It was Indian country, and when our wheel busted, none of them would stop. They just rolled on by and left us setting there, my pap and me.
Me, I was pushing a tall twelve by then and could cuss 'most as good as Pap, and we both done some cussin' then.
Bagley, the one Pap helped down to Ash Hollow that time, he got mighty red around the ears, but he kept his wagon rollin'.
Most folks, those days, were mighty helpful, but this outfit sort of set their way by the captain. He was Big Jack McGarry.
When the wheel busted, somebody called out and we swung back. Big Jack had no liking for Pap because Pap never took nothing off him, and because Pap had the first look-in with Mary Tatum, which Big Jack couldn't abide.
He swung that fine black horse of his back and he set there looking at us. We had turned to and were getting that wheel off, fixing to get it repaired if we could.
"Sorry, Tyler. You know what I said. This is Indian country. Goin' through here, we keep rollin' no matter what. We'll wait a spell at the springs, though. You can catch us there."
Then he turned his horse and rode off, and nobody else in the wagons said by word or look that they even seen us setting there.
Pap, he didn't waste no more time. He looked after them, his face kind of drawn down and gray like, and then he turned to me and he said, "Son, I don't mind for myself. It's you I'm thinkin' of. But maybe it'll be all right. You take that there gun, and you set up high and watch sharp."
So that was the way it was, and Pap aworking to fix that wheel so we could go on. He was a good man at such things, and he had built many a wagon in his day, and had done some fine cabinetwork, too.
He worked steady and I kept my eyes open, but there was mighty little to see. It was a long rolling grass plain wherever a body looked. Here and there was draws, but I couldn't see into them. The wind stirred that tall grass, bending it over in long rolls, the way the sea must look, and it was green-gray and then silver in the changing light and wind. Overhead the sky was wide and pale blue, with just a few lazy clouds adrifting.
We had us a good Conestoga wagon and six head of cattle, good big oxen, to haul it. We had two horses and two saddles, and inside the wagon was Pap's tools, our grub, bedding, and a few odds and ends like Ma's picture, which Pap kept by him, no matter what.
Pap had swapped for a couple of Joslyn breech-loading carbines before we left Kansas, and we each had us a handgun, Shawk & McLanahan six-shooters, caliber .36, and good guns, too.
Like McGarry said, this was Indian country. Not two weeks ago the Indians had hit a wagon train, smaller than ours, killing four men and a woman. They hit it again a few miles west, and they killed two more men.
Ours was a big train, well armed and all, but Big Jack, I seen the look in his eyes when he sat there watching Pap aworking. He was just figuring to himself that he wouldn't have to worry any more about Pap, and by the time the wagons got to Californy he'd be married up with Mary Tatum. Her and all that silver her old man carried in the big box under his wagon.
When it was almost dark, Pap called to me. "Son, come on down. You ride your horse, scout around a little. If the wagons get to stop at the springs, we'll catch 'em."
But cattle don't make no speed with a heavy wagon. Their feet spread wide on turf and they pull better, day in, day out, than any mule or horse, but they can't be called fast.
Night came, and we set a course by the stars, and we rolled on west all through the night. When the first gray light was in the sky, we saw the gleam on...