Country Living - Cover

Country Living

Copyright© 2021 by Wendell Jackson

Chapter 2

The buying trip turned out better than William hoped. He bought a lot of barb wire, and another wagon to transport it. Luke was given the task of driving the wire loaded wagon. William drove the old wagon with the new cook and her family. William wasn’t sure he’d done the right thing. The new cook was a Nego. It was well known that it was against the law to bring negros into the Oregon territory. When the woman heard he was looking for a cook, she practically begged him to take her on. She offered to work for less than his offered wage, if he would allow her to bring her two daughters along. William was a little taken back, as he would ever intentionally separate a mother from her children. Of course, he responded, he would see to it that suitable living quarters were provided too. So, before he realized it, he’d hired the woman with the two daughters.

Matties last employment was terminated by the employer’s wife. When the sons started showing an interest in Matties girls, the cook had to go. Marla and Margo were beautiful by anyone’s standards, but the boy’s mother didn’t want the possibility of having black grandchildren. Mattie didn’t like the possibility of having her grandchildren related to a white bigot either. The separation was of mutual consent. Then Mattie met William and she was hired on as a Cook.

The beauty of the girls wasn’t lost on Paul or Brad. Brad had never seen a black person before, except for Jonas. He’d heard tales of the ordeals the colored people had gone through, and didn’t envy their plight one bit. He supposed they would like the new home and take to ranch life. Where they had come from, there wasn’t much chance of a good life. Oregon Country wasn’t much better, but here they could ignore the whites only laws for the territory, and live pretty much as they wanted.

Wallace was at the ranch called Broken Bow. After the land was wrenched away from local natives, it was homesteaded by a family that struggled to make a go of it. Then just before they could see success, another skirmish broke out with the Indian’s and they gave it up. There was always some loss of life on both sides, though the Indians suffered far worse than the whites. The battle that occurred there, had faded from most memories. Most of the warring Indians having been Christianized or sent to one of the reservations, were no longer a threat. Though some young bucks full of whiskey, often rode through and tried to wipe out the whites. All they accomplished was getting more of their dwindling numbers killed.

When Brad and the others arrived, Wallace had brushed the main house out and cleaned the well of leaves and other debris that fell into it. He was busy splitting fire wood, a job he hoped to hand off to someone else. He was glad they finally arrived; he was tired of his own cooking. As promised, Mattie and her daughters lived in the main house. Half was for Brad and Wallace, with the rest of the house Shared with Mattie and the girls. The kitchen, along with the day room and bedrooms were for them. It was a grand house, built when the original owners had some money. The dining room had a large polished table, with enough room for twice their number. The whole house hold could dine together, unless Mattie decided different. There was of course the Bunk house for the ranch hands when they were hired.

The days that followed, the men were busy stringing wire, and fencing sections of the land mapped out by William. He’d left for Salmon falls after making sure Mattie was content with the living quarters. With everyone busy with their own chores, they settled into a regular ranch routine. Margo and Marla worked with their mother in keeping the house clean and helping in the kitchen. There was plenty of free time for them to wander about the ranch, trying to catch chickens. Mattie had them repairing things like the chicken coop, and finding stored grain to feed them. Mostly the chickens lived off the grasshoppers and other insects crawling on the ground. The girls had the thankless job of finding the hidden nests of the hens and getting them settled back in the repaired coop.

Some excitement came when Dusty having recovered from his injuries, arrived to break several horses that were still range wild. Everyone always took time out to watch the horses throw Dusty off their backs. The girls sat on the fence rails, enjoying the show with laughter and squeals of delight. They gasped with fear, when Dusty was thrown. Which wasn’t that often. Having the girls watching them, spurred the cowboys to showing off. Mattie checked on her girls often, making sure they weren’t getting too friendly with the men, calling them to the house if she suspected flirting.

Margo the older of the two girls, caught the eye of the cowhands. They’d come to round up strays and brought part of the main herd to graze on new grass. Mattie shooed her girls back to the house and tried to keep them busy out of the appraising eyes of the men. She felt that white men didn’t regard colored women the same as a white woman. They were prone to engage in raw talk, hoping to start some friendly activity. A few warning words from Paul the top hand of the SF brand, set the boundary’s when it came to the girls. Brad didn’t need the talk, as he had another girl on his mind. The Boys did especially notice Margo the older girl, she was the same age as Willow and with a figure that turned many a head.

Jonas arrived with Willow and Nola and several of Willows friends riding their mother’s carriage. They brought dress making material for the girls, and were looking forward to meeting them, if only for the novelty of seeing black girls. Willow introduced her friends to Wallace, who showed a good deal of interest in them. A Cassie Rockshire, and Brook Malone, Willows friends from town, asked Wallace to show them around. Brad got Willow off behind a split rail fence, where they had some privacy.

“We haven’t spent much time together lately.” Willow started the conversation. “You find someone else?”

“I could ask you the same question.” Brad held her hand as she took hold of his. “Nola said one of the guys you were dancing with at the big party, has been riding out to visit.”

“Oh, I don’t have time for that. I’m the schoolmarm now.” Willow grinned, disarming Brads defensive stature. She could see that he was feeling neglected. “Maybe I can ride out to visit you and Wally, a little more often.” Wally was the pet name she had for her older brother. “Or you could come visit me in town?”

“Can’t take time off for that right now. We’re not even half way done stringing wire.” Brad shaded his eyes and gave a look towards the sun, a long-standing way of telling time of day. “You staying for dinner?”

“I think we all are?” Willow motioned with her hand at all the people strolling about. “That is if you don’t mind?”

“I don’t mind, but I need to get word to Mattie.” Brad knew she needed time to prepare a meal for such a large number of unexpected dinner guests. Even so, dinner would be a little later than usual.

Jonas saw Brad heading for the main house, and hurried up to walk along side. He had a request to make, and wanted Brad’s okay. He asked permission to have the colored girls attend Willows classes. It hadn’t occurred to Brad that the girls should attend a school. Giving the idea some thought, he said he would ask Mattie. He would have to check with Wallace to make sure someone would be able to drive them to the school and back. Jonas said he would see to that, even if he had to do it himself.

The afternoon meal had the seating filled around the dining room table. Wallace had Willows two visiting friends setting on either side of him. Brad thought he looked like he was enjoying himself. Mattie had set the table ahead of everyone taking a seat, and now sat with her daughters beside Nola. Who was silently fuming because Willow was seated next to Brad. The conversations around the table, resolved several things. Margo and Marla would be attending Willow’s classes. Jonas would Drive them back and forth, with Nola and one of the ranch hands riding guard. Nola was young, but she was a crack shot with a rifle.

Late afternoon when all the visitors were leaving, Brad managed to get Willow on the far side of the corral where she planted a kiss on his lips. “I know you’ve been wanting that all day.” She stepped back and began leading him towards the house. “What are you going to do, when you don’t see me for weeks on end.”

“Probably worry that you’ve met someone else.” Brad was honest. “I know your mom, has ideas for you marrying a banker or some big rancher.”

“My fathers the only big rancher around here.” Willow laughed, “What about you. Have you met anyone else? Maybe I should be worrying about you?” Before Brad could answer, Nola came striding up and told Willow to get in the wagon. They wanted to get home before dark. As Nola turned to hurry Willow to the wagon, she gave Brad an angry look. He stood there watching them both hurry to find a seat in the wagon, and wondered what had ticked off Nola.

True to his word, Jonas arrived with a buckboard, to take Margo and Marla to school. Mattie gave Jonas a stern talking to about keeping the girls away from the men. She’d seen enough in life to know that white men didn’t hold true to promises made to colored girls. She didn’t want anyone taking advantage of her daughter’s innocents. Jonas said it was important, for the girls to read and write. Attending school was the only time they might meet men of color. There certainly weren’t any at the ranch besides himself.

He pointed out that Margo was the same age as Willow, and would be wanting to marry and have children of her own. That wasn’t what Mattie wanted to hear. She wanted her daughters to someday marry and bear children, but wanted it to be a colored man that placed a ring on their fingers. A black man would be more apt to honor the marriage, and be a good husband. The problem was, there wasn’t any colored men. Not for a hundred miles.

Brad and Wallace continued to work, stringing wire, or fixing the split rail fencing. They brought along any stray cattle they found, putting them in one of the new fenced sections. Every day, either Wallace or Brad, rode out and checked the herd. When the snow came and crusted over, they had to take a wagon and throw out hay and other fodder for the cattle. The wind made outside work, a bitter experience. Brad had to put on extra clothing, but the cold still cut through even when wearing Chaps. Every minute outside had to be spent being busy. Chores were completed in record time so they could get back in the warm house. Trips to the outhouse, were made just to empty the thunder pot. No one bared their back side in the cold air.

The deep snow was a problem for the wagons. It was too difficult for the horses to pull and so they put together a crude sled. With it loaded it up with hay, the horses were able to pull it over the snow. Both men took turns pitching the hay, while the other drove. Their days were filled with one load of hay after another. Loading and then spreading it out for the herd. There was still browse for the cattle, but not enough. So, spreading the hay, was the only answer.

Margo and Marla were staying home during the bitter cold snaps. When Wallace and Brad came home after working in the freezing cold, Margo and Marla took over caring for the horses. Unhitching the team, inside the barn. There they rubbed down the horses and saw to it that a bucket of oats was included in the feed. Brad would hurry through helping the girls, but Wallace tended to linger back with Margo. Those two were always the last to get in out of the cold. Brad could see that his friend was more than a little interested in the girl. Often finding them talking quietly while tending the animals.

The kitchen was the warmest room in the house, and was Brads favorite place to thaw out. Only when Mattie called him to supper, did he leave his perch by the stove. Often when he came in from the cold, his unshaven face had icicles hanging off his whiskers. He’d quit shaving, while Wallace continued shaving his chin till Margo commented that he should let his beard grow, at least till spring. It was too cold now, and a bare face could easily become wind burnt. Brad knew his friend was beyond help when it came to Margo. In the evenings they sat around close to the fire, while Wallace read to the girls, Especially Margo. When Mattie thought the two were sitting too close, she told the girl to put more wood on the fire, if they were that cold. It was enough of a hit and they scooted just enough to keep Mattie off their backs.

Wallace liked to smoke in the evenings, while Margo practiced reading aloud from one of the books left behind by the previous owners. She read by lantern light, with Wallace there to help with a difficult word to pronounce. Brad could see that Mattie wasn’t happy with the two of them being so close. She didn’t say anything about it until Margo began packing tobacco in Wallace’s pipe. She took Margo into the next room and gave her a scolding, much of which it could be heard by those sitting by the fire. All it did was make Wallace and Margo more secretive with their show of affection. Course Wallace did his own tobacco packing in the pipe after that. He lit it himself with a slender stick from the fire. He couldn’t keep his eyes off Margo, even with Mattie circling like a hawk.

A good sign that spring was on the way, was Jonas making deliveries again. He always spent the night, and left the next morning. Among the deliveries were several dresses for the girls and many bolts of cloth for their own creations. Seated on the bench with him was a guard riding shotgun and sometimes Nola.

The smile on Nola’s face grew even brighter on seeing Brad. He recieved a better greeting than the goodbye look she gave him last winter. It was good to see Nola, but Brad was more interested in why Willow didn’t come. Nola didn’t like talking about Willow, but did explain that school had taken up again with the spring thaw. There wasn’t much time left before the students would be working at home or on the other ranches. Time lost during the cold snap, couldn’t be made up. So, Willow was trying to finish all the work that was interrupted. Time was running out, and Willow wanted the students prepared to advance to the next level.

With the work going on at the ranch, Brad didn’t have time to be fretting about Willow. The roping and branding were going to last several days, and then they’d move on to the next herd. Brad was in charge of wiping the calves down with a strong solution to fight infection and help healing. The calves getting its gonads cut wasn’t something the ladies cared to see. So, it was a surprise to all when Nola came out with the lunch wagon, and offered to help with the process. She saw it as just a part of living on a ranch.

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