Early one evening we drove into Council Bluffs, then a village of a few hundred inhabitants, swarming with emigrants, humming with talk of the plains.
Father and Uncle Isaac planned to finish provisioning there, the last chance to buy supplies for many hundreds of miles. If possible, too, they wanted to join a horse train with which to travel. Cattle and horses, it had been found, did not work together successfully. The slowness of the cattle fretted and irritated the horses. The cattle, too, spoiled the pasture. It was very important that our teams should find grass to their liking.
We camped on the low ground, down the river from the town, among a small village of emigrant wagons and tents. Everyone seemed in high spirits. Here and there a banjo was thrumming or a group singing.
After supper that night as Florence and I were in the tent helping Mother make our beds, we heard laughing and shouting outside. We ran out. At a camp near ours a rowdy group were guying a man who seemed almost insane. He was chasing the others with a stick and vowing he would "clean out the crowd." We edged close to get better view. One of the men would sing:
Look out, boys, why don't you be quick? Here's a wild Irishman with a big stick.
The man would start toward him brandishing his club, but another would take up the song and he would forget the first and start for the second. It was all very funny, but Uncle Isaac saw us there and called us away, so we didn't see how the matter ended. We heard the song many a time, however, for Robert and Darius never forgot a rhyme.
The next morning, while Father was in the town with one of the wagons and Mother was washing the dishes, using a wagon tongue for a table, a horse broke loose from some men who were trying to harness him and charged wildly through the camp, rushing past groups of people who scattered in all directions. It was coming straight toward our tent. Baby Charles was lying on the ground, directly in its path. Horrified, we started toward him but the horse was nearer than we. Just as it seemed his great feet would crush the little fellow, he stopped, stepped carefully and slowly over the baby, then ran madly charging away. It was a terrible fright for us all, but as Florence said, "That horse wasn't so bad after all."
The next day, as well prepared for the plains as Father and Uncle Isaac knew how to prepare, we crossed the Missouri River to Omaha. That ferry trip was my first boat ride. We walked across the gangplank to the upper deck of the big boat - Mother, Aunt Caroline, and all of us children. The men drove the wagons onto the lower deck and unhitched the horses, to stand at their heads all the way across the river. Only the first row of teams remained hitched to the wagons, so that they could be driven off quickly at the Omaha landing. The tongues of the other wagons were slipped each under the rear of the wagon ahead so as to take up as little space as possible. It was a big boat, that ferry; three hundred wagons and hundreds of loose cattle were in that one load.
As the big steam flatboat edged slowly across the broad river toward the farther side, we watched the nearing bank with interest, glad to be on the upper deck where we could see all about us. When at last the shore was reached and the ferry slips in place, it took a long time to unload, though each man hitched up and drove off as quickly as possible in the order in which he had driven onto the boat. We waited on the bank, watching the passing teams until our own appeared.
As we started on, Father said, "There was a mule train on that ferry that I think it would be well for us to travel with. Mules and horses travel at about the same rate of speed and get on well together."
"Would we want to travel with a mule train?" I asked. "Horses are so much nicer."
Father laughed. "We want to travel with any train that does not use cattle," he said, "And the bigger the train we can join, the better."
We were soon out of the little town, driving over low, swampy ground. Looking back from the seat where I had climbed, as Mother and Carrie and the baby were in the other wagons, I could see some of the mule teams following behind. Those mules became a familiar sight to us. We traveled with them all the way to Ford Laramie, though that train was never really a part of the big Daily Train that before many days we joined.