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Southwest in early days, before the automobile, and personally know one's sufferings in sand-storms, how one feels when without water in the desert. I have had trouble with horse-thieves, been in quicksand, and experienced kindred discomforts. Yet, in July or August in the North Woods, the 'five standard flies' have made life miserable for the survey, and have caused more real inconvenience than we ever experienced on that famous Far Western Painted Desert. The running of our canoes, one at a time, safely through the worst part of the fifteen-mile falls on the Connecticut, by Ralph Dorr, was a performance unsurpassed by anything ever witnessed by us on the Western surveys. Navigating three long open canoes in a heavy sea-fog, from Bangor to Castine in one day, constituted a record of which the crew may justly be proud.
So, if one should suppose that there are no 'adventures' possible in line of duty (for we never take unnecessary risks) in New England explorations, that person should, if possible, join us on our last trip to Maine to be made this summer, when we hope to examine the upper Aroostook and head of the East Branch, and from thence travel across northern Maine to the upper St. John
waters, turn southeast, and work down to the Rangeleys.
There are not many indications of ancient Indian occupation in that region, for natives could exist with less hardships nearer the coast. As the colonists spread inland, there was an Indian migration northward; but there is no evidence of long-continued residence north of the central portion of the state. Indeed, I am of the opinion that the Indian occupation of much of Maine and Canada is comparatively recent.
Quite likely the next few years of exploration along the lower Connecticut River, and the coast from New Haven to Providence (including a strip some twenty miles back from salt water), will prove that we had a considerable Indian population prior to the Smith and Cabot voyages. The relationship of these tribes to other Algonquins is to be carefully studied, through a comparison of artifacts. Archæology alone must furnish the evidence, since languages and folk-lore of native Americans living prior to 1600 are unknown.
A few years hence, the pages of New England Indian history previous to European contact will have been written. We shall then realize that our aborigines played no unimportant part in the life of the American red race.
BY MRS. A. DEVEREUX
[The following authentic letters, which the Atlantic has been privileged to copy from the yellowing sheets still in the writer's possession, tell a story of the pioneer spirit which ought to be preserved. No introduction is necessary, but the reader should know that the writer was, in 1865, a wife of ten years. Mrs. Devereux still lives, at the age of ninety-three.]
COLUMBUS, NEBRASKA, October 15, 1865. (Geographical centre of the United States) DEAR MOTHER,—
I have a long story to tell you, of why I am here with Will, in this small, rough prairie village, so small and remote, I am sure you have never heard of it before. It is 90 miles from our home in Council Bluffs, with no nearer settlement of any size in any direction, and hundreds of miles from any railroad, and I doubt if the view from our window would impress you very favorably, yet it seems very good to us to be here.
My last letter to you told of Will's successful return journey from Denver, as far as Cottonwood Springs; from Fort Kearney later he wrote of greatly improved health: he would be home ready for duty in two weeks more, coming on slowly to get the full benefit of longer outdoor life in the early October days; and his enthusiasm over wagon-travel and camping-out for health was greater than ever. Ranches were not so far apart, and the ranch women could bake his bread, which, he owned, with his own baking in the Dutch oven, had been often very poor. Nor need he wait to join the slow progress of pack-trains, as he was forced to do farther West, where the Indians were dangerous and an escort of soldiers was furnished. He would enjoy camping by
himself in freedom and quiet, and he would soon be home.
At 4 o'clock P.M. of the very day this letter reached me, a telegram came from Grand Island, saying, 'Very ill by the roadside; come at once and bring the doctor.' You can imagine how dazed I was for an instant, and then the impulse to move heaven and earth to reach him quickly; but where Grand Island was, or how I was to get there, I knew no more than if I had not lived two years at one of the gateways to that great plain stretching 500 miles west to Denver.
I called to a passing friend, who, fortunately, was a woman of presence of mind, and had been to Denver herself. She recalled at once the important fact that it was the day for the Overland coach, which only every other day left Omaha at evening for Denver; and it was nearly time for the last boat on the ferry to Omaha, and the ferry was two miles away.
'Send me the doctor and someone to take me to Omaha,' was all that I waited to say; and hastened to put the few things in my bag I could think of.
She found our good friend and banker, Mr. Deming, at the first corner, in his buggy, and he drove to the door at once, and offered to see me started on the coach; and best of all, a need I had
not yet thought of, he could furnish me funds for the journey, and arrange, as we drove on, for any emergency which should call for more. It was impossible for the doctor to go with me, but he came to me, and gave me all the advice he could.
In half an hour from the time the telegram reached me, we were on our way, and I had a little time to collect myself before reaching the ferry. I was so absorbed in going over that terrible telegram, to gain some new light on it, that I had no fear or hesitation about taking the journey, nor did I recall what little I knew about such rough travel in the unsettled West, or what it might demand of my strength, if not of my courage; and I wondered, vaguely, why Mr. Deming should ask me if I were sure I had better try to go. Of course I must go.
We reached Omaha just in time, and Mr. Deming secured the whole of the back seat of the coach for me; and as I crawled into it at 9 o'clock, in the darkness, I heard the driver say, "Two nights and a day will bring her there'; and the dim lanterns outside showed me Mr. Deming's pale and frightened face as we rolled away.
It was well fear was not added to my anxiety. The rapid movement of the four horses gave me relief, and the intense silence of the black night left me free to think; for though Mr. Deming said with trembling voice, as he shut the coach-door, 'A lady going to her sick husband; won't you be kind to her?' and I was conscious of persons in the other seats, I thought no more of them, and set about making myself comfortable enough for one who could not sleep. I rolled the ill-smelling blanket into pillows, and made a tent-cover from head to foot of the big mosquito net that my thoughtful friends insisted I should take, as I left home.
When day dawned, we had left the
rolling hills between Omaha and the Elkhorn behind us, and were passing rapidly over the plains of the Platte valley. I had grudged the delays of the night, when they stopped to change horses, for every hour made one less of that terrible sum of 'two nights and a day,' before I could reach Will, 'ill by the roadside'; but when the light became clearer in the coach, there was a moment's sense of repugnance, but no fear, when I met the eyes of three of the roughest-looking men I had ever seen, staring at me. They had not spoken a word through the long night, I believe in kindness to a lone woman, though they seemed not only coarse, but dull. They rarely spoke to each other during the time I was with them, and never to me; and when awake, seemed filled with astonishment at my presence there.
At the noon station a new passenger took the vacant seat in front of me, and it was very pleasant to see the unmistakable signs of a more cultivated type of man. He was kind to me, giving me helpful attentions at the rough stagestations, where we tried to eat. Once he insisted, without any complaint of mine, that a basin of water should be placed on a chair inside the shanty for my use, instead of my sharing with the men the towels and basin on the bench outside the door. A sense of being protected by this good man encouraged a little sleep, and the slow hours wore on.
Toward night I began to inquire about Grand Island, supposing that I was to go on to that station, and should reach it next morning. But when, later, the driver was changed with the horses, the new one came to the coach-door and asked, 'Is there a woman here, going to her sick husband?' To my eager inquiries of what he could tell me about Will, he could only say, "They told me to watch out for ye, and leave ye at Lone Tree; get there in the night
some time.' This, I found, was eight miles east of Grand Island, from which the telegram came.
After midnight I began to peer into the darkness with beating heart, full of vague and terrible fears. I think my friend in the coach was anxious, too, with too much sympathy to sleep; for he was good to me in a silent way, which helped me to wait quietly.
At two o'clock in the morning the coach suddenly stopped, and we knew it was not to change horses; it was too quiet. The coach-door opened, and in silence my neighbor sprang out, and I silently followed. The driver bade us make for a dim light not far away; it was a lantern hanging under Will's wagon, standing by the roadside. My friend helped me to climb into the dark opening under the canvas cover, from which a voice strangely unnatural called faintly, 'I thought you would never come; now let me go to sleep.'
Instinctively I knew there was peril, though I could not distinguish his face.
The stranger exclaimed, 'I can't leave you so; this is dreadful; I will stay.'
But I knew Will must, first of all, get rest that night. No doubt he had forced himself to keep awake until the coach came by. I hope the man knew I was grateful for his kindness, but I could only whisper, 'Go on; I can do; send me a physician if you can find one.' Later on, I did get comfort at a critical time, through his remembrance of us, though he found no physician.
I crawled along the wagon-bed until I came to Will's head, and sat down on the straw and soothed him to sleep. He was too ill to tell me anything about himself, only feebly saying once, 'I shall get well now.'
When it was light enough to see, I crept out the front, and found the wagon was drawn up beside an old empty hut, and near-by was a newly
built log-cabin, and a long sod-barn, and no other habitation in sight. Two half-grown boys came out of the new cabin, and I went in to find someone to get me the nourishment I must have for Will, and food for myself, and to learn something about him.
A frowzy, dull-eyed woman met me; her yellow face and yellow hair and lank figure told me the kind of emigrant she was. She seemed to have not a particle of interest in the sick man outside; had I been some unknown species of human kind, she could not have appeared more dazed. A coarse-featured girl of eighteen, maybe, joined her, and paying no attention to my wants, they continued to stand silent, and stare at my face, my clothes, and my hair.
I think nothing up to that time came so near breaking my courage as the silent stare of that dull, passionless woman. I knew then that I was little better than alone, on the wide prairie, with a very sick man.
I begged for fire, and hot water, and milk, and gained by degrees from them, that Will had come to their cabin a week before and given his horses to the care of the sons, because he was ill, and had sent one of them back to Grand Island with the dispatch to me, later; and they had made soup for him once, when he said they must. Did I think he would die? and, Was it a catching sickness?
I knew as little as they what his sickness was; but I meant that he should not die, and that they should give me help, though I did not say so. The hot milk I gave him revived him, and he slept again, while I searched his box of stores, and made myself a homelike cup of tea on their old broken cook-stove. A spider and a kettle were all the utensils they had; but I cleaned up Will's saucepans, and then looked about me. He could not stay longer in that wagon. I could not climb in and out, and care
for him. They insisted there was no place for him in their cabin, and indeed he needed quiet and good air, which he would not have there; but I found in the old hut a bedstead frame, with boards across it, and on them a ragged hay-bed.
The floor of the hut was like that of an old barn, and the sod-roof was broken in spots, but was shelter enough for those mild sunny days. I asked for fresh hay for the bed, and in perfect silence they did just what I bade them to do, and then stood again and stared at me.
The bed was the sole piece of furniture in the hut, and there was not much more in the newer cabin. I looked about for a box to serve as a chair, but none could be found. A cask of onions and one of oats stood at one side of the small square room, and the chickens ran in and out of the broken door, freely, all day. When the boys came to their breakfast, I got them to carry Will to the hut on the mattress-bed in his wagon, on which he had slept during his two months' journey; and on my taking off his heavy clothing, he slept more quietly, but could tell me little about himself.
I gradually learned that, after his last letter to me, he had failed for some nights to get good sleep. Mosquitoes appeared in swarms, and horse-thieves were about, so that Punch and Judy had to be watched at night. He felt himself growing ill, and pushed on, hoping at least to get to Columbus, the nearest place he could find advice and care. But that was 60 miles farther east, and when his strength gave out entirely, he stopped beside this cabin, because there was a barn where his horses could be made safe. How he had lived since he sent the dispatch, he did not know. He thinks the women brought him water, and he wanted nothing more. He was waiting for me.
I made a seat for myself on the foot of his bed, with his overcoat as a pillow, and watched, and fed him with all the nourishing things I could contrive from our limited stores, and did not know enough to know that he had a low malarial fever, fast assuming a typhus form. He insisted that he needed nothing but rest, and in his weak state I dared not experiment with the few medicines I had with me. I ate in the other cabin, with the silent family, living mostly on rice and crackers, and tea of my own making; their bacon and mashed potatoes, with the bacon fat stirred into the potato until it was almost a soup, was intolerable to me; and badly made hot soda bread, with coffee, was all they had besides to eat.
They came west from Southern Indiana. The women wore home-made linsey-woolsey gowns, with straight, scant skirts, and I envied them, as I went about in the dust with full skirts and hoops; so I packed away the hoops, and sewed up my skirts in festoons, and laid aside my small hat, which seemed so absurd a covering in that spot, and went bareheaded to and fro in the sun.
One evening the boys came in with an antelope thrown across one of their ponies, which they had shot at some distance, somewhere, and I thought Will could have soup, and I could have a change in food; but before morning they had it all packed in salt, and the stew they made for dinner had a dreadful taste.
All day long the sun shone from a cloudless sky. A few rods in front of our door, the perfectly level trail to Denver stretched in a yellow line of dust to the limits of the horizon, east and west. Four or five miles away, a brown spot indicated a cabin, and a dim fringe of low trees, still farther away, marked a stream; otherwise, the circle of the horizon bounded an unbroken plain,