Ardmore, Indian Territory
Morning came, breakfast made and served, and then the long goodbyes. Billy kept emphasizing that they would write soon and that they wouldn't stay away forever. Mattie, though tearful, promised to write as soon as she got there. The little baby, Owen was passed among the women folk one last time and made over. The men joked about Billy's ability to get lost and suggested he get a compass.
The joking and admonitions having run their course, they crawled into the wagon and waved goodbye to all. It was a cool, nippy fall morning as they headed north with their little brood of boys. Sweaters and coats were pulled out and put on.
One thing that the Mead boys learned early on was handling horses. All of them that could walk could ride or handle a horse-drawn buggy with ease. On that day, Worth and Creight were given the job of helping their dad with herding the cattle to be delivered to Grandfather Gower. Allie, the oldest would drive the wagon next to his mother, Mattie. Mattie held baby Owen. Clarence had the same old job of watching after his brother Mack which gave him little pleasure. However, they were both fascinated with watching out the back of the covered wagon or playing inside.
Billy headed the whole menagerie as lead man to the cattle. He could keep an eye on everything from his position at the side of the wagon and could give directions from there. For awhile, it was relatively easy for them to follow the well-worn path, or road if you could call it that to Ardmore, their first major stop on the way north.
The road wound around hills and down into valleys, and crossed numerous creeks. The woods became thicker and the trees taller. They were definitely moving into a hillier region with hills big enough to be called low-lying mountains. They were getting into the foothills of what would one day be named the Arbuckle Mountains.
Ardmore was more than a day's journey ahead, especially with the slow-footed cattle and the numerous turns and ups and downs of the wagon trail. At the end of the first day, they spotted a cabin and barn. A man appeared in the road near the cabin. He was Indian.
"Good day to ya', Sir," Billy called to him. "We are just traveling through to Ardmore . Are we headed in the right direction?" The man said nothing but waved his arm in an odd way. He seemed to be motioning to Billy to turn his wagon toward the barn. Billy stopped, unsure of what he meant. The man approached the wagon.
"You want stay for night? Hay in barn for horses. Take wagon in. Warm in there for night." The man patted the neck of one of Billy's horses in a friendly gesture of good will. He glanced at Mattie whose obvious Indian features were a good sign. He pointed to her. "Squaw wife?"
Billy looked at Mattie and realized that he was asking if she was Indian. He looked back at the Indian and smiled. "This is my wife, Martha. I'm Bill Mead." The man merely gestured to drive the wagon into the barn. "Come," he said. "Will be cold tonight."
Billy drove the wagon into the barn and the Indian began putting a feed bucket over the horses' noses immediately. "I'm obliged to you for letting us stay in the barn for tonight. Much obliged," Billy added, still unsure of what to do next.
He turned to see an Indian woman standing at the barn door, looking shyly at him. "Welcome," she said softly. She walked around to where Mattie sat high on the wagon. "I take baby," she said as she held out her hands to receive the baby. Mattie hesitated a moment, then handed baby Owen to the woman when it was clear that she only wanted to assist Mattie in getting down from the wagon. Allie was already on Mattie's side of the wagon and helped Mattie to get down.
Mattie and Allie turned to the Indian woman who handed the baby back to Mattie and said, "I am Mrs. Wilbanks. This my husband. You stay in barn tonight; will be cold. I get you dinner." She smiled and with that she turned and walked out of the barn to the cabin. Allie looked at his mother and said, "These folks are friendly here!" And it was true. The Chickasaws loved nothing more than to have visitors come by and stay for days on end. They were friendly people.
Before Billy could say a word, Mr. Wilbanks helped Billy tether the cattle and feed them some hay. He helped Billy unhitch the horses and give them a rubdown. He said very little but seemed friendly to Billy and Mattie and the boys. As he finished helping Billy, he asked, "You go to Ardmore?"
"Yes! We ain't sure of the way. We been following this road and I was told back at the river that Ardmore was ahead several miles."
The Indian man responded, "You follow this road. Take you to Ardmore. Come. We eat." With that he pointed the way to the cabin and led the way. The cabin was small but in the center was a large, long, rough-hewn table. Mrs. Wilbanks had placed pewter plates on the table—enough for all. She dished out a soup full of vegetables and some meat into the plates and offered the grownups coffee. She gave milk to Worth, Creight, Clarence and Mack. They sat and ate by candlelight.
"You are very kind to take us in like this. We could have eaten in the barn. Thank you very kindly." After a poignant pause, Billy asked, "Are you folks homesteaders?" They looked at him with a kind of blank look and didn't answer. Billy began again. "We are going to homestead up around Paul's Valley when we get there—part of the land run, you know." The Indian couple smiled but said nothing.
Then, "We are Chickasaw. Chickasaw people come here long time ago. Many moons. This Chickasaw land. We live here long time. You want land? You farmers?"
Billy nodded yes but added, "I farm but I like cattle raisin' better. I'm takin' them four head of cattle up to my grandfather in Paul's Valley. We hope to raise more cattle up there."
Mr. Wilbanks nodded. "Not like farming. Like cattle. I keep 20 head in up pasture. Good steer. We have orchards. Lots of peaches and apples."
They chatted on for awhile but soon the boys needed to be bedded down so the Meads excused themselves to the barn for the night. They snuggled into the warm covers inside the wagon. Billy commented quietly, "If ever'body is this nice, we are goin' to get along just fine!" Mattie smiled in agreement. Soon all were asleep.
The next morning, the same routine occurred with Mr. and Mrs. Wilbanks. They helped the Meads to get the cattle and horses fed and in harness for the day's journey. Then, they fed them all a hearty breakfast.
"We are shorely beholden to you," Mattie said. She handed Mrs. Wilbanks a shawl that she had knitted sometime ago. It was a gift of thanks for their hospitality. Mrs. Wilbanks put on the shawl and smiled at Mattie.
Then, the Meads were on their way to Ardmore.
It took two more days to get to Ardmore and when they got there, they were quite disappointed to see that there was only one store there, and not a single house in sight. The store owner said that he could receive mail there but he didn't get much mail down that way; maybe once a month.
His store was almost bare. A few canned goods and some hard corn in the back was about all that was there. Mattie was glad that they hadn't used much of the supply from the wagon. She figured they had enough to get them to Paul's Valley if they were careful. Maybe Billy could do a little hunting along the way.
"What's the next town north of here?" Billy asked. "Paul's Valley, but it's a good two, three days drive. You folks headin' up that way?" the store owner asked. Billy nodded. "Is it this hilly all the way up there?"
"Well, these woods and hills goes on for quite a ways and then it kinda levels out agin onto the plains."
Billy nodded again, picked up a couple of cans of beans for the family and a bushel of corn for the horses and cattle. They watered the horses and cattle and paid for their groceries. Billy climbed onto the wagon seat next to Mattie and said, "Let's go on a little further to see if we can find a place to camp. There ain't nothin' here for a campsight." Mattie agreed and they drove on.
A couple of miles ahead, they found a suitable campground with water for the cattle and horses and some trees to hitch up the horses. They could see where old fires had been built there, so they figured it was a good place to stop.
[Author's Note] The description of Ardmore was provided by Worth Meadís account in 1937 from the OU Pioneer Project.