Knight of the Ribbons - Chapter 2

Young bones heal fast. And young, numb minds believe them healed before they truly are. Four weeks to the day, on the fifteenth of April, 1863, while the American Civil War was starting its third year, Clay Logan, Prince of the Road, headed west for the California gold fields.

He was through driving stagecoaches forever.

The beseeching of the superintendent did no good, nor did the pleading of his friends and of the reinsmen with whom he shared a kinship. His wife and his child and his dreams were gone. The only aim that remained was to get as far away as he could from the memories in Ohio. His mother and father were dead like Samantha. Ironically, his father had been considered the greatest stagecoach driver around, yet they had both been killed in a stagecoach accident one bleak January day in 1860 when his father overturned the coach his mother was riding inside of into the Maumee River at full flood. Clay’s brothers and sisters were scattered, some vanished. Nothing was left in Ohio to hold him.

He soaked the cast off his arm, then packed some food, his rifle, a handful of books, and all the clothing he owned, put it all along with cooking utensils and anything else he might need on the trail on his three remaining horses, two Cleveland bays and a sorrel colored Morgan with a golden mane and tail, and rode away from Defiance County.

The roads were long and lonely, weaving through rolling farm fields bordered by dense, dark forests of hardwoods, just beginning to turn green with spring. Searching fingers of farmland groped everywhere, fertile, dark soil with new green life emerging from it to mock the deaths Clay had suffered. For America, spring was a time to be on the move, mostly west, and from time to time he passed wagonloads of people, or horseback travelers, or men on foot with knapsacks on their backs. Some of them were without arms, or even without legs, some missing eyes, or bearing some other scar from the horrible war that was raging. They were escaping the war-torn East and the so-called bread famines, headed for the farming country of Oregon or the gold country of Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho Territory and the hope of a better life. Most of them traveled in groups, or in pairs. And most greeted him with friendly waves and greetings. But seldom did he give much more than a nod back, and when the travelers were husband and wife, with children or without, he often could not even bring himself to meet their eyes.

Clay Logan was a lonesome man, his skin turning deep brown in the April sun, with his bristly ash blond hair protruding from under a gray, round-crowned hat. His great coat was gray, too, and his boots and trousers black but spattered with the mud of the open road. Even his neckerchief was gray. The only splashes of color in that palette of drabness were the red of the horses and the steely blue of the rider’s deep-set eyes.

Through Indiana and Illinois he rode, then finally into Missouri, where big mules and heavily muscled farm horses were hard at work breaking still-virgin land, and the dirt mounded away from the plow blades in fertile black ridges, as far as the eye could see to the rolling horizon, or at least until the vast tracts of hardwood timber absorbed the furrows.