Letters of a Woman Homesteader


[These are genuine letters, written without thought of publication, simply to tell a friendly story. The writer, a young woman, who had lost her husband in a railroad accident, went to Denver to seek support for herself and her two-year-old daughter, Jerrine. Turning her hand to the nearest work, she went out by the day as house-cleaner and laundress. Later, seeking to better herself, she accepted employment as housekeeper for a well-to-do Scotch cattleman, Mr. Stewart, who had taken up a quarter-section in Wyoming. The letters written through several years to a former employer in Denver tell the rest of her story.

We may add that the letters are printed as written, except for occasional omissions and the alteration of one or two names. — THE EDITORS.]

April 18, 1909.
DEAR MRS. CONEY, — Are you thinking I am lost, like the Babes in the Wood? Well, I am not and I’m sure the robins would have the time of their lives getting leaves to cover me out here. I am ’way up close to the Forest Reserve of Utah, within half a mile of the line, sixty miles from the railroad. I was twenty-four hours on the train and two days on the stage, and oh, those two days! The snow was just beginning to melt and the mud was about the worst I ever heard of.
The first stage we tackled was just about as rickety as it could very well be and I had to sit with the driver, who was a Mormon and so handsome that I was not a bit offended when he insisted on making love all the way, especially after he told me that he was a widower Mormon. But, of course, as I had no chaperone I looked very fierce (not that that was very difficult with the wind and mud as allies) and told him my actual opinion of Mormons in general and particular.
Meantime my new employer, Mr. Stewart, sat upon a stack of baggage and was dreadfully concerned about something he calls his ‘Tookie,’ but I am unable to tell you what that is. The road, being so muddy, was full of ruts and the stage acted as if it had the hiccoughs and made us all talk as though we were affected in the same way. Once Mr. Stewart asked me if I did not think it a ‘duir gey trip.’ I told him he could call it gay if he wanted to but it did n’t seem very hilarious to me. Every time the stage struck a rock or a rut Mr. Stewart would ‘hoot,’ until I began to wish we would come to a hollow tree or a hole in the ground so he could go in with the rest of the owls.
At last we ‘arriv’ and everything is just lovely for me. I have a very, very comfortable situation and Mr. Stewart is absolutely no trouble, for as soon as he has his meals he retires to his room and plays on his bagpipe, only he calls it his ‘bugpeep.’ It is ‘The Campbells are Coming,’ without variations, at intervals all day long and from seven till eleven at night. Sometimes I wish they would make haste and get here.
There is a saddle horse especially for me and a little shotgun with which I am to kill sage chickens. We are between two trout streams, so you can think of me as being happy when the snow is through melting and the water gets clear. We have the finest flock of Plymouth Rocks and get so many nice eggs. It sure seems fine to have all the cream I want after my town experiences. Jerrine is making good use of all the good things we are having. She rides the pony to water every day.
I have not filed on my land yet because the snow is fifteen feet deep on it and I think I would rather see what I am getting, so will wait until summer. They have just three seasons here,Winter and July and August. We are to plant our garden the last of May. When it is so I can get around I will see about land and find out all I can and tell you.
I think this letter is about to reach thirty-secondly, so I will send you my sincerest love and quit tiring you. Please write me when you have time.
Sincerely yours,

. . . Well, I have filed on my land and am now a bloated land-owner. I waited a long time to even see land in the reserve, and the snow is yet too deep, so I thought that as they have but three months of summer and spring together and as I wanted the land for a ranch anyway, perhaps I had better stay in the valley. So I have filed adjoining Mr. Stewart and I am well pleased. I have a grove of twelve swamp pines on my place, and I am going to build my house there. I thought it, would be very romantic to live on the peaks amid the whispering pines, but I reckon it would be powerfully uncomfortable also and I guess my twelve can whisper enough for me; and a dandy thing is, I have all the nice snow-water I want, a small stream runs right through the centre of my land and I am quite near wood.
A neighbor and his daughter were going to Green River, the county seat, and said I might go along, so I did, as I could file there as well as at the land office; and oh, that trip! I had more fun to the square inch than Mark Twain or Samantha Allen ever provoked. It took us a whole week to go and come. We camped out, of course, for in the whole sixty miles there was but one house, and going in that direction there is not a tree to be seen, nothing but sage, sand and sheep. About noon the first day out we came near a sheep-wagon, and stalking along ahead of us was a lanky fellow, a herder, going home for dinner. Suddenly it seemed to me I should starve if I had to wait until we got where we had planned to stop for dinner, so I called out to the man, ‘Little Bo-Peep, have you anything to eat? If you have, we’d like to find it.’ And he answered, ‘As soon as I am able it shall be on the table, if you ’ll but trouble to get behind it.’ Shades of Shakespeare! Songs of David, the Shepherd Poet! What do you think of us? Well, we got behind it, and a more delicious ‘it’ I never tasted. Such coffee! And out of such a pot! I promised Bo-Peep that I would send him a crook with pink ribbons on it, but I suspect he thinks I am a crook without the ribbons.
The sagebrush is so short in some places that it is not large enough to make a fire, so we had to drive until quite late before we camped that night. After driving all day over what seemed a level desert of sand, we came about sun-down to a beautiful cañon down which we had to drive for a couple of miles before we could cross. In the cañon the shadows had already fallen, but when we looked up we could see the last shafts of sunlight on the tops of the great bare buttes. Suddenly a great wolf started from somewhere and galloped along the edge of the cañon, outlined black and clear by the setting sun. His curiosity overcame him at last, so he sat down and waited to see what manner of beast we were. I reckon he was disappointed for he howled most dismally. I thought of Jack London’s The Wolf.
After we quitted the cañon I saw the most beautiful sight. It seemed as if we were driving through a golden haze. The violet shadows were creeping up between the hills, while away back of us the snow-capped peaks were catching the sun’s last rays. On every side of us stretched the poor, hopeless desert, the sage, grim and determined to live in spite of starvation, and the great, bare, desolate buttes. The beautiful colors turned to amber and rose, and then to the general tone, dull gray. Then we stopped to camp, and such a scurrying around to gather brush for the fire and to get supper! Everything lasted so good! Jerrine ate like a man. Then we raised the wagon tongue and spread the wagon sheet over it and made a bedroom for us women. We made our beds on the warm, soft sand and went to bed.
It was too beautiful a night, to sleep, so I put my head out to look and to think. I saw the moon come up and hang for a while over the mountain as if it were discouraged with the prospect, and the big white stars flirted shamelessly with the hills. I saw a coyote come trotting along and I felt sorry for him, having to hunt food in so barren a place, but when presently I heard the whirr of wings I felt sorry for the sage chickens he had disturbed. At length a cloud came up and I went to sleep, and next morning was covered several inches with snow. It did n’t hurt us a bit, but while I was struggling with stubborn corsets and shoes I communed with myself, after the manner of prodigals, and said: ‘How much better that I were down in Denver, even at Mrs. Coney’s, digging with a skewer into the corners seeking dirt which might be there, yea even eating codfish, than that I should perish on this desert— of imagination.’ So I turned the current of my imagination and fancied that I was at home before the fireplace, and that the back log was about to roll down. My fancy was in such good working trim that, before I knew it I kicked the wagon wheel, and I certainly got as warm as the most ‘sot’ Scientist, that ever read Mrs. Eddy could possibly wish.
After two more such days I ‘arrived.’ When I went up to the office where I was to file, the door was open and the most taciturn old man sat before a desk. I hesitated at the door, but he never let on. I coughed, yet no sign but a deeper scowl. I stepped in and modestly kicked over a chair. He whirled around like I had shot him. ‘Well?’ he interrogated. I said, ‘ I am powerful glad of it. I was afraid you were sick, you looked in such pain.’ He looked at me a minute, then grinned and said he thought I was a book-agent. Fancy me, a fat, comfortable widows trying to sell books!
Well, I filed and came home. If you will believe me, the Scot, was glad to see me and did n’t herald the Campbells for two hours after I got home. I’ll tell you, it is mighty seldom any one is so much appreciated.
No, we have no rural delivery. It is two miles to the office, but I go whenever I like. It is really the jolliest kind of fun to gallop down. We are sixty miles from the railroad, but when we want anything we send by the mail carrier for it, only there is nothing to get.
I know this is an inexcusably long letter, but it is snowing so hard and you know how I am to talk. I am sure Jerrine will enjoy the cards and we will be glad to get them. Many things that are a comfort to us out here came from dear Mrs. —. Baby has the rabbit you gave her last Easter a year ago. In Denver I was afraid my baby would grow up devoid of imagination. Like all the kindergartners, she depended upon others to amuse her. I was very sorry about it, for my castles in Spain have been real homes to me. But there is no fear. She has a block of wood she found in the blacksmith shop which she calls her ‘dear baby.’ A spoke out of a wagon wheel is ’little Margaret,’and a barrel stave is ‘bad little Johnny.'
Well, I must quit writing before you vote me a nuisance. With lots of love to you,
Your sincere friend,

BURNT FORK, WYO., Sept. 11.
This has been for me the busiest, happiest summer I can remember. I have worked very hard but it has been work that I really enjoy. Help of any kind is very hard to get here, and Mr. Stewart had been too confident of getting men, so that haying caught him with too few men to put up the hay. He had no man to run the mower and he could n’t run both the mower and the stacker, so you can fancy what a place he was in.
I don’t know that I ever told you, but my parents died within a year of each other and left six of us to shift for ourselves. Our people offered to take one here and there among them until we should all have a place, but we refused to be raised on the halves and so arranged to stay at Grandmother’s and keep together. Well, we had no money to hire men to do our work so had to learn to do it ourselves. Consequently I learned to do many things which girls more fortunately situated don’t even know have to be done. Among the things I learned to do was the way to run a mowing machine. It cost me many bitter tears because I got sunburned, and my hands were hard, rough, and stained with machine oil, and I used to wonder how any Prince Charming could overlook all that in any girl he came to. For all I had ever read of the Prince had to do with his ‘reverently kissing her lily-white hand,’or doing some other fool trick with a hand as white as a snowflake. Well, when my Prince showed up he did n’t lose much time in letting me know that ‘Barkis was willing,’and I wrapped my hands in my old checked apron and took him up before he could catch his breath. Then there was no more mowing, and I almost forgot that I knew how until Mr. Stewart got into such a panic. If he put a man to mow, it kept them all idle at the stacker, and he just could n’t get enough men. I was afraid to tell him I could mow for fear he would forbid me to do so. But one morning, when he was chasing a last hope of help, I went down to the barn, took out the horses and went to mowing. I had enough cut before he got back to show him I knew how, and as he came back man-less he was delighted as well as surprised. I was glad because I really like to mow, and besides that, I am adding feathers to my cap in a surprising way. When you see me again you will think I am wearing a feather duster, but it is only that I have been said to have almost as much sense as a ‘mon,’and that is an honor I never aspired to, even in my wildest dreams.
I have done most of my cooking at night, have milked seven cows every day, and have done all the hay-cutting, so you see I have been working. But I have found time to put up thirty pints of jelly and the same amount of jam for myself. I used wild fruits, gooseberries, currants, raspberries and cherries. I have almost two gallons of the cherry butter, and I think it is delicious. I wish I could get some of it to you, I am sure you would like it.
We began haying July 5 and finished September 8. After working so hard and so steadily I decided on a day off, so yesterday I saddled the pony, took a few things I needed, and Jerrine and I fared forth. Baby can ride behind quite well. We got away by sun-up and a glorious day we had. We followed a stream higher up into the mountains and the air was so keen and clear at first, we had on our coats. There was a tang of sage and of pine in the air, and our horse was midside deep in rabbit-brush, a shrub just covered with flowers that look and smell like goldenrod. The blue distance promised many alluring adventures, so we went along singing and simply gulping in Summer. Occasionally a bunch of sage chickens would fly up out of the sage-brush, or a jack-rabbit would leap out. Once we saw a bunch of antelope gallop over a hill, but we were out just to be out, and game did n’t tempt us. I started, though, to have just as good a time as possible, so I had a fish-hook in my knapsack.
Presently, about noon, we came to a little dell where the grass was as soft and as green as a lawn. The creek kept right up against the hills on one side and there were groves of quaking asp and cotton-woods that made shade, and service-bushes and birches that shut off the ugly hills on the other side. We dismounted and prepared to noon. We caught a few grasshoppers and I cut a birch pole for a rod. The trout are so beautiful now, their sides are so silvery, with dashes of old rose and orange, their speckles are so black, while their backs look as if they had been sprinkled with gold-dust. They bite so well that it does n’t require any especial skill or tackle to catch plenty for a meal in a few minutes.
In a little while I went back to where I had left my pony browsing, with eight beauties. We made a fire first, then I dressed my trout while it was burning down to a nice bed of coals. I had brought a frying pan and a bottle of lard, salt, and buttered bread. We gathered a few service-berries, our trout were soon browned, and with water, clear, and as cold as ice, we had a feast. The quaking aspens are beginning to turn yellow, but no leaves have fallen. Their shadows dimpled and twinkled over the grass like happy children. The sound of the dashing, roaring water kept, inviting me to cast for trout, but I did n’t want to carry them so far, so we rested until the sun was getting low and then started for home, with the song of the locusts in our ears warning us that the melancholy days are almost here. We would come up over the top of a hill into the glory of a beautiful sunset with its gorgeous colors, then down into the little valley already purpling with mysterious twilight. So on, until, just at dark, we rode into our corral and a mighty tired, sleepy little girl was powerfully glad to get home.
After I had mailed my other letter I was afraid that you would think me plumb bold about the little Bo-Peep, and was a heap sorrier than you can think. If you only knew the hardships these poor men endure. They go two together and sometimes it is months before they see another soul, and rarely ever a woman. I would n’t act so free in town, but these men see people so seldom that they are awkward and embarrassed. I like to put them at ease, and it is to be done only by being kind of hail-fellow-well-met with them. So far not one has ever misunderstood me and I have been treated with every courtesy and kindness, so I am powerfully glad you understand. They really enjoy doing these little things like fixing our dinner, and if my poor company can add to any one’s pleasure I am too glad.
Sincerely yours,

Mr. Stewart is going to put up my house for me in pay for my extra work.

I am ashamed of my long letters to you, but I am such a murderer of language that I have to use it all to tell anything.

Please don’t entirely forget me. Your letters mean so much to me and I will try to answer more promptly.

BURNT FORK, WYO., Sept. 28.
DEAR MRS. CONEY, — Your second card just reached me and I am plumb glad because, although I answered your other, I was wishing I could write you for I have had the most charming adventure.
It is the custom here, for as many women as care to, to go in a party over into Utah to Ashland (which is over a hundred miles away) after fruit. They usually go in September, and it takes a week to make the trip. They take wagons and camp out and of course have a good time, but the greater part of the way there is n’t even the semblance of a road and it is merely a semblance anywhere. They came over to invite me to join them. I was of two minds — I wanted to go but it seemed a little risky and a big chance for discomfort, since we would have to cross the Uinta Mountains, and a snowstorm likely any time. But I did n’t like to refuse outright so we left it to Mr. Stewart. His ‘Ye’re nae gang’ sounded powerful final, so the ladies departed in awed silence and I assumed a martyr-like air and acted like a very much abused woman, although he did only what I wanted him to do. At last, in sheer desperation he told me the ‘bairn canna stand the treep,’ and that was why he was so determined. I knew why, of course, but I continued to look abused lest he gets it into his head that he can boss me. After he had been reduced to the proper plane of humility and had explained and begged my pardon and had told me to consult only my own pleasure about going and coming and using his horses, only not to ‘expoose’ the bairn, why, I forgave him and we were friends once more.
Next day all the men left for the round-up, to be gone a week. I knew I never could stand myself a whole week. In a little while the ladies came past on their way to Ashland. They were all laughing and were so happy that I really began to wish I was one of the number, but they went their way and I kept wanting to go somewhere. I got reckless and determined to do something real bad. So I went down to the barn and saddled Robin Adair, placed a pack on ‘Jeems McGregor,’ then Jerrine and I left for a camping-out expedition.
It was nine o’clock when we started and we rode hard until about four, when I turned Robin loose, saddle and all, for I knew he would go home and some one would see him and put him into the pasture. We had gotten to where we could n’t ride anyway, so I put Jerrine on the pack and led ‘Jeems ’ for about two hours longer, then, as I had come to a good place to camp, we stopped.
While we had at least two good hours of daylight, it gets so cold here in the evening that fire is very necessary. We had been climbing higher into the mountains all day and had reached a level table-land where the grass was luxuriant and there was plenty of wood and water. I unpacked ‘Jeems’ and staked him out, built a roaring fire, and made our bed in an angle of a sheer wall of rock where we would be protected against the wind. Then I put some potatoes into the embers as Baby and I are both fond of roasted potatoes. I started to a little spring to get water for my coffee when I saw a couple of jack-rabbits playing, so I went back for my little shot-gun. I shot one of the rabbits, so I felt very like Leatherstocking because I had killed but one when I might have gotten two. It was fat and young, and it was but the work of a moment to dress it and hang it up on a tree. Then I fried some slices of bacon, made myself a cup of coffee, and Jerrine and I sat on the ground and ate. Everything smelled and tasted so good! This air is so tonic that one gets delightfully hungry. Afterward we watered and re-staked ‘Jeems,’ I rolled some logs onto the fire, and then we sat and enjoyed the prospect.
The moon was so new that its light was very dim, but the stars were bright . Presently a long, quivering wail arose and was answered from a dozen hills. It seemed just the sound one ought to hear in such a place. When the howls ceased for a moment we could hear the subdued roar of the creek and the crooning of the wind in the pines. So we rather enjoyed the coyote chorus and were not afraid, because they don’t attack people. Presently we crept under our Navajos and, being tired, were soon asleep.
I was awakened by a pebble striking my cheek. Something prowling on the bluff above us had dislodged it and it struck me. By my Waterbury it was four o’clock, so I arose and spitted my rabbit. The logs had left a big bed of coals, but some ends were still burning and had burned in such a manner that the heat would go both under and over my rabbit. So I put plenty of bacon grease over him and hung him up to roast. Then I went back to bed. I did n’t want to start early because the air is too keen for comfort early in the morning.
The sun was just gilding the hilltops when we arose. Everything, even the barrenness, was beautiful. We have had frosts and the quaking aspens were a trembling field of gold as far up the stream as we could see. We were ’way up above them and could look far across the valley. We could see the silvery gold of the willows, the russet and bronze of the currants, and patches of cheerful green showed where the pines were. The splendor was relieved by a background of sober gray-green hills, but even on them gay streaks and patches of yellow showed where rabbitbrush grew. We washed our faces at the spring, — the grasses that grew around the edge and dipped into the water were loaded with ice, — our rabbit was done to a turn, so I made some delicious coffee, Jerrine got herself a can of water, and we breakfasted. Shortly afterwards we started again. We did n’t know where we were going but we were on our way.
That day was more toilsome than the last but a very happy one. The meadow larks kept singing like they were glad to see us. But we were still climbing and soon got beyond the larks and sage chickens and up into the timber where there is lots of grouse. We stopped to noon by a little lake where I got two small squirrels and a siring of trout. We had some trout for dinner and salted the rest with the squirrels in an empty can for future use. I was anxious to get a grouse and kept close watch but was never quick enough. Our progress was now slower and more difficult because in places we could scarcely get through the forest. Fallen trees were everywhere and we had to avoid the branches, which was powerful hard to do. Besides it was quite dusky among the trees long before night, but it was all so grand and aweinspiring. Occasionally there was an opening through which we could see the snowy peaks, seemingly just beyond us, toward which we were headed. But when you get among such grandeur you get to feel how little you are and how foolish is human endeavor, except that which reunites us with the mighty force called God. I was plumb uncomfortable, because all my own efforts have always been just to make the best of everything and to take things as they come.
At last we came to an open side of the mountain where the trees were scattered. We were facing south and east and the mountain we were on sheered away in a dangerous slant. Beyond us still greater wooded mountains blocked the way, and in the cañon between night had already fallen. I began to get scary. I could only think of bears and catamounts, so, as it was five o’clock, we decided to camp. The trees were immense. The lower branches came clear to the ground and grew so dense that any tree afforded a splendid shelter from the weather, but I was nervous and wanted one that would protect us against any possible attack. At last we found one growing in a crevice of what seemed to be a sheer wall of rock. Nothing could reach us on two sides and in front two large trees had fallen so that I could make a log-heap which would give us warmth and make us safe. So with rising spirits I unpacked and prepared for the night. I soon had a roaring fire up against the logs and, cutting away a few branches, let the heat into as snug a bedroom as any one could wish. The pine needles made as soft a carpet as the wealthiest could afford. Springs abound in the mountains, so water was plenty. I staked ’Jeems’ quite near so that the fire-light would frighten away any wild thing that tried to harm him. Grass was very plentiful, so when he was made comfy I made our bed and fried our trout. The branches had torn off the bag in which I had my bread, so it was lost in the forest, but who needs bread when they have good, mealy potatoes? In a short time we were eating like Lent was just over. We lost all the glory of the sunset except what we got by reflection, being on the side of the mountain we were, with the dense woods between. Big sullen clouds kept drifting over and a wind got lost on the trees that kept them rocking and groaning in a horrid way. But we were just as cozy as we could be and rest was as good as anything.
I wish you could once sleep on the kind of bed we enjoyed that night. It was both soft and firm, with the clean, spicy smell of the pine. The heat from our big fire came in and we were warm as toast. It was so good to stretch out and rest. I kept thinking how superior I was since I dared to take such an outing when so many poor women down in Denver were bent on making their twenty cents per hour in order that they could spare a quarter to go to the ‘show.’ I went to sleep with a powerfully self-satisfied feeling, but I awoke to realize that pride goeth before a fall.
I could hardly remember where I was when I awoke, and I could almost hear the silence. Not a tree moaned, not a branch seemed to stir. I arose and my head came in violent contact with a snag that was not there when I went to bed. I thought either I must have grown taller or the tree shorter during the night. As soon as I peered out, the mystery was explained.
Such a snowstorm I never saw! The snow had pressed the branches down lower, hence my bumped head. Our fire was burning merrily and the heat kept the snow from in front. I scrambled out and poked up the fire, then, as it was only five o’clock, I went back to bed. And then I began to think how many kinds of idiot I was. Here I was thirty or forty miles from home, in the mountains where no one goes in the winter and where I knew the snow got to be ten or fifteen feet deep. But I could never see the good of moping, so I got up and got breakfast while Baby put her shoes on. We had our squirrels and more baked potatoes and I had delicious black coffee.
After I had eaten I felt more hopeful. I knew Mr. Stewart would hunt for me if he knew I was lost. It was true, he would n’t know which way to start, but I determined to rig up ‘Jeems’ and turn him loose, for I knew he would go home and that he would leave a trail so that I could be found. I hated to do so for I knew I should always have to be powerfully humble afterwards. Anyway it was still snowing, great, heavy flakes, they looked as large as dollars. I didn’t want to start ‘Jeems’ until the snow stopped because I wanted him to leave a clear trail. I had sixteen loads for my gun and I reasoned that I could likely kill enough food to last twice that many days by being careful what I shot at. It just kept snowing, so at last I decided to take a little hunt and provide for the day. I left Jerrine happy with the towel rolled into a baby, and went along the brow of the mountain for almost a mile, but the snow fell so thickly that I could n’t see far. Then I happened to look down into the cañon that lay east of us and saw smoke. I looked toward it a long time but could make out nothing but smoke, but presently I heard a dog bark and I knew I was near a camp of some kind. I resolved to join them, so went back to break my own camp.
At last everything was ready and Jerrine and I both mounted. Of all the times! If you think there is much comfort, or even security, in riding a packhorse in a snowstorm over mountains where there is no road, you are plumb wrong. Every once in a while a tree would unload its snow down our backs. ‘Jeems’ kept stumbling and threatening to break our necks. At last we got down the mountain side where new danger confronted us, — we might lose sight of the smoke or ride into a bog. But at last, after what seemed hours, we came into a‘clearing’ with a small log-house and, what is rare in Wyoming, a fireplace. Three or four hounds set up their deep baying and I knew by the chimney and the hounds that it was the home of a Southerner. A little old man came bustling out, chewing his tobacco so fast, and almost frantic about his suspenders which it seemed he could n’t get adjusted.
As I rode up he said, ‘Whither, friend?’ I said ‘Hither.’ Then he asked, ‘Air you spying around for one of them dinged game wardens arter that deer I killed yisteddy?’ I told him I had never even seen a game warden and that I did n’t know he had killed a deer. ’Wall,’ he said, ‘air you spying around arter that gold mine I diskivered over on the west side of Baldy?’ But after a while I convinced him that I was no more nor less than a foolish woman lost in the snow. Then he said, ‘Light, stranger, and look at your saddle.’ So I ‘lit’ and looked, and then I asked him what part of the South he was from. He answered, ‘Yell County, by gum! The best place in the United States, or in the world, either.’ That was my introduction to Zebulon Pike Parker.
Only two ‘Johnny Rebs’ could have enjoyed each other’s company as Zebulon Pike and myself did. He was so small and so old, but so cheerful and so sprightly, and a real Southerner! He had a big, open fireplace with backlogs and andirons. How I enjoyed it all! How we feasted on some of the deer killed ‘yisteddy,’and real corn-pone baked in a skillet down on the hearth. He was so full of happy recollections and had a few that were not so happy! He is, in some way, a kinsman of Pike of Pike’s Peak fame, and he came west ‘jist arter the wah’ on some expedition and ‘jist stayed.’ He told me about his home life back in Yell County, and I feel that I know all the ‘young uns.’
There was George Henry, his only brother; and there were Phœbe and ‘Mothie,’ whose real name is Martha; and poor little Mary Ann, whose death was described so feelingly that no one could keep back the tears. Lastly there was little Mandy, the baby and his favorite, but who, I am afraid, was a selfish little beast since she had to have her prunellas when all the rest of the ‘young uns’ had to wear shoes that old Uncle Buck made out of rawhide. But then ‘her eyes were blue as morning glories and her hair was jist like corn silk, so yaller and fluffy.’ Bless his simple, honest heart! His own eyes are blue and kind, and his poor, thin little shoulders are so round that they almost meet in front. How he loved to talk of his boyhood days! I can almost see his Father and George Henry as they marched away to the ‘ wah’ together, and the poor little Mother’s despair as she waited day after day for some word that never came.
Poor little Mary Ann was drowned in the bayou where she was trying to get water-lilies. She had wanted a white dress all her life and so, when she was dead, they took down the white cross-bar curtains and Mother made the little shroud by the light of a tallow dip. But being made by hand it took all the next day too, so that they buried her by moonlight down back of the orchard under the big elm where the children had always had their swing. And they lined and covered her grave with big, fragrant waterlilies. As they lowered the poor little home-made coffin into the grave the mocking birds began to sing and they sang all that dewy, moonlight night. Then little Mandy’s wedding to Judge Carter’s son Jim was described. She wore a ‘cream-colored poplin with a red rose throwed up in it,’ and the lace that was on Grandma’s wedding dress. There were bowers of sweet Southern roses and honeysuckle and wisteria. Don’t you know she was a dainty bride?
At last it came out that he had not heard from home since he left it. ‘ Don’t you ever write?’ I asked. ‘No, I am not an eddicated man, although I started to school. Yes’m, I started along of the rest, but they told me it was a Yankee teacher and I was ’fraid, so when I got most to the schoolhouse I hid in the bushes with my spelling book, so that is all the learning I ever got. But my mother was an eddicated woman, yes’m, she could both read and write. I have the Bible she give me yit. Yes’m, you jist wait and I’ll show you.’ After some rummaging in a box he came back with a small leather-bound Bible with print so small it was hard to read. After turning to the record of births and deaths he handed it to me, his wrinkled old face shining with pride as he said, ‘There, my mother wrote that with her own hand.’ I took the book and after a little deciphered that ‘Zebulon Pike Parker was born Feb. 10, 1830,’written in the stiff, difficult style of long ago and written with poke-berry ink. He said his Mother used to read about some ‘old feller that was jist covered with biles,’ so I read Job to him, and he was full of surprise they did n’t ‘git some cherry bark and some sasparilly and bile it good and gin it to him.’
He had a side room to his cabin, which was his bed-room, so that night he spread down a buffalo robe and two bearskins before the fire for Jerrine and me. After making sure there were no moths in them, I spread blankets over them and put a sleepy, happy little girl to bed, for he had insisted on making molasses candy for her because they happened to be born on the same day of the month. And then he played the fiddle until almost one o’clock. He played all the simple, sweet, old-time pieces, in rather a squeaky, jerky way, I am afraid, but the music suited the time and the place.
Next morning he called me early and when I went out I saw such a beautiful sunrise, well worth the effort, of coming to see. I had thought his cabin in a cañon, but the snow had deceived me, for a few steps from the door the mountains seemed to drop down suddenly for several hundred feet and the first of the snow peaks seemed to lie right at our feet. Around its base is a great swamp, in which the swamp pines grow very thickly and from which a vapor was rising that got about half-way up the snow peak all around. Fancy to yourself a big jewel-box of dark green velvet lined with silver chiffon, the snow peak lying like an immense opal in its centre and over all the amber light of a new day. That is what it looked most like.
Well, we next went to the corral where I was surprised to find about thirty head of sheep. Some of them looked like they should have been sold ten years before. ‘Don’t you ever sell any of your sheep?’ I asked. ‘No’m, There was a feller come here once and wanted to buy some of my wethers, but I would n’t sell any because I did n’t need any money.’ Then he went from animal to animal, caressing each and talking to them, calling them each by name. He milked his one cow, fed his two little mules, and then we went back to the house to cook breakfast. We had delicious venison steak, smoking hot, and hoe-cakes and the ’bestest ’ coffee, and honey.
After breakfast we set out for home. Our pack transferred to one of the little mules, we rode ‘Jeems,’ and Mr. Parker rode the other mule. He took us another way down cañon after cañon so that we were able to ride all the time and could make better speed. We came down out of the snow and camped within twelve miles of home in an old, deserted ranch house. We had grouse and sage chicken for supper. I was so anxious to get home that I could hardly sleep, but at last I did and was only awakened by the odor of coffee, and barely had time to wash before Zebulon Pike called breakfast. Afterwards we fixed ‘Jeems’s’ pack so that I could still ride, for Zebulon Pike was very anxious to get back to his ‘critters.’
Poor, lonely, child-like little man! He tried to tell me how glad he had been to entertain me. ‘Why,’ he said, ’I was plumb glad to see you and right sorry to have you go. Why, I would jist as soon talk to you as to a nigger. Yes’m, I would. It has been almost as good as talking to old Aunt Dilsey.’ If a Yankee had said the same to me I would have demanded instant apology, but I know how the Southern heart longs for the dear, kindly old ‘ niggers,’ so I came on homeward, thankful for the first time, that I can’t talk correctly. I got home at twelve and found, to my joy, that none of the men had returned, so I am safe from their superiority for a while, at least.
With many apologies for this outrageous letter, I am
Your ex-Washlady,

(To be continued.)