Pioneers In Petticoats

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Though the baby was dead, the mother lived and later had four children.

Life was tough but so were they, with the spiritual toughness that is forged in the fires of reality. A well-known Montanan, member of a pioneer mercantile family, told me of his parents’ wedding journey to Fort Benton in 1869. His father had found a bride in the East, and the young couple traveled by steamboat up the Missouri. At a landing in Dakota Territory they went ashore for a walk around. It developed that there had been a little Indian trouble there lately, and various ears, fingers, et cetera, of departed Indians were displayed on the dock in pickle jars.

“Is this the kind of dreadful place you’re bringing me to for the rest of my life?” cried the horrified girl. “Why, these people are nothing but savages themselves!”

At that “a greasy old long-haired trapper” who was standing nearby growled to the husband: “Put your woman back on the boat.”

Yet when she came to her own “dreadful place,” she stayed to civilize it.

They did the necessary. From Wyoming comes the story of a hired man with a gangrened finger. Green streaks were starting up his arm. There was no time to take him to a doctor, no time for wringing of hands. The woman of the house made up a yarn to the effect that blood poisoning could be detected by placing the finger on wood while the patient looked toward the sun. Then she led him to the woodpile in back of the house and directed him to lay his finger on the block used for cutting stove wood.

“Now look right straight at the sun,” she directed.

And as he squinted hopefully heavenward, she swung the axe with flawless aim and chopped the finger off. The doctor said later that she had saved the man’s life.

The old ladies have a quality that sets them apart from sheltered women. All whom I have known have had it, and it shows in their eyes, their wonderful eyes. Young is too poor a word for those eyes; they are timeless. Level and water-clear, they are eyes which have seen life steadily and seen it whole, with death as a part of it.

My second and last visit to Mrs. Blocker took place on the day before I was to leave Texas, to return east for some time. She was almost disembodied vitality as she sat in her chair like a queen, so tiny and frail it seemed the next breath must blow her away; but with humor and fire undimmed, and eyes so bright that I wondered if they had laughed like that even when she was young. When I rose to go she held out her hand, with a smile and a flash of the unquenchable eyes.

“Good-by. I don’t reckon I’ll see you again,” she said.

She was right, of course. But my old ladies are like old soldiers; they never die.