***Heading West Winner!***
July 21, 1865
For the past few weeks, I've felt as blank as a new page in this journal. I've driven our covered wagon mile upon mile, while I remained blind to the wild beauty of this land.
Our evenings have been solemn affairs. Only the noises from neighboring wagons have infiltrated our silence. Women tittered, men grumbled, and children laughed. But they all sounded so far away-- until now.
This morning we found five dead men. Upon our approach, buzzards flew away, while black flies rearranged themselves on putrid flesh. All five men were bootless and two were without pants. They emitted a noxious odor, faced down in their undignified deaths.
Caught on a thorny bush, a woman's torn blouse moved to and fro in the slight breeze.
Not a word was spoken about the blouse or the woman who might have lost it. As the others moved away, I eased it off the bush. I believed she had lived, but I knew she would wish she had died.
"Indians," muttered some of the men.
"No," said our half-breed scout. "Men shot in back. Indians face enemy. White man kill men."
Some of the men bristled at our scout's opinion, but his words rang true. I'd seen some of the monstrosities committed by white men. This paled in comparison.
Our menfolk dug five burial graves. I dropped the blouse in the last grave and watched it land on the chest of the oldest, dead man. I hoped he'd been her husband or father. I stared at the blouse until the first shovel full of dirt landed.
When all the graves had mounded hills and branch crosses, our party gathered to pray. I turned away. No prayers would help these dead men or the woman who'd worn the blouse. My eyes clamped shut, my hands formed tight fists, and my heartbeat pounded in my ears drowning out their prayers.
After the burial, we trudged along until the sun slipped beneath the horizon. Our camp unfolded in the fading light.
Contrary to the peaceful dusk, a burst of energy enveloped me. I unyoked the oxen, built a fire, cooked, washed the children and put them to bed, washed clothing and spread them out near the fire. Now my body sagged with exhaustion, but my mind whirled like a tornado...
Oh, Henry, I hate you so! How dare you leave me here!
I have been told women can file for the homestead, but it makes no difference. I don't know anything about cows or chickens or crops, never mind building a cabin. I can not do this without you!
How could you have been so careless? You should have known to stay away from the oxen during the river crossing. Now, you're dead- dead- dead!
And I can't live another day without you.
"Mama, I need a drink," said Henry Junior.
But I must.
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