Rachel McBride is a true Southern Belle, at least until the Civil War cost her her father, mother, and modest estate. As a last resort, as much to avoid complete destitution as anything, she decides to head west.
Along the way, she is caught in a robbery gone wrong. Heroically saving herself and the wife of the richest man in the territory, she is rewarded with whatever she wants. She blurts out that she has always wanted to be a sheriff, although the thought has never occurred to her before that instant. At the tender age of nineteen, she finds herself as The First Sheriff of Strawberry Flats, where every day is met with a new challenge and adventure.
The Second Dime Novel
The Missing Stage
Rachel McBride awoke to Jackson’s incessant licking of her face. She tried to bat him away, but the mutt was persistent. He licked until she was awake enough to get herself up on her elbows and survey what was around her.
First, she took inventory of herself. She had a busted lip, a sprained ankle, and an assortment of other cuts and bruises over her hundred and ten pound body. Her new dress, which she had purchased especially for this adventurous journey west, was in tatters, and her new bonnet was nowhere to be found.
The remains of the stage coach she was riding in lay in a crumpled pile not more than a few yards away. The four horses pulling it were in various degrees of distress, but obviously were not going to survive the crash. Rachel bravely pulled herself to her feet, and looked further around. There, back closer to where the stage had gone over the cliff, were the bodies of the driver and shotgun man. Dead for sure.
Over there, the fat man from Chicago who had claimed himself to be a manager for some famous bank. And there, the man who had said nary a word since the stage had left Albuquerque and headed north three days ago. Both also dead for sure. The other woman on the stage, Clara something, was nowhere to be seen.
“Find Clara,” Rachel said to Jackson. She always spoke to him in plain language, as if he could understand all that she was telling him. Most of the time, he would sit there, looking at her and wagging his tail, waiting for her to throw the ever present ball she carried in her purse, but this command he seemed to understand. He trotted over to the pile of wood and metal that used to be the stage, and then turned and barked.
Rachel managed to get herself across the few yards, choosing to hop to the stage instead of putting weight on her badly sprained ankle, expecting to find nothing more than a body crumpled to match the rest of the stage. As she approached, she heard a muffled moan from somewhere inside the pile.
“Clara?” she called. “Clara? Are you there?”
Nothing for a short moment, and then another moan. It was neither a yes or a no, but clearly was a woman’s voice. The stage had landed on its side, in such a way that Rachel could not see into it without climbing onto the wreckage itself, which she did slowly and painfully. Reaching a window, she peered inside, and saw that Clara was indeed alive, but injured. She could not tell the extent of Clara’s injuries, but they seemed worse than her own.
“I’ll get you out,” she declared to Clara, who was still too incoherent to understand.
Hours later, two or perhaps three, Rachel managed to free Clara from the crumpled tomb. Two things were obvious immediately. Rachel would have to find a needle and thread to sew a severe cut on Clara’s leg, and she would have to set a forearm which had part of the bone sticking out through the skin.
To inquire how it was that Rachel McBride found herself in such a situation would be a fair question for the reader to ask. Sparing some of the details, which surely will be addressed in subsequent episodes, it happened thus:
Rachel was born in the summer of eighteen hundred forty nine, to Ezekiel and Daniella McBride. Her childhood was spent roaming the grounds of their spacious Georgia estate, where corn and tobacco were grown. She was not a troublesome child as a whole, but constantly dismayed her mother by how much she played with the slave children and how much she involved herself in the lives of the Negroes. Although he did not do so himself, Ezekiel was far more tolerant of such behavior than his wife, and mostly looked the other way. Being a third generation slave owner, Daniella was the opposite. To her, such behavior was inappropriate for any white person, let alone a Smithson, which she still considered herself to be even though she was married to Ezekiel.
Then, in the summer of eighteen sixty one, everything changed. Trouble had been brewing for years, and war had seemed inevitable since the First Battle of Bull Run, but the McBrides had continued with their lives as if Camelot would exist forever and Armageddon would be bound for all time. They were wrong.
After the Battle of Bull Run, where the southern soldiers soundly defeated the Yankees, Ezekiel assured Daniella that all would be well, and that the war would be settled in short order, and life in the south would be as it had been for a hundred years. He was wrong again. Over the next months, it became more and more obvious that the war was not going to be over as quickly as everyone had said. Lincoln had rallied the north into a state of frenzied aggression, and they had more of everything to commit to a war than did the Confederate States. Except for determination and will, thought Ezekiel and many others.
Ezekiel went off to war, along with many of the other men of Lunenberg County, in eighteen sixty two. He never returned. Rachel and Daniella heard from another Lunenberg County man, who returned with only one leg, that Ezekiel had been killed at the Battle of Chancellorsville, but that was never confirmed or denied by the Confederate States themselves.
Then, in eighteen sixty four, the devil himself, William Tecumseh Sherman had made his way through Georgia, stealing all of the crops and animals, setting all of the slaves free, and burning the family home to the ground. The burning part may not have happened had not Rachel’s mother decided to take on the entire Yankee Army with a loaded shotgun, with which she managed to kill the first two Yankees who came to her door.
Killing his men while they were looting was frowned upon by Sherman, but he did not stoop so low as to have Daniella hanged, as he would have had she been a male. Instead, he took special care to destroy and loot everything, leaving the plantation in a state closer to what it had been when the McBrides settled it late in the previous century. Two days after the Yankees left, Rachel found her mother hanging by the neck in her bedroom, and a note that said she was sorry, but she couldn’t go on without the plantation and her beloved Ezekiel.
Rachel continued to subsist on the plantation until the war was over, living in one of the shanties previously inhabited by Negroes and eating what the earth herself could offer. She found that the knowledge she had learned from her Negro friends was far more valuable than what she had learned from her parents in this regard.
One of the things Rachel found, hidden in the dirt floor in a corner of one of the shanties, was a small canvas sack. Upon opening it, she found several gold coins, and two necklaces which she knew to have been owned by her mother. She remembered the blue one specifically because she had been severely whipped with a willow stick for stealing it herself when it had first disappeared.
Rachel knew that it would be impossible for her to rebuild the mansion, and that the hard feelings and other effects of the war would stay around for generations more, so in early eighteen sixty six, she managed to sell what was left of the plantation for an even hundred dollars. She took the money, along with her precious sack, made her way to Atlanta, and bought a new dress and passage west. She had no set plans for where she was going, only that she wanted to go where everything was new and adventurous.
That journey had led her here, to this rock on which she sat, to these tears which she shed, to this sad and difficult task in front of her. She was too young for all of this, too inexperienced to succeed at what was set before her. But try she must, and try she would.
Rachel gathered herself, with the composure expected and demanded of a true Southern Belle. She made a crude crutch for herself so she would not have to continue to hop around on one leg. She searched through the trunks and satchels of the passengers and found a small needle and thread in one of the trunks, which she assumed to be that of Clara. She used such needle and thread to sew up the cut on Clara’s leg. She put in the twenty two stitches as nicely as she could, but sewing had never been one of her accomplished skills.
“At least the bleeding has stopped,” she thought to herself.
The broken arm was another matter altogether. Rachel had only seen such a would once, on a horse that had stepped into a hole, and they had shot the horse rather than trying to fix it. Something about horses not being able to recover from broken legs, but she had not been paying close attention.
Another thing she remembered, but again had not personally witnessed, was that Martha, one of the woman slaves to which Rachel had an affinity, once had been called upon to set a bone in one of the other Negro’s legs.
“What did you do?” Rachel had asked her.
“Done gwine set da bone wit’ pull it out till it pops in ta place,” Martha had answered not looking up from the dough she was kneading. “Den let natcha taken its holt, if’n it gwine ta,” she added.
So, Rachel tried.
She gently grabbed Clara’s arm— Clara now being awakened from the original crash and feeling the pain in both her arm and leg— put her left foot just below Clara’s arm pit and her right foot at the base of Clara’s neck, and without warning, pulled as quickly and as harshly as she could. Clara let out a blood curdling scream and immediately passed out again. Rachel looked at the arm, and the bone was no longer sticking out of the skin. She used some more thread and sewed up that cut also. She was certainly no expert, but upon feeling up and down the arm and feeling no obvious distortions, she felt she had done what she could do to help. “Done upta God now,” Martha would have said.