CHAPTER I. A FRAIL BARK, TOSSED ON LIFE’S TEMPESTUOUS SEAS
A native of Germany, I came to the United States soon after the Civil War, a healthy, strong boy of fifteen years. My destination was a village on the Rio Grande, in New Mexico, where I had relatives. I was expected to arrive at Junction City, in the State of Kansas, on a day of June, 1867, and proceed on my journey with a train of freight wagons over the famous old Santa Fe trail.
Junction City was then the terminal point of a railway system which extended its track westward across the great American plains, over the virgin prairie, the native haunt of the buffalo and fleet-footed antelope, the iron horse trespassing on the hunting ground of the Arapahoe and Comanche Indian tribes. As a mercantile supply depot for New Mexico and Colorado, Junction City was the port from whence a numerous fleet of prairie schooners sailed, laden with the necessities and luxuries of an advancing civilization. But not every sailor reached his destined port, for many were they who were sent by the pirates of the plains over unknown trails, to the shores of the great Beyond, their scalpless bodies left on the prairie, a prey to vultures and coyotes.
If the plans of my relatives had developed according to program, this story would probably not have been told. Indians on the warpath attacked the wagon train which I was presumed to have joined, a short distance out from Junction City. They killed and scalped several teamsters and also a young German traveler; stampeded and drove off a number of mules and burned up several wagons. This was done while fording the Arkansas River, near Fort Dodge. I was delayed near Kansas City under circumstances which preclude the supposition of chance and indicate a subtle and Inexorably fatal power at work for the preservation of my life—a force which with the giant tread of the earthquake devastates countries and lays cities in ruins; that awful power which on wings of the cyclone slays the innocent babe in its cradle and harms not the villain, or vice versa; that inscrutable spirit which creates and lovingly shelters the sparrow over night and then at dawn hands it to the owl to serve him for his breakfast. Safe I was under the guidance of the same loving, paternal Providence which in death delivereth the innocent babe from evil and temptation, shields the little sparrow from all harm forever, and incidentally provides thereby for the hungry owl.
I should have changed cars at Kansas City, but being asleep at the critical time and overlooked by the conductor, I passed on to a station beyond the Missouri River. There the conductor aroused me and put me off the train without ceremony. I was forced to return, and reached the river without any mishap, as it was a beautiful moonlight night. I crossed the long bridge with anxiety, for it was a primitive-looking structure, built on piles, and I had to step from