Tuesday, June 05, 2007

How we got here...

A tragic and touching reminder of the the kind of people who made the Midwest. "Went to Kansas" - from diaries of Miriam Colt as she traveled to Kansas in search of a vegetarian utopia:
AUGUST 5TH.-- Another most terrific thunder-storm broke, last night, peal after peal, over head in deafening, crushing sauna; and the lightning's glare seemed burning the heavens from pole to pole! the torrents of rain came right through the warped "shakes" on the roof; the wind was blowing--the mud, from the logs, and water, were flying in every direction through our cabin. I made every effort to keep my sick ones dry, but my husband, children, and myself, being in the loft, got completely drenched and my husband and children had their chills in the midst of the storm. We kept our beds until a late hour this morning, as wet as they were, they being the most comfortable place, while the sun was drying up the water around.

Mr. Broadbent came this forenoon, went to the spring over the river again for water, making a walk of four miles from his tent to get two pails of water for us.

I bring water from the creek, where it stands just in the deep places, and they have to be dug out for that. This water will do to cook with and for washing.

The Indians pass every day in long files, on ponies and on foot, going to Cofuchigue "to swap," as they say, their dried buffalo meat, tallow and robes, for coffee, sugar, tobacco and whisky. Their ponies of burden are so heavily loaded that the juveniles who ride them have their limbs horizontally extended, instead of hanging down. Their many long-eared, grizzly-gray, gaunt-looking dogs, bring up the rear. How they can keep alive such a drove of dogs after their hunt is over, and keep them in going order, is truly a problem not for me to solve. They look like so many hungry hyenas; I should think they would swallow both horse and rider, and "lick their chops for more." Their buffalo meat is relished by some. It seems to be clean, and sweet; it is cured without salt, by being cut into strips, braided, the braids woven into a web, with strings of bark, and dried in smoke; can be bought by the yard, half or fourth, just as one desires or their appetite craves.

Some of the squaws have been here to-day; wanted to "swap" some of their dried buffalo meat for some pumpkins we had in our cabin. I gave them the pumpkins, and they handed back some dried meat. Father and the children relish it. Willie says, "please mamma, give Willie some dried buffalo meat." We have so little change in our diet, that almost anything is relished. We have plenty of green corn and squashes, but I am afraid to let the sick satisfy their appetites, which have become craving, as they always do, after having the chills for a while. I can persuade my little children to lay the cob by for a little, with the corn half eaten off, but it is a difficult matter to persuade children whose heads are gray with age, for "they know, they guess, when they have eaten enough, and when they are hungry." [More]
I am struck by how mobile early Americans were despite the problems of travel. If you saw the PBS documentary "The Mormons" perhaps you noticed a similar theme of building a new society somewhere in the vast frontier, as Mrs. Colt also believed.

What amazing people our forebears were. Or perhaps they were just like us, only faced with different circumstances and fewer easy options. I think this spirit lives on in America, but we work hard not to uncover it.

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