Like the Sauk Holy Man a century earlier, “Kentucky” Coates was also touched by Neshnala, although not in any way he was conscious of. What happened to him was a complete turnaround in attitude. Standing there, transfixed by the tree’s grandeur, he knew without any doubt that it simply could not ever be desecrated by a woodsman’s axe; indeed, as “Breed” Jack had said, in the sense that it had to be protected, it was sacred. A nascent plan for how to accomplish this goal quickly began to take shape in Coates mind…
Coates was supposed to visit all of Iowa’s nearly one-hundred counties over three years, which figured out that he needed to visit a county roughly every eight to ten days. His visits to the five counties along the Mississippi upstream of Fort Armstrong County had only taken about six days each, so, in effect, he had nearly a week’s elbow room in his schedule here in Fort Armstrong County.
The first order of business, then, was to get a much better lay of the land. Again, with Young as his guide, they spent the next three days exploring the still roadless back-country in the southwestern corner of the county. What they found was that the Neshnala Grove – which is how Coates thought of it − ran roughly for a mile north from the edge of the bluff and for roughly two miles east, along the edge of the bluff, encompassing something over a thousand acres.
The nearest working farms were on the river lowland below the bluff, but still several miles to the east, over near Lees’ Landing; the land directly below the Neshnala Grove bluff was still covered with trees and native prairie.
The area of the county to the north of the Neshnala Grove was crisscrossed by numerous hills and deep intervening valleys that formed the headwaters of several creeks that flowed east across the county; the nearest platted farm fields were adjacent to Old Post Road, still some six miles to the north and on the other side of the rough country.
It was the area on top of the bluff directly to the east that probably represented the most immediate potential threat to Neshnala; while actual working farms were still more than five miles away, the land between was relatively flat and could easily be surveyed into farmsteads and roads extended to access them.
Young had told Coates that as far as he knew, he and maybe a half-dozen or so trappers were the only people who knew anything about the Neshnala Grove, which Coates thought was very good news, as its anonymity gave him time to work out and execute his plan. When Coates asked Young if he knew who the owner of the land was, Young just shrugged.
Now, here’s where Coates “other side” began took control. While on one hand he was a rough and ready backwoodsman, comfortable in the outdoors, his interactions with officers during the Civil War and his dealings with lumber barons for the following decade-and-a-half had taught him how much politics plays a crucial role in any endeavor and the value of knowing who the power players were and how to move in those circles, including being able to dress the part. So, back in his room at the Captain’s Hotel in Lee’s Landing he had a freshly pressed suit and polished boots waiting in the closet.
His dealings with the lumber barons had also taught him how ruthless they could be when pursuing a profit opportunity, which the Neshnala Grove without doubt represented, so he knew the key to protecting Neshnala was to somehow get control of the land and to secure the backing of local power-brokers.
To be continued…
(C) 2018 Dave Lager