Sally, Steve and Walt were completely unaware of the radio “chatter” that was occurring up-and-down the trail.
The first inkling that they had was when Steve and Sally popped into the general store in Ottumwa, Iowa before heading east toward Burlington and thence across the Mississippi river into Illinois.
After exchanging pleasantries and Steve attempting to sell the storekeep merchandise to recoup the cost of the pots, pans and grubstake he had been forced to buy to replace the lost pressure cooker and rice, the storekeep handed Steve several bundles of mail.
“What would you have me do with these?” Steve asked.
“Deliver them, of course.” the storekeep said. “They are bundled by town and I just assumed you would backtrack the way you came.”
Then the storekeep handed Steve the money. “I charged $4 a hundred miles and kept 25%. The rest is yours.”
“If you don’t want the business, I can give the mail back but there will be a lot of disappointed folks around here.”
There had been a LOT of chatter.
Sally, Steve and Walt were not the only people migrating east-west although there were very few doing it in early January. What was unique about them was that they were not just traveling fifteen miles or fifty miles. Nope. They were going all the way to Fort Wayne before turning north.
That meant that letters didn’t depend on multiple handoffs, each one with the chance of being forgotten or opened by an unscrupulous carrier.
What tipped Iowa's opinion regarding the expedition’s reliability is one of those chance encounters that cannot be planned for.
One of the Amish matrons was shopping in Burlington for items not available in Sperry when she overheard the old men by the wood-stove arguing whether Sally, Steve and Walt were trustworthy. It was more along the lines of recreational arguing to pass the time than a real discussion. Such waste of time was foreign to the Amish woman.
She did something completely unheard of. She, and Amish woman, stopped by the circle of men and stoutly informed them that SHE trusted Sally, Steve and Walter.
It was rare when the Amish rendered character judgements of the “English”. They lived the Good Book. One of the Ten Commandments is to not “render false witness” and vouching for somebody’s character was a very, very big deal.
And for an Amish woman to tell “English” men how the cow ate the cabbage? Unheard of!
The old men talked about the event for a week and every person who passed through the general store heard about it. The AMISH trusted Sally, Steve and Walt.
Another factor that tipped the scales of public opinion was that cute, little Sally openly carried weapons with the swashbuckling ease of an NRA instructor. Not just her handgun, but her SKS.
And she practiced. The radio chatter up-and-down the line verified that the expedition bought ammo at regular intervals and the BOOM! of the SKS was a regular feature as Sally practiced spinning the carbine up to her shoulder out of the African carry and bringing it to bear on the target
Those with the sharpest eyes noticed that somebody, Sally they assumed, had modified the sling. She had sewn a man's leather belt into the twenty-four inches of sling closest to the buttstock. Sally had determined through practice that the limp material of the fabric sling did not always ungrip her shoulder when she lifted the firearm and the thick material of her winter coat prevented her from feeling that fact.
As a small-town thespian, Sally often had to modify costumes to fit or to modify how a skirt swished or ripped when tugged. A certain, minimum expertise in sewing was a given for the small-town actress. Sally cleared that minimum expertise by a respectable margin. The girl could sew.
With the modifications she had made Sally could, without need for conscious thought, unsling her rifle and put a killing shot on anything within 200 yards quicker than most men could spit.
It was the collective opinion of the storekeeps and horse wranglers along the way that Sally really was a total Billy-Badass. And the men? Don’t ask.
There were dark rumors of somebody named “The Preacher” who single-handedly wiped out more than twenty bandits (stories never get more boring in the telling) during an ambush-gone-bad somewhere in Indiana. Nobody really knew what The Preacher looked like, just that the timing of the massacre clicked with when the expedition passed through the area.
The sole survivor lived long enough to tell the townspeople investigating the scene what had happened; that an attacker called himself "Preacher" had single-handedly wiped out the gang of highwaymen who had terrorized half of a county. The survivor noted that The Preacher had been in a party of two men and one woman.
Not only were Sally, Steve and Walt the only game in town for carrying mail east, but even if there had been other choices the expedition would have been the hands-down preferred carriers.
By the time Sally and Steve hit Burlington, the amount of silver they were collecting was becoming burdensome. They would have carried the letters, which weighed almost nothing, for free. It was the darned silver that was heavy.
On Walt’s advice, they found a place near Burlington to “bank” most of the fees and started eastward with intentions of making the best time available.
Scores of eyeballs tracked their progress and at any given time the radio-net could pin-point their daily progress to within a few miles.
The expedition had no way of knowing but a surprise was being prepared for them.
Hat/tip to Peter Grant for technical advice regarding the African Carry.