July 22, 1881
A storm is rolling in, and that always makes me a little sad and wistful so I got it in my head to set to paper all these things that have got us this far on our way through this heathen land. Its been a sorrowful journey so far and hard and so if we dont get to San Angelo or even as far as Fort Hancock I am saving this little theme in my cigar box for some wandering travelers to find and know whose bones these is.
When they were young Mama and Papa went the Oregon Trail with their folks, and when they married they came from Oregon and started up a little farm near a road by Cottonwood Springs, in the west end of New Mexico Territory. We always ran a fine string of horses, as long as I can remember. My favorite is a little roan with a white nose and I call her Rose. In 1881 we had stuck out a wet winter and a plum pleasant spring. Then him and the big boys, thatís Ernest and Albert and Jimmy Reed, drove a few of them with the MacIntoshís cattle down to a place called Phoenix and to a place higher up on one end of the valley called Haydenís Ferry. They were gone nearly six weeks, all totaled.
Ernest and Albert is my big brothers, of which I got too youngernís, Harland and Clover. Had a baby sister who went with the angels before she was a year old, so my folks calls her
Harriet Jane but on the inside I calls her my Angel Sister. I always thinks of her in my prayers and berried one of my dolls in her little grave so she could grow up and weíd play together. In my mind Angel Sister watches over me. I used to pretend tea parties and jump rope with her. I always wished I had a sister more than any other thing there is. It is good to have these brothers here but itís not the same as having a girl you can talk to and play with, and besides, they can be an ornery bunch and tease me to no end. I am purely outnumbered.
Harland was nine years old and Clover was six when Papa and the boys come back with their pockets running over in cash, and Papa says that there Phoenix was hotter than the devilís frying pan. So heís getting fed up with the Territory and the farm house in need of fixing and all, he 'spects to point the front end of our wagon towards the Rio Grande and head for greener pastures by way of Texas.
Jimmy Reed got in a quandry about all this talk, 'cause he been living with us like family since his people all died of cholera in Ute territory and thatís most of five years. Jimmy Reed couldnít make up his mind should he pull up stakes with us or stay and marry Miss Ruthanne MacIntosh, whose Papa owned a good spread and some groves of peach trees and a couple of purebred bullsóI canít recollect what kind.
Well, Papa said stay or go, but we are pulling out come July 4th and he figured Jimmy was nineteen and too young a pup to go serious sparking a girl even if she is seventeen. I was seventeen too, but I guess he didnít figure I minded cause there isnít no other boys around and Iíd as soon kiss a pig as Jimmy Reed. Ernest and Albert took to teasing him until he jumped on a bare backed pony and rode off mad. He come back and say heís about to marry Miss Ruthanne and her pa says he can live in their bunkhouse for a year and earn the right.
Papa and the boys rounded horses and even took some mustangs until we had most all our herd we knew of. I wanted to break Rose to the bit before we took off, but Papa said thereíd be time along the way and I could saddle break her by the time we hit San Angelo which was where he Ďspected to settle. Mama asked him once what was there in San Angelo and he couldnít say, and she just laughed and said Henry Arthur your feet is just itchiní. Mama donít mind moving on, she says. All she has done all her life is move. First as a little girl to Oregon, and then around the Northwest Territory with her folks, then with Papa. She says a move is a time for lightening your load and starting things new.
Me and Mama rolled up the dishes in curtains and packed the bedding and quilts that was finished in between her mirror and a real glass window we was taking from out the front wall. All the packing was done and we was pulling out down the road and I couldnít take my eyes off the little house sitting there lonesome looking with that window open like a mouth calling us back. Ahead of us the boys are driving the herd and behind us is our dogs Toobuddy and Bear, running and playing and chasing a rabbit now and then.
We drifted the herd towards the town of Prescott and started down the long mountain through the black canyon then out across the big Salt river valley. It took eight days cause the wagon broke a axle and we had to send back to Prescott before we was far out of town. It was only the beginning and I started to have this holler feeling and kept dreaming of that house with the open mouth calling us. Mama I says, its like its a bad sign.
Mama got her feathers ruffled and said the good book donít teach signs and suspicions and made me read the old testament out loud to her most of the afternoon on the road.
She never did learn to read but she sure wanted her children to so she made Papa teach me some letters and then I figured out words from the letters. Mostly I do right well but some of these old testament verses gets me addled with the words.
I hope there is schools in San Angelo that will take a girl as big as me cause I want to learn to write better! Probably there
July 29, 1881
Well, we drove up through the Valley and there is a sign at Haydenís Ferry saying it is now a town called Tempe but it is just two adobe buildings and some fence and they got a mighty nerve to call that little old cow corral a town. It was hotter than I ever knew it could be. Out across the desert forty five miles to the Gila river, and no water for all them long miles. It was the hardest travel I ever knew and I felt sore on the insides like we was riding in the dark to a brink of a canyon we couldnít see. Times like that you have to trust your horseís sense and let him have his head, as only a pony could smell the lay of the land at night.
August 4, 1881
By this time Rose is getting good and broke in. She lets me on her bare back but donít want a saddle, so in a few days I will try a blanket. She feels good and rides smooth as a canoe, and donít take to rough mouthing her, which I donít do.
We struck the river just above the Pima agency and stayed put some days to water the horses and us as well. All around the agency was Indians and Mexicans. I never did see so many brown people before and I figured the sun scorched 'em like a flat iron on a white shirt. Anyway I feel sorry they have to live in this end of the devilís frying pan.
They stared at me and I stared at them back, and then Papa said girl get in that wagon and pull your bonnet down low and quit looking.
I asked Ernest what for and he said he been following me with a shot gun all day to keep them in mind I was a lady and nothing else.
I asked him what else and he said a dead lady. So I laughed and said I seen him shoot, maybe I better carry the shot gun myself.
August 6, 1881
We traveled up the river to the old town of Florence then come to the mouth of the San Pedro river. At that point we are joined by two wagons of folks who want to throw in with us to go east. By the time Papa gets done saying all he knew about San Angelo they is ready to go there too. I donít know where he knew it from. It is Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence and their four daughters. Alice and Louisianna and Ulyssa and Savannah. They is all beautiful girls too except the middlest one whose got buckt teeth. I seen her smile at a rabbit and scare it!
The oldest girl Savannah Lawrence set about to making biscuit dough that evening and I never did see my brother Albert more taken with biscuits. He was fetching her water and stoking her a fire and had a blaze going to light up midnight and I laughed. Mama poked my ribs and said any biscuits put in that fire better be named Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego. They are them fellers in the Old Testament flung into the firy furnace who walked out again without a singed hair on their heads.
All these handsome girls and their Ma was dressed in black and with little caps because they is Friends which we call Quakers. They talk strange but they can quote the Bible up one side and down the other, so Mama thinks they are wonderful folks. Their Pa is scary looking to me cause he got a wooden leg and told how he lost it in the war, but he wasnít fighting but doctoring. We are all thankful to know a doctor out in this forsaken land even though he says he is just a sawbones not a pillgrinder.
The other wagon is Mr. and Mrs. Hoover. They keep to themselves and seem peevish about ever one of us. They got a huge conestoga kind of wagon and are from back east some where, Papa 'spects it must be east of the fertherest tree since they are such tinhorns and whine and worry him so. Papa donít take to being worried, he says horses take to a calm hand, a strong backbone and a steady grip, if you give Ďem a weak knee they just do wrong. He knows his horses and I 'spect I like a strong backbone better than all the tears and blushing and complaining from Mrs. Hoover.
Mr. Lawrence says thereís outlaws in the mountains and Indians and either of them will take the horses from us by force, so he will help guard in shifts for the good of us all. My Papa said thatís a blessing and he promises Mr. Lawrence a pick of a horse in payment for his good advice when we see San Angelo.
August 8, 1881
We traveled up the San Pedro to Mt. Graham and turned east to Willcox. There we struck the S.P.R.R. railroad tracks. We seen more white people who say we will never get to Texas with all them horses, and for us to travel as near the railroad tracks as we could all down through the San Simone valley. They said Mr. Lawrence was right about the mountains and I got that sore feeling inside again.
In trying to stay near the tracks, we have to go wide now and then where the track skirts right up on the banks of the San Pedro. It is muddy in places and even where there is not water a horse can step down and get mud. There are trees so thick and close a deer couldnít get through or even a weasel in places, and twice we got stove up on brush that looked like it led to a path but didnít. That San Simone valley was more of a desert and a wilderness that anything I had ever seen, although it was not as hot as before. Brittle brush and prickly pears are everywhere, and along the banks of the river itís thick with mesquites and brambles and high cottonwoods.
That is the prettiest kind of tree there is to me. A cottonwood makes a little sound with the leaves like they are talking to each other, a gentle and soft sound. In the fall they turn yellow and copper and the ground under a cottonwood looks like it is covered with pennies. Under our cottonwood back home I used to collect the pennies and pretend I was rich. One time I sewed them onto a bonnet to be pretty, but they dried out and fell off.
August 10, 1881
We met some travelers going back the other way. It was two fellows on a buckboard loaded with mail, and five Army soldiers to guard it plus they have got three mules loaded with ammunition. They told us we were lucky to come this far, as there is terrible Apache problems all around us. We shared some water as their horses looked mighty dogged. They were grateful and wished us well.
Mama rolls her eyes a lot that day and says thereís a dry wind coming but I donít know what that is. Sure enough, it is dry and thirsty and you can drink but it donít do no good, and before we get down to the Rio Grande Valley we is all wanting water and the horses drink our share. We had to go down some eighty miles to the old ruins of something that was called Fort Hancock. There by the banks we rest and drink and watch the horses drink a dry spot in the river.
August 11, 1881
Mrs. Hoover is carrying on about my brothers playing Indians and war party cause it makes her worrisome. Mama scolded Harland and Clover and said play it where she canít hear you boys, she is a tenderfoot and libel to faint if she hears one more war hoop or rebel yell from you younguns.
It is becoming fun to have the Lawrence girls to play with. I never had sisters except to pretend. They tease each other and plait their hair under them little hats into a roll and they said they will do mine.
The girl Savannah made some questions about Albert, but I wanted to talk about other things. The littlest one, Louisianna, has a hand-turned doll dressed just like her and it is not fancy but I see by the stitches it is a fine piece of work. They is fun but none of these girls rides horses bare back only in buggies and wagons and they was sure surprised when I took my rifle and Rose and went past the trees and brought back a deer for venison stew. They said so many times oh my, oh my, that I thought I might of stood on my head and sang a song it was so strange to them. Well I lived in the territory all my life and I got four brothers and a girl has got to get along.
Papa and Mr. Lawrence are thinking about moving on a bit after supper to see the pass through which we must travel tomorrow. It looks like a place of ambush, Mr. Lawrence says, and they will wait until there is but a hour of daylight left to go see the area.
Clover and Harland been shooting each other with sticks and hollering give up you rascal and I got you and give up! as if they was a outlaw or sheriff in a wild town. After supper Clover declared he was about to turn in he was tired out. He spread himself a blanket under the wagon at the tongue bracing and soon was sleeping two rows at once, he was plum tuckered.
Up come Albert and Ernest to Harland and says lets fish in the river while thereís light and they do and sure enough they catch a big old ugly catfish. The boys laugh and think they are surprising little Clover and they throw the nasty thing on him and holler snake! snake! That blanket unloads Clover like a mule and he bucks his head real hard on the tongue brace and soon itís blood everywhere.
Well, Mama is tendering Clover and scolding the big boys all in the same breath and it sounds like the most amazing bunch of speech I heard ever and all the Lawrence girls come over and say oh-oh over Clover. One gave him a peppermint she was saving and they patched up his head. Heís got a busted head big as an egg and a bloody bandage and before long he is a marching around with Harland being soldiers and they is fighting each other and hollering take that yankee and take that reb! at the top of their lungs.
I see Albert and Ernest is sorrowful for what they did but not too much and they is trying to skin that catfish and clean it and they are moaning at the smell. Mrs. Hoover is fit to be tied she never did see such goings on she declares and sniffs her smelling bottle and goes to bed without helping with the dishes.
is my Words - Nancy E. Turner
Available Online at
A Million Indie