Chapter 2 Brother Against Brother

Trust me, it gets even better.


Chapter 2


© 2018 Steven D. Shepard

Refugees

At first light, the trickle of strangers was just a leak dripping into town on the Red River Road. They oozed slowly into Shreveport up Louisiana Avenue, dragging in weary from the south. This first bunch had the luxury of riding through the night cause they were mounted. Or they had wagons. They were the lucky ones. This human trickle turned into a stream. The stream came in carrying carts pulled by goats, mules or oxen. Or men and women pulling with their bare hands. They were the advanced guard of more and more people swelling into what became a painful tide and then an uncontrollable flood. Sad, weary women, their children stumbling faces streaked with tears, sitting on top of a pile of meager belongings. What they could grab and carry while they still had time. Behind them came their weary men bitter and angry, the rich rubbing shoulders with the poor and outcasts. As the ragged strangers poured into the city, dogs snarled and whined at this hapless caravan. Here and there wounded soldiers stumbled along as helpless as the rest.

As the day progressed, the stream turned into a torrent. A desperate flood of walking, wailing and suffering humanity. They poured into Shreveport, clogging each and every one of the eight city thoroughfares facing south. Most had journeyed one hundred and twenty-four miles up the River Road day and night, without rest or stopping. Cause they had to. The Union Army had begun its assault on Alexandria. This desperate flood of people were refugees fleeing the Union advance with their meager lives and possessions. Not even knowing where they were going to go.

Their desperate journey, made in confusion, fear and panic, brought them northwest up a dirt road that was no wider than a wagon in many places. On either side their flight was bottled, clogged and contained by a thick jungle so tight with armed brush and trees that if a man left the road he had to hack his way through the bush with a machete just to see daylight. Behind every tree of that arbor barrier there was some kind of critter ready and waiting to bite, stick or poke them back onto the road. If their long trek through this jungle wasn't bad enough, when they got close to Shreveport they had to cross or go around the Silver Lake marsh. Tired and wasted, this last leg was probably the worse part of their trip. It could be avoided if you knew your way around. Most of the year Silver Lake was a nearly impenetrable fortress of moss covered cypress trees, muck, mud and a thick slough that protected the city from just about any southern approach. But the briers, the brush and the brambles where a rabbit couldn't go didn't stop this fearful mob. And they kept a coming.

Many of these terrorized exiles had been walking for two days or more. They were hungry, tired, thirsty, foot sore and afraid. The exhausted refugees stopped at any house or shop along the Red River Road and asked for water. They didn't ask at all when they got to town and lined up to help themselves to outhouses and other city resources - no matter whether it was public or not. This chaos of traffic strained into Shreveport. Their stock drained water troughs all through the city. They became a noisy traffic jam laden with their burdens, cares and rolling carts as they stopped and stood everywhere. No place was safe or exempt from dirty and tired bodies looking for someplace, anyplace, that might offer some safety, shade and time to sit and recover. They crowded into town unchecked, uncontrolled, stirring up the red dirt streets into a floating dust cloud that choked anyone that who made the mistake to be in it. The people and dust were so thick it made seeing west up the Texas Avenue slope nearly impossible. With them they brought the stink of fear and panic which soon infected the entire city. Frightened homeowners shouted at them to keep their distance. Shopkeepers slammed their doors shut and locked them out. With this rude welcome and before the day was over, the population of Shreveport, Louisiana nearly doubled when two thousand outcasts strained every resource the city ever had.

Captain Doug Ivey witnessed the first stragglers coming into town. He got more than an eyeful before he left the house to go to work. The stragglers had already swelled into a crowd as he rode south down Louisiana Street towards Fort Turnbull. The crowd was so thick he was forced to surrender the road. By the time he got to his office shack the stream of humanity was flowing unchecked northwest along Red River Road. The first mounted stragglers had the luxury to turn towards the docks and stop along the muddy Red River to camp and rest under the trees. Some of them bathed in the cold dirty water. But by 10:00 AM the flood had arrived and there was no room for this multitude along the river. The flood of humanity had to move on or move back to occupy city streets heading west or crowding the road leading into town. Once in town, they filled the streets stopping local traffic. They were everywhere. Ivey had closed the door to his mother's house but there was no lock. Most folks in Shreveport didn't feel the need for lock in a town where you knew just about everyone and everyone knew you. But as he watched the flood of desperation heading into town, he became very concerned about the safety and security of the home he grew up in. Even though he just got to work, he changed mind, called his orderly in and told him he had to leave. The clerk wasn't happy about it, because he couldn't. As Doug headed for the door and his horse, he heard the clerk saying that General Taylor was in from Natchitoches and needed to speak to him. But that was going to have to wait.

Mounted on his horse, Ivey joined the flow of the human flood that strained the dirt road north back into Shreveport. But the River Road they all traveled never was much more than a wagon rut for cotton traffic. It was a poor host for the mob that choked it now. He found riding around this seething mass of humanity was only possible for short spans. The brush and forest on either side of the road constrained and shaded this misery train inside like walls of a tunnel. Inside this green tunnel, the din and the echo and the noise from crying, coughing, cursing, moaning and wailing people was more than Ivey had ever heard in his entire life. He had never seen such a chaos of sadness coming from so many people in one place. The noise from the traffic was deafening. It never stopped. Riding along, pitiful sights he saw unnerved him and made it hard for him to concentrate. Each step his horse took brought him up on a new and awful sight that offended his senses. Sad faced men carrying parcels in blankets strapped around their heads and backs. Women stumbling along in filthy dirty long dresses, their hair tumbled about faces streaked dirty from dust and tears. Their poorly dressed children plodded alongside or rode in carts. The kids not passed out with fatigue screamed and cried and made worse sounds that went ignored. Their horses lathered straps rubbing bloody blisters and sores into their shoulders. Drivers slapped, whipped and yelled at oxen bellowing for want of rest and water. The people cursed and yelled at each other about being in the way. It was all he could do to pass by in astonishment. Nothing in his life had prepared him for such things and he had no idea how to react. Not only was there nothing he could do, he had no idea what he should do. He wanted to stop and ask one of them what the hell was going on, but he knew. This quivering mass of suffering humanity was coming up from Alexandria, Natchitoches, Coushatta, Campti and the many farms and towns along the southern Red River Road. This seething sea of tears was the wounded face of Louisiana on the run. There was no compassion in the region to dress the wounds these people were suffering. Or the wounds to come. And not enough resources in the entire South to help them.

Ivey stepped along the best he could. It was difficult to keep his horse from stepping or stomping on people in his way. It was only a three mile trip from the Fort to his mother's house, but the clot of human traffic was making it seem longer. About a mile up the winding road Ivey could tell why some of the traffic was moving so slow. What he saw was another incredible sight that strained belief again. There was a huge peddler's Romani wagon taking up the entire road. It was a colorful, barrel shaped gypsy wooden bulk with real shingles for a roof. This barreling bulk swayed side to side as it was pulled by a team of six massive horses showing incredible patience with the crowds. No one could hardly get around it. As it lumbered and rolled along, the fat wagon bounced and strained with the poor road and objected to every bump and rut. It's bright color and size were in perfect contrast to the misery going on around it. Flourished text on the front, sides and back of the wagon advertised to the world, DOCTOR LANNING'S MIRACLE CURE! In the driver's seat of the wagon, Doc Lanning drove his team as fast or as slow as the human traffic ahead of him would allow. He did so with no care or concern for the traffic behind him. Doc Lanning was in no hurry and he had no place to be. One town and one road was pretty much the same as another to him. Had been for years. The Doc chewed on a cigar, hummed a tune and smiled politely at the people who squeezed by him with their dirty looks and verbal damnations. As far as Doc Lanning was concerned, it was a beautiful day.

Doug weaved his way over, under, around and through the crowd and caught up to the wagon and its driver. His horse stepped along side and Doug stared incredulously at the driver from his saddle. The driver smiled and tugged his hat in return. The man said, “Morning. Beautiful day isn't it?” With confusion Doug turned his head around and looked back at the driver and said, “For some - I guess. Where you heading?” Doc Lanning slapped and tugged the reins of his team and said, “Well, I thought I would join these fine folks and visit Shreveport. I wasn't real sure the Yankees behind us was going to let me alone or let me stay.” After a brief pause Doug asked, “Yankees?” “Yes Sir, believe they were.”, the Doc replied. “How many you reckon?” Doug asked again. “Don't know. Not sure I can count that high. There was a mess of them.” The Doc responded with a wink.

Suspicions confirmed, Doug told the Doc thanks and rode on. It seemed like once he could get around the wagon and the team of horses, the folks in front gave way and allowed the Confederate officer to have the road. Doug got to his mom's house and sure enough there were people scattered about the yard and even laying on the front porch. Some were drawing from the well. They tried to occupy the brush area between the house and the river. But the brush was still dense and thick and that was nearly impossible. As he tied his horse to the front rail outside the fence a stranger got up and tried to make a greeting. A man on the front steps said to him, “Captain, sorry to take up your space here without asking. We hope you don't mind. Nobody has been in the house. I made sure of that.” Doug said he minded, but he understood. He walked into the house to verify for himself what the man said was true. It was.

In town, someone called the Sheriff. It was not like he hadn't already noticed that Shreveport was being invaded. Some of the refugees were scuffling with each other over some unknown reason and the conflict cleared a circle that spawned a lot of screaming and yelling that threatened to start a riot. Sheriff George Dart didn't have to be told where to go. He just followed the noise and watched where the crowd was retreating. Elbowing and shoving his way through he found six men tussling in opposition of each other. Dart didn't hesitate and didn't care what the argument was about. He pulled his pistol and started clubbing heads making his way through the fighters. His gun blows dropped the first two to the ground knocking them out cold. The remaining four dropped back and stood like they were ready to fight, but then thought better of it. Dart spun his pistol around the trigger finger of his right hand like a gun fighter and held the barrel of the weapon up at the ready. He scanned the four men and stared them in the eyes. Arm extended he pointed at them with his left hand and shouted with his voice of authority, “THIS IS MY DAMNED TOWN! I ain't gonna have none of this going on here. Now you got two choices, you can pick your men up off the ground and get the hell out of the city limits or you can march your asses down to my jail right now. What's it gonna be? “

The four men blinked and looked at each other briefly, then they walked silently over to the two bodies on the ground and picked them up. They shoved their way through the crowd and were soon out of sight. Dart looked around at the remaining crowd that surrounded him. He spoke up once again, “I know you folks have been through a lot. But we got law in this town. And we damn sure will use it. So I don't want any more trouble.” With that, the sea of humans parted to let the rude Sheriff walk back to his office.

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