THIS STORY IS some about my family and my life, the trouble I got into and choices I will shortly make that will change my life, one way or another. I’m finally and truly in love. I see no way free of this dangerous course I follow. I am at a crossroads.
Do I tell the truth, there to reap the reward or suffer the consequences, or do I hide my past and hope he never finds out? I write this to paper first. Having written it, I will examine it like I’d had a conversation with a friend and make my decision.
I entered the world in 1837, born to Charles and Eunice Smedge. We were Smedges, but not the landed and wealthy Boston Smedges. Uncle Barton G. Smedge spent much of his life disapproving of his brother Charles and his progeny after my father married Eunice O’Brien - love being what it is - the daughter of an Irish longshoreman.
We Charles Smedges were the despicable offshoots, Pa told me when I turned thirteen and became an adult in the family’s eyes, of the smart and powerful Barton Smedge clan. Pa chafed, living in Boston. He couldn’t wait to get out of town and out from under the eye of that pillar of Boston society and his devious and hateful wife Sarah.
I asked Pa what despicable meant and he told me Barton Smedge just got too big for his britches and tossed away any family didn’t meet his ideas of what constituted Boston’s upper class. Snobs, he said, and a lot more. He didn’t say criminal, but I got that thought of it from how he said it.
When Pa read about land opening up in Oklahoma, he threw what money he had into passage through the “civilized” lands east of the Mississippi. We traveled by train to St. Louis. There we bought a wagon and supplies. The town of St. Louis had built up its stock and being in the right place became a major gateway to the west.
In Boston, Pa gathered their bags and Ma, a strapping woman of gentle nature but of strict upbringing, assembled their four small children, keeping us close as a brood hen. Once on the train Ma and Pa never looked back. That all occurred in 1843 after I turned six.
We took the Santa Fe Trail and followed it to the newly opened territory. What a sight to see that broad expanse of good land spreading out in front of our eyes and to look from one side to the other and see hundreds of wagons lined up for the land rush.
At the starters cannon shot the mad scramble began. Pa had traded up for some better horses along the way and beat out about a third of the rush. We set our stakes down over a hundred and sixty acres of decent bottom with a stream cutting through it and hills on either side. Pa spent the next three months building us a cabin and corrals, the boys and me helping where we could with Ma overseeing the home front.
Meanwhile Pa made sure nobody encroached on his land. That took his gun and a lot of watching. Eventually enough law came to the region that he could relax and farm. Even so, the wild land took constant taming and his rifle stayed handy and loaded.
Pa made a name for himself as a decent man who’d help his neighbors at the drop of a hat and that earned him the kind of friendships that meant protection. It’s like he had their back and they had his.
“There’s safety in numbers so long as everyone’s thinking in the same direction,” he told me often enough.
By 1856 we’d got established and producing and well enough off. We had livestock, both cattle and sheep, enough for our purposes. We also produced wine from vines; a special grape Pa bought in St. Louis, not knowing then if he could use the seed. We set our arbors sideways to the constant wind and it worked.
“Speculation,” he said to us back then, and looking at the side hill on which those champagne grapes grew so abundant, I had to smile. Early in that year everything looked so good, so permanent, but it was not to be.
At nineteen I’d been working Ma and Pa’s land-grab section for all my early years farming and I developed some hefty muscles on account of it. As a flaxen haired gal, not bad to look at, a little hefty in the shoulders from all the work and kind of trim in other areas, when I took my baggy overalls off at night, then I could see the girl right there in Ma’s ivory carved hand mirror.
I hadn’t caught a husband yet and back in the frontier days, you got one of them as soon as you could – if you could – and didn’t complain about what you got. Every woman needed a man to care for and every man needed a woman. A woman could cook and produce children and raise them to use for the farming us pioneers were about in those days. A man tended the farm and protected the ladies and the home.
Now, you could meet a fella at the harvest dances, but they held them in town. We farmed about ten miles north of Nowata, and though we provided all the wine the saloons bought while stills on other hills provided the hard stuff, I didn’t get in town much, so for me the husband thing didn’t happen. Pa said there weren’t enough boys near my age and he was death on the idea of any man his age hooking up with his daughter and calling him Dad, so I spent my time working the farm.
I became a lady of ill repute - according to the standards of the day - quite by accident.
Back then we had an Indian problem. The savages had some idea that we shouldn’t be there, that the land belonged to everyone. Well, people from the east pushed to the west on the government’s promise of land for all, and if all you did was grab it and hold it, it didn’t set well with the Indians. They saw their traditional hunting grounds swallowed up and government telling them always to move north and west, but above all, to get out of the way.
After awhile, the Indians got the idea that any promises the US Government made weren’t worth a peace pipe or their handshake, and their paper treaties were worthless, so they stopped being nice about it. I don’t mean we did anything. Not Pa and Ma and me and the boys, but them as came after us. They didn’t understand the Indians like we did. We got caught in that grinder in my nineteenth year. Ma caught a fever and died. Pa took it like a man but something inside died with her. I could feel it.
Shortly after we buried her, the savages started pushing back. They raided sparsely settled areas on the Oklahoma frontier and killed the men and women and stole the children and burned their homesteads. During the tenth of July raid Pa, Ezekiel and Henry, the sixteen and seventeen year old boys, though they accounted well for themselves, were arrowed down by Cherokees.
I stayed alive because I hid in some rocks above the house I’d played in during my early years. Shooting straight from the cabin window, Johnny, the oldest boy brought down six Indians before they put an arrow through his eye. I cried, but I could do nothing but save myself.
The cavalry eventually arrived and the war raged in pockets here and there, but I had nothing left. The Indians had run off the cattle and slaughtered the sheep and wrecked the corn bin and fired our fields. Dazed and destitute of body and mind, I walked the property for two days and never realized I neither ate nor drank.
Finally Will Huggins, a rancher and friend from the south of us rode up and found me wandering to no purpose. His wife nursed me back to physical health, but they could do nothing for my horror.
After a week I wandered away from them, from the land I loved and from the frontier altogether. I don’t recollect how I got to Abilene in the Kansas territory, but I ended up there. I only knew farming and the thought of it made me retch. I turned to work in a dance hall. I found all the men I’d lacked on the farm and an insatiable desire rose in me and I immersed myself in the bawdy world of drink and sex.
Ten years I plied my trade, putting my money away until one day I started down the stairs to work in my frilly finery and stopped in the middle of them, and as if by the turning of some magic switch it came to me I didn’t want this life anymore. I wanted to go home.
Working in a brothel taught me a lot. I got over my hate for the Indians and my fear of being helpless. People passing in and out of my life knew lots of things and I remembered well enough to make good moves in the direction I felt compelled to travel. I’d left a piece of me in Pa’s Oklahoma section and I knew someday I’d have to go back to it.
It’s 1866 now. The war is over, Kansas got statehood in 1861 and West Virginia and Nevada followed shortly after. Some say Nebraska’s next and Colorado won’t be far behind. There’s talk about Oklahoma becoming a State and joining the Union. I’m back on the farm I left so many years ago. My old neighbor Will Huggins bought the property after I left. In his advancing age he didn’t want to look after so much land, so I offered him a fair price and he gladly sold it back to me.
That Bertrand Smith is a handsome man. He’s the new lawyer in town. He just left in his horse-drawn rig to file the papers. Bert has taken a shine to me and he’s coming back. He’s single but not for long if I can help it. I got to level with him, though. Hilly Smith, yup, sounds good. Here’s hoping.