the Plains - Page 2
This bright sky was at last suddenly overclouded. A plague raged among
their cattle. A swarm of grasshoppers ravaged their crops. A drought
followed, which burned up the herbage. "Terrors," says, the poet, "come
not as single spies, but in battalions." Pestilence at last came to
complete the ruin of that hapless household. Her husband was first
stricken down, and after a week of suffering, died in a delirium, which,
while it startled and saddened the little flock, kept him all
unapprehensive of the evils which might visit his bereaved family after
his departure. The wife dug, with her own hands, a shallow grave on the
bluff where their house stood, and bearing, with difficulty, in her
slender arms the wasted remains, laid them, coffinless, in the trench, and
covering them with earth, returned to the house to find her three oldest
children suffering from the same malady. The pestilence made short but
sure work with their little frames. One by one they breathed their last in
their mother's arms. Kissing their waxen features, she bore them out all
alone and laid them tenderly side by side with their father.
The little babe of
four months was still the picture of health. All unconscious of its
bereavements and of the bitter sorrows of her on whose bosom he lay,
he throve upon the maternal bounty which poured for him, though her
frail life seemed to be passing away with it.
Like some subtle but
potent elixir, which erects the vital spirit, and holds it when about
to flee from its tenement, so did that sweet babe keep the mother's
heart pulsing with gentle beat during the days which followed those
forlorn funeral rites.
A week passed, during
which a great terror possessed her, lest she too should have the
latent seeds of the pestilence in her frame, and should have imparted
the dreadful gift to her babe through the fountain of motherhood.
A racking pain in her
forehead, followed by lassitude, told her alas! That all she had
shuddered to think of was coming to pass. Weary and suffering, she
laid herself upon the couch, which she prayed but for her infant might
be her last resting place. Too soon, as she watched with a keenness of
vision which only a mother can possess, did she see the first shadow
of the destroyer reflected on the face of her little one. It faded
like a flower in the hot blast of July, "So softly worn, so sweetly
weak," and before two suns had come and gone, it lay like a bruised
lily on the fever-burning bosom which gave it life.
mercifully to the poor mother. For hours she lay in blessed oblivion.
But the vital principle, which often displays its wondrous power in
the feeblest frames, asserted its triumph over death, and she awoke
again to the remembrance of losses that could never be repaired this
side the grave.
Three days passed
before the fever left her. She arose from her couch, and, with shaking
frame, laid her little withered blossom on its father's grave, and
covering it with a mound of dried grass, crowned it with yellow autumn
The love of life slowly returned; but the
means to sustain that life had been destroyed by murrain, the
grasshoppers, and the drought. The household stores would suffice but
for a few days longer. The only and precarious means of subsistence
which would then remain, would be such game as she could shoot. The
Indians becoming apprised of the death of Mr. N., had carried off
Only one avenue of escape
was left her; casting many "a longing, lingering look" at the home once so
happy, but now so swept and desolate, she took her husband's rifle and
struck boldly out into the boundless plain, towards the trail which runs
from the Arkansas River to
and after several days of great suffering fell in with friends, as we have
The sad experience of Mrs. N. is fortunately a
rare one at the present day. The vast area occupied by the plains of
is in many respect s naturally fitted for those forms of social life in
which woman's work may be performed under the most favorable
circumstances; a country richly adapted to the various forms of
agriculture and to pastoral occupations; a mild and generally equable
climate are there well calculated to show the pioneer-housewife at her
Another great advantage
has been the fact that this region was a kind of graduating school, into
which the antecedent schools of pioneer-life could send skilled pupils,
who, upon a fair and wide field, and in a virgin soil, could build a civil
and social fabric, reflecting past experiences and embodying a multitude
of separate results into a large and harmonious whole.
Visiting some years since the States of Kansas
we passed first through that rich and already populous region in the
eastern part of the former State, which twenty-five years since was an
uninhabited waste. Here were all the appliances of civilization: the
school, the church, the town hall; improved agriculture, the mechanic
arts, the varied forms of mercantile traffic, and at the base of the
fabric the home made and ordered by woman.
Here but yesterday was the frontier where
woman was performing her oft before repeated task, and laying,
according to her methods and habits, and within her appropriate
sphere, the foundations of that which is to-day a great, rich, and
prosperous social and civil State. Here, too, we saw many of the
mothers, not yet old, who through countless trials, labors, and perils
have aided in the noble work on which they now are looking with such
honest pride and satisfaction.
For many successive
afternoons we passed on from city to city, and from village to
village. The sun preceded us westward; we steered our course directly
towards it, and each day as it sank to the earth, brightly and more
brightly glowed the sky as with the purest gold. The settlements
became more scattered, the uninhabited spaces grew wider. We were
nearing one of the frontiers.
In the spring the
mead through which we were passing was a natural parterre, where in
the midst of the lively vernal green, bloomed the oxlip, the white and
blue violet, the yellow-cup dotted with jet, and many another fragile
and aromatic member of the floral sisterhood.
Nebraska Farm today,
September, 2005, Kathy Weiser
This image available for photographic prints
Ascending a knoll
crowned by a little wood which lay like a green shrub upon that
treeless, grassy plain, we saw from this point the prairie stretching
onward its loftily waving extent to the horizon. Here and there amidst
the vast stretch arose small log-houses, which resembled little birds'
nests floating upon the ocean. Here and there, also, were people
Among the harvesters
were three young women, who were nimbly binding sheaves, with little
children around them. The vastness of the prairie made the harvesters
themselves look like children playing at games.
Some distance beyond us, in the track we
were pursuing, we saw what at first glance appeared to be a white
dahlia. As we neared it, this huge white flower seemed to be moving;
it was the snowy sun-bonnet of a young school-teacher, who was
convoying a troop of children to the school-house, whose brown roof
showed above the luxuriant herbage. She seemed to be beloved by her
scholars, for they surrounded her and clung to her. She had been
giving them, it appeared, a lesson in practical botany; their hats
were adorned with scarlet and yellow blossoms, and they carried
bunches of oxlips and violets.
school-mistress had a face like a sister of charity; the contour and
lines showed resolution and patience; the whole expression blended
with intelligence, a strong and lovely character. She entered the door
of the log school-house, and gently drew within it the youngest of her
charges. Around the school-house we saw other groups of sturdy boys
and chubby girls, frisking and shouting gaily as we drove by.
It is under the tuition of the women
especially that a vigorous, intelligent, and laborious race grows up
in these border settlements on the plains. The children are taught the
rudiments, and afterwards endeavor to improve their condition in life.
The boys often enter upon political and public careers. The girls
marry early, and contribute to make new societies in the wilderness.
These farms are the nurseries from which the State will soon obtain
its officials and its teachers, both male and female.
Continued Next Page
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