Sarah Morgan Edwards,
the Emigrant, 1864
Hanks, the Homesteader, 1884
John Samuel Hanks, the
Ilene Hanks Kingsbury,
the Biographer, 1964
And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee, but let me
first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto
him, No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke
Hand to the Plow
The splintered floor of the railway station
echoed the footfalls of fugitive humanity. Such furtive glances as the
emigrants were observed to chance from under their black hats were noted as
momentary. It would seem that curiosity was not a virtue and that any evidence
of it was to be denied these most recent ocean-wafted people. However, there is
that fine margin of out of the ordinary thinkers in any crowd, and two boys of
fifteen and seventeen cared not to disguise their interest in everything
And this is what they
saw: They noted the ticket wicket with cage dividers and wrought-iron severity.
So many travelers had stood before this official fare window that the imprint
of two shoes just a little bigger than average size was worn in the floor. In
fact, one almost slid into place while cautiously asking directions, prices,
and free information. The same indented wearing of wood was to be noted at the
entrance and exit doors where the shifted weight of thousands had flowed into
the station and worn to slivers the but once
The benches of the
station were fashioned after church pews: straight, unbending, severe, uninviting. They, at least, were worn smooth from constant
sliding on the surface by wide-backed European peasants and overloaded baskets,
carpetbags, and cloth bundles whose four corners were tied to form a clutch
knot. Under each bench was a light film of dust, lint gently sifted there as it
broke from swishing skirts and shawls and coats threadbare from unrelieved usage. Light glanced through the tall, many glassed
windows. These were seen to be fly-specked and rain-trickled. This was in the
traditionally unkempt appearance of public buildings where pride was noticeably
absent. A giant heater, called a forge stove, sat in the middle of the station
and obscured the view of the opposite side of the room. Depending on the
season, the wood box was bursting with stove lengths or brown and bare. It was
scarred and beseeched a coat of paint, or an armful of fuel to hide its lonely
Along one side of the station was a row of
benches which needed no sign of "For Men Only" to designate who
should properly sit there: for, in a line directly in front, and at equally
spaced intervals, one saw a platoon of spittoons at convenient striking
distance from this obviously reserved male section of the station. Needles to say, no respectable lady would have been seen
waiting there, though she might stand for hours, holding a babe in her arms,
and have another clinging to her skirts.
As this was midsummer, the doors of the
station were propped open with scraps of railing, their T-shaped style lending
itself to easy handling and their weight lending itself to utility as a
doorstop. It was quite obvious that in winter the doors would be dragged open
with the entrance of a newcomer, and hastily closed by him as petulant glances
were cast in his direction. This would no doubt keep the air warm, but no doubt
It was a hazard to walk about this place, for
baggage rooms had not been invented, and personal accouterments were fearfully
kept near the owner. This obviously meant that monstrous piles of trunks and
boxes of cloth, carpet, leather, and basketry were placed adjacent to each
family and never left unguarded for a moment. Teenage children were assigned
this duty and were the only insurance against loss and theft. Depending upon
the nationality of the emigrants, the "possibilities" were colorful
or drab, valuable or useless, secure or hazardous, each attesting private means
and social status. It was not unusual for birdcages to perch atop a pile of
bedding. Then, crouched in a comfortable blob of feather pillows, sound asleep
with fist clutching the pet’s abode, a little girl could be seen worn
unconscious by emigration.
Such blessed sleep was not for a twelve-year-old
who sat stolidly on a seaman’s trunk and counted over and over the number of
bundles, sacks, boxes, and containers which represented the entire wardrobe of
her family. To lose even one bulky item presaged disaster. Often one saw a pair
of children taking runs walking around and around their family belongings in a
sort of restricted exercise. Or perhaps they took turns at it while the other
ran beyond the doorway to peer up and down the platform. A brave one might even
dart beyond that safety island to place his ear on the rails to hear if a train
was coming a long way off.
If trains were delayed
- no business schedule being guaranteed - it was possible for families to sleep
among their accumulated possessions, thus saving expenditures for a room. This also permitted the excuse to eat in
the station. The one lunchroom, a built on afterthought sort of thing, was not
large enough to accommodate more that a score of
famished men who shouldered their way to standing bar counters for a swig of
something hot and filling. There were two odors here, beans and tobacco. Either of these, or a commingling of both, sickened most emigrants. They
then organized themselves to send responsible members out into the town to buy
loaves of varicolored and vari-textured bread, a
pail of milk, a few apples, if in season, or if fortune favored them, even a
cooked hen or pork side. The miscellany was brought into the waiting room,
spread about the tops of trunks and boxes and the family served in careful
portions by the mistress of the community, the mother.
It could be noted that never, never was all the food eaten at one meal. Though
hunger was said to be consuming, the gangling sons who at home ate like the
cows, as they sometimes said, times and places were different now. Almost
niggardly portions were doled out and always some saved for the next meal, just
in case more could not be found. This precious conservation of a biscuit or two
was a learned fetish with most emigrants. No one believed this was a sign of
stinginess, but a foresight for the very young, the ailing, and the aged. A
little crust became a comfort to teething infants and was not missed by more
It was in this setting that Welsh Eddie, his
mother, two little sisters, and two brothers could have been discovered that
summer of 1864. The geographical location was a bit out of Philadelphia,
U.S.A., and was one of a series already explored and acquainted with and was to
be continued as a series west and on west as far as the tracks were laid.
And as long as one
knew life was not to be permanently lived in this unpainted frame station and
the promised land would eventually unfold
and welcome them and sustain them in comfort and plenty, what was this
temporary crowding, smell, ceaseless vigilance to cause bother?
The emigrant mother, who was a widow, having
counted, fed, admonished, and otherwise cared for her little flock, straightened
her shawl, fluffed out the furled lace cap which covered her hair under her
tall-crowned black Welsh hat, and resolutely approached the ticket wicket. She
had timed her approach so that no moment would be wasted waiting a turn. Her
feet easily slid into the pre-carved groove of a thousand shoes, each as
resolute as her own to keep on the march to a new life in this land long
The ticket agent glanced at her, and with
clairvoyance reserved for public servants, threw aside formalities, got the
destination and number of travelers out of her, and with flood intensity took
over the scene.
"Listen, lady, if you and your five
children are going out West, and want to ride the trains as far as St. Joe, on
the Missouri, and then catch a wagon train from there, why are you so worried
about a little town in Pennsylvania that no one ever heard of and you don’t
even intend to get off and see?"
agent, as he adjusted his black gauntlet wrist protectors, certainly left but
one answer. And why, indeed? But before the
emigrant could assemble her Welsh words and reassemble them into Yankee of the Americas,
the agent stampeded his ideas in front of him.
"And if I were
you, lady, I wouldn’t get off the train, either, what with the war in its
fourth year, and the battle line swinging up and down the map like a bull whip
over stubborn oxen. Why, one can’t be sure from one stop to another that the
train will not be invaded by soldiers, our or the rebels, and you’d find
yourself and the young one sleeping on a ditch bank. Now, you certainly wouldn’t
want that. If I were you I would bet on any old train that had a good cooking
stove in it, just so it was headed West, and I’d
stay on just as long as the track were laid in my direction."
The word direction gave the emigrant an idea.
"Sir, do you have a map of the trains to the West?"
At that the agent fairly shrieked in derision.
"Listen, lady, this isn’t a big settled country, that is not yet, and only
the generals have the maps, and mighty poor ones they are, too. Once I tried to
make myself a map of the railroads from New York, through Philadelphia,
through Pittsburgh, and on over to the Mississippi. Do you know what
it all looked like? Just an old maple leaf with the in-between parts decayed
away and the meaty veins left running every which way.
"If the stem was placed near Castle Gardens,
the longest vein would point right across the country and end in St. Joe. Most
trains shuttled about before you got over the mountains to Pittsburgh, and the
scarce ones thinned out until only a couple of scraggly ones got to the
Mississippi river, and then one branch line dared to build out to where the
trails of the prairie left the Missouri. Guess I didn’t need a map after
drawing that one. It’s pretty simple. All one has to do is ask where you are at
each station, get on the next train heading West, and in about a half a month,
there you’ll be in St. Joe."
"Then I’ll take a ticket for my family
right on to the end of your veined leaf," decided the emigrant.
"Oh, no you won’t. Why, Lady, at least
five companies have to sell you fares between here and the West. Why, even
their cars don’t look alike inside, let alone the track they roll on. Seems to
me I heard one soldier say that sometimes the tracks are on a wide gauge, sometimes
on a narrow one, and again on one of a completely individual width. You can’t
expect trains to roll along at that rate. Change the passengers, charge a new
fare. Anyway, I hope you reach the big rivers before the soldiers get all the
cars run to the battles. If you missed them, you would be left roaming, on
foot, say in Ohio or Indiana. Of course, if you get beyond those
wild places, then Illinois and Missouri might be reached.
My bet is that an ox team is surer and sager than any steam engine
The emigrant was
stunned. The ceaseless speech of this man, who was the pattern from whom all
future talkative railroaders was cut,
bewildered her. Her heart raced with his words across the back of his imaginary
map, and already she felt that trudging feet and burdened shoulders were the
chief requisites of land travel. At her back was an ocean, ceaselessly rolling.
It had consumed nearly seven tossing weeks of life. Fearsome as were the deeps
of the sea to a land-reared woman, still more terrifying and confusing, now,
was this proffered continent of thousands of miles of earth stretching to the
valleys of the mountains where refuge was assured. But the hegira of getting to
that haven was so uncertain, so mystifying, that the emigrant was led to
question her momentous decision to transplant herself on the other side of the
earth from that of her birth.
Last spring, in South Wales, no one had
painted this picture of railroads with varied placed rails and cooking stoves
in each car, and soldiers running one’s children out to a bush for concealment
from the wind. The American Civil War, between the North and the South, had
been mentioned only casually. Surely the war was not near her path to the great
rivers and the high mountains. She had concluded that as long as the South was
the rebel in the affair, that the North had marched deep in and had thus
protected her route to the Rockies. A vague impression had been left with
her that this rebellion had taken on the aspects of guerrilla warfare, was a
hit-or-miss affair, and would certainly be out of her way by the summer of this
How mistaken she was.
Although spokesmen in the emigration department referred to this as the last
year of the war, and not as the fourth, how were they to be certain of that
A week ago, back in Castle Gardens, while they
explained to the uniformed emigration authorities about where they were going
and how many there were of them, and how old they were, and how it was that she
had no husband to protect her, and how it was that they spoke English, while
claiming Welsh nationality, all was confusion.
In the midst of this,
a side conversation was indulged in which gave her restless night and uneasy
days. Her informant had called this conflict a blood-brother war. He said that
fathers and sons met on battlefields and took each other’s lives. He described
the burning of a valley where dogs crept away to die, and where refugees had
swarmed out of reach of the flames as cattle will stampede before a prairie
fire. The emigrant had shuddered, but had relented the day she had promised her
dying husband to begin, and finish, their journey to America without
that strong arm she had leaned on since bride hood. To come to a war was not
what she had dreamed of for a dozen year. But it was too late now to turn back.
Even her sixteen-year old Eliza vowed that she would rather die in a war than
sail a stormy ocean in constant peril. The course now was to traverse this
scene of contention, to get to the other side of the continent, even though
plains and Indians and a blood war interposed the way.
Upon her insistence that she wanted tickets
for as far west as the agent’s line could carry them, he took her money and
gave her a piece of square cardboard upon which was a picture of a railroad
engine and a few initials which denoted ownership of the same. She thoughtfully
placed the ticket in a drawstring bag of smallish size, a homely thing that
never left her person, and turned in the indented tracks in the wooden floor to
join her children huddles near their pile of miscellaneous property.
At that moment the
ticket agent remembered something she had asked about, a little town in Pennsylvania called Bradys Bend. He hadn’t answered her
about it, especially as she had added that she wasn’t really going there
anyway. So now he raised his voice and called to her, and to get her attention,
he barged on as at first.
"That town now. My cousin’s daughter used to live there.
Not much of a place, one might gather. Just coal people and a railroad to carry
off the coal, and more smoke than healthy people should be breathing. Not many
people live there, either. Mostly a foreign town, Welsh. Mostly
hadn’t bothered to speak English since coming over from the old country. Say,
know anyone there, lady?"
He never ceased his talking. His questions
were not meant to be answered. He was indeed the original information bureau of
However, the emigrant did venture one more
question. "How far will we be from Brady’s Bend if we stay on
this train?" she quietly asked. Her tone almost stopped the agent, for she
had turned squarely toward him and was so quiet that he believed she wanted a
quiet answer. In fact, she raised a finger to her lips to hush him in his
And because he was brash and insensitive to
delicate signals, let alone this universal one to talk softly, he said in his
usual station voice, as if talking to deaf people, "Well, lady, I’d say it
was about twenty-five miles from where you will be when you reach Pittsburgh.
That is as the cow flies, but a little farther along the Allegheny River.
That’s because of the bend in the river."
The emigrant could stand no more. She wished
she could faint dead away rather than hear one more word about Brady’s Bend.
At her leaving him, the agent shrugged a
little, and clicked his tongue and thought about how many funny people came by
his window in the station. And the questions they asked, too. It would seem as
though if one asked a questions, one would at least stay long enough to get a
The emigrant dragged herself toward her little
brood. She noted that the little one was already asleep with her head in the
lap of her bigger sister. The three boys stood up as she came near and were
straining to get on the way now that the ticket was purchased. Even before she
reached them, they considered themselves dismissed from their temporary vigil
as guards to their sister, and without waiting for permission, they threaded
their way out of the station. Through the door she saw them leap off the
platform and sprint down the street, each trying to outdo the other in speed
and form. They would be back in a moment with questions, but for now they must
run off their spirits, already too pent-up for comfort.
At that moment Eliza thought her mother looked
just like a stone lion. The resemblance almost frightened her, for now she
remembered a certain guardian of a doorway at a building near the emigration
gate. It had been so big that two little children were playing in the shelter
beneath its neck. It two paws were outstretched to hang listlessly and
deceptively fragile over the edge of a block of granite which made part of the
regal entrance. The head of the beast had been raised as if listening to
footfalls afar off. The eye had a facility, not often caught in stone, to
follow one to either side of the steps and not really let one out of their sight.
The shaggy mane had fallen in blanket folds about the front of the animal. A
closer look had given Eliza the impression that a few cockle burrs might still
be matted in the tresses of this king of the forest. When Eliza had first come
upon this immobile giant, she had shuddered. Its counterpart in the jungle
would be hard to escape or overcome.
Eliza’s mother looked
that way right now. Nothing evaded her gaze; her children knew who was head of the migrant household. The fastness to which
they clung was all encompassed in their mother. And yet, Eliza had heard her
say I cannot. It was like putting a dried leaf and a tree trunk
together and expecting both of them to do the same job. After all one wanted
consistency. Before bringing herself to ask what her mother could not do, Eliza reviewed the two things they could do and which they
had talked about ceaselessly since leaving the rolling ocean.
The first on the list was to stop off in Brady’s Bend,
wherever that was, and be reunited with the most dearly loved people they had
on earth. The second on the list was to proceed by what means they could afford
to a certain valley in the Rocky Mountains, no matter how far it was, or
how long it would take, or what hardships should beset their ways. Surely her
mother would not have referred to either of these two long anticipated events.
And of the two, maybe the second was what her mother talked about. This war
they were suddenly involved in, stories of Indians way out there a thousand
miles just waiting for a triangle of hair on the top of her head; this funny
railroad, with shaky, noisy boxes on wheels which sometimes caught fire from
wood burning cooking stoves installed therein for convenience of through
passengers; this station that smelled of beans and dirt - perhaps now they
could leave all this, find the village where Grandma lived at Brady’s Bend and
settle down. Eliza already felt happier just knowing a decision had been made.
She recalled a day in her seventh year, now some
eight or nine years back, filled with tears and Welsh singing, and prayers, and
parting gifts, and bundles of belongings. Grandma and Grandpa and all but one
of her mother’s brothers and sisters had set sail. They had been going to America.
All would be well with them because they would live in Pennsylvania where
the men could be coal miners as they had been in Wales, and where the
women could find education and opportunity for their children.
For nine years Eliza
had heard nothing but the phrase, “when we go to America”. It
had echoed in her dreams, it had been set to music, it had been embroidered on
a pillow, it had been written in letters trusted to the waves and the earth. It
was lucky, she thought, that they were at last on their way, for that young man
from the Merthyr mine was taking a liking
to her and would in due time want her to stay and marry him and let her mother
and brothers and sister go on without her to America. Ah, well, there must be
likely Welsh boys in America, and thinking back about it, she sensed that
her mother had snatched her out of the Old Country just in time.
Eliza looked again at
the lion-like woman, her mother. Her arms were folded, sort of encased by the
ends of her shawl, her feet were close together, with the heels hugging the
floor, and her head was bowed. There was a little saying in the family that if
Mother sat like that, don’t say a word. No
one had ever said that word so Eliza didn’t know what would happen if one did,
but she knew that something very important was going on in her mother’s mind.
Or perhaps it was her heart. If the latter, there would be more smiling and
singing afterwards, but if the cold thoughts of deliberation took precedence,
then there would be protests and tears, but still singing. Welshmen somehow
express the Welshness within themselves by
voicing that minor key in music which fortifies them in all trial.
At sixteen one cannot grasp all the subtle
colors of living, but one can see it happening and can guess that Mother will
somehow give all the answers. Sometimes when the emigrant sat like this, she
was formulating a prayer, and having previously mapped it out, presented it to
the Lord in formal fashion. As her eyes were not closed, Eliza could not tell
at what stage of thought or plan or supplication her mother was engaged in.
The moment drew itself
out. Mother still sat as if playing statue. Little Sannie flung
an arm across Eliza’s shoulder and lifted herself from the cozy lap on which
she had slumbered. Through the station door Eliza saw her three brothers
bounding back along the tracks, each with giant strides along the ties. As they
barged into the building they gave a wild, bloodcurdling yell.
Nothing in Wales had ever sounded
like that repellent, raucous yell. The ticket agent crouched behind his window
and peered around the edge in terror. Upon seeing just three youthful Welsh
boys approach, he steadied himself and called them to him. By now all occupants
of the station were either on their feet or near the door with at least two
bundles of property, trying to make good their escape.
"Young men, come
here!" the agent ordered. They gave each other a wide-eyed signal of “let’s
see what we have done this time”, and went toward the wicket. "Do you know
what that sound is you just made?" he
screeched. They looked at each other again as if to say, “hadn’t
this man been around boys before?” but didn’t answer him.
He found the answer
quickly enough, and fairly blasted them to eternal punishment by saying between
clinched teeth, "The Rebel Yell!" Then, gaining courage, and again
becoming the informant on all subjects, which he
imagined himself, he got the attention of all present. "Only men from the
South make that yell," said he. "Only when they have a gun in each
hand and a knife in each boot top, so they give that yell. Boys, if you don’t
want to be hanged or shot or taken to prison to starve and die, just don’t do
There was not much one could say after that.
Eyes that had heretofore been sympathetic to their needs now averted
The three boys cushioned their footfalls to
the citadel of strength, which was their mother, and saw down. The emigrant
unfolded her arms and raised her head to give each occupant of the station a
long, long look
Eliza realized fleetingly that the one word,
which they must never say to interrupt their mother when she was contemplating,
had been given. Perhaps they would live to regret the sound of that
threatening, blood-curdling shriek. It had whip-lashed their ears and their
Imperceptibly, the travelers gained courage
and now wanted to appear as if the incident was of no value. They arranged
their baggage in neater rows, gave a stale biscuit to the youngest babies, and
started to talk to each other in whispers, which grew in volume as confidence
was gained. Finally, a buzzing of words was manifest and the hive of bees was
at its usual pitch and activity. In the resumed noise, the Welsh family grew
Obviously, if their
mother had come to any decision since talking to the agent, now was the time to
make her statement before any more harm could be done. She motioned her brood
closer and, looking especially at Eliza, said, "I was just saying I
cannot do it."
There is no surer way
to get attention than by such a simple statement. The boys looked alert to the
event. Sannie didn’t really care, such is
six years of being the littlest and pampered at that. Eliza felt quite
superior, having had a preview and having come to the wise conclusion that now
they could leave this turmoil of emigration and go to Brady’s Bend and
life in peace and plenty, surrounded by all their kith and kin.
One boy asked, "Can’t do what,
"We cannot go to Brady’s Bend."
If the boys had stood up and given, again,
that Rebel Yell, not one of the five would have been more startled.
Eliza suddenly wanted to cry. She pressed her
fingers over her mouth so no one could see her lips tremble. Eddie, the
seventeen-year-old, just opened his mouth and forgot to close it. William and
David actually groaned. Now, for sure, their mother had lost her mind. One of
them leaned toward her and grasped her sleeve, just as though he could stop her
from further considering this most horrible of decisions. Somehow, they
thought, they could try to dissuade her. Let’s try, they thought. First they
barraged her with questions.
Is it so far to the Bend that we
haven’t time? The man that sells the tickets said that it is only twenty-five
miles as the crow flies to where Grandma lives, after we reach Pittsburgh,
and we could walk that far in two days, even carrying our bundles, if we had
to. Just think, two days, and we can hear Grandpa call our names, feel the warm
comfort of loving arms, and stand about answering and asking and singing and
loving all those whom we have never really expected to see in this life again.
Just think, no more cooking in a train, no more seeing only strangers. No more
to explain that the Church had called them and they were answering. Just think,
"I have thought," she said quietly.
"I have thought
about my little brother who used to work in the mines at the age of ten, side
by side with my father, just so they could save enough money to come to America.
I wasn’t to see him. I have thought about my older sister, surely now a
grandmother, who was as a mother to me when others came first for our mother’s
care. I have thought about little Gwennie who
was so gentle that she never ventured from our hearth fires and never found a
mate. I can still hear big William sing as he rose in the mine hoist each night
and I remember that, as he neared home, his voice drew children and men and
women to him and they joined him in song until the hills burst with beauty. I
have thought of them all."
The children were
quite carried away with this word picture painted again for them by their
loving mother. And what about Grandpa? And Grandma? The emigrant dared not speak aloud the
names of her parents, lest in voicing their names, even, she should weaken in
her resolve. Their life in America, even in a mill town where they were
still close to coal mines, was so marvelous and bright and full and prosperous
that with each letter she had rejoiced in their blessings. Their hope, as well
as hers, had been that some day she, too, would come
to America and be with them forever. Now she was on their borderland.
Now she could actually walk to find them and it would not take many days. Now,
at last, the haven of which they had talked for a quarter of a century was just
over the rolling green mountains and down a river valley.
Somewhere she had
read, "Almost thou persuadest me."
Somewhere she had heard a song which praised the Father of all for just such
sweet reunion, as was now within her grasp. But she now had said I
cannot, and I have thought.
Children do not so
easily give up coaxing, teasing, tearfully begging, and downright demanding. Is
it too difficult by carriage or wagon to cover those few crow miles? Do you
remember that only a few days back, on the fearful Atlantic, we yearned
for any going just so it was on dry earth? Now we have that
earth, that ease. Have we not enough means to swerve our course, as a
scythe reaches to strike home? Is it so necessary - that one day or another
would make a difference? Strength, time, means,
distance; all as a drop in the bucket when so soon it will overflow for joy. Sweet reunion of heart. Catching of
the breath at a thought of Grandma standing arms akimbo waiting for us to rush
her off her feet. Is the eye never to see these kindred? "I
cannot do it," she said again and again.
Then arose that
natural question, of why, why? In the scales, the reasons for
the Bend far outweighed the one for a few days of delay, then
continuance of the way. The children slowed down in their thinking and talking.
Those who could better express themselves in tears, when touched deeply, did
cry. Those who might believe that a cry of protest was not manly kept silent
and felt more the man for it. The six-year-old was not exactly to be considered
in this family conclave, but she remembered when she was a great-grandmother
that, as she reached for her mother emigrant’s hand, it was trembling. This is
perhaps our only clue that a great battle had waged within the granite,
Another glance at her would reveal the very
set of the jaw, the very mobile relentlessness of face of the king of the
forest. She never looked so immovable, so chiseled, as that morning when she
said she would not get off the train.
When the whirlwind of
protest had subsided, and each child had reached calm banks of emotion, their
mother answered the why, why of her decision. In the first
place, yes, she was afraid of Indians, and rebels, and walking a thousand
miles, perhaps still another thousand across the wastes of North America.
Yes, there were no loved ones awaiting them in the Rockies. True, a family
or two of friends in the Old Country had preceded them to that far-off desert;
but who knew where they were by now? Perhaps dead of cholera or of bleeding of
a redman’s arrow, or assigned even more
distant valleys west and on west. Perhaps some were already rich on the Golden Shore.
But go they must. Where? To Zion.
That last word was
said with a glint of the eye that could only reflect a spiritual dedication to
a cause, only a religious fulfillment not found elsewhere. The word was the
reminder to her boys and girls that goals had been set, vows taken, means
gathered, and a journey begun, all because a faith had been accepted, tried on
for fit, found to fit, and, now must be worn right on into a certain valley.
That valley of refuge was a place where pride of wearing that faith and living
it could be called dedication, fulfillment, self-realization.
The spirit of the migration in that day came under the heading of gathering. It
reminded one of Moses and the Red Sea, in religious fervor.
This gathering, then,
was worth all the hardships, the empty stomachs, the bleeding feet, the giving
up of the world. Yes, the emigrant mother assured her children this was worth
more that father and mother and brothers and children and husband. Even Grandpa and Grandma, their glances questioned. But
why can’t we have both? Give us a few days at Brady’s Bend; give us the
only chance we shall ever have to see our aunts and uncles and cousins. Then we
shall start out refreshed for the valley. Why couldn’t that be the way?
If the hand was trembling and the voice showed
a quaver, the eye and heart were steadfast. Her answer: Because I have not the
courage, after such a joyful reunion, to go on.
The children thought to themselves and
questioned each other with startled glances. What is our mother talking about?
They wondered. She who is iron and rock and lion and refuge, all in all - she
says she has not the courage! What then of us who are young and fatherless and
homeless and dependent on the ravens for bread? How must we feel about
resolution and never deserting a worth cause? These
thoughts shook them as they realized their helplessness.
But, Mother, they pleaded. Even in the face of
her solidness, they hated to let go of their weakness and abide by her
decision. Her inner thought weighed her strength under stress. This was part of
the testing, no doubt. If she could not withstand the cries of her children in
this little island of privacy among strangers, how could she combat the tears
of her parents and loved ones combined with the victorious offspring? Together,
they would talk her out of the supreme goal in life, even the life hereafter.
Temporary pleasure was pitted against permanent security. If one could be
victorious in the little things, then their accumulation of power would bring
one victorious in the great issues. Thus she thought since buying a ticket,
which would bypass the Bend.
She motioned to Eliza to open her carpet bag
and retrieve from the folds of personal clothing a little Testament given her
by the captain of the sailing vessel as a parting gift. The mother then said,
"Eliza, turn to Luke nine and sixty-one and read to us." And this is
what Eliza read: "And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let
me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said
unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit
for the kingdom of God."
The Word had been consulted. If it took each
hearer of the Word to make his personal interpretation, it also took his
personal action, which followed that hearing. This was almost the only time in
each life of the children that they wanted time and privacy and strength to
arrange their hearts and minds in such an order that an accuser in later years
could be turned aside without a case against. Their earthly mother had shown
them the Word, and they believed. The sacrifice was stated as if meant for them
instead of travelers to Jerusalem in the year thirty-two A.D. The
reward was also assured, and they believed that, too.
One by one they looked
their mother squarely in the face. That was all the affirmative
vote she needed. All were very quiet. No reproach was heard. It was not easy,
but now they all knew that the valley and not the Bend was their
immediate goal. Now the struggle was over, the tension was broken as water
breaking through the head gate of a dam. If tears were mingled with the flood,
they were tears of triumph and not remorse. As hope rises eternally to lift all
to ecstasy, so it did them. Some day, some day, maybe, maybe, we can come back to this station
and start out for the Bend and reunion and contentment. We shall, we
But the emigrant made
no promise for herself. The finality of her decision precluded the hope that
she could retrace her footsteps to this bitter day to start out to find her
parents. Her strength lay in forsaking, in renouncing the idea as a permanent thing.
To consider that even in old age she should be so near this sentimental goal,
was to make her half defeated at this moment. Forever behind her was this day,
this trembling of the hand, this possibility
of defeat. If time and strength were pitted against each other again, she would
know what to do, and that without the great
battle from within. The West and not the Bend was to
be the daily cry. The Bend was to be thought of less and less, thus
to hurt less acutely, thus to become a chapter of life entitled Lost, or Never, or I
Cannot. The very denouncement of this plan gave power to the shoulders to
bear any burden, gave direction to the feet to trudge ever forward, gave
solution to the heart to live and love and dream and achieve in spite of
disappointment and tragedy. In giving up this side journey she would be the
better fortified against other temptation, other passing pleasures, so that the
big chance could be pursued and conquered. Only in saying I cannot can
we ever say I can.
The emigrant was ready to resume her journey.
If the silence of dedication encased this Welsh
unit trying to become something they had long dreamed of, that some quietude
did not touch the rest of the travelers. Louder and louder became the buzzing
in the hive station. As the voices shrilled, the bodies started on the move.
The emigrant, not that victory was so sweet, found herself too
tired to drag herself and the young brood back to reality. She motions to the
older boys to see what all the noise was about. They were happy to arise and
walk about and stretch and talk aloud. They looked as relieved as she to have
met the enemy and to have conquered. They began to hum a little tune together
as they sauntered about, which was most Welsh of them. The song was "Men
of Harlech," an appropriate enough
legendary air that told families afar off that one had been valiant.
The boys circulated back, in due time, to
report that any time now a train would be coming down the tracks going in their
general direction. How did they know that? Well, some boys had been stooping
with their ears on the rails. As they had listened often in such a posture for
several weeks now, they were experts in telling even the exact time the train
would clang to a shuddering stop at the station. Long since they had mastered
the direction from which it would come. Before the waiting families could move
their property to the platform as preparation for getting aboard, the whistle
was heard to warn them forlornly, as it lamented its way along the narrow
The previously well-ordered and undisturbed
piles of boxes and bags were now shunted to the door. Almost no family needed
to make two trips to carry all they owned from inside to outside. Each member
took his share, deposited it, and stood guard. Just so as in the case of the
emigrant’s possession, each child bent to and lugged at his previously assigned
bundles, ran arms through straps, hoisted great bulks upon shoulders, and
staggered under untold weight. With bent backs and flexed muscles, they
directed their paths over the timeworn doorsill and to the outer corner of the
platform near the down end. This was a prearranged formation which worked as a
clock. Showing pleasure, each child laid his burden in such a manner that in
the blinking of an eye the whole lot of belongings was in exactly the same
position and form as had been seen but a moment ago near the forge stove inside
the station. Actually, the children loved these moments of lifting and carrying
and heaving. They smiled and talked and played the game in great spirits.
The mother had her share of possibilities,
too: smaller bags and gaskets, to be sure; but their value was not quite in the
class of those carried by her offspring. We may hear more about their contents
at a less hurried moment.
The islands of valuables about the outer
station were not of permanent value, however. As soon as the train chugged into
sight the surge to deposit these material objects within the box-like cars
began. The little islands dissolved and became a part of small streams flowing
into the cars. The ticket agent came to the door to see them off.
Well, he thought,
there they go. Guess I should have told that Welsh lady more about the war and
the Indians and the great rivers. She really should have gone to Bradys Bend. It would be safer there, even from the
war. Guess she’ll have her own way like as not. Well, it won’t be anything like Wales.
Maybe she won’t live to get West. Maybe she will
never be heard from again. Well, I told her so, didn’t I?
As this was the third
train the family had boarded since leaving their ship, the novelty of the
travel was lost. It was just as noisy, just as dirty, as drafty, as inadequate to transport human being, as crowded, as
any other they had ridden in before.
The little family had
decided that they would have more privacy if they could stay as the end of a
car, so they made their way where they could have at least one end wall to
enclose them. They shunted their luggage under the seats, all that would fit
there, then piled the rest in tower-like
arrangement with the hope that the jarring of starts and stops would not
dislodge the bundles upon their heads.
The aisle through this little conveyance was
so narrow that one was forced to sidestep through it. The seats were twin
benched, facing each other - exact copies of church benches. Neither springs
nor cushions were thought to be an adjunct to comfort. A solitary, swaying
lantern of a make to accommodate either a candle or a cup of oil gave the only
light after nightfall. The windows of the car were small, dirty, rattletrap
squares, giving a distorted view that bulged and squeezed itself into an oddity
of nature. Just move the head a bit and another effect could be achieved. If
one was sensitive to light and color, this, with distortion, brought on car
sickness. The prevention was never to look outside.
The family noticed all too late that they
should have been on the opposite side of the car, for some carpenter-skilled
passenger had, at a lengthy stop, built himself a sort of platform or bunk
midway between seat and ceiling. This was now being occupied by numerous
children, who climbed aloft and sat there looking quite like chickens on a
perch. When their parents threw them a blanket and a bundle or two to be used
as pillows, they had a sleeper the whole traveling world could envy.
The emigrant’s oldest boy resolved to build
such a second story in their little nook. If the train didn’t get under way
immediate, he knew just the pile of lumber back at the station which could
afford him his supply. A hammer and nails could be borrowed from the agent. He
therefore left his family corner and struggled past the still embarking
passengers and finally regained the platform. He ran to the agent to explain
his pan, but was forced to about face as word was wafted back with the ribbon
of black smoke that the engine was ready to move. He dashed back to the car
with his plan of construction still taking form. This was an objective which
could be realized at the next stop, if not now.
He was scarcely seated
in the family pew, as they laughingly called their cramped quarter, when a
continuous ringing of a bell was heard as one of the many official signals that
the train was about to roll. Other signs, either in noise or motion, quickly
followed. The agent now took the part of starter of the rolling stock of his
company and his self-importance had its greatest chance to renew itself. He
filled his lungs, braced himself with thumbs in the armholes of his vest,
opened his mouth and put forth a roar of command. His call was made of a series
of words, all unintelligible, and seeming to lack an interpreter. He no doubt
was the pattern for future masters of the art of train calling. But with or
without his vehemence, the effect would have been the same. The passengers had
received a call to go West long before he
was an employee of any transportation system. The impetus was to move onward.
The going was accelerated with each mile en route and showed no signs of
running down as does a pendulum or a ball thrown in motion. Let us give the
agent credit for at least being the color and essence of a very new mode of
getting about the earth.
Evidently every nose
was counted, every owner surrounded by his worldly goods. Evidently nothing now
could mar the journey which up to this time had been eventful and hazardous.
The rumble of the wheels became as a sedative. The air became sickening. It
would take more that the cracks beneath the doors and around the windows to
ventilate the place. No wonder a broken window or two had not been replace. Even cinders sweeping through them to the hair and
lungs of the passengers were preferable to this close feeling.
that, at almost any place along the line, the Rebel forces might commandeer the
train and take it off to transport troops,
or more likely, the Union soldiers would get there first and do the same thing
for their cause. This rail company maintained that it was neutral in the great
fight, and hoped thereby to preserve its regular business, no matter how the
wind blew in the conflict. Actually, it was at a constant disadvantage.
Uncertainty was ever present. Unless something like decisive victory could be
achieved quickly, the owners feared for their investment.
The striving engine hammered its way, panted
and spewed clouds of volcanic fire over its back in the best manner of dreadful
dragons. The writhing, twisting motion of the cars never ceased. The coupling
threatened to let go the precarious hold they had been designed to maintain,
and with slackened or gathered speed, the antagonism between the parts of the
whole continued. This multiple-sections monster remained a unit only because
the teeth of one part tore at the tail of the next. Heads bobbed, jerked,
snapped, and rolled. Heavy shoulders slumped, short legs dangled in joint less
fashion, and whimperers were heard to
complain and wheedle and threaten.
In this atmosphere it
was an achievement for any mother to gain the ear of an infant either to issue
commands or to enjoin to prayer. It was easy, then, to drift off on a memory
jaunt, which in most cases made one homesick, or to recede within oneself to
renew covenants or formulate stratagems. The emigrant indulged in a little of
both, and got to the point of feeling a re-enforcement of courage and energy
now that they were underway again, when she was interrupted by little Sannie demanding, "I want something!"
The boys broke into a
laugh at this most childish of all sentences. At least they always knew what it
was they wanted. The mother brushed aside her thoughts in solitude and tried to
lead the little girl into a statement of just what it was she wanted. A sea cake? No. A part of a
peeled potato? No. Nothing to eat? No. A little sleep with head resting on the mother's lap or shoulder’s? No. A story? Yes, that was it. About nice, wonderful Uncle
David who could sing better than anyone else in all Wales? Yes, yes.
This subject was an
unfailing source of entertainment even to children who could sing all day long
and never repeat themselves, for Uncle David was very romantic as well as
talented. Of course it was a sort of sad, mysterious romance. In the first place. . . . But no one wanted that phase
of Uncle David today. As there were other choices, one boy called out,
"The money story." Yes, indeed. This event involved a piece of money,
which could not have purchased even the meanest item of food or clothing, yet,
again, it was worth a bucketful of other near-alike pieces. The source of this
valued bit of metal reached back to legendary times in Wales when
singing first became the greatest of arts. Mothers prayed that the newly
christened infant would be the most famous singer in all Wales. No other
career beckoned or mattered to a Welshman after that idea had taken bold in the
For it was the heart
of Wales that sang. Its heartbeat was set to music, its eye only focused on
the hills and vales of its country to conjure up melodies of praise to God for
their land and people. Other peoples trained their children in the arts and
sciences; still others valued the efforts of the printed page or held physical
prowess as a fetish. But Welshmen sang and lived for song. All else, one might
say, interfered with singing. Labor in the mines for eighteen hours a day, at
the wharves, in the fruitless valleys, the tragedies of deep shaft cave-ins -
all fell behind one as the wake of a ship - all joy and sorrow, the sweat of
the brow, the closing of the grave, the birth of sons and daughters, the
courage - all were expressed in that minor key of melody which is not a dirge
but an eternal hope over the strangeness of life and love and labor.
Now, the emigrant was
concerned with only the immediate past of Uncle David. This was a past of
victory for her brother whose songs echoed the Merthyr hills,
filled the gentle valleys of Wales and sent reverberations straight
to the great national songfest called an Eisteddfod. His mother's dream had
come true. His medals of honor lined the mantel for all to see. Look closely.
The one attached to a gold chain had the picture of the Queen on one side. On
the reverse was a wreath, a motto, a date, a name. One summer's day the
"Swedish Nightingale" Jenny Lind had unclasped that chain from around
her neck and, in the seeing of thousands, placed it about the neck of Uncle
David. He had fairly won this treasure from the world-loved voice of song. When
he made his way home up the Cardiff Valley to Merthyr, his kindred and friends met him afar off. They
mingled their voices with his. They knew joy.
In a sort of ceremony the medallion had been
passed from one admiring hand to another. Then, with near reverence, it was
placed among other wonderful honors. When the emigrant mother and her five
children viewed this memento for the last time, they all wondered what would
become of it, after Uncle David no longer could catch the gleam from its
At this point in the story the emigrant
unloosed the drawstrings of her little velvet bag and unfolded a white silk
handkerchief most carefully. There, before their very eyes, reposed Uncle
David's chain and medal! All hands reached to caress it. All eyes feasted on
its beauty. All hearts wondered just how it was that their mother could now
quite magically produce the very item they believed back across the great Atlantic.
They all smiled and hummed as she explained that at the last minute Uncle David
had very secretly pressed it into her hands. To cover its beautiful presence he
had drawn his handkerchief from his pocket and swaddled it carefully in silken
folds. He had exacted a promise from his sister to keep it as a remembrance and
perhaps, in some far-off place, award it to a sweet-voiced niece or nephew. She
"I want to wear
it!" demanded little Sammie. Her mother quickly slipped the chain about
the little neck, and Sannie instantly
became a beautiful singing princess who was loved by all
the world. The problem then became how to get the chain off of her.
The mother decided to let Sannie wear it at
least until sunset. At that moment David, the namesake of Uncle David, said
that, well, if he couldn't sing very well, at least his was not a bad voice,
and perhaps he should have it. The brothers and sisters laughed at him. His
looks of misery startled them. How else could they know that he had yearned for
that piece of honor from the moment Uncle David had placed it on the mantel?
Mothers are masters of compromise. The
emigrant now made a most unusual one. She leaned forward, released the special
spring that held the medal to the chain and, with a quick thrust, laid it in
the palm of David's hand. He was as speechless as the rest.
"That's it!" she said. William
blinked incredulously. Eddie felt called on to remark that the thing looked
like a common old shilling piece to him, which in America was worth
about twenty-four and a third cents. It couldn't be so great, then, could it?
David flipped the gold
piece from side to side. He ran his thumbnail along the minted wreath, he wet his forefinger and pressed it against
the raised surface. How it gleamed! How it beckoned the glance to stay and
admire. He tossed it from one hand to the other, he pretended to make it
disappear, which frightened his mother. He became quite adept at spinning it on
the arm of the pew seat.
But games and stories and gifts were not the
entire order of that war-torn afternoon. The writhing train lurched, shuddered,
and shrieked. It shunted itself to a sidetrack. The boys tried to ascertain the
cause of such a commotion. Their secret hopes had at last been realized - they
were in the war!
Great logs had been thrown across the track
just ahead. The repairmen had ceased to try to remove them. Instead, they had
come running toward the train yelling of disaster and waving their hats and
shovels. The only fortunate aspect was that the siding was near, and a
temporary refuge could be claimed.
Eddie and William jumped off the still moving
car and ran forward to the engine. David sat down again with disdain for such
trivial excitement, for wasn't he now the owner of a gold piece that money
could not buy?
A noise resembling a wail, a moan, a cry of
distress was heard coming from outside. The toll of a drum officially announced
the approach of army men who had power to capture, impress, or conscript
soldiers for their cause. The word was screamed from car to car that soon every
man and boy who could carry a gun would be dragged away. Terror swept every
soul. A cringing of size was apparent in each traveler. A prayer ascended for
preservation from this bloody conflict. Each mother feared the day when she
could no longer say her son stood beside her, but was a memory of this day of
The emigrant now remembered every word the
station agent had said about this thing called conscription. This forced
enlistment was a part of every war, she knew that, but this was so newly her
country and thus not quite the part of her that Wales had been, that she was
not ready to spill the blood of herself and children that it might endure.
Loyalty she knew. Honor she had lived for. But give them a chance of decision,
a moment to stride about these ways, a day in which to become a part of their
Already the mother had
lost sight of two of her boys. Heaven help her now. In haste she tore off her
shawl and tall black hat and draped them around the head and shoulders of
David. His little sisters began to laugh at the sight of their handsome brother
looking, all of a sudden like all old woman. He
was about to shove them to silence and toss off this feminine disguise when
some men of uncouth looks entered the car. The emigrant glanced in panic at the
two girls now huddled in a far corner of their little sanctuary. Quickly she
sat down beside David and gently turned his shoulders with her own so his face
was averted from the aisle.
Inexorably stomped the
recruiters. They dragged a
youth from the arms of his dear ones. He was no longer a traveler, an emigrant,
a free man. He was a soldier in a war. As the men approached David they seemed
to suspect that here was an odd creature. But then, one couldn't always tell
about these foreigners. Dressed awfully funny, didn't they?
One of the Southerners
tried to peer beneath the brim of the hat. In doing this his eyes caught a
gleam of gold. He snatched at David's hand. Wasn't money better than a raw boy
who probably couldn't speak English and might run away from camp when the back
was turned? The four travelers involved were paralyzed with fear. Pray now little
mother. This is the most crucial moment of your days. The man suddenly dropped
the hand that held the medal and tainted the air with an oath. He straightened
up, twisted himself about, so as to extricate himself from the property of
these queer people, and stumbled toward his companion. No breath was drawn.
Only hearts burst with fright. This man, then
waved his arms and in excited phrases fairly yelled his displeasure. "See
that piece of money? That's the kind English sailors give to boys they want to
spirit away to the sea. First they get these boys dead drunk, then they put a
shilling in their hands as the sign that they now belong to the Queen's navy.
When the boys get to know anything, and see the coin in their hand, then they
know that they have to go to sea. Conscription, they call it. Say, now, I never
thought the Union boys were putting this trick to practice. If they have been
through this train, they must be hiding near in the hills. Get out of
The two soldiers hunched their shoulders and
quickly sidled out of the car. They forgot to take with them the lad they had
The emigrant mother had always believed in
miracles. Here, indeed, was one right under her very nose. David brushed aside
the hat, then leaned over and placed it on his mother's head. At the same
moment he kissed her on the cheek. He folded the shawl and laid it on her lap.
Then, with a grin of inner satisfaction, that of knowing all the time how
things would turn out, he tossed Uncle David's present from Jenny Lind high in
the air and caught it with a swoop of his hand. The little girls laughed at
this sign of confidence. The mother said nothing.
The noise outside the train was as loud as
when the warning was raised, but now it took on the nature of spectators at a
parade who cheer the floats and the horses and the marshal of the day and
generally feel that this is a jubilee.
However, as the
emigrant counted her children, she knew that her two other boys were nowhere to
be seen. She got a wider view of how the land lay by looking up and down the
tracks on each side of the train. She could not recognize them among the throng
of workers and travelers. She noticed that each person had a feeling of
questioning, a thought of wondering why the men had left so suddenly - and that
without taking a single conscript with them. Funny
people, those from the South.
The emigrant became frantic for the
whereabouts of William and Eddie. She ran to the engine end of the train, all
the while searching for a clue to their whereabouts.
Her strength was about gone by now, and she
thought to sit down on a railroad tie that was part of the usual supply along
the tracks. As she did so she heard her name called. As she looked up she just
could not believe what she saw. There was William standing on a part of the
engine, the sort of running boards kind of platform near the huge boiler. He
looked like a worker for the railroad, for on his head he wore a tight fitting
cap with a little visor front. In his hand he held a small bucket of grease.
He called down to her. "Mother! See, I am a tallowpot!"
If he had said he was a man from Mars she would not have been more astonished.
He took a flying leap from the side of the hot boiler and landed almost at her
feet. "See what I have been doing! Just as I got to the front of the train
the troops came riding up. I didn’t know
what to do or where to hide. The man in the cab window called to me, put his
hat on my head, and this tallow-pot in my hand, and said to climb on the engine
and pretend I worked for him. As I poured tallow into the steam chest where all
the valves were, I thought I would be burned alive. The rail man ordered me to
be a little more careful or we would all be on fire. As the troops rode by they
thought I was a real tallow pot and didn't stop to take me to the war."
A flash of thought
shook the emigrant. If only one could have enough hats handy, one could work a
miracle with each of them. How sacrilegious a thought. But
now was no time to straighten out such a tricky thought. . She stood up and
walked back to her part of the train. She glanced quickly about searching for
Eddie. All of a sudden there he was running toward her. He put his arm about
her shoulder. "Mother, guess what happened? She could not reply. "I
lost William just as the soldiers came riding
in so I crawled under the logs that had been covering the track. The horses
jumped right over me once, and I thought it was judgment day at last. After
they rode away I wiggled out, and here I am."
A mother certainly has a lot to endure,
thought this one, whose three sons were still hers, whose lives she could guard
and guide and take on to the valley. Do not wait for nightfall for silence to
pray, do not wait for silence and calm, do not wait to say that word of
gratitude for prayers answered by miracle.
The journey continued
when the logs were removed and the soldiers were no longer a menace. As the
wheels rolled and the smoke of the wood burner up front became as a mantle over
the top of the train, the mother thought that the war and the Bendand the ocean were better left in the past. For now she
faced the west, and there was no turning back. She gathered her children around
her as twilight descended and the evening enclosed them under the watchcare of the Lord.