Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Chapter Two

Chapter 2
4500 Words

     On the morning of his departure from Fort Brooke Johnny woke well rested and clear headed.  He'd slept pretty well, surprise.  He thought it was because of the two days prior, getting ready to leave with the survey crew.  Worn out was the way he felt when he hit the sack last night, then blank until the cocks began to crow.  He did the morning routine, grabbed his shooters tools and the satchel full of spare clothes, his luggage.  He checked the lock on his trunk under the bed, blew out the oil lamp,  made his way outside.  When he left the barracks he didn't look back.

     At this time in its history Fort Brooke was nothing so much as a way station and supply depot for military surveying crews.  The surveying of this new American property, Florida, had become the order of the day, now that the Seminole menace had been quelled once again.  This was something of a joke among the volunteers,  the term "Seminole Menace".  It was spoken of with great seriousness by officers, though it was not actually backed up by anything the men could see with their own eyes.  The men thought the indians they knew were as full of menace as cow plop, and for the most part that was true.  There had been enough mayhem and belligerence to justify forts and well armed military troops though, because random massacres of white people by Florida natives had happened many times.  

     At the beginning of the Second Seminole Indian War, in 1835, some of the Seminole leadership had organized a war party, which included 3 dozen escaped slaves.   This Seminole war party ambushed a company of soldiers marching north from Fort Brooke to Fort Foster, which was also on the St Julians ne' Lord Hillsborough river, but forty miles north.  Much farther than boats could go.  There was a large slaughter because the soldiers were caught with their rifles under their winter coats;  the violence was swift and brutal.  All but three of the Fort men were killed, and one of those surviving three, a civilian worker, was a suspected infiltrator and spy for the Seminoles, who later disappeared to places unknown.

       This was a very foolish mistake by the Seminoles, but they were only doing what men everywhere have done throughout time: they resisted the conqueror, no matter how stupid that was.  This is an underlying law of the Human condition, it seems, and has not changed, ever. 

     A predictable result ensued:  the Seminoles ignited the wrath of the American Governments Legion, which needed a reason for a really decisive war against the indians anyway, because the Seminoles would not leave according to the first treaty, and they were giving sanctuary to escaped slaves.  Giving Sanctuary To Escaped Slaves.

     The history of the Seminole Indians was sketchy.   Some of the indians in Florida were the misfits and outcasts from the northern tribes, Creek, others.   So the swampy sandy land of Florida was something of a colony for indians who did not fit in anywhere else.    There were also long term "Real" Seminoles who had lived in the Everglades since time immemorial.  Now, both groups were in the way of the new owners of Florida, who wished to wring money out of the state as quickly as possible, with no worries from any troublesome natives.  This was manifest destiny to the government at least, as it has been since the Romans, and especially since the First Crusade.

     From what Johnny saw with his own eyes, The Seminole Menace was really just struggling to exist, trying hard as they could to obtain food, and liquor, not necessarily in that order.  In Johnnys experience the Florida indians were always receptive to help from anyone.   They seemed out of place, kind of like circus clowns in the white mans world.  He would get a better view of things in the coming months, of that he was sure.

     The Federal surveying crews were expected to finish their work around this part of Florida some time in 1842 or so.  Johnny hoped his appointment to the survey crew was not a permanent thing, to last the rest of his enlistment.  There was nothing to do but put in the time, and try to focus on the bright side of things, as soon as he could identify a bright side.

     He ate dry biscuits and coffee for breakfast, and the mess hall was starting to get crowded when he left.  He reported to the surveyors camp, and presented his orders to his new overseer,  Chief Surveyor Captain Matthew Gilmour, a middle-aged red headed man of great energy, who was full fleshed but not fat, well muscled one might even say, an athlete.  He was about the same height as Johnny.   After the obligatory salutes Captain Gilmour shook Johnnys hand, looked him up and down once, said "Nice Buttons", and introduced him to a few of the men whose names he would not remember until later when he got to know them.  The sky was a deep purple-blue with tints of orange and pink to the east where the sun was rising on another clear Florida day.   It was quite chilly, about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but would warm rapidly.  There were no clouds anywhere.

    Johnny was introduced to his immediate supervisor, a Rifleman like himself named Ben Grierson.   Ben showed Johnny the duties, what was expected of him.   He was from Fort King, a Fort Johnny had heard about, but had not seen yet.

     "Oh you'll like Fort King" said instructor Ben with a wink.  He had a little more than a year to go on his enlistment.  He said he would probably re-enlist.  "Yep",  he continued, "Theres pretty women up near Fort King, the town outside the walls is a very jolly town, only there because of the Fort.  Its a good place to unwind, have a drink or three."  Another wink.  "Now look over here at this..."

     The instruction in new duties continued.  Johnny was to travel with one of the supply wagons,  basically doing what he was trained to do:  guard things and use his rifle when needed.  He would take a turn in the drivers seat every third day on the wagon itself, driving, and there were other minor chores which were important to the overall smooth running of mobile support for Survey Crews.  Things like watering the horses,  making sure there was dry wood for fires, and the like.

     "Its very easy," said  Ben Grierson, "Once you get the hang of it.  And don't worry, I wouldn't call discipline lacking, out here in the field, but it is a lot different from what you are used to here in the Fort.  We have a lot of fun, laugh a lot.  Things hardly ever get serious.  If things do get serious, its almost always because of an animal, which problems are addressed as they happen, and not too much, thankfully.  Make lots of noise as you travel, thats a good rule to follow.  Do you have any questions Johnny?"

     "How long will this trip last?"

     "Oh not too long," said Ben, "The last trip was a full year over by the big lake in the middle of the state.   Its hard to survey swampland sometimes..." Johnny must have winced, because Ben clapped him on the shoulder good naturedly, "To answer your question, once we get done down south at Big Spring, which should be in a month, I expect this lot of surveying will be wrapped up in 6 or 8 months.  Now let me show you one more thing, over here..."

     Johnny started getting used to different things.  He began to sleep well every night.

   
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     The farther the survey crew of the 3rd got away from Tampa, the lighter the mood became.  There was travel for one whole day, south along the edge of the bay, then a camp and a reconnaisance of 2 days, at a place where rocks jutted into the bay naturally, right out of the sand.   A fossiliferous outcropping, is what the Captain called it; hard silicified limestones and corals, some were like flint.   Punta Montfalvo, named by the Spanish, was a low bluff area surrounding this fossiliferous outcropping.  Easy access to the waterfront allowed the collecting of large oysters and clams, sea trout, redfish and more.   The Captain called it time off for having to be at the fort.  The Captain was an exceptional individual.  His ideas of surveying, and of other things, including staticity of the electrical brain and the mental sensing of things through the interaction of the brain and the static field of the Earth, even talking mind to mind across distances, seemed far ahead of their time to Johnny.  He began considering the possibilities though, a requisite action.

     Captain Gilmour said he could teach Johnny surveying if he was willing to learn.    Johnny said he was interested in learning to survey, but held himself somewhat aloof about it.  He would not get his hopes up,  and he did not wish to crab the opportunity by being too eager.  He would just pay close attention, and see what transpired.  Johnny was fairly mature for his age, and he had patience, a rare thing at any age. 

      The survey crew was about halfway between Fort Brooke, and Gadsen Point, the latter being the very southern end of a peninsula due south of Tampa which juts into the bay.  Gadsen Point was also called Big Spring, or by its Spanish name: Punta Morelle.  It had been two Colonels actually, James Gadsen and George Brooke, who had come to the area together on orders from Pensacola fourteen years ago.   The point of advantage, the Fort site, was at the mouth of the Saint Julians, though that area was inaccessible except by longboats rowed from larger ships which anchored well away.  It was either that or use the deep water at the end of the peninsula which Colonel Gadsen had set up as harbor, using the overland route to the fort, which also entailed ferrying animals, goods, and people with their belongings across the river at the very end of the 8 mile journey.   Many did the overland route to Fort Brooke anyway, following the road along the edge of the bay, because overall it was the easier traverse.

       There would be some equipment and supplies acquired at Gadsen point by the survey crew; some papers would be exchanged, mail picked up if there was any, then a short layover for a week or ten days at Big Spring to replenish for the trip north.    There was a camp there with hanging racks and a small smoke house.  Even a bath built by the spring which was ancient and probably made by the original Spanish explorers in this area.  There was a lot of wood for fuel.

     Johnny was beginning to think he had been wrong about surveying in the wild.   Fishing and hunting became the occupations, ones he did not mind at all.  He got to know the rest of the men as well, they were a total of 8 in this crew, running three wagons and six horses.  Quite a troupe.  Troop.   Johnny found some fine spearpoints during these days, they were fairly common on the sand beaches of the bay.  One had but to look.  He dutifully wrapped them in scrap cloth and secreted them in his luggage.  There was a sulphur spring at Montfalvo Point which ran into the bay, and a clear freshwater drinking stream erupted right out of white rock at their camp, it tasted delicious and it was cold.

    After Big Spring would be a trip north, a good ways north, and west, out to the big water, the Gulf itself.  Esteen-hatchee, and another Fort Brook, this time without the e, a Fort Frank Brook.  Johnny had not even heard of that Fort before.
        

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       Gadsen Point was a small stockade next to a long pier.  There were many boats along the pier, and a large ship at the end of it, anchored.   Johnny did not even have to go into the stockade, he had been left with 4 of the others parked under some large oak trees off in the distance.  There was a nice sea breeze.  It was at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit, maybe 70.   The horses would be watered at Big Spring which was very near, another mile or so beyond the stockade, along the bayline.  The water there was superior.

    The Captain and 3 men took a wagon inside, then emerged an hour later carrying some boxes of equipment and supplies.  While the Captain and the others were inside the stockade, the subject of snakes came up among the group under the oak tree.  Johnny got an earful.  Apparently there were two times of year when the rattlesnakes moved in migration across the Gadsen peninsula.   Those two times were extremely dangerous to trod in the daytime, and suicide after dark.  Thankfully this was not one of those times, it was at the beginning of winter and during the early summer when the snakes moved.  This was just March 7 or 8 by Johnnys reckoning, close enough for the figuring at hand.

     The first incident with an animal, a bear, took place at Big Spring camp, about a week after the visit to the stockade at Gadsen Point.   There was a lot of competition for food around Big Spring now that men and their guns had come in and upset the balance.  The bear had been drawn to the smell of butchered meat and fish which the men were smoking for the trek northward.  The Captain walked right up to the bear, and when it reared up he shot it in the heart with a very large pistol which first fizzed, then caught, then suddenly flashed, then BANG, the bear snarling and growling the whole while and walking forward until it just fell on its face in front of The Captain, who began to skin it while it was still twitching.

     The Captain was laughing.

     Johnny had not seen this aspect of Captain Gilmour yet, though it was certainly not the last time he saw it.  Matthew Gilmour was more than exceptional.  He was truly strange.   Matthew was frightening, even.  A predator in his own right, unashamed.  Just last night, around the fire, he had said that if you learned to perceive water vapor -- and it was more than just seeing it, it was understanding it too -- if you perceived vapor, while considering its place in the entire electrical field of the planet, then one had no trouble also perceiving ghosts, they were everywhere, residual electric fields, and some did not discorporate for thousands of years, thats how powerful the generator of life is.   Then the Captain said something which rang familiar to Johnny.  He said the ghosts were there sure enough, one had but to look for them. 

     Right after the Captain shot the bear with his cannon of a flintlock pistol, then laughed, the bear was skinned dismembered and smoked along with all the deer and other things being hunted.   The electrical fields of these critters, the deer, and the bear, and all the rest, were liberated from their physical forms, from their meat.  Their link to the overmind was severed, their spirits freed, while their avatars in the physical world, their meat, became life fuel for better predators.

     "It is the way of things here", thought Johnny.  He supposed the electrical fields that Life generated were actually reflections of the alive spirits, in some ways.  Many things became more clear as time went on,  but many things also did not.  Some things, the more one thought about them, the more opaque they became.  Perhaps there was a lesson there.  When opacity reigns, it is time to pursue other thoughts, at least for awhile.   Theres always plenty to think about.

     The surveyor crew could prepare and haul only so much meat, and of course more would be gotten along the way:  It was easy time and feeding time and resting time at Big Spring.  Replenishment.  Johnny had been faithful in his practice of searching for spear heads and other tools around the spring, and he was not disappointed.  He did not find a great number, but the ones he did find exposed along the edge of the spring by rains were of an exceptional type and again, of a nearly unbelievable quality.  He found them very inspiring things.  One day he might even show the Captain.

     The group left Big Spring Camp at the very south end of the Gadsen Peninsula,  and headed almost directly north to where Floridas gulf coast line meets the mouth of the Esteen-hatchee River.    That would be the next mail stop, the next hot baths, and the last point of embarkation before the actual surveying, which was to take place east and south of Esteen-hatchee, all the way down to the Great Lake which was about halfway between Fort Brooke and Fort Foster.  The Lake Of Stone, Thonotosassa, the indians said.

     Their march began, and forage became the business of every day now: it was Johnnys main job, foraging, except when he rode in the wagon.  Then he foraged with his eyes.   The land overflowed with life of all types,  and a lot of it had never seen people before.  With his sling he could take waterfowl easily, ducks and white birds, and even turkeys, although the turkeys realized how things were fairly quickly.  They became wary fast.

     The group would be a month on the road at least,  but the days were fast and never boring.  Nights found them camped near fresh water when they could find it, and that was most nights.  They hunted for fresh meat or ate from the stores.    Caesar wrote about this situation in his book concerning the conquest of Gaul.  Feeding the soldiers, and hauling their personal luggage, were the two largest jobs of any traveling army.   The actual job of surveying would take  comparatively little time, according to the Captain;  it was the time en route, and all the support equipment and personnel which made missions difficult.  If one could fly like a bird, and take measurements from the sky with telescopes, he said, then the mission would be nothing but a trifle,  though men could not do that yet,  so they must endeavor to get about the best ways they knew how, take the necessary legal measurements, and live through it.  Any personal enrichment along the way was just icing on the sweet roll,  because it would only do you well if you survived.  Not guaranteed.  Disaster strikes in a moment.   Always plenty of deadly mistakes to go around, one must not delude ones self with twaddle and pretty stupidities.

      One of the other Rifleman, a shooter named Bill Cutler, said it was like a never ending adventure you got paid for.  He said if he was not able to work out on survey crews he was not going to stay in the service.  From the look of things, there would always be plenty of work during Bills career, if thats what he wanted, and if he lived through it all.    The Captain began having talks with Johnny, short little meetings of instruction, where points of reference on the horizon, and things like that were discussed.  Preparation.  Johhny was a quick study, and he had a good memory.  The Captain was pleased.

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     The 3rd survey crew had been almost a week getting to Big Spring, by the Gadsen Stockade, then 8 days at the spring itself getting ready for the trip north.  There was a sand road that led north from Big Spring to a number of different forts, homesteads, settlements and encampments already established in the territory of Florida, named so by Ponce de Leon because it was discovered on Palm Sunday (1512), in spanish:  Pasqua Florida.   The sand road going north was not much, really, just a trench which had been worn into the sand between various types of trees, mostly large pines which stretched skyward like huge brown columns of an almost endless ancient temple;  some parts of the sand road were worn down to the hard pan, other places not, other places seemingly bottomless dry shifting sand.  The slogging was experienced by all and loved by none, especially the horses, who staggered about occasionally, when the slogging really got to them.  Many rests were taken under these circumstances.

     Johnny saw a huge rattlesnake on the fourth day out from Big Spring.  The rattlesnake stretched almost across the entire road well ahead of the group.  It was over 6 feet long.  Johnny pointed it out to Ben Grierson who alerted the Captain.  Matthew Gilmour asked Johnny if he could shoot the snake and kill it from this location with his flintlock rifle.  Johnny said he could.  Captain Gilmour said it was not a reflection on Johnnys ability, but he would cover the snake too, in case Johnny missed.  Johnny checked his gun well, took aim, fired, quickly, like that.  The snake jumped, and began its death twistings.

      Captain Gilmour was impressed.   He and Johnny walked up to the snake in the road.  Johnny had hit it perfectly, leaving the head intact, but nearly cutting the snake in two about a foot back from its head.  If one splatters the head with the projectile the poison of the snake becomes broadcast, like a splash, and can cause secondary poisonings to livestock who tread through it, and even men, a good thing to know.  As Johnny pulled the snake off the road tail first, the Captain told him to cut off the tail and keep it for good luck.  Rifleman Prestwick thought the tail of the snake a somewhat gruesome trophy, but like the good soldier that he was, he did as he was told.  It rattled still and was composed of 13 separate segments, a large one.

      The Captain waved the rest of the group forward.   They came through a particularly dry patch of loose sand, slogging from a standstill, as it were.  While the group was making its way, Matthew Gilmour instructed Johnny in some mathematical concepts useful in surveying, and he did it by relating the concepts to the incident which just occurred.  He mentioned the line traveled by the bullet, the line which had been the snake, the point which was the intersection of the two lines, and other points involved in the incident such as the Captains point of perception and Johnnys point of perception, and all the distances in between.   Johnny paid close attention, and found it easy to remember when applied as a lesson related to an actual event.  The others made it finally, and they all moved forward together again.

      From where they stood Johnny could smell water.  He could tell the Captain did too.  There was a river up ahead, camp for the night.   The road they were traveling led to a ford across the river, and because it was the right time of year, the passage was quick and easy over a pebbly bottom.  There was less than a foot of water in the river, and it was almost perfectly clear.  The campsite under the huge ancient oaks was like being in some weird and gigantic theater, or in an underground cavern so large you cannot see the walls.  Fire was summoned and the fellows ranged out for a look around, one never knows what one might find.   The cook and his helper began a meal.  A clear artesian spring bubbled up between their camp and the river, and ran into a small basin  before draining into the river.  The horses watered there and seemed to love it. 

     Then a shot.  Not so odd, but followed by hollering and a high pitched yell a lot like a scream.  Matthew Gilmour ran like a man possessed in the direction of the noise.  Another shot.   More hollering.  The captain shouted at him enroute to stay and guard the wagons, and to take cover for Gods sake.  Yet another shot. 

     All the men out in the woods were no doubt following their ears, and that was probably a bad thing.   Though trained well, Johnny had not joined with the enemy yet; from the sounds of things that was all about to change.  He felt exhilirated, and there was an odd stirring in his gut.  Could that be Joy?  As he had been taught he kept himself small, and tried to blend in while keeping the line of sight open, and the lines of trajectory as closed as possible.  Which means get behind something so you can peer around it clearly, with the least danger to your physical body.  He kept hearing shots in the distance and once he thought he heard the captain bark an order.  Then he saw something that made the hackles on his neck rise.  There were indians out there in the woods, and they were headed this way.  He could tell by the way they walked, like smoke, confident, menacing.  They were not clowns in the forest and woods Johnny saw.  They all had rifles.  Without thinking he shot the biggest one.   The group of seminoles numbered 5 or 6, he could not tell, but one less now.  He reloaded like lightening.  The cook and his assistant were just getting into position with their rifles when a nearby shot rang out and a chunk of wood flew off the wagon, very near the cooks head.  Johnny had seen the muzzle flash from the forest and he shot his rifle and was reloading again.   He was very fast at reloading and hardly ever had a misfire, maybe one in one hundred shots.  Johnny heard his victim let out a high pitched guffaw, and the body lurched out of hiding, another dead hump on the forest floor.  Johnny felt at once elated and relieved.  Until another shot rang out and a chunk of wood from the wagon flew off right by HIS head.  He ducked and took sight again.

     His heart was beating hard.

     Then, very close, two or three more shots all at once.  Then silence.  Silence for awhile.  A mans voice shouted  from where the group of Indians had been hidden.  It was the Captain.  

     "Rifleman Prestwick, do you hear me?"

     "Yes Sir!"

     "Have you lost any men?"

     "Not that I know of sir!"

     Private Danny Smith, the cook, shouted out from where he was that he was fine and so was his assistant, Private Cecil Stren.

     The Captains voice again:

     "Very well, we have eliminated this last group of Seminoles, and we are coming out now, please cease your fire."

     The Captain and two other men walked out through the trees.

     That only made 6.

     It was then that any joy of battle ceased for Johnny.  Reality forced itself upon him and had its way with his mind and his soul.  Get used to it, because Life is full of it, these are the inevitable things that happen to men, and each are affected differently by them, each carries away a different set of baggage from happenstance such as this, and except for the very rare, let us say diabolical personality, the baggage is not nice in any way, it is burdensome and frightening.  Forever.  It is the stuff of nightmares.  It is forever.

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