Keeping ahead of the mule train, we traveled on for two or three days, Father often asking the horsemen who were coming and going between Omaha and the (to us unknown) West, for news of a horse train that we might join. He heard several times of the Daily Train that had crossed the Missouri a day ahead of us.
At last one evening after traveling fast all day, we saw their camp ahead. For some reason, a fortunate circumstance for us, they had been delayed. We drove up and Father and uncle Isaac went into their camp to talk with their captain. While Tom and Chris were pitching our tent, the mule train arrived and stopped near us. I saw some men leave the wagons and go over to the group where Father was talking.
It was such fun those days to get our tent pitched and our stove set up and our beds made that I soon forgot the consultation going on, in trying to help Mother. I had never worked very much at home, and now people seemed to find my help a bit doubtful. Three years before, I had been very ill, so ill, in fact, that though I had become strong again, I had not since grown at all, excepting, Carrie said, my eyes and yellow hair, which only frequent bobbing would keep in check. Always I had been sent out to play, as Father thought fresh air the best medicine for me. I had found the plan a very satisfactory one but now, as everything had to be done outdoors everything seemed like play.
Chris lifted our food box down from the front of the wagon, and Carrie built a fire in the Russian iron camp stove while Mother was peeling potatoes and parsnips. Soon they were steaming in iron pots on the stove, and some of our wild crab apples were simmering in the brass kettle. Then Mother made biscuits which baked beautifully in the oven of our wonderful new stove, and fried bacon and prepared gravy. How good it all smelled.
Carrie got out the dishes, a thick china plate and cup for each of us, and a knife and fork and spoon. How glad we were before the journey's end for those china dishes and for the stove. The tin dishes used by many were very hard to keep right. With the stove Mother could stand up to cook instead of having to bend over a campfire with her face in the smoke. When I watched some of the other women, choking in the fumes of the fires, their backs bent until they must have felt ready to break, I often thought, "I'm glad my mother doesn't have to cook that way." Our stove, too, burned very little wood, and on the treeless prairies, that was a great advantage.
When Father returned, everything was ready for our plates to be filled. We sat on the ground to eat. Father seemed much pleased. "It is all settled," he said. "We have joined this train. Mr. Daily, the captain, said they are glad to have us. They want all the men they can get. The mule train will travel with us, too, so we are with a very big train now and the big trains are the safe ones."
When I brought my plate back to be refilled, Father looked at me in surprise. "How is this?" he asked. "Philura eating like this already? Mother, you will have to begin sewing before we reach Oregon." Truly I thought I had never been so hungry. Father's guess as to my beginning to grow proved correct, for before there was a suitable time for sewing, my dresses were becoming very small.
While we were eating we heard a disturbance in the direction of the road and saw another group of wagons arriving. Later in the evening when Father let me go with him through the big camp, I heard some men talking of the new party. "they are a mighty fine crowd to have with us," a man was saying. "Twenty extra men, if the Indians are troublesome, will be good to have around."
"Where are they going?" another asked.
"To the mines near Boise. Most of them have been soldiers in the Union Army. Lucky they happened along. We have so many women and children with us."
I quite agreed with the man. Soldiers would be good to have with us if the Indians were bad.
When we walked past their wagons I noticed that they had no tents. One man was playing jig tunes on a fiddle and another was telling a story that I very much wanted to hear. They seemed a happy party. During the whole trip that group of young men with their songs and stories and fiddles was an extremely popular section of the train. Many a difficulty they turned into a mere laughing matter.
When we returned to the tent, Florence and her mother and little two-year-old sister, Eoline, were sitting on the ground talking to Mother.
"I wish you had come sooner," I said to Florence. "It was fun to go through the camp with Father."
"We saw something, too," she said. "We saw an Indian. He didn't look very clean and he didn't wear many clothes. He just stood around and stared at Major. He didn't know what to think of his funny nose. Major didn't like him either. I wish he'd bite him. I don't like Indians."
"Major won't give them much of a chance to disturb our things if they want to," Father said. Major seemed to know what was being said and laid his flat nose on Father's knee to have his ears pinched. We were used to seeing people stare at him; a double-nosed pointer was not a common dog. He was a delightful playmate and we were proud of him. Father said he was a wonderful hunter as well as a good watchdog.
When Aunt Caroline started to leave that night, I had an idea. "May Florence stay with us tonight?" I asked. "There is room with Carrie and me."
Aunt Caroline hesitated and Mother said, "Yes, why not let her stay?"
As we all urged, she consented and that was the first of many, many nights that Florence spent in our tent. Father said she forgot whose girl she was and thought she belonged to him. As our camps were always made close together, she was never far from home.
The next morning as we were climbing into the wagons, Florence said, "Look, there is that Indian again. Look at Major." The dog was standing at the horses' heads, growling deep in his throat. He looked so vicious that we all laughed. The Indian was clad only in a breechclout, and carried a bow and arrows. He was the first one I saw on the plains. He stood looking wonderingly at Major's queer nose. When Father started the horses, the dog smoothed his hair and trotted away ahead of the wagon.