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Crossing the Plains

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Crossing the Plains
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Author(s): William Audley Maxwell
Date Published: 2009/03
Page Count: 112
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-653-3
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-654-0

A pioneer tells his story of the West

This is the story of the legendary pioneers of the westward expansion of the American people from the comparatively early period of the mid-1850s. Maxwell and his family set out for California in the famous 'prairie schooner'—covered wagons drawn by oxen or mule teams. It was a long, slow perilous journey which many would never complete—for them it would end in a lonely grave beside the trail. The dangers of this extraordinary exodus through the unknown included every complexion of weather and terrain the wilderness of the great American interior could offer or contrive, the threat of bandits and raiding Indians and the debilitation of extreme hardship and sickness. These were an intrepid people by any standard and in the hope of creating a better life they forged the beginnings of a modern nation. This is an invaluable first hand account by one who experienced every mile of a historically momentous movement.

Our consolidated train continued its creeping pace down the meandering Humboldt; crossing the stream occasionally, to gain the advantage of a shorter or better road.<br>
Soon again there were other proofs of the wisdom we had shown in taking every possible precaution against attack.
Next ahead of us was a family from England, a Mr. Wood, his wife and one child, with two men employed as drivers. They were outfitted with three vehicles, two of them drawn by ox teams, in charge of the hired men, and a lighter, spring-wagon, drawn by four mules, the family conveyance, driven by Mr. Wood. We had not known them before.<br>
One very hot day in the latter part of August, after having moved along for a time with no train in sight ahead of us, we came upon Mr. Wood in a most pitiable plight, the result of an attack and slaughter, not differing greatly from the Holloway case, and its parallel in atrocity.<br>
Mr. Wood’s party had spent the preceding night undisturbed, and were up early in the morning, preparing to resume their journey. The ox teams had been made ready and moved on, while Mr. Wood proceeded in a leisurely way with harnessing the four mules and attaching them to the smaller wagon. All the articles of their equipment had been gathered up and placed in proper order in the wagon.<br>
When Mr. Wood had nearly completed hitching the team, Mrs. Wood and the baby being already in the wagon, some men, apparently all Indians, twenty or more of them, were seen coming on horseback, galloping rapidly from the hills to the northward, about half a mile away.<br>
Mr. Wood, fearing that he and his family were about to be attacked, in this lonely situation, hurriedly sprang to the wagon seat and whipped up the mules, hoping that before the attack they could come within sight of the ox wagons, which had rounded the point of a hill but a few minutes before, and have such aid as his hired men could give.<br>
He had no more than got the team under way when a wheel came off the wagon—he having probably overlooked replacing the nut after oiling the axle. Notwithstanding this he lost no time in making the best of the circumstances. Jumping to the ground, he hurriedly placed Mrs. Wood on one of the mules, cutting the harness to release the animal from the wagon; then, with the baby in his arms, he mounted another mule, and they started flight.<br>
But the Indians had by this time come within gun-shot range and fired upon them. Mrs. Wood fell from the mule, fatally shot. Mr. Wood’s mule was shot under him, and dropped; next Mr. Wood received a bullet in the right arm, that opened the flesh from wrist to elbow. That or another shot killed the child. Amidst a shower of bullets, Mr. Wood ran in the direction taken by his ox wagons. Getting past the point of the low hill that lay just before him without being struck again, he was then beyond range of the firing, and soon overtook his wagons. His men, with all the guns they had, returned, to find the woman and child dead on the ground. One of the mules was dead, one wounded, the other two gone. The wagon had been ransacked of its contents, and the band of assassins were making their way back into the hills whence they had come.
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