|The Ragsdale family in front of their homestead, 1910
Illness on the Frontier
"Cornelius, I'm afraid she is dying!" Viola looked into Cornelius' eyes; there were tears. She leaned against his chest and began to cry
softly. They embraced and cried for several minutes. Cornelius began to pray. "Dear Father, please save our Nettie. Please don't let her
die." He was silent a moment. "But not my will, but Thine!" he cried. They returned to the wagon where Maggie sat near Nettie and stroked
her face. She was crying. Maude and Buddy were obviously afraid and when their parents climbed into the wagon with them, they grabbed
at them and cried, too.
In a shaky voice, Cornelius told them all, "We must be brave. We must accept God's will. But we must pray now for our baby Nettie; that
she will live." He could not continue, but put on his hat and returned to the driver's seat of the wagon. He started the oxen and the wagon
pulled slowly along the road. Viola picked up Nettie and rocked her. Maggie wiped the baby's face with a cool cloth while Maude and
Buddy looked on in fear. Everyone was praying silently.
No Hope for Nettie
By evening, there seemed to be little hope for Nettie. Her little body seemed lifeless. No one built a fire or tried to eat. They just sat,
huddled around Viola, holding the baby. A horrible thought crossed Cornelius' mind. "Perhaps I should begin looking for a place to bury
Nettie." Such a grievous thought caused him to jump up from his place by Nettie and walk quickly away. "Oh dear God! Don't let her die!"
Everyone was so exhausted from their vigil that they went to bed almost after sundown. The children slept under the wagon with
Cornelius, and Viola stayed in the wagon with Nettie. Viola lay down on the bed of the wagon where the children usually slept. She gently
pulled Nettie on top of her body, and became Nettie's bed. "If she must die, she will die in my arms," Viola thought. The moon rose full in
the sky like a giant eye looking down on the little family, now lost in sad dreams and fitful sleep. Viola's breasts were now full of milk,
which had been refused by Nettie. She pulled Nettie to her breast in the hope that she might nurse and sang softly, "Bye oh bye, my baby."
Looking at the scheme of all that God has created, sometimes we feel very insignificant and, perhaps, unimportant to Him. We look into
the black sky above us, filled with stars that seems to be a giant bowl curving above us. The earth seems to be suspended in all of that
space, and we-a tiny dot on that earth-look to the heavens above in wonder and in awe of the great mystery that created all of it and us.
And the soul that breathes within us-we cherish. It is all that we have. It is all that God has given us. So we try in our clumsy, feeble ways
to connect with this Great Mystery that has created us, to find in God, some compassion for us. But His greatness, and our smallness
make that difficult. We liken Him to a father that loves His child, and we pray that He will look down on us amidst our troubles and
intervene to save us. It is such a little thing for Him to do in the scheme of all the universe!
And so Cornelius and Viola and the children all prayed for Nettie that night. And that night, in some mysterious way, little Nettie's soul
refused to leave her body. It remained, giving life to her little heart and body. As dawn came the next morning, Viola felt a chubby hand
resting on her breast and the unmistakable suckling of her daughter's mouth on her breast. Viola touched Nettie's cheek. It was cool!
The fever had gone and Nettie was eagerly nursing for the life nutrients she needed to live. She would live. Tears of joy ran down Viola's
face as she cradled her baby. She turned to see the beautiful face of her husband looking into the wagon. He reached in and stroked
Viola's hair and she kissed his hand. They both cried with the new knowledge that their baby would live.
Bowie came in sight the next day, and the Ragsdales were relieved and happy to see the lively town. The main street was bustling with
farmers and tradesmen. Three hotels graced its streets, a bank, post office and newspaper office. Several side streets led to several
churches and schools. But the big attraction in Bowie was the railroad. The Denver and Fort Worth Railway had been built through Bowie
in 1882 to carry goods and cattle all the way from Fort Worth to Wichita Falls. The old Chisholm Trail was not far west of there.
The Ragsdales soon found a doctor for Nettie who looked her over and pronounced her in reasonable health. He suggested that they try
to give her plenty of water and a little solid food if she could take it. He gave them a bottle of medicine to relieve any diarrhea she might
have again. They stopped for more food and groceries for the trip and found a livery stable to leave the wagon and cattle. Farmers were
bringing their goods to market so they bought as many green groceries as they could afford.
They went back to the wagon to eat and thereby save money. After a light meal, everyone was happy to bed down for a long restful night
after their frightening episode with Nettie.
Making Friends and Gaining Impressions
Wichita Falls was another week's ride ahead of them, so they weren't too eager to leave Bowie. They spent the morning buying fresh
meat and fresh bread for the trip. Of course, they always had fresh milk from their cows. Viola bought two prepared frying chickens for
dinner that night, a favorite meal of all. They took their time in leaving because they knew it would be a long journey ahead. The weather
was quite warm now and they weren't in a hurry to start again until they were sure that Nettie was all right.
Cornelius took them down to the railroad station just to see the trains. Noon came in while they were there, but they saw the station with
its large baggage wagons sitting outside and the ticketmaster sitting behind the ticket window. He wore a black, pillbox hat with an
official looking badge on it that impressed everyone. They saw the long, iron railroad tracks resting on their crossties and stretching out
across the prairie before disappearing in the horizon.
Just as they began their walk back to the wagon, they heard an awful sound in the distance. It sounded like a shrill scream. Everyone
jumped and Maude began to cry, grabbing Cornelius' legs. Cornelius picked her up, turned and saw the great black engine of a train
coming down the tracks. They were almost a block away but it was easy to see it above the houses' roofs.
"Look, children! It's a train," he said, excitedly. They all turned to see the awful size of the big black engine as it slowed and released a
cloud of steam. They all jumped again at the shwoosh of the steam. Black smoke belched from its huge smokestack. The children huddled
close to their parents and trembled at the sight of it all. As it slowed to a stop, there arose a clanging sound from its bell and everyone
jumped again. Cornelius wanted to walk back closer to the train but everyone bridled at such an idea. They had seen enough of the black
monster. They returned quickly to the wagon and began making preparations for leaving, but everyone's talk was of the big thing, the
Nettie seemed to be regaining her strength and so they decided they couldn't wait any longer to resume their trip. Soon they had
replenished all their supplies, added more for the longest leg of the trip so far, had packed and repacked everything tightly, and were
ready to go. Wichita Falls was almost fifty miles away, so they had a quick lunch and headed out.
The road was good going out of Bowie. There were numerous farms along the road and so it was well kept. The Big Sandy River had
meandered away from the road so there would be less water, and it was getting hotter every day. Cornelius tried to plan the trip so that
there would be a plentiful supply of water at the beginning of the trip, but that it would be hot and dry by the time they got to the Red
River. That way, they would have less water to cross in the Red River. They stopped early at a farm in order to give Nettie more time to
rest. Besides, they were not eager to leave the conveniences of Bowie and a doctor if they needed one for Nettie.
Farmer Bill McFadden welcomed the Ragsdales to their home. They were used to travelers stopping and asking for water or a place to
rest their families. Bill was Scotch Irish and had the gift of gab. Mrs. McFadden made a fine meal for the two families and Bill invited
Cornelius to put the cattle and wagon inside the barn for the night. The McFaddens had a large family so that the children had plenty of
company and games to play. Hospitality was common in those days; farmers were always glad to see someone come by or move into the
Bill and Cornelius became good friends and they talked about farming, the crops that Bill was raising and the land that he had. Bill had
come out to Bowie when the railroads began moving into the area. It was a good place to market his crops of cotton and sorghum and the
railroad could pick up his longhorns easily for market further north. Cornelius looked on the great farm with longing, thinking of his own
place he might soon own. One thing led to another and soon they were talking about the war, its devastation to Cornelius' family and his
long journey from Memphis to Arkansas and finally to Texas.
Before long, night had fallen, the kerosene lamps had been lighted, and the final tobacco pipes enjoyed before turning in. Cornelius
knew that they would need to start early the next day for their long journey. Their host had been gracious and generous. Mrs. McFadden
had fussed over little Nettie and Lillie and made sure that they had plenty of soft hay for bedding down in the barn. She even offered to
give up her own bed for Viola and Nettie, but Viola refused to inconvenience her that much. So, the Ragsdales slept in their wagon in the
barn and all slept well.
Bill described the road to Wichita Falls and told him some of the things to watch for. He described the land as becoming more hilly and
finally coming to the foothills of the Wichita Mountains which lay north of Wichita Falls in Indian Territory. He said that they would see the
falls in Wichita Falls and that they would have to cross the Wichita River as they went through the town. However, he said that there was a
bridge in town for crossing.
They began the next leg of the trip in high expectations. They were far, far from their Texas home now, and getting closer all the time to
their new home in Indian Territory. They could tell that the land was rising; the land became more hilly and the oxen required more
frequent rests from the climb.
The days of traveling seemed to have achieved a rhythm: each day began with an early breakfast, breaking camp, travel over roads that
curved and climbed, frequent breaks for watering and rest, and finding a campground for the evening. As supplies began to run low,
Cornelius hunted more. Creekbeds were found fairly frequently but the water level seemed to be dropping as the spring days moved
toward summer. They experienced several more rainstorms which replenished the creek water for a time.
Nights on the land were glorious. As the campfire burned low, they could look up into the black sky and see billions of stars, the Milky
Way, and many "shooting stars." It seemed that a person could merely reach up and touch them at arms length. Some nights, they would
stretch their blankets out on the ground, so that they could lie on their backs and watch the stars. Sometimes, Maggie would tell stories
to delight the children. Their legs and arms entwined, they listened with delight, or wiggled and giggled until someone scolded them.
Often, they fell asleep there.
Daytime meant heat and sweat, and always the search for water as they inched their way toward Wichita Falls. One day, they met a group
of men or horseback, riding toward them. Cornelius stopped the wagon, of course and greeted the horsemen. As the men rode up to the
wagon, one man seemed to be in charge and he gave a hand signal for the group to stop. The lead man tipped his hat to Viola politely and
said, "Ma'm." Then, he turned his face to Cornelius.
"Howdy. I'm Dan Johnson," and he stuck out his hand at Cornelius. They shook hands and Cornelius introduced himself and Viola; then
pointed out the children in the wagon. Maude and Buddy peeked around the corner of the back of the wagon. "This here is my family,"
Cornelius said proudly. "We're headed to Wichita Falls."
Dan acknowledged Cornelius' statement and said, "Well, you're about another day's ride or so." He paused. "We're Texas Rangers and
we're lookin' for some Indians. Have you seen any down this way?" Cornelius gulped. "No, I haven't seen anybody. You're the first
people we've seen since we started out from Bowie. Is my family in any danger?"
Dan took off his hat and wiped his brow, and smiled, "Naw! They're just a bunch of young ones gittin' into mischief back in Wichita. I don't
think they'd harm any settlers." He paused again. "But if you see them, stay clear of 'em." His passive face belied his concern. He
noticed the rifle at Cornelius' feet and seemed satisfied that he could take care of himself. "We're going to ride a little further south
before we turn back to Wichita. We'll check back on you when we turn north," he assured Cornelius. With that, he slapped his horse on
the neck with his reins and took off in a fast trot, the others following behind.
Cornelius told Maude and Buddy to get into the wagon before they started again. He checked to make sure his rifle was loaded as they
pulled back onto the road. After that, he and Viola kept a watchful eye in all directions. When they stopped, they made sure they were in a
place where they could protect themselves as well as possible. But they saw no one else the rest of the day.
That night in camp, Cornelius decided not to build a fire that might attract attention and they had to eat a cold supper. He was rather tense
and watchful the rest of the night but saw nothing to alarm him. The next day, they got an early start, hoping to make Wichita Falls by
night. The only thing they saw that day that was unusual was a train some two or three miles away, chugging across the landscape. The
children were very excited about it, watching the black smoke streaming out of its bulbous smokestack. Cornelius thought that Wichita
Falls could not be far away.
That night, when they made camp, Cornelius thought he could see a feint glow of light on the far horizon. He wondered and hoped that it
was Wichita Falls. It had to be Wichita. What else could it be? They ate another cold supper and no campfire but no one complained.
Everyone except Cornelius slept in the wagon and slept lightly (except the children, of course). Cornelius slept away from the wagon on a
large boulder that gave him a good view of the landscape around him. Except for nodding off, he kept a silent vigil there all night.
The next morning, they had another quick breakfast and broke camp in a hurry. They hadn't been on the road but an hour or so when they
saw the same group of men approaching them, this time, from east of the road. With them were two young looking Indian braves, hands
tied to their saddle horns and looking very downcast. The group of horsemen stopped some one hundred yards from the wagon, while
their leader, Dan Johnson road up to the wagon. He tipped his hat again to Viola and smiled at Cornelius. "How are you folks?" he said.
They returned the greeting and Dan said, "Well, we found a couple of our trouble makers. They won't bother anyone. We're just going to
make sure they get back to the reservation in Indian Territory. They're not bad boys, really. They just got a little drunk and loud in town."
He paused. "I reckon you folks won't have any trouble getting' to Wichita this morning. Should be there by noon." He turned his horse as
he tipped his hat and road away, the others following him.
Cornelius relaxed quite a bit then, relieved that the Indians had been caught and that they would be in Wichita Falls very shortly. It had
been a very long trip and he was ready for some relief from this routine. The children had gawked at the Indians out from under the
canvas of the wagon. None of them said anything but they were rather frightened at their images. The Indians were very dark skinned
and wore long pigtails on each side of their heads. The pigtails were wrapped in some kind of bright cloth. Two feathers seemed to grow
out of the tops of their heads. Otherwise, they wore trousers and shirts like Cornelius. One of them wore a necklace that looked like
quills around his neck. All of it was just too frightening. Cornelius could hardly coax the children out of the wagon when they pulled into
"Lookee here, you chaps!" Cornelius said as he pointed off to the right. "Look at the falls. There they are!" They heard water rushing in
abundance over rocks that formed about a twenty-foot falls and fell away to the Wichita River. That got them up and out of the wagon to
see it. The river snaked through the middle of town of some two thousand people. It was a pleasant sight after so much heat of the day,
and Cornelius was determined to spend some time here after such a long drive.
The children stared in amazement at the falls, something they had never seen before. Cornelius stopped the wagon so that all of them
could get out and experience the falls up close. The water churned and rushed and spilled over the reddish rocks, showing both its
power and beauty. Viola cautioned the children not to get too close to the falls, lest they be sucked under by a powerful whirlpool of
rushing water. It was an amazing sight for a family that had grown up on the flat land of the Plains.
After spending a half hour at the falls, they returned to the wagon and proceeded further into town. The town bustled with workmen,
businessmen, and shoppers. Carts and wagons pulled by horses or mules or oxen paraded up and down the busy streets. They found a
livery and deposited the wagon and cattle there. After a light lunch and freshening up, they walked around town for awhile just to see the
sights. There was the bank, a couple of hotels, a drygoods store, and a brand new lumber yard. Like Bowie, there was a train station.
They spent a good part of the afternoon looking at the town with its river flowing through the middle of it. Not far west of the town was the
beginnings of a dam that would create a lake for the town's water supply. A stream of workmen and wagons covered the road that led to
the cite. There was much talk in town about the lake to be.
Nightfall came and they slept in the wagon after a good supper and they slept well. The next two days were spent preparing for the next
and last leg of the trip that would take them northwest of Wichita Falls and the crossing point of the river. They would be paralleling the
Red River on its south bank and at some point they would have to cross it into what was now being called Oklahoma Territory in Greer
County, later to be divided and renamed Harmon County and Jackson County.
When they finally got under way, they followed the road north through town and across the Wichita River over the town's bridge. Always
before, they had crossed small creeks by fording them, but this river's banks were much too high and the river had a substantial amount
of water in it. The bridge was the only way across. Everyone was breathless as the wagon wheels rolled across the wooden bridge and
the oxen's hooves beat like a drum on the bridge. The children peered out from under the wagon canvass at the bridge's sides and some
twenty feet down into the river. It was an awesome sight!
But too quickly, they passed over the bridge and were back on solid ground again. They all relaxed and looked at one another in
amazement. There was nothing back in Palmer like the wonders they had seen on this trip. Just when they thought there was nothing that
could top the falls or the bridge, the wagon passed by an Indian man and woman, walking along the road. Everyone froze. Right in the
middle of town, Indians! No one said a word for a mile after they passed them. Then, there was no stopping their talk. Indians! Right in
|The family is about the cross the Red River... but, what will they find in Oklahoma? Keep on reading in Part IV!
|In Part II, Nettie took ill right outside of Bowie. Will she prevail?
And what other problems will the family face on their trek north?
|By 1900, what would become Oklahoma was divided into two separate territories in
preparation for statehood. Oklahoma Territory, dominated by reservations and white
emigrants, was on the western half, and Indian Territory, made up of Indian nations,
existed in the eastern portion.
|Maude's Journey, Part III
by Martha Giles