Oklahoma Trip 1903

Written by Marie Boling Cornelius 1961

     Although I am very aware of the present, being nearly sixty years old I suppose I think of my childhood more than I used to and I think what brings it to my mind more keenly is watching my grandchildren grow up and to think of the things I have seen and conditions I have experienced that they will never know or see, only in storytelling will these things live.

     When I see our tangled rushing traffic of today and to think I was born before there was such a thing as a car, in the midwest at least, its almost unbelieveable, I saw my first car when I was five years old and that car in our small town of Greely Kansas caused more excitement than Alan Shepherd blasting off into space or walking on the moon.

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I was born in Greely Kansas June 17th 1903 the last of nine children, my parents were Otis Amandor and Sarah Elizabeth Lee Boling, my sisters and borthers Daisy, Lee, Harry, Earl, Bula, Ruby, William, and Ila at this writing we are all living except Carl who died when he was a very small boy.

     When I was two weeks old Daisy decided to get married as she knew dad was planning this trip to Oklahoma and she didn't want to go so my dear mother, God rest her soul, got up out of bed with me and made Daisy an elaborate wedding dress, what stamina and pure grit that woman had, hot June weather, a houseful of noisy kids to cook for and preparing for a wedding that was held in her house.

     Now for the trip, two weeks after Daisy was married dad rigged up 2 covered wagons and we started out, can you imagine, hot, sultry July weather, 6 hungry sweaty kids and a bawling squalling month old baby, my Mother must have been a true pioneer woman to endure a trip like that.

     I was too young to know any of this story but was told these episodes by the older children as I grew up so will try to put it down as I heard it.

     I have heard them talk about the long lazy days on the road when they walked barefooted behind the wagons their feet making holes in hot brown dust, dashing off to the side to pick a few wild flowers, two lean dogs flying in and out of the dusty weeds and grass, chasing an occasional rabbit or just running for the sheer joy of being alive.

     There was stop over at evening along some lovely clear stream where a campfire was started and water heated in a tub to bathe me, as for the rest of the family mother would pass out clean "unironed clothes" she would take the girls up river and dad would take the boys down river for a scrub.

     After baths the children would scow the nearby woods for any fruit or berries in season, meanwhile Mother was frying huge pans of meat and potatoes, slicing big thick slices of homemade bread or making fried biscuits which we loved. My mother was the only person that I ever knew who made "fried biscuits", all this topped off with a jar of mother's home canned fruit would have not been traded for any other food in the world.

     While the meal was being prepared dad was unhitching the horses, he unharnessed them and led them to the river to drink, after that he gave them a good rub down, then their feet and shoes were examined as carefully as a dentist would examine your teeth, prehaps[sic] the shoe nails had to be tightened a bit or a shoe removed and new one subsituted.

     Now this operation took a bit of doing as the forge had to be hauled out of the wagon along with the hammers, the shoes had to be heated red hot in the fire of the forge then beaten and shaped to fit the horses hoof which also had to be trimmed like a fingernail.

     My dad was more particular about his horse than he was about his kids, a mans horses in those days were not merely for amusement and pleasure, they meant life and safety for he and his family.

     After supper, and it was "supper" in those days, with dishes washed and dried ready for the morning meal, dad would stretch long peices of canvas around the lower parts of the wagons and straw mattresses were laid on the ground inside this, onto these the boys would pile, draw the old quilts up and were soon in the land of dreams, and believe me, you didn't need sleeping pills in those days.

     While I occupied the wash basket near the wagon seat, mother, dad and the girls would stretch their weary limbs on straw mattresses within the wagons.

     There was nothing to bother you once you were bedded down, no sex fiends to rape and kill, no dope fiends to slash your throat for a measly five dollars, no officer of the law telling you to move on that it was against the law to camp here.

     The nights, serene and peaceful except for the long lonely cry of a coyote, the high pitched screech of a mournful owl calling his mate to the hunt for food or the wind sighing through the trees, these were familar sounds that we would have felt lost without, this was part of our lives.

     Somewhere along the way Bula had developed a huge carbuncle on her wrist, they were dreadful things and slow to heal, she told me that one day Bill was driving one wagon and they were going down a steep embankment Bill yelled for her to put on the brake as she did so it raked the top off of this huge sore, she said she thought she would die of the pain.

     Doctors were few and far between in those days of long ago so that poor little child suffered with that terrible thing until one evening they camped by some Indians, one of the Indian women looked at Bula's writst, she got out some black ointment that she had made, put it on the carbuncle, wrapped it and told her to leave it for three days which she did, when she removed the wrapping the sore was healed.

     Bula said the evening she met the Indian woman they had camped by a bridge and early next morning they were on their way several miles down the road someone happened to notice that Ila, the four year old was not in either wagon so they turned around, went back and found her standing at the deserted campsite.

     Bula also related about coming to this river that was half bank full of water and they did not think they could make it across but dad decided they could, what he didn't know was, the river bed was full of big rocks, when they started across they began to whip and holler at the horses, she said when they hit those big boulders she was never so scared in her life as she thought both wagons were going to upset and they would all be drowned but they made it.

     After this they camped about half a mile down the road close to a farm house where they bought several dozen eggs and the farmer gave them some milk, how good it tasted, the first milk they had since they left Greeley.

     This Indian woman who took care of Bula's wrist had several kids with whom she played that evening she said they had a rather nice house and everyone was clean or as Bula put it "probably as clean as we were", and by that time I suppose any house looked good to that little girl.

     Some mornings when we arose if the day was bright and sunny dad and mother would decide to lay over for the day then everyone would go to work, dad and the boys would bring water from the stream to heat in a tub on the campfire, rope was strung between trees and soon a washing was hung to dry in the sweet clean air, the older children would hunt for greens, dad would go hunting and with some luck he would soon return with rabbits or squirells which were soon stewing over the coals and nobody could cook them like my mother could and greens, cooked with a bit of salt pork was "not food for the Gods, but the most delicious food in the world" to the people who had prepared it, lots of time for reflecting, dreaming and soul searching while you are gathering "a mess of greens", there would be more peace of mind, less heart trouble and nervous breakdowns if all would, once in a while "gather a mess of greens".

     Now added to this menu, mother had baked a batch of biscuits or cornbread in a small oven my dad had made from some peices of heavy tin and bolted together, he would set this over a bed of coals and partly cover it with dirt, sometimes mother would even make homemade bread and maby [sic] it didn't look like a picture when it came from the oven but who cared, she would pull big ragged chunks from these loaves of bread and dip them in our "hot July melted butter" with a dab of her homemade preserves you could think of nothing better in the world, at least the world we knew, I was too young at the time to be enjoying any of this but I can remember this food from later years.

     There was another camp chore that everyone took their turn at and that was "wetting down the wagon wheels", in dry hot weather the wooden rim would loosen from the iron rim, the spokes would loosen from the hub and rattle, dad never could stand that "only lazy peoples wagons rattled", so when we camped he kept buckets of water sitting by the wagon and each time anyone passed by you poured a "tin can" full of water over each wheel which caused the wood to swell and tighten

     There were very few towns in those days and they were small and primitive but no child of today approaching London or Paris could ever have the thrill the children did on finding one of these towns looming up in the distance, they knew when we reached this utopia they would go into the "General Store" and prehaps purchase a bit of bright ribbon for the girls hair, maby new pants all around for the boys and a bag of hard candy, we would have steak for supper, and mother, being English and very fond of beef roast always bought one to eat the following day, now this was living - really living.

     If dad liked a town he might linger a day or two and how the kids loved that, making new friends and there was always a possibility of trading a well made slingshot for a knife with a broken blade or a few marbles - one time dad bought all the boys ten cent knives, they wouldn't cut cheese but they were precious.

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By this time were were in Nowata Okla the place where we had started for, dad pulled the wagons up by a dense hedge row, mother had fried a pan of onions and set them off the fire on the ground, Bula, frisking around and not looking where she was going stepped in the onions, she didn't live that down for years being as food was scarce and the family was hungry they ate them.

     When they had finished supper black clouds were rolling in, the forerunner of a bad storm so dad and the boys took ropes and lashed the wagons down, Bula said the wind blew terribly and it rained inside the wagons and out, she said they were all very frightened as they realized that the whole family could have been scattered over the prairie.

     My dad was a skilled stone mason so when we reached Nowata he traded one team and wagon for a lot with a small three roomed house on it and went to work at his trade, he soon became tired and discouraged and mother was miserable so they piled the family in the wagon and went back to Kansas City Kansas or to be correct "Armourdale" where grandmother Lee lived and went to work for "Armour Packing Plant."

     Dad just walked off and left that lot in Nowata so I suppose it finally sold for taxes, that lot today is in the very center of a vast oilfield, that was the story of my dads life always running away at the wrong time.

     Dad was proud of his family and always boasted he and mother had raised eight children to adulthood and not one was an alcholic or had ever been in jail, and as I observe families today I believe he had a right to brag.

     What a trip, with a month old baby who cried every step of the way, no gasline stoves, no refrigeration, no insect repellant - no nothing, just guts.

     I suppose the diet we had in those days would kill our children of today but I am the youngest of eight children, the eldest being seventy seven and still living as are all the ones in between which I suppose is quite a record.

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This was told to me over the years and I have recorded it to the best of my ability on this May 14th 1961.

Marie Boling Cornelius

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