By 1882 there were two and in a few places three tiers of farmsteads on each side of Old Post Road, which meant there were also stubs of dirt roads that would many decades in the future be extended into a network of connected county roads, that, many more decades later still, Deputy Sheriff Ro Delahanty would be patrolling. The same was true of a tier of farmsteads that bordered the Makuakeeta Road adjacent to the river west of Lee’s Landing. Altogether, close to a third of the county’s land that would someday fall under the plow was now being worked.
But the “special place” Young wanted to share with Coates at this point was nowhere near any road, so to get to it they had to take what was essentially the long way around, following Old Post Road from Montgomery almost all the way into Lee’s Landing, then heading back out along the Makuakeeta Road; it was a nearly twenty-five-mile, all-day trip on horseback. They camped for the night at the bottom of a set of beautiful waterfalls that tumbled over a spectacular rock bluff and ended in a small pond where Young caught some fresh fish for dinner.
The next morning Young led them a short distance west along the base of the bluff to a narrow path that followed a natural draw up the bluff, except the path was winding, overgrown and dotted with numerous rocky steps that neither man nor horse found easy going. Again, decades in the future, after a great deal of blasting and earth-moving, the path would be turned into the southern end of County Line Road that straddled the border between Fort Armstrong County and Makuakeeta County.
Even though it was only three miles as the crow flies, it took Young and Coates most of the morning to climb to the top of the bluff and work their way through the thick underbrush. Coates had seen lots of woods – and quickly recognized what they were passing through as “old growth,” in other words, woods that had never seen the woodsmen’s axe – and had traveled over many trails – so he knew what they were following had once been a more heavily travelled animal path – and, finally, was curious about an unexpected change in Young’s personality – where for the several days the old trapper had tended toward the dour and taciturn, Coates was amused that he now seemed almost child-like in his excitement.
It was when they stopped for lunch that Young couldn’t contain himself any longer. “These ain’t no ordinary woods you’re gonna see, Coates… My mother’s people believed they were sacred,” he said, grinning, but then left the anticipation hanging.
Coates had always been of two minds about “the woods;” while certainly not a religious man, he had a deep respect for their beauty, grandeur and simplicity; but, at the same time, he’d also tended to hold the white man’s attitude that they were there to be exploited for man’s needs, cut down for firewood or cabin logs, hunted for food and clothing, cleared for cornfields or pastures.
So, while he had no doubt Young was sincere in his belief, he’d kind of dismissed it as so much superstition. That is, until a little while later they crossed a shallow, rocky creek that Coates correctly assumed was the same one they’d camped next to at the bottom of the bluff, and emerged from the woods into a broad, sun-filled meadow…
…and his breath was literally sucked from his body.
To be continued…
(C) 2018 Dave Lager