Ben’s Reward


It had been almost three months since the train of two-wheel handcarts had left for the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Without enough money to buy teams and wagons, the emigrants had had their carts made in Iowa City. All their belongings were either loaded inside the carts or lashed to the sides of the carts. And every able-bodied person took his turn pushing and pulling them during the journey. Now the distant snow-topped mountains and the cooler nights warned the struggling band that they must waste no time, or winter would be upon them before they reached their destination.

Several fires for the evening meal had already been lighted, and all those old enough to help were busy at necessary tasks. Some of the men were greasing axles; others were repairing carts, a number of which were almost beyond repair. A few men with guns fanned out from the campsite, hoping to obtain game. Women were dipping meal from wooden casks, in some cases scraping the bottoms.

Ben Ashford, large for a twelve-year-old, walked cautiously along the almost dry creek bed. He was a good shot, and he hoped that he might scare up a jackrabbit, because the Ashford provisions were very low.

Hearing a low moan, Ben stopped and quietly looked around. The sound came again. Certain that it was a person making the noise, Ben ran back to camp shouting, “It sounds like somebody’s hurt down in the creek bed!”

“You must be hearing things, Ben. There’s nobody within miles of here,” said his father.

“Well, it could be an animal, but it sounds like a person … Honest!”

Taking the gun from Ben, his father called to two other men, “Bring your guns—the boy thinks there’s a person or a beast down in the creek bottom.”

The men stopped and listened intently as they approached the creek bed. From a cavelike hole in the bank came the sound of a barely audible moan. Brush and grass had been drawn over the opening, and while Ben’s father jerked off the brush, the others stood ready to shoot.

Glaring at them from inside the opening was a young Indian boy with a sharp pointed stick in his left hand. Blood covered his right shoulder and arm. After making signs to the boy that he wouldn’t be harmed, the men helped him from his hiding place.

Back at camp when Ben’s mother dressed the boy’s wounded shoulder, he didn’t even whimper.

There were only a few dried berries and a small serving each of oatmeal porridge for supper, but Ben’s family shared what they had with the Indian lad. As the boy began to recover, they talked kindly to him and learned that his name was White Cloud. Slowly he began to trust them, especially Ben. With signs and a few English words, White Cloud told them that he and a friend had been picking mountain berries and had gone too far from their camp. His friend had been killed, and he himself had been grazed by a bullet and had escaped by running down to the creek bed and hiding there.

“We’d better post an extra guard tonight,” advised Sandy McIntire, the camp leader, when he saw the boy. “Although we’ve had friendly relations with the Indians so far, White Cloud’s people might suspect us of shooting the boys.”

With the first light of dawn, the camp was stirring. Weeks before, Ben had discovered a bee tree not far from one of their camps. The honey had been shared, and Ben’s mother had used theirs on special occasions. Now Ben grinned broadly when he saw his mother drop a little of the precious sweet into their breakfast porridge.

After a prayer for help and guidance, the carts rolled forward. Mr. Ashford took the shafts to begin pulling the cart. His wife ducked under the cart handle to add her strength beside her husband. With Ben, his younger brother, and the Indian boy pushing from behind, the Ashford cart moved steadily over the rough, rock-strewn trail.

Without warning, White Cloud stumbled and fell, and Ben called for his parents to stop. The Indian boy made no complaint as he struggled to his feet, and when Ben’s father started to lift him onto the cart, he pulled back and shook his head violently. By not helping to push, he was able to walk along at their slower pace.

The sun was just slipping over the horizon when several mounted Indians appeared, riding out from behind a bold outcrop of rock just ahead. The carts were stopped, and an order was quickly given to remain calm and to display no firearms.

The Ashford cart was near the front of the line where they could clearly see the approaching Indians, and White Cloud recognized them at once. He cried out, pointed to himself, and ran weakly toward the braves. The riders broke into a gallop, then slowed down and stopped upon reaching the boy. The leader dismounted, and for a long moment the train waited while man and boy talked. Then, remounting with the boy behind him, the leader approached the carts with his hand raised, palm out. Ben’s father and Sandy McIntire stepped out to meet him.

“I am Walking Horse. You helped White Cloud, my son. We want peace with you.”

“We are your friends,” Ben’s father responded.

White Cloud’s good arm was held tightly about his father’s waist as they rode away.

Ben said slowly, “I’m glad I found White Cloud. I only wish he could have stayed with us long enough for us to have become good friends.”

Relieved by the outcome of the meeting, Sandy McIntire waved for the emigrants to move out, saying, “We’ll stop for the night as soon as we reach water.”

They made camp in an open space by a little brawling stream. All were exhausted from pulling and pushing the carts, often uphill. Two men had circled out ahead of the train to search for game but returned empty-handed. Suddenly two Indians on horseback entered the little valley.

Ben, who was watching anxiously, exclaimed, “It’s Walking Horse!”

Walking Horse was leading a heavily ladened pack horse. The second rider was also leading a pack animal. The members of the emigrant train were speechless as the Indians unfastened the pack horses’ lashings and dropped two elk at the feet of Ben’s father and Sandy McIntire.

Ben’s father responded instantly: “We are grateful. Our people are hungry. God be with you.”

“White Cloud said you have no meat. Now you have meat.” Walking Horse raised his hand slowly in a sign of peace. He touched his heel to his horse’s flank, and the two Indians and their horses were soon out of sight.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Charles Shaw