I make the fourth generation to live on this farm
in western Kansas. After my great-grandmother Esther escaped from an asylum in London to live in Ireland with my grandmother Ruth, Esther was sure they had conquered the hard part of their lives, but unfortunately she was wrong. The Irish Famine pushed them to take an even larger chance, and they once again uprooted their lives and immigrated to the eastern coast of America. After surviving all that hardship, my grandmother decided to take another chance to build a place for her family to grow for generations to come. They migrated west during the expansion and received a piece of land that they made into a wonderful and very prosperous farm. Long after their death, my parents and I still work this farm land. We owe everything we are to them.
I am very proud of my heritage. My family, especially the women, have always done what was needed to survive. Without my brave descendants, we would still be in England ruled by a family monarchy. We have escaped imprisonment, famine, traveled oceans and wild land to find a place to belong and live our lives free and happy. My family has benefited from their strife. This farm has allowed my family happiness for generations just like my great-grandmother Esther had envisioned. As the oldest child in a large family, I help my parents on the farm as much as I can.
We lead a peaceful life. It is quite ordinary. Our family farm is one of only a few near us. It is moderate distance to the nearest town. We do not travel there often, and when we do it is mostly to trade or sell our goods. The local farmers depend mostly on themselves and each other. We see our neighbors quite often around the fence line, mending a post or searching for a runaway animal. We barter with each other to provide the other what they are missing. It is a beneficial system for us both.
Our family trades mostly with the farmers on our right. They have a smaller family with one son and a baby daughter. Their ancestors were some of the first groups to migrate to America during the colonial times, so they have been here a lot longer than we have. Their son, Robert, is about the same age as me. We have grown up together and know each other well. Now that we are older, Robert and I will marry and be given a portion of our parents’ land to make our own. Despite my lack of experience, I love Robert.
In 1930, our luck began to change. The stock market crash did not affect us much out here in the West, but then the drought started. With the passing year, the drought affected our crops and created a storm that devastated most of what remained. Despite knowing the crash had effected some of the jobs up north, Robert and our fathers decided to travel from Kansas to the big city to see what factory work they could get. The women and children were to stay behind and try to get our farms running again. We hoped that some of us would have enough luck to find a way to survive through the next winter.
In September, four months after the men had left, we lost our last cow. Now Mary, Robert’s mother, and my mother Catherine sit at our kitchen table discussing what to do next. As I walk into the kitchen and sit at the table Mary says, “Catherine, that cow was our last hope of surviving out here. We do not even have any crops left to take into town to trade. I do not know what to do. The last we heard from Edward and Thomas, they were still trying to get jobs, but all hope for our farms is now lost.”
I sit looking out the window at our farm. Once lush with crops is now a dry, unfertile land. Everything I know how to do is gone. I do not know what our future looks like. Just a few months ago I was watching my brother and sister on this same land playing in the afternoon sun, while I prepared a family dinner for them and Robert’s Mom, Dad, and little baby sister Hazel. Shaking my head, I realize there is nothing left for us here. The longer we stay the more danger we are putting ourselves in. Without food, one more storm could trap us here.
“You are right Mary,” my mother Catherine says. “If we leave now, we can get to Chicago before it turns too cold. We need to pack as much as we can, but only the necessities and take our last four horses and flee this home for hopes of something better.”
And just like that, it was decided to leave the only home I have known since I was born. A new adventure for our family to take part. And to be honest, part of me was excited.
Our trip started out quite well considering there were six of us. You might even say it was boring. We avoided most of the towns choosing to sleep under the stars. None of us were a stranger to the wide-open night and knew well how to take care of ourselves. Simply put, we followed in the footsteps of our ancestors.
One week after we started our journey, my sister Grace and I had just put the fire out and tucked in for the night when I heard a small noise. Now granted in the open like this, people often hear scary noises for any number of real or imagined reasons, but I was an expert at animals and could tell it was nothing like that.
Grace turned to me and said in a whisper, “What was that?”
Putting my finger to my mouth to quiet her, we quietly rose and peeked out of our wagon. We were just in time to see two men whisking away our horses.
“Hey!” I screamed running after them. I wasn’t far behind them, and it seems that my presence had thrown them off. One of the men turned to look at me causing the horse that was latched to him to break free. Grabbing hold of the horse, I swung my shoeless foot over his bare back, and we chased after them. I was close behind them, but could never gain enough ground to stop them. I chased them all the way into the next town. Once we were in the town, the buildings and narrow side streets became a problem giving the thieves more camouflage than in the open land around the town. I quickly lost them without a better lay of the land when they turned down a street. As I turned the corner to follow, they had disappeared. Unsure of where they could have gone, I rode through the town, but at this time of the night it was mostly quiet so I decided to head back.
When I got back to camp, everyone was up waiting on my return. I had never seen so many sullen faces, but it was this moment that I faced three at the same time.
“What are we going to do now?” my mother asked me.
“It will be okay, Catherine. We will figure something out,” Mary, my mother-in-law said. “It may take a little longer now than we expected.” And we all look down at little baby Hazel as she coos.
“No!” I say, “I followed them into the nearest town. I know they are there, but I lost them in the dark. Tomorrow we will go into the town, and we will find them, get the horses back, and get back on track to be in Chicago before it turns cold for all of our sakes.”
To Be Continued…