Imagine taking a family with small children out to a claim absolutely bare of improvements – and in midwinter! That is what my parents did, but I’ll always be glad for my experience of pioneer days. There were five of us children, from 14 years old down to the baby. I was 7.
We lived in a tent until Papa built a one-room stable in which we lived until he built a small house. The trips to town were made only once a month. Papa would start long before daylight, and all day long we were excited and full of expectancy about the things he would bring home. At dark we would start listening for the wagon and when we did hear it we would run down the trail to meet him. Flour, dry beans, coffee, syrup, bacon and dried fruit made us feel rich.
When spring came, what fun we had planting the seeds we brought from Kansas! The sod plow turned long, black ribbons, and how the plants did grow in that virgin soil! No need for cultivation that first year. We just dug a hole and dropped in the seed.
No children in any time could have had more fun with their games than we had on our homestead. We played daily with a family of dolls made from rags and paper. Wagons made from oat boxes and drawn by cucumber or wild gourd horses hauled loads of hay (grass) to miniature barns. Fences were sticks driven into the ground and strung with string. Once a tornado (whirlwind) upset the whole doll family. Some were blown several “miles” and others hurried to caves we had dug. One day a giant bird (chicken) grabbed a man doll by the leg and ran away. Another day while fishing in the lake (a shallow pool below the spring), a great fish (crawdad) tipped over the tiny boat and the whole doll family fell in the water.
Once I secretly slipped a newly cut-out baby into the doll bed. My little brothers were so surprised to see an addition to the family. “Just like grownups,” I explained in a superior way. “You just wake up some morning and there’s a new baby.”
Later that summer, other families began moving into the new country, and we had neighbors. Papa was a carpenter and built several houses for newcomers. He was walking home at night once through shoulder-high blue stem when a panther screamed near him. The only weapon he had was a pocket knife. He opened it in readiness, but did not hear the panther again. Coyotes were so thick they often chased our dog right up to the house. I could write a book about my happy and exciting pioneer childhood.
Mrs. S.H. Cowl
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.