Ahead was a bend in the river and to port a small stretch of bare dirt, rock, and sand—what some folks might charitably call a beach. The  river itself disappeared north around another bend to starboard. There was no dock. No buildings. No people. No sign with the words “Long Prairie” painted upon it. No paths or trails. Surrounding the beach were trees, trees, and more trees up and down the river, choked by dense thickets of brush, briars, and vines, making the area nearly impassable. The place called Long Prairie was utterly indistinguishable from any other stretch of bank along this primitive Red River. Beyond the wall of scrub and trees spread a vast, flat meadowland, but it was nothing but expanses of tall switchgrass, cane, and underbrush interrupted only by the thick stands of trees.

We glided in to shore. One of the boatmen jumped off and waded over to the bank with rope in hand to tie the Ohio to a tree, and the others did the same. With all three boats and their passengers secure, I was able to cast my eyes about our surroundings.

There was no cheering from our expedition. In fact, every person was completely silent. I think arriving here, seeing this piece of land for what it truly was, had finally hit home. This was the dreamt-of frontier, no longer a dream. Total quietude. Total isolation. There were no familiar sounds, like the chopping of an axe or the shots from a hunter’s rifle. No laughter of children, no lowing of cows. There was nothing to be heard, nor the smoke from a cabin to be seen. We were completely alone in this primeval, as yet uncivilized world.

I imagined this was how many expeditions before our own, coming to these frontier lands of America, must have felt. I sought for a word to describe my feelings, and eventually came to accept it as “lonely.” Even though there were ten families, the feeling I held close was that this place made me feel completely isolated. I searched my mind, looking for the optimistic thought that might allay this feeling of loneliness. I wondered if Long Prairie would, once we had all settled in, feel less desolate and removed from civilization.

A fleeting image of Mattie chased across my mind like a shooting star, but it was followed at once by the thought that I wanted no person or thing to keep me in this desolate place any longer than my duty demanded.

Yet I thought of how this place was exactly what Pa wanted, this place called Long Prairie. We had left Tennessee, like the other families, because we felt held back by the growing population coming to the land. Perhaps this is what Carthage had been like when Pa and Mama first settled there. If that were so, they would be more accustomed to the stark isolation.

Perhaps they could more easily envision it becoming a community like before, where they and other likeminded people lived happy and productive lives. For me, that could not be the case. I clenched my teeth. No, this was not going to be the case for me. I thought back to The Plan and strengthened my resolve to pursue it by any means at my disposal. I was convinced my future happiness would be found in the practice of law, and I knew I must hold to that conviction until the day I achieved my goal. I would stay in this Long Prairie and do all I could to help my family for two years. By that time I would be approaching my twentieth birthday and our homestead would be thriving. At that auspicious time I would set forth into the world and take control of my destiny, like Andrew Jackson had before me, away from this hardscrabble life in favor of a profession in a city of some renown.

That was still The Plan. I had set my sights on it so as to weather these circumstances until I could put it to work for myself. Nothing had changed.

As I brought myself back to the events going on around me, I saw that Ben had put the pirogue to use as a gangplank. Two boatmen stood on either side, holding it steady, so the women could reach the bank without wading through the water or taking an unwanted bath. I watched Jane Ann Peterson and Mary Evelyn Robinson tiptoe down the length of the dugout, arms outstretched for balance, and a small smile crept over my face. After about an hour, everyone was on shore.

As befit the occasion, Duncan McKellar  gathered  the  folks  around him in the confines between the underbrush and the river. Pa stood beside him, arms crossed over his chest, casting his eyes at the assembled pioneers.

“My dear friends and neighbors,” Mr. McKellar began. “On February twenty-third, in this year of our Lord, 1818, we left Nashville, Tennessee to seek a new world. We have journeyed far from our friends and loved ones. We made this sacrifice to secure a piece of this new world for ourselves and our families. A place of growth and prosperity, where we could live our lives as we were no longer able to back in Tennessee.

“Today, after almost two months of a most arduous journey, we have arrived. This place we call Long Prairie is our own Promised Land. Here is our opportunity to carve a future from this land that will sustain our children and their children and their children for a hundred years, perhaps even longer. My friends, we are home. Let us ask the Lord’s blessing on ourselves and our new home. Please join me in prayer.” Mr. McKellar began,

“Dear Lord God in Heaven, we offer our thanks to Thee for awakening us on this glorious day to the gift we have dreamt of and sought after for all these months. We thank Thee for bestowing Long Prairie upon us and ask for Thy benediction, that Thou will guide us in caring for this great gift with all our hearts and minds and souls. We thank Thee for watching over us on our long journey and protecting us from evil and danger, this not only for ourselves but for our loved ones as well. Lord, we give thanks for our health and strength, for Thy grace and for loving us unconditionally and never once failing us. In Thy name Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, Amen.”

As he spoke these last words everyone joined him, reciting, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.” Cheers and whoops rose through the air, and there was applause, shouting, and whistling. Guns were fired into the air, which just made everybody cheer and whoop all the more. Duncan and Pa shook hands with each other. Mama and Christiana, standing near their husbands, embraced. Men kissed their wives and shook the hands of their neighbors. Jane, Mattie, Mary, and Emily threw themselves into each other’s arms and whirled in a jig. Finally, we were all experiencing a much-needed release of anxiety. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for Mr. McKellar, for his leadership on the journey and the spiritual strength he had shared with all of us. And even in his modesty, my own Pa had been a strong leader, too, which made me ever so proud of him for both of these traits.

Duncan McKellar said, “John?”

Pa stepped up to speak to the assemblage. “On behalf of our expedition, I want to give special thanks to Ben Torbett; his son, James; Big Joe Dyer; George Duty; and our three crews from the Mississippi River Transportation Company.” The crowd turned ’round toward the boatmen and cheered, which was both startling and pleasing to them. Pa called out to James and George Duty and  Big  Joe  Dyer. They came forward hesitantly to stand with him and Mr. McKellar. Pa clapped each man on the shoulder, then he said, “Blaise Lejeune, you get yourself up here, too!” Duncan McKellar smiled and nodded his approval. Once Blaise stood beside Big Joe and George, Pa said, “These courageous gentlemen got us here safely, without one single casualty.” He stopped and gave Blaise a long look, and everyone murmured their agreement. “On such a potentially dangerous trip, this was an incredible accomplishment for these boat captains. Especially since they were able to do it without once having to tow on a cordelle.”

Laughter rippled through the crowd. It was one of the few times I saw a humorous side of Pa. Duncan and Pa shook hands with the three boatmen.

The next few days were spent getting our belongings situated for our first few weeks in Long Prairie. According to the settlement plans laid out by Ben, Pa, and the other expedition heads, the initial settlement of Long Prairie would be ten and one-half square miles. That settlement plan was based on a rough survey of the area that Ben had conducted the previous year.

Each family would have a homestead of one square mile, or 640 acres. The plots were laid out with six facing the river and the other four back of them. In between the six homesteads a riverfront high point plot about six foot above the Red, one-half mile wide and a mile long, would be left for a townsite and common dock.

This new townsite of Long Prairie was less than one hundred yards north of our landing beach and would be the point where all our belongings would be staged for eventual transfer to our homestead plots. For the remainder of the day and all of the next the menfolk, including us boys, helped the boatmen move each family’s belongings up to the site designated for our new town.

Husbands and wives spent a fair amount of time  the  next few days surveying their homestead plots, deciding where to locate their cabins and fields. It was difficult, trying to envision a place in this vast area which had forever been completely wild. Most wanted to settle on a little higher ground, mindful of the old Red’s floodplain, but the riverbank rose only half a dozen feet up to the ridgeline, beyond which was nothing but trees, vegetation, and several somewhat taller hills. The McKellars, by virtue of Duncan’s titular position, had the site on a small knoll just to the south of the Long Prairie townsite. We Murrells had the northernmost plot with riverfront acreage.

Pa and I were walking off an area intended for our cabin, accompanied by our dogs, Andrew and Jackson, to determine where we would have the best view up and down the Red. Pa stopped to place a rock in order to mark a corner of the structure. “Tom, my thinking has been that we should situate our home on this hill where we could have a good view of any river travelers. I chose our spot here because it would serve as a kind of guardian post from which we could observe hostiles or bandits coming from the river.” I gazed off to the north, toward the direction of our townsite, a bit disappointed. Of course, Pa’s was good logic. It was just that that our place would be a good two and one-half miles north of the McKellar’s.

And Mattie.

Ben, James, and their men stayed with us for another week to help everyone get their belongings from the Long Prairie staging area out to their homesites. One of the boatmen cleverly built a travois from strong, slender tree trunks lashed together with alligator sinew. When hitched up to a horse, it would move the heavy crates and trunks across the ridgeline and on to each family’s plot of land.

They also helped build our first shelter in Long Prairie, an open- sided thatched roof structure in the center of the staging area we called the common house, intended to serve as a base for the community to operate from until our first cabins could be built. There was only enough room to shade about fifteen people, so it was not much of a house, but it was something. We put it to use right away for the first Long Prairie town meeting.

“This here common house is the first structure in our new home,” said Duncan. There was polite applause, no whoops and hollering. By now our expedition was more than sober about the hard work ahead for all of us. “I know it’s not much, but it’s a start. This will be our central meeting place in case of danger of any kind. Anybody can call a meeting and hold it here. You should all be able to hear this bell from your cabins.” He rang the large bell hanging from a rafter. “If you hear three rings of the bell, it means we are gathering. But most importantly, if the bell keeps ringing, get your people over here.  Or,  heaven  forbid you hear a gunshot that sounds too close by to be a hunter, or you hear anything perturbing at an odd hour, head for this here common house and ring the bell. This is where we will rally to mount a common defense.”

There were murmurs among the families about what kind of emergencies we might experience and who we might have to defend ourselves from. No one asked any questions, because the message was plain enough for everyone to understand.

“And one more thing,” said Mr.  McKellar.  “We  sure  want  to  thank Ben and his crew for staying with us another week so’s we can enjoy the comfort and familiarity of living and sleeping aboard the boats a bit longer.”

At that point there was a big round of grateful applause from all.

On the morning of Saturday, April 18, most of the family adults came down to the riverbank as the boatmen made ready to push off and head back down the Red River. From the prow of one of the boats, Ben said to Duncan and Pa, “Well, folks, it’s about time for us to be cutting loose.”

The pirogue sat on the sand nearby. “Will you tow the dugout back to Natchitoches for us?” Pa called out.

“No, suh,” Ben called back. “It should remain with you in case someone in your party needs to make an emergency trip down to Natchitoches. Dependin’ on the route the river provides, my guess is that you should be able to make Natchitoches in less than a week.”

“I do not wish to be beholden to Mr. T.J. for months of rental,” Pa replied. “I already owe him a dollar for one month.”

“He’ll sell it to you for two,” said James, laughing.

“Then please inform Mr. T.J. of our decision,” said Pa, “and that I shall compensate him when we journey to Natchitoches in a month’s time.” Ben nodded.

“James, our thanks for the fine job you did, getting us from Carthage all the way to Long Prairie,” said Pa. Everyone cheered at this, and Duncan asked the assemblage if they had given their letters to Ben Torbett to mail.

“I do have your letters, folks, which I shall personally hand to the postmaster in Nashville,” said Ben.

“That ain’t Mr. Ben Franklin now, is it?” cried someone from the shore. Laughter rippled through the crowd; that Ben had been dead twenty-five years.

Ben Torbett laughed too. “I know that all your friends and relations, includin’ Mr. Franklin hisself, will be very happy to hear about your new life here in the Territory of Arkansaw.” This caused more laughter.

James, who was still on the shore, looked over at me. “Tom, would you come hold fast to the mooring line while I get on board?”

Any of the boatmen could have performed this simple task, if anyone needed to do it at all. But I figured James wanted to gain my confidence regarding some matter or other before they left, and I welcomed it. He possessed many habits which over our time together I had come to regard as worthy of emulation, and I would miss his company.

Once we were standing apart from the others, James picked up the rope, handed it to me, and then shook my hand and said, “It has been good getting to know you, Tom.”

“And you, James. I appreciate what you’ve taught me about the river, as well as a few cuss words that I might have need of one day.”

James laughed, still shaking my hand but now with a firmer grip. “I don’t think they’ll be any law offices around these parts any time soon. Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

I knew what James was saying between his words. He was asking if I wanted to change my mind about staying in Long Prairie. He was asking if I wanted to hop aboard and return with him and his mates to Nashville. I paused, then shook my head slightly. “This is what I… need to do. In a couple of years, my pa will be on his feet. By then, my brothers will be old enough to shoulder their own responsibilities to the family. Then I can think about doing…something else.”

James nodded his agreement, then asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” His eyes moved from my face, and he looked over my shoulder. I turned to see what had attracted his attention. It was Eliza, standing next to Mattie, the two of them looking straight at the two of us. They waved, and James raised a hand in farewell. I quickly turned back to face James.

“Why, uh, come to think of it, yes. If you find yourself up to Carthage, I would appreciate your paying a visit to Mr.  Ezekiel Burlingame. I have written him a letter which is in your father’s satchel. Please ask if he has readied a package of books for me, which you could bring to me on your next trip. I am hoping he can continue his support for my education such that I will not have lost too much study by the time I return.”

“That I will,” said James. He turned toward the boats.

“One more thing,” I said. “When we stopped in Nashville, I purchased a bound book of blank pages and quills and ink with which to write down my, uh, thoughts. It will not be long before I will have exhausted all three. If I may ask yet another favor,” I said, reaching into my book satchel to provide him with money.

“Say no more,” said James, bringing me up short. “I’ll stop by to see Miss Callie and obtain these items for you at my own expense. I do so in the hope you’ll continue to document your journey.”

I looked into his laughing eyes, seemingly as innocent as the blue sky, wondering how he knew so much of my comings and goings.

“I saw you enter the bookshop from across the way,” he said, “and could not help but notice the lovely young lady who attended to your purchase. So, after you left I stepped over and introduced myself to Miss Callie. You will recall that I live in Nashville,” he said, laughing.

“And a word of advice,” James continued. “If you expect to get back to Tennessee one day, you had better steer clear of that fetching Miss Mattie McKellar. You have spent quite a bit of time with her on the trip, and it is easy to develop affection over such a length of time. Watch yourself, my friend, or you’ll end up living in a Long Prairie cabin filled with children.” With that, he laughed long and hard, and I joined him.

“That’s a fact indeed, and one not lost on me. I thank you for the advice, but allow me to clear up a misapprehension on your part. Mattie and I are friends, to be sure, but our time spent together was in study of the Kado language, not romance.”

James nodded but with a look of some skepticism. To forestall another retort I said, “And as for you, my friend, I suggest staying out of saloon fights and away from prostitutes. Either of these activities are bound to result in undesirable consequences.”

James smiled. “I’ll give your advice some serious consideration…one of these days.” And with that, he clasped my shoulder, and I his, and we parted company.

James boarded the Arkansaw, the last boatman left on the shore, and took the rudder in hand. As the keelboats moved out into the Red River’s current, most of us walked alongside them, waving and calling out, “Godspeed!” and “God Bless!” and “Thank you!” and “Good-bye! Good-bye!”

“Take care of yourselves, you newfound Arkansians,” cried George Duty from the Ohio.

“We will see you again with supplies and mail in the fall,” Ben called from the helm of the Arkansaw.

“May your children and your crops grow tall and strong,” said Big Joe Dyer in his big voice, standing with hands on his hips atop the Missouri. “We ’spect to be served a turkey supper when we return!”

They drifted off, and as they caught the current, the boatmen at port and starboard began to sweep. Everyone on land fell quiet. In ten minutes they had rounded the first bend. It was not long before all three of the keelboats had disappeared. We settlers were still standing there, all thinking the same thing.

“It sure is quiet around here,” said Barney. Everyone laughed, because that was exactly what we were all thinking.

“Yes, Barn, it sure is,” said Pa. “Let’s head up to the meadow and get back to work cutting down that infernal cane.” Pa turned toward the other folk, who still stood there as if waiting for something, I knew not what. “It sure is,” he said once more. Then he said, “Come on, people. We got a new land waiting for us to tend to it.”

That day Pa, Joel, and I finished clearing our first acre. Mama rewarded us with a big supper of freshly picked and boiled greens and alligator meat cooked on a spit over an open fire. The alligator was good eatin’ but did not taste at all like chicken.

The next day, Sunday, we had a church meeting of sorts down at the rough-hewn common house near the riverbank where our belongings had been staged a week earlier. Though not ordained as a minister, Mr. McKellar had continued providing spiritual sustenance for our community, and this day was a befitting example. He delivered his call to prayer, and we all bowed our heads as he recited, then raised our voices to sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Most everyone knew the first two or three verses from church, and as we sang I could not help but think that some of the words spoke of this evil river. Afterward, Mr. McKellar gave a brief sermon about how wonderful this place was going to be once we had done our work, and that the way for our work to be wonderfully done was to trust in God and His guidance. I resolved to purge myself of my fervent dislike of the old Red, even though I was unable to guarantee a successful outcome.

We all knelt as Mr. McKellar led us in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Soon, I thought, we would be calling him Pastor McKellar. I wondered how Mattie felt about her father’s undertaking this rather prodigious task and decided to ask her when next we talked.

As much as anything could be, a prayer meeting was our only manner of socializing and the most efficacious way for our little community to talk about our progress and resolve problems. It was unanimously decided we would have a community meeting each Sunday here at the common house, weather permitting, until we could build a proper church. That would not be for quite some time, since our first order of business was getting our crops in the ground so we would not be wanting of food over the winter, followed by building shelters for our families. Real houses would have to wait until later in the year, but of a certainty before winter weather arrived.

While each family had their own plot to care for, we agreed that we would all work together in clearing the land. Underbrush had to be uprooted, trees chopped down, and the cane and grass that grew nearer the river hacked down and burned. This work would go quickly if the whole community pitched in, then we could get on with tilling and planting our own fields.

We got started that very afternoon. We were busy until dark and rewarded with a big potluck supper in the clearing back down at the common house.

By the following Monday, April 20, every household had a patch  of ground cleared and Pa, Joel, and I were able to start plowing. Old Nick seemed delighted to be back in harness. We took turns at the plow handles, using our weight and strength to apply the blade to this uncultivated land. Even so, it was excellent soil and turned over relatively easily, which made our work go quickly. We sowed a first acre in corn on the twenty-fourth and harrowed it the next day. By May Day, we had plowed quite a bit more land and harrowed a small garden for squash and tomatoes.

The rain came frequently, which must have been due to Mr. McKellar’s holy ministrations, for it was what our crops needed most and that which we were unable to provide ourselves. Unfortunately, the damp weather also brought out droves of mosquitoes, setting everyone to slapping at themselves all the day long. Within another three weeks we had cleared most all of the meadowland we needed, seeded a second acre in wheat, planted a half-acre in potatoes, and another half- acre in peas. As each family began to tend its own fields and crops, people seemed to grow more accepting and cheerful about our new home in Long Prairie.

It was well past noon on a day when Joel and I were out hunting game that we came across it. We had crossed the Red in the pirogue and had walked about ten miles east of Long Prairie. Joel was the first to spot it, while I could see nothing until we had come closer. It was a narrow trail, really more of a footpath, but it was without doubt a manmade route from one place to another.

At first both Joel and I were a little spooked, worried that we would encounter hostiles. We fell silent and traversed it for a distance until I saw three rough horizontal cuts deep into the bark of a nearby tree. “Joel,” I whispered, “this is the Three Notch Trail Mr. Laplace and Oats told us about!”

“Why are you whispering, Tom?” was my brother’s reply. I straightened up, not realizing I had done so. In a much clearer and braver voice I said, “We had better turn back.” As we made our way back to the pirogue, it crossed my mind that the three slashes we saw cut into the tree looked quite similar to the three slash markings on the arrow which nearly impaled me back in Tennessee. Coincidence? It must be. I put it out of my mind.

Upon our return we informed Pa of the trail, and he told Duncan, who in turn told the rest of the families. Some expressed trepidation, but Duncan told everyone that the trail was a good half-day away from us and reassured everyone that there were no hostiles in this area.

By the third week of May, all of our crops were in the ground and we were working full time on our log cabins. There was no shortage of trees with which to build them, although the work of chopping off branches and cutting up firewood seemed to never end. I shall not bore you with our primitive construction methods, save to say it went quickly because everyone joined in to build them for one family at a time, like the days of barn-raisings back in Tennessee.

We were about to begin work on the cabin for Batt Robinson; his wife, Rosemary; their son Will; and the fair Mary Evelyn, when Batt walked up to Duncan and announced he and his family would be leaving Long Prairie. Most of the people were surprised to learn this, but I was not. During the few times Mattie and I had been able to spend time on my Kado lessons, we also talked about daily goings-on. She had mentioned as far back as when we were caught in the Red River storm that Mary Evelyn was discontented about being so far away from society.

“My family has just got fed up with this here life out in this wilderness,” Batt explained. He was a large, gentle man, given to wringing his hands together as he talked in a somewhat muffled voice through a thick beard. Duncan and Pa tried to reason with him, explaining they had done this before, more than once, and that he ought to give it more time. Batt continued to wring his hands and shake his head at each suggestion. “My wife,” said Batt, “she says the children are just plain miserable. Billy wants for his old schoolmates, and Mary Evelyn, well, she’s gettin’ to that age, you know…boys. The pickings here, well, no offense, but they’re mighty slim.”

It was plain as it could be that Batt wanted to blame their departure on his wife, or his children, but in truth it was he himself who most wanted to leave. He apparently had not, as Mr. Laplace had mentioned, truly thought this through before leaving Tennessee. He was often the last to show up for daily work and sometimes the first to leave or to complain of a backache. The Robinsons were nice enough folks, but according to my observations, it was true that they were unsuited for frontier life.

“Well,” said Pa, “the boats won’t be back until fall, so we might as well get your house built so you have a place to live for the next few months. We can always give it to another family.”

Batt shook his head slowly. “I thank you for that offer, John, but my wife wants to leave now. Today, if at all possible. I have spoken with Duncan, and he has agreed to sell us a horse to haul our belongings and the children.” He looked back at Mr. McKellar, who nodded in assent.

Duncan ceded to Pa that he could spare a horse, since the plowing was done, and he could buy another in Natchitoches. But he went on to say he had tried to talk Batt out of leaving. The man was, however, adamant, and the longer he argued with Pa and Duncan, the more I could see he was getting his back up. Finally, it all came to a halt, but not before it had resulted in some ill-spoken words from the other families. I heard one man murmur, “He don’t even possess the decency to help us build his own house.”

Within an hour, Batt had tied his trunks on Blackie’s travois and put his wife and daughter up on the handsome horse’s back. He and Will would walk along beside. Pa and Duncan walked with the Robinsons downriver a couple of miles where they could ford and  get their things across.

“The Three Notch Trail is thataway, and you can get to Natchitoches in a couple of—” Pa said, but Batt cut him short.

“We will not be going down the Three Notch to Natchitoches. Instead we are going north and east on the trail, through a place called Valley of the Vapors. When we were in Natchitoches I learned that will get us all the way to the Mississippi, where we can then get ourselves picked up on a northbound riverboat back to Tennessee,” said Mr. Robinson.

“Well, all I can say to y’all is be careful out there in them woods and Godspeed,” said Mr. McKellar. “Write us when you get back so’s we know you made it back safe.”

Just then Mattie rushed up and took Mary Evelyn into a tearful embrace. Joel, bless his heart, shook hands with Will and wished him the best. Mr. McKellar asked the whole family to pray with him for a safe journey, as did all the others gathered around.

We never heard a thing from the Robinsons again.

By the middle of June, our cabin was as good as we could make it. Pa, Joel, and I had worked as hard and as fast as we could on it, with some much-needed help from others that Pa had been too proud to ask for. It had become known to me during our expedition that he was much better at giving than at receiving. In general, I think it better that one was this way rather than the opposite. Granted, we had but one capacious room with a packed dirt floor. When facing the cabin’s door and front window to the south, we were afforded good protection against the elements and any surprise visitors from the Red. We hewed the sturdy door from hickory and covered the windows, front and back, with the greased paper we had purchased back in Natchitoches. We built a small rock fireplace in the west wall for Mama so she could cook and boil water.

We settlers had accomplished a great deal within just a few months’ time and congratulated ourselves and each other on our accomplishments. It seemed as though we could  now  relax  a  bit and enjoy our homes, good cooked meals, and the company of one another, for indeed we had, by and large, become good friends. I certainly wished to spend more time with Mattie, regardless of what James had said to me. And it was clear she felt the same. We spoke of a picnic, a hike up the Three Notch Trail, a river float in the pirogue. Truth be told, I dreamt of holding Mattie’s hand and once again kissing her on the lips for a good long time. But before any of these events could take place, Pa announced that our long-overdue trip to Natchitoches to buy livestock was imminent.