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A LAND REMEMBERED by Patrick D. Smith

CHAPTER ONE

La Florida 1863

“Not again!”

The sound of it boomed across the small clear­ing and seemed to rat­tle the pal­metto trees just beyond. A star­tled rab­bit jumped straight upward and then bounded off into the brush.

They done it again!”

This sec­ond out­burst caused a flight of crows to change course abruptly and shriek loudly in protest.

Tobias MacIvey kicked at the dry dirt with his worn bro­gan shoe. His black-bearded face showed sweat beneath the pro­tec­tion of a wide-brimmed felt hat, and his slim six-foot frame was encased in a pair of badly faded overalls.

Just then Zechariah MacIvey came out of the brush, run­ning as fast as his six-year-old legs would carry him. He scur­ried through the split-rail fence and shouted, “What’s the mat­ter, Pappa? What is it?”

Them wild hogs done pushed through the fence again and got in the gar­den. Just look at that! Every­thing I planted is rooted up, and I ain’t got no more seeds. Guess we’ll have to eat acorns this win­ter right along­side the squir­rels. From the looks of this mess them hogs ain’t been gone from here more than a half hour. Maybe we can at least get some meat out of it. Run fetch my shot­gun while I fix the fence and see if I can save anything.”

Yessir, Pappa. I’ll run fetch it and be back real soon.”

Tobias was on his knees, try­ing to straighten a col­lard plant, when the boy returned. He stag­gered as he half-carried and half-dragged a dou­ble bar­rel ten-gauge shot­gun that looked to be as long as the truck of a cab­bage palm. He also had a shell sack around his neck.

Tobias took the shot­gun and lifted it to his right shoul­der, and then Zech fol­lowed as the gaunt man left the gar­den and fol­lowed a trail south­ward into thick woods. Tobias stud­ied the tracks care­fully, and then he said, “Looks to be about six or seven of them. They’re head­ing for the creek to wash down my veg­eta­bles. You be care­ful of snakes. In this heat they’ll be lay­ing up under bushes. I wish them hogs would eat snakes like they’re sup­posed to and leave the gar­den alone.”

They moved silently past a thick stand of hick­ory trees; then the man motioned for the boy to stop. “You be quiet from here on,” he cau­tioned. “They’re just up ahead. We don’t want to come on them sud­den like and have’em turn on us. Then you’d really learn how to shinny up a tree in a hurry.”

Once again they moved for­ward slowly, the shot­gun now point­ing to the ground. Tobias sud­denly stopped and lifted the gun to his shoul­der. Fifty feet ahead the seven hogs came out of a clump of pal­metto and faced him. All were boars , and each had tusks that formed a com­plete cir­cle. The hogs looked ready to charge when Tobias pulled the trig­ger, send­ing forth a tremen­dous boom fol­lowed by a thick cloud of smoke and fire.

For a moment nei­ther man nor boy could see through the smoke, and the sound of ani­mals run­ning fran­ti­cally over­whelmed the echo of the shot­gun. Then the wind whisked the gray cloud away, and before them one boar ran in a close cir­cle, the entire top of its head miss­ing, blood spew­ing over the ground in a flood. The animal’s brains had splat­tered across the truck of a tree fif­teen feet from where it had been hit. Then the boar fell to the ground, kicked wildly for a moment, and lay still.

Tobias said, “You see where I shot him, Zech. Right in the head. You gut shoot a wild boar, he’ll run a hun­dred yards after he’s hit, and tear your leg off with them tusks. Always shoot him in the head so he can’t see you and come after you. You best take note of this.”

Yessir, Pappa.” the boy said, his voice quiv­er­ing. The sight of so much blood was mak­ing him sick. He forced him­self to watch as his father slit the boar’s throat to make sure it was dead.

Tobias then ran the knife blade down the hog’s stom­ach, dump­ing the entrails onto the ground. He said, “There’s my col­lards, right in his belly. He won’t eat noth­ing of ours no more. He’s a big one, over two hun­dred pounds, and he’s sure too heavy for me to tote back to the house. You wait here while I got and get one of the oxen. Then we’ll drag him back.”

The boy sat down reluc­tantly beside the bloody car­cass as the man walked away quickly.

 

Tobias MacIvey was thirty years old and had been in the Florida scrub for five years. He had come south out of Geor­gia in 1858. In his horse-drawn wagon there was a sack of corn and a sack of sweet pota­toes, a few pack­ets of seeds, a shot­gun and a few shells, a fry­ing pan, sev­eral pewter dishes and forks, and a cast-iron pot. There were also the tools he would need to clear the land and build a house: two chop­ping axes, a broad­axe foot adz, cross­cut saw, auger bite, a fro and draw­ing knife.

His wife Emma, five years younger than he, held the baby as gen­tly as pos­si­ble as the wagon bounced over an old Indian trail that skirted to the east of the Oke­feno­kee Swamp and then turned due south.

Tobias had owned forty acres of red Geor­gia clay when he tried to farm and failed. When he sold the cabin and land he had enough money to buy only what was in the wagon.

When they crossed into Florida and reached Fer­nan­d­ina, Tobias traded his horses for a pair of oxen which Zech named Tuck and Buck. Included in the trade was a guinea cow, a strange-looking lit­tle Span­ish ani­mal with a small body that stood only one foot from the ground. But she had a huge udder and would pro­vide milk for all of them.

The rum­ble of a com­ing civil war had already been felt in Geor­gia when Tobias left the clay hills and headed south to seek a new life in a vir­tu­ally unknown land. He knew it was just a mat­ter of time. He also thought the war would not affect Florida as it would Geor­gia, and if he went into the east­ern scrub area, he would be left alone for along time, per­haps for­ever. There was noth­ing in the Florida wilder­ness worth fight­ing over. And his guess had been right. The war thus far touched only the coastal areas of the state, and because his home­stead was so iso­lated, he knew lit­tle of what was hap­pen­ing. Occa­sion­ally a stranger would drift by and give him the news. He would also hear of the war when he made trips to a small set­tle­ment on the St. Johns River to trade ani­mal hides for supplies.

The first two years in Florida had been a time of near star­va­tion, He cleared a gar­den and planted his pre­cious seeds, but the poor sandy soil offered lit­tle in return. And the wild ani­mals were a con­stant prob­lem when plants did break through into the sun­light. Deer, turkey, and hogs were plen­ti­ful in the woods, but shells were so hard to come by that he could kill only when it was an absolute neces­sity to sur­vive. Also dur­ing the first year, pan­thers killed the guinea cow and left only a pile of shat­tered bones.

Dur­ing this time they lived in a lean-to made of pine limbs and pal­metto thatch. There was noth­ing to ward off the sum­mer mos­qui­toes and the roam­ing rat­tlesnakes and the rain and the bit­ing win­ter cold. Emma feared for the safety of the baby, and they finally made a crude ham­mock so that she could at least keep him off the ground.

In the sec­ond year, Tobias started build­ing the house, cut­ting the logs in a nearby ham­mock and drag­ging them to the site with the oxen, shap­ing the logs and lum­ber by hand, build­ing a wall one tor­tur­ous foot at a time. The roof was of cypress shin­gles, and devot­ing what time he could to pro­duce them, he made twenty-five each day. It took more than five hun­dred to build the roof. More than a year of sweat and pain went into the rugged struc­ture before it was com­plete enough for them to move inside. Yet ahead of him was the task of build­ing beds and tables and chairs and com­plet­ing the mud and store fireplace.

There were many times when Tobias thought oth­er­wise, but they did sur­vive. He learned many things by trial and error, and pass­ing strangers told him of oth­ers.  He learned that he could plant a wide-grained rice in rows on sandy ridges and that it would grow with­out irri­ga­tion, depend­ing solely on the nat­ural ele­ments. Some of the seed had been given to him by a fam­ily head­ing south in an oxen car­a­van. When the first crop came in they whisked off the stalks by hand and then beat them inside a wooden bar­rel, catch­ing the grains in a cloth sack.

He also found that noth­ing would grow on pine ridges but many food plants would sur­vive in ham­mock ground, and after the sec­ond year he moved his gar­den away from the house area and into a nearby hammock.

A man in the St. Johns set­tle­ment told him that twenty miles to the west there was a herd of wild cows. They were too wild for any­one to ever catch with­out dogs and horses, but in one graz­ing area they had lit­tered the ground with manure. Tobias went there with his wagon and brought back a load of manure for the gar­den, and each spring he would return for another load of the life-giving fertilizer.

Grad­u­ally, he made chairs from sturdy oak and wove cane bot­toms onto them, and he fash­ioned a table from cypress. He trapped enough rac­coons to trade their furs for a coal oil lamp so they could have light at night.  Brooms were made from sage straw, soap from ani­mal fat and lye; meat was pre­served by smok­ing, and what few veg­eta­bles they did har­vest were canned or dried for the win­ter. Emma learned to make flour from cat­tail roots and they used wild honey as a sub­sti­tute for sugar. What they all missed most were milk and but­ter, and there was no sub­sti­tute for them. He vowed that some­day he would own another milk cow, and this time he would pro­tect her better.

The one thing Tobias feared most was the abun­dance of preda­tors that roamed the land: bears, pan­thers, and wolves. Noth­ing was safe from them, and he dared not go into the woods with­out the shot­gun. Dark­ness was when the preda­tors roamed freely, and he kept the oxen locked inside the small barn each night, even dur­ing the hottest part of summer.

 

Tobias came into the clear­ing lead­ing the ox with the hog tired behind with a rope. Zech was rid­ing the lum­ber­ing ani­mal, kick­ing his feet into its sides and whoop­ing loudly. The ox paid no heed to the boy as it ambled to the side of the house. Emma came out­side at the sound of the commotion.

She was a robust woman dressed in an ankle-length ging­ham dress and high-topped laced shoes patched with deer hide. Almost as tall as Tobias, she was big-boned and brawny, and her raven-black hair was tied in a bun. Before mar­ry­ing Tobias she spent her youth­ful days in cot­ton fields where her father worked as a share­crop­per, and she knew work from the moment she was strong enough to carry a water bucket from well to kitchen. She was the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of strength, and it affected all those around her.

Emma looked at the hog and said, “He’s big, but he sure is scrawny. Not an ounce of fat for lard. I’ll have to boil him down good before I can do any­thing with him, else he’ll be tough as shoe leather. Maybe we can grind up some for sausage. Slice off a few thin strips of the loin and I’ll fry it for supper.”

Emma turned and went back inside the house as Tobias said, “Put ole Tuck back in the barn, son, and I’ll start the fire.” First, he would scald the hog in the huge black pot, then he would scrape the hide and cut the meat into sec­tions. What they could not eat before it spoiled would be cured in the smoke­house Tobias built beside the barn. The skin Emma would make into cracklins.

Soon the clear­ing was filled with smoke as a fire came to life beneath the cast-iron pot. Then the smell of seared flesh per­me­ated the surroundings.

 

Late that after­noon, they sat down to a meal of fried pork and a pot of boiled poke Emma gath­ered in the woods behind the barn. There was also a loaf of flat bread made from the cat­tail flour.

Tobias said, “Lord, thank Ye for the vit­tles. Amen.” Then he said, “Ain’t much to be thank­ful for, is it?”

It’s food,” Emma said. “But I sure wish we could get some corn­meal. A pone of corn bread would go good with some fresh swamp cabbage.”

What I han­ker for is beef,” Tobias said. Chew­ing hard on the tough pork. “A roast as big as a sad­dle blan­ket. Zech’s done growed up with­out tast­ing beef, and a boy like him needs beef to make him strong.”

Hog is fine for me, Papa.” Zech said, help­ing him­self to another spoon­ful of poke greens.

That’s because you ain’t had noth­ing bet­ter. If I had knowed it would be so hard here I might have stayed in Geor­gia. We got to get us a catch dog. If I just had a catch dog, I could round up some wild cows and start a herd. I need a horse too. A horse ain’t worth noth­ing in pulling a wagon through this sandy soil, but you sure can’t catch cows with­out a horse and a dog. And a dog would help keep the varmints away from here at night.”

They ate in silence for a moment, and then Emma said, “It will all come in time, Tobias. We’re not that bad off. We can make do till times get bet­ter for us. The Lord will look over us.”

Well, I don’t believe the Lord would like to live all win­ter on noth­ing but coon meat and swamp cab­bage. I got to have a horse and a dog. And some more pow­der and shot to make shells. I can trap coons and trade the hides, but I can’t trap a ‘gator. You got to shoot him. And the man at the trad­ing post told me he would pay a dol­lar fifty for alli­ga­tor hides. I bet there’s a thou­sand of them in the creek just wait­ing to be shot and skinned.”

Maybe we could kill them with an axe,” Zech said, becom­ing excited at the thought of hunt­ing alligators.

Son, you hit a ‘gator on the head with an axe, he’d just grab the han­dle and eat the whole thing. Then he’d fin­ish up his mean with both your legs. You got to shoot a ‘gator to kill him. So for now we’ll have to make do with the coon hides. Maybe I’ve got enough of them tacked to the barn to get us some real flour and some corn­meal too. And also a pound of cof­fee. I done for­got how it tastes. I’ll go over to the trad­ing post the end of the week and swap all I have. Tomor­row I’ll cut some cypress poles and start build­ing a pen for the cows. Some­how or other I’m going to get me a dog and horse.”

»> This was Chap­ter 1 from A Land Remem­bered — Stu­dent Ver­sion, by Patrick D. Smith. You can order the book here.

 


 

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