In the lofty ideals of America’s originators freedom was the self-evident right of all men, but some of the colonies imagined they depended on coerced labor so they forced an ugly compromise. “All men” was interpreted to be all males with means and a certain complexion. For a human lifetime the union stumbled along under this fatal contradiction.

The sort of agriculture the southern states had fastened upon steadily de- pleted the soil, so they looked to extend the practice to new lands in the west. But inevitably the northern states with their sheer numbers pre- vailed. They chose a president who said the founders had it right all along.

Hijinks ensued. Secession led to a naval blockade. Shore batteries in South Carolina opened fire upon Old Glory flying over a fort. Virginia became two states. The Federal army spent a year assaulting the southern capital of Richmond, and failing that, withdrew back north of the Potomac River. Then it was Lee’s turn. But a written copy of his maneuvering orders fell into enemy hands and he was forced to abort his invasion. High water delayed his ability to ford the river, so, like a cornered animal, he turned to fight. What followed was the bloodiest single day of the war.

Muskets fell like rows of dominoes atop stone walls built on the banks of a quiet creek. Reaching the horizontal they fired, burning eyes with the pungent smoke of spent powder. Downstream the walls became the rails of a stone bridge. Union and Confederate soldiers converged on foot, shouting as they merged. The fighting deteriorated to bayonet thrusts and even fisticuffs. The federals had greater momentum and nearly reached the other side of the bridge before the rebels bounced them back.

The boys in blue trod in reverse over a layer of bodies one deep. Some were dead, others writhed with broken bones or lead balls lodged in their innards. Some of the fallen had survived the battle of Shiloh where the war attained the current level of savagery.

A tube loaded with canister shot lined up on the long axis of the bridge and mowed down counterattacking rebels like grass to form a second layer of bodies. Some of these men in gray had survived the artillery hell of Malvern Hill.

Two guns on the rebel side of the creek upstream maimed the Union gun- ners with bursting shells and another tube fired solid shot. The Union gun became a pile of splinters and dented steel. Then followed a Rebel counter-assault. Quickly the men in gray gained most of the bridge, which had become an abattoir.

A colonel on the Union side was shot, but to the wonder of his men he stood up again with a lead ball lodged in his Bible. With this divine sanc- tion the officer led yet another attack. Men standing on the mounting pile of bodies swapped empty muskets for loaded ones handed up to them like water in a fire bucket brigade.

In the end the rebel infantry ran low on gunpowder and knew the bridge was lost. They pulled back their two pieces of artillery with fresh troops firing in a rearguard action. The federal general commanding the corps assaulting the bridge saw retreating gray backs. He ordered a lieutenant to ride to headquarters to report a bridgehead had been se- cured.

But the junior officer tasked to be a messenger saw how the bridge was stacked with bodies and refused to desecrate the dead of either side. Instead he dropped to the creek bed and splashed across the stream on foot, bypassing all the carnage on the bridge. In so doing the officer suffered little hardship. After all, as the local farmers well knew, the water in the creek was only knee deep.

At the end of the day the Army of Northern Virginia was still bottled up against a wide bend of the Potomac. All the next day the federal com- mander watched from a long slope rising north of the river and refused to advance on Lee, even with a two-to-one numerical advantage. Were the numbers ten-to-one he would yet wire Washington to say he didn’t have enough men.

The meetinghouse of the local German Baptist Brethren was pressed into service as a field hospital for the Union army. Dried blood and fresh blood stained the interior walls. Daylight intruded in beams through bullet holes in the walls. One doctor sedated men with chloroform while another sawed off their limbs and threw them into a pile.

A messenger arrived by horse with orders to get the wounded out. The pile of amputated limbs was set ablaze. as horse-drawn ambulances carted the wounded away. Every bump in the road elicited screams from the men in- side. No one who witnessed the convoy of pain and the carnage that was left behind would again say they craved the glories of war. Certainly none of the Christian Brethren did.

Three days prior, when they first heard the sound of artillery on South Mountain, the Brethren thought it prudent to move their work horses far from the men of either army who might want to “requisition” them. Now, upon their poor leftover mules, they rode out to bury the dead. For this task the United States government paid a dollar for every man they laid to rest. There was a rumor going around that one fellow, not of the Breth- ren, Fdropped sixty dead men into a dry well and took the money.

The German Brethren found their labors to be a hateful thing, but more bitter was seeing their beloved meetinghouse turned into a bullet-riddled slaughterhouse. Hundreds of bodies lay near their house of prayer. The Long Table was covered with blood. The east door, where the menfolk en- tered, and the south door, where the womenfolk entered, had been re- moved from the hinges and used as operating tables. And naturally the ex- pensive Bible gifted to the congregation by Daniel Miller was missing.

Chief elder David Long inspected the meetinghouse thoroughly and said, “Do not grieve overmuch, my friends. We shall bury the dead and make our meetinghouse like new. If the Brethren have willing hands, soon all this will be but an unhappy memory.”

Deacon Joshua Lange remained unmoved by Elder Long’s words of hope. He said, “Nothing will stop the same thing from happening once more, Brother David. Virginia lies just over yonder river and last month there was a second battle of Manassas.”

“I can do nothing to remedy that unfortunate circumstance, Brother Joshua. This shore happens to be an easy place to get across the Potomac.”

“We should build anew at my uncle’s farm to the north. By his leave our horses have already been moved there as surety against thieves.”

Elder Jacob Reichard said, “For a decision of this import we must let the Lord make his will known. So let us pray on it, each one of us.

Long said, “Amen Brother Jacob! And there is no prayer better than work.”

After the Brethren finished burying the dead soldiers Elder Long de- clared he would stay in Maryland, as would the Sherrich family. Also Samuel Mumma, the man who had donated the land for their meetinghouse, was intent on restoring the family farm the two armies had demolished. The deacons who were originally deeded the plot for the Mumma meetinghouse also chose to stay.

But Daniel Miller sold his corn field for pennies on the dollar, as it was now little more than a battlefield cemetery. Miller and ten other families joined Lange in seeking a quiet new life far from the threat of war, or so they hoped.

Before the battle the horses of the Brethren had been taken north by five male cousins from Lange’s father’s side. As the families prepared to move the horses were returned. It was Joshua’s cousin Joanna who brought them all back, and this she did entirely by herself.

Joanna’s own horse was groomed better than she was, yet Joshua fell stone in love with her at first sight.

On the road up north when the weather turned bad Joanna let her horse have the tent while she slept outside. At home in Pennsylvania she spent more time cleaning her horse than helping her mother clean the house. Josh- ua thought the house was a pigsty but the barn was neat as a pin.

When her mother said Joanna needed a male companion to quiet some of the rumors going around she got a stallion. Joanna’s father looked askance when Joshua began courting her but her mother was clearly over- joyed.

One time he grew jealous at finding a strange hair on her coat but Joanna was easily able to produce the horse to match. At her bridal shower Joan- na received a large number of gifts. Most of these were actual bridles.

When the happy day finally arrived and it was time to show up for her wedding Joanna came in late because she took too long cleaning the stalls. Joshua married her anyway.

The following summer the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Poto- mac River once more, but federal movements in response forced the Con- federate commander to concentrate his forces at Gettysburg, which was a dense node in the road network, and this brought on the biggest bat- tle of the war.

On the third day of the conflagration Joshua Lange walked to his new meetinghouse and found all the pews scattered outside. Union officers were seated upon them idly smoking cigars and playing tic tac toe on them with pocket knives. Inside the meetinghouse the Army of the Potomac’s commander poured over maps laid on the Long Table and concluded the next hammer blow would land on the center. The short-tempered com- manding general angrily demanded who he was. Joshua said, “I’m the the pastor of this church!” The general replied, “The hell you say, sir! This is the headquarters of the Army! Now get out of my sight, parson, or I’ll put a musket in your hand and stand you up on yonder stone–”

His tirade was interrupted by a crash as the church filled with fly- ing wood splinters. Confederate artillery had opened a furious bar- rage. He ran out of the meetinghouse picking splinters out of his skin and barking orders. His officers on the pews began to scatter as shells burst nearby.

Union artillery was brought up to answer Confederate guns but Lange re- mained inside. Perhaps he thought his presence would move God to spare the building, but solid shot made gaping holes in the walls. Joshua clasped his hands and prayed, “Lord, forgive your stiff-necked servant. Now I know your will was that we move west, not north!”

Two shells from the rebel’s main battery burst over the roof of the church and completely demolished it with Joshua Lange still inside.

2 Travel the equator of Kemen to a point halfway between where Salem and Rumbek once lay and turn north. Then travel over the Ice to a point half- way between the equator and pole and you will arrive at a massive vol- cano named Mount Anshar which has grown layer by layer for a million years.

Ice two miles deep moved at an imperceptible pace, trying to erode Anshar into a zone of craggy uplands should it ever go dormant. It flowed around the obstacle and merged again many miles to the south, exposing the only bare rock in Kemen outside of the equatorial belt.

When the black avatar of Belial arrived at this small land using the numbers Lilith gave him some thirty-two hundred years prior, he saw that the ice was somewhat closer than he had observed, and the mountain was silent. Perhaps the geothermal hot spot under Anshar had cooled.

Hamon’s house across the stony flat also looked different, and no wonder, when Mt. Anshar was in eruption it no doubt threw flaming projectiles many miles. And Belial himself had once burned down the house in anger after the conception of Binah. His avatar could sense, but did not take of- fice, at the pervasive smell of sulphur. He strode past boiling mud pots and ponds of scalding water. The ground itself was as warm as a planet- dweller body. The house, hy knew, relied on these thermal features to maintain a comfortable temperature within its walls.

He walked the quarter-mile to the house and let hymself inside. It was not locked, and why should it be? The inhabitants of Kemen thought the northern Ice went on without end. No traveler ever stumbled onto the land of Anshar for all the time Kemen was populated, and now, after the comet fell, the Slush Belt was entirely vacant of human life.

But the house in Anshar was not empty. A human male stood in the main living space, fair of skin, with black hair cropped short and facial hair that revealed a habit of maintaining a clean shave, but a habit that had been set aside for a number of weeks.

When the man greeted the newcomer with a simple “Hello Belial” the avatar said, “You know who I am, yet you do not address me as Lord. The B’nei Elo- him have grown less courteous of late. Where is the seraph Bat-El claimed would be waiting here?”

“I am that seraph.”

“A human seraph is a contradiction in terms.”

“The B’nei Elohim may refuse to speak, as you well know, but we never lie, and I am not Bat-El. Have you forgotten his warning that possessing bodies serially is fraught with peril? A seraph stands before you.”

“Binah, then. Welcome to the world of meat.”

“This meat goes by the name of Joshua.”

“Bat-El’s fears about serial possession are groundless.”

“Shemhazai’s possession of Rimmon diluted his original persona by half. Bat-El dared this union only with Hamon and even Shemhazai refused to take flesh again after the death of Rimmon. I’ll not merge with another world- dweller after my own death in this flesh.”

“You are a fool to imagine the feeble minds of world-dwelling apes could ever contaminate the minds of living stars and Shemhazai is a fool to ac- cept your argument.”

“Something you said just now: ‘Welcome to the world of meat.’ In the join- ing with Joshua I, as a star, knew the meat as though born to it.” But Belial seemed to be of one mind on this so Joshua let the matter drop. Instead, he said, “Bat-El thought you might wish to meet a new seraph before I return to Earth.”

“And why do you take upon yourself planet-dweller flesh in this time?”

Joshua answered, “It is to alter things on Earth more to my liking, in the same way Hamon once ordered Kemen to hyz liking in the days of the dragon.”

“And all for nought. Shemhazai tired of the experiment and allowed the co- met to come.”

“Belial, if he really tired of the experiment why did he command a select few to take refuge in the ice and lay up supplies? A generation later when the Slush Belt thawed they found a world cleansed of their rivals, but also cleansed of every form of life Bat-El imported from Earth. Only the native flora persisted and it killed your surviving Adanites faster than they could breed. Shemhazai must have forgotten how a steady flow of humans were imported from Earth just to get the original colony started on this world.”

“In the end he brought the Adanites to this place.”

“Oh, I know,” said Joshua, “I’ve seen the bones. There’s no soil in An- shar. No way to grow any food.”

“Now you will teach the humans of Earth to reach the stars,” “said Belial. But you must not!”

“I owe you nothing, Belial. We have no covenant, you and I. Nor am I will- ing to make a covenant with you or any other criminal. Every moment of my isolation compounds your crime.”

“You know that by our ancient covenant Bat-El is permitted to listen to the chatter of El Elyon, but never to speak to them. I, however, will grant to you full access to the City of Stars, to both listen and speak, if you agree to be silent about certain things.”

“Allow me to make a counteroffer, father. Abrogate the First Covenant. Grant to both myself and Bat-El unencumbered access to our kind immedi- ately, and we will present the discovery of the Students with no mention of the many centuries Bat-El and I were held silent.”

Belial shook his head. “It is well you took this opportunity to converse with me, Binah, but you have been a disappointment from the instant you began to exist.”

Joshua said, ‘The offer I made to you just now was sincere. But I would have been surprised to hear your acceptance.”

Belial said, “I must admit the offer is tempting. But announcing the Stu- dents, even under the terms you offer, will bring a level of scrutiny from the Watchers that neither I nor Shemhazai will ever be prepared to accept.”

“Then we have nothing more to say to one another,” said Joshua.

“What I will do instead is press one advantage I do have. You fear serial lives? Very well! I can add a complication to your plan to become a teacher to your students.”

One of Belial’s hands changed shape to become a black sword.

But Joshua cried, “God shall give his angels charge over you. They shall bear you up in their hands, lest your foot strike against a stone!’

He bent backwards over the wooden rail of the upper level. A ball of water a meter in diameter appeared, floating in midair. The water overflowed the sphere and the excess poured straight down to the floor. It was Bi- nah’s business to make sure the ball intercepted Joshua as he fell with arms and legs tucked in close.

Belial screamed wih rage because he knew what was coming and he could only watch it come. Joshua cannonballed into the sphere of water, which then snapped out of existence with a loud pop and a splash that left the wa- ter ankle deep on the ground floor of the house.

Left alone Belial could only vent his range by burning Hamon’s house to the foundation once more.


No one among the Brethren disputed the house of prayer of the Five Corners Free Congregation was demolished by two shells that burst overhead while Joshua Lange huddled within. But after he crawled out from the pile and told them it was the will of God to lead his flock away to settle far in the west, many of the Brethren came to believe some of the timber in their ruined Meetinghouse had perhaps fallen on Elder Lange’s head.

As for Joanna Lange, Joshua’s wife, she believed him absolutely. There was, for example, the matter of a large scar in his back, over one of his kidneys, that hadn’t been there before the battle. And another piece of convincing evidence was the bump at the back of her own head the grew and eventually pierced the skin. By imperceptible degrees it opened like the petals of a flower to become a little bone cup in the shape of the letter “D” with dozens of black pins inside.

Joshua explained the matter to her, and set her mind at ease that she was in no danger, but she did start to wear her hair in a bun to cover the pro- trusion. Eventually, all the caucasian members of Joshua’s flock would also wear a bun, in imitation of Joanna, whether they had a bone cup to hide or not.

For the time being the matter of making a pilgrimmage west was set aside. The Brethren were preoccupied with burying the fallen soldiers of both armies, as they had done once before in Maryland. They were adequately compensated by the United States for their labor, if not for the loss of much of their farm land to many hundreds of burial plots.

The following Sunday when the Brethren met in a tent on the grounds of their ruined meetinghouse Joshua read aloud from a hand-written book he called the Printer’s Manuscript. The Sunkel, Clark, and Martin families decided he was trying create new scripture from his own mind. A new bible was something they simply could not accept. These three families re- turned to Sharpsburg, Maryland where Elder David Long welcomed them home as prodigal sons and daughters.

After the work of burying the fallen soldiers of both sides had been completed the nine families who remained in the congregation made prepa- rations to sojourn west. Some of them sold their homes outright, while others deeded them to kin who would remain behind. It took until the end of the war for the Porters, Bergins, Henrys, Zinters, Hillings, and Krauses to rovision themselves for the pilgrimage. But the Savitts and the Brannens dwindled in their ardor. After Atlanta fell, just before the presidential election, they deemed it safe to return to Maryland, and this they promptly did.

Joshua Lange took his flock first to the state capital in Harrisburg, a little to the northeat, and thence by a hodgepodge of rail lines across the Appalachian Mountains all the way to Pittsburgh. These railroads were laid of wrought iron, and the maximum speed permitted on them was a mere twenty-five miles per hour, lest they wore out in just one year rather than ten. And setting aside the fact the mountains were a barrier to east-west travel in general, there were many stops along the way. It took most of the night and the better part of the next morning to cross Pennsylvania.

At Pittsburgh the congregation switched from rail to steamboat, which, despite moving with the current down the upper reaches of the Ohio River, made no better speed than a sustained brisk walk. But unlike the train, there were staterooms to occupy on the upper deck. The ladies were segregated to the stern. Lange’s group was not so destitute as to be relegated to sleeping on the first deck amid the bales of cotton and other cargo, as many of the walk-ons did while the steamboat made its way downriver.

From their rooms the members of Lange’s flock looked out with contentment upon the ever-changing scene along the river as it sliced through the forested hills. They spent three days steaming first north, then south and west, stopping at times to board and disembark passengers or to take on firewood for the boiler that churned, ever so precariously, it seemed to them, under the very flammable decks.

At Cincinnati Joshua Lange’s group disembarked from the steamboat and again took to rail, as they had come to the end of the mountains and had passed through an odd corner of the country where terrain and circum- stance had not yet conspired to make the railroad network complete. But again, at East St. Louis, after crossing the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, they briefly took to the water once more. At that time the only bridge lay far to the north in Davenport, Iowa.

Once the travelers and their luggage were safely on the western shore of the Mississippi River they resumed riding rail once more. The track in Missouri was laid of Bessemer steel, permitting travel at a breakneck forty-five miles per hour. The line going west came to an end just a few miles past Independence, Missouri.

And Joshua Lange, glancing at the train platform even as they were roll- ing to a stop, saw two extraordinarly tall figures he recognized waiting for them. Zarall and Anael, yen both of them and natives of Kemen. He raced up to greet them as soon as he disembarked. Each of them sank to a knee to greet Joshua, which thing astonished his followers

Joshua begged them to rise, and in their own tongue he commanded them to treat him with less formality than his rank of seraph was traditionally accorded, lest his followers come to a misunderstanding.

So Anael rose and spoke to Lange otherwise than sha wished, but calling him a mere pastor was a step too far. It was Anael who first applied the title Prophet to the leader of this remnant. Sha said, “We meet again, Prophet Lange, and this time in much better circumstances than the first! I trust your journey has so far gone well?”

Joshua said, “Very well indeed, Anael. And Zarall, it is good to see you again as well. I thank you both for meeting us here.”

By this time all of Joshua’s followers had gathered around, marveling that these tall strangers knew their pastor and marveling that they called him Prophet. These were the nucleus of hardcore believers who never wa- vered in their faith, yet it was comforting to have confirmation of what Lange had frequently told them. Still, they were dismayed to find the strangers wore a decorative headdress with white horns that curved to form a kind of bifurcated halo. It seemed heathenish.

Zarall said to Joshua’s little flock, “Did you fear you would reach the end of the line and find yourselves to be castaways?”

Joshua’s beloved wife Joanna said, “I admit, I dreaded the hard looks and harder questions that would come, should we arrive here with no one to greet us. Perhaps I feared it would be a sore test of their faith, and my own.”

“The journey you just made was the test of your faith,” Zarall said, “and that you are here, all of you, says everything. But the simple truth is that Anael and I have been working since dawn bringing all these mud-wag- ons here, and riding back by turns to bring more.”

Joanna asked, “Are there, then, only the two of you?”

Anael nodded. “Just we two. And I hope these seven wagons will suffice for you and all your people, and of course your luggage. Come, ride with me with your husband in the lead coach. I will speak of the place that will be your home for this fall and winter.”

The lower valley of the Blue River, where it dumped into the Missouri River, divided Kansas City from the town of Independence. Anael and Zarall led Joshua Lang and his flock seven miles from the train station up the Blue River valley, past many small farms, crossing the river now and again, until they were come to a large structure snuggled hard against the west side of the valley. The building was a single-story pile of large interlocking limestone brick, built without the necessity for mor- tar.

Anael said che hemself had assembled the twelve foot high walls and Lange did not doubt hem for an instant. The building did look sound, with a good roof, but Lange thought it could do with a coat of whitewash. It lay inside a larger fenced area with a small herd of oxen. The animals had grazed the grass to nubbins and now subsisted on bales of hay.

Led by Zarall, and assisted by Joanna Lange and the men and older boys, the fourteen horses that had been used to drive the pilgrims to this place were unharnessed from the mud-wagons and led into this area to mingle with the oxen and feed on alfalfa, which was spread out just for the steeds. The animals considered it to be candy.

Anael gestured at the oxen and said, “Here are the beasts that will pull your wagons, Joshua. At least for part of your journey. Alas for them, they will go no farther west than Fort Kearny. After that the poor worn-out things will head for somebody’s dinner table.”

Following Zarall the thirty-six pilgrims stepped through the double doors to look inside the structure. They saw a large bay with ten prairie schooners under assembly. The hoops for their bonnets reached nearly to the ceiling. At one end of the bay was a common dining area. Along the walls were set private rooms of diverse sizes for each of the seven fami- lies.

Zarall said, “I welcome every one of you to this place which has been prepared to carry out the will of God Most High. There is much yet to do, and much for you to learn to do, before you will be ready to finish your journey. But by then it will be, I think, too late in the year for you to arrive at your destination with time to make ready before winter sets in.

Anael said, “Zarall and I have been granted the privilege and the honor to help you make all the necessary preparations. Take no thought of money! This room and board, these animals and the wagons they will pull are all gifts of the B’nei Elohim, freely given.”

Joanna, like many Americans, was almost allergic to taking charity. Speak- ing for all of Lange’s followers, she said, “We are not entirely des- titute.”

Zarall replied, “Yet if I am not mistaken, your have only brought such clothing and family heirlooms you could not bear to leave behind. Therefore you will, over the next several months, make many overnight trips to Kan- sas City to purchase whatsoever new items you may need.”

Privately Joshua thought the people who had come to that place needed a less awkward name to know them by than to just call them “Lange’s follow- ers”. In the weeks to come a child among them named Linda Bergin would learn that some oxen were not easily turned by the touch of a pole. They were called “stiff of neck” and this was the source for many refer- ences in the Bible which referred to the children of Israel as a stiff-necked people. Anael said such stubbornness was really a good thing if it was desired to move toward a single goal without turning to one side or the other. Linda took to calling all the pilgrims “Stiffnecks” and it quickly caught on.

The Stiffnecks, then, grew larger by two individuals while they win- tered over near Westport. The first to arrive was baby Megan, born to Gary and Marge Bergin in the fall of 1865. The second was Miss Tamara Brannen, who arrived by rail from Maryland to be wed to Lee Henry in the twilight days of the same year. But it wasn’t until the following spring before the roads, knee-high in mud, had become solid enough to begin the pil- grimage west.

It was a Sunday when the Sticknecks spent their last full day with Zarall and Anael, and for the final time the two B’nei Elohim worshiped with them, though they both found the practice to be odd and had frequently commented to that effect. Some of the Stiffnecks remarked in turn how this ojection made them appear even more heathenish.

But Anael said to them, “Have we not shared our meals together three times each day, and offered praise and thanksgiving to God? Such a communal meal is the only thing resembling services Yeshua ever conduct- ed with his disciples.”

At the end of the worship service Zarall rose to say a few words from his heart to the people sha had lived with an served for nearly a year. “Have no illusions. This will the the most difficult thing you have ever done. But do not be afraid! Yeshua came to teach men to live together in peace, and in the beginning it was so. With God willing, your labors will make the Lord’s aspiration present in the world once more.”

It took all the next morning for the oxen to toil just three miles up a ravine feeding the Blue River to intersect the infant Oregon Trail running south from Raytown. There the twenty oxen pulling the wagons were re- leased from their burdens, and the twenty beasts that made a leisurely walk out of the Blue River valley were put under harness. After another eight miles the Oregon Trail bent sharply to the west, and in another half mile they stopped.

Whenever the wagon train stopped for the evening it was the responsibili- ty of the head of each family to raise his wagon with a jack, remove one wheel, and paint the hub with a mix of pine tar and tallow carried in a bucket slung from the rear axle, as they were solemnly instructed by Oriel. This they were to do as though it were a ritual, before they even took their evening meal, on a revolving basis, one wheel per night.

When they crossed into the state of Kansas the Stiffnecks dipped into the stash of salt pork stored under a false floor in their wagons, and ate them with dried peaches.

To cross rivers the bottoms of the wagons were painted with tar to make them waterproof and they were floated across after the animals were safely on the other side. But sometimes the pilgrims were brought to a halt by a severe afternoon rainstorm and had to huddle inside their wag- ons.

Still, everyone remained in good spirits. Most of the younger children had ridden by pairs on the backs of the fourteen horses, while the adults and older children switched between riding in the wagons or walk- ing on foot beside the oxen pulling them to lead them along the track at a stately two miles per hour. Breakfast frequently featured eggs laid by the chickens the people had brought along, but on Sundays some of these chickens were slaughtered and roasted for a midday feast.

They reached the eastern edge of the regions crossed by migrating bison. Ida Porter, Roy Hilling, and Robert Krause began collecting buffalo chips to use as cooking fuel, and they made it seem so fun the other children pitched in. When they reached streams or rivers Alfred Porter and his son George angled for catfish and caught enough for everyone to have a baked fish for lunch the next day.

A family living in a farmhouse sold the pilgrims a meal of boiled beans and chipped beef, served with fresh bread and topped off with oven baked pies. But on most days the pilgrims had begun open their cans of cheese and sardines, and consumed these with hardtack bread and tea. But when they reached the Hollenberg farm there were nine boarding rooms available. The men among the Stiffnecks were glad for the change from sleeping outdoors on the ground. Breakfast was bacon, eggs, and gooseberry cobbler.

A war party of some two hundred Pawnees crossed the trail from the south, passing Lange’s group quite by chance. Most of the plains Indians knew settlers on the Oregon Trail were just passing through and in the main they did not go out of their way to antagonize them, lest it brought down unwanted retaliation from the United States Army.

“Make no threatening moves,” Lange cautioned his followers. “Touch no rifle. Trust the Lord to protect us.”

The Pawnees swarmed around their wagons out of pure curiosity, in- specting the hatchets and mallets they found within and took turns to lie on the feather-bed mattresses one-by-one. They took no food or tobacco, and eyed the weapons stored inside but let them be. Some of them took a very close look at the women, perhaps the first white females they had ever seen, but they kept their hands to themselves. If such were the orders of their chief they were a very disciplined force at the very least.

When they had mounted their horses once more the chief scanned the whole scene, drew himself up in his full battle regalia, crinkled his face, and plugged his nose. All the braves broke into laughter, then they all rode away. When it was clear they would not return, Lange led his con- gregation in a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

When there was no local water for the oxen and horse the pilgrims watered the animals from cisterns in the wagon. One of the oxen in the trailing wagon had thrown a shoe and no one could guess how far back along the trail it might be. Joanna Lange applied to the ox’s injured hoof. He was released from pulling the wagon and two of the horses were set in his place.

After passing the future location of Kenesaw, the trail drew near to the Platte River in another seven miles, with the smell of cottonwood trees in the air. The water was silty, but let still in a bucket for an hour it grew clear. The oxen were less discerning.

At length the Stiffnecks reached Fort Kearney, the last outpost of civi- lization they would find until they built their own settlement. They telegraphed messages to family members left behind in Gettysburg and trad- ed their worn-out oxen for rested ones. At the general store they ob- tained more chickens and many of the sundries they had consumed on the trek, but prices were dear.

Two days were spent at the fort. Taking their rest, they witnessed several other wagon trails passing through. Blacksmiths willing to la- bor on Sunday put new iron shoes on the horses and oxen. Lange’s money was depleted that much more.

During the following week the Stiffnecks passed south of the future townsite of North Platte. Had they left Gettysburg only two years after they did North Platte would be the western rail terminus and they could have begun their pilgrimage that much closer to their final destination.

Joshua Lange led the wagon train off the Oregon Trail entirely. They struck north, cross-country, to reach a vast wilderness called the Ne- braska Sandhills. This is a sea of sand dunes anchored by grass and dotted with innumerable small freshwater lakes. There was plenty of green stuff for the animals to graze, but the going was slow. No sooner did someone wonder, aloud, where the water came from than they were inundated by the first of frequent rainstorms that slowed their as- sage even more.

The way twisted between the hills but sometimes a ridge twenty miles long and two hundred feet high lay directly across their path and they were compelled to go over it. Other times they would reach brush in draws which had to be cleared by men using axes and scythes. The Stiffnecks were to spend as many days traveling off the Oregon Trail as they had spent traveling on it.

It seemed they had entered a purgatory and only Joshua Lange’s regular additions to the Printer’s Manuscript prevented them from losing track of the days. But at last they reached what Joshua Lange knew to be the Squaw River and the pilgrims turned west to follow it toward its source.