Genesee Michigan 1852
Cynthia Johnson looked into the mirror and fixed her light auburn hair. Tucking in a stubborn curl, she stared back at the gray eyes in the reflection. This place called Michigan was her home now. Cynthia grabbed her sewing kit and quilt pieces she was working on and headed out the door. Her mother waited for her in the wagon. They were going to visit the Millers. Martha Miller had become a good friend of Cynthia’s in the past few weeks. Each week the girls would work on their quilting and talk of anything and everything under the sun. At sixteen, almost seventeen in a few weeks, Cynthia was an adventurous young woman. After moving from Ohio to Michigan, she dreamed of going west like Martha’s brother had. What was his name? Oh yes, Wells Miller. An unusual name, but she liked it.
The wagon came to a stop in front of the Miller home. Martha greeted them and took Cynthia by the hand into her bedroom at the end of the hall. “I have a letter from Wells!” she said out of breath. The girls sat on the bed and Martha took out the letter carefully as to not tear the paper. As she read about a city called Council Bluffs Iowa, Cynthia closed her eyes and imagined each and every detail from the letter. Oh how wondrous it would be to go to an untamed land! Martha finished the letter and tucked it back into the envelope. Wells had such handsome handwriting Cynthia thought, as she caught a glimpse of the writing on the envelope. The girls went back to the kitchen where their mothers were talking about the upcoming church picnic. They grabbed some tea, and took their sewing to the sitting room where they settled onto two stuffed chairs. The room was a cozy one with a fireplace situated on the far side of the room, two stuffed chairs, a couch, and two rockers all situated where one could get warm and be able to hold a conversation. A rag rug was laid in the middle to offer some warmth from the cold wood floor in the cooler days. Cynthia tucked her legs up underneath her, even though it wasn’t lady like, and listened to Martha talk about her brother and her uncle and their grand adventure.
Soon the clock struck 4 and the Johnson ladies prepared to leave. Cynthia hugged her friend Martha goodbye and climbed into the wagon with her mother. As her mother guided the horses towards home Cynthia closed her eyes and breathed in the summer air. Birds sang their unique songs as they drove along the road. When they arrived home Cynthia helped her mother prepare dinner. Chicken, biscuits, green beans, and fresh bread was their dinner on this warm summer night. The men ate heartily, and her brothers laughed at some joke they were telling. She loved the peacefulness of the day. She was so glad she was able to see her friend, and enjoy a day out of the house.
Later that night while in her room readying herself for bed, she thought of what it would be like to move to a place where there were no settlements, just a cabin, woods, and sky. Her thoughts drifted to Martha’s brother, the man she had never met. Her thoughts went to him often, and she knew she shouldn’t think on someone she had never met, but she wondered where he was now. She took out her journal and wrote down all her thoughts on Wells, adventure, and life in the Miller settlement.
Cynthia blew out the lantern and crawled beneath the light covers of her bed. What would it be like to sleep on a bedroll underneath the stars? Was Wells looking at those very stars right now? Go to sleep Cynthia. She closed her eyes and prayed for her loved ones, her family, and for Wells and his Uncle.
Morning light streamed though the white curtains as Cynthia swung her feet to the rag rug beside her bed. She dressed in a light yellow dress, and pinned her hair up carefully, making sure no stray hairs would come unpinned. She grabbed the egg basket and headed for the hen house to gather the morning eggs so her mother could make breakfast for her father and two older brothers. As she went about her morning chores she hummed a hymn from church. She was to be seventeen soon, most of her friends in Ohio were talking about getting married and having children of their own. She didn’t know if she was ready for that change of life yet. Her day to day routines left her yearning for something different though.
Independence Rock, 1852
Wells saw the very large rock in front of them as the horses plodded forward. “We’ll make camp here” called Uncle David from his horse up ahead. As Wells dismounted his horse he saw names carved into the side of the rock. Names of travelers before them. With their simple meal of salt meat and hardtack finished, they mounted up and continued on their way westward. Mountains carved their way to the sky up ahead. The men dismounted and walked their horses up the steeper slopes. The horses and men were weary, and travel worn. Wells craved anything but hardtack and salt meat. He missed his mothers green beans, apple pies, and fried chicken.
They made camp by a river, drinking and filling their canteens. Wells sat down and on his bedroll and took out the letter he was writing to his sister Martha.
I saw Independence Rock today. It was a large hill almost, made entirely out of stone. Weary travelers before us had carved their names into the side of the rock. We ate our lunch in the shade of Independence rock, and I marveled at how far we have come. Uncle David thinks we should be there near September, before the cold weather sets in over the mountains. I miss mothers cooking, and your apple pies of course. Our eating fare consists of salted meat and hardtack which is a type of dried biscuit. I recommend sticking with mothers biscuits though. Tonight we are camped by a river, and I can see the mountains to the west where the sun is barely set beyond them. Our horses are weary, and so are the men, but we go on each day dreaming of Oregon City, gold, and a land with riches. Of course it will be hard work, but I am used to that with living in Miller Settlement and working at the sawmill. We haven’t had any more sand storms or thunderstorms since the last one I wrote about. Some rain wouldn’t be to bad right about now to help with the summer heat. It is dry here though, water can be scarce sometimes, but we have been finding more rivers recently. Well that is all for now, I must get some sleep so we can go on another day, most likely traveling over those mountains we see.
Morning came with birds chirping and Uncle David whistling as he heated up some coffee. Wells walked to the river and splashed his face with the cool water. Back at camp he chewed on some salt meat and sipped the weak brewed coffee. He rolled up his bedroll and saddled his mare, checking the saddle blanket for any sharp twigs that may have attached themselves. The men mounted up and headed west towards where the sun had set last night. When the hills became more steep they walked the horses up the path to help them keep their footing and lighten the load. Each day seemed the same, same food, same travel companions, same prairie. Oregon City, here we come!
Cynthia pulled out the fresh loaves of bread out of the oven. The smell of warm bread permeated throughout the house. She wiped sweat from her brow and shut the oven door. It had been a long day, and it wasn’t even lunch hour yet. Her mother had gone to help a sick elderly neighbor, which left Cynthia with the baking. With the loaves cooling, she set out the noon time meal for her father and brothers. With a few minutes in between activities, she sat down and sipped a glass of water appreciating the coolness. This summer had been hotter than last years, of course she was in Ohio last year. Noise came from outside announcing her father and brothers return. They were washing up and would be inside in a minute. The side door to the kitchen opened and the men walked in, and promptly sat at the table.
“Smells delicious Cynthia” her father said as he took his seat at the head of the table.
“Thank you father” Cynthia got up and filled their glasses with the cool water. When she finished and sat down her father bowed his head and prayed over the meal.
“Dear heavenly Father, bless this food we are about to consume, we thank you for this day you have given us. Help us to praise you in all that we do, in Jesus name we pray these things. Amen.”
Her brothers Charles and Edward ate heartily, while her Father, Eli, ate slowly enjoying each bite. After every crumb was cleaned off their plates the men went back through the door and exited the house, leaving Cynthia alone with her thoughts again. She cleared the table and washed dishes in the dish water she had prepared before lunch.
She didn’t mind hard work, but today she was weary and hot. She thought of the creek out back and how cool it would feel right now, but she had mending to do, along with weeding the garden. Grabbing her garden basket she stepped outside and felt the cooler summer breeze upon her flushed face. Stepping carefully around the carrots, corn, squash, tomatoes, and beans she went to the far side where the herbs grew. She carefully clipped some mint for tea, and rosemary for the chicken they would have for supper. She set the basket on the back porch and preceded to pull the weeds from between the vegetable plants. It was amazing how quickly weeds could grow if you didn’t keep them at bay.
With the weeding finished she looked at her hands covered with dirt. She heard the trickling creek and decided it wouldn’t hurt to dip her hands and feet in the creek. The cool water flowed over her exposed toes and fingers. It felt glorious to have the cold water on her skin after the warm day. With her feet in the water, she laid back and looked at the brilliant blue sky. She wondered if Martha had heard from her brother and uncle again. If it was hot here, it must be very hot where they were. She said a quick prayer for them as she dried her feet and put her stockings and shoes back on. She had mending to do and shouldn’t linger to much.
With dinner finished and dishes taken care of the Johnson family sat down in their sitting room for evening devotions. As father read the passage from Psalms, Cynthia mended the socks in need for repair.
“O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?”
Cynthia thought on the verses that had been read from Psalms 8. It was truly amazing that God had set every star and the moon into their place. He told each one to shine. Her thoughts drifted to stars, and a certain young man who was probably looking at those starts hundreds of miles away out west. A young man she reminded herself, she had never met. But it felt like she knew him through the letters Martha shared with her. She sighed and put away her mending. Her father was dozing in his chair while her brothers read books. Her mother rocked back and forth sewing together scraps of fabric that would become a quilt. She kissed her mother on the cheek and said goodnight. Her feet were sore from the days work, but it was good work and she even had time to spend at the creek. Once winter fell the landscape would be frozen, and most likely her little creek too.