|When we left Maude and her family in Part I, they were just entering Wise County.
In Part II of the pioneer trek, Maude and her family cross have a big scare as the youngest child, Nettie, turns deathly ill!
The next morning they went through their usual routine of breakfast and breaking camp. They were eager to get to Decatur and hoped
that they would be there by mid-morning, surely by noon lunch. There was very little wind that morning and it seemed warmer than usual.
The terrain was changing a little to more rolling hills and shallow valleys. It made a more interesting view of the landscape but more
difficult for the oxen to manage the heavy wagon.
By mid-morning, they came to a good-sized creek and stopped to rest. The sun was bright and there was very little wind, making it seem
oppressive. They were glad to see the stream and a chance to cool off. "It surely is warm today," Viola commented as she took off her
bonnet and waved it at her face like a fan. "Yep," Cornelius replied. "I was hoping we would get to the Territory before it started getting
hot. The oxen won't be as fresh if it gets very hot."
They watered everyone, as usual and decided to eat lunch in some of the shade trees near the stream. It was early for lunch, but the
weather made everyone uncomfortably warm and the oxen more tired. A good long rest would help everyone. Cornelius got the oxen
and cows settled in a cool place where there was some grass, and he let them graze. He stretched out nearby for a short nap. Viola and
Maggie made sandwiches for everyone.
Maggie said, "Mama, shall I take a sandwich over to Papa under the shade tree? I think maybe he has fallen asleep." Viola replied, "No,
let him rest a little. It is so warm and he didn't sleep very well last night because the ground under the wagon was so rocky. Let him get a
little nap and he can eat when he wakes up." The children and Viola ate in the shade of the wagon and made a game of finding shapes in
the pretty white clouds above them.
Maggie said, "Let's see. I see fleecy white sheep over there," as she pointed to a cloud. "I see a dog!" Buddy cried. "I do, too!" Maudie
chirped, but she really didn't; she just wanted to be a part of the game. They ate their sandwiches and played their game until the warm
day made everyone a little drowsy. Maude closed her eyes and fell asleep. Buddy lay on his side and toyed with an ant crawling across
the blanket they lay on. Viola and Maggie put away the bread and began packing things for the next leg of the trip.
Viola noticed that the clouds were getting bigger and some were turning dark. She watched the sky as she packed. It was very close and
getting hot as the sun continued to climb in the sky. "Maggie, take this sandwich to your father and wake him. Tell him that we should try
to get on in to Decatur. It looks like it might storm this afternoon." Maggie's eyes scanned the sky and she could see a very large
thunderhead building over on the horizon. She quickly took the sandwich to her father and woke him.
"Papa, you better wake up now," she said gently. "Here's your sandwich. Mama told me to bring it to you." He sat up slowly and wiped his
brow of perspiration. "Mama says it might storm later this afternoon. I saw a big ol' thunderhead over yonder," and she pointed toward
the horizon. He followed her finger with his eyes and saw a large, anvil-shaped cloud some twenty miles away from them.
"Thanks, darlin'," he said with a smile and began munching on his sandwich. He kept his eyes on the cloud and made a quick study of his
surroundings. They were not too far from Decatur and could possibly make it in a couple more hours. He got up, still munching his
sandwich and began hitching the oxen up to the wagon. "We best be gettin' on to Decatur before it has a chance to storm.
Everyone was hurried into the wagon and they returned to the road. Papa kept his eyes on the sky and hurried the oxen as best he
could. They could withstand a pretty good storm in the wagon but if they could make it to shelter before it hit, it would be safer. The road
was rather bumpy but they wasted no more time in getting to Decatur. The further they went, the warmer and closer it got, but Cornelius
didn't let the oxen slow down. The sky was turning dark now. The clouds were no longer white, but dark gray and flashes of lightning lit
up the sky in the distance, followed a minute later by loud thunder.
The air was very heavy. There was no wind at all. The birds had stopped chirping and everything seemed to hang heavy in the air. The
sky was turning black and dark green now. Nothing seemed to be moving except the wagon across the quiet landscape. The oxen
seemed nervous, and jumped at every little noise.
Viola looked up into the sky and saw dark green clouds, seemingly boiling as if in a cauldron. Yet, below them where they sat in their
wagon, it was as still as death. She didn't take her eyes from the clouds and spoke softly to Cornelius. "I think we better find shelter
pretty soon because them are twister clouds." She glanced at Cornelius' intense face. He had seen the clouds, too and knew that a
terrible storm was coming. He said nothing but scanned the horizon for a place of safety.
"There it is," he said with relief. "There's Decatur on that next hill." He gave the oxen another switch with his quirt and hurried them on.
The wind began to whip up just as they entered Decatur. Cornelius found a livery stable as quickly as he could and drove the oxen,
wagon and all right into the stable. Very large rain drops began falling as they pulled in, followed by fair-sized hailstones. In a moment,
the stable was being pelted by heavy rain and hailstones. Lightning and loud thunder cracked across the sky and the wind howled.
"Well, that was sure lucky," Cornelius piped. He jumped down from the wagon and stood by the oxen to calm them from the noise of the
storm. The children huddled together in the wagon as the hailstones banged against the roof of the stable with a terrible racket. In a few
moments, the hail stopped but the hard rain continued. It was a typical storm on the Great Plains. It rained hard with plenty of thunder
and lightning for some twenty minutes; then it calmed to a steady rain for another half hour. The tornado that had boiled overhead had
spared them that day and had not dropped to the ground. Instead, it delivered plenty of hail and rain and sped on to some other
destination across the landscape.
The liveryman offered to put the oxen and cows in stalls, but Cornelius declined. "As soon as this is over, we'll be on our way," he said.
"I just didn't want to get caught in the hail." The liveryman understood and refused any pay for such a short time. He offered the cattle
some hay and water. They waited until the storm had subsided to a light rain, and then they moved out of the stable onto the street again.
Decatur was a small town of about 1,200 people so it was hardly more than a couple of blocks long. There was a drygoods store and
several businesses. They stopped at the drygoods store and bought some more food for the trip. Viola got some more eggs and other
items that would hopefully get them to Wichita Falls, some thirty miles away. Cornelius bought everyone some hard candy which they ate
on the boardwalk in front of the store.
Cornelius struck up a conversation with some of the locals and inquired about the trip to Wichita Falls. They asked about his wagon and
family and one farmer invited him to stop at his farm about two miles beyond Decatur. "They's plenty of water there and a good place to
park your wagon," he said. "I'll ride on out there with you and show you where it is," he said. "Name's Wilson. Tom Wilson." Cornelius
and Tom shook hands and Cornelius thanked him for his hospitality.
After a short rest, they were back on the road headed toward the Wilson farm. Tom Wilson rode his horse beside the wagon and chatted
with Cornelius and "the Missus" while they made the trek to the farm. It was around 3:30 by the time they got to the farm. The land
seemed refreshed from the rain and the smell of sweet grass could be detected on the cooler air. Tom insisted that Cornelius put the
cattle in the barn and give them a good rest and rubdown, feed and water.
Mrs. Wilson invited the family to stay for dinner. She fried a couple of spring chickens, made mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, and
cooked fresh peas from the garden. They had tomatoes, cucumbers, and green onions right out of the garden. Her son, Billy had picked
the garden truck, along with Buddy's help. They were about the same age. Maude tagged along to help.
After dinner, the children played hide and seek until it got dark. The folks sat on the porch and enjoyed the cool evening breeze, fresh
from the rain. When everyone bedded down, the children all slept on pallets on the living room floor. Cornelius and Viola slept in the
wagon and the Wilsons slept in their own beds.
The next morning, Mrs. Wilson insisted that they take more fried chicken with them on the trip and sent Billy and Buddy to pick more
garden truck for the Ragsdales to have. By the time they left, they were loaded with fresh vegetables and plenty of chicken for lunch and
dinner from their new-found friends.
|Pioneer couple: Pa Cornelius and Ma Viola Ragsdale
|Cornelius Ragsdale in the 1930s with two of his many grandchildren
They seemed to be gradually climbing as they moved northwestward. The road was not very good and they didn't find as many creeks
for water as they continued on for the next few days. They stopped early every afternoon so Cornelius could hunt. He shot several
jackrabbits which was rather tough meat, but it was meat. One day, he killed several quail and they enjoyed a much tastier dinner.
Water was running low when they came upon the Big Sandy River which almost paralleled the road. They decided that this would be a
good time to stop for hunting and replenishing their water supply. After camp was made, Cornelius and Buddy went hunting, hoping to
find some deer along the banks of the river. They were gone a good while and didn't return until almost dark, empty handed. Viola had
made some bread in her dutch oven and cooked some more beans. The girls had gone to look for berries or polk salit but didn't find
much. Nettie was fussy at dinner time and Viola rocked her in her arms.
"What's botherin' Nettie," Cornelius inquired. Viola said, "Oh, it's been pretty hot today and she's got a little rash on her bottom. I expect
she's just tired of travilin'." Cornelius took Nettie and played with her for a few minutes but Nettie wasn't in much of a mood to play.
"How about some sweet singin' for Nettie?" Cornelius asked. Maggie began singing softly, "In the Sweet Bye and Bye" and the others
joined in. Cornelius rocked Nettie until she was asleep.
"I want to get up early in the morning to see if I can find some deer," he said to Viola. "If you hear me getting' up in the dark, don't get
up. I'll slip out of camp and see what I can find," he said. Viola nodded as the singing continued. As soon as the fire began to die down,
Cornelius beckoned to everyone to go to bed and they all slipped into their assigned places for sleep. It was warm enough that
Cornelius had rolled up the sides of the wagon canvas to allow a little air inside the wagon. He and Viola slept under the wagon, as
usual, with Nettie between them.
Early the next morning, Cornelius rolled over quietly and slipped out from under the wagon. The warmth of his body gone, Nettie awoke
and began to cry softly. Viola tried to nurse her but she refused. Viola thought Nettie felt a little warm and got up with Nettie. Cornelius
stirred the fire and looked at both of them, concerned. "You go on hunting," Viola assured him. "We'll be all right. Bring us a big old fat
deer," she smiled up at him, and he left quietly in the dark.
It was very dark but Cornelius had spotted a large tree the evening before. The tree was large enough that he could sit at its base and
look across the shallow river to the shoreline where he had seen deer tracks. He worked his way as quietly as possible down the
riverbank to the tree where he sat down to wait. He placed his loaded gun across his knees so that he could take aim without much
movement in case he should see anything. If the wind would cooperate by blowing toward him, he might have a chance of getting
It was dark and cool by the river. He felt cool from the night air but he dared not move. He thought about his family and the farm that he
hoped to buy. He envisioned acres of cotton, his cotton gleaming white in the sun, and he prayed that this would come to fruition. His
eyes grew heavy with sleep and he nodded off. He dreamed about the cotton blowing in the autumn wind. The puffs of cotton reminded
him of the white tail of a deer, and his eyes popped open. There, across the river about two hundred yards away was a white-tailed deer,
drinking from the river. Slowly, he moved his rifle to his shoulder and took aim. A resounding crack crashed across the riverbed. His
family would have meat.
He left his rifle by the tree and waded across the shallow river, which was waste deep at its deepest, and retrieved the deer. Pulling it
up and across his shoulders, he returned across the river, being careful not to fall into the water with the carcass. When he returned to
camp, the early dawn had faded to sunlight as the sun rose above the horizon.
Viola had gotten Maggie up to watch after Nettie while she made breakfast. The other children were still asleep in the wagon. Cornelius
began the gruesome business of gutting and skinning the deer and cutting the meat into chunks. Viola helped with this and washed the
meat before salting it down for preservation. Some of the meat she cut up into cooking pieces for their noon and evening meals.
Then, Maggie got the children up, they all ate breakfast, and Viola and Cornelius finished dressing and storing the meat as best they
could. "Mama, Nettie is sure fussy. I can't seem to get her comfortable or happy. She keeps pullin' up her legs like her tummy hurts,"
Maggie said. Viola took Nettie and tried to nurse her again and this time, she nursed. "I guess she was just hungry," Viola smiled at
They got a late start because of having to dress the deer, but finally Cornelius got the oxen hitched to the wagon and they began their
journey again. "We should be comin' to Bowie one of these days. It's further than I thought," Cornelius mused. The sun was high in the
sky but they were making pretty good time.
|Will Nettie make it? What will happen when the family enters Oklahoma? Find out in Part III!
|Downtown Bowie at the turn of the century demonstrated its prosperity with its grand architecture.
Bowie residents made their money in cotton, peanuts, wheat, and cattle.
|The beautiful Baptist College, which the pioneers would have seen as they entered Decatur from the south.
The building is now the Wise County Heritage Museum.
|Maude's Journey, Part II
by Martha Giles
Fussy, Feverish Nettie
Nettie continued to be fussy. Viola moved inside the wagon with her to keep her out of the warm sun but that didn't seem to help. She
clearly had a fever now, and Viola began to put cool, wet clothes on her face and dabbed at her back and tummy with the cool cloth.
Soon, Nettie had diarrhea and her fever seemed worse. She cried constantly and pulled up her knees in obvious pain. Viola rocked her
and sang a little monotonous lullabye that she made up, "Bye-oh, bye-oh, my ba-by." She tried nursing Nettie but she only cried more.
This went on for some time with Nettie crying, falling asleep, waking, crying, and having bouts of diarrhea.
Finally, Cornelius pulled off the road and stopped the wagon. There wasn't much shade but Nettie was so fussy that he felt it would help
her to stop the wagon. Viola got out with the baby and walked about with Nettie, hoping she would calm down and fall asleep. Maggie
relieved Viola some by walking her, too. Nettie was quite feverish, so Viola took off Nettie's dress and continued bathing her in cool
cloths. After a half hour or so, Nettie fell asleep in exhaustion.
They continued on in the wagon, then, hoping to get to Bowie soon. By nightfall, Nettie was very sick. Viola tried to nurse her but she
refused. Her fever was high and the diarrhea continued. They stopped for the night and Maggie built a fire while Viola walked with
Nettie. As soon as Cornelius had secured the stock, he relieved Viola from carrying Nettie. Viola put together what she could of a
hastily-prepared evening meal and they all ate with little appetite. Maude and Buddy gathered soft grass and made a bed of grass for
Nettie to lie on. Viola spread Nettie's baby blanket on it and lay her down so she could rest in the cool evening breeze. She put a light
blanket over her little body.
Everyone was very worried about Nettie. Maggie sent Maude and Buddy to bed early and she went with them. Viola and Cornelius
stayed by Nettie's side, either bathing her feverish body with cool cloths or holding her and rocking her. This went on most of the night
as Nettie fretted and fussed. She slept fitfully on the little bed that Maude and Buddy had made for her.
The next morning, two very exhausted parents still sat, watching their baby and began to worry if she would live. Her fever was still high
and she was not responding to anything; she just lay still and breathed a shallow breath. "If we could get to Bowie, maybe we could find
a doctor or some medicine," Viola said. Cornelius agreed and began hitching the oxen to the wagon. While he did that, Maggie put
together a cold breakfast and awakened Maude and Buddy. They ate quickly. Cornelius put the little bed and Nettie in the cool part of
the wagon and Viola resumed her vigil by Nettie's side. Everyone got into the wagon quietly and the journey began again.
They continued on, Cornelius keeping a watchful eye on the horizon for Bowie and praying silently that his little girl would live. In the
wagon, all eyes were on Nettie as she lay too still on the bed. Viola moved Nettie gently to her breast and tried to get Nettie to nurse.
Cornelius pushed the oxen to their limits, praying that Bowie would be sighted soon. Finally, he had to stop to let them rest and be
watered. He didn't pull off the road, but stopped in the middle of the road and brought buckets of water for the oxen and milk cows. He
checked in the wagon to see how Nettie was doing. Viola got out of the wagon and joined Cornelius. She took him by the hand and
walked him away from the wagon a few feet.