Young adult, paranormal/historical
Muskets and Rifles
Lobo dropped the big old envelope I took from the back of my ancestor’s portrait right in the middle of the dining room table, startling me. Carla and I had been sitting there chatting and waiting for him after clearing off the dinner dishes when he came up behind me like he did. For whatever reason, I thought he and Carla had left the envelope at my house with the portrait.
My enthusiasm for looking at the envelope’s contents evaporated the moment I touched that thing when I first found it. “What’s that doing here?” I asked.
“As long as you don’t touch it, or anything in it, you’ll be all right,” he replied after sitting back down with us.
“OK, fine, but you didn’t answer my question.” With all I had been through, I found it hard to fully trust the guy’s judgment.
“A bit edgy are we now?”
“Not edgy, just wary. Can you blame me?”
“Nobody’s blaming you,” Carla said, sliding into the conversation, and glaring at Lobo. “We brought the envelope back because the idea of you finding out more about your ancestor is still a good one.”
“Like it or not,” Lobo said, “you are in a battle of survival! Not me, not Cara, just you. Without a doubt, you will be encountering your ancestor again, and the more you know about his personal life, the better prepared you will be to deal with the situation in a positive manner. Your very existence could well depend on what you might learn here.”
Lobo’s never-ending words about my survival were like a constant drumbeat bouncing around inside my head. “I got it, OK? So go ahead and show me what’s in the freakin’ envelope.” At that point, I didn’t care how irritated I sounded.
“Hold on a minute.” Carla jumped up, scooted over to one of Lobo’s bookcases and quickly came back with a book. “Here,” she said, handing it to me. “Take a look at the cover.”
When I took the book from her hand, my eyes locked onto a full color, artistic recreation of a raging battle scene. It began on the front cover, continued across the book’s spine and ended on the back cover. Desperate looking men in sky-blue uniforms with white belts crisscrossing their chests fought for their lives. Sprinkled among them were other men in dark blue coats with gold buttons. Dade’s Last Command, it said on the front with a guy named Frank Laumer as the author.
Yeah, those uniforms looked very familiar to me. What really hit me even more than that though, were the expressions on those soldiers’ faces. My God! I mean, those men looked exactly how I felt—scared and trapped with no way out. Don’t know how long I stared at that picture in a daze of recognition.
Finally, I pointed at the tall, leather looking hat on one man’s head and said to Carla, “I saw some of those. I remember them now. They, those hats, were scattered on the ground with all kinds of other stuff.”
“See how valid your experience at the cemetery was?” Carla smiled, obviously trying to encourage me to be more positive without actually saying so. “That’s why I wanted to show you the book cover. Somehow, you were able to gather incredible, firsthand insights into the Dade battlefield soon after the fighting ended. Now you can merge that information with whatever you might find useful in some of your ancestor’s documents in the envelope. It’s a great combination. That’s all Lobo is trying to tell you.”
“Mm, yeah. Makes sense, I guess.” And it did, really. What also made sense was how Carla had a key or two to some of the little switches in my head I hadn’t yet learned to flip on my own. Good and bad keys in other people’s possession, I said to myself, and I wondered when, or if, I would ever be the one turning the switches on my own. When I handed the book back to Carla, she put it on the coffee table. Glancing at the book once more as she came back to her seat, I thought about the large historical marker at the cemetery and its simplified version of the Dade battle. “I still can’t get over both our ancestors being part of all … that.” I jerked a thumb back in the book’s direction.
“I hear you,” she replied, shaking her head.
“What started the battle anyway? And how did such a large group from the U.S. Army get wiped out so easily?” For some reason, my curiosity had gotten all fired up. Yeah, me asking a couple of questions about history. I even surprised myself. Guess it was seeing that book cover combined with my ancestor and Carla’s both having been part of what happened so long ago.
“Uh, well,” Carla said, clearly surprised by my interest, “there’s no doubt about it. The defeat of Dade and his men was the worst loss by the U.S. Army to Native Americans until Custer and his people died at the Little Big Horn about forty years later.
“You see, um, back in the early 1830’s, the U.S. was in the process of moving Native People out of the eastern part of the country and sending them west of the Mississippi whether they wanted to go or not. Horrible stuff. A lot of those folks died on the way. By 1835, the only land the Seminoles had left in Florida was a reservation 60 miles wide by 120 long. It only stretched from just north of Tampa to Ocala, but even that the government wanted to take that away from them.
“At the time, the U.S. had a fort where Tampa is located today called Fort Brooke. There was another one named Fort King where present-day Ocala is located.”
I remembered seeing those names on the cemetery’s historical marker.
“Eventually, the Seminoles, and their black allies had had enough and decided to resist.”
“Free blacks, escaped slaves, and their families.”
“Oh.” I’m telling you, sometimes all that Carla knows about history just astounds me.
“When December of 1835 rolled around, the Seminoles were getting restless and causing the whites problems. When a message arrived at Fort Brooke from Fort King asking for reinforcements, Major Dade and his soldiers were quickly sent up the military road on the 23rd of December.”
“Military road? That’s the one where the battle took place, the same location where I saw all those bodies?”
“Yes, Mr. Golden,” Lobo rumbled, “the locations are identical, but we don’t have time for the pampering of your newly awakened fascination with history.”
“OK, but wait a minute,” I protested. “You said the more I know about my ancestor’s private life the better prepared I’ll be. What’s more private than the circumstances of the man’s death?”
“He’s got you there.” Carla snickered and looked at Lobo with both eyebrows raised. “Your move,” she said to him without using words.
Letting out a sigh of exasperation, and frowning deeply, Lobo said, “Here’s the quick version of what happened, so pay attention.”
“Absolutely.” I had to flash Carla a tiny victory smile when I said that one word. She winked at me as Lobo took over the storytelling.
“The Seminole chiefs, Micanopy, Alligator and Jumper laid an ambush for Dade and his men about half way between Fort Brooke and Fort King. The great war leader, Osceola, wasn’t able to participate. Armed with rifles they got from the Spanish in Cuba, 180 Indians formed a semicircle going across the military road with a pond and high grass on one side. No escape for the soldiers once they entered the jaws of that trap.
“Major Dade allowed his troops to keep their muskets under their heavy overcoats on that morning of December 28 to keep them dry. In the chilly air, the pine trees and palmettos still dripped water from an early morning rain. Dade also thought the Seminoles wouldn’t attack in such a wide-open area. He couldn’t have been more wrong, obviously, putting his men at a great disadvantage in case of an attack.”
“Muskets?” I asked. “That was the soldiers’ main weapon, but the Seminoles had rifles, which were more modern, right?”
“Rifles didn’t become the weapon of choice in the U.S military,” Carla answered, “until much later in that century. In 1835, rifles and muskets both had their advantages and disadvantages.”
Just as Carla finished her sentence, the fire in the fireplace popped loudly and showered sparks into the living room about half way to the coffee table. I wondered why Lobo didn’t use one of those screens to protect the room and furniture from damage. Both Carla and I jumped, but old Lobo never flinched or even blinked, as usual. He did gripe at us though.
“Enough digression and talk of weapons,” he grumbled. “We need to finish this discussion quickly, and get to the envelope.”
I apologized for getting us off track and Lobo launched back into his explanation—at a much faster pace.
“Commanded by Captain Gardiner, a short barrel of a man, most of Dade’s men walked up the road in two columns. Lieutenant Walton’s post was there as well, but he had no horse, unlike Gardiner and Dade. An advance party pushed ahead of the column consisting of Lieutenant Mudge, Carla’s ancestor, Luis Pacheco and several soldiers, all led by Captain Fraser. A rear guard followed the main force with a cannon and supply wagon, Lieutenant Basinger commanding.”
“Wait! Lieutenant … Basinger?” I knew I couldn’t have heard the man correctly.
“Yes, why,” Lobo asked, but he had this look on his face that made me think he already knew the answer.
“The soldier at the National Guard Headquarters, the one we almost ran into,” I said to Carla, “his name was Basinger.”
“I’m not kidding! I saw the name on his uniform when we rode by.”
“How …” She seemed at a real loss for words. Unusual, but true.
“Carla,” Lobo said, “in that instance, you directly shared with your friend here, one of his many odd experiences of the day. That particular coincidental event, as some people would describe it, was part of a unique unfolding of patterns set in motion that have great importance—even if none of us ever discovers its ultimate meaning.”
To me, he said, “Perhaps the soldier was a descendant of the Dade battle Basinger, unconsciously channeling a warning from his ancestor to beware of your contact with the pyramids by almost running into you. Or, your own inner self might have put you at that exact place, and at that precise time, as a subconscious warning of what was yet to come. The possibilities are infinite.”
“Uh, Jeff, Lobo …” Carla didn’t finish her sentence. She had her head turned to the side, staring intently at Lobo’s picture window.
“What?” I asked, looking straight ahead of me across the dining room table. I couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary—nothing but darkness outside of Lobo’s house and the usual lights on the other side of Matanzas Bay.
“Don’t either of you say another word, and above all, don’t move,” Lobo ordered, his eyes locked onto the window just as Carla’s were.
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© 2011 by Doug Dillon. All rights reserved.