It was mid-October of 1868. The Pendarvis-Roberts-Tanksley wagon train was camped for the night along the Marais des Cygnes River near Osawatomie, Kansas. The Tanksley children, Albert, Allen, Caroline and Melvina, and Junie and Icie Pendarvis raced through camp and watched the huge flames from the camp fire die away into a bed of red-hot embers. The four families were bound for the Elk River bottoms below Independence, where all had claims.
Margaret Tanksley and Mary Pendarvis, sisters, and Beth Roberts, sister-in-law, were preparing supper. Suddenly out of the twilight, two riders appeared. They showed signs of having ridden far.
"Howdy," the black-bearded one said. "Any chance of gettin' a bite of supper?"
Jim Pendarvis said, "Good evening," in his courteous manner and turned to Bill Tanksley, who was considered head of the caravan.
Bill looked the men over, not liking their rough appearance.
"I’ll tell the women to throw in some more grub," he said curtly.
Mary Pendarvis carried $3,500 in the pocket of her full skirt. It was the savings she and Henry had made in the ten years of their married life. Henry noticed the strangers eyeing Mary and was resentful, without thought of the money.
Preparations were being made for the night when the bearded man drawled, "Mind if we share your fire tonight? We'll keep it going."
Tanksley had been hoping fervently they'd go. He turned on his heel, saying shortly, "Pile up anywhere."
As Henry helped his wife and two daughters into his wagon, he looked back to see both strangers still watching Mary. Inside the wagon, he fastened the cover flap securely and placed his pistol under his pillow. He blew out the lantern, and they undressed in darkness.
Hours later, he was awakened by Mary's hand pressed against his mouth.
"Someone's searching the wagon!" she whispered. "I felt a hand as it reached through this side!"
"They're after the money," Henry whispered, realizing the men had spotted the bulky packet in her pocket as she worked around the campfire.
Suddenly Mary's body stiffened and Henry knew the hand now was between the canvas cover and the sideboard. He grabbed, felt the hand, missed catching it. Then he found his gun. The next instant he was out of the wagon, yelling for help as he ran.
He followed the fleeing men, firing as he ran. As his brothers-in-law reached his side, the sound of galloping hoof beats was heard. They reasoned that further chase would be futile in the darkness. At daybreak, they found the blood-covered trail and knew Henry's gun had found at least one mark.
The story of the attempted robbery of Aunt Mary has been told and retold to each generation, and each listener breathes a prayer of thankfulness at its happy conclusion.
Charlotte Stark Offen
El Dorado, Kansas
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.