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Heroines of the Plains - Page 2

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Grasshopper Plauge

Grasshopper plague




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.


Unconsciousness came 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 leaves.


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 the horses.


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 Fort Riley, and after several days of great suffering fell in with friends, as we have already described.


The sad experience of Mrs. N. is fortunately a rare one at the present day. The vast area occupied by the plains of Kansas and Nebraska, 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 best.


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 and Nebraska, 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

Nebraska Farm today, September, 2005, Kathy Weiser

This image available for photographic prints HERE!

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 harvesting grain.

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.

School MistressSome 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.


The 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.



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