Sunday, January 30, 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.

Crossing the Plains

As all families who live in the Western U.S. did, ours migrated here from other places. Everyone, except perhaps the Native Americans, came from somewhere else. Below is the story of one of those journeys, 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. She couldn’t type, but she wrote it on her son’s typewriter. She had no formal education, but she conveyed her story succinctly. I have not corrected the typing or punctuation except for an occasional clarity point, nor her spelling, so as not to change her meaning and to preserve unspoiled the charm of this report

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.

A true story of my trip across the plains in an emigrant wagon in 1874 and 1875.

In the spring and summer of 1874 and 75 my father began to make preparation to leave our old home in Misouri: to go west his intentions were to go to Washington territory. He fitted out two big mule teams and a new wagon. He thought to start in the fall and travil toward the west for four or five weeks and then stop for the winter. We would be that far on our road toward Washington territory. On September 24 in 1874 we started. My father and mother and ten children, seven boys and three girls, it seems to me when I look back it was some under taking with such a large family to cross that Indian infested country, I was the oldest girl I was nearly sixteen.

I had too brothers older than I the rest were all younger. We youngsters were all excited about it, none of us had ever camped out a night in our lives. Except for myself I went with my father one time when I was about twelve years old to the town of saint james, Mo. About twenty miles we went with ox team it took us for days to make the trip we took a load of grain to the rail road station. That was the only time I or any of us ever saw a rail road train except my father he had been to saint louis several times. We camped out on the trip to saint james.

The first night out when we started west there were some confusion among the young children they began to cry and wanted to go home so they could go to bed. We finely got the big tent up and our beds made and got our evening meal everything looked better to the youngsters.

Our old home was down in the south west part of misouri near the gasconade river you might say in the back woods. None of the children had even been ten miles from home in our lives except for myself when I went to the james town with father. On that six weeks trip into Iowa we children saw lots of exciting things. The north part of misouri through Salean county is a very beautiful level country with strips of timber from one mile to too and three miles wide. Large farms and farm buildings, we passed several farms that had been blown and twested to peases the past summer with terable cyclones.

In the fall of 74 jesse james and the youngers were stealing and robbing all through that part of the country; several towns had been held up and banks robed just before we passed through. Some of the farmers told my father that it was not safe traveling through the country with such desperadoes running at large they might rob us and steel our teams. But what could we do we had to take our chances. So we traveled a long and camped where night over took us at the side of the road or in the timber by the side of a little stream of water. A couple of times when we were campted in the timber too or three cowboyish fellows with wide hats and great spurs on their high heeled boots would ride into camp and talk to my father for a while and then ride away with a wave of their big hats and gingling of big spurs! They never molested us. Our mules were tied to the wagon every night. One night they got despertly freightened and almost tore the wagon to peaces, father and the boys quieted them but could see nothing. We all thought those fellows were despert looking. When we got out in Washington territory we got use to such characters. So we traveled on with out being molested. One of our mules was always alert and watchful when we were in camp.

We youngsters had been raised way down in misouri in the back woods where all kinds of wild fruit and nuts grow in abundance such as wild grapes and big jucy black berrys, dewberries and the most luscious strawberries and pawberries and wild pesinons hyckrynuts of all kinds both large and small hazelnuts walnuts and butter nuts, pecons, buroak acorns, which ripened in the fall of the year. Us being on the road traveling we missed all of those luxurys. In the wooded country where we lived it abounds. And in all kinds of game: deer wild turkey and timber squirls, lots of possoms and coons and rabbits and red timber fox and large gray and black wolves. My father missed all of that kind of sport as he was a great hunter.

When we got to Boonville Mo. there were so many Negrows swarming around we thought we were seeing all the Negrows in the world; we camped that night near a Negrow church at the out edge of Boonville. On the banks of the Misouri river they were holding church servis in a small church of all the praying and shouting and singing any one ever heard and to make things worse there was a Negrow cabin near by and the occupants got into a general quarl and fight. The same children made for our big tent and staid their. Early the next morning we broke camp and crossed the Misouri river at Boonville. The country is some hilly and some timber. The sun shown warm and bright and the autum color of there and gold and hase in the air of the fall of the year made every thing look beautiful.

The railroad ran round a steep grade on the out edge of the town. We were on a hill above the steep winding grade watering the teams and a freight train was puling the grade loaded very heavy. It was puffing and pulling and throwing up great rings of black smoke through the timber. We children both older and younger ones had never saw nor heard such a noise, neither had our mother. We all got so excited and curious to know what it was we couldent see it. My father got real peaved at us, he said we were so ignorant. That it was a freight training pulling a steep grade with a heavy load. My mother told him we had never in our lives hear a freight train pull a steep grade before nor had she. Then the next exciting thing was beautiful white ladys out for a walk with great big black Negrow men servants walking in the rear caring their lovely white babies all in pink and blew and white. It made such a contrast with the black of the Negrow. I don’t think baby carrages were much in voge in those days.


(c) 2010 Stephen J. Matlock
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RoeH said...

Well, I'll be looking forward to each installment of this, that's for sure. I just love the stories of pioneers in the 1800's. I took my great-grandfather's diary that he kept in 1847 from Winter Quarters, Nebraska to the Salt Lake Valley and created a blog posting each day of his diary. Researching those days made me learn more about that trip than I ever thought I knew. All of those people. . .incredible at what they did!

mub said...

I cannot wait for the next installment! Thank you so much for sharing this part of your family history =D

Susan Anderson said...

Really interesting. I love family history. Thanks for sharing it.


Judie said...

Steve, this is great! I feel like I'm in the middle of a Nancy Turner book about her ancestor, Sarah Prine. I will be eagerly waiting for the next installment!

Flat Creek Farm said...

How wonderful! I want to come back and re-read this. My eyes couldn't help but jump quickly to the part about my neck of the woods (Boonville, MO). A place not far from our home, in which we have visited often! Thanks for sharing this piece of your family history. What a gem! -Tammy

H said...

Times have changed just a little! I am enjoying this peep into the past and will be back for installment two.