Michael Hollenzoher's entire extended family came to his going away dinner. His mother and many other women cried. All expected his leaving Germany to be permanent, with little chance of future communication. Because he was the family's youngest son, no opportunity existed to obtain a big enough farm to support a family. In 1800, he accepted an "indentured servant contract" as a farm worker in a place called Virginia. For seven years of service the property owner would pay for the trip's cost.
While shaking hands with his father before getting into the coach, he said, "Father, I will be fine. Remember, this is an exciting adventure."
The Cornwall's farm located near Waynesboro, Virginia provided a small bedroom in the barn. The indentured female house servant would bring out his meals. Robert Cornwall proved to be a fair and reasonable boss. The work was no harder than in Germany. Sundays, the Lord's day, he could rest except for the morning and evening cow milking.
The indentured contract allowed Michael to pursue his own projects when his tasks were completed. Skilled at wood craft, he would make stocks for long rifles, and sell them to the gunsmith.
Life took an upturn when the existing house servant's seven years were up. Michael, who had picked up basic English, asked "What you do now?"
With a beaming face, "I'm marrying Kent, the tack makers apprentice. I can't wait."
Mr. Cornwall asked Michael to drive him to the coach station to pick up the new indentured house servant. He translated for Gertrude Newberg from Germany. Twinkling blue eyes dominated her happy smile.
As she started to work, he provided almost daily translations. Gertrude had experience with the necessary chores; she just needed instructions on the timing of tasks. In six months, she learned enough English to work on her own.
On a light duty Sunday, five months after she started her service, Michael saw Gertrude sitting against a front yard tree with an unhappy expression. Definitely not her usual smile. In German, he asked, "Why are you upset?"
"I have two sisters and three brothers and miss them. They worry about me and I wish to tell them that I live with good people and the work is not too hard."
"Can you write?
"Only a little."
"I will help write a letter to them and take it to the mail station. No way to tell if it will ever be delivered." Together they wrote one. He never told Gertrude the postage fee cost the amount of money he made selling one gun stock. No response ever came.
From that day forward, Gertrude found reason to visit Michael daily. Also, they began to eat every Sunday lunch together. The bond between the two grew.
Nearing the end of the seven years, he asked Mr. Cornwall, "When I finish my time, could I buy out Gertrude's last year? We want to wed."
"It will take six months to find and train a replacement. I'll let you buy out her last six months and pay you farm hand wages until she is free." A handshake sealed the deal.
In town, Michael heard of a man selling 100-acre farms over the mountains in Ohio. With a down payment, the remainder was due in four annual payments. Profits from gun stock sales provided enough money for the first land installment, farm tools, a wagon, and two draft horses.
The Cornwalls paid for a wedding reception. With affection gained over years, they wished the happy couple success on their thrilling adventure.
As they drove away Michael said, "Gertrude, things will be hard for a while. Because we'll arrive there in September, I will cut logs and build a cabin."
She smiled, "My love, this is our adventure."
The roads leading to Wellston, Ohio were so rough, Michael led the horses while walking; Gertrude also walked. They arrived in mid-September, and the salesman let them pick out their parcel choice. He chose one with 75 acres of grass and 25 of woods. "The more timber we cut for our buildings, the more farm- able land we will have," he said.
By 1814 the house, barn, and fencing had been built. The Canadian British government decided to disrupt American expansion into their heretofore monopoly of the Indian trading by arming some Native American tribes. They unleashed attacks on western settlements, including Ohio's.
When the attack came, the local people took their children and created a defensive position around the church. The Indians burnt Hollenzoher's buildings and almost-grown crops to the ground. Without a crop to sell they faced losing the farm, on which they still owed two annual payments, and the ability to rebuild their house and shed.
Their neighbor, Jacob Smith, offered to buy their farm by paying them the value of their last two installments and he would then pick up the remaining two.
After the children slept, Michael and Gertrude sat next to their campfire. Their mood and voice remained somber. "Well, wife, we can't spend the upcoming winter in a tent."
"What does that mean?"
"Well, we can't afford any farm in Virginia; so, we can't go back. However, with the sale money, we can buy a wagon, two horses, living supplies, and some tools."
Gertrude threw a stone on the fire. "Then what?"
"Remember that revival preacher that came through about six months ago?" She nodded. "He talked about the area around Memphis, Tennessee where most landowners don't have slaves. Farm work exists. He recommended that some of our young men should move there."
After throwing another rock on the fire and speaking with a strained voice, "Start all over again." With tears in her eyes, "Do we have a choice?"
Michael tossed a stone. "It's another adventure. We can work to make money. Me on a farm and making gun stocks; you sewing clothes and maybe even doing some housework. We now have enough for a flatboat ride to Memphis."
With a smile he said, "You always knew we would have adventures."
They stayed for seven years. After working several farms Michael spent the last three years managing Horatio Philbin's farm. He also continued fabricating quality gun stocks, which allowed local smiths to concentrate on the metal parts and increase their sales. Gertrude developed a reputation for superior sewing.
They saved enough money to make a down payment on the Philbin farm. Unfortunately, Horatio died, and the will gave it to his Memphis-dwelling son. He enjoyed the city life, therefore sold the property at a price twice what the Hollenzohers could afford.
Gertrude and Michael held another somber meeting, this time in front of their cabin's fireplace. Looking at his wife, "Now what?"
She responded, "If we don't own something, we'll be bounced around again and again. Can't we buy some fertile dirt?"
"The people who own fertile farm properties keep them in their family. But the papers talk about now in 1824, the Mexican government offers land at no cost in a place called Texas. The program encourages settlers who will purchase supplies from existing vendors, set up defenses for fighting off Indian raids, and pay taxes."
Gertrude stood. "Another adventure. After having three of them and at the same time raising four children, this must be my last."
He stood and put his arm around her, "We have enough money to buy a Conestoga wagon and fill it with all the household things we need. Ah . . . it's free land and our chance."
A river boat took then to Natchez, Mississippi from which a crude road led to a city called Nacogdoches, Texas. They took the second-to-last place in the wagon train. The Indians almost always attacked the tail end of a train because fewer defensive guns could be pointed at them.
Ten cowhands rode up to chase off the attackers. They found the last two wagons burnt, their animals gone, and all but the youngest Hollenzoher child killed.
The Second Adventure
The rescue posse guessed that boy child had been left because he looked dead due to a very bloody cut on his head. Kirby Johnson bandaged the boy's wounds. When the boy became conscious, he could remember his first name was Calvin, but several times changed the pronunciation of his last.
One of the other cowboys regarded the kid lying on the blanket and asked, "Who will take care of him?"
"Well, I'm the only one of us with my own cabin. I'll take this kid. That old grandma O'Brian lost her whole family, so I'll hire her to do housework for my new son Calvin Johnson."
When one of the cowboys asked why a single guy wanted the child, he responded,"I can use a worker on my spread."
With lots of hard work, the Johnson ranch became successful. Mrs. O'Brian handled the cabin chores; after her death, Mrs. Lopez took over. Yearly, the neighbor ranchers drove cattle to Nacogdoches or San Antonio. Kirby taught Calvin ranching operations and insisted he attend school along with church. Their relationship started as father and son, but when Calvin became an adult it developed into a partnership.
Kirby never married but once a month did spend a weekend enjoying the pleasures of the Bent Hoof tavern. He often told his son how beneficial a wife could be but after much looking he unfortunately never found one. This point apparently stuck in Calvin's head because as he got older, he began to scan the local crop of women. The only available were squaws lured from a tribe, prostitutes, or very few white females. The subject periodically crossed his mind, but no solutions existed. Cow wrangling consumed his time, until the trip to Austin.
* * *
The friars of San Hubro accepted any child Jesus placed at their mission. One was a little girl crying at the gate. In honor of the Blessed Virgin and the saints she was baptized Maria Santos. The monks assigned all foundlings to families who accepted them as the will of God.
Franciscan's missions generally were built with similar architecture; the church, rectory, administration building, workshops, storage rooms and residences were enclosed by a wall. It had several purposes. First, it defined the place in which the friars controlled all activities. Second, it created a location for proselytizing. Third, it protected from the raids of the Kiowa, Apaches, lesser known tribes, and Comancheros.
Strict rules existed. Children lived with their parents until they were 8 years old. Then they moved into the school and dormitory complex and only visited home one weekend a month. The Franciscans believed that if taught to read, a person could spread the word of the Lord. Boys and girls learned in both Spanish and English,
Dormitory life also contained much prayer and task-oriented discipline to serve the goal of producing obedient Catholics. When twelve years old, the boys began to learn a trade and the girls how to perform homemaker skills. At sixteen years, boys were apprenticed, and parents began seeking husbands for the young women.
In the case of Maria, her adopted family routinely took in foundlings. She never became close to her assigned parents because their loving parental spirit had been worn down by the orphans they kept getting; she was the twelfth of sixteen.
Maria chafed under the regimen. She lost count of the punishment rosaries she said while kneeling on the chapel floor. Senior-aged ladies applied a strap to disobedient girls. She felt its sting on numerous occasions. Despite this fact, the friars proposed sending her to a convent in Mexico City. Another disciplined lifestyle held absolutely no appeal. Neither did her parents' efforts to find a husband. She rejected the nunnery, and prospective husbands found her rebellious spirit would never make an obedient wife.
* * *
To obtain Texas land controlled by Mexico, immigrants had to accept Roman Catholic baptism. Most quickly ignored the act without fear of local Mexican government officials inposing any consequences. However, a few families decided damnation followed lying to God; these baptized their children and participated in Church traditions. Kirby Johnson's family fit into this category. Calvin took part in Church member activities when ranch duties allowed and attended infrequent masses offered by roving priests.
In 1839, a group of neighboring ranchers decided to send spokesmen to the new independent government in Austin. For the experience, Calvin's father sent him along. The men reached the San Hubro Mission where they stopped for food and shelter. A small fee paid for both.
Maria, now eighteen years old and passed over by several potential husbands, served in the cafeteria when travelers came to eat. Customers picked up meals at a counter before sitting down.
This girl with tan skin looked right at Calvin and with a mischievous smile asked him, "Well mister rancher, how many cows do you own?"
Surprised by a direct question from a girl, he stumbled for an answer, "Ah . . . more than you do."
Maria laughed out loud at this, "You can bet on that. I don't own the clothes on my back, but the friars won't let me take them off to give them back."
That response froze him. Not having a clue as to how to respond, he blushed and carried his food away.
After finishing dinner, Calvin noticed Maria performing all the cleanup tasks. The supervisor told him the other assigned server became sick, so she would finish by herself. Without thinking, he asked if he could help. The friar, foreseeing no trouble, agreed and thanked him.
The two started the cleanup and found conversation awkward at first. As the work continued, they talked more and more. A task that should last one hour ended taking three. Maria's humor kept bubbling through. Calvin's determination to make ranching a success also showed.
He asked her about her background. Maria, without any hint of embarrassment, said, "White men like enjoying village women but don't recognize the products of the relationships. The discarded children, like me, end up in a mission." With a laugh she added, "I'm part something else like Indian, Mexican, or Comanchero. Maybe I've eaten cows stolen from your ranch." Calvin smiled at this comment.
After the next morning's breakfast, Calvin kept sneaking glances at Maria. The rancher delegation continued on its journey. He, however, could not stop thinking about the girl and the comments of his father. Something clicked.
The social norm in his county was to despise squaws, who were considered worse than prostitutes. Mexicans, except the rich ones, occupied the step just above squaws. Comancheros traded guns and supplies with the Indian raiders for stolen material and animals. They were the most hated because they encouraged the killing of white people. Calvin pondered the implications, but Maria stirred something in him.
At the conclusion of the Austin business, the ranchers planned to return by a different course. Calvin told them, "I saw several interesting horses located near the Mission and I want to take another look." Because no Indian trouble had occurred this year, the others thought it was safe to travel alone.
He found one small horse and offered a bargain price if the sale included a saddle. The owner, glad to be rid of the runt, accepted. Calvin also purchased a donkey to carry supplies. While riding toward St. Hubro's he said out loud, "It might not work, but it certainly will be an adventure."
When the travelers gathered for a Mission dinner, Maria served his meal. With a big smile she said, "Hello, mister rancher."
Calvin projected earnest intent when he whispered, "I'll have two horses outside the main gate at midnight."
She was stunned. Needing time to think, she retreated into the kitchen and began to shake. She realized somehow this adventure would change her life. It only took a few moments before deciding. As she cleaned the table she whispered, "I can get a rope; I will be over the wall at midnight." With nothing but the clothes on her back, she scaled the wall and mounted the horse.
Without speaking, both understood they needed to put some distance between themselves and the mission in case a sheriff pursued them. The moon illuminated the road, and they traveled at a quick pace for almost four hours. They rested for three hours on a dry creek bed. No travelers passed them.
Food serving girls worked on different shifts; no one missed Maria until she didn't appear for dinner duty. The friars conducted a search and asked questions. When one worker reported seeing a rope hanging over the wall near the front gate, the friars recognized the obvious. They included her in evening prayers but decided not to pursue a grown foundling with a troublesome record.
While eating dinner the second night Maria said, "Calvin, I want to be married. I know what people call me because I don't have a father." She also didn't want to be a casual fling with a white rancher but thought better than to say that to him.
The small towns though which they would pass normally contained a little church operated by the Franciscans. Maria knew from years at San Hubro that these little churches rarely received donations. A wedding only required a small one. Besides, Catholic couples acting within the sacraments made a priest feel fulfilled. The next day Friar Rafael performed the ceremony at a mass and wrote a paper testimony to the fact.
Some of Maria's mission chores had required working with farm animals. The old lady that instructed girls on sex never explained anything beyond cleaning up menstrual blood. She understood how male and female beasts mated. Without any hesitation, she participated in consummating their marriage.
Maria's minimal clothing did not include undergarments which were only worn during a woman's cycle. San Hubro did not want to spend the money, so it required girls to wash and share them. Recognizing she would need several outfit changes and a sun hat, Calvin acquired items as they passed through small villages.
Never before in her life had Maria owned so many clothes. At first the broad-brimmed hat seemed unnecessary; she never wore one in the mission. Riding across open sun-drenched grasslands convinced her of its value. He told her that a cobbler took a day to make her a pair of boots. She asked, "Why, I've worn sandals all my life."
"My wife, I don't know mission life, but on a ranch cows and horses drop things on the ground you don't want to step in." They both chuckled.
The only problem occurred on their fifth night together. Maria announced, "I am going to put on all of these wonderful clothes and sleep in them tonight." Calvin's kiss changed her mind. In the village of Water Crossing, they found a wedding ring. She spent the next hour ignoring the road while looking at something she never imagined owning.
Approaching Prairie, they continued to ride at a leisurely pace. Calvin's father, showing concern over his son's delay, put the word out about wanting to be notified as soon as his son returned. One of the men saw them from a distance and rode out to tell him. He said, "He rides with two other horses and a woman sits on one." Kirby spurred his horse toward town.
In small towns everyone knows each other and when one does something unusual, the others unabashedly stare. The fact that Maria wore her scooped neck Mexican blouse increased the intensity of the inspection. The sheriff called out, "Hey Calvin, how are you doing?"
"Very well Sheriff. I want you to meet my wife, Maria Johnson." Turning and waving his hand at her, "Maria, this is Prairie's sheriff, Norm Paxton."
With her almost ever-present smile she said, "Good morning, Sheriff Paxton, I'm glad to meet you."
Surprise delayed his response but did not hide the evaluating look. Social rules required a man to tip his hat to white women but not to prostitutes or dark-skinned women. Norm walked next to Maria's horse and said, "Pleased to meet you."
Calvin leaned far over his saddle horn and with a somber look and sound said, "Norm, Maria Johnson is my wife, but you forgot to tip your hat."
For a moment, the sheriff shot a squint-eyed look at Calvin to evaluate what would happen if he ignored what just was said. Then with a smile he faced Maria and tipped his hat saying, "Pardon my temporary manner slip, the total surprise caused it."
Maria leaned back in her saddle, looked at her husband, and said, "Believe me, sheriff, it was a sudden surprise to me, as well." She glanced back at Norm and rendered another warm smile.
Maria never recognized the tremendous significance of this seeming minor exchange.
"Your father wondered what caused your return delay. I see now the reason. The other men said you went to look at horses, but no one guessed a charming lady would be riding one." The newlyweds smiled.
Several other townspeople had gathered on a near front porch. Men and women began to introduce themselves and welcome Maria. All men tipped their hats.
A half-mile out-of-town Kirby rode up. Calvin never told Maria that he was anxious about this meeting. A combination of curiosity and surprise blanketed his father's face. After the introduction to his new daughter-in-law a smile appeared, and he tipped his hat while saying with sincerity in his voice, "Maria, I'm glad you have come."
While riding toward the ranch, the three talked constantly. Maria explained how they met and then the wedding. Conveniently she left the impression that their departure was blessed. The marriage certificate was important to her, so she showed it to Kirby. Calvin's father was charmed and never doubted any details of the story.
After dinner, Maria ordered, "You two men get out of here. This kitchen is a mess and I'll straighten it out." They sat on the porch while she attacked the room's disorganized and dirty facilities.
After looking at the evening sky for a few minutes, his father reached over a slapped his son's shoulder, "She is a good woman," he said. A simple phrase that carried a mountain of positive meaning. Calvin understood and grinned.
They would raise three children, the first of which was Michael. Ann was next and Gabriel followed. A fourth, Joseph, died two weeks after birth. All were baptized, received traditional Catholic names and participated in church activities. It became common understanding among Prairie's people that whenever a Johnson did something out of the ordinary, they would all nod their heads when one of them said, "You know the Johnsons have Indian in them."
Ranch land located near the Johnson's periodically became available when raids chased off settlers, or the immigrants just found the grassland too hard to tame. Calvin would offer bargain purchase prices. Thus, the ranch grew to one of the largest in the county.
At ten years old the Johnson children would begin doing some of the more serious ranch chores. Between six and ten they only performed minor tasks. Maria insisted the children between ages of eight and sixteen attend school to learn reading and math.
While Calvin grew up, all local families volunteered to perform their share of volunteer work on community improvement projects such as street work and public buildings. Once a month, his family worked on making adobe bricks designated for the construction. Children could stomp in the mud and straw slurry and then place it into brick forms. He learned how to make and build structures with the bricks.
The Spanish constructed buildings with this type of brick, then covered them with a cement-like substance which was painted light tan. Calvin used his skills to erect a large house; later three additions would be added. Anyone visiting on Saturday afternoon ended up participating in brick production.
Because the Prairie area experienced Indian or Comancheros raids, he pierced the house and adobe brick barn's walls with gun ports.
Maria loved her house. "Husband, this I the best home I ever dreamed of having. It just feels wonderful."
As income rose, Maria hired a Mexican seamstress. When given a pattern, she would make the latest fashion dresses for fancy parties. For daily wear, she sewed typical Mexican shirts, skirts, and dresses. One was long and the green color of a summer oak leaf from a tree near the river. Calvin though Maria looked wonderful wearing it, especially with her pistol and holster strapped on.
One time she rode into Prairie wearing the green dress and gun. The sheriff yelled "Mrs. Johnson, you could be one of my assistant sheriffs."
With a smile she said, "No thanks, but if you need a rustler shot just point him out."
The sheriff never knew if she was serious.
Relations with the Indians changed as time passed. When the first fur trappers came to the west, the local tribes did not interfere. In fact, they learned the value of fur skins when trading with white merchants. Traders from Mexico conducted business for many years with the natives. Competition between these merchant groups gave the natives a chance to set higher prices.
The Texas area inhabited by the Native Americans was so huge that the minor intrusion of fur trading did not cause any difficulties. The California gold rush generated a substantial flow of travelers, The natives again found trading opportunities. They swapped meat and other basic assistance for guns, gun powder, and other practical items.
The Native American culture encouraged a certain amount of raiding. The tribes fought many skirmishes with each other. A relatively simple rule evolved: if your party was larger than another, you attacked; if smaller, you prepared your defenses or hightailed out; and if the same size, you met and traded. Some bloody victories and defeats occurred. The whites learned and adopted this tradition.
After the initial gold rush, whites began settling on the open areas. It started as a trickle and ended up as a flood. Tribes recognized the threat to their way of life and the food supply. The raids on settlers and ranches increased and so did the resulting retaliation sorties. Killing occurred on both sides.
A major cultural problem persisted because neither side could clearly distinguish the good people from the bad. Some tribes began to accept the change while others became hostile. Some white people grasped the difference and worked to make peaceful interactions. Others believed all natives embodied evil. Sadly, skin color identifies race, and this easy identification gave rise to the social norm of hating one another.
The US Federal government kept a military presence in outlying Texas before the Civil War. Once it started, all troops of either side were committed to fighting in the east. Residents around Prairie had to defend themselves. The raiding Indians became aware of the power vacuum and took advantage. The settlers formed militias that hunted the raiders. Again, more nasty fights with killing on both sides.
During the Civil War, the Confederate government adopted draft regulations. It also granted exceptions for critical supply producers. Its army consumed huge quantities of beef; thus, Calvin and Michael were not required to join the fighting.
Late in the conflict, as the Confederacy became closer to losing, the Texas authorities began confiscating beef and food supplies. In exchange, the ranchers received paper money whose value rapidly declined. Most ranchers, at the end of the war, were broke.
Twice the Johnson ranch was directly raided. The adobe bricks and the accurate fire from Calvin, Maria, and the children chased off the intruders with minimal loss. Other neighbors were not so lucky; their houses would be burnt.
Calvin told Maria, "We've got enough to make it through some bad years."
She replied, "You better, because I'm not going back to the San Hubro's." They both laughed.
Their third child, Gabriel, became swept up in the emotion of the Civil War. He decided to join the fight. Maria was furious, "Look what the Spanish and French did to Mexican peoples. They made Indians into gold mine slaves and laborers on European-owned ranches. No one should own slaves and your father agrees with me."
Gabriel responded, "Ma, I don't like slavery, but those northerners shouldn't be telling us how to live."
"Son, almost half the people my age down here came from the north."
"Yes, ma. But people down here don't try to jam their ideas down others' throats. A lot of my friends agree with me."
Believing Gabriel had experience working with large operations, the local commanding officer appointed him as a second lieutenant. After four years he had risen to captain of a company and waited on a pending promotion to major. He didn't survive the Battle of Mansfield, a Confederate victory. The fact that General Smith sent a letter describing Gabriel's bravery and promotion to major didn't help the loss.
The situation facing Texas grasslands' open plains didn't improve with the War's end. The US government reestablished itself almost exclusively in the cities; the concentrated population offered far more rehabilitation problems than occurred in the open plains. Indian raids continued for several years, as did the posse retaliation.
Calvin appreciated the difference between hostile and "tame" Indians. The eastern boundary of the ranch contained ridges of high hills. In between two of them a narrow valley existed. It had a small spring feeding a creek and which flowed even during the hot dry months. Once, he chased a bunch of cows into it and came upon an Indian camp.
Because this group included women and children, they were gathering food and not raiding. The chief, utilizing basic sign language, explained the facts. Calvin guessed one cow would keep peace. It did. The visit became an annual event.
He never told his neighbors about the little valley and its yearly visitors because a local posse would kill them all. The price did rise to two cows, but Calvin's Catholic upbringing came into play.
Michael Johnson stood drinking beer at his sister Ann's wedding. Gideon Taylor walked up. They talked for a considerable time about the financial situation facing ranchers. Both operated extensive operations.
Gideon observed Ann and her new husband John Collingsworth for a moment. "There are so few eligible women around here; how did he snag her?"
"My dad became interested in new and growing railroads before the war, and three years after it choose to invest in the Houston and Central Texas Railroad. That got him mixed up with lawyers, and Ann met John at a railroad official's social party. You know she always argues with anybody over anything; perfect woman for an attorney."
Gideon grinned, "My wife always avoided her because she thought Ann didn't know the proper place for a young woman."
Nodding his head, Michael said, "Well, John says he never saw such sparkling brown eyes. They love each other. In the new railroad business, he might have a bright future along with many wife fights." They both laughed.
Gideon filled the glasses, " Ah . . . Michael, will you ever get yourself a woman?"
Shaking his head, "You know there are few eligible women around here. I spend so much time out on the range and on cattle drives, that by the time I see one she is already hitched." Gideon nodded. "The work keeps me from courting."
"Well partner, mail order brides may be your only choice because all the unmarried former soldiers and railroad workers moving out here rope up all the fillies while you play with cows."
* * *
For Bertha Westwood of Rockland, Maine, the time had come to make a change. Her youngest brother, Norbert, just became engaged and there would no longer be a place to live. Being an unmarried 32-year old, she guessed that her only chance of marriage required waiting for a wedded man's wife to die. Not a positive way to live one's life.
Life had already delivered some hard knocks. Her father and mother lived a happy life and produced herself and two younger brothers, Axel and Norbert. When she was eight, her mother died of something the doctors called the "flux." For two years her father mourned. His unmarried older sister came to take care of the children. However, the need to remarry became obvious as the lady began to show her age. He met, courted, and married Jane Stillwell, a widow with one daughter named Rebecca.
Bertha's new mother, daughter of a sea captain and raised in Rockland, found the economic stability of a successful farmer to be appealing. Alas, she thought most of its chores to be beneath her and Rebecca's dignity. Therefore, the two only worked on the inside house chores of cleaning, cooking, and laundry.
After several fights with Bertha's father, Jane negotiated a settlement. Bertha would take care of all gardens, poultry operations, barn jobs, assist milking, and work on planting and harvesting.
Bertha, at about eleven years old, noticed some irritation between the adults and asked her dad, "Are you and mom getting along? You seem mad at each other a lot."
He jumped out of his chair, slapped her hard across the face, and yelled, "That's a terrible question for a child to ask. Never, ever ask it again."
Several months later, Bertha sat reading a newspaper on a Saturday afternoon. Jane came into the room and demanded she go outside to do chores. Bertha politely refused. Jane carried a stick and hit her across her legs.
Bertha screamed, stood and grabbed the stick, broke it in half, and backed Jane up against a wall. "If you ever do that again I'll beat you like a bad dog." The relationship between Jane, Rebecca, and Bertha froze over. Her father chose not to interfere.
Things came to an unfortunate head when Raymond Hunt returned to town. As the son of a sea captain, he sailed for California when only sixteen years old. He asked Jane to wait for his return after he made enough money. He didn't return-+, so Jane waited two years before marrying. After her first husband died, it only took a year before wedding Westwood. Two years after that Hunt returned.
At the town's monthly picnic, Raymond spirited Jane to a talk behind the church. "Jane, I always wanted to marry you. I made a fortune transporting construction supplies for San Francisco. Come with me and live in luxury." He showed her a gold bracelet inset with numerous jewels. "This is your present when you come with me."
"Raymond, I can't stand being a farmer's work woman. I would love to leave with you, but I'm married."
He smiled, "You never have heard of a wet divorce." She shook her head. "Taking a ship around South America requires five or six months of water travel. Once we land in San Francisco, you are my wife. No one will ever know what happened here.
She kissed him. "My daughter too?"
Two Sundays later, Jane told Bertha's father that her daughter was slightly ill. Her dad packed the remaining family off to church, and its following community social gathering kept them to midafternoon. When returned home, they discovered Jane, Rebecca, personal possessions, and their heirloom silver service were gone. High tide allowed the ship to sail before her father could reach the harbor.
Westwood took the abandonment very hard and slipped into debilitating alcohol abuse. At fourteen years old, Bertha knew the farm's production virtually stopped. She recognized the necessity to take charge before dire economic consequences occurred.
She confronted her dad, "We need help and because you are sick; you and I are going to the village to find a farm hand." After he objected, Bertha said, "The boys will tie you into the carriage if you don't agree."
Their pastor suggested a worker might be found at the Sailor's Anchor Tavern . George Strawser agreed to work five and a half days a week provided they gave him living quarters, meals, and enough pay to enjoy all the pleasures at the Anchor.
Bertha told her brothers, "You two must learn to read, write, and do numbers." She then created motivation by yelling "If you don't, I won't cook for you!"
Axel stomped his foot, "School is for city people. Farm people don't need to go."
Pointing a finger at each of their noses she shouted, "Reading and numbers keeps the town people from thinking you are stupid."
That night, after Axel and Norbert slept, she sat on her front porch. Gripping both armrests, looking at the sky, she said, "God, I know lots of people have problems. Please don't leave us out. We could use any help you can give. And to keep my brothers from feeling bad, I promise to only cry at night when everyone is asleep." She kept the vow for the rest of her life.
School was only attended in the mornings. George made lists of duties to be completed in the afternoons and evenings. Like other farm children, neither would attend schooling during planting and harvest times.
After the second year's harvest, George Strawser walked up to Bertha carrying a travel bag. "I'm quitting. The Bramptons offered to triple my wages. Good luck."
"That's it," she told Axel and Norbert, at dinner. "We can't afford a helper, and father can't do anything. So, we are on our own. I'll be in charge, and as you two get older we'll start making money."
They survived with the help of their church members. Each Sunday church ladies gave them two loaves of fresh bread. A neighbor's bull serviced their two cows once a year; the resulting calves were sold. Another man helped plow four acres in the spring, two for oats and two for wheat. On the now unused and grass-covered fields, the cows and a few goats fed. Teenage boys would help with harvest. They raised and sold chickens. When their horse aged beyond usefulness, a senior church member made a permanent loan of his. In five years, they pushed farming from almost charity into profitable.
Bertha provided the push. It was difficult. Many nights on the porch the tears flowed.
When Bertha was 26, Axel got married and moved into the original farmstead house. She, her father, and Norbert lived in the newer, much larger house. They remained in it after her father died.
The living locations completely changed when Norbert announced, "I'm getting wedded to Sally Wentworth." Axel's family, with two children, settled the living arrangements; they would move into the big house and the newlyweds into the farmstead.
She told her brothers, "I must find another place to live because I love my sister-in-law but know two adult women can't share a house."
Bertha started searching for a place to live five months before the wedding. In a copy of a Portland newspaper, she found an advertisement for an agency that assisted women to find husbands in the West—mail order brides. She sat on the front porch chair and slammed her fists on the arm rests and hissed, "I'm 32 and don't want to become a spinster. No husband may ever come." She resolved to explore becoming a mail order bride.
History shows several agencies offered a service to connect prospective spouses. An Iowa agency operated for years and claimed thousands of successful unions. It furnished lists of interested single men and women. Participants wrote short descriptions of themselves, their moral character, expectations from a spouse, and their financial strength.
Bertha chose to correspond with Michael Johnson of Prairie, Texas. They exchanged four letters. He told her about his cattle operation, and she described her farm management experience. They both mentioned the lack of appropriate partners in their home communities caused their interest. The fourth letter from him explained how he was a Roman Catholic, but she didn't need to convert, provided any children must be raised in his religion.
It took several long walks on the farm for her to mull over the religion issue. Along one of the fences she saw a number of different colored flowers. Out loud she said, "God obviously likes variety and so many different religions exist. He seems to be pointing for me to open a new adventure. I'll accept Mr. Johnson's terms."
Four weeks after sending her acceptance letter, a telegram from the agency arrived. It stated Mr. Johnson would pay for her transportation to a place called Galveston.
Waiting until the whole family sat at Sunday dinner she announced, "I made a decision about my future." Everyone intently listened. "I've agreed to marry Mr. Johnson from Prairie, Texas."
It was a bombshell. Older brother Axel yelled "You are going to be a mail order bride? That is terrible."
Sally, the future sister-in-law, with a disapproving facial expression added, "Is that not prostitution?"
Comments flew. "You'll find him to be a murderer." "Only trash rebels live in Texas." "Is he half savage?" The barrage delivered in shouts lasted fifteen minutes. After the angry energy seemed to be expelled. Bertha calmly waited, then said, "If I stay here, what choices remain? I won't wait until some old widower wants a caretaker."
After they ate, she sat with her two brothers in the parlor. Axel said, "Listen, we love you and will build you a small house. But in Texas all sorts of bad things could happen."
Norbert added, "We hoped you could take care of the kids we plan on having. That would allow Axel, me, and our wives to make this farm even more successful."
She stood, walked to the window and took a few moments. Facing the brothers, her face turned red as she yelled, "Living in a small house and taking care of other people's children. NO, NO, NO."
After walking to stand in front of the two, with a less angry voice, "Why can't I raise some of my own? I love you two, and we've been through hard years but it's time for me to move on." Both opened their mouths to speak, but she held up her hand in a silencing gesture. "I have already accepted Mr. Johnson's proposal. No more discussions." They knew Bertha, unlike many of her peers, could make firm decisions.
Before she departed, the brothers asked to meet. Axel offered an envelope and said, "We wish you well, so here is $300 dollars to cover your expenses." At the time this was a substantial sum.
Norbert said, "If you find things not to your liking, we'll send you money for return tickets."
Bertha thanked them and firmly added, "I plan to make things work out." She noted to herself that neither brother said anything about dividing up the family farm estate.
A train took her and a trunk to St Louis and a river boat to New Orleans. The trip let her experience many new and fascinating things about which she had read. A coastal steamer provided the ride to Galveston.
Several times she thought about her future husband. One night while sitting on a railroad layover hotel's porch she looked at the stars and said out loud, "This is a done deal. It's a real adventure. I'm not going to worry. I'll just live and do my best to enjoy it."
Travel time schedules were not exact due to the various transportation modes. The agency told her in which Galveston hotel to stay as actual arrivals could vary by as much as a week early or late
Galveston provided a revelation for New England eyes. A swirl of people with different toned skin moved around. None spoke quietly. Wagons carrying an intriguing variety of items, horse riders, and foot traffic covered all the streets. Women wore clothes that referenced eastern fashions, but for practicality, they had simplified the dresses and undergarments. The men used many styles of garb but almost all had some type of broad-brimmed hat. Boots also seemed to be a requirement. Dust and animal smells filled the air. Bertha took walks and sat on the hotel's deck. She absorbed the sights and smiled.
Mid-morning on the second day as she sat watching Galveston, a man walked up, took off his hat, and said, "The lobby desk told me you are Miss Bertha Westwood. I'm Michael Johnson of Prairie, Texas."
She had wondered what this greeting would be like. Horror, humor, shock. Instead, while standing up she felt the launching of her adventure. She smiled at the shaved man who stood several inches taller than her and wore, besides the hat, a clean coat, shirt, pants and boots. "I'm pleased to meet you."
His smile almost went ear to ear, "Ma'am, I'm really glad to meet you. The agency requires us to get hitched right away, but the priest must marry us in his rectory, because of your religion. He won't be available until this afternoon, so would you mind eating lunch? The trip made me hungry.''
Also, smiling she said, "Sure, Mr. Johnson."
The meal consisted of steak and eggs. Due to the whole situation, she didn't have an appetite; she asked for an egg. After ordering, he said, "Ah . . . , seeing how we are about to be hitched, let's use first names." They did while discussing his ranch and her farm experiences. Both tried to spark up the descriptions with humorous stories.
Michael finished and stood, "Are you ready?"
Bertha wiped her mouth with a napkin, took in a deep breath, let it out, and said, "I am."
In the rectory Father Miguel had secured two witnesses. She noted the wording of the Catholic service closely resembled the protestant ones. It wasn't a romantic high point, but somehow, she felt very pleased.
A young woman giving up her virginity to an almost complete stranger husband seemed strange. Bertha again felt the adventure and did not hesitate. He respected her request to be gentle.
Michael realized his wife needed some Texas attire. He outfitted her in Galveston's stores. The haul included boots, several scarves, a leather vest, thick gloves and a broad-brimmed hat. Shopping proved quite enjoyable.
On the third day after the wedding they took the train to Fort Worth. The next day's stagecoach ride brought them to Prairie. Mike telegraphed ahead the time of their arrival. Bertha couldn't believe that a big party awaited them. Friendly neighbors warmly greeted her and congratulated Michael. She kept repeating, "I'm glad to be here and married to Michael." A drunk husband slept through the night, but she didn't mind.
The next day they got into a coach. "The spread is only two miles."
"Please let me drive the wagon. You need to see that an eastern farm girl can do it."
Surprise registered on Michael's face as he waved his hand in a "Let's go" gesture.
The main house's structure consisted of white painted wood to which several similar additions had been added. With a smile she said, "This doesn't look like New England."
With a gentle slap on her back, "You're right."
"My adventure begins."
It took several months for the two to adjust to each other. Mike, like his peers, believed the man absolutely ran the house. Bertha would agree up to a point but, once crossed, without hesitation would loudly argue and insist on her views. Prairie townsfolk quickly learned she never missed a chance to confront stupidity.
Unlike her brother's prediction, Prairie proved to be safe to live. Its men wore guns; some had been in Indian skirmishes; some fought on different sides of the Civil War; some had driven railroad spikes with twenty-pound sledgehammers the impact of which sounded like rapid-fire rifles. Outlaws and different raider bands avoided the place.
They had three children: two boys and one girl. They picked Angela as the girl's name. She inherited all of her grandmother Maria's genes; darker skin, deep brown eyes, and smooth black hair. The older brothers would physically straighten out anyone who disparaged her obvious ethnic background.
Over the years when a new acquaintance asked Michael about his mail order bride he always responded, "I never ordered her, God sent her to me." Any time Bertha heard this answer she immediately gave him a hug.
All their children often recalled Bertha's constant reminder, "Go have adventures."