Elinore P. Stewart’s “Letters of a Woman Homesteader” continued:

October 6, 1911

Dear Mrs. Coney,—

… I once “heared” Sedalia Lane telling some of her experiences, and she said she “surreptitiously stole along.” One day, when I thought the coast was clear, I was surreptitiously examining the contents of the tool-chest with a view toward securing to myself such hammers, saws, and what else I might need in doing some carpentry work I

had planned. The tool-chest is kept in the granary; both it and the granary are usually kept locked. Now the “gude mon” has an idea that a “wooman” needs no tools, and the use and misuse of his tools have led to numbers of inter-household wars. I was gloating over my opportunity, and also making the best of it, when a medley of burring Scotch voices brought me to a quick realization that discretion is the better part of valor. So I went into seclusion behind a tall oat-bin. It seemed that two neighbors whom I had never seen were preparing to go to town, and had come to get some tools and to see if the Stewart would lend them each a team. Now Mr. Stewart must be very righteous, because he certainly regardeth his beast, although he doesn’t always love his neighbor as himself. He was willing, however, for friends Tam Campbell and Archie McEttrick to use his teams, but he himself would take a lighter rig and go along, so as to see that his horses were properly cared for, and to help out in case of need.

They made their plans, set the day, and went their ways. As soon as I could, I made myself scarce about the granary and very busy about the house, and, like Josiah Allen, I was in a very “happyfied” state of mind. There is nothing Mr. Stewart likes better than to catch me unprepared for something. I had been wanting

to go to town, and he had said I might go with him next time he went, if I was ready when he was. I knew I would not hear one word about the proposed trip, but that only added to the fun. I had plenty of time to make all preparations; so the day before they were to start found me with all in readiness. It was quite early in the spring and the evenings were quite chilly. We had just finished supper, when we heard a great rumbling, and I knew neighbors Campbell and McEttrick had arrived on their way to town; so I began to prepare supper for them. I hadn’t expected a woman, and was surprised when I saw the largest, most ungainly person I have ever met come shambling toward me.

She was Aggie McEttrick. She is tall and raw-boned, she walks with her toes turned

out, she has a most peculiar lurching gait like a camel’s. She has skin the color of a new saddle, and the oddest straggly straw-colored hair. She never wears corsets and never makes her waists long enough, so there is always a streak of gray undershirt visible about her waist. Her skirts are never long enough either, and she knits her own stockings. Those inclined can always get a good glimpse of blue-and-white striped hose. She said, “I guess you are the Missus.” And that was every word she said until I had supper on the table. The men were busy with their teams, and she sat with her feet in my oven, eyeing my every movement. I told her we had just had our supper, but she waited until I had theirs ready before she announced that neither she nor Archie ate hot biscuits or steak, that they didn’t take tea for supper, preferred coffee, and that neither of them could eat peaches or honey. So all of my supper was ruled off except the butter and cream. She went down to their wagons and brought up what she wanted, so Tam Campbell was the only one who ate my honey and biscuit.

Tam is just a Scot with an amazingly close fist, and he is very absent-minded. I had met Annie, his wife, and their six children. She told me of his absent-mindedness. Her remedy for his trouble when it came to household needs was to repeat the article two or three times in the list. People out like we are buy a year’s supply at a time. So a list of needed things is made up and sent into town. Tam always managed to forget a great many things.

Well, bedtime came. I offered to show them to their room, but Aggie said, “We’ll nae sleep in your bed. We’ll jest bide in the kitchen.” I could not persuade her to change her mind. Tam slept at the barn in order to see after the “beasties,” should they need attention during the night. As I was preparing for bed, Aggie thrust her head into my room and announced that she would be up at three o’clock. I am not an early bird, so I thought I would let Aggie get her own breakfast, and I told her she would find everything in the pantry. As long as I was awake I could hear Archie and Aggie talking, but I could not imagine what about. I didn’t know their habits so well as I came to later. Next morning the rumbling of their wagons awakened me, but I turned over and slept until after six.

There are always so many things to do before leaving that it was nine o’clock before we got started. We had only gotten about two miles, when Mr. Stewart remembered he had not locked the granary, so back we trotted. We nooned only a few miles from home. We knew we could not catch the wagons before camping-time unless we drove very hard, so Mr. Stewart said we would go by the Edmonsons’ and spend the night there. I enjoy even the memory of that drive through the short spring afternoon,—the warm red sand of the desert; the Wind River Mountains wrapped in the blue veil of distance; the sparse gray-green sage, ugly in itself, but making complete a beautiful picture; the occasional glimpse we had of shy,beautiful wild creatures. So much happiness can be crowded into so short a time. I was glad, though, when Cora Belle’s home became a part of our beautiful picture. It is situated among great red buttes, and there is a blue lake back of the house. Around the lake is a fringe of willows. Their house is a low, rambling affair, with a long, low porch and a red clay roof. Before the house is a cotton-wood tree, its gnarled, storm-twisted branches making it seem to have the “rheumatiz.” There is a hop-vine at one end of the porch. It had not come out when we were there, but the dead vine clung hopelessly to its supports.

Little Cora Belle just bubbled with delight, and her grandparents were scarcely better than she. Spring house-cleaning was just finished, and they have company so seldom that they made us feel that we were doing them a favor by stopping. Poor old “Pa” hobbled out to help put the team away, and when they came back, Cora Belle asked me out to help prepare supper, so I left Mr. Stewart with “Granny” and “Pa” to listen to their recitals and to taste their many medicines. Cora Belle is really an excellent housekeeper. Her cooking would surprise many people. Her bread was delicious, and I am sure I never tasted anything better than the roasted leg of lamb she gave us for supper. I am ashamed to tell you how much I ate of her carrot jam. From where I sat I had a splendid view of the sunset across the lake. Speaking of things singly, Wyoming has nothing beautiful to offer. Taken altogether, it is grandly beautiful, and at sunrise and sunset the “heavens declare His glory.”

Cora Belle is so animated and so straightforward, so entirely clean in all her thoughts and actions, that she commands love and respect at one and the same time. After supper her grandfather asked her to sing and play for us. Goodness only knows where they got the funny little old organ that Cora Belle thinks so much of. It has spots all over it of medicine that has been spilled at different times, and it has, as Cora Belle said, lost its voice in spots; but that doesn’t set back Cora Belle at all, she plays away just as if it was all right. Some of the keys keep up a mournful whining and groaning, entirely outside of the tune. Cora Belle says they play themselves. After several “pieces” had been endured, “Pa” said, “Play my piece, Cory Belle”; so we had “Bingen on the Rhine” played and sung from A to izzard. Dear old “Pa,” his pain-twisted old face just beamed with pride. I doubt if heaven will have for him any sweeter music than his “baby’s” voice. Granny’s squeaky, trembly old voice trailed in after Cora Belle’s, always a word or two behind. “Tell my friends and companions when they meet and scrouge around”; that is the way they sang it, but no one would have cared for that, if they had noticed with what happy eagerness the two sang together. The grandparents would like to have sat up all night singing and telling of things that happened in bygone days, but poor tired little Cora Belle began to nod, so we retired. As we were preparing for bed it suddenly occurred to Mr. Stewart that I had not been surprised when going to town was mentioned, so he said, “Wooman, how did it happen that you were ready when I was to gae to the toone?” “Oh,” I said, “I knew you were going.” “Who tell it ye?” “A little bird.” “‘T was some fool wooman, mayhap.” I didn’t feel it necessary to enlighten him, and I think he is still wondering how I knew.

Next morning we were off early, but we didn’t come up with the wagons until almost camping-time. The great heavily-loaded wagons were creaking along over the heavy sands. The McEttricks were behind, Aggie’s big frame swaying and lurching with every jolt of the wagon. They never travel without their German socks. They are great thick things to wear on the outside of their shoes. As we came up behind them, we could see Aggie’s big socks dangling and bobbing beside Archie’s from where they were tied on the back part of the wagon. We could hear them talking and see them gesticulating. When we came nearer, we found they were quarreling, and they kept at it as long as I was awake that night. After the men had disposed of their loads, they and Mr. Stewart were going out of town to where a new coal-mine was being opened. I intended to go on the train to Rock Springs to do some shopping. Aggie said she was going also. I suggested that we get a room together, as we would have to wait several hours for the train, but she was suspicious of my motives. She is greatly afraid of being “done,” so she told me to get my own room and pay for it. We got into town about three o’clock in the afternoon, and the train left at midnight.

I had gone to my room, and Jerrine and myself were enjoying a good rest after our fatiguing drive, when my door was thrown open and a very angry Aggie strode in. They asked us fifty cents each for our rooms. Aggie paid hers under protest and afterward got to wondering how long she was entitled to its use. She had gone back to the clerk about it, and he had told her for that night only. She argued that she should have her room for a quarter, as she would only use it until midnight. When that failed, she asked for her money back, but the clerk was out of patience and refused her that. Aggie was angry all through. She vowed she was being robbed. After she had berated me soundly for submitting so tamely, she flounced back to her own room, declaring she would get even with the robbers. I had to hurry like everything that night to get myself and Jerrine ready for the train, so I could spare no time for Aggie. She was not at the depot, and Jerrine and I had to go on to Rock Springs without her. It is only a couple of hours from Green River to Rock Springs, so I had a good nap and a late breakfast. I did my shopping and was back at Green River at two that afternoon. The first person I saw was Aggie. She sat in the depot, glowering at everybody. She had a basket of eggs and a pail of butter, which she had been trying to sell. She was waiting for the night train, the only one she could get to Rock Springs. I asked her had she overslept. “No, I didna,” she replied. Then, she proceeded to tell me that, as she had paid for a whole night’s use of a room, she had stayed to get its use. That it had made her plans miscarry didn’t seem to count.

After all our business was attended to, we started for home. The wagons were half a day ahead of us. When we came in sight, we could see Aggie fanning the air with her long arms, and we knew they were quarreling. I remarked that I could not understand how persons who hated each other so could live together. Clyde told me I had much to learn, and said that really he knew of no other couple who were actually so devoted. He said to prove it I should ask Aggie into the buggy with me and he would get in with Archie, and afterwards we would compare notes. He drove up alongside of them, and Aggie seemed glad to make the exchange. As we had the buggy, we drove ahead of the wagons. It seems that Archie and Aggie are each jealous of the other. Archie is as ugly a little monkey as it would be possible to imagine. She bemeaned him until at last I asked her why she didn’t leave him, and added that I would not stand such crankiness for one moment. Then she poured out the vials of her wrath upon my head, only I don’t think they were vials but barrels.

About sundown we made it to where we intended to camp and found that Mrs. O’Shaughnessy had established a sheep-camp there, and was out with her herd herself, having only Manny, a Mexican boy she had brought up herself, for a herder. She welcomed us cordially and began supper for our entire bunch. Soon the wagons came, and all was confusion for a few minutes getting the horses put away for the night. Aggie went to her wagon as soon as it stopped and made secure her butter and eggs against a possible raid by Mrs. O’Shaughnessy. Having asked too high a price for them, she had failed to sell them and was taking them back. After supper we were sitting around the fire, Tam going over his account and lamenting that because of his absent-mindedness he had bought a whole hundred pounds of sugar more than he had intended, Aggie and Archie silent for once, pouting I suspect. Clyde smiled across the camp-fire at me and said, “Gin ye had sic a lass as I hae, ye might blither.” “Gin ye had sic a mon as mine—” I began, but Mrs. O’Shaughnessy said, “Gin ye had sic a mon as I hae.” Then we all three laughed, for we had each heard the same thing, and we knew the McEttricks wouldn’t fight each other. They suspected us of laughing at them, for Archie said to Aggie, “Aggie, lass, is it sport they are making of our love?” “‘T is daft they be, Archie, lad; we’ll nae mind their blither.” She arose and shambled across to Archie and hunkered her big self down beside him. We went to bed and left them peaceable for once.

I am really ashamed of the way I have treated you, but I know you will forgive me. I am not strong yet, and my eyes are still bothering me, but I hope to be all right soon now, and I promise you a better letter next time. Jerrine is very proud of her necklace. I think they are so nice for children. I can remember how proud I was of mine when I was a child. Please give your brother our thanks, and tell him his little gift made my little girl very happy.

I am afraid this letter will seem rather jumbled. I still want the address of your friend in Salem or any other. I shall find time to write, and I am not going to let my baby prevent me from having many enjoyable outings. We call our boy Henry Clyde for his father. He is a dear little thing, but he is a lusty yeller for baby’s rights.

With much love,
Jerrine and her Mamma.

NEXT:

13. PROVING UP

Previous Letters

  1. The Arrival At Burnt Fork
  2. Filing A Claim
  3. A Busy, Happy Summer
  4. A Charming Adventure And Zebulon Pike
  5. Sedalia And Regalia
  6. A Thanksgiving-Day Wedding
  7. Zebulon Pike Visits His Old Home
  8. A Happy Christmas
  9. A Confession
  10. The Story Of Cora Belle
  11. Zebbie’s Story

 

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