Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles Volume 2, by author Paul Lintern. It is set in the summer of 1831 and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of young people. This is the second in a three-book trilogy. Volume 1 was Amelia Changes Her Tune.
“Hold it. Just a few more steps.”
The two boys waited behind a pair of small oak trees, peering through a v-shaped space toward a small clearing of leaves, whispering commands.
“Easy. Wait. Almost there. Ready, steady, steady, steady…”
They intently watched a plump grey squirrel as it, in turn, intently watched a pile of corn kernels, slowly sneaking up on them as though they would suddenly jump up and run away.
“Just a few steps more.”
The squirrel inched up to the pile, which happened to be under a wooden box propped up by stick, attached to a string.
“Now!” A string was pulled, the stick yanked aside, and the box clunked flat on the ground.
“You got it. Way to go. I told you it would work. We're going to be rich.”
“One squirrel does not make us rich.”
“One squirrel at a time, two pennies per squirrel. It will all add up.”
Isaac and Wolf Paw strutted up to the box and slid a board underneath. Then they turned the box over and held a burlap sack to the opening they were making on the box.
Tap, tap and the squirrel ran into the bag, moving around in it while Isaac tightened the bag, making less and less space for the squirrel to move. Whack, whack, and the bag lay still. Wolf Paw was quick with the stick. Isaac was left holding the bag.
“I told you my box would work,” Isaac said triumphantly.
Soon, the box was back on the stick, the kernels placed neatly under the box, and the string stretched behind the oak trees. Sure enough, another squirrel took notice of the corn and inched its way under the box. Yank, clunk, tap, whack.
Another squirrel, two more pennies.
It was a law in Richland County that every man age 18 to 35 must turn in 100 squirrel scalps every year, as a way of keeping that rodent population in check.
Wolf Paw was only 13. Isaac was 12. Neither was required to capture squirrels. But they knew there were plenty of men in town who would gladly buy the scalps rather than have to hunt on their own.
“Uncle Jacob will be happy to make squirrel stew tonight at the inn,” Isaac said, after the morning's hunt resulted in about two dozen animals.
“The pelts will be well received at the village,” Wolf Paw added. “Shoes, hats, wraps for next winter.”
“It'll take a lot of squirrels to keep the village warm,” Isaac said. “So, we better keep at it.”
Isaac had a musket, but a squirrel was not worth the amount of gunpowder and lead required. Wolf Paw had a bow with a quiver of arrows, but again, a squirrel was not a worthy target.
They had tried other approaches: Wolf Paw showed Isaac how to make a snare with some small green branches bent and tied back, grabbing the squirrel by the leg as it runs by, but they did not have the patience to wait, or the speed to reach the squirrel before it chewed its way out.
They tried sneaking up and hitting them with the stick or throwing rocks, but both decided the other looked silly when they came up empty, which they always did. The box trick had brought the most success, and the boys found it easier to kill something that was in a bag, rather than something staring them in the face.
“I don't know, it's harder to kill a squirrel,” Isaac said. “It shouldn't be; they really are just rats with furry tails and a cute face, and they are horrible to the crops.”
“Never underestimate the power of a cute face,” Wolf Paw said.
“Yours or mine?” Isaac asked.
Wolf Paw just rolled his eyes and screamed a mock war cry, uttering a Wyandot phrase that Isaac did not understand.
“What did you say?”
“It was only meant for my ancestors, and the Great Spirit,” Wolf Paw grinned.
Isaac knew that Wolf Paw did not have a real war cry in him. He was tall for his age, and strong, a good hunter and smart with a bow and arrow, but Isaac had never seen him fight. He just seemed to reason his way out of tight situations, disarming an enemy with calm words and penetrating eyes.
Isaac, on the other hand, was short for his age and quick with his fist. He was forever getting in trouble at school or around boys his age because of his temper and unwillingness to listen to the other side.
It was a source of constant concern from his mother and punishment from his father. Step-father, really. Isaac's father, David Baughman, had died eight years earlier when a large tree limb fell on him as he was clearing land. Isaac's mother married John Zeiters, her sister's husband's brother, a couple of years later. John adopted Isaac so he could have the Zeiters name.
Isaac, who could barely remember his father, wasn't sure that was such a good idea. I don't have my real father anymore, and the one I have now just feels sorry for me, he thought. The Baughman part of me will never let the Zeiters part take over. And no one should act like it has.
That is why Isaac's fists often flew. A comment, a glance, a pose by anyone near Isaac often was interpreted by him as a tease or threat. But never with Wolf Paw. It was not just because of his calm ways, or his larger size, or his disarming smile.
It was because Wolf Paw did not have his parents, had never known them, did not even know what happened to them after they left to help family members in Michigan when he was 2 years old, and never returned. Nor did they arrive in Michigan. Only his grandmother remained. And now she was waiting for him in Mansfield, to help her with her goods and foods for sale there.