Submitted by Dan Durbin
By Rhodina Frances (Baker) Webb
As I sit before the cozy fireplace the years roll back along memory lane to my early childhood happy carefree days in Illinois.
When I was about eight years old, my oldest Brother Bert had just returned from a trip out west, as we called it then, which in reality was Southern Kansas. The young people of those days were not content to sit at home. They were full of life and adventure, which they well knew included hardships.
Friends and neighbors would gather at our house to hear the interesting stories Brother Bert could tell of the wonderful new country. The people then loved to go places and do things just as they do today.
Life began to hum, as Father, Uncle Ruben, and many of our neighbors made plans to venture into the promised land.
I shall never forget the day when our large family and the few possessions we could take with us were being loaded into the moving wagon as we called it.
What a memory of that long train of new clean white sheet wagons, the conglomeration of farm implements, livestock, bags of seed, feed, dogs, cats, and last but not least, children of all ages, size and description.
I was nurse maid it seemed to me, as it was always my job to take care of the babies. Some distracted mother was always calling Diana! Diana! come and take the baby, while she was busy with the many things so necessary to be done.
At last everything but the livestock was loaded. Our wagon with its new bows and clean white sheet stood first in line, with Brother Bert in the drivers seat. We were all excited and eager to see what lay around the bend of the river.
The roads were not so bad at first, but what fun it was when we struck the rough crooked trails. We had no inner spring cushions or shock absorbers, but we did have straw and shuck ticks and feather pillows.
I smile now as I think what a few hours it would take to go skimming over the fine concrete roads with the massive bridges across the rivers and streams. We had to cross them as best we could, we would sometimes get stuck trying to ford them. In some places we had to make rafts and in a few places we found ferry boats.
The trip was slow, as we had to make frequent stops for the horses and livestock to rest.
It was a jolly crowd, composed of parents, grandparents, Bride and Grooms, and young people added the love scenes, and romance without which no story would be complete.
At times we were passing over rolling plains of tall waving native grass, and again through dense timber. I can see those dangling grape vines full of deep purple wild grapes, bushes full of ripe paw paw's and trees laden with many kinds of nuts. As soon as we halted to make camp for the night, away would scamper the children to gather in the bountiful fruits of nature. I would try to make my get away before some squalling infant was deposited in my arms. When I did manage to slip away, I could hear my name resound through the woods, Diana! Diana! I was deaf to their call, but very much alive and all my senses working in perfect order, except my sense of hearing. I would gather up the hem of my skirt with one hand, while grabbing and snatching with the other at the nuts, pa paw's, wild grapes and haws, cramming them into my mouth faster than I could swallow. With bulging skirts full we would return to camp with our booty and scamper away again if we were not caught and put to work at some task, or tending babies, which was usually my special job.
None of the children were lost, snake bit, poisoned or kidnapped. The trip was made without the loss of life. In fact the old stork was on the job and added a new member to our party.
Our parents were eager to get to their new home, and settle for the winter, but they were never in too much of a hurry to ask a long blessing before each meal or at least it seemed long to restless hungry children.
When camp was made Saturday night it meant the tomorrow would be a day of rest for man and beast. Uncle Ruben was a minister of the Gospel so we had open air church services.
After days and days of this wonderful trip we arrived at our destination on Elk River "Down by the Old Mill Stream".
It would take books to relate the many interesting happenings of the next few years. There was lots of work for all to do, but time for some play. We would meet at the different homes and have singing schools, parties and prayer meetings.
Our day was always started and ended with family prayer. One morning I was kneeling beside brother Theodore during family prayer and as my mind and eyes were wandering about I caught a glimpse of some beautiful picture cards Theodore had spread out in his hand, and quickly returned to his pocket, but not quick enough to elude Fathers sharp eyes, for as soon as the prayer was over he said "Theodore, put those cards in the fire place," there was no argument and I watched those beautiful cards catch fire one by one and curl up and turn black. I did so want to just touch them, but Father thought the devil was in a deck of cards.
When I was fifteen an English family took over the Halls flouring mills. Of course there was a young man named Jim that the girls were all talking about, and I was dying to see him. At last the chance, time, and place presented itself. He was coming to see Father on business.
I put on my new Calico dress. A string of lovely beads, curled my hair with the stove poker, and made myself as beautiful as possible in those days. At last I saw him coming up the river road. He dismounted from his horse and set down on the wood pile to talk to Father. I made myself busy out side bringing in the clothes from the line and even filled the wood box, but never once did my Romeo even so much as seem to notice me. A disappointed little girl watched him mount his horse and disappear around the bend of the river. I was full of youth, life, and spunk, and later my chance came.
Brother Theodore developed an interest in Anna, Jim's younger sister, and before another year rolled by I was Mrs. Jim Webb at sixteen and Anna was Mrs. Theodore Baker. There was lots of land for the homesteader at that time, and soon the lure of a home of our own took us away from the mill to a promised land of rolling plains, woods, and streams. Our little two room shack was as full of romance as any of the modern bungalows of today. What fun it was to furnish our new home. We had a few odds and ends of furniture we had collected but "goods boxes" as we called them then, served for chairs, home made table and many useful things about the house. My white wedding petticoat made lovely curtains for our front windows. We White washed the house inside and out and after each dashing rain it had to be retouched outside.
Neighbors were few and far between, but they were priceless and in emergencies proved all that the name neighbor implies, and by working, trading, lending, borrowing and helping each other, most of us managed to hold on and keep going.
Our first trip to town with our ox team Buck and Brindle, was a thrill that I have never experienced since then not even in our modern streamlined autos of today. We spent most of the day going, and with a night in town and another day to get home, we had a real vacation. Buck and Brindle were also full of life and pep, as we in sight of home, "they stepped on it" as we say today, got out of control and upset our precious can of molasses.
The first long cold winter we could not do much but hover around the little stove, with the old iron kettle sitting in next to the wood fire, in which most of our food was cooked. I remember many times the kettle boiling on the front of the stove and the ice was freezing on the back.
One day after Jim had made several unsuccessful attempts to buck the deep snow drifts and failed to get through, he came back tired and hungry. After thawing himself out into the blizzard again to do up the evening chores. I gathered together the few fragments of food which had almost diminished to zero along with the weather. We had frozen milk, a few frozen potatoes, a small chunk of fat pork. I scraped the bottom of the flour barrel again and found a few spoonfuls. While I was debating whether it would be gravy, or soup, I heard a scratching at the door and peeping out through the crack I saw a sight I shall never forget. There stood the good old faithful cat with a quail in her mouth. I shall always be ashamed of the fact that I snatched it away from her before she could move out of her tracks. I excused myself by saying she can get out and find another one. She made no protest, but crawled in under the stove.
I was not long getting that bird ready for the skillet, with my small piece of fat meat, and the quail rolled in flour, I soon had a dish fit for a King. With the rest of the flour and frozen milk I made gravy. I generously gave the cat the quails head, warm milk, and gravy, which seemed to satisfy her for she soon was back under the stove purring and asleep. I crawled into bed for fear I would be tempted to eat the rest of it. I soon heard Jim at the door which was banked so high with snow he could hardly squeeze through, as he closed the door behind him he started sniffing and calling Dianna! Dianna! where are you, and what do I smell? I told him to look in the skillet on the back of the stove. Of course he wanted to know where it came from, and insisted on my sharing it with him, but I told him I had all I wanted, but to be truthful I was never before nor after as hungry as I was then.
The next day the sun came up and the storm was over. Jim managed to get to a neighbors so our fast didn't last long enough to hurt us.
At last the Springtime came, the rains were generous and the new land put forth grass for our winter hay, our crops were bountiful. We planted every seed we could get our hands on, so in later years we had a wilderness of seedling peaches, apples, plums and cherries.
When our first baby girl came to share our home, I knew she was the most beautiful baby in the world with her golden brown curls, and large blue eyes. I had never had a beautiful doll like the little girls of today have, so I played with her most of the time. I would bathe her and dress her up in her one long white embroidery dress and petticoats everyday, and wash and iron them at night so as to have them ready for the next day.
Fanny Charlotte was my special pet name, so of course that was our baby girls name. I would play with the baby so long I would often be surprised to see Jim coming from the field and would have to hustle a meal double quick. In those days can openers were unknown but I managed some way and learned by experience.
Our homestead was not far from the Indian Territory and I had heard of the horrible things the Indians would do if they ever found a mother and children alone.
One day "my heart stood still" as the modern song goes, when I saw a band of Indians in my front yard. One of them had a dead dog tied to his horse. Several of them got off of their ponies and came peeping into my windows. I had hurriedly put my baby into a large box and covered her with a blanket, on top of which I placed some corn cobs so they would not be suspicious if they peeped into it, and prayed that she would not waken. A big Buck opened the door and came in grunting and pointing to things he wanted, I was so frightened I let them take everything, our corn, meal, flour, sugar, smoked meat, etc. I held my breath for fear they would discover my baby, but she was asleep and never made a sound.
After they had gone I grabbed little Fanny and ran to the field where Jim was working. After that they made frequent trips but I soon mustered up courage to meet them at the door, and tell them no. I had a bell I would ring when I saw them coming, and with the old gun that stood beside the door I soon convinced them that they were not welcome, and their visits soon ceased.
We worked hard for many years and gained little by little. We knew then that the only kind of relief we could expect was through our own efforts.
We planned, talked and dreamed that some day we would build a new home on the hill opposite our little shack. Our dreams came true, after years of hard work. We saw the new home grow from a foundation to a large two story house with a large basement where we late spent many nights in fear of the Kansas cyclones that were making too frequent visits to our Kansas land. We have see our neighbors homes destroyed, members of their families killed and injured. Those that were spared were left with nothing but the bare earth, strewn with wreckage. We have seen those same neighbors roll up their sleeves, clear the land, rebuild their homes and replant their fields. We have seen prairie fires that have left blackened fields behind them. The grasshopper years when everything green was destroyed. At times I have been dissatisfied and envied those who had wealth and were master of themselves, I thought, but looking through the pages of life I would not change them.
I leave to my children and the following generation what I have learned by experience, that not wealth, but health and a will to work is the greatest heritage one can possibly have. There is so much satisfaction in making something out of nothing. To plant the bare fields, and hope for a bountiful harvest. To do a little kindness to one less fortunate, I have lived in one of the greatest generations of all times. A generation that has given to the world many inventions such as telephone, automobiles, airoplanes, submarines. It has harnessed up many useful ways, and still the world does not know the definition of electricity. We leave that for you to solve. We also have the x-ray and radium which add to the wonderful cures for the sick and afflicted.
And now if the peace on earth and good will toward man can be stored in a warring turbulent, I could end my story with the words of the fairy tales. "They lived happily ever after."
Life has been good. My children are all living, three girls and two boys, and one little boy we made room for many years ago when he was left motherless. I am justly proud of them all and tonight I sit by the fireplace of my first baby girl. Through all the years she has not failed me, and as the fire light dances and darts through the room beside me I see my curly headed little girl. The golden brown curls have tuned to silver, but she still has the light step and an ever helping hand. Our lives are like the two logs on the fire, one is old and weather beaten, and without the help of the one by its side would soon smoulder and go out, but she, like the back log keeps the warm glowing fire burning. Jim is not here. He lived long past the allotted time of three score years and ten, as as the good book says, "If by reason of strength they should be four score yet is there strength, labour and sorrow, for it is soon cut off and we fly away."
At four score years and two I once more watched him disappear around the bend of the river. This time the fire of youth is gone replaced by serenity, faith, and almost satisfaction, for this time when I too shall join him and those of the white sheet wagon train in the "promised land", around the bend of the river.
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