Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Metal Ford

One of the first things we'll pass after putting in Saturday morning is where the old Natchez Trace (the real one) crossed the river. It's about one mile downstream from the cabin.

There is a great chute at Metal Ford that is fun in high water, although it can be a tight squeeze for XL paddlers.

Fords were dangerous if you were on the Natchez Trace back then.

Not just because of the current. Ambushes were common and fords were a favorite place to lay in wait because travelers were vulnerable when they crossed.

In another drifting mile or so it was four thirty by my guess time, and I pulled out at the mouth of Ioni Creek, above a tumbling rapids. I wanted to get settled before evening brought whatever weather it might bring.

Jesse Veale fought the old, useless fight at a ford just up Ioni, one day in 1873. . . .

I ate about dusk and sat staring at a little stick fire that needed constant fueling. The pup had dry dogfood with squirrel gravy, and sought the tent. Aloneness is most striking at evening, however it may happen to be striking you at the moment. Day's absorbent busy-ness is past, and the dishes are stacked dirty, and you are confronted with yourself and confronted too with whether or not you like being where you are, by yourself.

I sat and listened to the rapids and thought for no good reason about Jesse Veale, who rode to Ioni with two of his brothers and a friend from Palo Pinto town a few miles away, to fish and to hunt turkeys and to camp and, probably, to stick cockleburs under one another's saddles and tie knots in one another's bed rolls and laugh the kind of laughter you laugh with friends out that way, young.

In '73 there was not much reason to expect Indians in that neighborhood - in fact, Jesse Veale was the last man killed in that county by them. The fighting had gone on hot and heavy all during the War and afterward, in the bitter Reconstruction years, when the Northern whites at the Oklahoma agencies had not only tolerated but sometimes abetted the raids down across the Red, with the full moon. But by '73 it was last-ditch and sporadic, and its center had moved out north and west of the Brazos country. . . .

Inheritors of the old sharp-edgedness, though, Jesse Veale and his companions likely went around hoping for trouble, any kind. If so, they got it.

One afternoon, setting fishlines near the Garland Bend, they ran across some Indian ponies staked out in the cedar, and some saddles, and took them. (The assumption with Indian ponies was always that they had been stolen, or if not that others had been.) The next morning Jesse Veale and Joe Corbin crossed Ioni at the ford a half-mile above its mouth, on their way back to camp from checking some hooks at the river. At the crossing, in a race to see who'd come second and get splashed, they hit the water hard at about the same time and sprayed each other mightily and raced on through, yelling. On the other side Joe Corbin pulled up and knuckled water out of an eye and unholstered his old cap-and-ball Colt.

"You scutter," he said. "You done wet my loads."

"You ain't gonna shoot nothin' nohow," Jesse Veale said.

Joe Corbin said: "Jesse."


"Jesse," Joe Corbin said, "they's two Indians a-lookin' at us from on top of that bank. They's more than two. . . ."

Afoot, likely because it had been their ponies the boys had taken upriver, the Comanches began to shoot, and an arrow hit Jesse Veale in the knee, and his horse went to bucking off to one side. Joe Corbin yelled: "What the hell we gonna do?"

Jesse yelled something back. To Joe Corbin it sounded like: "Run it out!" He did, snapping his useless pistol at an Indian who tried to grab his reins and ducked aside from the misfire, lashing his pony on up the bank's rise. . . .

When he last looked back (how many times did he see it again, the rest of his life, how many times did he wonder if what Jesse Veale had said was: "Fight it out"?), Jesse was on the ground shooting and clubbing with his pistol, and they were all over him. And when Joe Corbin came back with help from a ranch not far away, they found Jesse Veale sitting dead but unscalped against a double-elm tree, his pistol gone, Comanche blood on the ground around him. Though the Indians were gabbling over their wounded in a ravine near at hand, and someone's dog went there and bayed at them, the whites were only three and did not follow them, then. . . .

Some of the lines they had been checking must have been set where I was camped just then, a good fish hole still.

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