Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

A Baby Lost in the Woods

When people first began to move across the Alleghany Mountains, there were no roads for wagons; but there were narrow paths called trails. Families traveled to the west, carrying their goods on horseback along these trails. Here is a story that will show you how they traveled.

Among those who went from Virginia to Kentucky, in 1781, was a man named Benjamin Craig, who took his whole family with him. Mr. Craig wore a hunting shirt and leggings of buckskin and a fur cap. Like all men in the backwoods, he carried a hatchet and a knife stuck in his belt, and he almost always had his old-fashioned flintlock rifle on his right shoulder. A horn to hold powder was worn under his left arm, and supported by a string over his right shoulder. He had a little buckskin bag of bullets fastened to his belt. At the head of the party, he traveled over the mountains on foot, walking before his horses.

The horses came one after another. On the first horse rode Mrs. Craig. She carried her baby in her arms. Tied on the back of the horse were a pot and a skillet for frying. In a bag on the same horse were some pewter plates and cups, and a few knives and forks.

The horse on which Mrs. Craig rode was followed by a pack horse; that is, a horse carrying things fastened on his back. This horse was led by means of a rope halter, the end of which was tied to the saddle of the horse in front. The pack on his back contained some meal and some salt. This was all the food the family carried for the long journey over the mountains. Mr. Craig expected to get meat by shooting deer or wild turkeys in the woods.

The same pack horse carried a flat piece of iron to make a plow, and some hoes and axes. The hoes and axes were without handles, except one ax, which was used to cut firewood during the journey. Handles could be made for the tools after the family got to Kentucky.

Behind this horse another one was tied. He carried two great basket-like things hanging on each side of him. These baskets or crates were made of hickory boughs. All the clothing and bedding that people could take on such long and rough journeys was stored in these crates.

In the middle of each crate a hole was left. In one of these holes rode little Master George, a boy of six. In the other was stowed Betsey, a girl of four. One fine day during the journey, the baby was put into the basket by the side of Betsey, and then the two older children amused themselves by pointing out to the baby the things they saw by the wayside.

[Illustration] from American Life and Adventure by Edward Eggleston

At length the narrow trail or path passed along the edge of a dangerous cliff. George and Betsey shut their eyes, so as not to see how steep the place was. They were afraid the horse might fall off, and they be dashed to pieces. But baby Ben only laughed and crowed, for what did a little fellow like him know about danger. A hired man walked behind the last horse to see that nothing was lost.

When night came, the horses were unloaded and turned loose. The little bells tied round their necks had been stuffed with grass during the day to keep them from jingling. This grass was removed, and the bells set a-tinkling, so that the horses could be found in the morning. The tired pack horses began at once to eat the long grass, now and then nibbling the boughs of young trees.

[Illustration] from American Life and Adventure by Edward Eggleston

A fire was built by a stream, and supper was cooked. If it had been raining, the men would have built a little tent of boughs or bark for the family, but, as the weather was clear, beds were made of grass and dry leaves in the open air. The whole family slept under blue woolen coverlets, with only the starry sky for shelter. The fire was kept up for fear of wolves.

In the morning the children played about while the mother got breakfast. When the meal was over, Mr. Craig and the hired man went to look for one of the horses that had strayed away. Baby Ben climbed into his mother's lap, as she sat upon the log, and fell asleep. In order to have things all packed by the time the men returned, the mother laid the little fellow on some long dry grass that grew among the boughs of a fallen tree. When the father returned, it was nine o'clock. He hurried the mother upon her horse among the pots and pans, saying that he wished to overtake a company of travelers that was ahead of him, so as to travel more safely.

"Now fetch me the baby," said Mrs. Craig.

"No, mother, please let the baby ride with me again," said little Betsey, just come back from washing her face in the creek.

"All right," said Mrs. Craig. "Put the baby on with the children. This horse is slow, and I will ride on. You can bring the other horses, and catch up with me soon."

By the time the second horse was loaded, and George and Betsey were stowed away in their baskets, both the father and Betsey had forgotten about the baby. The mother had got so far ahead that it took the other horses nearly an hour to overtake her's.

"Where is the baby?" cried the mother when she looked back and saw but two children on the horse behind.

Sure enough, where was the baby? Lying under a tree top in the lonesome woods, where there might be fierce wolves, great panthers, or hungry wildcats.

Mr. Craig was almost frantic when he thought of the baby's danger. He stripped the things from the middle horse, and sprang on his back, gun in hand. He laid whip to the horse, and was soon galloping back over the rough path. For more than an hour the mother and children waited with the hired man, to learn whether the baby had been killed by some wild animal or not.

At last the sound of Mr. Craig's horse coming back was heard, and all held their breath. As the father came in sight in a full gallop, he shouted, "Here he is, safe and sound! The little rascal hadn't waked up."

Mrs. Craig and Betsey shed tears of joy. George turned his face away, and wiped his eyes with his coat sleeve. He wasn't going to cry: he was a boy.