An icy wind blew across the flat, lifeless terrain. Eight-year-old Roy Caple hunkered his chin down inside his worn jacket. On a pony he plodded behind his parent’s tattered, covered wagon. Behind him rode his older brothers, Milo, Sammy, and Joe, on their horses.
Up ahead, some sort of settlement beckoned to him. Since they’d crossed from Kansas into the Oklahoma panhandle, miles and miles of endless, dusty terrain punctuated occasionally by rock outcroppings were all he’d seen.
Last year his uncle urged his dad to join him in Oklahoma. “Plenty of free homestead land is available. Come join me and get a fresh start.”
Since last winter, Roy’s dad had said all their troubles would be over once they reached Oklahoma. He doubted it from the looks he’d seen so far.
“Whoa,” yelled his dad as they rode into the town.
Roy pulled his pony to a rest behind the wagon. His brothers rode up and stopped beside him.
Joe gazed at the dust choked street, “I hope this isn’t Caple.”
Milo pointed to a sign behind them. “By the looks of that, I’d say we’re in Hardesty.”
Their father jumped from the wagon and waved at them. “You boys sit tight. I’ll just be a minute.” He tilted his head toward a decrepit building with a sign that read General store. “I’m going to check on the directions to Caple. I reckon we’ll be there before dark.”
Roy gazed at the rest of the shacks on the street. He guessed they held some sort of businesses. Behind them stood a few forlorn houses and sickly trees surrounded by miles of dry, barren land.
Joe frowned. “Sure don’t look like the green valley of Puyallup, does it? I hope Caple looks better.”
“Do you think they have a school?” Roy asked.
Sammy gestured to the shacks. “Probably, but it won’t be fancy like the one we went to in Puyallup. Dad better hurry and find a place he wants to live in soon because I’m tired of moving. I’ve lived in at least ten places and I’m only fifteen.”
Roy knew he’d been born in Kansas. He had a vague memory of riding in the covered wagon when they’d moved to Oregon. They’d also lived in Cheney and Spokane, WA, before moving to Puyallup. Since then, they’d wandered from place to place.
“I just hope we stay put once we get to Caple,” said Joe. “If we hadn’t run into that farmer in Idaho who needed someone to keep his farm while he went to jail, we’d have been in real trouble.”
Milo grinned, “Remember how aghast Mother felt when Dad agreed to stay at a place that belonged to a convict.”
Sammy shrugged his shoulders. “Who cares, we’d have starved or froze to death if we’d gone on and soon it’s going to be winter again.”
Just before sunset, they pulled into their uncle’s homestead. Out of the corral ran a man waving his arms. “Welcome to Caple, Oklahoma.”
His Dad leaped from the wagon and embraced the man. “If you aren’t a sight for sore eyes, it’s been quite a trip.”
The man had the same pale blue eyes and dark hair flecked with grey like his dad. He must be my Uncle Will, Roy thought.
The man said, “It’s been too long since we’ve seen each other.”
His Dad nodded and helped his mother and little brother out of the wagon. “Of course, you know Maggie. And this is Richard Jordan, our youngest, just turned four last July. You know the older boys, there on the horses. Reckon they’ve grown a might since you last saw them.”
His uncle nodded. “Looks as though one of them has gone and growed up. Is that Milo?”
Roy’s father nodded. “And that’s Sammy on the horse beside him.”
“Darn if he don’t look almost grown up too.”
“Reckon he almost is,” said his dad, “he’s fifteen.”
He motioned toward Roy and Joe. “Those two weren’t much more than babies the last time you saw them, now they’re 8 and 10.”
His Uncle walked over to their horses. “Welcome boys.” He pointed at two young men who stood against a fence. “They’re your cousins, Charlie, and John. They’ll see to the horses and the wagon.”
He motioned toward the sod house. “Go on, go meet the rest of the family.”
In the yard stood a roundish lady, with gray hair and a big white apron tied around her middle. Roy guessed she must be his Aunt Susan. His mother stood next to her, conversing. He went and stood next to his mother.
The lady threw her arms around him. “If it isn’t my dark haired, blue-eyed Roy.” She gave his cheek a pinch. “You were a chubby-cheeked toddler the last time I saw you. What are you now, six?”
“I’m eight,” he glowered.
“Oh, I guess it’s been longer than I thought since you folks moved out west.” She pointed toward the corral. “I suppose you already met my two oldest.”
Roy bobbed his head, “Yes, Mam.”
“And that pretty young woman talking to Milo, that’s your cousin, Jennie. Those two loved to tease each other at your age. Maggie, remember when we lived in Kansas and Milo would take a hold of her braids and gallop around the yard.”
His mother laughed. “I sure do, and now look at them all grown up. Where have the years gone?”
His Aunt pressed a young girl forward. She had braids as black as licorice. “Roy don’t let that give you any ideas about my Lillie. I reckon you two are about the same age. She’s the baby of my family.”
Aunt Susan grasped his mother’s elbow. “Goodness, I plumb lost sight of my manners. You folks must be exhausted and hungry to boot. I’ve got a nice stew simmering on the stove. Let’s go inside.”
Roy followed them into the sod house. It surprised him how cozy the room felt. The whitewashed plastered walls glowed in the light of the kerosene lantern and the yellow checked curtains and polished brown planked floors added to the ambience. At the far end of the room sat a caste-iron stove. A pot of bubbling stew filled the air with the delectable aroma of meat and vegetables. Roy’s stomach rumbled.
“Goodness, somebody sounds hungry,” his aunt said. She motioned to the table. “Make yourselves comfortable. It won’t take me long to get supper on.”
His stomach growled again when a steaming bowl of stew sat in front of him. The smell alone almost made him think he’d died and gone to heaven. The past few weeks of nothing but beans and bacon had gotten old. Someone handed him a basket of piping hot rolls. He grabbed one and slathered it in butter. He slurped down the stew, leaving the conversation about their trip to the others.
“My, this one certainly has a good appetite,” said his aunt as she handed him another roll. “Eat up, I made plenty.”
She turned toward his mother. “Maggie, we were so saddened to hear of the loss of your little Bertle and your recent letter telling of Ida. I never got a chance to meet Bertle, but I remember how sweet Ida was. You must miss her dearly being your only girl and all.”
Tears filled his mother’s eyes. “I miss them so. At least my friends in Spokane keep watch over Bertle’s grave. But Ida, we had to leave all alone in Idaho with nothing but mountains for company.”
His Aunt patted his mother on her arm. “She isn’t alone, they’re in heaven together, playing with the angels.”
Roy knew little about heaven, but he knew he missed his big sister. Bertle, he barely remembered, they’d both been so young.
When everyone had their fill of food Cousin Charlie and John excused themselves, taking Milo with them. From the jumble of conversation, Roy gathered they had homesteads of their own nearby.
His mother got up and helped his aunt wash and dry the dishes. As she set the last dish down, she wiped her hands and said, “My Susan, thank you for the wonderful evening. It’s been a long day. It’s time the boys and I retire to the wagon for the night.”
She nodded toward his dad and Uncle deep in conversation. “I gather they’ll be reminiscing for a spell.”
His Aunt walked them to the door. “Wouldn’t surprise me if those two aren’t up half the night. Don’t worry about breakfast. I’ll make plenty.”
The next morning his dad roused him from his sleep. “Roy, go up to the house. Your Mother and Richard are already there. The rest of us will join you as soon as we finish the chores.”
A blast of warm air greeted him when he pushed the door open. His aunt looked up from the stove where he and his mother bustled. She nodded toward the table. “Go on, sit down.”
She set a plate of hot cornbread slathered with molasses on the table, “dig in.”
Roy inhaled the savory scent of molasses and dug into his breakfast.
After everyone had eaten, his family climbed into his uncle’s wagon for a tour of the area. It didn’t take long to see Caple made up of even less than Hardesty. Just a little post office attached to his Cousin John’s house and two sorry looking sod structures his uncle said were the school and a store. The school looked empty.
“Why isn’t anyone at the school today? he asked.
His uncle stroked his mustache. “School here, runs three months a year. It will start again in November provided we find a teacher.”
He glanced at Roy and his brothers. “Round here we need all the hands we can get to keep things running. I spect you boys will be busy without school to bother with.”
Roy’s heart sank. He loved school. He remembered going to watch Sammy’s 8th grade graduation in Puyallup. Would he ever graduate? He’d already missed an entire year.
His uncle took them to look over the land he thought they should claim. It looked like more endlessly flat, dried-up land. Though one corner of the property had a creek.
They decided that Milo, Sammy, and Joe should stay at their cousins’ homesteads until his dad could file a claim of his own. That left Roy, his four-year-old brother, and his parents to crowd into their uncles’ place.
His Aunt and uncle were nice, but Roy longed for a proper house just for his family. One with three bedrooms, like the one they had in Puyallup. Instead, he slept in a cramped room on a pallet on the floor.
His Dad said they needed to save a bit more money before he could stake his claim. Would he ever have a place to call home again?
From my research I know the family left Dodge City, Kansas around 1887 or 1888. An autograph book that belonged to Roy’s older brother, Samuel, has them In Weston Oregon in 1887, from there they likely went to Cheney where his brother Richard was born in July of 1889 and after a short time there they moved to Spokane. Family lore says his father owned a great deal of downtown Spokane at one time but I found nothing to document this claim. It also was said he’d been swindled out of a homestead claim in that area.
The Puyallup, WA directory of 1891 lists the family living at Meeker junction, in Puyallup, Wa. My Aunt t Iva said Roy attended first grade that year at the then brand-new Spinning school.
A countrywide depression and the emergence of hop lice in 1892 made for economic hard times in Puyallup and most likely caused the family to move. For a short time they stayed they lived in Oregon city while my grandfather’s dad hauled rocks to build a large house for someone.
The story of the living in the convicts house came from a story I recall my grandfather often telling, my aunt related a bit more of the story for me. I also remember him talking about how Ida had died of a mastoid ear infection when they were far from a doctor somewhere in the mountains of Idaho. He remembered her as always sickly and thought she may have suffered from tuberculosis.
Bertle apparently died as a toddler from meningitis. There exists a photograph of him at about a year old. From a letter written to Roy’s mother, Margaret, from a friend in Spokane, I learned that one child was buried there. She wrote she had placed flowers on the grave for her. This most likely was Bertle.