Tag Archives: Texas county Okl. William Roy Caplemtu

Chapter 4- The Life and Times of William Roy Caple

Roy’s mother Margaret Melinda Ragsdale Caple

     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.

Chapter 3-FLASH FLOOD-May 18, 1899- Caple Oklahoma

     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.

Author’s notes:

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