characters and stories have been changed in more recent, related stories - this is historical fiction.

Chapter One - Draft



Three wagons, each pulled by three yokes of oxen, moved away from the river, out of Tuttle's Grove and up the gentle rise, locally referred to as Wilson's Hill, headed in a north northeasterly direction. Tall prairie grass surrounded the procession, leaving behind the small settlement along the Middle Raccoon River, in southeastern Carroll County, Iowa. The Weston party had stayed overnight near Tuttle's Grove on their last night before arriving at their new homestead on the prairie. It is mid-April, 1867. The costly and divisive War of the Rebellion was in their past, they believed. They now sought a fresh beginning in this pristine agricultural paradise. There were few settlers in this region yet, away from the major rivers. The two Weston brothers, along with their two sisters and their families, looked ahead to a new life on virgin prairie in west-central Iowa.

Henry C. (Hank) Weston led the way. This wasn't the way he had envisioned this move six years ago when he had first begun to seriously consider a move to the western part of the state. Life was good in Jasper County. But Hank and his father, Joe, wanted more. His father had purchased land there that had already been worked a few years before they had arrived in Jasper County. This time, they wanted to work some virgin prairie. It would be a lot of hard work, they knew, but, very rewarding, they were sure. Hank's wife, Melinda, and his mother, Mary, had agreed. Melinda had said her parents, and grandparents, in Georgia, had always found new land to be more productive than the old. They should give it a try.

Then, just as they were about to make a trip west, to locate new land, in April of 1861, the war broke out. Recalling the series of events that followed, again, Hank's stomach tightened and a tear formed in his eye. He wanted to believe the northwest wind in his face was the cause of the water in the corner of his eye, but, down deep inside, he knew better. When Hank volunteered for the war effort, Melinda left him, and their two young sons, in protest. She said he "didn't have to do it." He knew he did. She took the small cash cache they had kept in a coffee can for emergencies. Saying "she would have no part of this stupid war," she caught a west bound stage and they had not heard from her since.

Fortunately, his parents were able to care for the boys while Hank did his duty in the war. When he returned, three years later, they again talked of the new land to the west. Last spring, Hank and his father visited this area with his uncle Jake, and they decided to all move here this spring. In the fall, however, his parents had both become very ill, and died, within weeks of each other. Now, he hoped, the "bad luck" was behind them. The war, his wife leaving, his parents dying - certainly it was time for some "good" luck.

Astride his black stallion, Thunder, Hank looked ahead to see the trees marking the small stream, which represented the half-way point on their trip this brisk April morning. "Keep your mind on your business, Hank," he muttered. Get back to the present, and work hard for the future, he reminded himself.

On the road nearly a week, Hank now must watch carefully for the signs left by Jake, which point the way to their new home. They left the well-traveled road, state road one, at Tuttle's Grove; “not that it was much of a road,” he chuckled to himself. Now, the gently rolling prairie land ahead looked like an unbroken, golden ocean in a gentle breeze. He knew there was this one small stream to ford along the seven mile diagonal route to their homestead along Willow Creek, just a mile into Greene County. Ahead, Hank saw the sign for the crossing of the stream. He pointed the way to George, driving the lead wagon. "Straight ahead, there is the mark for the crossing."

It had not rained for several days, apparently, as the stream seemed to be running normal and should be easy to cross, Hank noted. The natural crossing had relatively smooth banks and George had no problem getting the first team of oxen pulling the wagon to move right down to it, cross the shallow stream and pull up the far bank. The chickens in the coops in the rear of the wagon squawked their objections to the crossing, but, otherwise, it wemt smoothly.

Hank had appreciated the fine work his eighteen year old nephew, George, had done recently as his apprentice in blacksmithing. Most of the wagon George was driving was filled with the tools and supplies of their trade, topped by the sod-busting plow the family would use to supplement their income during the first few years in their new home. Blacksmithing and sod-busting have proven to be a useful combination for the family before. It should work again, on this western Iowa prairie.

In another year or so, Hank reflected, George will be ready to go out on his own, if he wishes. Life is so full of important decisions to make, he mused. In addition, George will soon be reunited with his natural father, Jake Weston, for the first time in nearly three years. Shaking his head, Hank reminded himself that there are many changes ahead, not just the change of location.

Hank's eyes moved to his own oldest son, Nathan, now fourteen, riding his black gelding, Beauty, behind the lead wagon. Nathan is keeping a close eye on the chicken coops, stacked on the tailgate, as the wagon moved up the far bank, Hank noticed. Nathan has taken his responsibilities for the flock of chickens very seriously. In the Weston family, age thirteen brought new challenges and opportunities. Hank recalled vividly in his mind the five goats on his father's farm that became his responsibility when he became thirteen.

The second ox team and wagon, driven my Sam Grimes, approached the stream. In the second wagon with Sam, on the seat beside him, was his wife, Cathy, and their eighteen-month old daughter, Becky. Watching his sister hold her young daughter closely, Hank is relieved that her being pregnant with her second child had not been a problem on this week-long journey. He didn't expect it to be a problem, but, you never know ahead of time, of course.

Laura Weston, Jake's youngest daughter, who has been living with the Grimes family, is walking behind the wagon. Sam slows the wagon to allow Laura to get on the back tail gate for the crossing. They all held on tight as the team pulls the heavily loaded wagon up the bank and back onto the flat prairie. A milk cow is tied to each rear corner of the wagon. Laura rides between them as the wagon clears the stream, and then slides off the tail gate and resumes walking between them.

Glen Farley, driving the trail wagon, also slowed momentarily as he approached the stream to allow his oldest son, six year old Zach, to climb on the back of the wagon for the crossing. Zach had been enjoying the walk behind the wagon for along with his dog, Whitey, a mixed breed that looked a lot like a collie-shepherd cross. From the expression on Zach's face, Hank suspected that sitting on top of the loaded wagon with his younger sister, Mary, was not one of his favorite things. Baby brother, Abe, sat with his mother and father on the front seat. Riding along beside the trail wagon on her roan mare, Buttercup, Jessica Weston, Jake's older daughter, kept an eye on the youngsters riding on the wagon. She had been with the Farley family now for nearly four years. Looking at the fully grown sixteen year old, Hank was sure that his Uncle Jake was in for quite a surprise when he soon, for the first time in nearly three years, laid his eyes on his oldest daughter .

Hank's nineteen year old brother Josh Weston, riding his favorite mare, Star, trailed the procession, leading a string of horses and mules, with the assistance of Hank's youngest son, twelve year old Isaac. Isaac had recently displayed a great interest in working with horses, like his uncle, Josh. It seemed to have been working well, on the trip, so far, Hank thought. Josh, Hank knew, could hardly wait to arrive at their new home, where he would be truly on his own for the first time. Josh planned to raise horses and make regular freight runs for the family, and neighbors, if all worked out as expected.

The spring sky was clear, the air cool, as Hank topped the last rise and spoted the little cabin sitting along Willow Creek, among the willow trees, as well as the oak and cottonwood timber on the beyond. This arrival was so much different than he had envisioned the year before when he first saw this land, with his father and uncle, and made the decision to make the move. His parents were dead and buried, and the rest of the family had decided to join in the move. He hoped they had all made the right decision.

*

Jake Weston faced the new day with a mixture of emotions. After two years of having this prairie basically to himself, things were changing. In the past two weeks, three families had moved into the area. To the north, the Clements family had arrived to farm forty acres with two young children. To the northeast, the Stone family had come to work an eighty acre plot with six children. Just last week, Jordan McGee had arrived with his large, extended family, settling on a section of land, six hundred forty acres, three miles to the west, beyond the ridge.

Twelve months earlier, when his brother Joe, and his son, Hank, were here to stake out their claims and buy the rights to this land, they were the only ones showing any interest in this new territory. They had built the log cabin, together, then, with that in mind. Now, it looked like a major settlement might be under way.

The family would be arriving shortly, he thought, as he finished straightening up the cabin for the arrival of "the girls." There were his two daughters, who he hardly knew any more, and his two nieces, Sarah and Cathy who were young women now, with families. They would always be "the girls" to Jake. They had been in their teens when Jake had lived nearby in Jasper County, back in the '50s. Then Jake's wife, Hannah, had died after giving birth to Laura. Jessica was barely two, and George was just five. "I suppose I shouldn't have tried to strike it rich in California," Jake mused, thinking back to his adventures there. "But, I wouldn't trade that experience for anything," he completed his thought, honestly. Thank goodness his parents, Joe and Mary, were there for the children, he reminded himself for the thousandth time. He had been able to send money, quite a bit, actually, but he had not been there for many years. When he did come back to Iowa, three years ago, he still couldn't settle down with them. He needed a new adventure. This cabin on the prairie was it. Now, they were coming to him. Could it possibly work? He hoped so. He would certainly try, he pledged to himself.

Jessica had celebrated her 16th birthday a couple months ago, without him, again. George had recently been working as an apprentice blacksmith to Hank. It would be nice to have them nearby once again, he was sure. But, it would be different. He would have to make the adjustment. He really would.

Jake picked up the empty wash water bucket and headed out to the creek to fill it. He already had the drinking water from the well ready. River water would be useful to them all for washing up after riding across the prairie. The cabin sat about twenty yards from the edge of Willow Creek, aptly named for the heavy stand of willow trees all along both sides of the water. Jake had cleared a twenty foot wide swath to the creek as he built the cabin. Behind the cabin, to the base of the hill west, and to the north, for about a hundred yards, was a nice grove of cottonwood, oaks and other hardwood trees.

On the return trip to the cabin, Jake could see Hank top the rise of the low hill, about three-quarters of a mile to the south-south west. His pace quickened as he returned the water bucket to the cabin and prepared for the arrival of "the girls" and the rest of the party. He sat the bucket on the counter. His life would never be the same, he knew. Bring it on, he thought, and stepped back outside to greet the family.

*

The little clearing by the cabin had been a beehive of activity since before noon when the three Weston wagons had arrived. Three wagons and oxen teams, two milk cows, four chicken coops, numerous horses and mules, two pregnant mothers, five children, four teenagers, and three men had all joined Jake and his little cabin by Willow Creek. As the sun began to set, new activity patterns had begun to develop. Shelters had been set up for sleeping, not unlike the travelers had used on the trip here; except, they knew they would not be moving for awhile, this time. Also, a family council meeting had been called for dusk, around the camp fire in the clearing near the cabin.

The family council had been a part of Weston family life for well over fifty years. Jake, as the oldest family member present, presided and directed discussion, but each male and female over 14 years of age was encouraged, and expected, to participate. Those over 12 could attend, to listen and learn, but were not allowed to participate until their 14th birthday. Discussion and consensus were the objectives of the meeting, after everyone had had their say.

"Welcome to the western Iowa prairie, officially; your new home," Jake opened the meeting, looking around the assembled group. "We are all here together, to work together, to help each other, and to provide support, wherever and whenever it is needed. If you ever feel that is not happening, bring it to the family council and we will clarify or correct the situation, together. Does every one agree?" He paused, looking around the gathering for comments or dissent. Seeing none, he continued. "Now, we need to confirm our work assignments and living arrangements for these first few days. It looks like the weather will hold off a bit. But we can't count on it, for long. Rain is normal in April. We all know that. Let me suggest the three or four things we've talked about as needing done first: Locate the first house site, lay out the first fields to be plowed, get the blacksmith operation set up, and get the areas laid out for the animals."

Note: This draft is a writing exercise, from the past; these characters and stories have been changed in more recent, related stories - this is historical fiction.