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

February, 1912

Dear Mrs. Coney,—

… This time I want to tell you about a “stocking-leg” dinner which I attended not long ago. It doesn’t sound very respectable, but it was one of the happiest events I ever remember.

Mrs. Louderer was here visiting us, and one afternoon we were all in the kitchen when Gavotte came skimming along on the first pair of snowshoes I ever saw. We have had lots of snow this winter, and many of the hollows and gullies are packed full. Gavotte had no difficulty in coming, and he had come for the mail and to invite us to a feast of “ze hose.” I could not think what kind of a dinner it could be, and I did not believe that Mr. Stewart would go, but after Gavotte had explained how much easier it was now than at any other time because the hard-packed snow made it possible to go with bobsleds, I knew he would go. I can’t say I really wanted to go, but Mrs. Louderer took it for granted that it would be delightful, so she and Mr. Stewart did the planning. Next morning Gavotte met Mrs. O’Shaughnessy and invited her. Then, taking the mail, he went on ahead to blaze a trail we should follow with the sleds. We were to start two days later. They planned we could easily make the trip in a day, as, with the gulches filled with snow, short cuts were possible, and we could travel at a good pace, as we would have a strong team. To me it seemed dangerous, but dinner-parties have not been so plenty that I could miss one. So, when the day came on which we were to start, we were up betimes and had a mess-box packed and Mr. Stewart had a big pile of rocks hot. We all wore our warmest clothes, and the rest carried out hot rocks and blankets while I put the kitchen in such order that the men left to feed the stock would have no trouble in getting their meals. Mr. Stewart carried out the mess-box, and presently we were off. We had a wagon-box on bobsleds, and the box was filled with hay and hot rocks with blankets on top and more to cover us. Mr. Stewart had two big bags of grain in front, feed for the horses, and he sat on them.

It was a beautiful day and we jogged along merrily. We had lots of fun, and as we went a new way, there was much that was new to Mrs. O’Shaughnessy and myself, and it was all new to the rest. Gavotte had told us where we should noon, and we reached the place shortly after twelve. Mr. Stewart went to lift out the mess-box,—but he had forgotten to put it in! Oh, dear! We were a disappointed lot. I don’t think I was ever so hungry, but there was nothing for it but to grin and bear it. It did me some good, though, to remember how a man misses his dinner. The horses had to be fed, so we walked about while they were eating. We went up a cañon that had high cliffs on one side, and came to a place where, high up on the rock wall, in great black letters, was this legend: “Dick fell off of this here clift and died.” I should think there would be no question that any one who fell from that place on to the boulders below would die.

Soon we started again, and if not quite so jolly as we were before, at least we looked forward to our supper with a keen relish and the horses were urged faster than they otherwise would have been. The beautiful snow is rather depressing, however, when there is snow everywhere. The afternoon passed swiftly and the horses were becoming jaded. At four o’clock it was almost dark. We had been going up a deep cañon and came upon an appalling sight. There had been a snow-slide and the cañon was half-filled with snow, rock, and broken trees. The whole way was blocked, and what to do we didn’t know, for the horses could hardly be gotten along and we could not pass the snow-slide. We were twenty-five miles from home, night was almost upon us, and we were almost starved. But we were afraid to stay in that cañon lest more snow should slide and bury us, so sadly we turned back to find as comfortable a place as we could to spend the night. The prospects were very discouraging, and I am afraid we were all near tears, when suddenly there came upon the cold air a clear blast from a horn. Mrs. Louderer cried, “Ach, der reveille!” Once I heard a lecturer tell of climbing the Matterhorn and the calls we heard brought his story to mind. No music could have been so beautiful. It soon became apparent that we were being signaled; so we drove in the direction of the sound and found ourselves going up a wide cañon. We had passed the mouth of it shortly before we had come to the slide. Even the tired horses took new courage, and every few moments a sweet, clear call put new heart into us. Soon we saw a light. We had to drive very slowly and in places barely crept. The bugler changed his notes and we knew he was wondering if we were coming, so Mr. Stewart helloed. At once we had an answer, and after that we were steadily guided by the horn. Many times we could not see the light, but we drove in the right direction because we could hear the horn.

At last, when it was quite dark and the horses could go no farther, we drew up before the fire that had been our beacon light. It was a bonfire built out upon a point of rock at the end of the cañon. Back from it among the pines was a ‘dobe house. A dried-up mummy of a man advanced from the fire to meet us, explaining that he had seen us through his field-glasses and, knowing about the snow-slide, had ventured to attract us to his poor place. Carlota Juanita was within, prepared for the señoras, if they would but walk in. If they would! More dead than alive, we scrambled out, cold-stiffened and hungry. Carlota Juanita threw open the low, wide door and we stumbled into comfort. She hastened to help us off with our wraps, piled more wood on the open fire, and busied herself to make us welcome and comfortable. Poor Carlota Juanita! Perhaps you think she was some slender, limpid-eyed, olive-cheeked beauty. She was fat and forty, but not fair. She had the biggest wad of hair that I ever saw, and her face was so fat that her eyes looked beady. She wore an old heelless pair of slippers or sandals that would hardly stay on, and at every step they made the most exasperating sliding noise, but she was all kindness and made us feel very welcome. The floor was of dirt, and they had the largest fireplace I have ever seen, with the widest, cleanest hearth, which was where they did their cooking. All their furniture was home-made, and on a low bench near the door were three water-jars which, I am sure, were handmade. Away back in a corner they had a small altar, on which was a little statue of Mary and the Child. Before it, suspended by a wire from the rafters, was a cow’s horn in which a piece of punk was burning, just as the incense is kept burning in churches. Supper was already prepared and was simmering and smoking on the hearth. As soon as the men came in, Carlota Juanita put it on the table, which was bare of cloth. I can’t say that I really like Mexican bread, but they certainly know how to cook meat. They had a most wonderful pot-roast with potatoes and corn dumplings that were delicious. The roast had been slashed in places and small bits of garlic, pepper, bacon, and, I think, parsley, inserted. After it and the potatoes and the dumplings were done, Carlota had poured in a can of tomatoes. You may not think that was good, but I can assure you it was and that we did ample justice to it. After we had eaten until we were hardly able to swallow, Carlota Juanita served a queer Mexican pie. It was made of dried buffalo-berries, stewed and made very sweet. A layer of batter had been poured into a deep baking-dish, then the berries, and then more batter. Then it was baked and served hot with plenty of hard sauce; and it was powerful good, too. She had very peculiar coffee with goat’s milk in it. I took mine without the milk, but I couldn’t make up my mind that I liked the coffee. We sat around the fire drinking it, when Manuel Pedro Felipe told us it was some he had brought from Mexico. I didn’t know they raised it there, but he told us many interesting things about it. He and Carlota Juanita both spoke fairly good English. They had lived for many years in their present home and had some sheep, a few goats, a cow or two, a few pigs, and chickens and turkeys. They had a small patch of land that Carlota Juanita tilled and on which was raised the squaw corn that hung in bunches from the rafters. Down where we live we can’t get sweet corn to mature, but here, so much higher up, they have a sheltered little nook where they are able to raise many things. Upon a long shelf above the fire was an ugly old stone image, the bottom broken off and some plaster applied to make it set level. The ugly thing they had brought with them from some old ruined temple in Mexico. We were all so very tired that soon Carlota Juanita brought out an armful of the thickest, brightest rugs and spread them over the floor for us to sleep upon. The men retired to a lean-to room, where they slept, but not before Manuel Pedro Felipe and Carlota had knelt before their altar for their devotions. Mrs. O’Shaughnessy and myself and Jerrine, knowing the rosary, surprised them by kneeling with them. It is good to meet with kindred faith away off in the mountains. It seems there could not possibly be a mistake when people so far away from creeds and doctrines hold to the faith of their childhood and find the practice a pleasure after so many years. The men bade us good-night, and we lost no time in settling ourselves to rest. Luckily we had plenty of blankets.

Away in the night I was awakened by a noise that frightened me. All was still, but instantly there flashed through my mind tales of murdered travelers, and I was almost paralyzed with fear when again I heard that stealthy, sliding noise, just like Carlota Juanita’s old slippers. The fire had burned down, but just then the moon came from behind a cloud and shone through the window upon Carlota Juanita, who was asleep with her mouth open. I could also see a pine bough which was scraping against the wall outside, which was perhaps making the noise. I turned over and saw the punk burning, which cast a dim light over the serene face of the Blessed Virgin, so all fear vanished and I slept as long as they would let me in the morning. After a breakfast of tortillas, cheese, and rancid butter, and some more of the coffee, we started again for the stocking-leg dinner. Carlota Juanita stood in the door, waving to us as long as we could see her, and Manuel P.F. sat with Mr. Stewart to guide us around the snow-slide. Under one arm he carried the horn with which he had called us to him. It came from some long-horned cow in Mexico, was beautifully polished, and had a fancy rim of silver. I should like to own it, but I could not make it produce a sound. When we were safe on our way our guide left us, and our spirits ran high again. The horses were feeling good also, so it was a merry, laughing party that drew up before Zebbie’s two hours later.

Long before I had lent Gavotte a set of the Leather-Stocking Tales, which he had read aloud to Zebbie. Together they had planned a Leather-Stocking dinner, at which should be served as many of the viands mentioned in the Tales as possible. We stayed two days and it was one long feast. We had venison served in half a dozen different ways. We had antelope; we had porcupine, or hedgehog, as Pathfinder called it; and also we had beaver-tail, which he found toothsome, but which I did not. We had grouse and sage hen. They broke the ice and snared a lot of trout. In their cellar they had a barrel of trout prepared exactly like mackerel, and they were more delicious than mackerel because they were finer-grained. I had been a little disappointed in Zebbie after his return from home. It seemed to me that Pauline had spoiled him. I guess I was jealous. This time he was the same little old Zebbie I had first seen. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy our visit, and I am sure we each had the time of our lives. We made it home without mishap the same day we started, all of us sure life held something new and enjoyable after all.

If nothing happens there are some more good times in store for me this summer. Gavotte once worked under Professor Marsden when he was out here getting fossils for the Smithsonian Institution, and he is very interesting to listen to. He has invited us to go with him out to the Bad-Land hills in the summer to search for fossils. The hills are only a few miles from here and I look forward to a splendid time.



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
  12. A Contented Couple
  13. Proving Up
  14. The New House


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