It was New Year's Eve more than 150 years ago when David Marquette, a circuit rider preacher in the southeast Nebraska area, left the warmth of his hearth and went to the barn to hitch old Prince to the cutter. He admonished his wife, Huldah, "Now wrap up warm and bring the buffalo robe."
Huldah was used to these sudden urges of her husband to visit his parishioners. She laid down the sock she was knitting, put a cottonwood log on the fire, adjusted the damper and wrapped the sad irons in some burlap to put at their feet.
It was just past sundown as they started to visit a family whose home was two miles distant. Six inches of freshly fallen snow muffled the sound of Prince's steady trot over the rugged trail. Suddenly the left runner of the sleigh slid into a deep cut in the road, tipping the sled at a precarious angle.
David unscrambled himself from the warmth of the robe and found the runner bent inward. He pulled the sled onto solid ground. Not being one to turn back, he led the horse while Huldah remained in the up tilted seat. It would be only a short distance to the little stream on the opposite bank of which was the dugout home they were headed for.
In the gathering darkness, he missed the crossing over the ice-stilled stream. For more than an hour he led the horse along the tree-lined bank searching for the crossing. The wind had risen, blowing gusts of snow in their faces. Weary from battling the snow, David unhitched the horse and tied him to a tree. He and Huldah sought shelter from the icy wind near the bed of the creek.
The moon became visible from behind scurrying clouds and with renewed hope David turned back to right the sleigh and get his horse. But Prince had loosened his lightly tied reins and was gone. Taking the fur robe and woolen shawl, David and Huldah set out on foot to try to find shelter from the bitter cold. But they were hopelessly lost.
By the side of an old oak tree they watched the old year out and the new year in. A coyote howled in the distance and an owl hooted in a nearby branch. David's long black beard was spangled with icicles.
Near four in the morning, Huldah fell exhausted in the snow. With a dry sob, she cried, "Just let me rest, rest and sleep." Realizing the seriousness of such a reaction, David shook her roughly.
"You must keep moving," he commanded and urged her to stumbling feet. They walked on painfully through snow and cold. Stopping for a moment of rest, they huddled in the robe and fought desperately the urge to drift off into oblivion. The first faint streaks of dawn tinged the night sky.
With a start, David aroused from the dangerous drowsiness he had nearly succumbed to. Across the creek he thought he saw a dark object. Excitedly, he shook Huldah back to unwilling consciousness and they got woodenly to their feet. Praying for strength, they nerved themselves into what seemed a final effort to live. They started for the creek, the snow crunching angrily under their feet. Testing each stiff step, they crossed the frozen surface of the stream and sought the dark object. It was a haystack with cattle nearby.
Dawn came quickly and revealed a little path that led to the dugout they had set out to find 14 hours before. The family was up and had a fire. They answered David's rap and were surprised to receive a New Year's call from their pastor and his wife so early in the morning.
Mrs. Louis Grimm
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER's WEEKLY asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.