O.K. I am not being real creative with the naming here. Series 1 is here, here2, and here3. As with the earlier series there is a factual basis to this acount. I added a modern flavor, but you cannot say that they could not happen this way: because they did. In this case, I changed the local, but it is a possible local for the actual people involved if they their travels had been going the other direction: but enough hints.
We were facing winter.
The distance was just too far. Our route from our drop off at San Angelo, in central Texas to Tremont, at the eastern edge of Tennessee was a little over twelve-hundred miles. By the time we made the Dawes Brothers joined us in –ironically- Comanche, TX, and we connected with our Friends near Killian there was no way we could make it we had used up half the travelling season just getting out of Central Texas. With winter coming on we were a little south of De Witt, Arkansas and still had another 600 miles to go.
We might have made it pushing hard, but we would have run through our seed corn, and be coming in lean. We knew we would still be welcome, but we did not want to put friends in that position. So we sent a scouting group ahead to Tennessee, to make sure the planned route was still workable, and to let them know we were still coming. Then we made camp for the winter, waiting for spring to come. We would make an early planting of corn in mid-March and by the end of June we would be back on the trail.
Our camp was in the old White River National Park area maybe 60 miles above the first lock of Arkansas river: presuming that the lock was still there. We were just a little south of Jack’s Landing in the crook of two small creeks that feeds Johnson Bay. We did our best to cover our tracks going in, and tried to keep a low profile. But after Texas, Arkansas felt like you were moving around in a band box with everything right on top of each other. When there are almost 200 of you; it is hard to stay low key.
Now, if you’re familiarity with Arkansas comes from memories old cable fishing show, I am sure you are thinking of hills and mountains and deep green forest. There are areas of Arkansas like that.
But here we had hills, burnt forests, and the swampy river. With many years of fuel piled on the forest floor, no organized fire watches and fire fighting, wild fires had gotten out of control in many of the forested areas. Where we were at had burned out a couple of years ago. So there was a lot of low growth, and a lot of black branchless trunks pointing black dagger tips into the sky. Everything tended to get the streaky black carbon on it. We were little animated cigarette butts come to life at the bottom of an ashtray.
Our plans were interrupted by the Roadsurfers. I am not sure what technical term would describe them: a marauder gang? Bandits? They were the still dangerous remnant of the meth-culture that had run riot even before the collapse. With a certain flair for violence and better than average firepower many would have put odds on their type being the new rulers of the Mad Max world. But that is the thing about feed backs loops: they work both ways: success snowballs on success; but failure hits very hard. And when you run out of food and have killed or scared off anyone who knows how to make more: life get pretty difficult.
I am not sure how they stumbled upon our little ashtray in paradise. We were keeping our campfires low, and the wigwam style tents tended to help keep the amount of smoke low. It is possible that it was simply a matter of chance. Possibly some of scouts had seen us traveling and followed us in. Likely we were just a little too large of a group to be moving around and not start some sort of conversation. At some point that conversation fell upon some greedy ears.
We had guards posted, but there is really just too much area for them to cover.
The Roadsurfers lay concealed until the midnight hour, and then quietly entered the herds. With a holler they stampeded the horses, driving off a large number. Horses were going everywhere. The guards had no idea what to shoot at and we had no idea of how many of them there were. For myself, I had just settled down from my turn at watch so I was up pretty quick. I grabbed my gun and charged toward the commotion: colliding head on with a big black spike of a tree trunk. There were more stars circling in my head than in the sky.
We spent the better part of the next day rounding up the remaining that we could track down. While we worked, our Scouts, Grady Owle and Steve Raby followed the bandit’s trail as best they could. They lost them in the remnants of the hard road at Jack’s Bay Landing.
However, we had a bit of luck. While we were rounding up the last horse, we stumbled on a small family of homesteaders. It turns out that they were survivalist of the type you always hear about, but never seem to actually run into. I guess they are out there, but it’s a big country if you keep low and don’t want to be found. These homesteaders, the Ollete family, were fairly well tucked away, but one family can’t keep any sort of watch and get any work done, so we walked right into them un-piling a toboggan of split wood. We apologized for startling them. Since we had not killed them when we had the obvious drop on them, they came to the quick conclusion that we were not hostile: just a fairly late addition to the story of people trying to get to a safe location. It worked out well in the end, because they knew exactly who had caused us our problems, and Doug Ollete said he would be more than happy to lead us to their camp along Dry Lake.
We reorganized our camp and made some belated improvements on our security measures. Then we held a council. Everyone had opinions, but Captain John had the last say: “Look friends, these Roadsurfers came here and stole our most useful property while we slept. Without our horses we will have a hard time surviving. There is also a matter of honor. I do not want to head into Tremont dragging our tales. Let’s plant our corn early this spring. After it comes up, we can leave some of the older folks and most of the women to watch it, and we will take a war party to the Dry Lakes and do to the Roadsurfers what they have done to us.” With a little luck, we may come out with more than we started.
Doug Ollete and our scouts kept an eye on the Roadsurfers from a distance. We wanted to be sure that we when we set out that they would be home. This was a grudge match, not a bandit raid, and we wanted to hit them while they were home.
The corn was planted, and in the month of May a company of fifty-five rifles, mostly men, but a few women as well, left our village on foot.
The scouts had blazed a trail that paralleled Jack’s Bay Landing Road. We would follow that path until getting got to a creek looped around to the river that fed into Dry Lake from the north. We figured it would be a direction from which they would not expect company. From what the scouts had seen, they did a little bit of close-in gardening, But when they left the camp, it tended to be in groups rather than as isolated hunters. We thought that our chances of getting close unseen were pretty good.
Now just to understand, the Dry Lake is not dry, but it is not much of a lake either. It is a little like upland wet tidal flat- with no tides. Bev Ortin said that one of her Uncles had gone duck hunting there a number of years ago. The trees were not burned out around the lake, but there was a lot of open grassland, so sight lines were fairly good. They were living on the east bank of Dry Lake. They had built a crude fortification, something like a bunker, by digging out the earth in various places and throwing up a circular embankment three or four feet high. The primary work was around a natural sink in the ground. There camp of tents and a couple of leaning singlewide trailers were outside of this “bunker”.
We made the trip without any surprises. We hit the river above their village and moved downriver until we got close. Then we secreted ourselves in a stand of cedars till night. Our scouts spent the greater part of the night examining the position. Having made the necessary observations, the scouts reported near daylight. The Captain was a little annoyed. He felt like there scouting had been thinking more at sneaking than fighting. He reminded them why we had come: Revenge! -and horses.
The Captain led us from our hiding place to a point about 400 yards from the tents and trailers of the sleeping Roadsurfers. We got into a line abreast across from their camp and waited for the first tips of the morning sun come up. It was a fine spring morning. The time for action had come.
Moving quietly with a broad step used to quickly make ground, we approached. But a solitary Roadsider was awake, collecting the remains of last night’s fire, getting it ready for the mornings meal. He caught the sound of footsteps on the brush: saw the approaching shadows. With a loud yell, he brought the camp to alert.
They woke up to war-whoops, accompanied by a shower of lead.
Though surprised, they still outnumbered us. Their big-man rallied the men and made a stand. The women and children needed to be protected; they were being attacked by unknown intruders. They ran to their bunker. The fight became general, and as the sun rose the Cherokees and the bandits were in a death grip.
But the Roadsurfers were badly outgunned. The few with good long arms were caught in the first volley of fire before they were ready. The rest had bows, crossbows, and a few pistols. The sharply pointed arrows and bolts could get through type 2 armor: but you’re still talking arrows against rifle bullets; sharp arrows aren’t red tip .308s. They were falling quickly, and we were unharmed.
After maybe thirty minutes of firing and hollering, the Roadsurfers signaled a retreat and fell back to the bunker. Here, though hemmed in, they were quite secure, having a great advantage. It seemed pretty likely you would get your head blown off if you stuck it above the rim of their fortification.
We had already killed a number of them. With the break in the action we paused to consider our next move. Edmund, always a bit wild, suggested that we strip down light, charge into the sinkhole as a group, and take them out with hatchets and knives: kill every man woman and child. His friend Smith, a Cajun who had been in the AA battalion with us, agreed with this course of action. As a way of encouraging this plan, Smith stripped down to his waste, fastened some horse bells he had found in their camp around his waist, and commenced running and yelling around the sink-hole. Every now and then, he would jump on the lip of their bunker and curse at them. Clouds of arrows and pistol shots came at him in clouds, but he did not fall. I think he startled them so badly their aim was off. I know I was surprised! It was something else!
Just as we were about to break up our meeting, about an hour after sunrise, we hear a noise that sounded like distant thunder on to the left, further down the bank of the Lake. We really weren’t sure what it was.
A few of us ran down to see what the noise was, and found out soon enough. It was an enormous troop of mounted men rising off the lake bank a little below us. What could it mean? Who were they? We looked at each other puzzled.
Apparently at the very start of the fighting, a messenger had ridden out for a nearby camp of the SuraKings and had begged for help. Now 200 of them, mounted and ready for a fight, were at hand. The whole aspect of the day was changed in a moment. There was no way we could take on this many people. To even escape would require caution. The SuraKings came up at an angle and cut off twelve-year old Daniel Simms, Mike Simms only child. They killed him, cut his head off, and put it on the end of a spear.
Mike saw this and went crazy. He threw off his equipment, grabbed a knife in one hand, and a hatchet in the other. “What are you doing?” asked the Captain. “Dying with my boy!” cried Mike. The Captain tried to stop him, but Mike was too fast. Mike charged the SuraKings. It was sure death. But he closed quickly and took down several of them before dying with a shouted defiance.
The one-man charge did put them in confusion. The SuraKings paused and occupied a post of oaks just below us. They kept hollering at us, but they did not make a rush into rifle shot.
We knew that in the open fields we could not resist such numbers. Having already killed 55 of the Roadsurfers – equal to our own numbers- and having lost two men and the boy, we now fell back to the cedar stand, and remained there until night. We were convinced our safety depended upon a cautious retreat. If we were surrounded in the open, we would be annihilated.
When night came on we started our withdrawal. We moved up alongside the river we had come down, traveling up its sandy banks a mile or two, as if we were going up country. At a rocky point we waded into the stream and back tracked until we got back to our original entry point. The water being remarkably low and even made this relatively easy even in the dark. We went very cautiously and did our best to avoid areas that would make obvious tracks. Gang bangers and road warriors didn’t strike us the outdoorsy tracking types, but then originally they hadn’t been much for riding horses either.
We set one ambush point, but they never picked up our trail. We got back to our camp.
We were without the horses we had anticipated, but had some trophies. Having counted 55 dead Roadsurfers, we felt that at least our honor was preserved. We broke out a little whiskey, and apple jack, toasted Mike’s memory, cheered Smith’s bravery and a celebrated.