Thursday, November 20, 2008

Reading List

I just started reading Texas Women on the Cattle Trails. Yes, I'm a little weird. I read non-fiction instead of just fiction. In high school just glancing at the non-fiction section would give me the heebie-jeebies. Why would anybody voluntarily read a boring book? Why did the book stores even stock them? Did people actually buy, take them home, and read them more than once????

Shortly after I got married, I found myself wandering the non-fiction at the public library. I rarely go back to fiction stories as I'm always halfway through the story when the author decides to throw in something nasty to ruin a good story. Bleh. If it's gonna be dirty, real life is the way to go then!

The first story in the book is about Kate Malone Medlin. She was born in Kentucky but got to Texas as fast as she could, age 7 to be exact. She grew up in Denton County and was apparently quite a lovely lady.

In 1855 Kate, at seventeen, had attracted the interest of a local German, who asked to marry her. When Kate's mother, Polly, refused the offer, the infuriated man shot Polly and mortally wounded her. Kate's father rushed to his wife's defense, wrestled the gun from the man, and beat him over the head with the gun, breaking the man's neck and killing him.

She later married Jarrett Medlin and they had three kids with another on the way when the civil war was going on. Jarrett left to join the Confederacy and the pay just wasn't enough, or wasn't there at all, and all the mothers of the time just had to make do.

The war was hard on the women of the county, who were kept busy spinning and weaving their "own dresses; they looked awefully coarse and ugly, as many of us had never woven any cloth, much less worn such shoddy looking goods. "
Kate's husband died of measles and exposure during the war and she was a widow with four children. Her extended family decided to drive cattle to California to make a buck and she, not having any other family, decided to join them. That simple, totally based on need decision, for her family's survival, is what had her lined up in a wagon on the morning of April 15, 1868 to cross the wilds of the American West.

"Once out into the frontier of Texas amid the cattle range, we stayed there long enough to gather enough stock to bring with us, which took until the 3rd of May. Then we started for California with our string of seven wagons."

Did you know that's how the Texas cattle drives got their cattle? Yup, they just walked out and gathered them from the plains. Oops- you might have just learned something from a non-fiction book!

Driving 1800 head of cattle can cause some problems. One of the problems was a three day stretch of land with no watering holes at all. The horses and oxen stock were kept watered but not the cattle. After three days of traveling the cattle got their first whiff of water and went mad trying to get it. The herders tried to stop them because the water was bad; many drank anyway, dieing so fast they they didn't even crawl out of the water holes. When they finally reached the Pecos river, the animals pushed other off of cliffs and into quicksand to get to the river. Half of their herd died from water troubles.

Their leadership, the man elected captain, was also very poor.

Having selected a captain and given him decision-making authority on the trail, they set off heading west to California. As they neared the cutoff for the fort where they had planned to get provisions and ammunitions, the captain, expressing assurance for their safety, decided not to go to the fort but rather to continue on to find sufficient grass and water for the livestock. Hall Medlin, Kate, and the others went along with the captain and thus were not equipped with the needed guns, ammunition, and food for the ordeals that lay ahead.

Oh yeah, you need guns and hands. Why?

"So we started to our doom and I felt as though we were going into trouble as we had heard that the Indians had taken a large herd of cattle only three days before. This, our Captain did not believe, but I did, as we could see find beef cattle along the roadside. The Indians had secured them from the train ahead and had let them scatter out on the range to feed."
And, yes, the Indians came. "INDIANS!"
"I quickly placed my children and my sister's children in my wagon and put my feather beds around them, as I had heard that bullets would not go through feathers."

Kate was all ready to grab a gun and start firing at the Indians but the men had other plans for them. Oh, you're probably thinking, "They had them loading the guns while they fired."
Kate grabbed her old Enfield rifle, but the men told the women to make bullets for their few weapons. ... The women melted lead and then poured the hot metal into the molds and, after a quick cooling, passed the bullets to the men, who were reloading as fast as possible.
After the fight, the women went ahead to town while the men tried to gather what was left of their cattle. For two weeks, they had to beg for food but were told they were lucky to be alive.

Along the way, a relative died from complications of a pulled back. He was trying to lift a wagon out of the mud. Kate's daughter Sarah was also hurt.

One day Kate's daughter Sarah was walking by the side of the wagon. While attempting to climb back inside, she fell underneath the front wheel, which ran her over, breaking her leg and thigh. Hall Medlin had to sell one yoke of oxen, worth $25, to pay for a doctor in Yuma to set her thighbone.

See, doctors have always been expensive.

They did make it to California but the trip was a "financial disaster." They were lucky and happy to be alive and life continued. I did find this note very interesting.
Kate, as was common at the time, married her late husband's older brother, Marion.
Though I know re-marrying into the same family has it's roots in the Bible, I had no idea that it been continued in the American West. If you already have kids though, it makes perfect sense. As modern day divorced women can tell you, it's hard to find a man that cares for somebody else's kids. But with family, a bond between the man and children has already formed, and often a friendship bond between the widow and members of his family.
Final thought from Kate concerning her journey:

"I tell you, the women of California don't know what hard work is. We women of Texas had worked both indoors and outdoors when needed, which was often during the Civil War."

Last thought: Don't you suddenly feel inspired to go buy this from Busted Tees?

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