Final Days in Texas
It took Billy a couple of weeks to get back to Texas. There were few roads and a lot of hills and creeks to cross. The rugged terrain and low-lying mountains caused Billy frequent detours. It was pristine country and the only people he saw was an occasional friendly Indian. At times, he was just plain lost but he tried to maintain a general direction south. Fortunately, there was a ferry at the Red River, near Colbert. He knew he was close to home when he got to the Red River.
The Meads and the Gower family were glad to see Billy get back safely and with a brand new wagon and team of horses. They had expected Port Gower to be with him but he explained that Port had his eye on some other land and he probably went further north to make his claim. In time, he was certain Port would get back and they could begin to make plans for moving.
Bob and Bird Mead, brothers to Billy, had already begun planning for the move. The land they were farming was leased, and it was not theirs to sell. So, they would sell off what few possessions they had there in Texas, keep the cattle and herd them to the new land ahead of the rest of the family. They were waiting for a couple of their cows to produce their calves and give the calves time to be strong enough to make the trail drive. By summer, they would be ready to start their drive. They had around twenty-five head in all.
Mattie was growing larger with child every day and she figured that she would deliver some time in July. That would give everyone plenty of time to get their things sold, buy supplies for the trip, load up clothing, quilts for bedding, and personal belongings, and make the trip. Billy's boys, Allie and Worth were getting old enough that they could help with the cattle drive. Mattie, Billy, and Port's wife, Sarah Catherine could bring up the rear in Billy's new wagon, something like what a chuck wagon would be behind the drive.
When Port Gower finally got back a few days after Billy, he was tired but excited about the new land he had found near what was to be called Paoli in Indian Territory. It was near where Billy had staked out his land and then traded away. Port didn't want to wait long tzo leave because he wanted to get a crop of cotton started, so the Gowers decided to move on ahead of the Mead family and the rest of the family could follow them after Mattie had the baby. Since Port and Sarah were going to leave early, it was decided that the cattle and the family would be moved together so that as many hands could watch the cattle as possible. Within a few days, Port and Sarah Catherine and their children were headed north into Indian Territory and their new land.
It was late June before they finally got a letter from Port and Sarah Catherine. Sarah wrote a long lengthy letter and included information about their land that Port wanted her to tell them.
They had settled in Garvin County near a tiny little town called Paoli. The Washita River ran close by and the South Canadian was not far away to the north. The Gowers' farm was all good bottom land, perfect for farming; not too many trees to remove. Their trip had been long and arduous since there were few roads and lots of mountains to go around. They had left what few cattle they owned with the Meads to bring up in the trail drive, so they were eager for them to start.
Port had already cleared some ten acres which was easy to do since there were few trees in the area. He had planted his first crop of cotton. It had been a little dry but rains were frequent enough that the cotton had gotten off to a good start and was making a good stand. By fall, they should be able to harvest their first crop. They had some good neighbors that had helped Port clear off the land and build their house and barn. Sarah was amazed at how quickly all the neighbors had come, and put up the barn in just a couple of days. "Everyone brought food and the men hoisted up the barn timbers as fast as you please! It was a sight to see."
Port and Sarah were lucky to get a house up so fast as well. Their neighbors' help had made the difference in waiting for a long time or getting into a house right away. Communities such as Paoli were popping up all over Indian Territory since the run, and land was being claimed fast. People in the communities pooled their efforts to build houses and barns for each other so that in a matter of days, a group of farmers could "throw up" a house or barn.
But not all farmers were building frame houses. Sarah wrote that as they had driven up to Paoli, they passed many strange looking houses that were dug into the ground, into the side of a hill and then covered over with a roof. They were called dugouts. If there wasn't enough wood around, they used chunks of sod to cover the top. These were called sod shanties.
The news from Sarah Catherine made everyone in the Mead family more eager to get on the road. The hold up was Mattie and that baby that didn't seem to want to get there. Mattie had figured that she would deliver in early July, and she didn't feel as good as she usually did with the other babies. "After all, I'm thirty-five years old now and that's no spring chicken!" she fussed. She was rather large this time so that the boys were constantly fetching this and that for her, or steering clear of her altogether.
Allie was sixteen now and he loved his step mother very much. He fussed over her, getting her things she didn't need and bringing her flowers to distract her from her great misery. Billy was thankful that his oldest son was being so helpful. Nancy, Billy's sister came over frequently as well and helped with the washing and ironing and chores around the house.
The birthing went hard this time. Mattie lost a lot of blood and was quite weak for some time after. Billy's mother, Mary Ann stayed with Billy and Mattie for a month to help with Mattie who was confined to bed for awhile. But Owen Mitchell Mead, another manchild found his way into the world on July 15, 1890.
The hot months of July and August were cooler than usual that year and spared them a little of the suffering heat in Texas. The Mead families decided to wait until September to start their voyage to Indian Territory so that Mattie would have time to regain her strength. It took longer than usual. It was late September when they began and there had been signs of an early frost.
Driving the cattle would be tricky. It was absolutely mandatory that the cattle go slowly and not be spooked into a stampede. They would be following one of the well-known cattle trails known as the "Shawnee Trail" or "Eastern Trail." It passed through the Dallas area from Waco, continued north from Dallas, passing through Fannin County, crossing the Red River and moving north into northeastern Indian Territory—right where they wanted to go.
Cattle drives, even small ones like they would be doing, were managed in a certain way. The trail boss took the lead with the lead steer right behind. The other cattle tended to follow the lead steer unless they decided to roam off for grazing or got spooked by something. It was necessary, then to provide point riders and swing riders along the sides and close to the front of the cattle to watch for strays. The back of the group was covered by flank and drag riders. This last group of riders got to eat all the dust that the cattle stirred up in the drive.
The Mead's cattle only consisted of about twenty-five cows and steers so they could handle that number with about four or five people. Bird would take the lead, with Bob and Allie covering the point and swing sides of the herd. Worth and Creight, even though they were mere boys would bring up the rear as "drags". It was a dusty position, but the safest place on the drive; at the back of the herd. If anything stampeded the cattle, they would be least likely to get hurt because they would be behind the running cattle.
A stampede was potentially a deadly event. If one occurred, the cattle began running hard, one steer or cow following another in a blind, mad rush to a certain death for anyone in their path. Cowboys caught in the middle of such a stampede could be easily trampled to death if their horse stumbled or they were pulled from their mount by a steer's horn.
The best way to stop a stampede was to "turn the lead steer" into a wide, inward spiraling circle so that the cattle would slow down of their own volition. Bird knew all of this and made certain that his trail drivers all knew what to do. He cautioned Worth and Creight to "stay out of it" and let the men do the turning if a stampede occurred. And there would be no exception to this or they would have to answer to Bird's belt afterward!
All the dangers of stampedes notwithstanding, there was only a small chance of a stampede with so few cattle, and Bird wasn't too worried. He just wanted to come down on the side of caution.
The women and younger children would ride in the wagon off to the side of the herd and would be driven by Nancy 's husband, Parks White. He would trade places with one of the men on the cattle drive part of the time or allow one of the women to drive the wagon if necessary. Billy's mother, Mary Ann was still strong although in her mid fifties. Her daughter, Nancy or Bird's wife, Sally could easily drive because they were still young and strong. Only Mattie was still weak and was only to mind the baby Owen, and toddler Mack. Clarence was six so he was put in charge of looking after Mack a good deal of the time, much to his consternation.
So the Mead clan all had assignments and things to do. They were a small army, really. Mary Ann, mother to all of them was their council of experience. Billy and Mattie were a team with all those younguns: Allie, now 16, Worth, 12, Creight, 10, and the little ones, Clarence, 6, Mack 3, and baby Owen.
Billy, being the oldest of his siblings held the unofficial title of leader of the clan but his decisions were always done in concert with the rest of the brood. Bird, second in command was the facilitator along with his wife, Sally and their two children. Bob, the only single one of the family, carried out his two brothers' orders as efficiently as possible. Then, Nancy, the sister and her husband, Parks White did their best to keep up! It was to be a small expedition into the wilds of untamed America!
At last, the final arrangements had been made, the wagon was packed with supplies and water, and the family was ready to begin the first leg of their journey north to the Red River! Billy's new wagon and team of fine horses would serve them well on this journey. The first day out would be only fifteen or so miles to the river. From there they would swim the cattle across and ferry the wagon across unless the river was low enough to drive it across.
The cattle herd did well in making time, but due to their frequent stops for grazing and chasing a stray or two down, it was nightfall when they got within close range of the river. They set up camp near the river and waited for morning. Everyone was excited about the next day's crossing of the river. Bird and Bob talked to the owner of the ferry about the best place to swim the cattle across and what the water depth was like. They were concerned about quicksand as well.
"You won't have no trouble crossing here," he advised. "The Chisholm boys takes their steers right through that shallow spot there and most of the cattle can walk over except for a couple of places. It's been pretty dry for a spell and the river is low so it should be an easy crossing. You can put your cattle in my corral for the night. They's enough room for them. I'll be glad to ferry your wagon acrosst in the morning. They's a couple of deep places where your wagon might tip over—and you don't want that!" Bird and Bob agreed so they made their plans for the next day to drive the cattle over and then ferry the wagon.
Mary Ann and Nancy built a pretty good fire that night after supper since the September night air was getting cool. They made a pallet for the little boys so they could lie on their backs and watch the stars for awhile. After a couple of ghost stories, the boys were ready for bed. Nancy and Mary Ann herded the lot of them into the wagon and got them bedded down after they settled a few arguments about who was to sleep where. "Now you boys best get to sleep right fast tonight—no more monkey business!" Mary Ann scolded. "Tomorrow is going to be a big day when we cross that there river. We will be countin' on all of you to help out and get us safe across, so we don't wind up drowndin' in that old red water!"
The boys eyes got bigger as she cautioned them to get to sleep fast before morning was upon them. Her cautions worked. It became quiet except for a few whispers, and soon little snores could be heard from inside the wagon.
Mary Ann poured everyone a last cup of coffee for a few quiet moments in front of the fire. Her strength and character had been the glue to this family after her husband passed on back at the end of the Civil War. Her sons respected her wisdom and experience and always turned to her for advice when they needed it.
She took a long sip of coffee and warmed her hands around the cup. She gazed into the fire for awhile in silence; then spoke. "Well, I reckon this is our last night in Texas land. We had a hard go of it here, but we found our footing here as well after the war. Tomorrow, we head out into the unknown again but we are a strong family, a proud family that will manage, the good Lord willing." Everyone around the fire nodded in agreement or made sounds of agreement.
"I only wish your pa was here to see the lot of you. You've growed into men and women; you've married fine people and brought me some fine grandbabies." They chuckled at this. "I'm proud of all of you—I'm right proud."
Billy sat closest to his mother. He put his arm around her and squeezed her shoulder. "I wish Dad was here too. I miss him an awful sight. But, we still have you, Mamma. And we are going to make you proud. We are goin' find us a fine new farm and raise some fine cattle. You'll see. Indian Territory is gonna be our new home."
With that, Billy stood up and poured the last of his coffee into the fire. "We best get a good night's rest because tomorrow will be a long one. Bird and Bob, Allie, Parks and I can sleep out here on our bedrolls. You women folk can have underneath the wagon where it will keep you out of the morning dew."
Everyone began moving about, pulling out quilts and bedrolls. The men arranged their bedrolls close to the fire and the women crawled under the wagon. A harvest moon climbed into the night sky. Sleep came slowly as each adult had many thoughts about their last night in Texas and the days ahead.
Mary Ann's final thoughts before sleep were of her dead husband, Robert David. She remembered how emaciated he looked when he returned from the war, half starved and barefoot. She remembered holding him in her arms as he drew his last breath, kissing his beautiful face one last time. Oh! How she ached for his presence now! How she wanted his gentle touch and smiling face to comfort her, to give her courage as the family went forth into this new land.
Billy's final thoughts were of his dad as well. He remembered the horrors of the Yankee prison that he and his dad and uncle had endured in captivity during the Civil War; the rats crawling everywhere, the filth, the hunger. Billy pulled his arms tight to his chest and squeezed his eyes shut. He vowed in silence that his family would never go through anything like that, that they would never be hungry. He would make his father proud!