Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sundays with Steve - Crossing the Plains

These Sunday's segments are written by my husband, Mr. Jenny. Here's what he has to say about his posts:

Since I’ve started writing “Sundays with Steve”, I’ve been thinking about vignettes of my life growing up in North Idaho. I realize the town where I grew up and the life I lived with my family is really a classic, all-American story. Perhaps you will recognize some of your childhood in these writings. And perhaps you will recognize the town you grew up in along with some of the characters you knew. Mrs. Steve has encouraged me to write these attempts of “creative writing” as opposed to the more factual journalistic style I was trained in and practiced in my early career many years ago. So my apologies if I stumble a bit here and there trying to blend the two styles together.


This is a continuation of Crossing the Plains, a fascinating tale of a covered wagon trip from Missouri to the Washington Territory in the post-Civil War period when the U.S. population poured to the West. It was written by a distant great great aunt, Barbara Jane Matlock McRae in 1939, when she was 81. This story will occupy this space for the next several weeks, as it is a fascinating peek into what we often consider the pioneer days.

Part 3 - Winter at Council Bluffs


Negrow boys picking apples would throw big red apples at the boys when we were passing. We could buy a bushel of apples for ten cents, all kinds of vegetables were cheep. One evening father bought some sweet potatoes which we were all very fond of. One of them weighed seven punds, it just made the family one meal, it was the largest sweet potato any of us had ever seen. In that country farms were not very close together.

When we were there, it was getting late in the fall, the autum leaves were turning to red and gold and the beautiful sunset of lavender and blue in a purple hase or gray on the water of the misouri river made a picture I can never forget. It was about 20 of October and the nights were getting cold and frosty and the days shorter. Father thought we beter begin to look for a place for the winter but the roads were fairly good and not hard finished as they are now, but just good dusty dirt roads. On the second day of November we arrived in council bluff, Iowa, and camped at the out skirts of the city by a little stream of water.

The next morning November third 1874 every thing was covered with snow, so my father and mother left us youngsters in camp and took one of the teams and went to hunt a house for the winter. They came back about noon, and had rented a small house and a good barn for the mules. They bought second hand furniture enough to do and we moved in, and as they say now days, just camped for the winter. The weather was getting colder and father bought hay and corn for the mules; we had a good well of water which furnished plenty for the family and the mules. Though strange as it may sound, the weather got so cold that it was sometimes froze though it was 25 feet deep.

There was a leanto at the side of the house and dad bought a half a beef dressed and five or six dressed hogs for our winters meat. He had them put in the leanto and intended to make bacon of them. Finally they froze hard, and staid forze all winter. When we wanted to cook some of the meat we would just cut it off with a sharp ax or saw it off with a meat saw. When spring came it thawed we had used all the beef. My father made beacon out of the hams and sides of shoulders. We had most enough left to do the rest of our journey with ocational fresh meat and game my father and brothers got out on the plains the next summer while traveling.

While at council bluff the two older boys and a younger one, who as just 13 years old and a stout husky boy, all got a job cutting cord wood for a man that had a lot of timber. He gave the boys all they wanted of the dead down so we had plenty of dry good wood to keep us warm. This timber man gave the boys 150 cents a cord for cutting. Each boy cut a cord a day, the 13 year old boy cut his cord as easy as the older boys did. He shuld by all means have been in school if it has been in those days as it is now. He would have compelled to go to school. I should have been in school too as I had never attended school much in my younger days. I been a sickly youngster and couldent attend school and where we lived in misouri we had a very poor school facilities and poor teachers. We only had about three months a year of school. The younger children went to school and did real well. My mother wasent very strong and with such a large family and so much cooking and dishwashing and washing and ironing and sewing by hand and so many children to take care of and keep clean, I had to stay home and help my mother.

In council bluffs three of the youngsters started school soon after we got settled . The others were too young to go to school. The weather graduly got colder until it got 40 below zero. The misouri river froze over and the trafic went a cross on the ice betwene council bluff and omaha all winter. We had been accustomed to cold weather where we lived in Misouri but not as cold as Iowa. The boys kept busy cutting cord wood.

My father decided to haul brick from the brick yard for a company so he had sharp shoes put on the four mules, got his wagons in trim, and the day before he was to start work he hitched a span of the mules to a wagon and as the habit was in those days, he put one of our old hircrybottom chairs in the wagon to sit in, he went to cross a vacat lot to help a man haul some wood. In crossing there was a low place in the ground and one front wheal droped down and the bed of the wagon was frosty, his chair sliped forward and when the other wheal came up on the oposite bank he fell out on his head and shoulders. The fall broke his colar bone and put his shoulder joint out of place, so that put him out of hauling brick or doing any thing elce for the rest of the winter.

The man the boys were cutting wood for wanted the boys to take their own teams and haul cord wood and deliver it to customers in town then they cut some of it into stove length and delivered it. Then the boys bought a lot of timber and cut it in stove length and sold it. They did well in the wood business and made a lot of money out of it, which the whole family were grateful for as we were geting ready to continue our journey on west to washington terytory as soon as spring came and the weather settled.

It was getting now near the first of march 1875. My fathers shoulder had got so he could use his hand and arm a little. We wanted to start on the 1 day of May if possible. There were too other familys who were getting ready to come with us. One was a german by the name of Bensing. He had a wife and two small children. She had never been out of a city in her life and never camped out of course. It was all new to her, a new experience for her. The other mans name was Tolbert. He had a wife and four children, the oldest a bout eight years old. They had been to california and had travled all over the middle west for his wifes helth. She was a little woman. She never talked a bout any thing but her ailments. She never did any thing. Her husband did evry thing a bout the camp and was a prince of a man, in fact the best natured man I ever saw. It was a pity there isent more born like him, they are fiew and far betwene. They came clear across the plains with us and parted from us on top of the blue mountains when we turned off to go to walla walla wash. and they went on down the trail to milton oregon. He had a brother there, we never saw them again. But our children got leters from there children. They went back to California. The next summer they did nothing but travil around, she imagined they had to for her health.

TO BE CONTINUED ON SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 20

(c) 2010 Stephen J. Matlock
This publication is the exclusive property of Stephen J. Matlock and is protected
under the US Copyright Act of 1976 and all other applicable international, federal, state and local laws. The contents of this post/story may not be reproduced as a whole or in part, by any means whatsoever, without consent of the author, Stephen J. Matlock. All rights reserved.

7 comments:

Donnie said...

What a fascinating look into what life was really like then. I'm enjoying my Sunday read. Thanks for sharing.

Mumsy, Chancy and Company said...

Steve I am enjoying reading this story so much. I have great respect and admiration for our ancestors...they went through so many hardships and worked so hard. We would not have what we do today had they not did all they did way back then. Looking forward to the next chapter. Hugs have a great day!

Ames said...

The slightest accident could cost one their life back then, if not careful. Nowadays If a child were put to work chopping wood for $1.50 a day they wouldn't do it. And it would be considered child labor and child abuse. Amusing.
Really enjoying this Steve!~Ames

Judie said...

Steve, this is wonderfully interesting and entertaining. I hope the story goes on for a long, long time.

Bossy Betty said...

Makes us all appreciate what those before us went through. Thanks, Steve.

H said...

I'm just looking across the room at my 16 year old, wondering if he would be willing to chop wood all day for the modern (and English) equivalent of $1.50. I suspect not!

Pondside said...

I love this - the courage and tenacity of those early settlers was amazing. The domestic details are certainly fascinating.