Tales and Trails of Wakarusa,  by A. M. Harvey

Mother Newcomer

     MOTHER NEWCOMER certainly enjoyed Kansas, and she soon became as well known as an old-timer. At home she was the cook and the baker and the dressmaker and the tailor, besides doing a part of all other work about the place. She knew where the best greens could be picked in early spring, and the best berries in the summer, and she either made the boys pick them or she took her snake-killing dog with her and picked them herself; and all through the year she was enjoyed it all.

     When a babe was to be born anywhere for miles around, she was there. Sometimes she was the lone attendant, and again she helped Dr. Taylor, who had been in the valley from the beginning; and more than once she worked with some young doctor who was so panicky because the baby didn't hurry that she would have to tell him to keep his feet on the ground, and that millions of babies had been born before a doctor or a medical college had ever been discovered. One night at midnight she waked up one of the boys, and told him that his father was out saddling the pony, and that he must go for Dr. Woods, who lived about five miles to the west. The boy finally wakened up and got his clothes on, and found that she was just ready to leave with a neighbor for his home, and that someone must go for the doctor. The pony had been saddled by that time, and was tied with a heavy rope to a tree near the door. The boy put on plenty of clothes and then mounted the pony, while his father held the little beast to keep him from standing on his head. The father pointed to the seven stars then showing up in the southern sky and told the boy to keep them to his left and to ride until he had crossed the railroad, and then go up to the first house and yell until someone came out so that he could inquire for the home of Dr. Woods. The directions being given, the pony was untied and turned loose, with the end of the rope fastened to the horn of the saddle.

     Of course the pony ran off for about a mile, but the boy kept him headed in the right direction, and after a while he slowed down and made the journey in good shape. When Dr. Woods was roused he made the boy come in and get warm while he got his horse, and together they rode back, and long before day. The doctor had joined Mother Newcomer at the neighbor's house.

     Dr. Taylor still lives at his old home about three miles north of the stone bridge. He is a fine type of the pioneer doctor, and he not only knows the books, but he knows men and women, and especially Kansas men and women; and more than that, he knows Kansas and its climate, its tricks, and its good moods and its bad ones. For nearly fifty years he has ministered to the sick and the afflicted, and those who thought they were sick or afflicted, along the roads and trails of Wakarusa; and none could do it better or more faithfully. Doctor Woods was of the same type. He always traveled horseback, usually riding a large, strong, rough horse; and he knew the bridle-paths, and where to ford the streams.

     She was always interested in the school, and one of the first things that attracted her special attention was the fact that only four months of school was provided for in the year. She started an agitation for a longer term, and in the midst of it the word came through the country that either by a statute or a decision of the Supreme Court women were allowed to vote at school elections; and therefore upon school-meeting day she had one of the boys hitch a team to the farm wagon and they drove round and gathered up and took six women to the school meeting. They proved to be the balance of power, and a new director was elected, and a vote was carried for nine months school and for a levy large enough to pay a good teacher. The records show that from that day to this the old district has never been disgraced with a short term, nor meager provisions for school support.

     With all her activities, her best and greatest service was in her tender, sympathetic helpfulness and cooperation with her husband and children. There never was a day so dark but that she was full of good cheer and comfort. One terrible August day a hot wind blew across the State like a blast from Hell; leaves that were green in the morning could be burned with a match at noon; and the crops in every field seemed doomed for destruction. When the men came in at midday they were sorely discouraged, but they found a splendid dinner on the table, the floor scrubbed to make the room cool, and the blinds down toward the south; and Mother Newcomer, with a clean apron and cheerful face, sitting at the end of the table, almost made them forget the terrible hurricane of heat that was being driven across the country. During the meal some of them spoke of their discouragement, but she was full of plans as to how they might pull through; and when some said there would be no corn and no feed, she insisted that there would be a harvest of some kind. In keeping with a custom of hers, she enforced her views by a quotation: "Summer and winter, seed time and harvest, shall not fail so long as time shall last." From this she argued that there was sure to be a harvest, and they all went out with better cheer. And indeed there was some harvest, and they were able to hold on for another year.

     Years afterwards, she wrote all the boys who were away from home and asked them to be there Thanksgiving Day; and they were there. No one believed that it would be the last time they were all to be together; but all during the day there was a feeling of tenderness about the occasion; and it was the last time.

     That day as they all sat about the great table and talked of their experiences in the new country, and one told of this adventure or this experience or another, finally one of the boys voiced the sentiment of all the others when he said: "In making this home here, Mother has done more than all the rest." On that same day she repeated another familiar quotation of hers, which the boys have always remembered: "I have been young and now I am old, and I have not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread;" and she said: "Do right as you understand and believe the right to be and you will be righteous, and have peace, and the promise will be yours."

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