By M D Smith IV
Selling the cow’s been difficult, she thought, but we had to have the money. Times are tough.
The Nez Perce Nation pursuing the U.S. Army. Some settlers were casualties as they retreated toward Yellowstone. The Campbell family settled in harm’s way.
Maddie tried to nurse her infant daughter, Dot, at her breast, but the milk was slow to return. The withering garden wasn’t doing well in the hot August heat. Danger was near. The Maybe in a day or two, I’ll have enough again. She smiled down at the fussing infant in her arms.
The baby girl was an answer from God after Maddie bore four sons. Ned, her husband, felt blessed to have the boys to help work their farm. It was a large parcel of land that belonged to the Native Americans until recent years. Sons were useful.
Ned insisted his sons be named Mark, Luke, John, and Matthew. Maddie’s background was a New England socialite that fell in love and followed her man’s dream west to the Wyoming Territory in 1870.
“Oh, Mark,” she said to the oldest son, “please go check on the fence around the garden and make sure the critters can’t get in. I heard something out there last night.”
Maddie rocked a bit slower as Dot was quieting down in her arms. She spoke more softly. “Luke, go help your brother Matthew in the bedroom with his school work. I heard him making sounds like he can’t do those math problems.” She watched as Luke went dutifully into the bedroom of the little cabin. She smiled, thinking how lucky she was to have such a beautiful family, even in hard times.
Ned was out hunting with their only horse. Their crops were sparse due to dry weather, and things were not looking good for winter. A rumble of distant thunder was encouraging.
“That’s right, little one,” she cooed, as the baby was sucking and trying to get enough milk to satisfy herself. “Just keep on. Mama will have more real soon.”
John walked in from working on the corral fence. He glanced at his baby sister on the way to the bucket and a dipper full of water to ease his thirst. “It’s a hot one today,” he said, wiping his brow.
“I know, son, I’m glad for the breeze through our cabin, but heat’s building here as well.”
“I wish Paw woulda taken me hunting with him. I never get to go. Always one of my older brothers.”
“He’s hoping for larger game today,” Maddie said, increasing her rocking speed a bit. “That’s why he went alone. Our horse can just carry so much if he should get a deer.”
John walked outside as Maddie heard Luke and Matthew arguing in the bedroom.
“Okay, boys, enough studying. Time to go outside and run off some energy. Help John work on the fence.
Maddie was an old hand at being a drop of water on a dynamite fuse, putting out the fuse before there was an explosion. That’s what mothers do.
With the boys outside, the cabin quiet again, she resumed her seat in the old wooden rocking chair. She closed her eyes, remembering the births of all of her children over the years. Not all of them were born in the cabin under such primitive conditions, but all her babies survived childbirth.
In the afternoon sun, a wagon pulled by a team of husky horses peaked the hill onto the flats of their farm. Maddie did not notice as it passed the corral fence, and finally to the front steps. The wagon carried empty wooden boxes. The cowboy placed his Winchester rifle against the wooden seat and tilted his six-gun backward on his hip as he climbed down.
“Hey, Maddie. Maddie, are you here?” No response. All was quiet as a tomb. The man climbed the steps and knocked on the door. “Maddie, you in there?”
After no answer, he tried the door, and it opened. He glanced across the large room and saw Maddie in the rocking chair, rocking the baby at her breast.
“Oh, I’m sorry to come in while you are, eh, with the baby.”
Maddie showed no expression and seemed to be staring into space in front of her.
Speaking louder, since Maddie seemed to be in a trance, “I’ve got boxes to help you pack. The stage’ll be leaving to take you and the baby to your relatives. We need to make it before dark.”
Still nothing. Helping her by the arm, she gradually rose, still staring straight ahead.
“Maddie, I know it’s been terribly hard on you since Ned and your boys wuz killed by the Nez Perce week ago headin’ to town. But you gotta leave now, this is no place for you to stay. You don’t even have a cow anymore for milk for you and the baby.”
She turned and looked at him as she finally seemed to hear what he was saying. She put the baby in the cradle and allowed the rancher to help her to the bedroom to pack.