“Woman! These wagons leave at daybreak; headin’ west. Anything not on stays behind.”
“John, does that include kids?” Robina, exhausted, asks half serious. A long hard look is the answer.
“We must be ready in the morning; we’ll barely have time to get situated before winter!”
Robina just finished an excruciatingly long, hot, dusty October day frantically packing family belongings into covered wagons. Their nine children, all enlisted with duties the whole day long, stopped only for a meager bite of whatever could be scrounged. Winter certainly didn’t feel just around the corner, though Robina knew well enough that seasons can change abruptly and hoped they could be sheltered before that happened.
“John, my heart hurts leaving so much behind.”
“I know, Love. But just think, if we can get to the Strip out west and be there when it opens up, we have a chance to lay claim to a piece of land to call our very own!”
She’s wondering exactly what there is west of Kansas. She heard of the government opening up land in the Cherokee Strip, as cowboys that have been there called it. A family can stake claim to 160 acres; whoever drives their stake in first can file for their patent (or deed), or so the government says.
“You know, Robina, you’ll have to drive one of the wagons with baby Matilda in your arms. Can’t be helped. William will have to drive one as well and I’ll be herding the horses. He’s a strong’un at 15, I know he can manage it.”
Robina’s thoughts were fraught with “what if’s” but didn’t have to say any of that to John. They both realized they were heading for wilderness. She wondered how she, John and all the children would make it through this winter to next year’s Run, then clear the land and build a house, IF they even get to stake a claim.
Last thing before retiring for the night, or what was left of it, John and Robina knelt together to pray, asking the Lord Jesus to give them strength and keep them all safe on this journey. Lately, their prayers had been few and far between, what with all the hubbub of the government opening this territory and all. Robina felt a little ease after a moment of quiet prayer, and drifted off in a deep slumber.
As dawn was breaking, John roused the family with orders to be ready to leave as soon as he finished hitching the horses to the wagons. The sun hinted that the travelers would be facing high temperatures with hot winds whipping through the Conestogas.
Robina had prepared in advance for eating as they traveled, except for the evenings when she knew they would make camp and perhaps have a meal of soup and bread. She hoped they might find the company of others headed the same direction to camp with, which would offer a sense of safety as well as an opportunity for conversation in normal voice tones. She knew well the strain of voice above wagon rattle and harness jangle.
As she lifted each of her little children into the wagon, Robina felt a wave of loneliness sweep over her; she would dearly miss the familiar surroundings they were now leaving in exchange for days and days on the dusty road, not knowing what lay in wait for them at the end. With the last child settled into the wagon, she thought to herself, “Just trust in the Lord. He has always been with His people and proved faithful in every circumstance. Even their weeping was turned into joy.” She felt comfort knowing that although this trial was the biggest she had so far endured, it was small compared to the Israelites leaving Egypt, for instance. They were fleeing the army of Pharaoh!
“Okay, John. I’m ready. William, you ready?” She turned to see her eldest son, sitting tall on the wagon seat, the image of a man.
“I’m right behind you, Mother. If you have any trouble I’m right here to help.”
“Head ‘em up!” John, my Great-grandfather, shouted as he turned the small herd of horses to the trail west. His heart felt uncertain but drawn by the hope of making it to Cherokee Strip territory, there to await the signal shot that would send him charging for their future.
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