Friday, September 25, 2009

My Family's Trip In A Covered Wagon

My Family's Trip In A Covered Wagon
Mary Elizabeth (West) Henthorn
Ventura, California
October 26, 1983

When Gary Henthorn and his family, of Castro Valley, CA were here the first weekend of October 1983, Opal and I were telling about things that happened when our family went from Missouri to Kansas in a covered wagon. Gary asked me to write about what I can remember.

It would be around 1909. Eddie was a baby a year or so old. I remember we had a chair that Mama would tie him in while she cooked our meals over an open fire. That would make Opal around three years old, Maudie five and me seven.

We had two nice brown horses, Nance and Brady. I know you have seen pictures of covered wagons. As I remember this one, our bed was one ig bed that covered the wagon bed, even wider and very high from the ground because of supplies underneath the bed.

We went through what was a very large city, to us, anyway it had streets, large homes in rows (we had never lived anywhere but only on farms). Sometimes we got to go to the little country town, with a couple stores, livery stable, a small train depot, a few dwelling houses scattered around, no laid out streets or side walks. This was Mansfield, Missouri, my birth place, although I was born at Grandpa Keith's farm (Mother's parents) about seven miles out in the wooded, hilly country of the Ozarks. Of course, Mansfield today is much different. Many stores, banks, laid out streets, homes, schools and all that makes a town.

Back to this large city. And what did we see? Papa said, "Look there's a car!!" Really, we kids (that's not the right word - for that word was never used in those days unless you were speaking of young goats). I should say we girls. Well, we didn't even know there was such a thing as a "car." We knew wagons, buggies and the pretty surreys with the fringe on the top. Very few of these classic buggies where we lived. Papa knew about the car for he had probably read about them. I think he had been to Kansas before to work in the "harvests." As many men in the Ozarks would go to other states to work in the summers. Well, that was the first car we had ever seen. I have no idea what make it was. As I remember it was like a roadster, sitting at the curb.

I guess the most exciting time, I should say The Most Exciting Thing that happened on our trip to Kansas in a covered wagon was: We three girls always rode on the big bed, Papa and Mama in the spring wagon type seat, Mama holding the baby, Eddie. I don't remember what we did most the time to entertain ourselves, sometimes napping I'm sure, and I know it must of got boring. We didn't have "toys" or "games" to play, or books or crayolas (never heard of them).

Anyway we got to blowing into one another's faces and, of course, we would try to hide our faces or dodge when coming at one another. We were giggling and laughing. I think Papa told us to quiet down for we were really noisy and having fun, we thought. Well, anyway, Maudie blew into Opal's face and she was near the opening in the back of the canvas top. What would I call it? Well, what makes a covered wagon. And as she dodged she fell out through that hole, which was quite a fall. Maudie and I began calling to Papa and Mama, and they thought we were still playing. Finally we got it to Papa that Opal had fell out. He stopped the horses and ran back and picked her up, she was limp and very pale.

We were just entering a little village, I still can see it now, and right before us in the fork of the road was a drug store. Papa went to the drug store and got something for her to smell to revive her. I can't remember the name of it. I use to know. Just comes to me, they called it Sweet Spirits of Nitre. Mama put wet cloths on her head. She laid very still as we travelled on, and Maudie and I talked to her. Mama said for us to keep her awake. Well, we didn't play that game anymore.

And if I have it correct in my memory, that evening when we stopped to camp. It was a wooded place, not large trees but small shrubbery like trees, oh, some large ones. When we were ready to eat, called and called, but no Opal. Papa, Maudie and I started out in different directions calling "Opal," "Opal," no answer. I found her in a fence corner. (She couldn't go any farther.) She was bad at not answering when called. I don't remember if she got a spanking for not answering. (By the way I never heard of that word "spanking" in those days. It was called a whipping" and a whipping it would be!) Oh yes, when I found her she was eating "poke berries" and her mouth and face were purple from the berries. Poke berries were a wild berry that was not poisonous, but still not very good to eat. As I remember, very tasteless.

When we were going through very sandy country after we got into Kansas, it was rolling sand hills, we came upon a large field of watermelons. The melons were very large. I mean LARGE, the largest melons I have ever seen in my life. Unbelievably large. There was a tent (by the roadside) in the field. Papa called and called like they use to do when you'd drive up into anyone's yard and you see no one around. You would call out "anybody here?" several times. When no one answered or showed up, Papa decided to gather a couple, maybe it was three. There were so many. And he and Mama together had a hard time getting them up into the wagon. One was so large they had to give up on getting it up into the wagon. Oh, some were long, very long and others Big and Round.

After that we came to a farm. It was many miles after that and the folks were distant cousins of Mama's. So a melon was cut, and as I remember, delicious! There was quite a crowd of us. I believe we stayed overnight there.

I think I'll tell it here about the first ride in a car. It was later. We had a neighbor lady that owned a car, and one day she took Mama to the little town Lewis, Kansas, to trade. That's the term used in those days for what we call shopping today. Because trade was that you could take farm produce as eggs, etc., and trade for sugar, salt, flour and such. I remember the first dry cereal or breakfast food was "Post Toasties." It was so good, really delicious, we had a milk cow and the cream was so good on the Post Toasties. Now back to the first car ride - there was a long lane into our house from the main road. We three girls, Opal, Maudie and me, ran to meet them when we saw them enter the lane. The lady stopped to let us get in to ride. It was just a one seated coupe, all open, no top. Mama had the baby, Eddie, on her lap. We crowded in, sitting in the floor, and as I remember Maudie bumped the switch on the dashboard that turned the engine off. It scared us. We didn't know what had happened. But the lady said don't be afraid. She got out and cranked it up again.

My, what excitement our first car ride! Probably the length of a block. We had a neighbor whose name was "Passwater," I'm not sure if that was her name.

The first house we lived in in Kansas was very small, a farm hand house. Papa worked for two brothers, called the Olsen Brothers, I've forgotten their first names. By the way, children were not allowed to call adults by their first names (sometimes called their given names). These brothers were not married. They owned acres and acres of wheat land and some cattle or stock.

The story now; How I came to have the scar on my right cheek near my eye. The yard of this place had nothing but sand and weeds, and in these weeds a small burr called "sand burr." As we had only this to play in we would get stickers from the burrs in our feet, legs, hand and arms. Sometimes had to be picked out. Papa picked one out of my cheek, using a pin (he said later was probably the reason I got infection in it) and it wouldn't heal. I had what they called a running sore on my cheek for nearly a year. In those months it would almost heal up, then flare up sometimes almost into my eye. So many, I remember, telling my folks what to use. One thing they were told to use was called "olenuer mud." That was terrible, it would pull the scab off. (I think that's what is called antifestgestive now.) It's not used anymore. I don't know why I wasn't taken to a doctor. It had to be something really serious, not just a sore on your face.

When I was growing up the scar was very noticeable, and I was very conscious of it. Many asking about it. I don't remember just when, I realize it was just part of me and everyone had to accept it along with me. I guess it was when "Pop" (my Dear Elba) loved me, even with the bad scar, I finally just forgot about it and, of course, it has faded through the years. (That would be 70 some years now.)

We didn't live in this small house for very long. But into another farm house that had a large dining room and a long dining table. You know why? When harvest time came the large fields of wheat needed to be harvested. Many farmers in a locale getting together with harvest hands (workers to reap the harvest). They would go from farm to farm harvesting the whole countryside.

Now Mama and some other ladies (farmers wives) cooked the noon meals for these hard working harvesters. I can remember watching them prepare the food. (My duty to take care of the little children). The table loaded with food, the men dirty and sweaty, washing up on a bench outside by the doorway with wash pans (no bath rooms).

How they would enjoy eating the food, joking and teasing one another. I remember this well for they were happy and having fun although working very hard.

There's something that comes to mind I'd like to tell you that was the way of doing in my childhood. When there was any dinner anytime that all could not get around the table at the same time, the adults always ate first. The children waited for what they called the second table before they could eat. There was no refrigerator or ice box. They had a small house called "spring house." Water running through it on gravel and flat rocks to set the containers on that you wanted kept cool. The water from a windmill.

Now some things that happened when we moved into another very nice farm house that was closer to the little town of Lewis, Kansas. Maudie and I started to a little country school. Our "first" school. Of course, we walked, I don't remember how many miles. No such thing as a school bus. I know we couldn't see the school from our house, and it was flat or level country. We walked on a railroad track part of the way. It was a one room school and thirteen pupils. I have a picture of it. Maudie and I being the youngest and the only ones in first "reader" as it was called then instead of grades. I remember some of the big boys and girls were grown up.

Maudie and I started with a primer then into readers. I read up through the third reader that term. (I loved reading and still do.) Just come to mind, Opal wanted to go with us to school so much. The teacher told us to bring her to visit. I can see her now, setting on the teachers lap, behind her desk.

A memory I'd like to tell. One time Maudie and I came home from school and Papa and Mama were gone. We changed our school clothes into play clothes. Then it began to get dark, and they had not returned. We began to get frightened and started crying. We changed back into our school clothes, I don't know why, unless we thought we might go to a neighbor's, but it was so dark to do that. We would cry, then listen to see if we could hear the wagon coming. We had a little pet pig (Stubby was his name). We put him in a box (I guess to take him with us). We didn't know what to do, only cry, then listen. Finally we heard a wagon, so kept listening until we could hear it start up the lane into the house. We were crying our hearts out. Mama quickly came to us and consoled us. Papa had gone to help a neighbor, and it had took longer than they had expected.

Oh, there's something I must tell you. I remember very plainly watching "Haley's Comet." Many evenings after it would get dark, I really don't know how long it appeared. It fascinated me. I couldn't understand how a good sized star hung in the eastern sky with a beautiful tail hanging down. I remember them saying we wouldn't see it again for many years. Now I believe its to appear again soon.

A few other things that happened at this place involves Opal. One day she and Eddie were hollering into a rain barrel (a barrel at the corner of the house to catch rain water). To holler they would hear their echo. Opal tells me they were taking turns. She thought Eddie was taking too long and she wanted her turn, so she pushed him in. Then she began trying to pull him out crying "Ishem, you Ishem." (That was Eddie's name then, he changed it later.) It happened that Papa was up in the windmill nearby working on it. He heard her and could see what was happening. He came down quickly and pulled Eddie out. He was almost drowned, took a bit for him to draw a breathe. She was sorry and very good to him, wanted him to come play with her. She was one that could play by herself, make believe and talk to herself.

Eddie had dark red hair, and just in pretty ringlets. One day Papa gave him a hair cut. Opal didn't know it. Papa took Eddie to where she was playing and told her "Here's a little boy to come to play with you." She took Eddie by the hand and lead him away to play with her. I don't know when she realized it was Eddie.

We had a neighbor we called Auntie McGill. She made over Opal. One day Opal, I don't know if she had been scolded or what, anyway, she tied a red bandanna on her head and started for Auntie McGill's. I happened to see her when she turned the corner of a big corn field quite some distance away. Mama sent me to get her.

Oh, I must tell you what happened the night Harold arrived in this world. January 26, 1910. We were told the doctor brought him, and that the doctor got stuck in that kind of uphill long lane into the house. (The same lane we had our first car ride.) The doctor was in one of those famous cars of those days. You know roads were all dirt, didn't know about blacktop. As it was winter time, rain and snow, so always mud. Really the horse was the best transportation in the winter. Well, Papa had to take his team of horses to pull the doctor's car on up the lane. I don't know how he got back through the mud. Probably down hill he could make it.

I remember a Christmas at this place. We would always hang our stockings up Christmas Eve. Then the excitement next morning. Santa Claus had come and filled our stockings with small toys, candy and nuts. This year we had an orange to top it, which was very rare. I think the first time to see an orange.

There was a Christmas in a small house in Missouri. I don't remember the year (was after our time in Kansas). We three girls all received a doll for Christmas. Mine was larger than Maudie and Opal's. And, oh, how beautiful I thought she was. Its the only doll I remember. I'm sure I had others. A neighbor friend of Mama's, an old maid they called her, I didn't know what that meant. I remember her name, "Nettie Cline." She made such beautiful dresses for our dolls. I guess that's the first time I learned who Santa Claus really was. How I loved that pretty doll. I thought I would keep her forever. But, with the many moves, I don't know what happened to her.

Mama and we five children went back to Missouri from Kansas on the train to Grandpa Keith's. I don't remember anything of this train trip. Papa drove back in the spring wagon because he wanted to keep his team of horses. I don't know what happened to the covered wagon.

We children were playing in the meadow in front of Grandpa's house, when some man that was driving by stopped and began to talk to us. He was asking questions, our names, where we lived and such. I can't remember just how or what he said, "but it was Papa." He had grown a mustache and we did not recognize him. We thought he was a stranger.

Just one more memory (I have many others). We lived then on what was called the "Hunter Bond" place, a farm. Maudie and I went to "Roy School," walked up a steep wooded hill. Opal was not old enough to go yet, for you had to be seven years old before you could start to school. What I started to tell you was Papa and Mama went at night to a "protractive meeting" that's what they call revival meetings today,
or crusades.

I don't know how far away they went in the spring wagon. They left me with Maudie, Opal and Eddie. Harold was a baby, so took him with them. Most the time we would go to sleep. Other times I couldn't sleep, be so frightened, would listen and listen to hear the wagon coming in. I would be so happy to hear them drive in.

I don't know where to stop, but maybe it would be interesting to tell you about our next school. Maudie and I went to, it was a river or near a river we had to cross to get to the school, called Bryant School. The name of the river.

In the summer we could wade the river (as we always went bare foot in the summers) to get to the school. Winter months, with the rains and snow, the river would be too high to wade. We could only get across to the school by a big tree log put across the river, and we had to walk on the log -- quite scary at times.

Shall I tell you of something else that you probably never heard of. Some children had lice on their heads. We never got them that I remember. Mama would keep our heads clean, shampooed with homemade soap. We smelled like homemade soap that's kinda like homemade lye. Really all children did. We didn't know of hand soap then. Homemade soap did the trick of eliminating the head lice, if you kept faithful.

My parents: Homer West and Julia Keith West were parents of nine children. We first six, were 18 or 19 months apart. Number 7, Keith, was 13 months old when I was married. The two, Ruth and Derrek, younger than our first son, Leroy.

  • Mary Elizabeth West Henthorn, born Oct 15, 1902
  • Delia Maude West Dye, deceased, born June 24, 1904
  • Minnie Opal West Dart, born Aug 13, 1906
  • Edward Ishem West, deceased, born Mar 21, 1908
  • Harold Alvin West, born Jan 26, 1910
  • James Benjamin (Ben or Bennie) West
  • Homer Keith West, born July 17, 1912
  • Virginia Ruth West Custer Meyers
  • Elba Darrell West
Next 3 paragraphs are additional recollections added on a Friday in September 1986.

Just thinking of something in my childhood - Why? I don't know. Things come to mind like film strips.

Papa took me with him to the mill to have corn ground into cornmeal. As I remember, a beautiful horse to a buggy. He suddenly was frightened by something (it was a winding wooded country road), and he began to run out of control. (What we called "run away horse.") Papa took and threw me out by the roadside, I was not hurt only frightened. When he got the horses in control, came back and got me.

Then there's a time when we lived in Kansas. We had a buggy horse that was blind in one eye. Mama would hitch her up to the buggy, take us, me, Maudie, Opal and Eddie, to visit a neighbor. On the way home she decided to drive by where Papa and others where threshing wheat. Can't remember the horse's name (I should). Anyway, the noise from the threshing machine frightened her and she started to run away. Mama couldn't control her. She finely ran into a barbwire fence, then quieted down. I remember Mama was pulling tight on the reins and talking to her.

I've added many things not on "the covered wagon trip." I'll have to write other things that might be of interest to my descendants. As my childhood, was so much different than today, like another world.

I see I started writing "The Covered Wagon Trip," October 26, 1983. Today is July 11, 1984. I've made several rewrites, thinking of other incidents to include.

Signed: "Nana Mary" Mary E. Henthorn.


Email Dick Henthorn:
Posted: 25 Sep 2009
File: StoWest.txt

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