May 15, 1896
It has been more than a week now since I was captured. I lost track of sunrises, counted from glistening light peeking through the cracks separating the wooden boards which comprise the walls of my prison. The mornings and nights are cold, the days are long and fruitless. My hopes for rescue have dwindled from a certainty to a prayer for a miracle.
Laura no longer apologizes for bringing us here, in fact, she no longer speaks to me at all. The silence is preferable to her helpless moaning and self-pitying whining of our earliest hours of confinement. I would be angry with her but there is no point.
In the days since our capture, we have been joined by others. Most are wives of other miners but some are daughters like us. They arrive in groups of two most times with sacks covering their heads. They spend hours crying until our guards grow tired of it and threaten to “give them something to cry about.”
I have tried to help calm the newcomers and offer solace for those around me but most blame my father for our being here. Naturally as my father’s daughter I deserve the blame as well. I welcome it if it will make them feel better.
I am baffled by the lack of resistance among us. Most are convinced it will only be a short time before the miners cave in and go back to work. They think we will be free to go home then and that everything will be back as it should be. Have they all such short memories?
It was not so long ago we all stood together, prayed together for the safety of men trapped in the mine. We shared heartache and tears and in the end for most their worst fears were averted. But not for everyone. I still recall the look on my father’s face as he carried the body of Uncle Mike.
Perhaps the rest can forget how this all began, but I cannot.
I have spent my time plotting escape again as I did in jail. I had reason to hold out hope while father and I rested behind the iron bars of our cells, but here in this wooden cage hope of rescue is a fool’s nugget.
The biggest obstacle toward escape is not knowing where we are. I can hear the horses from time to time so I am fairly certain I could find Jasper and mount him without being noticed, but there is no way I could ride him out without someone seeing or hearing. The matter of knowing which way to run could be the difference between getting away and getting caught.
The guards are lazy. They do not pay close attention to us but no one has given them cause to either. They have a rotating shift with always three men on. They often spend their shifts drinking and playing cards, leaving the three sides of the barn unattended.
The wood around the barn is rotted in a couple of places, most noticeable on the back corner where water seems to settle. A few good kicks and the wood would almost certainly give way. Conveniently, a hay stack hides the spot from view unless one is looking directly along the back line of the barn.
The other problem I notice is that I am probably the most high profile prisoner. Meaning, my movements are more monitored than the others. And of course, there is the other problem, many of these women are more likely to alert the guards to any escape attempt I make than they are to smile at me. No doubt they consider it helping to keep me from making matters worse and I have no illusions of being able to convince them otherwise.
Therefore in order to mount an effective escape I will have to not only see to it the guards are occupied but also my fellow captives. The surroundings being primarily, hay, wood, and dirt, leaves little options for a decent distraction. In fact only one comes to mind, fire, and I am hesitant to use it.
I kicked at the dirt in frustration. Several of the women stared at me, including Laura. Looking around at them it suddenly came to me. They were quite likely a better distraction than anything I could manufacture.
To make things work I will need help. Of course my help will not need to know they are helping. I almost smiled but thought better of it. I walked to where Laura sat on the dirt floor, depressed and bored.
“We should talk.” I said, sitting down beside her.
“I’ve apologized as many times as I’m going to.” She replied, not looking at me.
“I don’t need apologies. I need help.”
“Help for what?” She looked up.
“Help for getting us all out of here.”
“That’s impossible. You’ll get us hurt or worse, killed.”
“Will you at least hear me out? If you don’t like what I say, I’ll forget it.” I pleaded with her.
“Fine, but promise me you’ll drop it if I say it’s bad.”
“Then I’ll listen, but don’t expect much.”
I proceeded to outline an escape plan for Laura to get to a horse and ride off into town to let our fathers know where we were being held.
Laura’s eyes brightened as she realized I was placing my trust once again in her.
“What if I can’t tell for certain where we are at?” She asked.
“Our fathers will be able to figure it out without too much trouble with what you do know.” I replied confidently.
“Why me?” She asked.
“Because they are watching me too closely. You could slip away and be gone and they might not notice for hours or longer.”
“Are you sure you can distract them long enough for me to get away?”
“Yes.” I replied.
“I’ll do it.” She said.
It took an hour to prepare things. Laura quietly peeled the boards away behind the haystack without being noticed and I kept myself in plain sight toward the front doors.
When all was ready I pounded on the door with my fist.
“I want to talk to Billy!” I shouted.
“Shut up.” Came the response from one of the guards.
Laura slipped out the hole she had created.
“Get Billy Buster this instant!” I yelled.
“Shut up or we’ll come in there and make you wish you had!”
“If Billy finds out you didn’t let him know I wanted to talk he’ll make you regret it!”
The door swung open. Three large men loomed over me looking like they were ready to kill something. I had an inkling the something was me but I was about to change everything.
I could see Laura slipping into the corral with the horses behind them. She was almost certain to get away if I kept their attention for a few minutes longer. Too bad for Laura my plans were a bit different.
“Look,” I pointed behind them. “She’s going to get away!”
Only one of them turned to look but it was enough.
“Come on, she’s not lying!” He hollered as he took off running for Laura.
“Stop!” He shouted at Laura.
Laura’s face turned white and she leapt over the corral fence and started running across an open field toward forest.
The two men remaining near me turned to follow, with one slamming the door closed in my face and locking it.
Quickly, I ran to the back of the barn and slipped through the hole in the wall. Several women shouted after me but with the guards occupied with Laura I was far from worried.
I jumped the corral fence and ran straight for Jasper. He saw me coming and moved close to the fence. He was not saddled but he knew I intended to mount him from the look in his eye.
I stepped up on the fence and used it like a ladder to get up on his back. My arms wrapped around his neck and he took off at a full gallop for the far side of the corral.
He jumped the fence in stride and kept running straight for the tree line.
Out in the open I could tell we were north of town and Jasper seemed to know it as well. He ran toward home like the wind and it was all I could do to stay balanced on him without a saddle.
In the distance behind me I could hear Billy Busters voice bellowing at his men.
“You fools! You let her get away!”
I allowed myself a smile.
Jasper continued to run full speed but my grip was slipping. I knew from the start we would have a difficult run to get away but I had not counted on how hard it would be to remain on Jasper without a saddle.
Swishing through the trees, my grip around his neck began to loosen. I struggled to push myself forward but without stirrups it was impossible. My fingers slipped.
A stray branch caught my arm and I fell. Jasper kept running for a moment before realizing he had lost me.
I picked myself up off the ground intending to attempt to remount Jasper. Closing in fast I heard the hoof beats of more than a dozen horses and before I could even take a step toward Jasper, we were surrounded.
Billy dismounted and stood face to face with me.
“I’ve known men who’d have given up long before now, Miss Waters. You impress me.” He said.
“I’ve known women with more smarts than you, Billy and you’ve yet to come close to impressing me.” I replied.
“I’ll have to do something about that then.” He replied before swinging his closed fist to my face.
It looked to be about noon by the sun in the sky, but as I hit the ground, it was sunset.
I awoke in darkness. Immediately I realized I was stripped from the waist up. My hands were stretched above me so my toes barely touched the ground. A wooden post stretched from floor to ceiling in front of me. By the light of dim lanterns I recognized the barn of my captivity.
A whip lashed across my back. At first it was like a tickle but as the seconds ticked by it began to itch and then it began to burn. My eyes began to water.
The whip lashed out again, this time it burned from the first moment. I cried out in pain.
There was silence around me but I could feel the eyes of every soul in the room.
Again and again I was whipped until my leg gave up any pretense of support. I hung like dead weight on the ropes binding my hands. Tears graced my cheeks but I refused to beg for mercy.
A rough hand gripped my hair and pulled my downtrodden head upward. I looked into the eyes of the devil himself and was not afraid. Billy Busters grinned.
“I promised you would find yourself here if you gave me any more trouble, didn’t I?” He asked.
I stared at him as if my hatred alone would smite him from existence.
“Answer me!” He yanked on my hair until if felt as though he would rip my scalp clean off.
“Yes.” I whispered in a hoarse voice.
“I always keep my promises, remember that, Miss Waters.”
He turned my head to the side.
“Look now and see what happens to anyone who helps Miss Waters.” He said to the room at large.
In front of my eyes, knelt Laura. She sobbed uncontrollably at a man’s feet. He held a red hot branding iron in his hands. Slowly, he brought it down toward her face with an evil laugh.
Laura screamed in terror. Laura screamed in pain. I closed my eyes.