Chapter 7 - The Garden
As the snow began to melt, the rocky places were slippery and the ground was soft and soggy.
We were getting very low on food supplies. My Mother was very worried, everyday she would
ask Paw, ',How soon will the supply wagon make a trip?" Paw would say, "Maggie, he has to
wait until things dry up. It is to wet, the wagon would bog down and get stuck."
Then Mother started talking about a garden. She wanted a big garden. She had brought a lot of seed with her from Oskaloosa, Iowa. Now there wasn't any place to put a garden on our side of the creek. On the other side there was a long low place. Mother thought we could put a garden there. Paw said, "No. it would never work. Didn't she remember that place was a lake for over a week after the flash flood last fall. We could all work hard on a garden and then the creek would rise up and wash it all away." My folks argued and argued all the time for about a week, about planting a garden. Finally Paw said, "Do what you want to do, but leave me out of it, I am not going to spade that sink hole.".
The next morning after Paw went to work, Bert and I, went across the creek to the place where Mother wanted her garden. We sat on a large rock and looked at it. It was a desert. Many different kinds of cactus and sagebrush growing in clumps everywhere. Everything that grew in the desert was growing here in abundance because the creek overflows and soaks the ground about twice a year.
Now Bert was talking, "You know Maud, this is very fertile ground. It would grow a wonderful garden. We would have to grub out all the sagebrush and cactus, we could leave the rocks where they are, we can farm around them. I was thinking if we could drag all the sagebrush and those old logs from that tumbled down shed, up here to where the creek overflows, we could get Paw to show us how to build a dam. If we build a dam here where the water flows in, maybe we could have a nice garden. Come on! Lets see how hard it is to grub sagebrush."
Bert tied a rope around a sagebrush clump, near the ground. We both pulled, nothing happened. Then Bert dug a little on one side of the bush, next we both pulled, and the bush came out roots and all, and we fell down, we laughed and thought it was funny. Then we tied the rope on a larger sagebrush clump, Bert and I pulled and again when the bush came out in a shower of dirt, Bert and I both fell down again. Bert said, "We have to figure out some way to pull hard without falling down." I said, "I am thirsty, I am going down to the creek and get a drink of water." Bert sat down on a rock to rest a little while.
When I got to the creek, there was a horse standing in the water drinking. I started to talk to him. He came right up to me, I patted his nose and called him 'my friend'. he had run away from something, he had a lot of harness on and some broken straps and a long rope dragging along behind him. I talked to him and told him I wanted him to come and help me. I turned and started back to where Bert was waiting, the horse walked right along beside me. I kept talking to him and calling him 'my friend' and telling him I needed him to help me. Bert was sure surprised when I came up with a horse., but he said, "Lets see if you can get him to work." So Bert took the long rope, which was a part of the harness, and tied it to a clump of sagebrush. When he said, ready, I told the horse to pull and I stepped forward five or six steps and the horse pulled and walked up to me, pulling the sagebrush behind him, Then Bert would untie the rope and put it on another clump, we worked this way for what seemed like an awful long time. I told Bert I was tired, he said that he was too, but he wanted to go on working to get as mush done as we could, while we had the horse.
Bert said, "Some man is going to show up any minute and take the horse away." Soon we had all the sagebrush pulled. Then Bert said, "Now let see if you can get him to pull these clumps into a pile." So Bert tied two of the clumps on the rope and I walked the horse up to our pile. Bert wanted to get the ones furthest away first, so I took the horse to the far end for the next load. This time Bert tied more onto the rope. I walked back and forth, back and forth. Each time Bert made the load a little larger. The horse seemed to think we were playing a game an he seemed to like it.
Finally all the sagebrush was dragged in and piled up. I was terribly tired but happy that we had done so much. I wanted to quit, but Bert said, "Lets try a load of logs." We went to the old shed and tied three logs on the rope. We got that load just fine. So Bert said, "Just one more load." As we came back with the second load of logs, there was a man by the creek, watching us. As Bert untied the logs, the man came up to me, "Is that your horse?" he asked. I told him, "No Sir, he isn't my horse. He is my friend. He just came to help me today." "How long has he been here?" Asked the man. Bert said, "Three maybe close to four hours. You know, Mister, I tried to get that horse to come with me, but he wouldn't pay any attention to me, wouldn't do one thing" I said, but my Sister, she patted him on the nose and called him 'her friend' and that silly horse did everything that she told him to do.
The man looked at me for a minute, then he asked, "Little girl, can you read?" I answered him, "Yes, my Mother says that I read the Bible very well." The man said, "Well I have a letter here and I can't quite make it out. Would you see if you could read it to me?" He took a very dirty envelope out of his pocket, the page he took out of the envelope was clean, he handed it to me. I read out loud, "Sept. 12, 1879. Dear Ben: wanted to tell you, Alex was killed in a runaway. His wagon went over a cliff. Lena took Pete and went back to stay with Paw, in Kansas. Come home soon. Joe."
I looked at the man, he had a big smile on his face. He asked," Please, would I read that to him once more." So I read it to him again. He said Lena was his Sister. She married this Alex, but she wasn't happy because Alex was mean and he beat her. The man was hunting for his Sister Lena, he knew that she was somewhere in Montana. Now he wouldn't have to hunt anymore. He knew that she had taken her little boy and gone back to Kansas. The man looked at me, he said, "You have been a big help. You caught my horse and maybe saved me tramping many miles to find him. You read my letter and made me very happy. I am going to give you a lucky penny. Some day when you want something real bad, this lucky penny will get it for you." "Now sonny, I am going to give you a gold nugget. Two years ago, when I was in these parts, I found a big rock, that had a streak of gold in it. It was fall and starting to snow, I knew that I had to leave. I thought I could come right back to that rock anytime, but I can't find it now." Then he gave Bert a rock about the size of some of Bert's marbles. He thanked us again and took his horse and went away.
Bert said, "It is time for Paw to come home, lets meet him and have him come see what we have done." When Paw got across the creek, where he could see our pile of sagebrush, he just stood still and looked at it. Then he said, "How in Heaven's name did you kids do that?"
I said., "Paw I think I know where there are some Sago-Lily bulbs. I'm not real sure, I didn't have any thing to dig with, I was too tired to go and get the spade." Paw said, "Maud is it very far from here?" I answered, "Just on the other side of that rock-pile at the far end of the place we cleared for the garden." Paw said, "Would you please come and show me."
So once more, we walked to the far end of the clearing, as we walked Bert told Paw, all about the horse and the man with the letter and my lucky penny and his gold nugget. I asked Paw,, to take my lucky penny and keep it safe for me. When he took it, he looked at it and turned it over and looked at it again, then said, "Maud this is not a penny, it's a five dollar gold piece." Then Bert showed Paw his gold nugget, and Paw said, "I think this is high grade gold.
Then we climbed over the rock-pile and at the bottom of the tallest rock was a sparkling, bubbling, little spring. Paw was real excited, he stooped down and scooped up some of the water. Then he got both hands full and drank it. He said that he was glad to find a good spring so near to our house. I pointed to three places, where I wanted him to dig, each time the spade turned up nice large Sago-Lily bulbs. Paw looked at me, and asked, "Maud how did you know the Sago-Lily bulbs would be here?" I answered, "'When we were staying with Grandma Nichol, I read a book about the Far West, one chapter was about Sago-Lilies. It said that they needed lots of water, if they had enough water, they would grow large and crowd out all the other plants. When Bert was tying the rope to the sagebrush, I stood on that rock and looked this way, I saw the pool of water and all around the pool, the ground was bare. I thought that was strange. Bert was ready, so I led the horse back to our sagebrush pile, all the time I was thinking, why was the ground bare around the pool? There should have been all kinds of plants, with that much water. Then all of a sudden I remembered the words in the book, 'Lily bulbs would grow large and crowd out all the other plants.' That was it! It must be a Sago-Lily patch."
Paw said, "I take my hat off to you young lady, that was good thinking. Now may I have your apron?" Paw washed a pile of Lily bulbs and tied then in my apron and we started home. As we walked along, Bert told Paw about his plan for a dam. Paw asked a lot of questions, so Bert told him, what he thought would work. Bert said, "I need twenty-four logs (we only got seven down today), I figure to make the dam four logs long and three logs high, put together with strong stakes. then about two and a half feet back, another fence just like it, then pack all this sagebrush and dirt, between the two log fences. Paw said, "Good thinking boy, good thinking, we will see what we can do."
When we got home Paw said, "I'll tell Maggie, here is the first harvest from your garden." Mother said, 'Well, you said that you wouldn't help with any garden." Paw said, "Maggie, I could say no to you but when I see how much these children love you, how willing they are to work there fingers to the bone, which they did today, to try to get you what you want! Oh, I can't say no to these wonderful kids of ours. Get your black bag and fix up Bert's bleeding hands." Mother looked at Bert's hands and asked, "What on Earth did you do?" Bert said, "Just tied and untied the rope over a hundred times." Mother started working on Bert's hands. I sat down on a bench and put my head down on the table, I was so tired, soon I was fast asleep.' My little Sister, Edith, told Paw, Maud is going to fall off the bench." Paw picked me up and laid me down on the floor, he took my shoes off and washed my red, swollen, puffy feet. Paw washed Bert's feet too, then he rubbed our feet with some funny smelling liniment
The first day Paw had off work, he got Uncle Tom to help him start building the dam. Uncle Tom's oldest boy and Bert helped also. They borrowed a horse and drug a lot of old logs down from an old run-down cabin up in the gulch. They used Bert's idea of two log fences or walls, with sagebrush and dirt packed between them. When the dam was finished, it was higher, longer and much stronger than the dam Bert had dreamed about. Bert was a very happy boy to see his dream come true.
We all worked to get the ground ready for planting, but Mother did all of the seeding herself, she was very careful to plant the lettuce and peas and seven kinds of beans and cucumbers and corn and all the things that grow above the ground just after the new moon. She waited till the full moon to plant carrots, turnips, beets, onions and potatoes and other things that grow in the ground. At last the garden was all planted and we could rest for a spell. After we had the garden planted, we had a cold spell and a late snow storm.
Chapter 8 -Snakes, Deer and Honey
After the snow had melted and the weather turned very warm, Bert asked Mother if we
could start going barefoot? Mother told us that we could try it, that perhaps it was time
that we toughened up our feet. So Bert and I ran outdoors barefooted,' not far from the
house we saw a snake, it was stretched out in the sunshine by a large rock, Bert said, "I
never saw a snake that color before, I think it is poisonous. We have to kill it, we can't let it
bite anybody! What do you think Maud? I answered, "I read about a snake that color, in
the dictionary, it was called a Copperhead. They are supposed to live in the Eastern part of
the Country, but this one is sure out West. I think they are poisonous. Bert, what will we
do?" Bert said, "Maud, you stand on the snake's head and I will run get Pawls axe and
chop it in two." I said, "Bert, I don't think I could hold him still!" Bert said, "Well, we
have got to try." Bert ran off to get the axe.
I stepped a little nearer to the snake, it didn't move, I was barefoot and I don't think I made any noise. The snake seemed to be asleep. Very carefully, I stepped on the snake's head, first with one foot, then the other, I put my hand on the rock to help balance myself. I was terrorized, my feet felt awful on the snake's head. I was afraid the snake would twist and throw me off and bite me. I wanted to run but I was afraid to move. Then Bert was back, WHAM went the axe. the snake jerked, but I stayed on its head. I saw that axe struck awfully close to my feet. I wanted to scream, but I couldn't make a sound, WHAM, the axe came down again. Then Bert yelled, "We did it! we did it.". I jumped away from the snake and ran to the creek, I sat on the bank with my feet in the cold water. My feet felt dirty. I began to tremble and shake and I couldn't stop shaking. Bert told me to come in the house, but I didn't move. Bert ran and got Mother. Mother came and-told me to come with her, I didn't move, I just sat there shaking. Mother took a hold of my arm and tried to pull me up, Bert got my other arm and they both pulled at me. After a little while, I stood up beside Mother. I was still shaking so much that I could hardly walk. Mother put her arm around me and helped me into the house. She had me sit on a stool by the fireplace....She took one of Clyde's little quilts and put it around me like a shawl, then she went and got the Bible and told me to read to her while she mixed the bread dough. I was still shaking. Bert took the Bible and opened it to the twenty-third Psalm. I began to read and all the younger children crowded around me to hear what I was reading. After I read the twenty-third Psalm I read the story of Daniel in the lion's den.
When Paw got home that night, he looked at the snake, then he read everything in the dictionary about snakes. He told us all to stay in the house until he killed the other snake. Bert said, "Paw, we only saw one snake." Paw said, "I know that Bert, but snakes always travel in pairs. You find one, so there is bound to be another one and I have to find the other snake." Early the next morning Paw told us a-ain, not to go outside the house, then he took a club and beat around the sagebrush and other bushes and everywhere he thought a snake could hide. It was a Sunday and Mother had me read the Bible to the children. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon when Paw came in, hot and tired, but he said he had found the other snake. He had killed it and had buried them both.
When we moved to Montana, we only brought two books with us, the Bible and the dictionary. As the days passed the weather got warmer and our garden grew. Every morning Mother, Bert and I would look at the garden. It seemed that we could see it grow we were enjoying leaf lettuce, radishes and little green onions. We had planted green beans, wax beans, white beans, lima beans and chili beans. They were all coming up and each plant had several leaves. Mother was so proud of her garden. One morning very early, I was awakened by screaming I sat up and listened, -Mother was screaming. One scream after another, then I heard Paw's gun, one, two shots.. I dressed as quickly as I could and hurried down the ladder. By the time I got to the front door, Bert was beside me, we saw that Paw was lifting, Mother across the creek, they were going to the garden. Bert and I ran after them, Pert hollered, "Paw, what happened?" 'When we caught up to them, Paw said, "A herd of deer ate up our garden." Now we could see hoof -prints everywhere and the rows and rows of plants were Gone. Mother was crying and taking on something awful. Paw said that we might as well go back to the house there is nothing left of the garden. Mother was still crying and making an awful fuss, there wasn't anything Paw could say, to comfort her. Bert asked, "Paw, when you shot your gun, did you hit any deer?" Paw said, "No. I shot over their heads, I just scared them, so they ran away." It was getting late and Paw had to leave, to go to work.
That day when Paw was coming home from work, Bert and I met him, we asked him if he would come with us. Bert told him, Mother had a terrible day, she did a lot of crying, when she wasn't crying she was cross with all of the children. We know what we want to do, but we don't know how to do it. It is something nice, we want for Mother, but we need your help." So Paw went with us across the creek, past the ruined garden and the spring by the rock pile and a little way up a dry gulch. We didn't have to tell Paw what it was we had in mind, he saw the bees and said, "Oh, a bee tree and honey." I had brought a clean water pail to put the honey in, Paw continued, "You kids stay back here and I will have a look." He went closer to the bees, then stood still, watching them, soon he came back to get the pail. It was an old twisted dead tree, the top had been broken off by wind or lightning, Paw went back to the tree, he took out his pocket knife and opened the largest blade, he jabbed the knife into a split in the tree, then he twisted the knife around to make the hole bigger, when he pulled the knife out, honey started to drip from the hole. Paw picked up an old branch and cut off three pieces about eight inches long, he scraped out the center of each piece and sharpened one end like a pencil, then he pushed one of the sticks into the honey hole. The honey ran down the stick and dripped into the water pail. Paw made two more holes in the tree and he put the other sticks in the holes so now he had three r small streams of honey falling into the bucket.
The sun was setting and the western sky was ablaze with beautiful colors, it would soon be dark. Paw said, "This is a good time to get honey, the bees are settling down for the night." The bees didn't seem to notice anything was wrong. Paw said that Bert and I could go back to the house, but we wanted to wait and walk with him. Very carefully, Paw made each hole a little larger, now the honey was running faster. Soon it was getting dark, Paw said it was time to go. He took the sticks out of the holes and put a small stone in each hole. Then we started for home. Mother put the honey in some empty apple-butter jars. We had two and a half quarts. Paw promised to get some more honey in a few days. It sure was good to have something nice to put on our bread.
The next morning when I woke up, it was raining. I liked to hear the pitter-patter of rain on the roof, it was like music. We had to stay in the house that day because of the rain. Two days later Bert and I slipped out of the house real early, we went to the garden, the soil was soft and just a little bit damp and real easy to work with. We got a board and dragged it over the ground to smooth out all the deer hoof tracks. We had a ball of heavy string, we tied one end of the string to a stake, then drove the stake into the ground where we wanted a row to begin, then we stretched the string out to the other end of the row. With the string as a guide we could dig a small straight trench for the seed. When we had five rows ready for planting, we went to get Mother, she brought the seed and planted the five rows, then went back to the house while Bert and I got another five rows ready. Mother had left Sade and Edith to look after Clyde, but she didn't want to leave them alone to long. Clyde was a big strong baby, fourteen months old and starting to walk. Clyde wanted to run to the fireplace, he couldn't understand that he would be hurt if he got to near the fire, someone had to watch him every minute that he was awake.
Mother and I were planting the tenth row in the new garden, she was putting in the seed and I was covering the seed and stamping it down. Bert was thirty feet away, all of a sudden Bert yelled, Mother put down her box of seed and we hurried over to Bert to see what he had seen. Bert said, "Look Mother, the potatoes are growing." He carefully uncovered one of the potato hills. "We had planted twelve hills, in our first planting. Now we looked in four other hills, all of them had little nobs of spuds growing. Mother was very happy. She said they all needed water. Those potatoes were the only thing in the garden that the deer hadn't ruined. She sent Bert to get two water pails. We brought water from the spring, it was closer to the potato patch than the creek. Mother showed us just how to water them and how much water to put on each hill. Then she went to the house, she said that we had done enough for one day. She wanted the ground fixed for the corn and the pumpkin and squash next. Little by little we got the garden planted for the second time.
Then one day there was a cloudburst up in the hills, the creek water rose higher and higher, the water flowed faster and faster. Bert and I watched to see if our dam would work, the water oozed through the dam and spread out over the garden, it didn't hurt a thing, just gave the garden a good watering, then the garden really grew.