Submitted by Don Doman
This story was told to my wife Peggy, who wrote it all down. I’ve added explanations at the end of some paragraphs to explain various content. My grandmother is describing a journey taken in 1909 when she was a child. My mother (Lavinia) and her twin sister (Virginia) were born in Oklahoma and I was born in Missouri. My parents and I moved to Tacoma after World War II to visit my aunt Virginia, her husband, and their new daughter who was named after my mom. My grandmother ran the Grove Motel just outside of Parkland for a dozen years or so in the sixties and seventies. We would talk and play cards for hours.
As a small child I lived in Terrell, Texas. My grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. William Benjamin Rushing lived in Elmo, Texas, just seven miles from Terrell. We didn’t have a car, but Papa had a fast-gaited horse and buggy. Mama and I went quite often to see them. There was a small bridge on the way there and I can remember us going clickety-clack over it. Terrell, Texas is about fifty miles east of Dallas.
Grandpa had a large general merchandise store and in the front part of the building had an oval showcase that turned around and around so you could see the things in it. I can remember looking at them as it turned or rather as you turned it and how fascinating it was to me to look at the items in the showcase.
It wasn’t long after the time I’m writing about that Papa took an idea that he wanted to go to Mountain View, Oklahoma. This was Indian Territory country – his brother ran a saloon there and had asked papa to come for him. So, we decided to make the move, very much against my grandparents’ will. They said, “Why do you want to go to that wild and woolly country where there are a lot of Indians?”
Part of that was quite true for not far from where we lived was like an Indian reservation. They made lovely woven, colorful blankets and the wealthier ones had fine horses as I remember. Some of them were big fine white horses.
We lived there a while and then we moved to Granite, Oklahoma. It was a small town at the base of a large granite mountain. There was a granite quarry at the mountain. The granite was a reddish color.
Mama had always dressed me in white dresses, which was the style in those days. But there was so much red clay in Oklahoma that the water made them dingy, so Mama said, “We can’t have that!” She made me colored dresses after that. It broke my heart, but I got used to colored clothes. Grandmother used to say, “You should have left Vinnie with us.” Of course they couldn’t do that.
When I was about six years old, my dad took a notion he wanted to file on some land in New Mexico. So, he bought some mules and a covered wagon. After he had the wagon complete with a cover built-in as one big bed for all of us and took what things we needed for the trip and shipped the rest of our belongings, which never arrived. But, we had enough things to get along with.
Finally, we got started and the trip was good for me as I was malaria inclined and the outdoors was good for me. I had to take Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic to keep from having chills and fever every other day. But before we got very far, they threw the tonic away, so I got along without taking it. It was a bitter dose to take anyway. Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic was cure-all of its time. The Chill Tonic had quinine suspended in a syrupy liquid form. It was the only known malaria medication of the time. Tasteless was probably an outright lie. The tonic was standard issue in the British army. By 1890 Grove’s sold more bottles than Coca-cola did.
One day Papa drove through a rancher’s place. There was a big high gate and on top was a wire to force the two high posts supporting the gate. The wire had been twisted with a stick that hung down so low that it tore the wagon sheet. We had to drive all the next day before we could get another wagon sheet. We were all blistered in the sun, but we were happy to finally have the sheet.
Once in our travels, we lost track of the days and I was sewing my doll’s clothes on Sunday. Mama teased me and said, “The Devil would take that many stitches to my tongue.” It frightened me, but I didn’t dwell on it too long.
We traveled on as the days and months passed. We hit a blizzard and a whole train of covered wagons pulled into a big ranch. The rancher was very kind to us and let us stay until the storm cleared up and made a shelter for the team and helped feed and water all the animals. All the heat we had in our wagon was a big lantern. Guess we children and mother stayed covered up in our bed and when we got too cold, we’d go to the shelter of the ranch house.
Finally, the storm subsided and we were merrily on our way, again. The rest of the trip was routine until we got to Taiban, New Mexico where Papa got the location of our land and bought supplies to hold us for a while. This small town was twelve miles from where we would live. Taiban is about fifty miles SW of Santa Fe. The town is famous for being the location where Pat Garrett captured Billy the Kid and his associates just thirty years before.
After we got to where we would be living, we would be living in our covered wagon until Papa could get us a house built, a well dug, and other things that needed to be done. Before the well was dug, Papa had to haul water from a spring, which was quite a distance from our place. My sister Lorice and I usually went with him. Lorice died when she was ten or twelve from typhoid fever.
There was open range and cattle roamed all about us until Papa got a fence built. To build a fence, a group of men would go to the cedar brakes and haul fence posts. All this took time, but we were happy and time went by fast for us.
For our source of wood, we would gather the dried cow chips to burn along with what dry wood we had gathered from a canyon near where the spring was. Mama usually helped with the chores. I can remember our first crop. How nice everything was. We had a good garden with watermelons, corn, and maze. Everything was luscious. When fruit was in season, we would bring fruit from Roswell, New Mexico. Papa would trade roasting ears or what have you for fruit and did we ever have a feast!
When harvest time came, I can remember I had to be the baby sitter and keep the baby quiet. I made a hammock out of Mama’s new quilts and I didn’t get them tied high enough off the floor. As I rocked the baby in it, it dragged on the floor and wore a hole in it. Mama was really sick about the hole in her new quilt. My thought was to keep the baby happy and not crying. Mama went with Papa to get the maize headed, the reason for my caring for the baby. I think the use of the words corn and maize refers to fresh corn for eating, which you need to do as soon as possible after picking, and dried maize with the leaves pulled back (headed) and left drying on the stalks for flour and animal feed.
I don’t remember much about the house building, but I can describe it. The house was set down in the ground and at one end had steps leading to the outside ones. This was a day house as it was called, but built on to the rest of the house. There were three small windows, but at the ground level. It was large enough that there were two beds placed end to end and to the one side – on the other side was the kitchen and dining area. One of the items was a large glass pitcher I remember and keep looking to see one in the antique shops that looks like it.
As time went on I remember us having hogs, chickens, and a cow from the range. My sister and I had good times playing together. But I used to steal off to myself and praying to god if any of us had to die, “Take me.” I guess what brought this on, my grandfather had died on my father’s side of the family, and I just could hardly remember Papa holding me up to the casket to view my grandfather’s body.
One night we saw from one of the windows a bright light shining. We went to the window and Papa lifted me up so I could see the big comet that was sailing through the sky with a fiery tail trailing along behind it. What a wonderful sight to see. Halley’s Comet in 1910 was particularly spectacular. The comet flew by about 13.9 million miles (22.4 million kilometers) from Earth, which is about 1/15 the distance between Earth and the sun. Halley’s Comet was captured on camera for the first time in 1910.
After Papa got the house built, he dug the well; it was plenty deep and had a long slender bucket. The water had to be drawn up by winding the rope around a contraption with a handle that turned to pull the bucket up. I know there is a name for this, but I don’t know what it was called.
A fence around the 160 acres took a long time to build, but to me as a child it all went fast. I know he must have had help besides my mother. I guess the settlers helped each other.
We lived in a German settlement and some of the families didn’t like to speak English. One family was more refined. They had a daughter who had T.B. of the bone and they had come there hoping the climate would help her.
Our closest neighbor was a half mile away and he was an unwed bachelor.
After Papa got things done around this home, he was a locater. He would take the people who came in to their locations for their places. So that left Mama and we children to be alone, because it took days in a wagon to go on to the next place. Mama must have been a true pioneer woman as I never heard her complain.
We had about three productive years. Crops good and the rains came at the right time.
The big drought and sand storms came, so Papa had to leave us and go back to Oklahoma to find work so he could send us money to live on. Son Jim Cummins quotes Uncle Frank as saying the homestead in New Mexico was so desolate that “a jackrabbit would have to pack a lunch to cross the property.”
There was a big lake not too far from our house and it dried up and the bottom of the lake just became cracked ground.
I lived too far from the school house to walk, so the teacher had a horse and buggy and drove by our house and picked me up. So I was thankful for that!
For entertainment, the close community formed what they called a literary club. They did what they could to entertain. Papa played the fiddle or violin. Others had musical instruments and after the programs we would have a pot luck supper.
I can remember inviting the school teacher over for dinner one day. Mama caught a big fat hen and baked it for the main course and to Mama’s surprise, the lady didn’t like chicken. Mama was helpless at the time and didn’t have any other meat to serve. Poor dear!
We couldn’t go with Papa when he left, because if you left your land you had to relinquish your claim, so Mama and we children had to tough it out without him as they didn’t want to lose their home after all they had gone through.
After you stayed on your claim for so long you could apply for a six month leave of absence, which my father did and we went to Oklahoma, too. It made a hardship on me as far as school was concerned. Oklahoma didn’t recognize New Mexico schooling, so I had to almost start over, again. This would put me in high school as a mid-teen and I had to graduate in three and a half years, which forced me to take five subjects along with practice teaching.