The sun was just coming up over the horizon when Johnny woke up with a yawn and a stretch. He needed to get up soon and run down to the creek to fetch the morning water.
The wagons were circled around for added protection and security. They had already been on the trail for 3 weeks. There had been rumors of Indian raids and troubles on the trail. Johnny reached down and felt his shot gun – being 14 he was given a lot of manly responsibilities like hunting for food and protecting the wagon train. He hoped to see a rabbit this morning on the way to get water. Rabbit stew would taste good for supper.
His folks, Emma & Roy Shepherd and two sisters, Emily and Rose, slept in the wagon. Johnny and his dog Buck slept outside under the wagon on a bedroll. Johnny didn’t mind sleeping outside. He could count the stars at night and listen to the coyotes howl. He could also watch the fire and listen to the men folk talk about their plans for finding gold and tell stories of things they’d seen and heard.
One thing for sure was Johnny knew God was watching over them all. Johnny’s Ma & Pa believed in God and had taught Johnny and his sisters about Jesus. Back home they went to church every week. Johnny like church – he learned a lot about God and he came to trust God with his life – that was especially important now that they were on the trail.
Johnny shook his head and jumped up. Time was a wasting, he had chores to do! Johnny grabbed the bucket and he and Buck headed to the creek. The water was cool and clear. The wagon train didn’t always find a creek to camp by so this morning was a good one.
Johnny slipped off his boots and stuck his feet in the water. OOOOOO! That’s cold! But, oh, it felt so good on his tired, dusty feet. Ol’ Buck decided to enjoy the water too as he jumped in and swam around. It made Johnny laugh to see Buck playing in the water.
He was enjoying the creek when he heard a rustle in the grass. Sure enough, there was a rabbit! Johnny quickly grabbed his gun and took aim – KAPOW! His aim was good! He hurriedly put on his boots, grabbed the full water bucket, snatched up his dinner and headed back to camp.
The gunshot had gotten the others up and moving. It would be another hot, tiring day. While the women folk put on the coffee and started fixing breakfast, the men folk checked out wagon wheels, horses’ hooves, yolks and stuff like that.
When Johnny came into camp he could smell the coffee and fry bread on the fire. It wasn’t much for breakfast, but he came to enjoy it. The coffee tasted good to him. And, his Ma had a special treat for them once a week. Ma packed along several jars of honey and once a week Johnny’s family enjoyed honey on their fry bread. MMMMmmm!
Pa saw Johnny coming back with the rabbit. He was proud of his boy – he had grown into quite a nice young man. Pa helped him prepare the rabbit so it would be ready for tonight’s supper. “Pa”, Johnny said. “How long before we get there?”
Pa chuckled. He had heard that question regularly – even from his wife, Emma. “Well, Johnny, I don’t reckon anyone really knows. We’ve never been there before. So I guess we’ll get there when we get there.”
“Well, Pa”, Johnny said. “I was missing home. I miss my pals and I miss going to church and singing to Jesus.”
“I know, Son. Me and your Ma miss it too. We’ll get there soon enough, but you know God is always with us even here on the trail. We can pray and sing to God any time we want. Ain’t that true?”
“Sure, Pa, that’s true.”
“Besides, the Good Book tells us to be happy in all circumstances because God is with us. And remember when the Parson told us about Jesus in the wilderness? Well, He was out there a mighty long time. He knows what we are all going through.”
“Thanks, Pa. That really helped.”
“Now hop to it and get the rest of your chores done. We've got to get these wagons moving!”
There were 8 wagons – 17 adults (the Cartwright’s brought their Grandpa), 11 girls and 8 boys. One of the girls was a baby. Baby Sarah belonged to Henry and Alice Lawrence. Henry lost his job back home because times were hard. So they decided to join the wagon train and head west to find out about all this gold people were talking about. If he is lucky, he’ll find some himself!
The Andersons had a boy about Johnny’s age. Billy was 13 and he and Johnny had become friends in the 3 weeks on the trail. They had fun hunting and making plans of what they’d do when they reached Joy Creek. They heard Joy Creek was a great town nestled in the mountains. The creek that ran through town really was a river that ended up in a lake about 5 miles downstream. The 2 boys planned to make a raft and float down the river to the lake. They had fun planning and scheming.
Well, the wagon train had been going about 4 hours that day already. Pa let Johnny ride the horse while he walked for awhile. Johnny was glad for the rest. The sun was high in the sky and everyone was hot, dusty and cranky. The trouble with the prairie was there weren’t no trees – no place for shade. Everyone had stored up water from the creek early this morning because they didn’t know how long it’d be before they found another creek or lake.
Johnny could see Billy up ahead walking with his sister Betty. Their Ma wasn’t feeling too well so she was asleep in the wagon. The other women pitched in and fixed meals for the Anderson’s so Mr. Anderson could rest. Everyone could tell Mr. Anderson was nervous to be so far from home with no doctor or medicine.
Just then Johnny felt a tug at his heart. He bowed his head and prayed for everyone in the wagon train – especially Mrs. Anderson. He thanked God for being with them on their journey and for providing food (like that rabbit) and water. He thanked God for his Pa and Ma who protected him and guided him and taught him about Jesus. He didn’t think the Anderson’s talked to Billy about God. He prayed for Billy that he would someday know and trust God.
Just as he was saying “amen” he heard someone yell out. “Yeeee! Haaaa!” Johnny nudged the horse’s side to go a little faster so he could see what the commotion was about. There on the horizon, off in the distance, he could see several buildings. It must be a farm or even a town he thought!
The wagons circled and there was a meeting held in the middle. The men were discussing sending out 3 or 4 of them to check out the buildings and who might be there. Some of the women just wanted the whole group to push ahead so they wouldn’t waste time going back and forth. They had heard stories of ambush where robbers held up the wagons and stole everything they could carry. They heard about people even being killed.
It was decided to send out a party of 4 men to check out the situation. The men started heading for the horses when Johnny’s Pa interrupted. “Men, I know some of you don’t believe in God the way me and Emma do. But this is an unsure situation and I think we should pray.” There were a few grumbles, but everyone came back to the circle and listened while Roy prayed.
“Lord, we thank You for guiding us on this journey. We don’t know what lies ahead, but You do. We ask for wisdom as we go forth. We ask for Your protection and mercy. Watch over our families as we go to check out the town ahead. We pray the folks there will be friendly and welcome us. In Jesus Name, Amen.”
Johnny was so proud of his Pa. He knew it took courage to speak up about God when not everyone else agreed. Yet he did it. Pa leaned on God and God was blessing Pa.
It was decided that Pa, Mr. Anderson, Billy’s Pa, Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Cartwright would go. . That left 5 men to stay with the wagons, if you included Grandpa Stewart. Alice Lawrence wasn’t too happy about being left behind with baby Sarah, so Johnny’s Ma tried to comfort her.
Johnny was itching to go along. “Please Pa! Let me go too! I got my shotgun and I know how to ride! Please!”
“Johnny, we need you to stay back and help protect the wagon train”, Pa said. “In fact, I’m giving you the responsibility of watching over Alice and baby Sarah; with Henry being gone she’ll need a young man to help her.” Johnny’s heart sunk for a second because he really wanted to be part of the adventure. But on second thought, he could be a big help to Mrs. Lawrence and he knew Ma was relieved he wasn’t going as well.
The men set off for the town. They figured in to be about 5 to 10 miles away. They didn’t want to ride their horses hard because water was scarce. Not knowing when they’d be back, they packed along some provisions.
Johnny thought, “A night at camp without Pa! How exciting…how scary!” But a small voice reminded him his Heavenly Father would always be with him and he didn’t need to be afraid. With that thought he let out a sigh of relief and waved as Pa rode down the trail.
Johnny & Billy and the other kids spent some time collecting burnable items to build a fire. Out on the prairie there wasn’t much wood. The best thing to burn was buffalo chips – in other words – cow pies. The girls weren’t too excited about picking them up, but they knew they needed a fire. Each wagon had brought a small supply of firewood for emergencies. But for now, brush and chips would do.
The men left to guard camp were: Joe Smith, he and his wife had 3 young boys. Leroy Hastings had 3 girls. They were cute blonde headed girls. Mel Cartwright’s father-in-law, James Stewart, was there with his daughter, Lizzie, and her 4 kids. Kenneth McMullen was father to a boy and girl – twins, age 7. And last, but not least, was Benjamin Stone. He was a business man and was kind of sissy when it came to outdoor things. He and his wife Tess had 2 girls about Johnny’s age 12 or 13. There was quite a group to watch after, but 5 men could certainly do the job especially when Johnny & Billy were around. They saw themselves as men and were ready to take on any adventure.
The rabbit stew and corn bread tasted good for supper. The men were taking turns walking the around the camp. They didn’t want to be surprised by anything – man or beast. The women folk anxiously watched the horizon to hopefully catch a glimpse of the others coming back. The children played quietly – some had marbles, the girls had dolls, other just played tag. Baby Sarah was fussy. She was hot and uncomfortable. She didn’t want to be held, but she didn’t want to be left alone. Alice nervously tried to quiet her.
Meanwhile, several hours earlier the search party had reached their search destination. It was a small town with a hand made sign that read “Welcome to Willow Bend”. There didn’t seem to be much activity, but it was a hot, lazy afternoon. There were 3 building and 2 houses.
There was the livery – a large barn that housed a black smith and all his tools and livestock. Smoke was coming from the chimney indicating the black smith was nearby. There was a boarding house and saloon and a mercantile.
The mercantile store attracted the men. They thought that maybe they could get a few more provision for the rest of their journey. They stepped inside to find almost bare shelves. Cob webs and dust covered most everything. A creak in the floor brought a tired looking woman from the back room.
“Howdy, Ma’am,” Roy said. She smiled. “We’re part of a wagon train headed to Joy Creek. Ever heard of it?” She smiled again and nodded.
“You’re at the edge of Kansas. A couple more days you’ll reach Colorado; a few more days after that you’ll find Joy Creek.” That was exciting news! Just about a week’s more traveling.
“We was hoping to stock up on some supplies but it looks like you’re running low.”
“Yes”, she said. “Had a couple of big wagon trains come through a couple months ago. Just about wiped us out. My name’s Stella Campbell. My husband, Ron, and oldest boy, Thomas, went back East to stock up. They’ve been gone now for 4 weeks. Should be showing up sometime soon.”
“You’ve got a nice little town here. Who’s here with you?” Roy asked.
“Well, Hank Johnson runs the livery. He’s my brother. He ain’t married or nothin’. Has a room in the back of the barn. Silas Hayes runs the saloon. His wife, Hanna, runs the boarding house. I don’t care much for the saloon, but Hanna keeps things in line. Me and my family lives in that first house and the Hayes live in the next one.”
Being curious, Roy asked, “Being on the prairie, how’d you come to call the town Willow Bend?”
“Just past the houses the road dips down a small hill and takes a turn south. Right on that turn is a group of willows and just beyond that a small lake. You’re welcome to go down and water your horses there,” Stella replied.
“Ma’am you’ve been most helpful. Does the boarding house serve dinner? It’s getting late and I know my men here are getting hungry.”
“Hanna usually has something on the stove. You might get a chicken dinner if you’re lucky,” Stella said.
“Thank you, Ma’am. We’ll stop for dinner and then head to Willow Lake to set up camp for the night,” Roy responded.
Hanna indeed had chicken dinner, with mashed potatoes and canned green beans. She even had apple pie! It cost each of them two bits, or 25 cents, but it was worth it. As Hanna served the pie she said, “You boys are lucky. This is the last of my apples. I had a feeling something special was going to happen today. I guess it was you!”
The men thanked her and headed down to the lake. The horses drank their fill and Henry built a fire, mostly out of habit because it wasn’t cold.
Mr. Anderson, Billy’s Pa, said, “You know boys, it’s been a while since any of us have had a bath! I’m going for a swim. Soon all four of them were in the cool water washing away the dust and grime from previous days.
It reminded Roy of how easy it was to get washed spiritually. By believing Jesus was God’s Son and that He died on the cross as payment for sin, one would get “washed in the blood,” and would receive the gift of salvation. As they were swimming around Roy broke into song – “Are you washed in the blood, in the soul cleansing blood of the lamb?!” Pretty soon Henry and Mel joined in. “Hey! I know that song from when I was just a youngster”, said Mel. “Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?”
Soon they were all sitting around the campfire sharing childhood memories and wondering how things were back at the wagon train.
Things at the wagon train were settling down. Most of the kids had been tucked into bed. Mothers were tidying up their wagons as best they could. Johnny decided to sleep under Alice’s wagon tonight, just in case she had trouble. He’d be close by if she needed him. As usual, Buck curled up next to him.
The fire was just a few remaining coals and embers. Grandpa Stewart sat near the fire leaned up against a crate. His head nodded and a soft snore filled the air as he slept at his post. The other 4 men were going to rotate their watch duty.
Sometime in the middle of the night Johnny heard a rustling. He perked up to see if he could hear anything. Buck started a low growl. “Hush! Buck! I’m trying to hear”, Johnny said. He looked over toward the fire; just a couple of red sparks was all he could see. He heard the rustle again coming from the other direction. Slowly he got up and sneaked around the wagon to investigate. Then he saw it! Two men were wrestling on the ground and Mr. Stone was nervously prancing around them not knowing what to do. One of the men fighting was Mr. McMullen. He was a brawny, redheaded Irishman who knew how to fight. Johnny didn’t recognize the other one.
Johnny figured Mr. Stone and Mr. McMullen were on their watch when this stranger approached. The other 2 men and Grandpa were probably sleeping. Without giving it much thought, Johnny grabbed his gun and shot into the air. KABOOM! The sound ripped through the night.
Startling the men, and waking the rest of the camp, the fight stopped. Mr. McMullen quickly pounced on the stranger and held him down. Mr. Stone was visibly upset by the ruckus. Soon the other men and several of the women surrounded the stranger.
“I – I – I don’t want nothin’. I – I wasn’t comin’ to steal. I was just going to sleep under a wagon for a couple hours and head on,” said the stranger.
Kenneth McMullen rolled up his sleeves and said, “How come I found you looking in that wagon over there?” You was looking for something!”
The stranger replied, “I was looking for a bite to eat. I was hoping for a biscuit or cracker or something.”
“Well, where you headed and why’d you sneak up here?” questioned Kenneth.
“I’m almost to my stop – Willow Bend. I was “sneakin” cause I didn’t want to wake no one or do no one no harm.”
“You almost got yourself killed! Now where’s Willow Bend?” continued Kenneth.
“As far as I can figure, it’s just a few miles from here. I couldn’t really tell in the dark.”
“What’s in Willow Bend?” Kenneth questioned.
“My wife for one thing! My name’s Ron Campbell. My wife and I run the mercantile in Willow Bend. My son, Thomas, and I went back East for more supplies. On our way back we ran into trouble. Our load shifted crossing a creek back there and the axle on my wagon broke. After a couple of hours my son and I decided I should head for home to fetch my brother-in-law, Hank Johnson. He runs the livery and is the black smith in Willow Bend.”
Kenneth loosened up. “Mr. Campbell, I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot. In fact, we sent a group out yesterday to investigate the town we saw up ahead – reckon it’d be Willow Bend. Come one, let’s find you some grub and get you a bed roll.”
Johnny was too excited to sleep. He actually saved the day! He shot his gun and broke up the fight, which led to getting more information on what was up ahead. He finally slept thinking about Willow Bend and dreaming about what kind of town it would be. Maybe there’d be a church where they could worship and sing…
The next thing Johnny knew he was awakened by noises of picking up camp. The adults had decided to break up camp early and head for Willow Bend with Mr. Campbell. They would meet up with the others and save time. After a cold breakfast of leftover cornbread, the wagons headed out. Johnny was assigned to drive Lawrence’s wagon so Alice could tend to Sarah. She was still fussy and wanted attention. Off they went into a long line of weighted down wagons slowly moving across the prairie.
Back at Willow Lake, the men were enjoying the last of their coffee and biscuits. “Best get back to the wagons. If we ride harder today maybe we can make it back to Willow Bend by nightfall,” said Roy.
On their way out of town they stopped and told Stella, Hanna and Silas their plans to be back by night. The three from Willow Bend were excited to get some company.
The creaking of the wagon made Johnny sleepy after the events of the night before. He could use a nap, he thought. But he was responsible now and didn’t want to let Mrs. Lawrence down.
He heard some footsteps running along side the wagon. It was Billy! He jumped up next to Johnny. “Boy, that was some thinking last night Johnny! What do you think Willow Bend will be like? I heard Mr. Campbell say there’s a lake there!” exclaimed Billy. The boys started dreaming of swimming and sailing in their own ship – well, maybe a rowboat.
Once again the day grew hotter and hotter. The horses were tired and didn’t want to keep working. Mr. Hastings rode up and said they’d be taking a break, but no need to circle up. As he left he said, “Water your horses boys, it’s hot out here!” They jumped down and began their chores.
Johnny looked up at the sky and thought “Wow, it’s a might hot!” He glanced at the horizon and shouted, “Hey! Look over there!” Way in the distance he could see the shadowy silhouettes of the mountains! “It’s mountains!” he exclaimed. “Joy Creek can’t be too far away. Just then old Grandpa Stewart said, “And look it there! Here comes our search party!” Sure enough, Johnny saw his Pa and the other men riding toward the wagon train.
The two groups exchanged hugs and greetings, and shared stories of each of their adventures.
“Johnny”, Pa said. “Willow Bend is a nice town. It’s a great place for us to rest up for a few days. Mrs. Campbell says Joy Creek is only about a week away. We can rest in Willow Bend a day or two and head out strong for Joy Creek”.
Mr. McMullen spoke up and said, “I’d like some of us to help Mr. Campbell here go back and fix his wagon and get his provisions delivered. He’s got to be mighty worried about his son Thomas.”
And so it was, a group of men headed east to fix the wagon and a group settled in Willow Bend and dreamed of Joy Creek to the West, especially two young boys who had dreams of rafting Joy Creek.
You will remember Johnny and the wagon train were headed toward Willow Bend. There had been a lot of excitement on the trail these past 3 weeks. Just last night they thought they were getting robbed when really they met a new friend.
They had gotten into town late and by the time they met everyone and set up camp it was later than ever! Johnny’s Pa had gone with the group to fetch Mr. Campbell’s wagon and supplies. He wondered about Thomas Campbell who stayed by himself to guard the wagon. Was he afraid? Thomas was almost 18, just about 4 years older than Johnny was. Johnny hoped he would be as courageous when he was 18.
Johnny rolled over and tried to get comfortable. Storm clouds had rolled in late that night so Grandpa Stewart gathered some low crates to make a bed for Johnny up off the ground just in case it rained. His feet hung over the end and it wasn’t level all over, but at least he wouldn’t get wet.
Morning brought rain and Johnny was thankful for the crates. Little rives of rain water flowed around the crates. Buck had found around one small island where water had not invaded. Things were still quiet around the camp. He hoped the rain stopped soon because he and Billy wanted to investigate Willow Bend and the lake.
Soon he heard steps sloshing through the puddles. “Johnny!” Billy whispered. “You awake?”
“Sure, come on under,” replied Johnny. They each crouched under the wagon. “How’s you Ma feeling, Billy?”
“Alright I guess. She doesn’t eat much so she’s weak but she’s trying to keep going. She misses Pa and hopes they get back soon.
The men spotted Thomas and the wagon ahead leaned over kind of cock-eyed due to the broken axle. Thomas had fashioned a lean-to with an old canvas. He had a fire going, smoky as it was due to the rain and coffee was brewed. Thomas was happy to see his Pa and so many helpers.
“Anyone gone by or had any trouble Tommy?” asked Ron. Thomas shrugged his shoulders and said, “Just an old rattler. But I roasted him for dinner last night. He was a little tough but helped cut my hunger.” The men all chuckled and stories began about a time or two when other met up with rattlesnakes and other varmints.
The coffee and fire warmed up the weary travelers and the sun started to peak around the clouds. Roy said, “Well men, let’s get to work and change this axle. We got families waiting for us.” The axle was quickly replaced and the wagon reloaded. Even though they were tired the others agreed and so the group started down the trail once again.
By noon the sun was shining bright at Willow Bend. Johnny had finished his chores and he and Billy went off to investigate their new surroundings.
They started in the livery. Knowing Hank was gone they decided to snoop around. Hank had lots of neat tools for his blacksmithing – hammers, pliers and anvils. There was a pile of horseshoes and some other metal remnants. The fire was usually hot but today it had grown cold since Hank wasn’t there to feed it. Toward the back of the barn were some stables with a couple of horses. They petted the horses for a minute or two until Billy spotted a ladder. “Hey Johnny! Look over there! Let’s climb it!” Rung by rung they climbed into the dark second story of the barn. When they reached the top they waited a moment for their eyes to adjust. Looking around they saw piles of hay and some old tools. They saw light through some cracks over on the south wall. Carefully they edged their way over. Reowww! “What was that?!” Billy said.
Johnny chuckled, “I guess it was an old barn cat, must have stepped on its tail.”
They reached the wall and felt around for an opening. Billy pulled a latch and the upper door opened with a creak. The view was beautiful! To the left they could see the flat, dry prairie and to the right they could see the beginning of the hills and valleys that lead to the mountains. Down below was a big huge hay stack.
Hanging next to the door was a rope. Johnny tugged the rope. It seemed secure. Grabbing the rope, he took several steps back. “What ya’ doing? Billy asked. “Watch!” yelled Johnny as he took several running steps and clinging to the rope he swung out the door! When he reached the end of the rope’s length he seemed to hang in midair for just a moment. “Hey! You can really see Willow Lake from here!” And then he started swinging back. He landed safely inside the door. “Boy that was fun! You try it!”
Billy was a little nervous. It was a long way to the ground. But with some coaxing from Johnny, Billy took a flying leap. “Yaa Hooo!” he yelled. He got a good glimpse of the lake before swinging back inside the door. “Let’s do it again,” Johnny said. So they took turns swinging out that barn door and seeing how far they could see.
Finally, Johnny said, “I got an idea! Let’s swing out together.” Billy agreed. So they both grabbed the rope and awkwardly ran to the door; jumping out they both yelled “Yee Ha!” And then, at the peak of the swing, just when all their weight was on the rope – zzzzzip snap! The rope broke and they fell into the haystack. They each lay in the hay for a moment to catch their breaths. “You okay Billy?” Johnny asked.
Billy patted his arms and legs and wiggled a little. “Yeah, I guess I am.
“Me too”, said Johnny. “That was fun! Good thing the haystack was there, we could have killed ourselves.”
“Yeah”, Billy agreed. They picked up the rope and laid it in the barn by Hank’s tools.
“We’ll tell Hank later what happened to the rope,” Johnny stated.
“Why’d you want to do that?” Billy asked. “We’ll just get in trouble!”
“Well, doing what God’s wants us to do will always be the best. And being honest is what God wants us to do. And besides, he’s going to notice the broken rope anyway.” Johnny responded.
Billy reluctantly agreed. “I don’t know why you’re always talking about God and stuff.”
Johnny replied, “God loves us and wants the best for us. He has protected us while we’ve been on the trail. He provides food and water. He watches over us everyday.”
“Yeah, well if God is so wonderful then how come my ma is so sick?” Billy questioned.
Johnny really didn’t know how to answer, but he knew God had a plan. Quickly and silently he prayed, “Lord, help me know what to say to Billy.” Johnny tried to answer. “Billy, a lot of bad things happen and we don’t always know why. But I trust God enough to know He will take care of us and help us through whatever problems we face. In the Bible God says, ‘I will be with you always, even to the end of the earth.’ Now that’s quite a promise.”
“Well, I ain’t heard much about God”, said Billy. “Only in curse words and such. I guess I need to know more. Will you tell me?”
“Sure!” exclaimed Johnny. As they walked down to the lake Johnny told Billy about God’s Son Jesus and how He sacrificed His life for our sins. All we have to do is believe it, accept it and live by it.”
Billy said, “Well I believe it I guess. But accepting it and living by it…I need to think about it and we can talk again sometime. Then Billy said, “Hey, there’s still more to investigate. We’ve got to see the saloon!”
“As far as I can tell you seen one saloon you’ve seen ‘em all. They have saloons back home and it seems nothing but trouble comes from them”, Johnny said.
Billy replied, “You ain’t gonna get all churchy on me now are ya?”
“No, Billy, but what ya’ wanna do over there anyway?” asked Johnny.
“I thought we could just look in the windows,” said Billy.
“Alright then,” stated Johnny.
They made their way to the saloon and peaked in the back window. There wasn’t much to see. The backroom was just for storage. There were some crates with bottles in them, a hand-made desk in the corner with a small stack of paper and a stool. “Aw, this ain’t much to see”, said Billy. “Let’s go around front.” So they went around front and crouched down to look under the swinging doors. There was Silas and Hanna. He was wiping some glasses with a towel and Hanna was wiping tables.
The room had three small tables and about 8 chairs. Silas had fashioned a big counter or bar out of some planks of wood. There were several bottles on a shelf behind the bar. Billy said, “Look at them bottles. That must be the booze!”
“Sure enough is, but it ain’t nothing but trouble!” Johnny said.
“How come you seem to know everything?” Billy pouted.
Johnny replied, “I’m 2 years older than you that’s how
“Oh”, said Billy.
Silas and Hanna had sat down at a table. “I sure like having new folks in town”, said Hanna. “I invited some of them for tea this afternoon and we had a nice visit. Makes me miss my friends back home.”
“Yea”, said Silas. “Things have been too quiet around here. A fella can’t make a living with no customers. Maybe some of them men will stop in for a drink before they leave,” he muttered.
Hanna said, “Don’t go counting on that, Silas. These are good folks with dream of getting to Joy Creek before too long.”
“I know, I know, but maybe some of them will stay here in Willow Bend”, Silas said.
Billy leaned a little too hard and the swinging door where his shoulder rested gave way and he tumbled into the saloon. Silas jumped up and said, “Hey, what you doing there!?”
“Uh, uh, I ain’t never been in no saloon before, sir and I was just curious about it,” replied Billy.
The swinging door pushed open and Johnny stepped inside.
Silas said, “There ain’t nothing special about a saloon, especially this one. Usually a saloon is where men, grown men that is, come in for a drink and talk about their woes. Some of them play cards and such. But this here saloon is deader than a doorknob! In fact, I’ve been getting the feeling this saloon idea weren’t such a good one. Back home Hanna and I used to go to church. But I heard about the gold rush and I guess I got gold fever. I heard men could find gold in two places – in a gold mine, digging and working hard or in a saloon selling drinks to the gold miners. Me & Hanna here, we’ve been talking. I’m gonna give up the saloon and we’ll just have a boarding house and café. If Willow Bend is going to have a saloon, someone else is going to run it. In fact, Hanna get our old Bible down, we need to be reading it everyday.”
Hanna was pleased and surprised both. She went and fetched the Bible off the shelf in her kitchen. She’d been reading a verse or two now and then, but it wasn’t nearly enough. She returned with the big black book.
Silas said, “Well boys, let’s just see what God has to say.” He opened the big book and pointed a finger to a spot on the page. “Right here in Proverbs it says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understandings. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.’ “I guess that’s my trouble, I’ve been trying to do things myself, my own way. Says here I need to trust God to direct me. Boys this is the first and last you’ll ever see of this saloon. I’m pouring that whiskey on the ground and going back to trusting God. You boys better get on back to camp, it’s getting late.”
Billy had a hard time sleeping that night. His Ma was coughing a lot and moaning. He got up and brought her a drink of water and wiped her forehead with a cloth.
Billy woke Johnny up, he couldn’t wait any longer. “What time is it?” Johnny asked.
“It’s getting late; you’ve been sleeping too good! You have to come quick!” Something’s terrible wrong with Ma!” Billy said.
Johnny jumped to his feet and looked for an adult. Grandpa Stewart was building a fire. “Come on!” Billy said impatiently.
“Grandpa,” Johnny said. “Billy’s Ma is bad, come help us.” He dropped what he was doing and they headed for Anderson’s wagon. Grandpa felt her forehead. “She’s burning up with fever! We have to cool her down!” exclaimed Grandpa Stewart. “Boys, round up the men.” The boys quickly found the other men. Even wimpy Ben Stone came along to see if he could help.
Grandpa had never shown himself to be a take charge kind of person. But in this situation Grandpa Stewart was in control. “Men,” he said. “Mrs. Anderson needs our help. We’ve got to get her in the lake and break this fever!” The covered wagon was narrow and was loaded with their belongings. “Move some of this stuff out!” he ordered. The men started moving crates. The commotion got the attention of the others. Mrs. Stone and Mrs. Cartwright gathered the children to keep them out of the way. Johnny’s Ma and a few others decided to pray. Carefully the men lifted Mrs. Anderson out of the wagon.
Billy was scared and as the men carried his mother to the lake he ran into a grove of trees to think. How could this be happening? This was supposed to be a fun adventure. But now his Ma as sick and his Pa was gone. He had no one. As he started to cry he remembered parts of what Mr. Hayes had read from the Bible…”Trust in the Lord”…”He will direct your path”. Not know what to do he started to pray. “God, Johnny’s told me about you. He says you watch over us and help us. My Ma needs you because she’s sick. I guess I need you too because I’m a sinner like Johnny says. I’m sorry for not wanting to be honest about that rope and for teasing my sister till she cries. I want to know you better, like Johnny does. I want to live for you. Help me God! Help my Ma!” With that he lay down and sobbed and eventually fell asleep.
The men slowly lowered Molly Anderson into the lake. She let out a moan and her body shivered. Grandpa Stewart was by her head saying, “Now Mrs. Anderson, you got the fever. We’re gonna break it and get you to mending.”
After what seemed like hours, the men brought Mrs. Anderson back to her wagon. A couple of women dressed her in a fresh gown and tucked her in bed. Molly was awake and alert, she could hear Grandpa saying “get some coffee in that woman, it’ll stimulate her blood.” Soon a cup was handed through the wagon and Mrs. Anderson was slowly sipping it.
Just then a horse galloped into camp and Mr. Anderson swung down almost before it stopped. Ben Stone grabbed the horse for him as he entered the wagon. Mr. Anderson was shocked at the sight of his wife. She was so pale and seemed so weak. She managed a smile and her eyes even brightened at the sight of her husband. He knelt next to her, held her hand and kissed her forehead. “I’ve been so worried about you!” he said. “I’ve missed you,” she whispered. She closed her eyes to rest. The other filled Mr. Anderson in on what happened.
Johnny mentioned Billy was gone. Stu Anderson headed toward the lake to find him. He headed toward a secluded grove of trees and found Billy asleep. He sat down next to him and nudged him. “Billy, I’m back,” he said. Billy woke with a start and hugged his Pa. “Pa, I’m so gad you’re back. I’ve been scared about Ma. I didn’t know what to do.” Billy exclaimed.
“I know, Son,” he said. “But you’ve done fine just being here. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking today. I’ve made a change and asked God to be in my life. I know Ma & I never talked much about God, but I felt God talking to me in lots of ways. I prayed on my ride back here that God would help me do things right and that your Ma would be okay.”
Billy was stunned. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing! “Pa,” he said. “Johnny’s been talking to me about God and Mr. Hayes read to us out of the Bible. It said, “Trust in the Lord.” Today I prayed and trusted in the Lord too!” They hugged and Mr. Anderson patted Billy on the back and said, “We best be getting back to camp.”
The riders pulled in later that afternoon. They were hot and tired. But everyone pitched in to unload the Campbell’s wagon and get the supplies stored. Johnny & Billy talked with Hank and confessed their mischief and the broken rope. Hank shrugged it off and said, “Sounds like you boys had fun.” Johnny poked Billy and said, “See, I told you it would be better this way.” Billy just smiled.
Everyone was sitting around visiting when Betty Anderson ran up yelling for help. “Hurry, Ma’s bad again! She had a coughing spell and she’s all hot. I can’t get her to talk.” Several of them rushed to her side. Sure enough the fever returned. They carried her to the lake for another cooling.
“Roy isn’t there anything we can do?” asked Mrs. Shepherd. Roy pondered her question and replied, “I don’t know.”
He headed for the saloon. Silently he prayed, “Lord, show us what to do.”
Hanna was rearranging the tables. The bar had been removed and there were no bottles on the shelf. “This don’t look like any saloon I’ve seen before,” Roy said. Hanna looked up. “Mr. Shepherd!” she exclaimed. “Silas is giving up the saloon business for good. It wasn’t working out and besides he felt God calling him to come back and put aside his sinful ways.”
“Well, I declare”, said Mr. Shepherd.
“In fact, he’s out back ready to pour out all that old whiskey. It’ll probably poison the ground!” Hanna continued.
Mr. Shepherd stepped out back and found Silas singing Amazing Grace as he watched the booze trickle into the ground. “Oh, hey there Mr. Shepherd. I guess Hanna told you I turned over a new leaf.”
“Yes, she did. I’m happy for you,” Roy replied. “We got some trouble at camp. Mrs. Anderson has the fever and needs doctoring. I was wondering if you had any medicine that might work.”
“No can’t say that I do,” he answered. “Just this whiskey.” And with that he poured out the last drop. “Glad to have that chore done,” he said. “Sure wish I could help…hey, wait a minute! Some time back a peddler came by selling hardware and potions and tonics. I didn’t tell Hanna, but I bought a bottle of tonic just in case one of us got sick. Now where’d I put that?” He rummaged through the desk drawers for a moment and said, “Here it is!” He pulled out a brown bottle that had been tucked inside an old sock. “Good for what ails you, it says!” “Take it, maybe it’ll help.”
“Maybe it’ll at least get her to the doctor in Joy Creek!” Mr. Shepherd said. Roy grabbed the bottle and ran toward camp. He went straight to the Anderson’s wagon and said, “Silas had some tonic medicine, let’s get it down her!” They gave her several spoonfuls of the nasty tasting stuff. She coughed and sputtered, but it went down. “We just have to let her rest for now.”
“Now, let’s get prepared to head to Joy Creek in the morning. There’s a doctor there.”
The wagon train headed west from Willow Bend early the next morning. Folks were excited to be so close to Joy Creek, especially the Anderson’s. Mrs. Anderson had been sick most of the journey. A bottle of tonic that Silas Hayes had back in Willow Bend had helped her, but she still wasn’t out of the woods yet.
Billy and Johnny were walking along side the Shepherd’s wagon. They were talking about ordinary stuff. Buck trailed along beside them, sometimes running off sniffing a rabbit trail. Hours earlier they had left the flat, harsh prairie and started getting into some hill country.
Johnny was getting hungry. They’d had a lot of beans and biscuits and he was tired of that. Of course, there was the occasional rabbit along the trail, but he was hankering for something new. “Billy,” he said. Let’s see if we can go hunting. Maybe we can find some grouse or something and have a good dinner tonight.” “That sounds good to me,” responded Billy, I’m tired of those beans we’ve been having.” Each boy checked with his father to get the go ahead. Being hungry for something different themselves, both fathers agreed with one warning. “Stay within sight of the wagon train, boys. Do not wander too far away.” “Sure thing!” they replied and they ran off to get their gear.
The boys were glad to get away from the creaking wagons. Shotguns in hand they walked through the wooded area hoping to scare up some grouse. Buck was enjoying the hunting as well as the boys.
“SHHHH!” Johnny whispered. “Ya hear that?” Over in the bushes Johnny heard the familiar drumming of a grouse. The grouse flaps it wings to make a drumming noise and warn others they are in its territory. “Buck! Get the bird!” Johnny said. And Buck did his work of flushing the grouse out of the bushes. Three grouse flew up at once and each boy took aim and fired. KAPOW! KAPOW! Buck was jumping and barking and carrying on. One bird fell to the ground while the other two flew to their escape. Buck retrieved the bird and proudly carried it to Johnny. “Good boy!” praised Johnny.
“We got one!” shouted Billy. And even in their excitement they turned to look for the wagon train. Sure enough, they could still see it. They were quite a ways from it, but technically they could still see it. They put the bird in a gunnysack and ran in the direction of the other birds. “If we get a few more there will be enough for everyone,” exclaimed Billy.
The boys had been fortunate on their hunting expedition. Buck had scared up quite a few more grouse and their gunnysack was full. The count was 10 in all! “This is gonna make a fine dinner tonight,” Billy said. I can taste it already.” The sun was going down and they determined to head back to the wagon train.
“When did you last see the wagon train?” Johnny asked.
“I don’t know, I thought you was taking care of that,” replied Billy. They made a wide sweeping glance all around them and couldn’t see the wagon train at all. They didn’t know if they were ahead of them or behind them. They didn’t know if they were north, south, east or west. “Let’s sit quiet and listen,” suggested Johnny. Maybe we can hear the wagons creaking.” So they sat down in the grass to listen. The only sound they could hear was the wind in the trees and their own breathing. Not wanting to sound nervous, Johnny said, “I say we stay put where we are. My Pa always told me if I got lost in the woods not to move, that way when they came looking for me they’d find me easier.”
“You saying we’re lost?” asked Billy.
“Not is so many words, but do you know where we are?” questioned Johnny. “Well, not exactly,” said Billy. “I see your point. So what do we do?” he asked.
“First of all we pick a spot that could offer some shelter just in case we have to spend the night out here,” Johnny said as he was looking around. “Like over there under that tree. Those bushes on the one side will be a good wind block.” They walked over to the tree and investigated the ground. Kicking away some stones and sticks Billy said, “Well I guess we could build a fire. Let’s start gathering some twigs.” “That’s a good idea”, replied Johnny. “And I have my flint.” Without a flint it would have been nearly impossible to start a fire. They would have been rubbing sticks together for a long time. But the flint did the trick. Johnny struck the flint several times and eventually a spark caught some of the grass on fire. They added small twigs and then bigger branches until they had a nice fire going.
Each of the boys had brought a piece of jerky along on their excursion, but they had eaten that quite some time ago and they were really getting hungry now. Johnny said, “I ain’t never roasted a grouse before, but I’m sure going to try.” Grabbing a grouse he cleaned it as best he could and stuck it on a stick over the fire. Pretty soon the smell of roasted grouse filled the air. “That smells pretty good,” Billy said as he licked his lips. By this time the sun was completely down and it was dusk. Just the time you can sort of see, but not really. The boys wondered if their folks missed them yet as they eagerly waited for their dinner to cook.
The women had each finished cooking their meals and they called to the children to come and eat. The kids came running from every direction. Some had been climbing trees, some had been building dams down at the creek and others had been playing games like Drop the Hanky. As usual, each family took count to make sure everyone was accounted for. To the dismay of the Shepherd and Anderson families, they discovered Johnny and Billy had not come in. The men circled the wagon train and stepped out about 100 yards in every direction. “Johhhhhhnnny! Billlllllyyyy!” they yelled. No response. The darkness of night was closing in. What should they do? They gathered back at camp to discuss their options. “They could be anywhere,” stuttered Mr. Stone. He was nervous and could not imagine why they would wander away from the wagons and risk getting lost. Mr. McMullen added, “When we find them boys they better get a whipping that’ll teach ‘em not to run off again.” Several others agreed.
Roy Shepherd interrupted. “First off no one is getting a whipping. Second off I know my boy. He will stay put wherever he is until we find him. I taught him how to fend for himself in the woods. They will be okay. Nevertheless, we’ve got to find them tonight.
Various ideas were discussed and a final plan was decided on. The men would go out it groups of 2. They collected their gear including water, food, guns and ammunition. They didn’t know how long it would be before they located the boys and they didn’t know what they would run into in the meantime.
The roasted grouse tasted good. They threw the scraps down to Buck and he enjoyed his meal as well. “Now what?” Billy asked. He was getting impatient and bored at the same time. Fear was also knocking at the door of his mind as he saw shadows in the woods and heard all sorts of sounds like owls hooting and coyotes howling. Buck rested his head on Johnny’s leg. Johnny said, “I think we should gather some branches and grasses to make a softer bed just in case we spend the night.”
Billy responded, “You don’t think we’ll be out here all night do you?”
Johnny answered, “I really don’t know, but making a bed will give us something to do and keep our minds off of everything else.”
Reluctantly Billy agreed. They did not venture far from their fire as they looked for bedding. Each boy had a pocketknife that came in handy. Billy cut some long strands of grass. He gathered up several handfuls and returned to the fire. Johnny had ventured to an evergreen tree and was able to get some of the smaller, softer branches. Returning to the fire he instructed Billy on how to make the bed. “First you lay down the branches and walk on them to kind of tramp ‘em down a bit. Then you lay the grasses all over the top, nice and thick. Then you try it!” Johnny flopped down on the bed and wiggled a bit. It wasn’t the best bed he had slept on, but for one night it would do just fine. Billy joined him and said, “It’s kind of lumpy, but I guess it’s alright.” Buck was pacing back and forth kind of whining and looking into the woods. “Oh, be quiet Buck,” Johnny said. “You’ve been in the woods at night before. Get over here and lay down.” Buck was obedient and lay down next to Johnny but he kept peering into the woods.
The men searched and searched but found no sign of the boys. They were about to give up when Leroy Hastings gave and yell. “Hey! Look it over there!” The men gathered together and looked in the director that Leroy was pointing. Way up the trail and off to the south they saw a flickering light. “It must be the boys!” exclaimed Roy. “They’ve built a campfire. I wonder how they got too far ahead of us.” They sent Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Smith back to the wagons to report their findings. The others would proceed in the direction of the fire. “Sure wish I had Buck here with me,” said Roy. “He’d help us find Johnny.” The men made their way through the woods.
The howling of the coyotes seemed to be getting closer. In fact, it didn’t really sound like coyotes at all. Coyotes make a yipping, chatting sound. It’s wolves that howl. I bet they smell the grouse, Johnny thought. “Billy, got your gun loaded?” he asked.
“No, Johnny. You know I don’t carry a loaded gun,” he replied.
“Well, if I were you I would get it loaded, just in case,” stated Johnny, trying not to sound nervous.
“You think we need to load our guns? Why, Johnny, what’s wrong?” questioned Billy.
“I was just thinking that howling was getting closer that’s all. I just think we should be ready for anything. Load your gun and try to get some sleep. I’ll stay on the watch.” Billy did as Johnny asked. He loaded his gun and rolled over to sleep.
Buck was getting nervous. He was whining more and pacing around. Johnny knew the wolves had moved in closer. Not wanting to wake Billy, he quietly moved off the bed of grass and grabbed the gunnysack of grouse. These birds are attracting the wolves near us he thought. He took his bandana and tied it around the neck of the gunnysack. He quickly ran to a tree a little further away and shimmied up to the first branch where he tied off the gunnysack. At least if the wolves come looking for food they might go for the birds first, he thought. On his return to the fire he heard a low growl, and it wasn’t Buck! Without hesitation he ran to the fire and grabbed his gun. With his back to the tree he waited for a showdown with the wolves. Johnny’s bustling woke up Billy. “What’s happening,” he asked.
“Shhhh!” Johnny said. “I heard growling in the woods and it wasn’t Buck,” he whispered.
“What are we going to do?” worried Billy.
“Grab you gun and get ready,” instructed Johnny.
“Ready for what?” asked Billy. “I only have two shells left after this one.”
“Only two! Let’s see, I’ve only got 3 left!” exclaimed Johnny. “We’ll have to use our shots wisely.”
Just then Buck started barking. BOW WOO BOW WOO! And their stalkers stepped into view: three scrawny wolves, with matted fur and big teeth. Their hackles were up and they meant business. “Go away!” yelled Billy as he threw a rock in their direction. The wolves didn’t flinch. They seemed to be saying “come and get us if you can!”
“Sit tight,” said Johnny. “If we don’t threaten them maybe they’ll go away. I hung the birds over in that tree; maybe they’ll go after them instead.” Buck kept barking and growling. He started getting braver, wanting to protect the boys. He would lunge out at the wolves snarling and nipping at them. Buck was much bigger than these wolves so Johnny wasn’t afraid for Buck. He was nervous for him and Billy. They could only run so fast. And they only had a few shells left and their aim probably wouldn’t be so good under pressure.
The wolves spread out and kind of circled them. Billy yelled, “Don’t you think it’s time to pray?” Johnny was surprised by Billy’s request and said, “Sure is!” Without wanting to take his eyes off the wolves he just prayed out loud asking God to protect them and show them what to do.
Johnny scanned the area around them looking for something that may help them escape. At the same time one of the wolves got a whiff of the birds hanging in the tree. He started jumping and nipping at the bag. He ripped a small hole in the bag with one of his teeth. He kept at it until the opening was big enough for a bird to fall out. He quickly grabbed the bird and ran off to eat his new found meal. The other two wolves kept their stance. Their growling became more vicious. Finally one of them lunged toward the boys. Buck intercepted him with a ferocious growl. Buck and the wolf were fighting! There were yips and growls and barks, but Buck wasn’t giving up. The other wolf decided to concern itself with the bird bag. He was jumping and trying to get something to drop out. Soon a couple more birds dropped out and then this wolf was gone into the woods with its prey. So much was happening at once, Johnny and Billy could hardly keep it straight. Johnny was beginning to worry about Buck. The fight was continuing and was getting more vicious. He knew it would probably be a fight to the death. “Dear God,” he prayed, let Buck win.” With that he said, “Billy get your stuff and let’s go!” They grabbed their things and started running as fast as they could. They didn’t care where they ended up as long as it was far from those wolves. It was hard to see in the dark. They tripped and stumbled over logs and rocks. The sweat was pouring down their faces. They heard something running behind them. Not knowing what it was, they kept running. “Hurry!” Johnny called. Billy had fallen behind slightly. Johnny turned to look at him and at the same moment he smacked right into someone’s chest! It was Mr. Anderson! “The wolves! They’re chasing us!” he gasped and fell to the ground exhausted and out of breath. Billy soon caught up. “They’re coming Pa, right behind me!” He too fell to the ground to rest his aching legs.
Pa tried to pierce the darkness and see what was coming, but he couldn’t see anything. He did however hear something running! Through the bushes bounded a large dog! It was Buck! When he saw Johnny he slowed his pace and wiggled up to him and licked him all over. Buck had saved the day. Johnny grabbed Buck and felt blood on his ear. He looked Buck over for more severe injuries but found none. By this time Roy Shepherd had joined them and he whistled to the others. It was a happy reunion. There would be no more hunting for these boys until they got established in Joy Creek and knew the territory.
Pa let Buck ride on the wagon seat next to Johnny. Buck slept for 2 days only getting up for water and to relieve himself. His ear was healing, but the fight with the wolf took a lot out of him. Johnny, too, was sore and ached all over as he remembered the adventure he didn’t care to repeat. God had been faithful and shown them what to do. Billy was equally weary. They were both relieved of their chores for the next day.
The next morning came with a beautiful sunrise. Johnny and Billy and recovered from their last adventure and decided to investigate the trail further. “Pa, we will stay on the trail, we’re just gonna walk up ahead a ways.” “Okay,” Pa responded, “But if you leave the trail there will be consequences!”
Johnny and Billy obeyed and stayed on the trail. As they were walking Billy said, “You know Johnny, back in Willow Bend when my Ma was so sick and I thought she was going to die I asked Jesus into my heart. I didn’t know what else to do. And I believe he has helped me! I feel more secure and know that I can go to Him with any problem big or small and he will help me. Thank you for telling me about Jesus and His forgiveness of sins.”
“I was hoping you would see what I was talking about!” Johnny exclaimed. Now we are both part of God’s family! In fact, we’re brothers!” Neither one of them had a brother before so this was exciting news!
They kept walking and talking and making plans for what they’d do when they reached Joy Creek. Just then Billy said, “Hey Johnny! Look over there!” Johnny directed his gaze in the direction of Billy’s pointing finger. There nestled in the trees was a tall pointed section of a building. At the top was a cross. Johnny exclaimed, “It’s a church steeple! It must be Joy Creek!”
They ran all the way back to the wagons yelling as they went, “It’s Joy Creek! It’s Joy Creek!” The news was welcome relief!
It took the rest of the day for the wagon train to make it to Joy Creek. They were very impressed by the little town. There was a lot to be done. The men folk had to pick out a parcel of land and stake their claims for mining. Then they needed to cut logs to start building cabins and houses. Mrs. Anderson was able to see the local doctor. He had just the medicine she needed. Johnny & Billy checked out every corner of Joy Creek and they became well known and well liked by everyone around. And as they had promised each other they started working on that raft to float down to the lake.
The best part of all was attending Joy Creek Church on the first Sunday they were there. Johnny sang at the top of his lungs. He was so thankful for all God brought them through. In fact, everyone from the wagon train was there thanking God for His goodness.
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