The next day we were up just as dawn was breaking. There was a thick mist hanging over the river, which had captured some warm air. We decided to wait until it had lifted so as to avoid the snags and sandbars. Fortunately, the rising sun cleared the mist. We recovered our makeshift alarms from the bushes and took one more good look around. Seeing no sign of any living thing, we launched and pressed our way down to Hartsville in less than two hours. For a change, it was not just me but the entire family who had a hankering to see something of civilization.
There was no one at the Hartsville dock as we tied up, but we could see folks walking about the town, which stood a ways off the river. We left James with the boat, and the whole family made the trek to the general store.
Hartsville was formerly called Donoho’s Mill, but when Mr. Hart bought the local mill and started up a popular horse-racing track, the townfolk thought it made more sense to give the place his name. Hartsville just sounded like a better place to live. Leastwise, that is what Mr. Black, proprietor at the general store, told Mama as she examined some of the fine silks he had on his shelves.
“This is some mighty fine quality, Mr. Black. Do you commonly have many buyers for silks here in Hartsville?”
“No, ma’am, we surely do not,” said Mr. Black, running his fingers over the smooth, shiny fabric. He was a tiny man who wore glasses and sleeve garters and parted his gray hair down the middle of his scalp. “Mrs. Black simply insists that we carry this material because it makes her feel closer to city life. Mrs. Black has never quite accepted our being way out here in Trousdale County, so far from the St. Louis environs. That’s where we came from, you see.” He bent forward across the counter toward where Mama and I stood and said, “As a matter of fact, she calls this ‘the backwoods.’” He chuckled softly, sending his mustache twitching.
Even without meeting Mrs. Black, I figured we were kindred spirits.
Mama thanked Mr. Black but didn’t buy any silk. Instead, she walked over to the provisions and began selecting a ham hock and some dried beans. Papa looked across the room at Mama to make sure she was out of earshot. He strolled up to the counter she had just left and softly said, “Mr. Black, have you heard tell of any savages in these parts? Any shooting of settlers going on?”
“No sir,” said Mr. Black, keeping his own voice down. “We’ve not had no problem with Indians in these parts since the Thompsons were ambushed about five miles upriver, oh, must have been eight some odd year ago. That was them Creeks, and they was all drove out of here by Andy Jackson and his soldiers. Why do you ask?”
Papa pulled the broken arrow out of his bag.
“My son Tom here almost took this arrow through his head last night, just about five miles upriver where we laid over in a small limestone cove. We thought you might be having some Indian trouble.”
“I know the spot, but I am shocked, sir, to hear of a shooting. Did you see anyone?”
Papa looked at me. “No sir,” I replied in kind. “We neither heard anything nor saw any personage. But this arrow was shot into a tree about ten inches in front of my nose.”
“Let me see it,” said Mr. Black. He turned it over and over in his hands. “Mighty unusual markings. Definitely not Cherokee or Chickasaw. Maybe some lone Creek, but I couldn’t say for certain. Not many Indians left in these parts, and those that are have guns anyway.” He handed the arrow to me, and I gave it back to Papa. “But I thank you kindly for the information,” Mr. Black went on. “We’ll let the neighbors know of the incident. You can never be too careful in these parts. By the way, where are you folks headed?”
“Long Prairie. Way up along the Red River Valley in the Arkansaw Territory,” said Papa.
Mr. Black didn’t have any response to Papa’s statement. Maybe he didn’t know where it was, but from the look on his face I thought he was going to say, “Have you people lost your minds?” But he was silent.
Papa bought some molasses candies and passed them around to each of us. As he and I walked back to the Hallelujah, he said, “When we get to Nashville I’ll tell a few of the men traveling with us, but there is no reason to alarm everyone, especially the womenfolk. We’ll just be keeping this to ourselves.” I nodded.
Back on the boat not long afterward, we found ourselves on one of the most twisty-turny stretches of the Cumberland. We pressed on hard so as to assure we would make our way to another populated area before dark. It took us the rest of the day to get thirty more miles downriver to another tiny port town named Cairo. James said it was no more than fifteen miles as a bird flies.
We spent that night tied up at the Cairo dock. I say dock for there was but one, and we were the only boat. We had no need of provisioning, but after our supper Joel and I ventured into the mercantile area to have a looksee. We were immediately recognized as strangers. A few folks asked about our journey with favorable interest, and we answered them politely.
We made another thirty miles the next day down to Jones’s Bend. Once again it was nearing day’s end when we pulled into its small harbor, and the first thing we saw was a big wooden sign with the words “HOME OF OLD HICKORY” painted in white letters. The sign looked like it had seen better days. We eased the Hallelujah into the dock. Two scruffy old rivermen clothed in ragged pants and shirts struggled to get up and caught our ropes as we moved close. They were courteous and quite interested in our journey. As in Cairo, we were the only guests in town.
“Papa, can we go with Tom to meet General Jackson?” asked Martha.
“No, missy, you can’t,” said one of the rivermen. “General Jackson’s been gone from these parts since the Red Stick War. The folks here put the sign up after the Battle of New Orleans and built a little Andy Jackson museum in a room off Bernard Sample’s General Store. They convinced Andy to give them an ol’ sword, a hat, and a few of his books from when he were a justice in the Tennessee Supreme Court living here. Lord knows why they did it. I would vouch it’s an embarrassment to the general.”
“I, nevertheless, would be honored to see it,” I said.
“He is tough, is Andy,” said the other slightly daft-looking riverman. “I fit with the General at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend up on the Tallapoosa River. I seen arrahs bounce right off a’ him. That’s the God’s honest truth. Yessir, he is tough as hickory. That’s how he got his name, don’t you know? I hear he’s down to Florida, scrappin’ with them Seminoles now.”
Papa never said a word. I knew he fought in the same war as this fellow, but he most certainly did not like to talk about his time with Old Hickory.
After we were tied up, I told Papa I wanted to walk into town.
“I’ll go with you,” said James. “I always wanted to see Old Hickory’s sword.”
This vexed me. I knew he had absolutely no interest in any such thing. However, my curiosity was piqued to know his motives.
“Well, if we’re going, let’s go,” I said. “Mama, do you need anything?” “If they have any fresh cow’s milk, you might bring some back for supper. Take one of my big kitchen pitchers with you.”
It was about a ten-minute walk to the muddy main street, during which I said not a word to my companion.
“So Tom, you really wanna see that ole museum?” asked James as we stopped in front of Sample’s General Store to stomp the mud off our boots.
“I wish to see what kind of books a state supreme court justice reads,” I said.
“All right then. You just go right on in an look at them books for whatever reason you have in mind. For the life of me I can’t understand why anyone goin’ into the middle of the wilderness should care anything about books. But you go right on ahead, Tom. Myself, I’ll just saunter on down this here street an see where a man might acquire a taste of spirits to wet his whistle. I ‘spect I’ll learn a lot more at the saloon than you’ll get from looking at those books.”
I just glared. There was no use arguing. Nothing to argue about. I needed to accept James the way he was. I stepped into the mercantile, the door setting a little bell to ringing. I glanced around, noting there were many empty shelves and nary another soul in sight. Then I spied the clerk. He had his feet up behind the counter and was reading a tattered copy of Henkle’s Tennessee Gazette. “Hallo?” he said indifferently. “Sir, I wonder if I might purchase some milk,” I said, setting the pitcher on the counter. He nodded and brought his feet to the floor. “I understand that you have some of General Jackson’s things on display here.” “Yessuh, the owner an some of the other townsfolk like to call it a
museum, but it ain’t much. Just that lil’ closet over there.” He pointed across the rough-hewn floorboards to a wooden door of the same stock, held closed by a loop of rawhide around a wooden peg. “I’m s’posed to charge one cent for lookin’, but you go on ahead.”
He was right. There wasn’t much to see. Like the riverman had said, there was a rusty old sword and a disheveled hat hanging on pegs. An arrow and Indian headband, I supposed from some battle of the war, rested on a little table near some books and papers. I took a close look at the arrow, to see if it bore a resemblance to the one in our possession, but it did not. There were no markings, no bands.
I was, however, very pleased to see two of the same books that were among the volumes Mr. Burlingame had given me before we left Carthage. I flipped through some of the others and made a mental note of the titles. My big find was a portfolio containing five yellowed pages entitled, “The History of Andrew Jackson.” I began reading.
Andrew Jackson was born of Scotch-Irish parents who arrived in America in 1765. Jackson was born two years later, but his father died before he was born.
In 1779 at thirteen years of age, Andrew Jackson joined a North Carolina regiment in the Revolutionary War. He was wounded and captured by the British. A British officer almost killed him for not polishing his boots. Andrew and his brother were thrown in prison where they both contracted smallpox. They were released because they were so young, but his brother died. His mother died not too long afterward of cholera. Andrew was mostly self-educated. By the age of 17 he was living with relatives and decided to become a lawyer. He got a job working as a clerk for a lawyer in North Carolina and became a lawyer himself in only two years. After practicing law for two years in North Carolina he moved to Tennessee and at the age of 21 became a public prosecutor. He was a prosecutor and later a private attorney for the next seven years.
In 1795 at twenty-nine years old, Andrew Jackson was named to the committee to draft the Constitution of the State of Tennessee.
I paused. I had got a bit of a lump in my throat. Andrew Jackson had no more education than me. He had started out in life with no money, like me. In fact, he had started out with even greater disadvantage, being an orphan and having a pretty tough time growing to manhood. He was just my age when he decided to become a lawyer.
My dream was not impossible. Andrew Jackson had done it. Why couldn’t I? He had the gumption to become a lawyer and helped found the government in Tennessee. At first the thought was exciting, but then reality hit again. I was heading about as far away from a law- clerking profession as one could get. I resolved then and there that I should not sit idly by, waiting for a reprieve from Long Prairie. And the way I could usefully pass this time was by keeping my mind active. I would read the books Mr. Burlingame had given me. When I had expended their usefulness, I would write him and ask for more. And it dawned on me that I must continue writing the journal I had begun only the night before.
And so, I added new ways to improve myself in preparation for my career, much as I imagined Andrew Jackson had done. I finished reading the pages of his history, respectfully returned them to their portfolio, and walked out the door back into the general store.
“Are you finished reading that newspaper?” I said to the clerk while paying for the pitcher of milk, which smelled fresh and wholesome. I could not help but think my life was becoming the opposite, sour and stale.
“Well, suh, it’s about two months old and ever’body in this town that can read has read it twice. I myself have read it three times. So I guess I’m done. You can have it.” I thanked him, tucked it under my arm, and headed back out on the street. James was nowhere in sight.
Later that night, James stumbled aboard the raft long after we had finished eating, mumbling some kind of apology to Mama, and immediately fell to sleep out on the deck. I’m sure he knew what Mama would say about him smelling of whiskey around the children.
It was our last night on the flatboat, and I did not sleep much. In between spells of James’s snoring out on the deck, my mind turned the Andy Jackson story over and over. I knew I could do it, if only I put my mind to it. I just needed to help out Papa and the family for two years or so, and not get tangled up in anything that would keep me in Long Prairie. Once the family was settled and the crops established, perhaps I could come back to Tennessee and ask Mr. Burlingame for a letter of recommendation to aid in finding a clerking position.
Three good things happened for me at this stop. I learned that I was not weak-minded to think I could be more than a dirt farmer. I was able to read some news of what was happening in the outside world, even if it was out of date by two months. And I had a new resolve to educate myself in the practice of law in every way I could while helping my family settle at Long Prairie. Now I had a plan. The Plan. Just knowing I had The Plan, I felt better. Considerably better.
I thought I should tell Papa about The Plan, but that worried me. How would he react? A simple farming life at Long Prairie was his dream, but it certainly wasn’t mine. I concluded that there was no reason we need have this conversation any time soon. I would save it for a better time, perhaps once we had settled at Long Prairie.
On Friday morning we were all up well before the sun again, this time because we were excited. Today, we would arrive in Nashville.