Chapter 7: On The Run

A shaft of morning sunlight over the far hills woke me from a deep sleep. I was dreaming of my home in Maryland, after the families had fled from Dansbury in ’55. I was once again in the old family home, with brothers and sisters and cousins all over the place. Before my Father had to go to the Army, before we made this miserable trip. In my dream, I was a little boy again, laughing and playing in the garden with my two dogs. I rubbed my eyes, yawned, and stretched my arms wide. Dejected and crying quietly, I stared out at the river, just now coming out of the early morning shadows. A light mist hung over the river. Birds chirped out their welcome to the sun. I studied the river for any signs of movement. There! A mile or so downriver! Four, now five canoes, drifting silently in and out of the mist, staying near the shore. I could see them clearly now, but not enough to see how many Indians were in them. My heart began to pound, my tears vanished, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I watched intently, until the canoes passed around a bend and were lost from view. Where had I come ashore? I couldn’t be certain, but I thought it was beyond that bend. Would they find my boat? Would it have beached itself again? What to do, what to do? In a panic, I started to run. I had gone only a few paces when I stopped. How crazy of me! In my haste I had forgotten all my supplies. Returning to my sleeping spot, I stuffed a piece of jerky in my pocket for later, then retied the blanket as a rucksack that I could carry over my shoulder. Carefully I scraped away my footprints around the smooth rock, then grabbed up my hat and shouldered the rucksack while looking for a better escape route. I was sure the Indians were after me. If they found the boat, I was afraid they would eventually find me. My only escape was to keep running along the ridge until I could spot the stockade on the other side of the river. I guessed I had at least five days of travel. I headed into the underbrush, sometimes walking, sometimes running, and sometimes just barely crawling along the cliff tops above the river. As long as I held to the cliffs, it was easy to keep the river to my right. But soon enough, the cliffs flattened out into rolling, tree-covered hills and brush-filled valleys. I had to cross many streams large and small. The marshes along the river were the worst; here I had to cut inland, leaving the river behind and running the risk that I might get lost entirely.

By midafternoon I was exhausted. I had been running since daybreak. I cried from the pain: my face was scratched and swollen from slashing tree branches, my hands bled from scrambling up rock faces. At one point my rucksack came undone and all my rations fell into the forest underbrush. I scooped up as much dried food as I could carry in my pockets, then put the rest of my food into the blanket and re-tied it more securely. I took off again at a loping run. I was beyond tired, but I pushed on. I kept my bearings by scanning the horizon every time I crested a knoll. Once in a while I caught sight of the wide, surging river to the east. I needed to keep it in view. No telling what was off the other side of the ridge. And still I could not tell whether I was being chased or not. I was always looking behind me, but rarely could I see more than a few dozen yards through the trees and the underbrush. Every snap of a twig caused my heart to stop. Bird calls startled me; I was sure they were Indian calls. Toward sundown I reached the top of another high bluff overlooking the river. I collapsed into a small clearing, perhaps used by animals as a resting spot. From here I had a good view for a league or two up and down the river. I lay on my stomach, scanning the river below me. I could see nothing unusual. No canoes, no boats, no campfire smoke. Watching the slowly flowing river, perhaps a quarter mile wide here, I realized I was going to have a hard time crossing it to get to the stockade on the other side . . . whenever I finally found it. I was going to have to make some sort of raft, unless I could find a boatman who could take me across. Thinking about rafts, I fell into an exhausted sleep, too tired even to eat, lulled to sleep by the sounds of night birds and crickets. It was a restless night, full of strange night sounds. I awoke before daylight. Night was still fast upon me, but a faint glow in the eastern sky across the river gave a hint of the coming dawn. A good moon was up tonight, although fast-moving clouds kept it largely hidden. Quietly, I looked around me. Nothing moved, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I saw nothing, I heard nothing. I crawled over to the edge of the bluff and looked down at the river just as the clouds parted. The riverbank was wide and sandy here, with a few thickets of cottonwood trees at the base of the bluff. For a moment I thought I saw movement among the trees. I stared intently at the spot, until finally I had to rest my eyes. It was then that I realized I was famished. I scooted backward to my kit so I could retrieve some crackers, dried fruit, and jerky. Yesterday I was so scared and so tired that today I could not remember whether I had eaten anything all day. The food tasted so good now. I wished I had some water to wash it down with, but that would have to wait until I climbed down from the bluff and crossed one of the many feeder streams. I finished off my jerky and settled back into my spot for a little more sleep before the sun fully came up. When I awoke again, the sun was just clearing the bluff on the other side of the river. I crawled back to my lookout spot. I stared again at the trees near the river, and what I saw froze me solid. Two tracks, from the trees to the river, obviously made by dragging canoes to the water’s edge.

I stared at the twin marks in the sand. A million questions raced through my mind. How old were the tracks? How many canoes? How many Indians, and where are they now? Could they have seen me up here? (No, I decided.) I studied the marks and the surrounding area as best I could from this distance above it. I could see a few footprints around the canoe marks, but could not see whether they led toward or away from the river. I scanned up and down the river but saw nothing else of interest. I thought about what it all meant. I lay on my stomach watching the river and pondering what to do. Finally I arrived at a plan. I decided I must know whether the Indian sign was new or old. Scanning the bluff, I saw a way to climb down to the river’s edge. It appeared to be safe enough if I was careful, and it provided me with cover so I could not be seen from the riverbank. I gathered up my blanket rucksack, checked the knife against my thigh, and crept sideways along the top of the bluff until I could begin descending. It was steeper than I thought, and I had to keep fighting back my fear of falling. At least if I fell I wouldn’t go far because the bushes and small trees that blocked the view from below would also stop my fall from above. Slowly, gently, I moved down the steep slope. Most of the time I had my back to the slope, but sometimes it was so steep I had to turn around and go down hand over hand. Every now and then I paused to listen. I heard nothing from below. Still I was careful not to dislodge any rocks. If there were Indians down there, I certainly did not want a landslide to announce my presence. Eventually I came out on the riverbank, several hundred paces upriver from where I saw the canoe tracks. By keeping close to the foot of the bluff, I could stay hidden in the trees. Silently I crept forward. Now I really was afraid. I stopped at every snap, every bird call, and every swish of the river. Back home my brother and I used to hide from each other in the forest, and I always enjoyed the thrill of the game. But this was no game. I was sweating though it was still early morning. Suddenly, a branch snapped to one side of me. I froze. Looking through the thicket toward the river, I saw something move just 30 feet away from me. Silently I stepped back behind a larger tree, while scanning the area to my right. Another snap, then another, though not as loud. In the early morning shade of the thicket, I had trouble picking out the movement again, but then I saw it, brown against brown. It was a doe, stepping gently among the downed branches. She seemed not to see me as she ambled away. I breathed a big sigh of relief, then began moving forward again. After a few paces I could see the sandy riverbank, and could plainly see the canoe tracks. Looking into the thicket, I could see nothing but small trees and low-growing vines among the rock outcroppings. I crept forward, stepping from one tree to another, until I reached the small clearing in the thicket. This had been an encampment, of that I was sure. I could see where two canoes had been dragged out of the water, and where men had slept on the ground around the clearing. In the middle of the cleared area was a small mound. A fire pit? I sifted the sand through my fingers. Yes, it was still warm, probably from last night. I searched around but found nothing useful. I sat down to think. I was moving upriver, but I was pretty sure these Indians had gone downriver, possibly this morning. I did not know if these were the same as the ones who attacked my family, or the ones I saw yesterday morning, but I guessed not. That probably means these Indians were not

looking for me, but I could not know for certain. I checked my pack. Still enough food for three or four more days, if I didn’t lose any more and didn’t eat too much. My muscles ached but I knew I had to get moving again. Until I got back to the stockade, I was not safe. Fighting back exhaustion and tears, I shouldered my pack and began moving through the thicket, retracing my steps from an hour before. This time I was not so afraid, and not so careful. Having just come through here, I knew the way was clear. The way was easy enough along the riverbank. By staying close to the foot of the bluffs, I could stay well hidden and still make good progress. The sun was fully up now and the day was warm. As I stepped over a small stream, I paused to drink in my fill of cold, fresh water. For the first time since I stepped ashore, I felt hopeful.

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