Malachi Fisher was a young, wiry greenhorn, newly arrived to the frontier last fall as the first snow began settling to the ground. He could shoot fair enough and was getting better, but there was a long road to travel before he shed all the habits of his coastal city upbringing. The promise of a better life, an easier life, seemed somewhat empty so far. It was a much harder lifestyle than he had imagined. With close-cropped black curls and little facial hair, he resembled in some ways a boy short of manhood. Bright green eyes reflected the spark of youth. Born to parents of moderate means, he was raised in Philadelphia. His father was a printer who dreamed of his son following in his footsteps and began his instruction as an apprentice at an early age. Malachi tried as he might to love the work his father held dear, but much to the latter’s dismay, the wilds of the forest beckoned to the young man stronger than the printing press.
Grudgingly acquiring his parent’s blessing, and some monetary assistance, Malachi obtained passage on a ship to Charleston and set off for the mountains in late summer of 1753. When he arrived in the valley, the evenings had just begun to cool and the leaves were in early stages of their bright fall transformations.
Cradled between ridges in the high mountains, the valley stretched for 20 miles east to west, split by a small river winding its way through hills and outcrops. Ten miles across north to south, the heavily forested terrain rose steeply from the uneven basin to the surrounding ridges. Hardwood interspersed with pine and hemlock gave way to fir in the upper elevations. Rhododendron and mountain laurel adorned the moist slopes and banks of the numerous creeks cascading down to join the river. Underbrush, ferns and moss covered logs blanketed the forest floor. Fields of boulders rose from the earth in places and nature’s elements had uncovered portions of others, seen intermittently among the carpet of green. Random color was provided by an assortment of wildflowers throughout the warmer months.
Deer, elk, wolf and bear were abundant, providing a large supply of food for each other and the human residents of the valley. Otters played in the river, squirrels and chipmunks chased each other through the leaves and up the trunks of trees. Raccoon, skunk, and groundhog were of the smaller less visible of the mammal denizens. Mountain lions also roamed but were rarely seen. They tended to avoid human contact more than the others, but their almost inhuman cry was often heard in the distance. Hawks and other raptors patrolled the skies above the more open areas and owls ruled the nocturnal aerial darkness.
There were only two roads, if you could call them that, which snaked into the valley. They were actually only Indian paths worn barely two feet across at the widest spots. The main road cut through from a southeasterly to west and south direction providing passage out of the mountains either toward the main Carolina colony to the east or southwest toward the lower Appalachians and the Tennessee River. The second road angled along a winding route north into the lowlands of the Tennessee plains, connecting there with more traveled trails to other settlements along the northern slopes of the Appalachians. A myriad number of other paths used by the Indians and a few settlers crisscrossed the area.
The terrain was rugged, not resembling other valleys along the foothills, and contained only sparse plots conducive to homesteads. These cabins were built from hewn logs on small areas found scattered through the vicinity and the homes themselves sat on the only ground that was moderately flat. Many were leveled by having more rocks on one end of the foundation than the other.
Vegetable gardens were near the house with larger plantings along gradual slopes. Corn was grown in the moist soil along the creeks or in hollows which tended to hold water longer than other areas. Barn, shed, corncrib and springhouse, if present, were constructed and leveled in the name manner as the cabins. Ownership of livestock was not widespread and the few who did have a cow or mule, loaned them to others for plowing and other chores.
The peacefulness of the untamed mountains was deceiving for those not accustomed to frontier life. It could be unforgiving and lessons had to be learned quickly, nothing taken for granted. The work, arduous, and its reward, accepted daily. It was subsistence living at its most basic. The fruit of toil and successful hunting trips filled the home’s stores and fed the family. If there was excess, it was given to others if needed. Some surplus was saved to take over the mountains to trade for other supplies needed, flour, sugar, black powder and ammunition, salt, coffee, tobacco and possibly fabric.
Help could be garnered from others on nearby homesteads, but several miles lay between them. It could be arranged ahead of time, but if something came up out of the ordinary, no immediate assistance was at hand and it was dealt with as best could be done. Often, many days would pass without seeing anyone else in the valley.
The Cherokee had lived in these mountains for centuries, ranging up and down the chain of mountains hunting, raiding and fighting off enemies. The arrival of the English created tension as both cultures felt out the other. There were clashes, disagreements and even blows but time healed and the interaction now was mostly amicable.
Malachi spent a few days wandering the valley in search of a place to call home. He settled on a small parcel in the back end of a cove sheltered by slopes and hardwoods and set about acquiring the logs to build a cabin with. After taking an exceedingly long time, in his estimation, to fell only two trees, he sat against a rock and pondered his situation. This was going to take longer than he thought and would be a slow process.
“How are you doing there youngster ?”
The voice caused Malachi to jump to his feet and the axe slid from his grasp. The reaction was met by subdued laughter. He stared wide-eyed and agape at the two men who seemed to have appeared from nowhere. Standing just a few feet away, they both leaned nonchalantly against trees, rifles resting in the crook of their arm, and slight smiles matching the humor apparent in their eyes.
The black man spoke, “Now, listen, you cant be all jumpy like that out here, you will get yourself killed.”
“Letting someone sneak up on you like that will get yourself killed too,” chimed in the white man with him.
“True,” answered the black man, “but being all jumpy like that AND letting folk sneak up on you, well then you might as well dig your own grave.”
They now seemed to be having a conversation among themselves oblivious to the young man standing there silently following the speakers with his eyes.
“Well now,” laughed the other, “that could take awhile, especially if he is as good with a shovel as he is with an axe.”
This jolted Malachi from his stupor, “Now wait a minute, I’m from Philadelphia and….”
“And are not accustomed to cutting down your own trees ?” smiled the white man.
“Well, yes, but…..”
“How did you make it this far, son ?” asked the black man.
“What do you mean ?”
“What he means is how did you survive your trip from Philadelphia ?”
“I walked. I can hunt. I can make a fire and cook on it,” Malachi shot back.
The white man smiled, “Finally some grit. Inexperience is plastered all over you.”
Malachi straightened his back and answered stiffly, “Why do you say that ? Just because I said I am from Philadelphia ?”
The black man pushed his hat up with a finger and glanced at his companion. The other waved his hand and black man looked back at Malachi.
“Son, its as obvious as the changing seasons. That being one of the first signs right there. The leaves are changin’ and the nights are gettin’ cool. They will quickly turn to cold and the days will follow as the leaves get blown all over the place. There ain’t enough time to be building a cabin ‘fore winter gets here. There ain’t no community barn raisin’s around here, especially this time of year. Now, not saying you can’t get no help in these parts, just not the right time of year. Another sign is how easy we came up on you and ya didn’t even know it. We could have cut your throat and walked away and you would never have know anyone was here, ‘cept the being dead part, but you get my point. See, you shoulda had your rifle in hand and asking US,” with a thumb in his chest for emphasis, “what we were doing. Where is that anyway, your rifle ?”
Malachi scanned the ground nearby and his heart jumped. He did not see the rifle or his gear. With embarrassment, he looked back at the black man.
“Its alright son, its over there ‘xactly where you left it,” pointing at a moss-covered log a good 50 yards away. “O’ course that’s a far off from your hands in case you need it. It ain’t just men you need to worry about out here. There are bear and mountain lions. The one ain’t that bad, but them big cats, if you see one, it’s usually too late and they would get you ‘fore you crossed all the way over to that gun of yours. Besides, what if a big deer or elk was to walk by, heck that would be a great dinner for sometime for just one person. But you would scare it off running to your gun.”
His face and tone grew very serious, “Keep your rifle close and stay wary out here. Them two things will keep you alive.”
His smile reappeared as he continued, “Then there is the way you were swinging that axe. Looked like you were attacking the poor thing instead of choppin’ it down. I think there’s enough bark by that last one to make a basket from.”
“Ok, I get the point. How long have you two been out here ?”
The white man now spoke, “Since this past spring. You learn a lot out here quickly. Now out of all that’s been said here, there is one to be taken care of first. You need shelter and quick.”
Malachi stammered, “Can you two help me with the cabin ?”
“There isn’t time. We have some harvesting to do and hunting to fill our smokehouses. However, I know of a place you can use to get through the winter.”
Pointing back over his shoulder at the low ridge behind them, “On the other side of that ridge is a small cabin, it’s about a half mile. You can have that place and it might still have some stuff in it.”
“Whose cabin is it ?”
“It belonged to Porter, that’s the only name we knew. During the summer, he came by and said he was going back east, giving up. The place has been empty ever since. I don’t see why you can’t have it.“
The black man looked at the sky and nudged his companion, “Light is failing and we are close enough to make it home ‘fore dark.”
He bent and lifted a deer carcass to his shoulders before lifting his rifle and turning to leave. Malachi had not even seen the animal laying on the ground at their feet. The other man agreed and turned to walk away.
“Take care of yourself, young man. Get on over to that cabin tonight and get settled.”
“I surely will. Thank you. And what is your name ?”
“Carver, Harry Carver,” he said as they walked into the growing gloom of the woods.
Though it was dark by the time he climbed down the other side of the ridge, the cabin was found as described, dark and musty and abandoned. Apparently, Porter had been in such a rush to head east, he had left the larger things not easy to carry, such as bed, tables and chairs.
Days passed quietly with only sporadic contact with a few others in the valley, including brief conversations with passing Indians. The biggest change to his new life in the valley would come in the form of Shannon Martin. They met when her brother-in-law, Harry Carver, gave him shelter one evening.
Harry was now in his early 40s. He was stocky and topped 6’ in height. His hair and beard were as dark as they had ever been and his eyes were cast a deep blue. He had a confident air about him which was apparent to anyone he met. Any concerns regarding life on the frontier were long gone. The rougher conditions had a good effect on him. He had always been in good shape, but he was now leaner and more muscular.
Harry had been a shipwright in Charleston, SC and worked for a decent wage for a decent man, Abram Martin. Under his tutelage, Harry learned quickly and became very proficient in the occupation. Often his employer trusted him to oversee operations with little interference. Through the years, he slowly became more than an employee. Old Man Abraham, as Harry called him affectionately, began to look upon him as a son and spoke of handing the business over to him. Harry’s business education was extended to include keeping ledgers and transaction registers. With all of the time spent with the Martin family, it was inevitable, atleast to Old Man Abraham, that he become enamored with the oldest of his two daughters, twenty years his junior.
With average height, Rachael was fine-featured and well-built, maturing at an early age in all ways. Her thick flaxen hair was curly and only let down in the privacy of the Martin home. Her hazel eyes always sparkled with a smile and soft features were tanned from the gardening she enjoyed pursuing in the rear courtyard. If it was green and grew from roots in the ground, she had a knack for nurturing it.
The young lady had an independent streak which her father fostered and had done so since the girls’ mother died in a tragic accident near the shipyard. She had been killed by a runaway carriage careening around a corner moments after leaving his office. From that day, Rachael had taken over as the matriarch. She was twelve.
Three years younger, Shannon had a head full of raven black hair. Unlike her sister’s, it lacked any curl whatsoever, and when not fastened atop her head, hung halfway down her back. Slightly shorter than Rachael with a smaller frame, it was still obvious they were cut from the same cloth. Despite the similarities in carriage, the difference in personalities was striking. Shannon was not as confident or outgoing and often leaned on her sister for assurance.
Rachael ran the house and took care of her Shannon as well as her doting father. At times he was worried it was too much of a burden on her young shoulders, but there was nary a complaint as she carried about the assumed duties in a jovial, yet carefree manner. As Shannon got older, she pitched in and helped wherever possible.
A year later, Old Man Abraham insisted on acquiring help in the form of three servants who were free people of color. Carisa and Lola shared kitchen and housemaid duties while Cyrus worked in the stable attached to the house, taking care of the horse and carriage and sundry other maintenance tasks. Rachael still controlled things, but it allowed her to oversee much of the work instead of doing it all. She often rolled up her sleeves and worked along the servants. This garnered a lot of respect and the trio became more like family members than employees.
In the spring of 1749, Harry asked for 17-year old Rachael’s hand in marriage and they married shortly after. That summer, Old Man Abraham changed all the legal documents to name his new son-in-law a partner in the business. Things were going quite well and the couple could not have been happier. None who knew them could deny there was a mutual attraction.
It all changed in September 1752. A hurricane slammed into Charleston, spreading destruction all across the city. Homes and businesses were flooded or completely destroyed. Understandably, the waterfront suffered the worst devastation. Entire wharfs disappeared, warehouses were flattened, and ships were tossed into the streets or hauled out to sea. Nearly 100 people lost their lives in the storm, a miraculously low number. However, Lola was counted among the dead. She had been on the lower floor when the storm surge hit and was never found.
Old Man Abraham’s business was shattered and he along with it. The face was all that remained of the brick building which had housed the company’s office. In an irony of fate, the sign still hung over the empty doorway. Everything else was gone. Their once bright future had been wrecked.
Harry struggled to now find a life for he and Rachael. In his inquiries, he was told of land to be had at pretty reasonable prices, land in the mountains of the western frontier. He jumped at the chance to start anew. Shannon, now 15, agreed to stay and take care of their father in Charleston. The loss of everything he had worked to build had put a severe strain on him mentally and he could not be left alone. Preparations were made to head west the next spring.
Over the winter, Old man Abraham died of pneumonia. Shannon had found him standing in the courtyard, shivering in a winter downpour and having a conversation with their long-dead mother. He was attended by a physician and made to rest in bed, but to no avail. He died several nights later as his daughters slept in chairs by his bedside. A note to Harry was found on the table by the candle. It contained a list of things which needed to be done at the shipyard the next day, the shipyard which no longer existed.
With the passing of their father, Shannon found herself having to impose on her sister. Rachael saw no other recourse but to bring Shannon with them to the frontier. The older sibling would not have had a clear conscience if the younger was left to fend for herself in the city. While this may seem like a foregone conclusion, Shannon had learned independence from a prime example. She insisted she would still have Carisa and Cyrus with her, who wanted to remain with the family though no longer officially employed. However, Rachael would not be swayed.
While this was going to be more than what Harry bargained for, he accepted the added responsibility without objection and adjusted his plans for travel and provisions. In March of 1753, they set off northwest out of the city of Charleston accompanied by Cyrus and Carisa.
They built a one-room cabin with a loft for Shannon. It was on a small brook in the far end of a dell between two ridges on the north side of the valley. Another homestead was made a couple hundred yards away along the base of a ridge. This would be shared by the former servants who had had grown quite fond of each other during the journey.
Rachael began working her enchantment with a garden and Shannon helped with other chores. A small barn was erected, as was a smokehouse. Harry and Cyrus worked together to clear larger areas for small fields which provided a crop that fall. Meat was acquired by hunting game in the mountains.
The next few months were rough as they became accustomed to the primitive life fraught with severe conditions of weather, but they adapted well despite the strain on Harry pf providing for Shannon too. He assured himself it would be the same as if Rachael had born him a child. A relief from this weight would come in the form of young Malachi.
A sudden mountain storm had caught Malachi away from his cabin. Soaked to the bone in a matter of minutes in the cold rain, he knocked on Harry’s door. Invited in to dry off, he ate with them that night and was immediately taken with Shannon, as she was with him. With things being rough out here and survival based on a day-to-day existence, long courtships were deemed unnecessary and Harry gave his blessing and approval for them to be married.
It was early morning. Malachi and Shannon had walked the mile or so from their small cabin to the Carver homestead. It took them a lot longer than if they had just walked, but playing and chasing along the way made it even more enjoyable in the heavy fog and early light of day.
Malachi was to spend the day out hunting with Harry and the women were to catch up on some spinning. The dew had been heavy and beads of moisture rested on every available surface. Skirt and pants from the knee down were soaked by the time they reached their destination. Hand in hand, they strode playfully toward the cabin.
Harry was sitting in a chair on the porch, feet propped up on the thin railing. Steam rose from a cup of coffee and smoke wafted from a pipe. He hailed them as they drew near.
“Alright Shannon, let go of the man. A woman swinging one arm detracts from the ferocity of the gun in the other.”
Shannon laughed, “Harry, he is still my man, gun or no. I can hold his hand or worse, if I want to.”
Quickly throwing her arms around Malachi’s neck, she plants a hard, quick kiss on his lips before dashing toward the open door. She stops next to Harry and throws a quick jibe.
“You are just jealous old man. Does my sister not show you enough attention ?”
“My dear Rachael treats me rather well, if you don’t mind. Now quit talking so brash and go say hello.”
Laughing, Shannon skipped through the door, hailing Rachael.
“She is God’s gift to me Harry.”
“Gift from above or not. She is a woman and that is enough to keep any man guessing.”
Rachael’s voice boomed out of the cabin, “I heard that Harry.”
Harry smiled and exhaled smoke from the pipe. It curled upwards and a breeze carried it inside. A moment later, Rachael stood in the doorway.
“Good morning Malachi.”
“Harry, I make you come outside with that thing ‘cause I don’t want it smelling things up inside and what do you do ? You sit right by the open door and it blows inside anyway. What am I going to do with you ?”
With a nod toward his wife, Harry quietly said to Malachi, “See what I mean ?”
Rachael shoved his shoulder, almost making the chair tip over.
“It’s too early to be so ornery and you are setting a bad example for this young man. You better behave Mr. Carver.” Shaking her head affectionately, she retreated back inside.
Gesturing at the coffee, Malachi asked, “Any left or did you drink the entire pot already.”
His answer came in the form of Shannon appearing with a steaming cup in hand. A quick tender look exchanged between the two and she was gone again.
Propping his gun against the wall, Malachi took an empty chair and assumed the same position as Harry. A few minutes of silence fell between them as they both enjoyed the coffee and the scene spread before them. The brook ran right down through the dell, ground sloping up on the opposite bank. It would course its way through the valley and flow into the river several miles away. The sun was just cresting the ridges to the east, bathing the forest in its warm glow. Steam rose as the dew began to burn off, giving an appearance of a fog thinly veiling the landscape.
A voice startled their ponderings.
“Lord, have mercy ! What are you two drinking so early on this God given day to make your faces blank and a woman able to sneak up on ya ? I was even humming as I walked up.”
The condescending, yet good-humored tone came from none other than Carisa. With one eyebrow raised in reprimand, she stood on the porch, arms cradling a basket.
“Good morning Carisa,” Harry stammered, “We are waiting on the last cobwebs to be washed from our minds by coffee.”
“Well, it is just coffee, I can promise you that.”
She took the cup when offered, but declined to drink from it. Instead, she raised it close enough to assure herself of the contents and handed it back.
“Is Cyrus around today ?”
“No, he’s not. He left hour before light. He was going down to help that preacher man Jenkins with somethin’ down by the church. Said he would be back ‘fore dark. I knew that beautiful Shannon was coming today and thought I would join the ladies. Aint ya’ll going hunting or somethin’ ? Well, go on then, a big ol’ bear aint going to sit down in the yard and beg you to shoot it.”
With that she bustled through the door, muttering, “Lord girls, what we going to do with those men. Why my own Cyrus….” The rest of her words were lost in female banter.
Harry finished his coffee and set the cup on the railing. With an abrupt stretch, he stood and grabbed a water skin and powder horn. As he reached for his rifle, he shot a sideways glance at Malachi.
“I hate to say it, but the woman’s right.”
He shouted a quick farewell to his wife and strode off the porch. Malachi emptied the contents of his cup and followed suit. They crossed the brook and headed up the slope to find the well-worn Indian path they would follow up the ridges to the higher elevations.
At this same moment on a ridge near the far end of the valley, a man adjusted gear on a mule that was tied to a post of the cabin situated in the middle of a heath bald. These preparations were second nature by now, but habit made him double-check everything. A woman’s voice rose up and down from inside the cabin, singing a song he did not recognize.
Tommy Marlow was considered odd by most. His selection of attire did nothing to alter this impression either. Upon his head, he always sported a British military tri-corn whose owner, he insisted, was long dead when it was picked up.
Though none ever questioned the fact, his oft unprompted insistence made many wonder. Shirt and pants were deer skin and the boots worn upon his feet were made from muskrat. All were made by his wife, a woman as peculiar, if not more so, than he was.
Tommy was a trapper and the extended exposure to extremes of nature’s elements had aged him more than his 30 some odd years. Weariness reflected from his hazel eyes that were a stark contrast to his long, reddish brown hair. Regardless, his rugged appearance could still be seen as attractive. His temperament was volatile and could quickly turn hostile at the slightest provocation.
Many believed the loneliness during Tommy’s long absences from home caused poor Elizabeth’s mind to break, in a way. These combined with the loss of their infant one winter. Her long hair hung about her shoulders, usually untamed and tangled, and the wildness in her eyes belied the beauty once apparent in her features. It was uncommon for her to have audible conversations with herself even when Tommy was around. She began to wear traditional Cherokee dress though no connection existed, blood or otherwise, to the Indians and emulated the mannerisms she observed among them.
It was not that she searched them out to learn from them, but rather secretly watched when they were near. If they were in the vicinity of the cabin, she would quickly retreat inside and peek through the door, intent on everything they did while in view. She often wandered through the forest and found refuge behind a tree, log or rock to observe if the occasion provided. The Cherokee were well aware of her actions and referred to her as the “odd woman”.
“Tommy Marlow, is it ?”
He spun around toward the unexpected voice, hand on the hilt of the knife in his belt. Eyes narrowed as he recognized the form of Lamar Hayes.
“What the hell do you want ? Aren’t you a bit far from the usual rocks you hide under in the valley ?”
“That’s not very hospitable, Tommy. I came all the way up here to talk to you.”
Tommy eyed him warily, “Why is that ? We are not exactly friends and would not even say acquaintances.”
“Well, true that may be, but I have somewhat of a business proposition for you. I am getting a small group together to pay a little visit to some local Indians away from their village, and….”
Tommy waved his hand to cut Hayes off and turned back to the mule.
“If you want to harass Indians, that is your business, but I have more important things to do than tag along with you just so you can have what you call fun.”
“Harass ? Did I say anything about harassing them ?” Hayes laughed.
“Anything you do with regards to the Indians qualifies as harassment. Which confuses me on how you usually have those two Shawnee with you. Seems like a contradiction to me, but what do I know.”
Hayes’ tone darkened somewhat, “I will choose which friends I have and who I consider enemies. You do the same.”
“The friends are few and the enemies, well, they will be what they are. Which one are you professing to be ?”
“I do not pursue for either to be applied toward me. It is your presence and participation I am trying to obtain.”
“Not interested Hayes. As I said, you do what you want, but…” A soft thud and metallic clink interrupted him. A cloth bag lay at his feet.
Hayes’ low voice came to his ears.
“Aren’t you tired Tommy ? Tired of the sunburn and frostbite ? Tired of the frozen nights and the sweltering days ? Aren’t you tired of the lonely weeks away from Elizabeth ? Look what this life has done to her.”
Tommy knelt and slowly, without picking it up, opened the bag and looked inside. His shocked, wide-eyes turned to meet the grinning face of Lamar Hayes.
Clipart courtesy of ClipArt, Etc.