Sojourner Of Warren's Camp

Sojourner Of Warren's Camp

by Joseph Dorris


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It is 1871 in Idaho Territory, and fourteen-year-old Samuel Chambers is, in many ways, already a man. After journeying west with his father in search of a golden ledge, Samuel finds himself living in the midst of a raucous mining camp filled with gold-hungry Chinese. Gold is scarce, and everyone wants it-including Samuel, whose main goal in life is to get "lucky rich." But Samuel has no idea that the path to achieving his dream is lined with danger like he has never seen before.

Samuel refuses to believe all the naysayers as he embarks on a journey from placer mining to prospecting and from peddling merchandise to running assays. But life in the Wild West is unpredictable, and there are those so intent on finding riches that they will kill anyone who happens to get in their way. Even as danger lurks in the shadows, Samuel cannot keep his eyes off Miss Lilly, a beautiful dancehall lady who intrigues him more than he would like to admit. Despite his attempts to balance a courtship with achieving his dream, nothing prepares Samuel for what is about to happen next.

In this compelling historical tale, a teenager on a coming-of-age journey in remote Idaho faces prejudice and peril as he struggles to carve a living from the land and build a new future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781462063475
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 11/21/2011
Pages: 316
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.71(d)

Read an Excerpt

Sojourner of Warren's Camp

By Joseph Dorris

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Joseph Dorris
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4620-6347-5

Chapter One

Charles Chambers sat his horse, pausing a moment for his son and the mule he led to catch up. Below him, fingers of green meadows crisscrossed by ribbons of silvery water reached out from between stands of conifers. A small herd of elk with a bull, its new antlers shrouded in velvet, browsed near dark spruce. Geese and ducks spotted the ponds and quiet streams. Tree-covered slopes with lingering snowbanks rose beyond, catching the last rays of sunlight in the gathering shadows.

"That's the Mulpah down below. Least that's what the Nez Perce Indians call it—the Little Salmon River. It runs straight north to the main Salmon." Charles adjusted his hat and pushed back his sandy hair.

"It's hard to believe, Pa," replied Samuel. He had brought his horse and the mule up.

A small river meandered through the meadows below. Snow lay scattered beneath the trees, and here, where they had crossed over the divide from Council Valley, it lay in deep, rotten drifts.

"We've gone far enough for the day." Charles swung his lanky frame down. "If we get an early start tomorrow, we can make it to the main Salmon. Within the week, we should be in Warren's camp."

Charles watched as his son dismounted and began loosening the cinch to his saddle. Samuel was slightly built with blond hair and striking blue eyes. He was still fourteen, but in many ways already a man. Charles had doubted his decision to bring the boy, but he had realized that even if Samuel sometimes lacked the strength, he had the heart to do a man's job. The boy never complained. He looked for what needed to be done and did it.

Charles recalled his own youth. He had had to grow up fast on the frontier. He had lost his own parents early. A brother had been killed during the Indian Wars. He thought he had left it all behind when he had met and married Mary Travis. They built themselves a small farm in central Iowa, and soon after, Samuel was born and then Emma and Jeremiah. Those were magical days until the Southern Uprising. He went to war when Samuel was not quite four. He often regretted those years—not for fighting in the war but for not being able to see his family grow. He felt a wash of emptiness. Both Emma and Jeremiah had died from the flu. He yet had a young daughter, Elizabeth, born after the war.

He watched as his son struggled to remove the saddle from the black gelding. Spooky—Samuel had named him. The boy heaved the saddle to the ground, catching his look.

"It ain't gettin' any lighter, Pa." He cracked a grin.

Charles smiled. Samuel's high spirits during their journey had been uplifting.

He pulled his own saddle from the mahogany bay he had brought home from the war—not much more than a colt back then. Black mane and tail, black socks melding into a red, well-muscled body, the gelding had been destined to be a cavalry horse; however, the war ended, and he took him back to Iowa. Buster—Jeremiah had named him.

He felt unease, reflecting on the families back home. Mary had not been able to keep up their farm when he had left for the war. She found it easier to take the children and return to her parents' farm. And she should have. Her brother, Jake, had also heeded the call to war. Together, it was safer for the two families. But after the war, life had become strained. Charles had always felt like the outsider. Although Jake and his wife and children had the original cabin, he and Mary were but awkward visitors crammed into her parents' home. To make matters worse, Jake came home missing a leg, a victim to a Minié ball. They struggled to get the farm to produce enough to feed the two families.

"We could go farther," Samuel said. He had begun loosening the mule's packs.

"Good spot here for a camp," Charles replied. "Farther down we might be inviting trouble. This is Nez Perce country."

He helped Samuel lift the packs to the ground. They had done well. None of their gear had been lost, and they had recently purchased staples at Fort Boise—sugar, salt, flour. Packing them in would conserve the meager grubstake he had put together from what little cash he had saved and from what he had borrowed from Jake. He expected prices to be at least triple in Warren's camp.

They picketed the horses and mule. If the Nez Perce found the animals wandering, they would consider them their own. A few days past, they had come across an Indian family fishing along the Weiser River, but the family had fled into the brush when they spotted them. They seemed rather poor, although they were dressed in heavy skins, an indication they were skilled hunters. Their lodges appeared to be not much more than brush piles with a few skins stretched over them. Charles assumed they were a band of Weisers and assured Samuel they were harmless. Otherwise, since leaving Iowa, they had seen only a few Indians camped around the settlements. But now he realized they were in the heart of a Nez Perce hunting ground, and it was likely some bands roamed the river below.

He ran a line between trees for a tarpaulin. The weather looked good, but experience told him they could be in rain or snow by morning, especially at this elevation. They had camped just below the divide between Council Valley and the Little Salmon River drainage. The sun had dropped below the horizon, now catching only the highest peaks and throwing the snow and greening meadows into purple shadows.

Unlike the Snake River plain, dark green conifers mixed with bright green aspens covered the hillsides. The trail that crossed the plain had been hot and dry, running through sagebrush and barren and broken basalt. Water had been scarce, and they had been forced to work their way to the river each evening. Only after they turned up the Weiser and had followed it for a couple of days did they finally come back into timber.

The odors from burning wood and sizzling venison mingled in the evening air. Two days ago, Samuel had killed a young doe. Charles joined him at the fire. "Smells good."

"Here, Pa, have some." Samuel handed him a plate with a thick piece. He then cut a piece for himself.

Charles chewed a sliver, enjoying the rich flavor. "Tastes mighty fine, son."

Samuel nodded but did not reply, his mouth full. Charles noticed. He could not help but realize that his son was still a skinny boy, no matter what he ate, much like himself before he began shooting up in his own teenage years and began putting on muscle and weight. He could not help but wonder how Samuel kept going all day without an ounce of fat on his body.

Charles paused. Now that they neared their destination, he could not withold his thoughts. "I guess we'll know in a few days, if I'm not making the biggest mistake of my life."

Samuel flashed a look.

"All this could be nothing but a wild-goose chase, son. We could end up no better off than when we left Iowa."

"But the way you tell of what O'Riley said, all we got to do is scoop up the gold and put it in sacks, remember?"

"Not quite." He managed a laugh. Samuel stretched what he had said, but since telling the story, the boy had been completely caught up with the quest. "Even if we find the ledge and it isn't dug up, it won't be that easy. It's lode gold."

"You said O'Riley marked it. We'll find it."

"He also said you had to pert near be standin' on it to see it." Charles waved toward the hills. "I've been studying this country. All the ridges look the same, and the heavy timber and brush make it near impossible to see a thing."

Samuel quit chewing. "Hey, Pa, you're the one who's supposed to be sure about this."

Charles tried to lessen his doubts. "I 'spect you're right. I keep second- guessing myself. O'Riley wouldn't have left it to get his brother if it hadn't been good." He shook his head. "I can't begin to feel how he must have felt when he got home and found his brother had been killed at war." He sliced off another piece of venison. "He wouldn't talk when I first met him. He didn't seem to care if he lived or died, just so long as he could kill Rebs. It was only after a few scrapes together that he opened up. Then he told me about the ledge, but by then he just wanted the war to be over so he could return to look for it. He wanted me with him when he did. He had decided his brother would have wanted as much. So I got to believe it's still there."

He had told Samuel the story before. The man he fought alongside, Kevin O'Riley, had been grubstaked by his brother. O'Riley had agreed to return for his brother if he struck pay dirt. He had first tried the Clearwater and then Florence, two new strikes in Idaho Territory. When news reached him that James Warren had discovered gold south of the Salmon River, he headed there. He and others eventually located a good placer and began working it. At some point, while O'Riley had been hunting, he struck a rich ledge, and as he had promised, he left camp to return for his brother.

"Maybe it was lucky you and O'Riley got to be friends."

"For sure. We wouldn't be sitting here otherwise," Charles said. "Funny how things work out. I always figured after O'Riley got wounded, he had healed up and headed back on his own to find the gold. I didn't blame him. Surprised me to blazes last winter when I found out he had died."

Samuel nodded. "In a way, O'Riley and his brother are kind of like you and Uncle Jake. Uncle Jake helped grubstake us, and now he's counting on us to find that ledge. And we're gonna do it," Samuel proclaimed.

"If it's still there." Charles tried to temper Samuel's enthusiasm, but he felt the excitement as well. This would be the answer to getting a place of their own and to helping out Jake. He owed Mary's brother.

"It's there, Pa," Samuel replied. "I can feel it in my bones."

"Then it's in our hands to finish what O'Riley started." Charles reached over to the boiling coffeepot. "How about some coffee?"

He filled Samuel's cup and took a sip from his own, feeling its warmth in the evening chill.

"So you think we're still doin' the right thing, Pa?"

"For sure," Charles quickly replied. "I only regret leaving your ma and sister for so long."

"So do I," Samuel said quietly.

"We can't worry, son. They're going to be just fine. Even on one leg, your uncle Jake is pretty capable. And your cousin Daniel, he's getting to be big enough to be of some help. What is he ... nine?"

"I reckon."

He eyed Samuel. "How about you? You still glad you came?"

"You bet," Samuel said, but then as if he had misgivings, he asked, "But what if we don't find it?"

"We'll take up some placer mining. Or if worse comes to worst, I can take a job at one of the mines. Either way, we should make something by season's end to get a start on our own place again."

Samuel pushed his hands across his knees and quietly questioned, "But what if I can't hold my own? I mean, I'll try my best, Pa, but what if I can't do it?"

"You'll do fine. This country don't care how old you are or who you are. But it seems to me it does care what kind of spirit you got. And from my judging, son, you got that down just fine."

* * *

Moonlight across his face woke Charles. His breath hung in the chilly air. Frost had formed on their bedding despite the tarpaulin. He glanced to where Samuel slept, his body pulled up into a small mound. Samuel's hat as well as his canvas trousers and tattered dobby shirt, which lay crumpled across his saddle, were covered in frost. He smiled to himself. His own clothing was stored at the foot of his bed. The boy would be in for a surprise come morning.

He pulled his hat down to block the bright moonlight and turned to catch some more sleep. He thought of Samuel's concerns. He prayed to God he would not let the boy down. He did not know the likelihood of finding gold, nor a thing about prospecting for that matter. He did not fear hard work. If it was work that it took, he could do that. He knew Samuel would as well, but Samuel was right. He was still a boy.

Chapter Two

Samuel woke early to a morning chill, the coldest night yet. Wood smoke drifted to him from the campfire his father already tended. He stood to dress and immediately felt the stinging cold of frost raining down onto his neck and bare back as his head hit the tarpaulin. He grabbed his clothes and danced toward the fire, trousers half-pulled up.

Charles eyed him, grinning.

"Blasted cold, Pa," Samuel said. He pulled on his shirt, tucked it in, and fixed his suspenders. "I didn't expect frost last night."

"That I can see," Charles said and chuckled.

Samuel gave him a look and then ran his hand through his hair, spraying his father with icy particles. "Not funny."

Charles ducked. "Careful, it's still a long ways to Washington."

Samuel sat and began pulling on his boots, stiff from the cold. "Thanks for the fire. Can't believe it's so cold."

"We're at high elevation. By the time we drop down into the main Salmon today, it will seem like summer."

Samuel rubbed his hands over the fire. It felt good. Frequently, he was the one to start and tend the cook fire. He guessed his father had been worrying about things and had risen early. He guessed it was about their family and Uncle Jake. His father had seemed almost relieved to begin the trip, like he now had a chance to make things right about something.

He watched his father work the coffeepot down into the coals. There were deep creases around his eyes, which Samuel had always figured came from squinting in the sun, but now he realized that maybe they were from worry.

Charles nodded at his shirtsleeve. "Soon as we strike it rich, we need to get you a new shirt, or maybe you might need to do a bit of sewing."

Samuel examined the tear. "Caught it on a branch yesterday." His trousers were becoming tattered as well.

Charles nodded. "How about you work up breakfast? I've just about got us some coffee."

Samuel gathered the cups and utensils as well as his coat, a short tan frock, which was similar to his father's. He pulled it tight, feeling the cold until it gathered some warmth. He could not understand how it could be so cold. Everything around them was greening up. His breath frosted. He guessed the air moving over the scattered snowbanks caused the chill.

"Thought it was almost summer," he said, squatting again, rubbing his hands, shivering.

Charles laughed. "Here, this will warm you up some." He poured the coffee.

Samuel took a sip, feeling the warmth spread as he swallowed. "Thanks." He cut a piece of salt pork and tossed it into the pan to add some grease before he added the thin strips of venison.

After breakfast, they took apart the tarpaulin and beat the frost from their gear. Samuel strapped his day pack and bedroll behind Spooky's cantle. He patted the horse and stroked its white blaze. Otherwise Spooky was entirely black. "You've done good, boy." Spooky's ears flicked, and he rolled his eyes. Samuel figured he understood.

By the time they reached the valley floor, the sun had burned away the frost. Steam rose from the waterways, and dew glittered from the grass and brush.

The river, a myriad of small, braided streams, was high with snowmelt and rain from the late spring. It had backed up into the low areas, forming expanses of flooded meadows. They pushed their horses through the water and crossed to the east side, trying to find drier ground along the valley flanks.

Toward the north end of Salmon Meadows, they spotted an Indian encampment across the valley.

"Nez Perce from the looks of the horses," Charles said. "Best we try and avoid them." He left the trail and headed eastward toward the timber on the hillsides.

"Doubt it will do any good, Samuel. If we spotted them, they're sure to have seen us. Keep watch."

Samuel felt a tenseness in his chest and nervously scanned the landscape, wondering what they would do if they did spot the Nez Perce. Would they fight them? Would they try to run? There was nowhere to run.


Excerpted from Sojourner of Warren's Camp by Joseph Dorris Copyright © 2011 by Joseph Dorris. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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