Twelve days after Lida’s birthday the train Roy’s family rode eased into another station with a puff of smoke and moan like an old lady rising from rocking chair.
Roy frowned at his dad and brother Joe said, “Not another stop, at this rate we’ll never get to Washington.”
Going over to the cattle car door Joe eased it back a crack to let in some air. He mopped the sweat from his brow. Man is it ever hot. At least when we’re moving, the air circulates through the louvered sides. What I wouldn’t give to be in the comfort of coach with Mother, Richard and Lida.”
Their dad rose from the bench where he sat. “Those cars get hot, too. Sure, miss seeing my little girl’s smiling face, though. I bet you 2 bits to a dollar right now your mother is fit to be tied trying to keep that wiggly angel contained to her seat.”
He motioned for both boys to stay back and opened the cattle car’s door and gazed out. “This stop is where they change crew and service the engine. We will be here a while. Say if I don’t spot a Harvey House. Reckon I’ll hop off and see if I can’t scare up some grub for the three of us and maybe catch sight of your mother letting our little Lida stretch her legs. Remember to stay out of view, I can’t afford to buy you boys a ticket.”
As his dad strode off Roy and Joe stared out at the station. Mounds of luggage sat heaped on the loading platform, waiting to be loaded into the baggage cars. Two Harvey girls dressed in black dresses and voluminous white aprons hurried toward the restaurant.
Joe stared at their attractive young faces. “They sure know how to choose lookers. Sure, wish you and I were the one getting off. I’d love to talk to one of those pretty girls.”
Roy took a deep breath and plugged his nose. “This place smells worse than an outhouse. I reckon the smell coming off us is none to pleasant. They’d run the other way if we came near them.”
Joe laughed, “Spose your right, guess I’ll go take a snooze in the hay until Dad returns with something to eat. With all the stopping and starting this train does at night. I haven’t slept well.”
Roy joined Tango his horse in her stall. He handed her a carrot and patted her side. “I know the all the jostling of the train is hard on you. We aren’t going to move for a spell, so why don’t you take a snooze too.”
He reached for his ruck sack stashed in the corner of the stall and pulled out his copy of American Family Robinson.
“I’m just going to curl up here and read another chapter. It’s kind of a fantastic story, but it does make for good reading. Thought I’d have finished it by now but reading while in motion kind of makes me seasick.”
As he finished Chapter 11, he heard the cattle car door creak open.
His dad set a box on the floor and hoisted himself inside, “I’ve come bearing food.”
Roy left the pioneer family and Indian chief deep in some prehistoric cave. He put the book back in his rucksack and joined his brother and dad beside the box. An unbelievably good smell permeated the air. Roy’s mouth watered, “tell me that’s chicken I smell.”
“Indeed, it is, and biscuits almost as good as your mother’s.”
Roy bit into a chicken leg and groaned. “I think I must be in heaven.”
“Also bought you some cherry pie to top that off with, said his dad.” Saw your mother, Richard, and of course your sister. We were able to enjoy a meal together, and then I took little sis outside to let her run off some of her energy. Hopefully, it was enough to give your mother a little rest. And of course, she sent you, her love.”
Roy clomped some Jam on a biscuit as the train jerked.
“Feels like we are on the roll again,” said Joe.
His father nodded. “The more we roll, the sooner we get to Cheney. Our next stop should be just after dark. It will be harder to spot you so you can get off and stretch your legs a bit.”
He took a blue paisley scarf from around his neck and wiped the sweat trickling off his forehead. “Not to mention it’ll be cooler.”
Two days later the train blew its horn and as it screeched to a stop. The sign above the depot said Cheney. Out on the platform, people scurried about ready to greet folks’ disembarking while others readied themselves to board. Wagons waited on the nearby streets to take folks to their destinations.
Roy spotted his mother, Lida, and Richard standing in front of the station, waiting for them to have their turn to unload the wagon and horses from the cattle car. Once off, they planned to take their wagon and horses to the public corral and spend the night at the home of a friend, his mother had made when they had lived here before.
Roy wondered how long it would take for them to find a home of their own. Would this be the place he’d make his forever home?
The book Roy is reading is in my possession and bears his name and word Caple, Oklahoma. It is considered the fore runner of today’s science fiction novels. The book was printed in 1853. The copy my grandfather had was a boys book club edtioin from the 1880’s.
My grandfather often spoke of this trip and how hot it was inside the cattle car. He said he and Joe were allowed off on stops after dark to stretch their legs. One stop was beside and orange grove. He said they picked some of the oranges and they were delicious.
After breakfast on June 1st, 1900, Roy scooped up his sister Lida from her highchair. He kissed her on the cheek. “Happy birthday, my dear little sister. Can you tell me how old you are?”
Lida held up one finger.
Roy laughed and held up one of his own fingers, “Yes, you are one today.”
His mother turned from the batter she was beating in a big blue bowl. She motioned to Richard and Roy. “Before you boys run off, I want you to move the table out into the yard. Looks like it’s going to be a good day for a picnic.”
Roy set Lida down and handed her a rag doll. He motioned toward his mother, “best leave her alone until she gets your cake in the oven.”
His mother tipped the mixing bowl and poured the batter into the round baking pans. “I’m making our dear little Lida a chocolate cake. And I will not have your clomping feet make my cake fall, so off with the table and stay out.”
“She sure is going to a lot of bother,” said Richard said as the two shuffled the table out the door and into the yard, “for a birthday Little sis won’t even remember.”
“Your right,” said Roy, “but we are the ones benefiting from good eats tonight, so I’m not complaining.” He rubbed his stomach, “there’s no meal I love better than Mother’s fried chicken, biscuits mashed potatoes and gravy. Besides, with our leaving soon, might be the last time we get to enjoy such a meal for a spell.”
“What do you think it will be like in Washington state.” asked Richard. “Is it anything like here? I was born there, but I don’t remember it at all.”
“I can’t recall much either” Roy answered, “except Cheney is kind of dry like here. I remember living in Puyallup a heap better. But until we moved here, we never stayed anywhere long.”
“I don’t really remember any place but here,” said his brother. “I kind of wish we were staying. I will miss Milo.”
“I know but he is determined to see to his homestead claim through to the end. For once I have to agree with father, this place doesn’t have much to offer anymore. Might be different if Sammy lived and Uncle Will was still alive. The whole family could have gone into the cattle ranching business like they talked about. I just hope we don’t start moving from place to place again like we used to. I am ready to put roots down, except not here. It’s just too hard to eke out a living. Someday I hope to marry and have a family of my own, and I want them to have one place to call home.”
Roy’s mother hollered from the doorway, “would you entertain your sister outside for a spell. I’m not able to get anything done with her underfoot.”
Roy went to the doorway and took his sister in his arms. Come on Lida, let’s get a carrot. “I let you feed Tango.”
“Hosy,” said Lida.
“Horse,” said Roy,” but I guess for one hosy is good enough.”
Roy couldn’t help but have a soft spot in his heart for his baby sister. I mean, who wouldn’t with her dark curls and sparkling, brown eyes. His family had been so sad after his brother Sammy had died; she’d been like a breath of fresh air. She was the one who could make his mother and father smile whenever their thoughts went to the ones they’d lost. All she’d have to do was reach her chubby, arms out for a hug to put a smile back on all their faces. She’d been a life safer for the whole family.
Out in the barn, he handed his sister a carrot and held her up to Tango so she could feed him. He let her sit a spell on his back before put her back down.
“I’ve got more chores to do let’s go find Richard, I bet he’ll swing with you in the orchard.”
He was throwing fresh hay down for the animals when his father and brother Joe returned with the wagon from their trip to Hardesty.
His Dad jumped down and handed the reins to Roy, “I got everything squared away for our move west. I’ve got a cattle car reserved for our horses and wagon. You and Joe will ride with me in it to tend to the animals.”
Roy frowned as he started to unhitch the horses from the wagon. Riding in a cattle car did not sound enjoyable.
“What about Mother, Lida, and Richard?”
“They’ll be riding coach,” said his father. “Technically the railroad only allows one person to ride in cattle cars to tend the stock. I figure since I’ll have the whole car to myself I can get away with having you two in there. Wouldn’t do to have your mother and Lida in there and Richard is young enough to ride at reduced fare, he can help your mother out.”
He helped Roy put the harnesses away and led the horses to the corral, then strode toward the house, “Going inside to let your mother know we leave in 10 days.”
Author’s notes: Information on this move came from my grandfather’s stories.
Two weeks later, on June 1, 1899, Roy’s Aunt Susan woke the boys early. Three days ago she’d come to help his mother until the baby came.
“Your new brother or sister is on its way. Your Dad left to fetch the midwife. You boys dress quick while I put breakfast on the table.”
Roy pulled on a cotton checked shirt and over all’s. He had just sat down to eat when his dad sat down to eat returned with the midwife.
Seeing Roy and his brothers eating, she said, “They should be outside.” Then she went over to the bed where his mother laid.
The last of his tinned peaches had barely slid down his throat when his aunt scooped up his bowl, “Out!”
She herded him, his brothers and father over to the door. “Let us women do our work. I’ll call you after the baby arrives until then stay outside.”
Out in the barn, they started their morning chores. Richard scooped up oats for the horses, “How long do you reckon it will be until the baby gets here?”
Over the whiz of milk, hitting a bucket, his father said, ” It can take quite a while. Reckon it could be suppertime before we get the call.”
Finished with the milking his father said, “Richard and Roy, you finish up the barn chores. Joe, I want you to ride over and help Milo with the fence mending. I won’t be going today.”
He picked up the two pails of milk and headed to the house. A few minutes later he came out into the yard and began to pace.
Roy knew little about the birthing of babies, he knew it could be dangerous. He remembered hearing the whispers of the womenfolk when Mrs. Manning had died. Mr. Manning hadn’t been able to care for the baby or their other children. He’d heard the kids were now living in Kansas with their grandparents.
No, he refused to think that way. Hadn’t his mother already born six of them without a problem. Why should this time be different? What would become of him and his brothers without his mother? His father at 54 found keeping up with the ranch chores increasingly difficult, he’d never manage without his mother’s help, especially now that they didn’t have Sammy’s help anymore. How would any of them manage? He’d probably have to quit school and work full time around the ranch.
Last week, his dad and uncle had ridden off to Guymon to make the final proof on their claim since the required 5 years had passed. Soon the land would be theirs. When he returned, he began talking of selling the place and moving elsewhere.
“Too many sad memories, here now that Sammy’s gone.” He hitched his leg over his other knee, “seems like now would be a good time to sell.”
To Roy’s surprise, his mother nodded. “Maybe you are right. Once this baby gets here and has some time to grow, I’d love to move back near my kin in Missouri. I know they’d welcome us and help you start a new teamster business. We could buy us a little farm for our personal needs.”
When his pitchfork shoveling the hay hit the creaking barn floor Roy set it in the corner and sent over to went over to his horse’s stall.” Hey, Tango, how’s it going?”
The horse stuck his head over the gate. His nuzzled his nose checking Roy’s shirt pocket for carrots. Finding nothing, he rested his chin on Roy’s shoulder.
“Sorry, I have nothing for you. Maybe later,” he told the horse. He picked up a brush and combed the course dry hair of her mane.
Roy winced when heard muffled groans coming from the house.
“Guess you know the baby’s on its way. Sure, takes a long time, don’t it?”
He nodded toward the doorway where Roy’s father paced. “Reckon he’s going to dig a trench if he keeps going back and forth like that. Richard’s weeding Mother’s garden, so it’s just me and you.”
He pulled the brush through the tangles of the horse’s mane.” I think father’s worried. Heck, I’m worried, sure wish Sammy were here. He always could take my mind off bad things.”
His stomach growled. “I had little time to eat breakfast this morning. Don’t suppose it would do me much good to complain. Too bad it isn’t later in the year. I could pluck us a carrot out of the garden or an apple from the tree.”
A voice pierced the air. “Sam!”
Roy hurried out of the barn in time to see his father enter the house. He crossed his fingers. Please let him reappear with good news.
His brother Richard left the garden where he’d been weeding. “Is the baby here, is it here now,” he yelled into Roy’s ear. “Should we go in and see.”
Roy looked at his brother’s dirt crusted hands and then his own. “I reckon we should wait a bit. Let’s go wash up at the pump. I don’t expect they’d let us in with these filthy hands.”
Richard stared at his hands and laughed. “You’re right, mother would never let me in with muddy paws like this.”
They went back inside the barn after they washed and practiced spinning circles with their ropes. Roy was practicing his lasso when their father entered the barn smiling from ear to ear. Roy sighed in relief. A smile that big could only mean good news.
“It’s a girl. Mother and baby are doing just fine. Go on inside and meet your new sister, she’s a beauty.”
He grabbed the saddle for his horse. “I’m riding out to let Milo and Joe know. Let your mother I’ll be right back.”
Roy and Richard left the barn. In the doorway of their soddy stood the midwife. When she saw them, she called, “If it isn’t the two big brothers, come meet your new sister.”
Roy slipped into the Soddy; his mother still laid in the bed over in the corner. She looked asleep as he and Richard tiptoed her side.
His Mother’s eyes fluttered open. They looked tired, but the sad worn look of the past two weeks had disappeared.
“Boys,” she motioned them to the swaddled bundle next to her, “meet your new sister. We’ve named her Lida Lenora. Isn’t she the most beautiful thing you’ve ever saw?”
Roy looked at the tiny red, scrunched-up face above which sat a shock of dark hair. A beauty wasn’t the words he’d used to describe her, but he knew better than to say that. So he just stared at her. The baby opened her eyes. She turned her head and gazed into his, as if to say welcome. It was instant love; he knew he’d do anything to protect her as she grew up.
Roy stood in the doorway of his family’s sod house, watching as heavy sheets of rain fell from dark clouds. He’d planned to gather the eggs for his mother. With a baby due anytime time. It was getting too much for her. Looking at the mud, rain-soaked yard, he paused and thought better of it. She wouldn’t be happy if he tracked in all that muck along with the eggs.
In the distance, he could hear the thunder of hooves. A cowboy dressed in his saddle slicker and hat pulled down over his face to protect him from the drenching downpour. He reined to a stop in front of their corral. His pointed boots slid out of the stirrups as he dismounted. Even in the rain the horse’s coat steamed as though he’d been running a race. The man sloshed through the puddle and dashed to the barn, shouting something Roy couldn’t quite make out.
He recognized the man as someone who worked at a nearby ranch with his brother. But why wasn’t Sammy with him? Just this morning his brother had messed up Roy’s slicked back hair and said, “Hey partner, see you in a few days after I’m back from the cattle roundup. Roy’s heart raced. Had there been an accident?
From the corral his father yelled, “Saddle up the horses, I’ll be right back.”
Trembling, Roy moved from the doorway to let his father pass.
His father strode, paying no mind to the mud he tracked in. He took his wife’s hand “Maggie, there’s been a flash flood on Hackenberry Creek. Sammy – he was last seen trying to swim across the creek. They found his horse drowned. Our boy is missing.”
His mother’s hand trembled as it fell away from the soup she’d been stirring. “Noooo!”
“Just pray he’s all right. The older boys and I are going out to join the search party. I’ll leave Roy here. At 13 he’s old enough to ride for help should you need it.”
Tears glistened in his mother’s eyes. She nodded. “Don’t worry about us, just find Sammy.”
Dazed, Roy watched as his father reached for his “fish” hanging by the door and strode out to the corral where his two older brothers waited. They wasted no time mounting the horses with a crack of the whip, they sprinted out of sight.
He turned and looked inside. His mother had sunk into a heap on the bed. His little brother Richard curled beside her his head resting on her bulging belly.
Her anguished face murmured over and over. “Oh Lord, please, not my Sammy, not another one of my babies. Please, keep him safe.”
Roy knew he ought to console her, but he had no idea how. Not knowing what else to do, he sat next to the window and stared at the rain for the next hour. Two years ago a flash flood had destroyed his uncles’ home and caused his family to lose some of their livestock. This time had the ugly brown flood waters reached up with its hook of death and snared his brother?
He shuddered at the thought and looked around the cluttered room they all lived in. Was it always this dark inside? The dank scent of the earth, coupled with the dripping leaky roof, made it feel as if the house was already grieving.
“Please, God,” he prayed. “Please, let Sammy be safe. Let them find him drying out somewhere along the creek.”
Of his three older brothers, Sammy was his favorite. Joe was closest to him in age but had never been interested in book learning like Roy. Milo, his half-brother, 11 years older, had always seemed more like a grown up. It was Sammy, 7 years older, who taught him how to play games, studied with him, protected, and guided him through the complexities of life.
The shriek of his mother’s tea kettle brought him out from the fog of his thoughts. Why hadn’t he noticed her getting up? He was supposed to be looking after her.
“Mother, come sit. I’ll make your tea.”
“No, I need to keep busy or I’ll go crazy. You boys wash up, while I rustle up some lunch.”
He watched as his mother’s hands trembled as she methodically filled two plates with ham and cold biscuits left over from last night’s supper.
“Come sit down and eat.” Teacup in hand, she took up residence in her rocker by the window.
“How long before they come back?” Richard asked as he gulped down the food on his plate.
“It’s been too long already,” his mother said rocking back and forth in her chair.
Roy felt his stomach lurch into his throat when he tried to take a bite of biscuit. How come Richard could eat but he couldn’t even manage a bite. Didn’t he know their brother might never eat again?
The rain had quit around suppertime when they heard hoofbeats coming again. This time slow, somber ones. Roy took a deep breath as he stood in the doorway with his mother and Richard. First came Milo on his horse with Joe clinging to his back, followed by his father leading Joe’s horse; a body draped over it.
“No,” sobbed his mother, “Not Sammy.”
Despite the heaviness of the child inside her, she tore down the steps to the horses. Roy’s father dismounted his horse and took her into his arms. Roy and Richard rushed down the steps behind her. Joe stood with his head hung low, as if unwilling to look them in the eye.
It was Milo who grabbed them in a big hug. His lips trembled. “We found him amongst some tree roots when the creek receded. Looks like he got tangled up in them and drowned. Never saw Dad cry like he did when we found him. The old man is taking it pretty hard.”
A moment later Cousin Charlie rode up. His father took out his big red handkerchief, dabbed his eyes and blew his nose, “Let’s get him indoors.”
With great care, the four of them lifted Sammy off the horse and laid him on the bed in the house. His mother set to work heating water so she could wash the mud off his body. Before long, the soddie filled with people. His uncle William and aunt Susan, Charlies’ wife and some neighbors had come. The women tended the body and consoled his mother. Roy couldn’t believe his brother was dead, they made him look so peaceful, like he was just asleep.
The men had gone to the barn to do whatever men do at times like this. Roy guessed they might be making a casket. His little brother and cousins were playing out in the yard. Roy didn’t feel comfortable with all the women folk, but he didn’t want to play either. And he certainly didn’t want to help make a casket. He lit off to the orchard to be alone.
It wasn’t much of an orchard. Not that there weren’t enough trees, it was just they were so puny. It was a wonder they were alive. They’d planted them 5 years ago in 1894 when his father had taken up a homestead on this god forsaken land. Of all the places they’d lived, why had he stayed put here?
He found a forgotten apple box and sat on it. Didn’t Sammy always say he reckoned the natives knew what they were doing when they had nick-named this area “No-man’s-land.” Sammy worked hard so he could buy himself some land, only now he never would.
While inside Roy had heard a neighbor lady say, “What a waste of a life, why Sammy was the best and the brightest of the Caple boys.”
Roy agreed. Sammy had been the best and brightest. Everyone knew he was on his way to being well-off, handsome, and kind to boot. Except now he was dead. Dead, just like the his big sister they’d left in the mountains buried all alone in Idaho. Gone like his little brother Bertle buried in Spokane. He’d been so young then; he wouldn’t have remembered him if it weren’t for his picture on the wall.
No matter how many moves they made, his mother always hung their pictures on the wall first thing. “It’s so you don’t forget.”
His half-sister Minnie’s photo hung there too, except she was alive, married with a family of her own. She had moved away when he was a baby. He guessed Sammy’s picture would join them now. The one he’d just took in honor of his 21st birthday.
Roy took a deep breath as the birds twittered and roosted for the night. At last, this horrid day was ending. To the west, the clouds lit from below by the setting sun were bathed in colors of pink and purple. A striking contrast to the heavy, dark clouds that had filled the sky earlier. Hadn’t Sammy said sunsets were the best part of the day – a signal to sit and rest. Was Sammy at rest now? He hoped so. He gave the dusty ground a kick and headed back to the crowded house.
Two days later Roy choked back tears as the folks from near and far stood in a circle around his brother’s grave. With somber faces, his father, older brothers, and his brother’s friends lowered the casket into the gaping hole. Beside him stood his mother, grasping his younger brother’s hand while unchecked tears flowed down her cheeks.
The preacher scooped a spade full of soil into the grave and said, “Weep not for me, father and mother, for I am waiting for thee in heaven.”
He handed the shovel to his Father, his shoulders slumped. He took a scoop of earth and sprinkled it into the hole. Roy noticed deep lines etched his face. Why he looks so old, he thought, even older than his 50 years. The shovel passed to Milo, then Joe, who handed it to him. He had never been included in such grown-up things before. His hands trembled as he took the spade. He choked back tears as he scooped some earth and let it fall into the grave.
His Uncle touched his shoulder and took the shovel from his hands. “Time to join your folks the rest of us will finish up here.”
Numb, he joined his, Mother and father on the walk back to the wagon. His mother’s hands clasped in front of her belly, heavy with child, her eyes red and downcast. Anytime now she was due to give birth and Roy knew that could be dangerous business.
He’d heard the neighbor ladies whispering amongst themselves, “poor thing, what with her grief and at the advanced age of 41, she might not make it.”
Was that really old to have a baby? He knew little about such things, he just knew he couldn’t bear it if something happened to her, too. His father’s powerful arms helped her onto the wagon seat, and he climbed up to join her. He waited while Roy and Richard scrabbled into the back, took up the reins, and with a click they began the somber ride home. Behind, Joe and Milo followed on horseback, two now, where there’d used to be three.
My grandfather described this event as the most life changing moment for him in his childhood. Details of how his brother died came from several articles in Kansas newspapers as well as his obituary.
In addition to the death of Roy’s younger brother Bertle who died of meningitis in Spokane, and Ida who died from a mastoid ear infection on the trail in the mountains of Idaho, his father had also suffered the lost of 2 other children from his first marriage. Sarah Etta died at 19 month olds after drinking an undiluted bottle of lye. The other child’s name and cause of death is unknown but died in infancy. Both are buried in Monroe, Iowa.
Article describing Sammy’s death in a Kansas newspaper
The winter holidays passed before Roy’s dad and Uncle Will saddled up their horses and rode to Guthrie, Oklahoma. There his dad filed an intent to homestead on 160 acres in township nineteen. [i]
After they left, his brother Sammy said, “We have to live on that land for the next five years before we can call it ours. And we have to have a house built by May.”
Tired of sharing his relatives cramped quarters, May, seemed like a long time to wait.
He asked his father upon his return, “How long before we can move there?”
His father fingered the ends of his long mustache, “Well, it’s going to be a bit. It has to warm up enough for us to cut the sod. I reckon it will be March before we get it built. There’s plenty of work for us to do in the meantime. I’ll start on the corral tomorrow.”
When the weather warmed enough to cut the sod, it surprised Roy how fast his dad with some help from his uncle and cousins got it built.
Roy’s Dad had brought the boys over to see it the day he and Milo hauled in the cast-iron stove. They installed it at one end of the 18’ x 24’ room. “There,” said his dad, something to keep us warm and cook on.”
He handed him and Joe paintbrushes, “Your mother wants all the walls whitewashed before we move in. I reckon it’s a job you two can handle.”
The next day his mother enlisted him and Joe to help her tack the white muslin sheets to the ceiling. After she pounded in the last tack she said, “there, that should help keep the dust and bugs out.” She nodded to the trunk his dad had set in the room that morning. “Roy, go open that up.”
She reached in and pulled out red checkered curtains. “I made these for our house in Puyallup. They will work here just as good. While I hang these, you two get the rugs out.”
He and Joe dragged out braided rugs and laid them on the dirt floor. Then his mother pulled out a gilt covered frame. It contained the likeness of both his mother and Father on some kind of certificate. “What is that?” asked Roy.
“It’s our marriage certificate.” Her fingers traced the outline of the photos. “My, how young we both looked, I can’t believe that was almost 17 years ago.” She hung it on the wall with the pictures of Ida and Bertle. Looking at Ida made Roy miss his sister all over again.
The boys helped their mother make shelves out of wooden fruit boxes to hold their dishes and cookware. She designated one shelf just for her China teapot and teacups. “There,” she said, “now we are ready to bring in the furniture.”
The two boys brought in the table they’d dragged along the trail and two chairs. The rest of them would make do sitting on wooden boxes until they could get proper seats.
In the corner along one wall they set the bedframe for their parent’s feather bed and the trundle his father had constructed for him, Richard, and Joe to sleep on. Sammy and Milo would sleep on palettes on the floor until they could build a bunkhouse.
On March 20th, 1894, the family moved into the soddy. His father took out a new ledger, dipped his pen in an inkwell and wrote the date down. “We’ll need to this to prove our claim in five years.”
While his mother was busy making the inside cozy and homey, he and Joe set to digging her a garden patch, while his dad, Sammy and Milo worked from dawn to dusk getting the fields plowed and planted with crops of corn and wheat.
Since wood was scarce. Roy and Richard often searched for dried cow chips, which they burned along with corn cobs for fuel.
Roy learned to put up with bugs, mice and snakes that burrowed through their walls and ceiling. Once while eating at his cousins Jennie’s house, she pointed to the ceiling. “Always look up before you eat. One time we had a snake fall on our dinner.”
After that, Roy checked the ceiling before he sat at the table. He also learned to never stick his feet onto the floor in the morning without checking to make sure the area was snake free. Some of those snakes were poisonous.
At first they had to haul their water from his uncle’s place. No matter how careful, the barrels always seemed close to dry. His father had to make several trips a week after it. Roy liked to ride along to help. His aunt was a superb cook, she always had something tasty he could eat, and he enjoyed talking to Jennie. For a girl, she was full of interesting stories.
Bit by bit the family added on to the homestead, first a bunkhouse, then a hen house for his mother to raise laying hens. They obtained more cattle and horses. After 5 years they’d planted an orchard of 150 trees and two thousand shade trees, fenced 140 acres and cultivated sixty-five acres.  His brother Milo took up a claim adjoining his father’s and Sammy had plans of adding to the family’s’ holdings as soon as he turned twenty-one.
Roy spent more time working on the ranch than going to school. He doubted he’d ever get enough school to graduate from the eighth grade. But that didn’t stop him from learning. Whenever they had a spare dime to spend, his parents bought him books to read and study on his own. He’d also learned to lasso a steer, dig postholes, mend fence, plant, and harvest crops, ride a horse and anyone, and build most anything one needed. Still, he cherished the moments he could read and study the most.
The info for their homestead claim comes from the actual claim when it was proved.
At time homesteaders in this area were instructed to plant trees which is why they planted 2000 trees. The scientific thought of the time was if trees were planted the rains would come.
My grandfather William Roy Caple was born on August 8th, 1885, somewhere near Dodge city, Kansas at his family’s homestead. His parents were Samuel Hugh Caple Senior and Margaret Melinda Ragsdale Caple. He joined five older siblings, including two half siblings, Minnie born in 1867, and Milo born in 1874. And full siblings, Samuel Jr. born in 1878, Ida born in 1880, and Joseph born in 1883.
Margaret was Samuel’s second wife. His first wife, Polly Sumpter died in 1876 in Monroe Iowa. Leaving Samuel with two young children to raise.
How he came to know and marry Margaret is unknown. The couple married on September 16, 1877, at her family home in Brookline, Missouri. They are living in Osborn County, Kansas in the 1880 census. Soon after newspaper snippets place them on a homestead four miles North of Dodge city, Kansas. His father appears to have been running a freighting business in addition to having homestead land.
Around 1887 the family headed west by covered wagon. My grandfather said his dad always thought the grass was greener elsewhere. From family records we know they lived a brief time in Weston, Oregon, and Cheney, and Spokane WA.
Around 1891 they moved to Puyallup, WA. When a world depression hit and blight severely damaged the local hop crops the family moved again in 1892 to Multnomah, Oregon where is father found work building a stone house.
A bit later they moved once again. Wintering in either Eastern Oregon or over the border in Idaho. My grandfather recalled how destitute the family was at that time and how they would not have survived that winter had they not been able to live on a farm they found. The owner had a jail sentence to serve and needed someone to take care of his property for the winter. They lived off the food found on his farm.
After staying there, they continued on their journey to Oklahoma where Samuels’ older brother William was homesteading.
I have chosen to begin my story as my grandfather’s family enters the state of Oklahoma.
You will find that I use the name Roy in my writing instead of my grandfather’s first name. Apparently when he was quite young his father and uncle had some kind of disagreement. From then on, he went by the name Roy, except on legal documents. For this reason he never wanted anyone named after him. He said every child deserved a name all their own.
This story was born out of my fascination for tales my by Grandpa William Roy Caple told of his pioneer childhood.
He knew little of his ancestry. He said the family once lived in the South and moved north over the issue of slavery. However he had no idea what state that might have been or where they’d com from before living in the U.S. All he knew was the name of his grandfather. My desire to know more spurred me to research the family.
As I began to put together the timeline of my grandfather’s life I began to realize he’d lived through incredible times, seeing the world go from horse and buggy days to jet travel.
The stories I will share are based on what I recall him telling me, the facts I uncovered in my research as well as the memories his two children shared with me.
I have chosen to write in the genre of creative non-fiction. I have woven fact with recollections and social history. Where I have quoted conversations or delved into thinking it is my interpretation of those facts and stories.