She Wore Silver Thimbles

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July 12, 1860 An excerpt from the Oregon Trail Journal of Sable Murphree: :

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My beloved Caleb came down with the Cholera two nights ago; I fear he will die in a few hours. He fights bravely to hang on, but on one seems to survive this dreadful disease and he is suffering horribly. A once powerful young man now is little more than a rack of bones. It would be an act of Mercy if God would take him sooner than later.

I worry over my husband, but I am in a dreadful position as well. I am not strong enough to lift the wooden yoke for the oxen, and sliding the bows into position is impossible for a woman who is less than five feet tall and barely weighs 95 pounds. If it wasn’t for the help of Captain Levin, Colonel Fallon, and Ranger McKee, I would be left to perish on the trail.

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They help me by putting the yokes on the two bulls and the two cows each morning, and they take them off in the evening. The poor oxen labor so hard during the day, they lost their pleasant dispositions a long time ago; thus they resist going to work each day; they toss their heads in protest and try to runoff when we try to put the yokes on their necks.

The animals are slowly starving because all the feed has been eaten along the trail, the oxen even eat the White Sage.

We have lost have lost thirteen mares; we have no idea whether wild mustang stallions lured them away or if they were stolen by Indians who consider horse theft a sport. I was raised as a White girl, and although my mother was Cherokee and taught me about the native culture, I find it difficult if not impossible to understand these Indians of the plains.

My right rear wheel has developed a loose tire. Captain Levin says it is because the wood wasn’t quite dry when the wheel was made, and the wheel has shrunk almost a quarter inch because of the desert conditions. He keeps tightening the wheel with wooden wedges and metal screws each night, but I don’t think the wheel can last until we get to Oregon.

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My husband dreamed of owning a quarter section in Oregon, but it is unlikely he will ever see his fabled Oregon or the Columbia River.

This morning, I rode a horse to find one of the oxen that had quit camp to look for better feed, and I came upon a wretched band of Cheyenne. There were no young men; only women, children, and old men. They were weak from hunger and suffering from the elements. A young girl had just died from Cholera and they were digging a grave for her with sticks.

Who knows where the men were, maybe they died from disease or were killed in battle. I knew I had to help them.

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I rode back to the wagon and got a shovel and a few pounds of my husband’s smoked summer sausage. The people thanked me and tried to communicate in sign language, but I only know a few expressions in sign language. They ate half the sausage and an old man dug a grave about 18 inches deep in the hard pan dirt. I would have liked to have seen a deeper grave, but the old man worked hard to dig that deep.

The girl’s mother placed three silver thimbles on the young girl’s fingers and wrapped her in an old army jacket with brass buttons. An old woman made the signs of sewing and I realized the girl was being marked for the afterlife as a seamstress.

Somehow, this ragged band had lost their men, maybe it was war, maybe it was disease, maybe it was just fate, but without strong men they were nearly hopeless.

They returned the shovel, and we said our goodbyes; as I rode away, I realized how the natural scheme of men and women is designed to work; although, my immediate future will probably be as bleak as these lost and bewildered people in a few hours.

My husband lays dying, my oxen are getting thinner and weaker each day, and a wheel is falling apart on my wagon. There is only a narrow divide between success and death. My chances for survival diminish with each passing hour.

Epilogue: This is a small excerpt from my Oregon Trail book. The stories are being rewritten to portray greater character depth and development, it will be much better and longer than the original stories.

There is a lot of debate about the homosexual lifestyle. I tend to be an old-fashioned traditionalist, and there is a reason why people like me exist. The reasons may be embedded in the past, but history has a way of repeating itself, and at one time, it was obvious why the traditional family was imperative.

I hope you enjoy Montana Rose. I think she is a great singer. In my humble opinion, she does the Patsy Cline songs better than Patsy Cline.

A professional horseman for over 40 years, Skook continues to work with horses. He is in an ongoing educational program, learning life's lessons from one of the world's greatest instructors, the horse. Skook has finished an historical novel that traces a mitochondrial line of DNA from 50,000 years ago to the present. The book Fifty-Thousand Years is awaiting me to finish a final proofread and it should be sent to the formatter in a matter of days. I am still working, so it is not easy to devote the time I need to finish the project. The cover is a beautiful wok of art. I would put it up here if I could figure out how to make it work.

13 Responses to “She Wore Silver Thimbles”

  1. 1

    james Raider

    Great extrapolation, Skook. Well done. We have long disregarded the hardships which native peoples on this continent endured in nature, often right alongside new settlers.

    I noted recently that 4,500 year old remains found on an island just off the Northern B.C. Coast, match the DNA of contemporary native residents still living in that area all these millennia later. Talk about not straying far from home.

  2. 2

    Skook

    @james Raider: I am glad you liked the essay. I can’t stop reading the historical accounts; it is amazing how much I don’t know about history, horses, and survival. Instead of becoming more confident, I have become more humble. I’ve talked to 2 history teachers (high school) during my travels and they said they wish they could take me to class. LOL. Thus, I figure I am headed in a good direction, and I plan to follow the winds of learning to wherever they take me, it’s an exciting journey so far.

    Skook

  3. 3

    james Raider

    @Skook: #2
    I’ve probably devoured more than my share of history since the first words that I could read, starting with the dinosaurs. All of it enthralling and stimulative of the imagination – even the badly written books fed my curiosity. I appreciate the amount of research which goes into writing a single story like this one. It’s a very worthwhile enterprise.

    As we’ve discussed before, there is much history which remains hidden right here in the history of North American Native peoples. They muffled their own solemn rites and communion with nature to be only exercised behind closed, locked, doors. Yet some are not only enlightening, but powerful. Sadly, they also prevent documentation of these subjugated rituals in any form. It’s our loss.

  4. 4

    JNBoisvert

    #3
    Departing from Quebec, my 12-year-old son (then 15 for the second trip) and I made two round trips in the USA. We visit the Oregon Trail, from Ogallala to I-25.
    On the second trip, we went to Wounded Knee. Have read a lot about it, but nothing prepared me to the sadness barely tolerable weighting on the site. There was an old Indian man selling souvenirs. I tried to speak to him, asking for his (Indian) interpretation of the drama. He was first very reluclant, as if he was so in anger and unwilling to share his proud sorrow with a whiteface. But when he let his guard down, he picked some old scrapbooks from under the table, filled with very old newspapers articles and related documents. Then he told me about the wounded heart of his people.
    Maybe it’s true: they all left their hearts at Wounded Knee.

  5. 5

    Skookum

    @JNBoisvert: Thank you, for your poignant contribution.

    It is reassuring to hear from someone who is contributing to their child’s education by visiting historical sites instead of investing in Disneyland and Las Vegas. Your son will remember your trips together, with fondness, for the rest of his life, congratulations on being a good parent.

  6. 6

    joetote

    Skook,

    Just got the chance to catch up on things (Breeder’s Cup preps going on here). As you can guess, I love history and it has always been a joy to run across something I didn’t know. As such, one of my greater joys these days is when I come across one of your essays. Again, a well researched and great story. Waiting on a full book buddy!

  7. 7

    Richard Wheeler

    @Skookum: Thanks for the inspiring read. My dad used to take my Mom, my younger brother and me on historical trips by car every summer for many years. From northern New England to Williamsburg we’d trace the great battles of the American Revolution and Civil War. You’ve revived some great memories.
    I’m sure you’ve read Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charlie” A great read.
    Semper Fi

  8. 8

    Skookum

    @Richard Wheeler: Rich, how interesting, I was fascinated with Williamsburg, but so few people have been there, I rarely found people who were interested, what a tragedy.

    It has become my mission in life to bring history alive for children and adults.

    Semper Fi

  9. 9

    ilovebeeswarzone

    SKOOKUM
    FABULOUSLY POIGNANT,
    yet i wouldn”t miss it for the WORLD,
    I was captivated reading your story so easy to visualize them,
    just by the way you always present it,
    THE INDIANS LIFE captivated me from my teen age, I read a bit and felt that we rob them of so much,
    the sadness seem to be felt in every story, as I compare to the mindset of the people then ,
    so eager to take from them their land, they took all the fertile land without any remorses,
    and they even kill them without blinking an eye,
    the indoctrination was so strong then as today, they hated the indians before landing ashore,
    thank you for the good read, montana ring a bell yes? I wonder what happen to HIM and his ranch,
    thank you,
    BYE

  10. 10

    Skookum

    @ilovebeeswarzone: Bees, man’s inhumanity to man is legendary. The human race has produced psychopathic monsters who have been cruel and evil. There is no particular racial group that deserves to be condemned more than others; there is enough guilt to be passed around to countless legions. We can only strive to be good decent people and hope we aren’t ground up in the machine of another psychopathic monster, yet to be unleashed on the world.

  11. 12

    FAITH7

    Skook – Although I don’t always comment on them, I read every story you post and always have a wonderful learning experience. I am fascinated by your writings of history, people and of course Horses.

    A part in “This Idea of Freedom” was particularly sad for me, I got a lump in my throat and a few tears reading it…as a human I understood what that stallion felt.

    The West.. it was a hard life for many indeed. You can see that on the faces of the Indians themselves…

    Brave people took on the unknown when they made the decision to “go west.”

    I believe this is where the America people got their strength, courage…and self reliance…through the trials and tribulations brought by (a hard) life itself…to adapt and figure out a way… to persevere…

    History is not fairy tales though, there is always good and bad in it all…though it seems the focus on US History today are only the bad parts…no surprise there!!.

  12. 13

    Skook

    author

    @FAITH7: I am glad you enjoy the stories, and I am particularly pleased that you find them to be a learning experience. There is a movement to rewrite history in the context of patronizing Progressivism and they are advertising for writers to participate in the effort; fair enough, there has been an effort in the past to write history to promote the image of White men, although the effort wasn’t so obvious.

    I try to avoid hidden agendas and write historical novels objectively, even if some of the facts are uncomfortable.

    The stallion’s desperation has been in my mind since it was written.

    Thank you for the kind words.

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